Head back to school this year with healthy, tasty and kid-friendly food without the packaging. Nicole Lutze shares recipes and eco-friendly packaging options to try.
Let me preface this article by firstly saying, every parent is doing their best when it comes to raising and feeding their children. Some days parents might be whipping up an organic feast and high-fiving their culinary expertise, and on other days, we are rummaging the pantry and questioning whether dry Weet-Bix will suffice as a snack (the answer is yes, by the way). Then, there’s the fickle nature of children who will eat a particular food one day, and detest the same thing the next (*deep breaths*). Feeding your kids can be a challenge, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. However, we can make some simple changes to minimise lunchbox waste for the long-term betterment of the planet and our children’s future.
The most sustainable choice is the lunchbox you already own
Unless your school has specific regulations around the type of lunchbox your children bring, use what you already have and continue using it until it no longer serves its purpose. Then, when you’re ready to invest in a new lunchbox, look for options that are either plastic-free or help you to quickly assemble a package-free lunch, such as a bento-style lunchbox.
Bento lunch boxes are a favourite in our house because they create a visually appealing lunch, keep food separate, and make it easy for young children to access their food (compared to opening multiple small containers).
You might also find it worthwhile to have a set of beeswax wraps. For those who are unfamiliar with beeswax wraps, they’re reusable, malleable pieces of cotton or linen fabric coated in beeswax. They replace the need for single-use cling-film and are compostable at the end of their life cycle (click here to learn how to make your own or check out Biome for a great range). However, if you still have a roll of cling-film in the back of your drawer, you may as well use it up first and then make a more sustainable choice in the future.
By avoiding single-use plastics in your child’s lunchbox, you will be reducing plastics in landfill and lower your carbon emissions by not relying on plastic created from fossil fuels.
Bulk buy your snacks
Not every parent enjoys cooking or has time to make every snack their child eats. Pre-packaged food exists because it is convenient, and sometimes convenience wins in the short term.
For those occasions when you need to buy pre-packed snacks, try to buy the biggest bag of sultanas, nuts, cookies or crackers instead of purchasing individually portioned packs.
You can then use containers to divide the snacks for your child’s lunch (or use the segments in your bento box) and reduce the amount of soft-plastic your household is consuming. Don’t forget, soft plastics can be recycled, so hold on to them and return them to your local RedCycle centre.
Better still, try shopping for snacks at a plastic-free bulk store like The Source.
Fill your oven and your freezer
Ovens use a considerable amount of power, so it’s worthwhile from an environmental and cost-savings perspective to fill your oven each time you turn it on. Thankfully, there are plenty of effortless snack recipes you can throw together quickly to use up space in your oven. Most cookie-like biscuits and cakes will freeze well, so portion anything you aren’t planning on eating immediately and freeze it for later. As an added silver lining, it’s also cheaper to run a full freezer than an empty one, so keep your freezer well-stocked.
- Banana oat bars use six ingredients and are a great alternative to pre-packaged muesli bars;
- Honey spelt biscuits require only four ingredients, and like most cookies, freeze well;
- Four-ingredient coconut cake is a favourite in our house, and again, it freezes exceptionally well;
- Lavosh is easy to make and is a perfect substitute for plastic-wrapped crackers;
- And roasted chickpeas or roasted pumpkin seeds make for a moreish snack requiring hardly any effort.
Learn how to make your child’s favourite packaged snacks
My kids love to eat yoghurt directly from those slurpy plastic pouches (you know the ones), and they also love chia pudding pods. Both of these snacks are delicious and healthy, but there’s not much to like about all that packaging. Thankfully, when my children were still just babies, I purchased some reusable pouches that have transported many portions of yoghurt to school or daycare, minimising our waste. And, after five years they are still going strong. I also quickly figured out that chia pudding is so incredibly easy and cheap to make at home (my four-year-old can make it), that there was no need to buy it from the store.
Involve your children (and your school)
The easiest way to instigate change is to involve your children in the decision-making process. Explain why we want to avoid plastic packaging when possible, and ask them to help make a recipe similar to something they like from the store. They may even enjoy choosing and making their weekly snack from a small selection of tried and true recipes.
It may also be worthwhile talking to your school about their lunchbox waste policy (or lack thereof). Children naturally want to fit in and be accepted by their peers. Ask the school to instigate a ‘nude food’ policy to minimise waste and encourage healthy habits.