It’s lunchtime at school and the timeless competition of who has the best lunch that day begins. Some kids are repping their grandma’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, others flaunt their coveted Lunchables. But one aspect that is often overlooked in the lunch hall is how that lunch is packed.
Long gone are the days of the brown paper bag lunches filled with Ziploc snack bags! It’s time to outfit your kid with the hottest merch in the market right now–like reusable silicone bags, bamboo utensils, insulated lunch bags, and beeswax wrap. Not only does it reduce the amount of waste your family produces, but kids all across the cafeteria will be saying, “What is that colorful container? I want one! *fist bump*”. Read on to learn how to pack a plastic free lunch that is easy for your little one to love!
What you’ll learn:
- Find out which reusable lunch-time products are best for your family, from products for babies to packing your own office lunch!
- Better understand the importance of a plastic and toxic free lunch
How To Pack a Non-Toxic (and Plastic Free!) Lunch
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about changing what goes into school lunches to be healthier for kids. But what about what you’re packing that lunch in? Plastic containers, Ziploc baggies, single-use Saran wrap, and other common lunchtime necessities can not only leach chemicals into the food they’re keeping fresh, but also add up to a ton of non-recyclable waste after 12+ years in school–not to mention the money you spend always replenishing those stocks! Lucky for you, and your family, there’s a healthier way to snack sustainably (at any age!).
Snacking Small: Babies + Preschoolers
For the first few years of your little ones life, they’ll come just about everywhere with you. But, most (almost all) restaurants or establishments won’t have the feeding spoons, baby bottles, and accessories you’ll need for a freakout-free meal. If you can find what you’re looking for out and about, it can often be single-use plastic–which we all know is the worst. By prepping your diaper bag, or “mommy” bag, with non-toxic snacking supplies, any booster chair can become a plastic-free dining experience.
The very first nursing bottle was invented from 1841–entirely from glass. As time passed, plastic baby bottles became the norm thanks to their durable, unbreakable nature. But plastic bottles, like most hard plastics, contain polycarbonates and the chemical bisphenol A (aka BPA), that can leach into the contents of your little one’s bottle. Research has shown that BPA and polycarbonate plastic can lead to changes in the brain and reproductive system, and other major health impacts–leading to organizations like the FDA banning additives like BPA (but not polycarbonates!) in baby bottles and sippy cups.
While we’re making steps in the right direction when it comes to plastic baby bottles, we prefer to stay safe and use non-toxic stainless steel. Klean Kanteen’s Slow-Flow Baby Bottle features a chemical-free medical grade silicone nipple, with a slow-flow to encourage natural-paced and relaxed feedings. The 5oz, or larger 9oz, bottle has a contoured and tapered shape for little hands, and won’t break even if they drop it. But our favorite feature is the peace of mind from knowing your little one isn’t sipping toxins in their milk!
You’ll find we love bamboo as a natural alternative to tons of plastic products–and our Bamboo Baby Feeding Spoons are no exception! The handle is sized for parents to easily grip and maneuver, while the spoon is sized for delicate baby mouths. Perfect for ages 6 months and older, bambu even got these feeding spoons tested and approved under US Code SFR Title 16, which is a complicated way of saying they’re really, truly phthalate, PVC, and BPA-free, and made without glues or lacquers. Then, when your little one grows up and is ready for their next set of reusable bamboo utensils, simply toss these feeding spoons in the compost bin and let them biodegrade! But… if you’re set on the plastic look and feel, opt for a plant-based plastic feeding spoon, like this one!
“Here comes the airplane”… is said a lot at the table with toddlers… but how often does the “airplane” land safely in the hanger, without leaving a trail of mashed peas and potatoes behind? Almost never. We like easy clean ups, which is why we love the organic cotton bibs from Green Sprouts. The ultra-soft organic cotton is non-toxic, grown without pesticides, is colored with azo-free dyes–and gets softer with every wash. The four absorbent fabric layers manage spills of any size, with an adjustable snap closure to take your baby through the first year of mealtimes.
