Packing a waste-free lunch

I like to go on Pinterest every so often — mostly to see what sort of zero waste DIY projects are out there — and one thing that keeps popping up are pins that extol the value in letting kids pack their own lunch (with you on that one) using a fridge and cupboard filled with prepackaged or repackaged items from the store (lost me there).

That's just a lot of garbage.

That’s just a lot of garbage. (File photo. Thanks, Internet.)

I should mention that because of my food issues, shared by Johanna, incidentally, so that sucks, we don’t do a lot of processed food in this house anyway. (Does cheddar count as processed? Oh, and cereal. Eric’s bread is definitely processed. So, like, those.) I can’t do artificial colors, flavors or preservatives unless I want to die (which I do not), and Johanna gets sick when she has too much sugar. Too many fats, oils and salts also get us, although it takes a while for that to build up.

So what I’m saying is that it’s easy for me to talk because life necessitates we look at this differently anyway.

But we can still have a fridge and cupboard filled with items for the ol’ lunch box. I like to prep everything on Sunday, my Cook All The Things Day, so all the girls have to do (um, and Eric and I) is pull jars out and start filling up lunch containers.

Here’s what we regularly have to choose from:

Carrot sticks

Sliced cucumber, zucchini or summer squash (raw summer squash is lovely)

Apples (no prep needed!)

Grapes (we have grapes at the farm stand at this time of the year. They are AMAZING)

Juniper grapes. Yes, please.

Juniper grapes. Yes, please.

Nuts (sometimes a snack mix if I’m feeling generous, but generally raw walnuts, peanuts or cashews)

Dried fruit (cranberries, apricots, plums)

Peanut butter on bread (we like it fast in the Walker household)

A host of salad fixings (Abby and I are big fans)

… Johanna started putting popcorn in her lunch last year in lieu of chips, but she hasn’t yet this year

Sometimes, if I’ve got time or am on the ball, we also have:


Zucchini pancakes (from Ina Garten. Delicious, even cold. Recipe HERE)


Apple chips (just dried apples but that’s what the girls call them)

Hummus (HERE is a recipe, I’m not usually this fancy though)

Some sort of dessert


I’ve already written about our lunch container setup, but here’s a roundup: Abby and I have stainless steel containers, Eric has plastic containers he got just for this purpose like three years ago (maybe more), and Johanna uses the odds and ends of containers we’ve had forever. I’ve been slowly adding stainless steel containers to our collection, but they’re expensive and, to be honest, I don’t trust Johanna not to lose them at this point. 😉 Also, unless Abby decides to take her container with her to college next year, Johanna will inherit that one.

Live action lunch shot, thanks to Johanna Monday night.

Live action lunch shot, thanks to Johanna Monday night.

Eric makes three lunches Sunday night and the other two Wednesday night (has for years), but the girls and I like our lunches a little fresher than that, plus we don’t have the container system he does, so we make ours the night before. It’s a big ol’ family extravaganza.

(I kind of thought our enthusiasm for making lunches the night before would wane by now, but the girls like being able to just grab and go in the morning, and I am a big fan of that myself. An extra 10 minutes can be a lot if you’re not a morning person.)

Also, by packing our lunches every night, we don’t need a bunch of extra containers. Yeah, I have to hand wash (almost) every day, but I’m doing that anyway (hello, travel coffee mug!).

That’s the minimalism talking, though. I like cabinets and cupboards that can breathe.


One item I’d like to learn to make is energy bars. I’ve got a couple of recipes I want to try and they don’t look particularly hard or even time consuming — it’s basically melting peanut butter, oats and honey on the stove and then adding stuff like dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Johanna needs to be fed and watered every hour on the hour, so having energy bites in her locker would be helpful. It would also be a good snack for Abs, who isn’t a fan of processed food but will sometimes buy herself a box of granola bars, especially during basketball season, because she needs something quick.

Okay, now it’s your turn: What package-free items do you put in your lunch box / your kids’ lunches? Do you pack your lunch the night before, the morning before, or do you pull an Eric and do all the lunches in one night?

Next up: I went on reader Jennifer’s blog (which is adorable) and read about how she put all of her cleaning products in one place and then went through them to organize/discard/etc. (Post HERE.) Genius. So I decided to do that, too.