Simple Tips for Packing a Waste-Free Lunch

Packing your lunch can be much healthier than eating in a restaurant or the cafeteria, and chances are it will save you money, too. The trick to bringing your lunch to work or school is making sure you’re not packing up a bag full of waste along with that sandwich!

A packed lunch can be incredibly wasteful. Between single use plastic baggies, disposable cutlery, and paper napkins, we toss tons of lunch-related waste every year. Heck, even the bag you bring your food in is wasteful if you toss it in the trash when you’re done. Switching to reusables is a bit pricier up front, but the beauty of reusables is that you’re not buying them over and over. After a month or two of packing your lunch in reusable containers, you’ll hit that break even point, since you won’t have to keep buying disposable containers, utensils, and napkins anymore.

The Bag

A lunch bag doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Any flat-bottomed tote bag will do the trick. I definitely recommend opting for a bag with a flat bottom, because there’s nothing more frustrating than having your containers flip over in your bag. That flat bottom will help things stay put. You have a few options here:

  • Reuseable grocery bag. If you’re like me, you probably have a big stash of reusable grocery bags in your pantry. Just designate a smallish one as a lunch bag.
  • Buy a lunch bag. If you don’t mind spending the cash, there are lots of lunch bags out there. You can get something that’s water resistant or insulated, or just something pretty that makes your lunch feel extra special.
  • Flatten the bottom of a tote. Got a spare tote bag laying around? If you have beginner sewing skills, you can flatten the bottom! Here’s a simple tutorial on how to box the corners of a tote bag.

Now that your bag’s sorted, let’s fill it up with reusables!

Next>> Reusables in your lunch bag

reusable utensils

Reusable Utensils

The great thing about reusable utensils is that there’s no need to go buy anything special. Just grab the fork or spoon from your utensil draw, toss them in the bag, and you’re ready to rock! If you want to have special utensils just for lunch, try one of these options:

  • A bamboo flatware set. This set even comes with its own wrap, to secure dirty utensils for the rest of the day.
  • Reusable wooden utensils. These are light and sturdy, and they won’t be noisy in your bag like metal utensils would.

Reusable Containers

You don’t need a fancy lunchbox to bring your lunch! If that’s your speed, go for it, but if you’re on a budget, here are some reusable options to keep your food from leaking.

  • Glass Lock. These affordable, food-safe containers are made from glass with a plastic lid that locks in place to prevent leaks.
  • Lunchbots. If you’re packing for a kiddo, glass is probably not the best option. Lunchbots are stainless steel, so they’re light and won’t break if they get dropped.

You don’t necessarily need to buy anything, though. Got some food containers handy? Just use those to start packing a waste-free lunch today without shelling out any extra dough.

That lunch bag is almost all packed! The only thing that’s missing is a napkin. You can buy cloth napkins or make your own. Check out tips for both on the next page!

Next>> Cloth napkins – buy a set or make your own!

cloth napkins

Cloth Napkins

Cloth napkins are super simple to sew yourself. You can use fabric that’s already in your stash or pick up fabric that you dig just for this project. Just make sure the fabric you’re using is absorbent, so organic cotton, hemp, or linen are your best bets for making napkins. All you need are two 13″ squares of fabric to make your own napkins. This video walks you through how to sew your own:

Is sewing not your strong suit? No problem! You can buy pre-made cloth napkins, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Check the thrift store. Thrift stores often get surplus from restaurants, and your local thrift store is likely to have cloth napkins that are very inexpensive.
  • Shop on Etsy. There are lots of Etsy sellers whipping up handmade cloth napkins. You can have all the charm of handmade without needing the sewing skills.

Voila! You’re ready to pack a waste-free lunch! Do you guys have any other tips for reducing lunchtime waste? Share away in the comments!

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Jo S.
Jo S.3 months ago

Thank you Becky.

Jo Recovering
Jo S.5 months ago

Thanks Becky.

ERIKA SOMLAI1 years ago

thank you

Sonia Minwer-Barakat Requ

Good ideas,thanks for sharing

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago


Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

When my son was young, he saw me and his dad take our lunch every day, so he wanted to take his too. Every once in a while he would eat at school when they had pizza. He had his own lunchbox, and utensils and a kitchen towel I cut up to make napkins.

Lu Ann P.
Past Member 3 years ago


Lika S.
Lika S.3 years ago

I actually have a couple of cloth wraps that are Japanese that are made FOR wrapping your lunch. It's nice, because they're washable, and double as a napkin. I don't usually bring those though.

I do use the plain lunch sacks, and plastic wear, but, I bring the plastic wear home, wash, and reuse. This way, if a lunch burglar ate my lunch, I'm not missing my own silverware from home. I'll just use another reusable plastic set for next time.

Brittany Flint
Brittany Flint3 years ago

Great ideas!

LM Sunshine

good ideas, thank you.