Packing your child’s lunch allows you to save money, control what your child eats and help influence his dietary habits, all while avoiding the notoriously bad fare in school cafeterias. The traditional brown bags of days gone by are not only out of style in a modern lunch room, they are also a wasteful use of paper and are not the most efficient choice. Finding a green solution to the school lunch is easier than ever, and because eco-friendly choices are all the rage, these options are sure to make your child a school lunch trendsetter.
The Japanese tradition of ornate lunches comes with a regimented ratio of veggies to rice and protein, but you don’t have to stick with a Japanese lunch to take advantage of these adorable and reusable boxes. Bright colors, compartments and dip containers make lunch fun for your little one, and eliminate the need for plastic baggies, cellophane wrap or aluminum foil. There are scads of bento boxes on the market with kid-friendly designs, many of which are lead, phthalate, BPA and PVC-free.
Include Cloth Napkins
Sure, there are stacks of paper napkins available in every cafeteria, but that doesn’t mean that your child has to contribute to the wasteful use of paper, especially when there’s a good chance that it won’t be recycled. Instead of relying on the paper fare at school, pack your child’s lunch with a cloth napkin. Soak them in oxygenated cleaner and toss them in with your towels when you do laundry.
Pack Sustainable Utensils
Plastic forks and spoons are easy to toss after a single use, but they’ll almost certainly end up in a landfill where they’ll take decades to break down. Instead of packing disposable cutlery, opt for fun and kid-friendly utensils in her favorite shade. Younger kids may appreciate utensils bedecked with images of her favorite cartoon characters, but keep the tastes of older kids in mind and skip anything that might be too “kiddish” to be cool.
Choose Cooling Methods Carefully
Keeping cold foods cold to inhibit bacterial growth is one of the primary rules of food safety, but the neon-colored gel that you throw in the freezer every night may be laden with toxic chemicals and are wrapped in decidedly un-green plastics. Opt for non-toxic, biodegradable ice packs that will break down if they end up in a landfill and aren’t full of chemicals you can’t pronounce.
Make Room for Reusable Bottles
Packaged juice boxes and pouches are convenient, but their packaging is wasteful. They also can’t be diluted to reduce sugar content, and some brands of pouch drinks have been reported to ferment or even grow mold that is obscured by the opaque packaging. Instead of throwing a box or pouch in with your child’s lunch, opt for a reusable bottle. Stainless steel options are cool enough for even the most style-conscious kids, and they’re free of worrisome chemicals like BPA and phthalates.
Choose Organic Foods
When you choose organic, sustainable and locally grown produce, you’re not only eliminating the risk of pesticide contamination and the chances of your child ingesting genetically modified foods, you’re also doing your part to help the environment. Locally grown produce isn’t trucked in across the country, which reduces the carbon footprint left by trucks and shipping methods. These growing methods themselves also have less impact on the planet, so make a point of sourcing out locally grown foods from farmer’s markets and the local, organic section of your grocery store.
While you should make every effort to pack an environmentally-conscious and ecologically responsible lunch for your child, all of your efforts will be for naught if you don’t discuss the subject with her. Make a point of establishing and maintaining an open dialogue about the importance of caring for the planet, and help your child understand that her impact is important, too.