How to pack a waste-free, ostracism-free lunch

When I was a kid, my mom sent me and my three siblings off to school with our lunches packed in brown paper bags and our sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Everyone else had little plastic baggies for their sandwiches, but no, the Jones kids had wax paper. We were also ordered to bring the bags, and the wax paper, home each day so she could use it all again. She did not worry for one second about what was cool or whether the other kids would take a look at our wilted piles of wax paper and let us have a table to ourselves. 

We could call her an eco-mom.

Today, the options are endless for waste-free lunches, without the mortification factor. But before you go shopping for cool reusable containers to replace those brown paper bags and little plastic baggies–or, heaven forbid, wax paper–let’s take a look at today’s pack-your-lunch landscape.


Originally posted by butteryplanet

Since my mother’s lunch-packing days, a lot of “convenience” options have sprung up: single-serve snacks like yogurt, applesauce, and cheese-and-cracker combinations, packaged in plastic, and those little juice boxes, which are close to impossible to recycle.

I can’t think of anything that’s available in a single-serve size that’s not available in a much larger size, which can save on wasteful packaging material if you employ reusable containers. This can also reduce food waste, because you can customize the portions. For example, while a teenage football player might polish off four single-serve cups of yogurt in one sitting, a first-grader might eat a few spoonfuls and throw the rest away.

Reusable lunch boxes, containers, forks and spoons, and napkins are available in countless sizes, materials, colors, and styles–and at every price level. The trick, especially for younger kids, is to make sure they don’t throw away these reusable containers. (My mother’s wax paper will break down in the landfill a lot sooner than that stainless steel bento box.)

Check your local grocery store, co-op, or box store for reusable containers, or go online and do a Google search on “reusable lunch containers.”

Visit these sites for more tips on how to pack a waste-free lunch that won’t embarrass your kids. has charts itemizing how much money you could save in the process.

WikiHow to Pack a Waste-Free Lunch

Global Stewards

Consider packing eco-friendly lunches for yourself as well. Adult-savvy container options abound, and you can often eat healthier, and save even more money, if you bring your own lunch. Bon appetit!


— Heather Jones
Posted on Nov 8, 2016