Turning back-to-school lunches green

This post is part of the Green Moms Carnival, which, this month, is focusing on greening up your back-to-school routine.

People often think “going green” means you have to spend a lot of money. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Making school (or even work) lunches green doesn’t require a huge outlay of cash. In fact, by packing eco-friendly lunches, you are more likely to save money, your children are more likely to eat healthier foods, and you are taking care of the earth by producing less waste. It’s a win-win-win!

Time is often an important factor when it comes to packing lunches (at least it is for me). And while some of the following suggestions take time to prepare, if you do your prep work on a weekend, you will have food conveniently ready to toss into lunch containers throughout the week(s) ahead.

When shopping for school lunch foods, be mindful of greenwashing – “a term used to describe the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly.” Just because a product claims to be “natural,” contain “whole grains” or even “organic” doesn’t mean it’s healthy or what it claims to be. Read labels carefully. The more processed food is and the more ingredients it has, the less likely it is to be healthy whether it’s organic or not. I mean seriously, organic Oreos? Give me a break!

If you buy individually packaged foods, like organic fruit snacks, how green are you really being? Think about how much plastic and packaging is involved there. A great alternative is to make your own organic fruit snacks. If you can use locally-grown fruit from your own garden or farmer’s market, all the better. Package them in a reusable container like these reusable sandwich bags found in the Cool Mom Picks Back to School Guide and you have a tasty “green” snack ready to go!

Far better than buying food that contains a label is to buy label-less food, like fresh produce! Chopped fruits and vegetables, paired with a dip or nut butter, bring color, taste and healthiness to every lunchbox. Try to choose fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown locally whenever possible. You can even buy large quantities of in-season fruits or veggies and then dehydrate them to throw into lunches year-round.

Granola bars are another great snack, but when you buy them from the store they are often full of unwanted ingredients, additives and preservatives and come with excessive packaging and waste. When you make them yourself, you control what goes into them and you significantly cut down on trash or eliminate it all-together. Check out these tasty do-it-yourself granola bar recipes below. You are sure to find at least one that your kiddos will eat. Some don’t even require baking! Make a batch on the weekend and you are set for lunches for the week. Put them in a reusable container and they are good to go.

Nuts are a great protein-filled food that can easily be packed into lunches. I just read a post by a woman on Freecycle asking for used Altoids containers. She said she uses them to pack nuts in her kids’ lunches. What a great idea! If your school has a no peanuts policy, ask if other nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans or walnuts are acceptable.

Does your child like yogurt but you don’t like all of the waste (recyclable or not) produced by individual cups? Here’s another thing you can make at home (even in your crockpot), then scoop into your reusable container and you’re set. If you run short on time and have to buy yogurt from the store, buy it in the larger containers, then scoop out the desired amount into your child’s reusable container. Again, less waste.

If your child’s school doesn’t have the option for them to compost their leftover food (perhaps you can inquire about it and get a system started), ask them to bring home their leftovers rather than throw them into the trash so you can either save them if they are salvageable or compost them yourself. This will also allow you to gauge how much and which foods your child ate for lunch.

Along the same lines, check with your child’s school to see if they have a recycling system in place. If not, find out how you can get one started.

Michelle at What’s Cooking blog has an entire post chock full of ideas to help your child eat healthy school lunches. Some of her tips include:

  • Keep in mind that your children don’t have much time to eat…so pack foods in small portions that are easy to eat, so they have time left to play.
  • Let your child help you select a cool lead-free and reusable lunch bag or lunch box. Pick up a few reusable containers that will fit inside – this will prevent food from leaking and getting smashed, and will help you avoid using disposable items like plastic bags and foil.
  • Pack a reusable drink container instead of juice boxes, juice pouches, cans, and disposable plastic bottles.
  • Buy in bulk instead of purchasing pre-packaged items.
  • Whenever possible, pack lunches the night before.

Michelle also has some great tips for sandwich alternatives, thermos treasures, and container combinations that kids can assemble themselves.

Looking for more lunch container ideas? Check out:

  • Lunch Bots Uno and Duo
  • Kids Konserve which contains a page with a lot of information for schools, including a waste-free challenge to earn or save money for their schools. (Use code: crunchy for 15% off your Kids Konserve purchases through Sept. 30, 2009)
  • Retro Housewife put a list of cute reusable containers, utensils and cloth napkins for back-to-school waste-free lunches
  • Kellie at GreenHab has also put together a nice selection of lunch boxes

There ya have it. Turning your school lunches green is healthier, less costly and better for the earth, and probably even more fun. If you have money-saving green lunch tips or kid-friendly recipes, please post your links in the comments.