Want to bring even more fun to the table? Try out the Frog Baby Bib, or Monkey Baby Bib from Under the Nile, both made from GOTS and USDA Certified Organic Egyptian Cotton on a Fairtrade Certified farm. Whatever your style is, all our burp cloths and bibs are machine washable for no-fuss cleanups.
Snacking on-the-go with a baby or toddler can be as difficult as herding cats. You’ll almost always need to have several options for snacking for their changing mood and appetites, which can lead to a purse full of toxic plastics pouches or heavy glass baby food jars. Don’t turn your purse into a pantry–just bring perfectly portioned snacks in these plant-based plastic Snack Cups by Green Sprouts. They’re as lightweight and durable as typical plastic products, but are made from a BPA/BPS, melamine, and PVC-free plant-based plastic that’s dishwasher safe and 100% non-toxic. They’re stackable, snackable, and totally adorable.
Brain Food: Elementary + Middle Schoolers
Recent data shows that while 30.6 million US students eat school lunches every year, only 6% of school lunches meet the nutritional requirements established by the US Department of Agriculture. Beyond that, many of these school-provided lunches come on styrofoam trays, with single-use plastic cups, and disposable plastic utensils. By packing a lunch for your kid to bring to school, you can ensure they’re getting a balanced meal–all in plastic-free packaging. Ditch the brown paper bag and set them up for success with these modern snacking reusables!
Single use plastic bags… where do we begin. They don’t seal all that well, rip easily, and can spill snacks at any time. Plus, they can never ever be recycled, and are usually used just once before heading to the trash. ChicoBag reduces waste from day one with their rPETe Snack Bags, using recycled water bottles to make the fabric for these reusable baggies. This colorful three pack allows you to pack your kiddo multiple things to munch on, all in a lightweight and easy-travel pouch. They’re resealable, reusable, washable, and overall awesome for any dry snacks or sandwiches!
Not only do plastic or paper lunch bags break, leaving your food on the floor, but they’re designed to be used only once–leading to hundreds of trashed bags by the end of the school year. By switching to a reusable lunch box you can reduce this waste, and keep their lunch colder and fresher for longer. Apple Park’s adorable Animal Lunch Packs come in a fun variety of animals from bunnies to foxes, and are insulated for hours of fresh food. Made from recycled water bottles, their packs are naturally water-resistant, dishwasher/machine washing safe, and long-lasting. When they’re ready for a more mature pack, donate this durable pack to a local school or charity, and upgrade to this lunch tote!
Fork, spoon, knife, you’re ready to go! This bamboo utensil set from To-Go Ware contains all the mealtime essentials, wrapped up in a travel case made from recycled plastic water bottles. The stain resistant and dishwasher safe organic bamboo utensils will last your kid for years until they’re ready to upgrade to a full size utensil set, and are lightweight enough to be tucked into any lunch pack or kit. In a variety of fun colors for every personality, your kids will never have to use the disposables at the cafeteria again!
Next Steps: High School + College Students
You’re almost across the 12 year finish line, heading to college and beyond. But that doesn’t mean that lunch time goes away… it just means you’re likely multitasking during your lunch break. Our high school and college suggestions are designed around a busy lifestyle–introducing compostable disposable options, and on-the-go sizes. Whether you’re cramming in the library or enjoying intramurals on the college field, you’ll never go hungry with these essentials.
Have a 5 minute lunch break and need something to snack on? Want to save the rest of your avocado for tomorrow mornings avocado toast? Running to your yoga class with granola in tow?
It’s no secret that we’re not into single-use plastic, but we know that those resealable bags are just SO convenient! Full Circle Home has got you covered with their ZipTuck reusable snack bags. They’re not only reusable and perfect for on-the-go, but they also come in some cute designs to “fancy” up your snack!
