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5 essentials for packing sustainable school lunches

Published on August 24 2021

Parents, it’s that time of year again: back to school.

With a new 2021-2022 academic year around the corner, you’ve probably already scribbled down a lengthy list of back-to-school essentials you need to pick up, from the classroom to the lunchroom. 

Any parent knows that packing lunches is a time-consuming task that can sometimes yield unwanted waste (especially if you have a picky eater on your hands). 

What you may not realize is that you repeat this task for approximately 180 days in the year. That’s 180 juice boxes with plastic straws, 180 single-use Ziplocs for snacks, 180 plastic-wrapped crackers or granola bars, and countless dollars spent on ingredients to make sandwiches that only get half-eaten. That’s a lot of waste!

While it may not seem like it at first, choosing reusable over single-use lunch basics can make a big difference in the long run. You’ll save money, reduce food waste, and produce something fun and delicious your kids will actually enjoy.

Here are five lunch box essentials from our FoodHero parents to help you pack more sustainable school lunches. 

1. Reusable snack bags

An easy method to cut down on single-use plastic at school is to switch out your Ziploc baggies to reusable snack bags. The simple act of switching to a more environmentally-friendly product can replace hundreds of plastic bags from ending up in landfills and oceans. Plus they’re a great way to save a few dollars.

Reusable snack bags are perfect to tote around treats of all kinds, from fruits and veggies to crackers, nuts, cheese, and even cookies. These Ziploc dupes are often more durable and made of BPA-free or food-grade silicone or cloth. And some are even microwave and dishwasher-safe. 

Looks like school snack time got a whole lot greener!

DIY bento box

2. DIY bento box

The best way to trick picky eaters into finishing their lunch? Turn that full meal into several small snacks and watch them dive right in.

That’s where the bento box comes into play! Real bento boxes can be pretty expensive. So to avoid investing in something you’re not sure will work out for you, we came up with this DIY bento box you can make at home. Just use reusable silicone muffin liners to recreate the bento experience in any square or rectangular container. These liners often come in bright colours, making lunch even more enticing for kids.

The bento box is a place to get creative. You can put something different in every section like fruit skewers, cheese and crackers. Or you can use cookie cutters to turn a plain old sandwich into cute little bit-sized shapes (Our FoodHero parents can confirm this last one works like a charm!).

Just note that anything with a sauce or very small pieces of food like green peas or tiny blueberries may jump ship into other sections.

3. Food thermos

Shake up their lunch routine by switching out the everyday sandwich for a hot meal. Sustainable food thermoses are often made of double-walled stainless steel and vacuum-sealed so they can retain heat for hoursthe perfect vessel for comforting lunches during the cooler months. 

Got leftover pasta in your fridge from last night’s dinner? Just heat it up in the morning and add it to your kid’s thermos before they head out the door. 

Investing in a thermos is more than just a convenient way to feed your kids healthy, sustaining meals like stews, casseroles, Shepherd’s pie and whatever else they love. It’s a huge time-saver in the morning and an excellent way to manage your leftovers. Now that’s what we call a win-win!

4. Reusable drink bottle

There’s no denying juice boxes and pouches are a popular item at the lunch table. While the cartons and the aluminum pouches are recyclable, the straws and plastic packaging are not. 

To reduce single-use plastic from turning into polluted waste, consider switching out the disposable juice box for a reusable drink bottle. 

Look for stainless steel vessels which are more durable and eco-friendly than their plastic counterparts. Not to mention they’re great for both hot and cold drinks.

Got a young straw lover in the family? Up their sipping experience by adding a coloured reusable straw made of BPA-free silicone (great for younger children) or stainless steel (perfect for teenagers).

5. Lunch box

If your kid brings their lunch to school, you’ll be making lunches almost every day during the school year. So it’s worth buying a durable lunch box that’s easy to clean and convenient to pack.

While single-use plastic and brown lunch bags may seem like a simpler solution, Canadians already throw out 15 billion plastic bags every year, contributing to our ocean’s plastic problem.

Plus, they’re not designed to keep food at a desired temperature, nor do they protect your kid’s lunch. A cold yogurt will be lukewarm by the time snack hour hits, and that beautiful crust-free sandwich you prepped this morning will have most likely gotten squished on the bus ride to school. 

And we all know how kids get when their food tastes and looks different than what they’re accustomed tothey absolutely refuse to touch it.

A lunch box is a great way to keep their lunch fresh and intact. Plus they come in many different designs, colours and patterns making lunchtime even more fun and stylish.

With these back-to-school lunch basics in your arsenal, prepping litterless lunches has never been easier (or greener!). You can find all the lunch essentials mentioned above in stores across Canada and online. Happy shopping!


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