Related posts:

Cross-posted on BlogHer

Make sure you head over to Organic Mania on Monday, Aug. 10, to find out how other Green Moms are greening their back to school routine in this month’s Green Moms Carnival.

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Pushing your way to greener grass : environmentally-friendly reel mowers

I’m not an big fan of large, lush (water-guzzling) lawns, especially in areas that often experience drought, like here in Colorado. However, if you have a lawn or patch of grass (or even weeds), chances are you need a way to mow it occasionally lest your yard become the eye-sore of the neighborhood. We don’t have a very big yard here and just got done converting about two-thirds of the backyard into a playground mulchy play area for the kids (as well as some raised garden beds for me), so the amount of grass we have back there is minimal. We still have a lawn in our front yard, but again, it’s not very big and of course we need a way to mow both of them.

In the past we’ve (and when I say “we,” I mean Jody) cut our grass with a gas rotary lawn mower which has always been Jody’s responsibility. I’ve been opposed to cutting the grass for as long as I can remember because I have grass allergies and am not fond of the grass/dirt cloud created using a gas-powered mower. I also don’t like the gas fumes, the noise or the air pollution they create, so I’ve somehow managed to get out of mowing the lawn both as a child and as an adult – in other words pretty much all of my life. ;)

For Father’s Day this year, I decided to get Jody a manual push reel mower – the Scotts Classic Reel Mower. It seemed more practical for our yard now that we have even less grass than before and would be a good change for the environment. However, I suspected the gift might secretly be for me. I took the new mower for a spin in the backyard last week, which may have been my first time cutting the grass ever, and I liked it. I didn’t have to worry about a grass/dirt cloud, noise (my kids could happily stay outside while I did it), or fumes. My allergies weren’t affected by it at all.

What’s the difference between a reel mower and a rotary mower?
Using a reel mower is healthier for the grass. “A reel mower scissors-cuts the grass in its place as it lays. Grass blades are cut cleanly and precisely, with minimal disturbance to the plant. A rotary mower sucks all the grass up to vertical and then chops it off with the fast-moving blade, tearing and bruising the grass, and disturbing its natural growth pattern. This often causes the lawn to dry out and to brown.

The more healthy the grass, the thicker, greener and more beautiful. Reel mowers promote the health of the lawn by minimizing the impact on the grass plant and allowing it to maximize its own inherent properties. In other words, a reel mower helps the grass plant to help itself!”

How much air pollution does a power mower cause?
“Garden equipment engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, producing up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution and a good deal more in many metropolitan areas like Los Angeles.

A conventional lawn mower pollutes as much in an hour as 40 late model cars (or as much as as much air pollution as driving a car for 100 miles).

A typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower, for instance, can emit the same amount of VOCs — key precursors to smog — in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles, say industry experts.

The replacement of every 500 gas mowers with non-motorized mowers would spare the air:

* 212 pounds of hydrocarbons
(smog ingredient)
* 1.7 pounds of nitrogen oxides
(smog ingredient)
* 5.6 pounds of irritating particles
* 1,724 pounds of carbon dioxide

To top it off, lawn and garden equipment users inadvertently add to the problem by spilling 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refilling their outdoor power equipment. That’s more petroleum than spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska.”

Wondering which manual reel mower is right for you?
Check out this handy chart comparing push reel mowers.

Looking for an alternative to a lawn?
Read more about xeriscaping, which is landscaping or gardening that minimizes outdoor water use while maintaining soil integrity and building aesthetics. Xeriscaping typically includes emphasis on native plantings, mulching, and no or limited drip/subsurface irrigation.

This Sunday I mowed the front yard and I enjoyed it too. See that lovely unwashed hair smile on my face? ;P The more I get into gardening and doing things outside, the more I realize that I really enjoy pretty much all aspects of yard work. I know the reel mower was meant to be a present for Jody, but now that I’m the one mowing the grass and he no longer has to worry about it, it really is a gift to him (and a gift to the Earth too). Now if only I could get my neighbors to quit smoking while I’m out there cutting the grass, I’d be a happy camper.

Decluttering your house, the green way

I’ve been on a spring cleaning kick around here lately and it’s a good thing since my house is sorely in need of it. Not only will decluttering hopefully help my mood (who can stay positive looking at clutter day in and day out?), but getting rid of our superfluous stuff will be helpful when it comes time to pack it all up one day (I hope in a year or two) and move to another house.

When ridding my home of stuff we no longer want or use, I try to be as green and eco-friendly as possible. How do I do it?

