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.

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Guest post: Healthy bodies are good for the environment

After witnessing a site hacking on my very own blog (fer realz) and having a lot of crazy stuff going on in my personal life, I just haven’t been up to blogging this week. Thankfully, I have a guest blogger to fill in for me today. :)

Today’s guest post comes from Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish (thank you, Beth!) and is very timely considering all of the illness that has been plaguing the Crunchy Domestic Goddess household as of late. Beth works hard to live life with as little plastic as possible and to help others figure out plastic-free alternatives via her blog, Fake Plastic Fish.  Her plastic epiphany occurred in mid-2007 after stumbling upon the article Plastic Ocean, which she feels should be required reading for anyone who wonders what all this fuss is about plastic.

Healthy bodies are good for the environment

The ferocious flu that hit me several weeks ago resulted in quite a few trips to Kaiser Permanente. During one of those visits, I noticed something in the public restroom I’d never seen there before: a green bin and green liner… telltale signs of composting afoot. I moved in to take a closer look. Sure enough… compostable liner and a sign above the bin instructing users to deposit paper towel waste there.

Sick as I was, I had my camera with me and the presence of mind to snap a few shots, while curious restroom users stared. I forgot about this green moment in Kaiser until reading the Ecology Center‘s recent issue of Terrain Magazine on BART this morning, particularly the article, “When More then the Scrubs are Green.”

The piece describes the efforts of some medical institutions, including Kaiser, to reduce waste and switch to environmentally-safer products… from the food they serve patients to the carpets and furniture installed in buildings. And it points out that while a few hospitals have made changes to lighten their ecological footprint, most go through immense amounts of waste each day, much of it toxic, in an effort to protect patients’ health. Ironic, no?

But the part of the article that really hit me came towards the end (emphasis mine):

No matter what percentage of its trash a hospital recycles, or how local its food is, or how sustainable the building, the uncomfortable truth is that modern medical practices have a big impact on the environment…. Possibly the best way for each of us to reduce the impact of hospitals on the environment is to do our best to avoid using them. That means making lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising, and advocating for better access to good food and laws that clean up our air and water.

In my case, of course, it also means getting more sleep.

We often think about the relationship between ourselves and our environment in exactly the opposite way. Pollution in our air, water, and food is harmful to our bodies. This article shows one way that our sick bodies can then contribute to further degradation of our environment. It’s a vicious cycle, and someone needs to stop pedaling!

I’m guilty as charged. I stay up way too late. I imbibe excessive quantities of caffeine (My dentist advised me yesterday to give up coffee and I replied, “But I have. Many, many, many times.”) and sugar and baked goods. My exercise routine is suing me for neglect (I will run again, I swear!) and my ass is getting flatter by the minute from so much sitting. Many of you have heard this litany from me before.

What I’m doing to my body is not just harming me… it’s harming the whole planet. Yeah, fundamentally there’s no real separation between me and anything else anyway. But on the level of everyday human experience, it’s good to have a concrete reminder that the excuse, “I’m only hurting myself,” is ultimately meaningless. When I get sick, sickness in the world increases. Medical waste increases. Medical spending increases too! Actions become ineffective. It’s all just one big FAIL.

Now, before anyone jumps on me for “blaming the victim,” I’m not saying that people don’t get sick for totally random (as far as we can tell) reasons or due to factors over which they had no direct control. What I am saying that wellness is the responsibility of all of us… for all of us.

Healthy choices we can make that have far-reaching environmental consequences include:

1) Buying less plastic
2) Choosing organic food
3) Eating more plants and fewer animals
4) Driving less and biking/walking more
5) Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, stretching, & breathing

What are some ways that you keep both your body and the environment healthy?

Getting kids on the bottle – water bottle, that is

Just as it is important that we as adults drink our water from refillable, reusable water bottles, it is equally important that our children do as well. The habits and values we instill in them when they are young are the habits and values they are likely to carry with them throughout their lives and eventually pass on to their children.

If you are already drinking from a reusable water bottle yourself, you are on the right track towards teaching your children good habits by leading by example. Educating your kids about why you’ve chosen the reusable route is important too. I think children as young as 3 or 4 are already receptive to having simple conversations about why living green is a good choice for their family and the earth. Getting the kids involved and excited about using a reusable water bottle can be as easy as letting them help pick one out and giving them the “job” of remembering it (and reminding all other family members to bring theirs) whenever you go somewhere.

Just as there is a wide variety of water bottles on the market for adults, there are just as many water bottles and sippy cups marketed to children. What appeals to one child, may not appeal to the next (or to the parent), so it can be a wise and money-saving decision to research your bottles and cups before you buy.

An important thing to remember when looking for a water bottle for your child is that you want it to be BPA-free. Go Green Design writes about Bisphenol A in The Problem with Plastic.

During the first few years of life, when babies’ cells continue to undergo “programming,” exposure to certain toxic chemicals can disrupt the delicate process. Bisphenol A, a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics that mimics the effects of estrogen, has raised particular concern because it interferes with hormone levels and cell signaling systems. Several dozen scientists issued a review of 700 studies on BPA warning that the levels most people are exposed to put them at elevated risk of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate cancer. Infants, the report said, are most vulnerable to BPA.

While the above is specifically with regard to baby bottles, it certainly applies to toddlers and children as well.

Now onto a few different water bottle types.

Thermos makes both a straw bottle and sippy cup. Victoria from Vdog and Little Man commented to me that the “sippy has a lot of parts for the spout – membranes, etc., but it is LOVED by every kid I know.” And the straw cup “leaks horribly when turned on it’s side or upside down, so parental monitoring with that one is required (once ended up at home with a soaked tush and carseat!).”

Psychmamma also wrote about her experiences with the Thermos Foogo and the 16 oz. BPA-free Camelbak bottle.

Victoria also commented that she personally likes “the playtex straw cups because they have few parts, and the straw is covered when closed, and they are made out of polypropylene #5 (not #7 the ‘bad’ plastic).” However, she notes that the water can take on a plastic-y taste when left in the bottle overnight and says she changes the water very frequently in the #5 cups “to be on the safe side.”

A Little Greener Everyday wrote a review of the CynerGreen CGKidz 350ml Bottles.

Other popular children’s water bottles include the SIGG and KleanKanteen.

Beyond using your refillable water bottle at home and on outings, don’t forget about school lunches. For school-aged children, you can incorporate having a reusable water bottle with having an entire reusable lunch system. There are a lot of fun lunch kits available. Non-toxic Kids writes about the Kids Konserve waste-free lunch kits that includes a stainless steel water bottle. Really Natural writes about the BPA-free Laptop Lunch System that includes a BPA-free water bottle. There are many other waste-free lunch systems on the market as well.

Do your kids use reusable water bottles and/or sippy cups? What are their favorites?

Related links:

Cross-posted on BlogHer