How to build a greener lunch

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Prepare your kids’ lunches the night before or leave it for the morning rush; either way, it’s almost always a challenge.

There’s a long mental checklist: no peanuts, no nitrates, no junk food, four food groups, and oh yeah, no litter and no BPA-laced containers. But I’ve found a little planning goes a long way to packing something that both satisfies your child’s appetite as well as the goal to be environmentally friendly.

The idea seemed intimidating at first, but in the long run I found that I could save money by preparing food instead of sending prepackaged lunches, and by using reusable containers instead of plastic baggies and foil.

The food

The concept of eating locally grown and produced food shouldn’t just apply to meals at home. A Canadian study found that a typical meal travels 4,000 km by the time it reaches our plate, and your child’s lunch bag is no different. We can decrease our carbon footprint by buying locally instead of purchasing fruit from thousands of miles away. Check out your local farmers’ market with your child to see which fruits and veggies tempt you both. When kids help pick the produce, it increases the chances that they’ll actually eat it. No farmers’ market in your area? You can still buy locally by reading the signs in your local produce section and shying away from international imports.

Homemade lunches allow your child to help make them. He may be bored with sandwiches, but a veggie wrap or turkey roll-up is a change for you both and more nutritious for him. Children love variety and creativity. Try slicing food into bite-sized pieces and cut fruit and veggies into fun shapes as an alternative.

The packaging

The average student produces 60 pounds of lunch waste per year and the average Canadian school generates 32 pounds of lunch waste each week. Store-bought lunches and snack packs are often wrapped in cellophane and other wasteful material, as well as being more expensive. While it may be difficult to eliminate all garbage from your kid’s lunch, there are simple ways to significantly reduce it, improving your kids’ health and the earth’s health along the way:

  • Buy food in large bags instead of snack packs and portion out snacks into travel-sized reusable containers instead. Bulk food is cheaper, too.
  • Avoid reusable containers made with BPA, PVC, phthalates and lead. These chemicals have been shown to leach into food and beverages.
  • Use stainless steel containers. They’re durable and often leakproof. Sustainable materials such as bamboo and hemp are also becoming favourites. Not only are they great for packaging, but they can also be recycled into napkins and carved into cutlery.
  • Say goodbye to brown baggin’ it and go for a reusable lunch container. From Bento box style to retro finds or insulated bags, there are several different sizes, colours and materials to choose from. Add a BPA-free reusable bottle for water or a favourite drink and the eco-friendly lunch is set.

Most of these containers are dishwasher-friendly, and you won’t have to remember to pick up tin foil and plastic bags on your next grocery shop.

Don’t feel pressured to change everything at once. Start slowly and transition towards creating a litterless, greener lunch. If we each do what we can, when we can, we will start to see a difference.

Michelle Singerman is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, dedicated to convincing others that green living is easy and cost-effective.

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