August 29, 2010

Less Waste Lunches

With the school year starting just around the corner, I needed to find some new healthy snack and lunch ideas for my kids. What it didn't expect to find was how much waste lunches create. 
"the New York State Department of Conservation has estimated that a child taking a disposable lunch to school generates an average of 67 pounds of trash per school year."

That's almost twice as much as my youngest weighs!  Its so easy for us not to think about how all those snack wrappers, sandwich bags, juice boxes, napkins, not to mention uneaten food adds up day after day.  Home-made lunches are definitely healthier and more cost effective, now it's just a matter of packing smart.  I thought I'd share some of the things we do to make healthier, cost effective, echo-friendly lunches.

  1. Buy some reusable plastic drink containers.  I use juice box size/shaped ones.  We have been using them for the past couple years.  I fill them half way with juice, lemonade, or water and then freeze it over night.  In the morning I fill them up the rest of the way.  This helps keep their drinks cold until lunch time rolls around.
  2. Stop buying individually prepackaged snacks.  Sure it's easier to grab the little bag of chips, yogurt, fruit cup, etc. but the 'convience' costs you a lot more.  Get regular sized packages of snacks and put a serving size portion in to a reusable container.
  3. Use reusable plastic containers for everything from sandwiches to snacks.  They keep foods from being 'squished', are better for the environment, and more cost effective.
  4. Make home-made snacks.  There are lots of internet sites out there; so use them to find your kids favorite snacks that you can make at home.  Buying the ingredients cost less, cause lets face it you're really paying for the name brand packaging.  You can also make it a fun activity to do with the kids.  One of our family's favorites is Rice crispy treats.
  5. To save time in the mornings, pack lunches the night before and store them in the fridge.  Also get the kids involved.  My six year old helps put everything in the lunch box, where as the twelve years olds make their own lunch.  This is great in two ways; having the younger ones help teaches them responsibility and the importance of a nutritious lunch and the older ones doing for themselves saves you some time.
  6. Make the most out of your left-overs.  We often turn a dinner from the night before into a healthy lunch for the next day.  The kids like having something different than the same old sandwich day after day.
"the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s estimate that 16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight."
Now that we're packing smart and getting our kids involved, what foods should we be putting in their lunches?
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables.  Kids should be eating 3-4 servings of dark green, red, and orange vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit daily.  Try finding recipes that you can add fruits or vegetables into.
  • Whole-grain breads, crackers, rice, pasta, and cereal instead of white varieties.  Kids should be eating 6-8 servings from this group daily.  Whole grains provide lots of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein.
  • Beans, nuts, poultry, fish, and lean meats.  Kids should be eating 2-3 servings of protein foods daily.  Avoid meat products from animals that have been treated with hormones and antibiotics.
  • Yogurt and cheese.  Kids should be eating 2-3 servings of dairy products daily.  When packing keep these items closest to the icepack to avoid spoiling. 
"Children who eat well and exercise regularly experience less fatigue, more energy, and better concentration. They are more fit for sports and other physical activities, and they have lower obesity rates."
With just a little thought and planning we can pack lunches that create less waste and are healthier for our children.  It's also important to get our children involved.  Talk to them about the changes in their lunches, whether it's the food or the packaging.  Teach them about reducing waste to help the earth and how eating nutritious meals helps their minds and bodies.

A home-made lunch may take a bit more planning and an extra ten minutes a day, but given the obvious benefits, it’s well worth the time and effort.

~Earthy Mom

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