By Carl Hanson
July 28, 2016
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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In the frantic rush to get the kids off to school with a healthy lunch in hand, we go for convenience.

We stuff sandwiches and other goodies into plastic baggies or wrap them up in aluminum foil and wax paper; we toss individual packages of chips, yogurts, puddings, and juices into bags — packaging that gets a single use and then lands in the garbage...and eventually the landfill.

The cost of convenience is high, however. In fact, according to Waste Free Lunches, an average school-aged child's lunch box generates an estimated 67 pounds of waste per school year. That's 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school. As a result, our landfills are overflowing and incinerators are burning up loads of plastic waste, polluting the air we breathe. Meanwhile, Ecowatch reports that "93 percent of Americans age 6 or older test positive BPA (a plastic chemical)."

Here are some ideas for how to turn a typical disposable school lunch into a waste-free, reusable lunch.

Waste-Free Lunch on the Grass
Photo by Meredith

1. Reusable Containers

Store these foods in reusable containers instead of single-use plastic bags or aluminum foil:

  • Sandwiches and wraps
  • Sliced cheese and cut fresh fruit and veggies
  • Crackers, pretzels, cookies, chips, and other snacks

You can purchase fun "bento box" style lunchbox inserts, like the one shown above, or stow sandwiches and snacks in reusable, washable sandwich bags, like the one shown below.

Reusable Sandwich Bags
Reusable Sandwich Bags | Photo by Meredith

2. Ditch Pre-Packs

Instead of pre-packaged individual-serving containers, put these foods in reusable jar containers:

  • Soups, stews, and chilis can go into Thermos-style insulated jars
  • Yogurts, applesauces, and pudding go well with sturdy, screw-top jar containers to prevent leaking

3. Say No to the Pouch

Instead of sending juice, milk, or other drinks in individual cartons or pouches, fill a reusable, washable drinking cup (one with a good seal!).

4. Reuse Utensils

Instead of packing plastic forks and spoons and paper napkins, include cloth napkins and reusable utensils in lunch boxes.

Sure, there's bound to be a learning curve as kids get used to toting empties back home for washing, but once you establish your waste-free routine, you'll both feel good about your eco-smart lunch box.

BONUS: Making lunches like this means you can buy foods in larger quantities — which saves money while it protects the planet! Waste Free Lunches estimates that packing a waste-free lunch results in a savings of $246.60 per person each school year.

Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

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