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School Lunches: The Easy, Green and Healthy Way

School Lunches: The Easy, Green and Healthy Way

Back-to-school is a great time to learn to pack a healthy school lunch and easy on-the-go snacks. And to save money, and cut down on the amount of lunch waste you—and your kids—send to the landfill. Unless you’re way more organized in the morning than I am, the trick is to spend a little time on the weekends and evenings so each luncher can grab what he or she likes and, in the morning, be out the door in a flash.

My Secret Weapons

The trick to eliminating lunch waste is to find reusable lunch containers, and you don’t have to spend a ton on fancy new stuff. A big box of snack-sized zip-close plastic bags (these can be reused until they turn cloudy, which means the plastic has started to deteriorate) and a tall stack of four-ounce (½-cup) and eight-ounce (1-cup) glass jelly jars—the kind with two-part lids designed for preserving—are all you’ll need.

Load ‘Em Up

When my kids were in elementary school, we had the “snack basket,” a flat rectangular basket about four inches deep. Once a week the kids and I filled dozens of plastic snack bags with nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, cookies, pretzels, homemade peanut butter crackers, and plain whole wheat crackers, and lined them up in the basket with a selection of granola bars.

Buy foods in bulk and measure a serving (¼ cup for nuts and such, and two to three medium-size cookies is good) into each bag. Bags of fresh veggies (shop the supermarket salad bar, or cut your own), slices of real cheese, and peanut butter and jelly half-sandwiches go in the fridge, as do glass jelly jars filled with pudding (made with organic milk), fresh fruit, fruit gelatin, a dab of ranch dressing (for veggies), hummus, and yogurt (plain organic plus fresh fruit or fruit spread). The four-ounce jars are generally best for kid-size portions of all these things, but if you have an active child who needs more energy, go with the eight-ounce jars.

Get the kids involved; they’ll learn how easy it is to reduce lunch waste, and what a healthy school lunch really is. Even the smallest child can pick a set “menu” (such as one protein, one starch, one veggie or fruit, and one sweet treat) and drop their items into a reusable lunch bag (do yourself a favor and buy only machine-washable bags; plastic lunch sacks are often loaded with nasty chemicals, and many kiddie bags have been found decorated with lead-based paints). Drop in a stainless steel bottle of water, a cloth napkin, and a spoon if needed (get a few mismatched ones at a thrift store if you are worried about possible loss), and lunch is a go! If even this is too much, assemble and refrigerate the night before.

Make it a habit for each luncher to unpack and rinse her sack at a set time every evening (following their after-school snack or right after dinner may be low-stress choices), and bringing things home will become routine. Containers go right into the dishwasher, snack bags get a quick rinse in the sink and hung up to dry (a heavy mug with six or eight chopsticks standing in it makes a free and easy drying rack), crumbs go in the compost, and the empty sack and napkin (unless really soiled) get ready for the next day. On weekends, send the napkin and reusable lunch sack through the wash for a fresh start next week.

If your kids refuse to get serious about bringing containers home, you may want to consider telling them that you will dock the cost of missing items from their weekly allowance…and follow through on it! They will whine and pout when you do (as another mother once told me this just means you are “doing your job”) but it won’t take many docks before missing containers will be a thing of the past.

Convenience food without the high cost, excess sugar, fat, and salt, or wasteful packaging of processed foods—what could be better?

7 Favorite Tips for Green Thrifty Living

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Rodale.com is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. Rodale.com focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice. Rodale.com features a Daily Newsletter, and provides simple, powerful tools including Recipe Finder and Home Remedy Finder to help audiences improve their health and their environment. Rodale.com also includes “Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen,” a personal blog where Editor-in-Chief and Rodale, Inc. CEO and Chairman Maria Rodale is “Cooking Up Trouble, Dishing Out Advice.”

Read more: Family, Food, Healthy Schools,

By Jean Nick, Rodale News

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16 comments

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9:16AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Thanks.

11:04AM PST on Jan 16, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

3:20PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Good idea! Thanks for sharing.

8:27PM PST on Feb 10, 2010

Wow, great ideas! I am definetly going to tell my mom about those!

8:17AM PST on Feb 6, 2010

good ideas.. thanks for sharing...

5:08PM PST on Jan 19, 2010

glad i don't have to worry about that anymore

10:10AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

Instead of using plastic bags for snack items, we've got a stockpile of those little plastic cups for soft cheese (like Alouette). We haven't bought plastic bags since I don't know when!

6:55PM PDT on Sep 14, 2009

Ok, I'm just miffed about the source and it's tag line "Rodale.com, where health meets green"! How can you say that when you're advocating dairy? Cows are the least "green" food source out there. Not only from the animal itself, but mostly from human consumption and the subsequent diseases caused by animal protein. Not only do cows take up land but they emit toxic methane gasses that are contributing to global warming.

2:53PM PDT on Sep 14, 2009

Laptop Lunchboxes Makes a PVC free plastic Bento box which, though a little costly up front, quickly pays for itself as there is no waste. We're on our second year of daily use with the one we bought for my daughter and it's still going strong. It also makes the food appealing and visible. As for plastic baggies-you can avoid them for many items by using the unbleached wax paper bags which can be put in the compost after use.

9:31AM PDT on Sep 14, 2009

I'm baffled as to why a school lunchroom would be serving tea of any kind to kids... between the caffeine and lack of nutritional value (antioxidants aside)... what are they thinking?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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