When it comes to eating meals away from the house, it can be hard to keep up with your No Waste ideals. Whether you are packing a lunch to take to work or to send with your children to school, there are a few ways to keep the waste to a minumum.
Don’t Eat Out
The first, and most obvious, is don’t eat out. It can be easy and tempting to grab something from a restaurant or fast food place, especially if you don’t have a long lunch break, but don’t do it.
Think about how much waste is created when you go out to a restaurant. At best, you are at a place that uses real dishes and washes them along with their cloth napkins.
But, let’s be honest, if you only have a 30 minute or one-hour lunch break, it isn’t usually enough time to drive to a restaurant, sit down, order, eat, and drive back. This leaves you more likely to visit a fast food chain and order food to-go.
To-go food is some of the worst in regards to waste. You’ll usually have your food wrapped in some container that seems recyclable, but if it gets any food grease on it then it must be thrown in the trash. That is often in a paper bag with some napkins, plastic cutlery, and a plastic straw to go with your drink in a mixed-material cup.
Also, don’t forget how expensive it can be to eat out often. Save yourself money while also having lunch without the extra waste.
So, if eating out isn’t a great option, then what should be done for lunch?
Use up Leftovers
When I was working in an office full-time, most of my lunches were carefully packed leftovers from dinner the night before. At that time, I was cooking for only two people, so we would make the full four-serving meal and save half for the next day.
Even though I work from home, I still eat leftovers for lunch most days. We use glass containers, so I can put it straight in the microwave without needing to dirty another plate. The same can be done at work, if you heat your food in a glass container then you don’t need a paper plate.
If you don’t usually have leftovers, then pick a meal or two to cook in a double batch the next time you make your meal plan. A few of my favorites that make plenty for leftovers and reheat well include Baked Ziti, Chili, Chicken Fried Rice, and Homemade Pizza.
What you pack your lunch in can be just as important as what you bring and eat. There are many options for reusable, long-lasting lunch containers at a decent price point.
When you choose a lunch box, make sure it’s one that will be big enough for whatever type of containers you plan to use for your food. There are a few great options available on Amazon, and they are all a little different.
A few years ago, we bought some bento box lunch kits for both of the boys. Tyler is on his 4th year of using his, and Ryan his 2nd year. At the time, we weren’t as aware of the plastic issue, and bought them plastic containers. Once these wear out, we will be replacing with stainless steel options.
There are multiple sizes and shapes available, so choose the one that will work the best for you. For younger kids, I find the ones with multiple small compartments work best to give them a variety. For older children and adults, if you typically bring a sandwich for lunch, there are boxes with larger compartments.
In addition to your lunch box and kits, there are a few accessories that you may need for your No Waste lunch. If you are putting this together for yourself at work, these are the items I recommend keeping at your desk. Use them, wash them, and leave them at work so you are never without.
Have a Backup Plan
Even the best-made plans can go awry. Have a backup plan for your lunch in case issues arise with your carefully packed No Waste meal. This is much easier if you are at an office where you can store a few things.
My backup for my son at school is to go buy the school lunch if necessary. He still gets a decent meal and they reuse the trays, so very little waste. For older students, I’d say keep a few things in their locker or backpack.
When I was working full-time, I’d always have a few snacks at the ready in my desk. Homemade granola bars or trail mix will last for a while if stored in airtight containers. I had a coworker who kept peanut butter and crackers at their desk for when she needed a snack or forgot lunch.
What are some of your tips for packing a lunch while reducing the waste you create?
Have you tried a bento-box style lunchbox before? Do you like it?
Do you have a go-to snack or food that’s not individually packaged?