reusable lunch bags

The Nickel Pincher: Reusable Lunch Bags Save Cash, Cut Waste

Pack a tasty and healthy school lunch in a reusable bag to save money and help save the planet.

By Jean Nick

The Nickel Pincher: Reusable Lunch Bags Save Cash, Cut Waste

"If he doesn't bring back those baggies and jars, it's coming out of his allowance..."

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Back-to-school is a great time to learn to pack a healthy school lunch and easy on-the-go snacks. And to save money, and cut down on the amount of lunch waste you—and your kids—send to the landfill. Unless you're way more organized in the morning than I am, the secret is to spend a little time on the weekends and evenings so each luncher can grab what he or she likes and, in the morning, be out the door in a flash.

My Secret Weapons
The trick to eliminating lunch waste is to find reusable lunch containers, and you don't have to spend a ton on fancy new stuff. A big box of snack-size zip-close plastic bags (these can be reused until they turn cloudy, which means the plastic has started to deteriorate) and a tall stack of four-ounce (½-cup) and eight-ounce (1-cup) glass jelly jars—the kind with two-part lids designed for preserving—are all you'll need.

Load 'Em Up
When my kids were in elementary school, we had the "snack basket," a rectangular basket about four inches deep. Once a week, the kids and I filled dozens of plastic snack bags with healthy snacks, such as nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, cookies, pretzels, homemade peanut butter crackers, and plain whole wheat crackers, and lined them up in the basket along with a selection of granola bars.

To do something similar, buy foods in bulk and measure a serving (¼ cup for nuts and such, and two to three medium-size cookies, for instance) into each bag. Bags of fresh veggies (shop the supermarket salad bar, or cut your own), slices of real cheese, and peanut butter and jelly half-sandwiches go in the fridge, as do glass jelly jars filled with pudding (made with organic milk), fresh fruit, fruit gelatin, a dab of ranch dressing (for veggies), hummus, and yogurt (plain organic plus fresh fruit or fruit spread). Four-ounce jars are generally best for kid-size portions of all these things, but if you have an active child who needs more energy, go with the eight-ounce jars.


Published on: August 26, 2009

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BPA-free Jar Lids

All standard metal home canning lids sold in the U.S. contain low levels of BPA, but there is a BPA-free mason jar lid option that doesn't and also has the economical and ecological advantages of being completely reusable (unlike standard metal lids that can only be canned with once and which are prone to rusting). The Tattler canning lid system works with standard U.S. jelly or mason jars and bands, but replaces the disposable metal lids with a polyacetal base resin lid and a separate rubber ring (both reusable). If you're concerned about BPA you might want to order yourself a supply of these.

Instead of plastic snack bags...

If you are trying to avoid plastic you may wonder what you could use instead of plastic snack bags. Biodegradable cellulose bags are an eco-friendly option, and if you rinse and reuse them until they wear out they are reasonably affordable. They are made from wood fiber and will break down in a compost pile or you can theoretically recycle them with your paper (though lots of clear, crinkly cellulose may freak your recycling center and get pulled out and tossed in the trash). Haven't seen any zip-type cellulose bags, but if you squeeze out the air, flatten/roll the top down, and tack the edge of the roll in place with a bit of masking tape (which sticks well, but also comes off when you want it to too) you can make a nice tight packet. Here's one online source:


Way to go NatureMom! And you remind me: I always have a basket of seasonal fruit (local or homegrown when possible) available on the counter for lunch or snacks.

Us too!

We use the snack basket method and also have one in the fridge for fruits and veggies. The kids get the freedom of choosing their own lunch items and the responsibility of packing their own lunch bags. Plus, their teachers said they are the only kids that eat ALL of their lunch every single day and because there is no junk food, they don't get the hyper-then-sleepy jag in the afternoon that the other kids do...

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