Green Lunches

At a recent meeting of my book club, we discussed a scene from Mad Men: after enjoying a picnic at the park, the Draper family gets up and gets into the car, and Betty, left with all the clean-up, shakes out the picnic blanket and leaves all the garbage on the grass.  Gasp!

Today, after millions spent on signage to deter littering, and the efforts of environmental groups to draw attention to the afterlife of litter, we have all been trained out of dropping our lunch litter on the ground.  Do you share my visceral response to seeing garbage dropped on the ground?  I really do have a powerful physical response to seeing that.  We now pick up after ourselves and Put Litter in its Place, or whatever slogan fits you best.

The next stage of the battle, though, has to be to reduce the amount of litter that lunches generate.  I’m hoping that in 50 years’ time, when our grandkids are watching a retro-2010 sitcom set in a school, the packaging in kids’ lunches will elicit the same kind of gasp we let out when watching the flick of the picnic blanket.

At my kids’ school, there are several initiatives under way to reduce the amount of garbage generated by the daily graze.  The school offers a twice-weekly hot lunch programme from Real Food for Real Kids.  RFRK is company that serves both herbivore and omnivore hot, healthy, organic lunches, and they strive to provide as much local food as possible.  Kids bring in their own re-usable food containers and cutlery, cutting down on packaging and waste, and they bring in their own drinks.  Twice a week, the lunchbox is a breeze in the morning, and all I have to do is toss in some fruit or veggies for the recess snacks.  Litterless, easy, clean.

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Another initiative at the kids’ school is the Boomerang Lunch: all the wrapping, plastic bags, paper–all the materials that would go into the garbage after eating lunch–now comes back home in the lunchbox.  Let me tell you, this is the best thing ever to raise awareness about lunch litter.  Packaging looks lovely when the lunch box is organized just so, and the granola bar is nestled in next to the baggie of carrots.  When that wrapper and baggie come home, though, the message also comes home that we have to find alternatives to the mountains of waste we generate daily.  I am a huge fan of the Boomerang Lunch and how it makes me think twice before reaching for the individually wrapped snacks that are so temptingly convenient.

Kids are also encouraged to bring water bottles to school, instead of drink boxes and other disposable drink containers.  Our family gets only an average mark on this one.  Because the kids can still recycle their drink boxes at school, I do not feel the same kind of revulsion I feel when I think of the garbage generated by “family-sized” boxes of individually wrapped snacks.  I hate cleaning the tupperware juice containers, with their fiddly nooks and crannies, and, germaphobe that I am, I worry that I’ve never gotten them clean enough.  I like to send a soy milk in with the son who does not get enough protein, and I send it in a drink box.  Apple juice I will send in the tupperware, but anything with pulp, or smoothies are out.  A work in progress that one.

Greening the lunch box has been a relatively effortless way to reduce and recycle, and the kids get involved when they look at the snack options in the grocery store.  Individual bags of crackers are now not an option, and we buy the bigger (and cheaper!) bulk size and put them in our own containers.  Not hard to do, easy to feel good about.


7 thoughts on “Green Lunches

  1. I agree with this, and I’ve been pretty good at packing my own lunches since my freshmen semester in high school (I’m in college now, junior, waiting to transfer). I even brought extra food to give to my friends who I knew wouldn’t have lunch money or food to bring. I loved sharing and getting people to know about all the waste they created. ^.^ I still try to do it now!

  2. I have a similar visceral response to littering – it’s part social influence of course but at heart I think littering reflects a real alienation from where we live and how we care for it – with a healthy relationship and respect for our homes, who would throw garbage on it?

    There are so many great eco-friendly lunch supplies out there – you have to make an investment up front but it’s worth it. We’ve have two kinds of re-usable sandwich wraps ( and and I bought a bento box set – it’s great for little kids with food in all the little boxes ( I’m happy with it but I’d probably try something different as my others kids go to school since there are so many good options.

    For drinks we bought stainless steel reusable water bottles ( and that’s it. Always the drink is water. If you wanted to give other liquids, you could opt for the simple screw on top which is easier to clean rather than the spout (although I think kids like the spout to suck through!). These bottles aren’t cheap, but the kids like them and each has his own colour. I encourage them to remember their own bottles because they’re important for their snacks and lunches (ie., important to them) and I like the implicit value of taking care of our things.

    • Yes, the stainless steel bottles would be the easiest to clean, but with my boys’ track record for losing things…. Maybe we’ll just take it out of their allowance. Kill several life lessons with one stone….

  3. I’m not quite in the lunch trenches yet–my oldest is in half-day kindergarten, so it’s just been packed snacks so far, and I’m not looking forward to next year! But I use little glass Anchor dishes (got them at Loblaws) for snacks, and a stainless steel water bottle. So far she hasn’t lost (or broken) any of the glass bowls, and they’re a good size for things like mini-peppers, apple slices, etc. I make my own granola bars, which not only cuts down on packaging, but also sugar!

    • I’m amazed at the sugary junk that appears in lunch boxes. The kids’ kindergarten teacher got us off to a good start and had a rule that they could only bring fruits and vegetables for snack. We felt like rebels when we sent whole wheat crackers! Now, all I have to do is invoke her rule.

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