At this age, being able to fit your lunch bag inside your crowded backpack becomes less and less feasible. U Konserve solved this problem in their reinvented lunch bag, featuring an adjustable shoulder strap so you can tote your lunch alongside your books, without anything being crushed. Made from recycled plastic water bottles, this bag is naturally insulated, keeping food and drinks cold for 5-8 hours with an ice pack. Plus, it features an interior pocket for storing the sandwich bags and utensil sets we’ve been raving over above!
Seran wrap, step aside. Plastic wrap, please go! We have a new wrap in our lives: Khala Cloth’s Plant-Based & Vegan Wraps! A cotton and hemp fabric blend is treated with consciously-sourced soy wax, jojoba, and coconut oil to create a vegan wrap that can be molded and shaped with the warmth of your hands. We love the sandwich wraps for our lunch kits because they include an adorable tie to keep your sandwich in place on the run. Plus, they’re vegan, so experimenting with veganism during college is a breeze.
High school and college can be a super busy time, rushing from class to after-school sports to homework study groups. When it’s time to stop and snack, you don’t want to be dealing with a full set of utensils, when all you need is the essentials–a spoon and a fork. The Spork and Cork Set by bambu is the perfect tool for on the go, made of 50% spoon and 50% fork for 100% fun. The naturally stain-resistant and anti-microbial organic bamboo wood spork is finished with a food-safe oil finish, and comes with a beautiful (and washable!) cork fabric sleeve to keep your spork clean in your backpack or purse. And, like all our lunch time essentials, this set is totally phthalate, PVC, and BPA-free.
Post Grad: Educators + Professionals
You’ve made it through school–whether it took 12 years or 25 years. For the teachers out there, you found your way back into the classroom, and into the world of a packed lunch once again. But, most professions nowadays are encouraging home-packed lunches, thanks to their reduced cost, healthy ingredients, and reduced plastic waste. Whether you’re working the 9-5 or living life on your own schedule, these are our favorite “grown-up” ways to lunch sustainably.
See ya plastic baggies… hello Stasher Bags! Whether you want to warm up leftovers in the microwave for lunch or just somewhere to keep your homemade energy bars fresh, Stasher Bags have your back. These silicone-made bags are designed to be as reusable as possible so they are safe to put in the dishwasher! And if that isn’t good enough, they can also be used in the freezer, oven, or even sous vide.
You have limited space in your work bag (and your work fridge), and no desire to have a bland or boring lunch. Enter U Konserve’s Divided Stainless Steel Food Container: a reusable, bento-style lunchbox that separates your snacks into four different sectors. Keep a salad on one side, a sandwich on the other in this non-toxic, BPA-free, and lead-free food storage box. The leak resistant lid, and recyclable stainless steel are both machine washable as well, reducing the amount of time you spend cleaning and prepping for your next meal.
If you’re gone at work or school all day, you need plenty of fresh food throughout the day, maybe packing two lunches or a lunch and a dinner. While an insulated lunch tote will get the job done, we’re loving the Recycled Plastic Ice Packs from U Konserve for all of our fresh food needs. The machine washable and moisture resistant cover is made from recycled plastic water bottles, with an interior gel from non-toxic sodium polymers. You can feel good adding this to any lunch pack, as its been tested by CPSIA-accredited independent labs to be free of BPAs, phthalates, and leads.
You’re an adult. And we think your lunch bag should reflect that. This reusable lunch bag from United by Blue is made from 100% water-resistant organic waxed canvas in beautiful navy, tan, and olive with a stylish roll-top buckle front closure. The 8 liter bag is roomy enough for all your food throughout the day, and can be easily cleaned with soap and water! Details like vegetable tanned leather and solid brass hardware add modern sophistication you love to an everyday essential you didn’t know you needed.
A Lunch Kit for Everyone
Our mission is to make it easy for you to have a non-toxic lunch or meal… at any age, profession, life situation, diet, what-have-you. While some of our products are best served for certain age groups (though we won’t judge you if you want a bunny lunch pack) we decided to make some all-purpose lunch kits you can buy in just one click. Whether you’re meal prepping, packing a lunch for someone else, or bringing your own lunch to work, you’ll find these kits have everything you need.