That tell-tale chill is in the air in the mornings. Only one more week until Back-to-School! This is always a bittersweet time in our house; disappointment that our fun filled family summer is over, and relief to get back to a routine, back to work, and back to having five hot minutes to ourselves.
Once all of us parents have wrapped our heads around back-to-school shopping the stark realization hits us that school lunches are also on the horizon. These are the bane of my existence, the actual worst part of my day. It’s not that my kids are picky, they quite literally take the same thing every day (boring, but it makes it easy!). To be fair, it’s the UNPACKING of the lunches that really gets me. All that half-eaten food, leaked yogurt and one million containers. Multiply that by five kids, add in a barrage of water bottles, granola bar wrappers, and my kitchen looked like a plastic bomb went off. A solution was necessary before I lost my
It is so ridiculously easy to pack lunches with the pre-packaged food options that are out there and my gosh have I been tempted! I see cheese + cracker sets, granola bars, fruit snacks, and packaged fish crackers in my dreams. But not only are they generally less-healthy options, the amount of waste they make is obscene (especially when you have multiple kiddos). So where can parents find the balance of packing healthy, low-waste lunches that are relatively quick and
easy? There’s no perfect solution, but these 5 easy tips have made life easier for us.
1. A Bento Style Lunch Box
Some people love them, some people hate them, but I for one am in the LOVE camp. My girls have had the Yumboxes for a few years now and I can very honestly attest to their awesomeness. They are truly, honest to God, leakproof and we have given them a run for their money with dips, yogurt, and applesauce on the daily. They are dishwasher safe, but they recommend not using the high heat dry option. My stepsons are a bit older, and to be honest the Yumboxes just didn’t hold enough food for the entire day for them (Yumbox has just released the new stainless steel larger bento, which I think would work for them!). The boys have an older style bento box that’s larger with layers and works great for them (although they aren’t leakproof).
I love that they throw one container in their lunch bags, and only one container comes out at the end of the day. No searching for the right lids or trying to jam 100 containers into the bag. I also really appreciate the small compartments to help with proper portions. My girls are only in Grade 1 and 2 so still pretty light eaters. Before the bento I was unintentionally over packing their lunches, which contributed to a ton of food waste at the end of the day.
2. Meal Planning and Baking to Avoid Pre-Packaged Foods
Like I said before, a completely pre-packaged lunch is my dream, but certainly not
something we practise around here. Last year when the kids all went back to school full time post-Covid lockdowns we got into the packaged granola bar/gummies/snack packs/applesauce routine and quickly realized our snack game was going to have to change. I found that a little bit of prep and planning went a long way.
Throughout the summer I’ve been squirrelling away baked goods in the freezer. My trick is to make a double batch of everything. The first gets us through the week and then I freeze the rest (usually in my trusty Stasher Bags). Although, I am not much of a baker, I do have a few tried and true healthy muffin, breakfast bar, and cookie recipes that we make on the regular that are a great replacement for packaged granola bars. The gals over at Sweet Potato Chronicles have some AMAZING suggestions for not only quick and easy snacks, but meals with leftovers that can be “transformed” into lunches. We’ve got
“The School Year Survival Guide”* cookbook and it is well used! We also tracked down an excellent, super easy, crockpot applesauce recipe that we love and have started to freeze in bulk as well (I usually half the sugar, because I’m such a fun mom, haha). Fire all these ready-made goodies into a Yumbox and we’re good to go!
*I swear this is not an ad! We just really, really love their recipes!!
Parent Hack: Even with our best effort snack wrappers happen. Head over to
Terracycle.ca and order your family a snack wrapper bin for recycling the wrappers you can’t do away with. Chip bags, cracker/cereal liners, Halloween candy wrappers; they take them all for proper recycling. Purchasing the box includes a UPS shipping label for a return to the facility when it’s full.
3. Bulk Shopping for Snacks
This can be a tough one for school lunches, especially with keeping it peanut free, but I have found it to help! Take a wander through your local bulk food store (we are partial to our neighbours, Burns Bulk Foods!) and you’ll find some great snack options. We’ve taken to having sealed glass canisters of fish crackers, dried fruit, pretzels, teddy bear graham cookies, and dried chick peas in the pantry and I cannot even begin to explain how many snack wrappers it has eliminated for us! When we’re packing lunches, it’s super easy to toss a big mix of these sorts of snacks into a Stasher snack bag or Colibri zip bag instead of grabbing a granola bar, packaged snack crackers and a dried fruit strip. With a bit of planning, not only is it low waste, but exciting for the kids to make their own snack mix (more on this later).
Parent Hack: Every parent grabs up those “healthy fruit snacks” for lunches. All of us do it. Nutritionally they are not all that different than a plain old jujube or gummy worm (sometimes they’re even full of more junk!). Ditch the 50 individual packages of “fruit” gummies and hit the kids up with a couple sour gummy worms. You’ll save all that packaging, save a few bucks, and your kid will think you’re a hero.
4. A Rock Solid Lunch Bag
*sigh* The lunch bag. We’ve been through many. For some reason they all tend to be very structured and insulated which, in my opinion, really limits what you can actually get in them! It’s like playing Tetris every morning. Last year we swapped over to the Fluf lunch bags, and they have been a game changer! They are a super flexible zippered “sack” that have a water bottle holder and a water-resistant liner. The girls can pack their lunches on their own in the morning, tossing in their Yumbox, filling themselves a Stasher bag of snack mix, adding fruit of their choice and an ice pack. Zip it up and they’re set.
My other beef with the traditional lunch bag is that they are impossible to clean. I’ve tried everything, and there is still always this smell I can’t ever get rid of. If it’s really horrible I’ll give it a bit of a scrub with a good brush and some Sal Suds or cleaning vinegar. Otherwise, I just toss them in the laundry hang them up to dry and they’re good to go for the next morning. Big enough to hold everything but fits easily in their backpacks with room to spare. Win win.
5. Get the Kids Involved
Every parent knows this is the oldest trick in the book; get kids to choose and help prepare meals and they’ll be more invested and interested in eating them. Last year we started having the kids choose and put together their lunches the night before (with some guidance) and it was shocking how little was wasted when emptying the lunch bags the following day. What was even more surprising was they essentially put the EXACT same things in their lunches that we did every day, but somehow it was way better because they did it themselves. They had a ton of fun organizing all the little compartments and changing up where each item went. The build-your-own snack bag routine got the same results. The kids started writing their snack requests on the kitchen chalk board and it became a fun game how close I could get to the request from the bulk food store.
Now, truth talk. These tips will help you, yes. But can you pull off this perfection every day? Heck no! Without fail some weeks get crazy, there’s nothing in the freezer, you’ve eaten pizza 3 times and sent it as leftovers for 3 additional lunches. Frazzled parents grab a box of granola bars, fruit snacks, and applesauce squeeze pouches like a bright orange life ring in the middle of the ocean. AND. THAT. IS. OKAY.
Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. Perfection is not possible. But every now and then you may just hit a sweet spot where low-waste living has become a tiny bit easier for you and your family, and that is something to celebrate. :)
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