Green Your Child’s School Lunch

Katrina Edenfeld
Do It Green! Minnesota

Home-packed lunches can be fun, healthy, and green, with very little time or money required. I calculated that my child’s lunch, including organic fruit, required less than five minutes on average and $1.00 per day last year-compared to over $2.25 for school lunch. Try these suggestions to green your packed lunches, whether for children, adults, or picnics!

Reduce waste: Avoid disposables and look for high-quality reusable items—for instance, an insulated lunch bag with sturdy zippers and a leakproof, child-friendly stainless steel water bottle. Polypropylene plastic containers (#5) do not contain BPA and are a lightweight option for packing cold foods. A stainless steel food jar makes home-packed hot lunch possible. Finish the lunch setting with a reusable ice pack, a cloth napkin (in a fun fabric, if you’re crafty!) and washable spoon or fork.

Choose greener foods: An environmentally friendly lunch will limit packaged and processed foods and focus low on the food chain. Avoid food waste, too: many schools have a very short lunch period, and your child may only be able to eat a small amount of food in that time. Consider thinking of lunch and an after-school snack as two small meals, both consisting of healthy foods, to substitute for a larger lunch.

Add a surprise: A funny note or a short poem tucked into the lunchbox is fun for young ones.

Be prepared: Don’t expect to be very inspired in the middle of the morning school rush. Take a few minutes during a quiet time to make a list of the foods your child would like to eat for lunch, and add the ingredients to your grocery list. It doesn’t need to be an extensive list: some children are happy eating the same lunch for a surprisingly long string of days.

A few ideas to inspire your own creation:

  • Cheese sandwich Cream cheese and vegetable sandwich
  • Peanut butter and jelly, if permitted
  • Pita bread and hummus, beans, vegetables
  • Yogurt (make or buy in bulk) and granola (pack separately)
  • Wrap with baked tofu or a bean spread, vegetables
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Pasta salad
Hot, in food jar
  • Your child’s favorite soup or chili
  • Pasta with tomato, cheese, or pesto sauce
  • Beans, mashed or not, with tortilla and cheese on the side
On the side
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables, sliced as needed, raw or lightly steamed
  • Pickled cucumber or other veggies
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Trail mix
Read Up

Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!, by Jennifer McCann, DaCapo Press, 2008.

Lunch Boxes and Snacks: Over 120 Healthy Recipes from Delicious Sandwiches and Salads to Hot Soups and Sweet Treats, by Annabel Karmel, Atria, 2007.

Act Locally

Wedge Community Co-op
Minneapolis, MN

Linden Hills Natural Home
Minneapolis, MN

Lands End  Not-Quite-Perfect Store
Roseville, MN
Lunch boxes, food jars

Lands End Inlet
Woodbury, MN

Green School Lunch

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