When I first started planning for school lunches, the challenge was how to go nut-free for the safety of other kids. My brain got stuck on peanut butter and I wasn’t sure what I could send our picky vegetarian kids that they would actually eat. Eventually I figured out 2-3 main items that would be acceptable to each child, but the key was SNACKS.
Lots of snacks.
In the Before Times, this meant granola bars, crackers, apple sauce, yogurt pots, etc. When I committed to shifting to a low waste lifestyle, the old “what am I going pack?!?” panic came back. Rather than lose my mind or make more work for myself, I focused on shifting one thing at a time until finally eliminating trash from the lunchbox.
Some caveats before the big list of suggestions:
- You do not have to make everything! The bulk and produce sections of the grocery store are where it’s at. Convenient, nutritious, and low impact is the name of the game.
- You do not need a bulk store! Each of us has different access to unpackaged items, if at all. It is helpful to remember that packaging is a small part of the carbon footprint of our food. Buying the biggest possible package of a food and dishing it into smaller containers for lunch is still bulk and cuts down on waste. Look for packaging that is accepted for recycling in your area, especially metal and cardboard.
- Muffins – batch cook enough for the month with your kids one afternoon. Keep them in the freezer and throw one in their lunch bag as needed.
- Protein/energy balls – check out Pinterest for recipes to suit your needs.
- Homemade granola bars
- Cookies – they don’t have to be sugary! Try this chickpea flour recipe.
- Chia pudding
- Roasted chickpeas – experiment with different flavours, such as sweet, savoury, or spicy – some bulk stores have these in stock.
(Try to stick to local and in season where possible. I know I am just listing types of fruits and veggies here, but if you are like me, you get in a rut and forget things exist!)
- Fruit – apples, oranges, pears, bananas, melons slices, berries (difficult when out of season), cherries, clementines.
- Veggies – sliced peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, carrot sticks, olives, celery sticks. Lots of these can be chopped and sliced ahead of time to ease the morning lunch prep panic. Include a little container of hummus for dipping and extra protein.
- Kale chips
- Root veggie chips
Click here for tips on how to store produce without plastic.
(I like to mix a bunch of bulk items in one medium size container, with one small candy or a cookie as a treat. I let my kids fill one small jar of candy at the bulk store at the end of our shopping trip, but they have to agree on it. )
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds (raw, hulled)
- Dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, mango slices, apple rings, banana chips, apricots, dates, figs)
- Coconut slices (double check with your school’s allergen list)
- Corn chips
- Casava chips
- Plantain chips
- Wasabi peas
- Trali mix (premade or make your own)
- Chocolate chips
- Candy! Yes, candy!
One last tip – if you notice that things are coming home uneaten and unsalvageable, send a little bit less. Kids have a terribly small window to eat in and what looks like too much food can be overwhelming. Send a little less to prevent food waste and check in with your child frequently about their lunches.
Now that we are in the habit of shopping differently, packing “litterless lunches” does not take any additional time. The only thing they still sometimes ask for is packaged granola bars, and will eat one with great relish when they manage to get one from the outside!
Share your ideas for waste-free school lunches in the comments below!