Zero waste lunches

It’s occurred to me that I should write about our lunches NOW, while school is still in session (summer vacation begins next Friday … I’m excited and also sad because maybe I want to keep my fifth grader and my junior a while longer, but no one asked me so here we are). Although I guess Eric and I still have to work AND eat, so there you go.

You know what’s kind of funny? We’ve been using zero waste lunch kits for a couple of years now, but it started out just as a way to reduce plastic baggies — I wasn’t worried at all about how packaged the food I was buying to put into those reusable containers happened to be.

Well, work in progress and all of that. But hey, this has been one of the easier waste-reducing steps we’ve taken, and one that we’ve managed to keep up, so that’s got to count for something.

Johanna's hodgepodge of containers.

Johanna’s hodgepodge of containers. The KFC container came from my grandma’s neighbor who has a fried chicken addiction.

I was looking at the jars and reusable bags on the counter the other morning as I was making lunch for the girls and myself, and that made me feel pretty good. If there’s one meal we’ve really got down to a minimal-waste science, it’s lunch. The only packaged items are Eric’s bread and cream cheese (we’ll touch on that in a minute), and maybe some cheddar, although not every day. We may have been doing okay before project started, but we are rockin’ it now.

We all have our own system. Abby has a large stainless steel three-compartment container that fits a sandwich and two sides, I have three smaller stainless steel containers (although I generally only use one or two at a time), Eric has two sizes of plastic containers he bought specifically for this purpose a couple of years ago on his own accord (yeah, I am still proud of that), and Johanna uses the bits and pieces of containers we’ve managed to amass in our 20-plus years of marriage that still have matching lids (a couple of months before the project started, I went through my container drawer and recycled anything that didn’t have a mate. And the recyclers actually took it, which is most of the battle. They’re now stored with lids attached — no more hunting around for matching pieces).

Oh, and we all have our own reusable lunch sacks.

P.S. I could tell you brand names, but I am purposely not because … that’s just too much power. 🙂

Eric likes his system because he makes three lunches Sunday night and then the last two Wednesday night. (How he can stand his soggy sandwiches, I have no idea, but he never complains.) I wash the girls’ and my containers the night before for use the next morning. I’m used to it. It’s boring but fine.

My boring sandwich at work.

My boring sandwich at work.

This probably isn’t all that interesting, but the girls’ lunches generally contain sandwiches (nut butter on bakery bread for Abby and store bought bread for Johanna — unless she makes her own, which inevitably is just mustard. I try not to think of the staff judging me at lunchtime), some sort of fruit and/or vegetable (we go through an insane amount of carrots in this house, but Johanna also likes cucumbers and peppers), and a treat if there is one. Their lunches also used to contain chips or crackers, but that’s been low on the ground since the project started. For Johanna’s lunch I’ve taken to making popcorn fresh each morning — I’ve gotten very good at measuring out a single serving of kernels — but Abby has no interest in that at all. I don’t either, so I can see her point. But! They both really like the honey roasted mixed nuts I can get in bulk, so usually there’s a small serving of those in there somewhere too. Johanna especially is growing like a weed (she’s 11 years old and 5’6″) and is constantly hungry, so I like to make sure she has plenty of snacky things she can get into if she needs them.

Eric’s lunches are always the same: Sandwich, carrots, fruit. Mine tend to jumble around … salad, sandwich, random bits that need eating, it just depends on what kind of time I have before we need to head out the door. Neither of us are picky, and neither of us care if we eat the same thing day in and day out. Which helps.

It’s Eric’s lunches that have changed the most since the project started, though. He used to eat packaged lunchmeat on his sandwiches every day as well as “sandwich spread.” (You know, that stuff that is like mayonnaise but NOT.) He’s been trying to find a homemade spread, but so far hasn’t made anything he wants to make twice. He does like cream cheese, though, so I’ve been getting him packages of that. At least it’s all recyclable, which is an okay Plan B, I think. And as for lunchmeat, I could go to the deli and use a container, but he decided he’d rather just have chicken or pork. So I’ve been making sure I grab and extra breast or chop to cook up on the weekend and he slices it up and keeps it in the freezer to add to his sandwich later. Since I get meat in my orange tupperware, it’s not only healthier for him, it’s zero waste.

One more change he’s made: He used to make his sandwiches assembly-line style on paper towels. He still does the assembly line, but now he uses a kitchen towel.

Hooray! It’s the small things, honestly.

P.S. I did a little research and found one study that said the average lunch contains 4 to 8 ounces of trash each day, which means up to 100 pounds of trash per year — per person. (Entire article HERE.) Uh, that’s alarming … and a good bit to remember when I’m frustrated by a seemingly slow process of eliminating waste. The little things really do add up.

Next up: I have stories … but I also have DIY projects burning a hole in my pocket. I guess we’ll all be surprised.

4 Responses to Zero waste lunches

    • Eric and I just looked that up on the map, and he was like, that could not be more inconvenient. Apparently the closest one for us, coming from the Gorge, is the one on Hood … but it would be fantastic if they’d come to Gresham! It would be fun to do a Market of Choice field trip and just hit them all. Any opening date slated for the new one?

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