Lunches and snacks are a big feature in any young person's day, but packing a healthy, enticing lunch in a hurry five days a week can be a challenge. There's often a strong temptation to opt for easy choices like pre-packaged snack items and 'easy' things, but not always the things your kids will actually eat.
Food waste and excess packaging going to landfill comes at a cost to the environment as well as the wallet. When rotting food ends up as landfill it turns into harmful greenhouse gases.
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid food waste and cut down on packaging.
Avoid packing lunches in multiple plastic bags or plastic zip-lock bags. If all that plastic is thrown out every day, it will add up to a lot of plastic waste over the year. Aluminium foil wrapping is also likely to be discarded at school when it can so easily be recycled over and over again (even when it's covered in gooey food). There are lots of alternatives to plastic lunch wraps including canvas or organic cotton lunch bags and wraps that are PVC-free.
Look for a durable lunchbox that will last for years. Lunchboxes are available with separate compartments for different food items, eliminating the need for individual wrapping. Maybe try a tin lunch box for a retro look, or investigate the 'cooler' lunch bags which can keep food chilled for up to 8 hours.
It's very tempting to rely on snacks that have been packaged up into lots of small, convenient servings, but all that packaging goes straight to landfill. Invest in a few re-usable, sealable containers that you can use over and over again for small servings, or replace packaged snack foods with fruit which comes in nature's own wrapping. Look for some more unusual seasonal fruit options—apples and oranges are great, but try some more unusual options like mangoes, nashi pears or grapes for a change. Or try making some homemade muesli bars and mini muffins rather than heavily packaged snacks. The Better Health Channel Lunch box tips is a good place to look for some inspiration. There are also many websites with new and traditional recipes that make use of leftovers.
Get kids involved in choosing their lunch—they'll be more likely to eat it, and less likely to toss it out. Variety is the spice of life, so mix it up a bit. If you're after some strategies on how to train picky eaters' tastebuds, phase out fizzy drinks and prepare healthy snacks and lunches, have a look at the CSIRO Wellbeing Plan for Kids for ideas.
Encourage children to think about what they do with any food scraps at school. Many schools have a composting system—if not, get kids to bring home any food scraps to compost or give pet worms a treat. Better still—talk to your school about introducing some recycling or composting facilities in the playground.
Thirsty kids can go through a few drinks throughout the day and if they don't take one with them, they're likely to buy them in throw-away containers from the canteen. Disposable juice packs are an easy choice for lunches and might seem cheap when you buy them, but they can carry high, longer-term costs—both for your budget and the environment. All those juice boxes will cost you lots more than a stainless steel drink bottle and a couple of litres of natural juice for refills in the long run or better still, opt for water or milk as packaged juice can be high in sugar.
Try freezing a drink bottle the night before and wrap it in a tea towel—this will keep it cool during the day and possibly still icy. Don't fill it right to the top—leave some space to allow for expansion when it freezes.