  • Listing my items on Freecycle is often my first choice because it can be the fastest way to move stuff out and get it into the hands of someone else who can use it. The only rule to listing on Freecycle is that you have to give the item(s) away for free. Personally, I love it.
  • If I have a more expensive item that I don’t want to give away for free, I turn to Craigslist – it’s like a huge classified system where you can list items free of charge. As opposed to something like Ebay, Craigslist is organized by city so there’s a good chance you can find someone in your area that can come get it directly from you and pay you cash, and you avoid having to spend money on shipping and making a trip to the Post Office.
  • Our curbside recycling bin is also my best friend when cleaning house. If something isn’t accepted in the curbside bin, sometimes it can go to the local recycling center which is just a few miles away. Check with your local recycling center for more information on recycling in your area.
  • If it isn’t wanted on Freecycle, can’t be sold or can’t be recycled, and provided it’s something others can use, then it usually goes into a donation pile to be given to a local charity.
  • If all of these fail, then as a last resort it goes into the trash. I try to use the garbage can as sparingly as possible, but even I must admit that sometimes the trash is the only place for it.

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
  • Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
  • What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

As for my decluttering today, I cleaned out and reorganized the pantry/laundry room. I should’ve taken before and after pictures, if not to post on my blog, then for my own satisfaction. ;) I still have a bit more work to do in there and Jody is going to put up another shelf, but already it feels so. much. better.

I also worked a bit in my kitchen today to clear off one of my countertops. My countertops end up being a breeding ground for kid artwork and my/Jody’s paperwork. Does this happen to anyone else?? I’m trying to get a system in place so that we can avoid future paper explosions on the counter, but some more reorganizing and implementing a filing system (as well as having a desk to use) is definitely in order first. Anyone have a cute rolltop desk they want to sell me or give me? C’mon, Freecycle, baby. ;)

What to do with all those leaves!

dryleaves.jpgThis week I wrote over at 5 Minutes For Going Green about all the brown material you’ll ever need for your compost bin. Check it out and then keep it in mind this weekend when you are raking and bagging leaves, which is something I’m sure to be doing since our trees have dumped a ton in the past week!

Though since the weather is going to be awesome, and Jody will be back home (hallelujah) after 6 days in California, you might catch me and the fam at a pumpkin patch too. :) Have a great weekend.

Green Tip of the Week #24: Getting rid of house flies and fruit flies naturally

If your house is anything like mine lately, you’ve had an infestation of flies – both of the house and fruit variety. Here are some tips I’ve run across over the past several weeks that have helped me deal with mine, naturally.

For Houseflies (or poop bugs as my daughter called them until her preschool teacher corrected her – hehe):

  • Using a fly swatter is the best way to rid your house of them
  • Hang a clear plastic bag of water (half-full) on or near your door. It will deter them from coming in your house in the first place. (I’m still trying out this method.)

fruitbowl.jpgFor fruit flies:

  1.  Fill a shallow bowl of red wine, red wine vinegar OR apple cider vinegar (I’ve had luck with all three of these)
  2. Add a few drops of dish soap to it and mix it in with your finger
  3. Leave on your counter top
  4. The fruit flies will gather on the rim of the bowl and, eventually, dive on in and drown


  1. Leave out a wine bottle with an inch or so of red wine at the bottom.
  2. The flies get trapped. They go in, but can’t get out.


  1. Make a cone out of a sheet of paper (like a funnel) to fit in a cup
  2. Pour a small amount of apple cider vinegar into the cup
  3. Place the funnel into the cup, but don’t let it touch the vinegar
  4. Tape the paper funnel to the cup
  5. The flies will go down into the cup but won’t be able to fly back out

Please note: When trying to rid your home of fruit flies, it’s best to rid your counter tops of fresh or rotting produce (which will attract the fruit flies and is a breeding ground for them) by either putting it in the refrigerator or covering it. You should also wash all dishes, clean all drains and empty your trash.

What’s worked for you? Have any tips to share?

Have any green tips you’ve recently learned? Please email them to me and I may include your tip with a link to your site or blog in a future post. :)

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Guest post: Giving with Art

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Carrie who blogs at Passage.

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

MintAt my last birthday, a friend gave me a pot of assorted mint plants. I keep the pot in a sunny window, and I catch the scent of mint over my breakfast in the morning. My husband and friends lavished me with attention and well-chosen gifts that birthday. Admit it, birthdays all kind of run together after age 21 or so, but they helped me remember what it feels like to be made much of on a birthday. I came away from my celebration wanting to lavish others, but quite frankly, I couldn’t afford much, and I didn’t want to promote any more consumerism or un-green living. I just wanted my friends and family to feel abundantly loved.

