It’s More Than Just Lunch

by Melody Morrow

Lunchtime seems to get more and more sacred these days–or maybe it always was, but I didn’t appreciate it as much! Whether you work from home, in an office, or out interviewing, there are things you can do to make lunch on the go healthier and greener. As I got deeper into my article I began to realize that helping to feed our planet in one way or another while lunching is pretty amazing.

One of the easiest things to do is explore local places near you and see if they offer any of the foods are locally grown, packaged greener or helps the community in any other ways. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Some of my lunch favorites are:

Au Bon Pain: (which is supposed to translate loosely to the Place of Good Bread).

The company was one of the first chains to begin removing artificial transfats from products and now no more transfats, In 2009, they were recognized by Health magazine as one of America’s healthiest restaurants. Their Food for Life Program is dedicated to giving families and individuals food who might otherwise go hungry. They work together with local organizations and food banks to provide unsold bakery products to those who are the most in need.

They are also involved with local community organizations and charities events such as walks, auctions and raffles for fundraising efforts in Boston, NYC, Washington DC, Pittsburgh and Chicago.


‘Wow’ is how I would describe Chipoltle. Founder Steve Ells was a chef before opening the chain whose mission is to provide “Food with Integrity”.  One of their stores is the nation’s first ever-Platinum LEED certified restaurant, located in Gurnee, Illinois.

As part of their Food with Integrity Program they incorporate the following sustainable and diverse elements:

  • Family farmers who raise sustainable food by rotating crops, planting multiple crops and avoid pesticides
  • Use meat from animals raised without antibiotics and hormones
  • Source local and organic produce
  • Look for dairy products that have no synthetic hormones
  • Source 100% of beef from ranchers with natural standards
  • Naturally raised pigs with a vegetarian diet
  • Chickens raised with no antibiotics and no arsenic
  • 40% of beans are organically grown which reduces the amount of pesticides
  • Support community gardens, youth groups, schools and agriculture groups
  • Clearly defined five categories of local suppliers
  • Provide English language education to their employees. They even work with the International Rescue Committee to place recent transplants to the US in their Alameda restaurant.

They offer a full plate of food served right.


Offers healthy alternatives for lunch in Manhattan. Their create your own pasta dish with all kinds of veggies and other good stuff is delicious. They source and use organic, local and fresh where they can and  say they are fresh and natural all the time. Their foods are free from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other additives. Environmentally conscious, Flavors uses biodegradable and compostable packaging whenever possible. They are working towards reducing emissions with delivery vans that runs on their own processed biofuel.

Le Pain Quotidien:

Founded in Brussels, whenever they can, they source organic ingredients. This way, they not only build lasting and meaningful partnerships with organic farmers, but also ensure ingredients are of the highest quality.

This philosophy influences every part of the way they do business, from the food that is served to the design of the stores to the materials used. They use reclaimed wood and recycled Gypsum in construction, energy-efficient lamps, and environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and packaging. A noteworthy mission of this brand, which counts units in 19 countries, including its newest in Mumbai, India, is to maintain eco-friendly building standards and packaging, and to serve locally grown produce.

They also offer classes, which include cooking with local, organic foods, bread, wine, botanical picnic with a vegan, etc. One class was even used to raise funds for Stone Barns Farm.


Established in St. Louis in 1981, there main goal was to make great bread which is the best part of the meal. Their philanthropy is worth noting in addition to their great breads and ingredients although they don’t say they are eco-friendly or use locally grown food. Operation Dough-Nation was founded in 1992 to formalize their commitment to community involvement. Since then, it has grown to include four major activities: Community Breadbox™ cash collection boxes, the Day-End Dough-Nation™ program, Panera/SCRIP Card fundraising and participation in community events.

“Panera Cares Community Cafes”, which are operated by the Panera Bread Foundation, exist to feed each and every person who walks through their doors with dignity regardless of their means in a restaurant setting.” They said for a significant number of Americans, putting food on the table is a struggle. One in five children don’t have enough to eat each day and lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis”. Portland, Oregon, Dearborn, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois are three cities where the Community Cafes can be found.

Prêt A Manger:

Although they are based in the UK, they donate to food charities each year in the US such as City Harvest in NY, Thrive DC and The Greater Chicago Food Depository, standing behind their slogan Made Today, Gone Today. Interestingly, they look for local suppliers who make everything from jams to sausages. Love the fact that they call themselves Healthy Lifestyle Champions.

They donate their leftover food everyday to charities, reduced the number of plastic bags used by asking customers if they want a bag and use sustainable and recycled materials. Their bio-box is totally recyclable and was the first retailer to change from plastic sandwich boxes to cardboard in the 90’s.

Pret A Manger is committed to decreasing their carbon footprint and water usage by 2013. Their goal is for a waste diversion of 75% in their stores and for 80% at their recycling facilities. Prêt joined the Coalition for Resource Recovery.

Founders, Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham started Prêt Foundation Trust in 1995. The goal is to alleviate poverty in the UK, especially for the homeless and is now setting up a Foundation and volunteer program in the US.

There is a great article from Fast Casual Magazine published in 2009 called Top 100 Movers & Shakers, which is good to peruse if you are going to a new neighborhood or city for lunch.

And be sure to make the most of your lunchtime and take five minutes before or after you eat to get some air, a bit of natural vitamin D, pet a dog, smell a flower, stand under a tree, or take a walk around…you get the point.

I realize lunch places are not the same throughout the US and in other countries, but it’s good to know what is better for you, your community and the environment in your part of the world. Be sure to let us know where some of your favorite lunch spots are!

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