Reducing plastic waste can not be done without looking at your daily lunch routine.
Lunches, for most people these days, rely heavily on that one common dependency: convenience. We have created a lifestyle committed to saving time, convincing ourselves we have so little of it, and that it can all be solved with a little extra packaging. We all chose to live hectic lives that there is hardly time to stop to consider our choices and whether or not those choices really do save us time. Or even to consider the cost of these choices in the long run: money, health, or our environment.
When we all venture off to the school or work or a simple outing with the family, it is a given that as noon comes around tummies will be growling. Without a pre-packed snack, dependencies on fast food venues, cafeterias and vending machines start to grow. Those not-so-healthy food choices are sure to be accompanied by a slew of packaging: wraps, straws, Styrofoam dishes, plastic utensils, bottles and more!
The question then remains, how do we avoid the plight of the plastic-packaged lunch? And how can we assess and adapt our lunchtime choices to fit within our busy lives?
Just like anything we do, having the right equipment is key, but we also need to make the effort of creating good habits and making time to practice those habits to truly see the difference. Below, are not only product solutions for reducing plastic waste, but also some thoughts to consider to help you adopt the habits of plastic-free lunches.
Being able to pack food-on-the-go without plastic waste is possible, thanks to so many great companies out there taking advantage of this growing need. Below are some suggestions to replace the single-use ziploc bags, cling-wrap, and plastic waste in your lunch pail:
- Reusable Sandwich/Snack bags
- Parchment paper
- Beeswax food wrap
- Jars of any kind
- Stainless steel containers
- Fozzils Collapsible Dinnerware – see Plastic-free Alternative
- Take-away utensils
I have found many of my favourites on Amazon.ca. Brands such as Onyx, ChicoBags, Bumkins, WrapEat, and Abeego. Lifewithoutplastic.com is fantastic online store in Canada. Onyalife.com is a great option as well. Mountain Equipment Co-op is my go-to for light, reusable flatware sets and dinnerware. Other Resources i use can be found here.
Find the FUN
We are all so busy – work, school, after-school activities, working out, clubs, chores, etc. It can always feel like go go go with little time to actually enjoy time together. Why not kill two birds with one stone: Lunch prep + Family time?
- Make it a team effort. Give each person a task making a small assembly line. It worked for Ford! One person spread the peanut butter, the next person does the jam, someone does the wrapping and packing and you’re done!
- Get competitive! The first person done their lunch making task gets to pick which Netflix show to watch.
- Take turns making lunches and add in some love... add a little note or a joke on a post-it for your loved-one to read at lunch.
- Make a day of it… If your weeknights are chock-full of craziness, turn your fun food prep games/family time into a Sunday Funday event.
I thank my parents every day for engraving this life-long habit into my brain. Evenings would always consist of dinner followed by everyone making lunches together. I am pretty sure I was required to make my own lunch in first grade! I also remember Sunday sandwich-making assembly lines… we would create and freeze dozens of subs for future lunches!
Create your own Single-Serving Snacks
In our present world, Convenience is King. I do not have kids, but I do understand the need for time-saving products. Unfortunately, the cost of convenience is something our planet is paying for, and it is for the kids (aka the future) that we need to step up. Single-serving, to-go packaging is SO easy but there are simple alternatives that will make a difference and save you money and probably be way healthier.
- Yoghurt – Buy yoghurt in the largest format you can find and divide it up into re-usable lunch containers or jars. Or make your own (Kitchen Gadgets for Plastic-Free living)
- Fruit cups – this is a buy-in-larger-format solution. Those syrupy poached fruits can be bought in large cans and jars, then simply divvy them up, like your yoghurt! If you want to get super-duper cray-cray, poach and can your own summer fruit! Or the easiest, best waste-free solution: fresh fruit.
- Bulk foods – Shop in the bulk section (Plastic-free Shopping 101) for yummy snacks like nuts, crackers, pretzels, dried fruit, and even fruit candies. Avoid the plastic and the expense per gram compared to the box of individually wrapped snacks. Easy to throw a handful in your reusable snack bag or jar!
- Cheese Strings and single-sliced cheese – while I see the convenience and lure of this product, I urge you to pull out the calculator on you phone next time you are in the cheese aisle. The $/gram cost of such products is insane. Buy a giant block of really good cheese, grab your knife and slice it up! OR, bring your own container to the deli, and get them to slice it for you – just like the meats!
- Juice boxes and other packaged drinks – You can find juice crystals in the bulk section. Or even make your own juice with a juicer (Kitchen Gadgets for Plastic-Free living). Find your kids or yourself some brightly coloured, reusable drink containers with reusable straws and fill accordingly.
- Cookies and Muffins – I don’t know about you, but some of my best memories with my mom were spent hands deep in dough and licking batter off of wooden spoons. Baking is such a fun time, and every kid I have ever met loves to help out when cookies are being made. Baked goods freeze well and you can control the cost and the ingredients! Its a win-win-win, plastic-free solution!
Make the time.
I am 100% guilty of saying it, but have always hated the excuse, “I don’t have time”. Lately, whenever I catch myself saying this I am quick to correct it with, “I didn’t make the time/I wont make the time” because, that is the truth. We all have 24 hrs and it’s how we use them that counts.
Personally, I have found that putting my time into food prep, while in the moment seems tedious and annoying, saves me a lot more time later on. I have found myself thanking my “Yesterday’s Self” many times! A mere 15 minutes the night before can save countless minutes the next day. A prepared lunch can give back to your day by saving:
- the time deciding which fast-food joint you’re going go to on your lunch.
- the time spent travelling to and from your chosen establishment
- the minutes waiting in line, and
- the time choosing what over-priced item on the menu to get
Food prep can give you so much more than just a prepared meal. In a world where time is precious you can quickly see the fruits of your labour. Benefits such as:
- Being able to eat your pre-made lunch and enjoy good book
- Enjoying a nice walk or joining a noon-hour fitness class
- Reducing the decisions you have to make – avoiding Decision Fatigue
- Eating healthier, more balanced meals.
- Knowing what’s actually in your food.
- Avoiding those “I forgot to eat all day” moments
Your lunch hour, if not your whole day, just got much more efficient.
Putting in a little time each night, right after dinner, to create a simple and healthy lunch truly does make all the difference. Whether its the leftovers or a classic PB&J with an apple you are sure to be very happy with yourself the next day. By taking note of the following tips and tricks, not only will you have reduced your waste, your wallet will be thicker and your body will feel healthier.
What happens when you just couldn’t fit in the food prep and must Eat-Out?!
Well.. Eat-in! Savour the moment of having the opportunity to buy lunch. Sit down at your favourite or a new restaurant. Say no to the I’ll-regret-this-later fast food joint. Sit and read a menu. Treat yo’self! Just don’t forget to say “No Straw, Please”. And in those moments, when you have backed yourself into a corner without a homemade lunch and a day full of meetings, pull out your takeaway utensils and your Fozzils!