The most heartless gifts I’ve given have been those bought quickly and impulsively from a store. They have been gifts matched with a dollar amount: Okay, I have $30? Well, then it’s a pair of candlesticks. $50? I’ll get a sweater. Stores scream their seasonal promotions at me. They make gift giving as easy and thoughtless as possible. And while parting with the money may be painful, I’ve decided it requires no more sacrifice than paying the monthly electricity bill. Oh, yes, that’s often painful, but the sacrifice in gift-giving should be a pleasurable one. It may be a noble thing to sacrifice money for a gift, but in a consumer-driven culture of easily attainable credit, fast cars, and drive-thru restaurants, perhaps the most valuable gift is one that requires a sacrifice of time.

So, I started a list of gifts for all the wonderful people on my birthday calendar. They deserved more than a card. And, I pledged, they deserved more than mere money. For creation’s sake, they deserved a green gift. For being a blessing to my life, they deserved a gift that was well-thought-out. And in spite of my pride, they would get a frugal gift.

So, with no further ado, my new recipe for green, anti-consumer, thoughtful, frugal gift-giving:

Creating Gifts

NapkinsIf you sew, if you make crafts, learn to hone those skills for creating gifts. I sewed my first set of cloth napkins last week. They will be for my sister-in-law, and although I bought new fabric from a table of pre-cut scraps for a mere $1.99/yard, I could have made napkins from any scrap fabric around the house.

Even the most amateur knitter can create a scarf. When it’s complete, my first scarf will be beautiful enough to give away because I used a fuzzy yarn that covers my errors. A stack of denim from our old jeans is piling up on my piano. I’m excited for the day I start sewing together the patches into a quilt.

If you cook, cook for a gift. Make granola from organic ingredients, and bottle it in an old pasta sauce jar. If you make any of your own household cleaners, make samples for a wedding or graduation gift.

Giving What I Have
PhotobookCards A few years ago, I worked at a scrapbook store, and over the course of two years, I collected enough paper and embellishments to last a lifetime. Now, I make all my birthday cards, and create packets of cards for gifts. Grandparents are fully satisfied to receive a book of pictures of their grandchildren. If you paint, paint for someone. Draw pictures for someone. Find a quote that embodies your friend or relative, and present it in a frame. Recently, I found some plain, abandoned hair barrettes, and created colorful bows for my nieces from my scrapbooking ribbon collection.

If you have no crafty or culinary talent, give away something precious to you. A few months ago, I found my childhood rock collection, and instead of boxing it away again, I’m giving my treasures to my nephews for their birthdays. Have books on the shelf that you loved but will likely not read again? If you love the books, I propose that it is not stingy to use them as gifts instead of buying another copy to give away.

Beyond Things

Maybe the greenest gift possible is the gift of service. On Father’s Day, I treated my husband to the best massage I knew how to give. It took time and concentration and affection to make it worthwhile. Mood music, candles, lotion — these helped make my massage almost as good as any massage therapist’s. Well, anyway, I assume it was. He certainly responded well.

Other acts of service: Plan a picnic. Write a poem for your dad. Deliver breakfast in bed. Clean your mom’s house.

And If All Else Fails…

Okay, I am human, too. And sometimes birthdays sneak up on me, and I simply don’t have time to make a craft for my mother or plan a getaway for my beloved. Therefore, I submit to you… three easy ideas (that cost a little money):

1. Used books. A true book-lover will love a dog-eared copy as much as a pristine one.

2. Fairly traded recycled things. These recycled newspaper hot mats from Ten Thousand Villages are the premade gifts over which I drool the most.

3. A donation to a charity in someone’s name.

Some Final Thoughts
I love my mint plant. My sister hinted that she would love one, too, and this year I just happened to be paying attention. So when November gets closer, I will give her her own mint plant, grown from an offshoot of mine. I will search for a lonely, used planter from my local Freecycle group. I may paint it or scrub it clean, but to my sister, it will be new. The earth will be happier without more boxes to throw into its landfills; my sister will not be burdened with some store-bought trinket that she doesn’t really need. And my heart will be full from the preparation of a gift that I know will be appreciated.

When I began making a list of green gifts, I worried about being thought of as cheap. But as I put effort into my planning, I find so much more thought going into the gifts that I no longer worry. Hey, after a certain age, to be thought of at all on a special day is a great honor. So I make my little gifts, say little prayers over the recipient, and I find the blessing in the giving so much more fulfilling than handing my debit card over to a sales clerk.

c.l.beyer blogs at passage, a compilation of accounts on her journey to becoming a green, life-loving, and creative wife and momma. She includes her thoughts on loving God and the unlovable people of the world, sharing bits of poetry she’s written and the occasional book review.