How to have a successful litterless lunch plan this school year

A litterless lunch is not only environmentally-friendly, it can also be healthier. Wendy Copley/

TORONTO – If you have children in school you’ve probably heard the term “litterless lunch” since they first stepped foot into kindergarten. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s exactly what it sounds like — a lunch that produces no garbage.

Most schools, daycares and camps nowadays have policies in place for litterless lunches and if you send pre-packaged food, including sandwiches and snacks in baggies, juice boxes and plastic water bottles, it’s more than likely your child will be coming home with their garbage and a note shaming you for sending all that waste with them.

There are many reasons why litterless lunches are a good thing. Besides the environmentally-friendly component, a proper litterless lunch plan is healthier as it cuts out pre-packaged food and can save you money in the long run. It also teaches children to be conscious about the waste they create and the food they put into their bodies.

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Here are some tips on how to have a successful litterless lunch plan this school year.

Plan your meals every week

With about 200 lunches needed over the course of a school year it’s not easy coming up with a variety of meals your kids will eat on their own. And when you cut out the tried-and-true peanut butter sandwich due to nut allergies, it becomes even more difficult.

Spending a little time to create a solid meal plan for the week relieves the daily pressure of what to make for dinner and what to send for lunch. A meal plan also helps you pick dinners that can be sent as lunch the following day, which ends up saving you even more time and money.

Involving the whole family in the meal planning is a good way to ensure picky eaters have their input so you don’t hear complaining when meat loaf shows up in the lunch bag on Wednesday.

If you want to take meal planning to the next level, has some great recipes and instructions you can purchase for download that will help you prepare and freeze 20 ready-made meals for a family of four.

Add these items to your back-to-school shopping list

Going litterless not only requires you to replace pre-packaged food, but also to replace plastic baggies, foil, cellophane and any other waste you might use to wrap or send lunches and snacks in.

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Plastic containers are the cheapest and easiest to acquire. Most are durable enough to take a beating in a child’s lunch bag and most can be put into the dishwasher. A bento-style kit like the Yumbox also works well for separating food items into different compartments or individual containers.

One of many styles the Yumbox comes in.

An alternative to plastic containers is tempered glass containers. These come with lids and are much better for food you want to keep warm during the day. While they are heavier than plastic, older kids shouldn’t have an issue with them. They are also made very strong and are nearly indestructible.

For drinks, a steel bottle is ideal for water as it will keep your liquid colder for a longer period of time and cuts out the risk of chemicals from plastic bottles leaking in. Rubbermaid’s reusable juice box container is great for both sending juice and milk in.

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Reusable sandwich and snack bags are the perfect substitute for plastic baggies. They either come with a Velcro or zipper seal and the liners on most can be removed for easy cleaning. Guelph, Ont.-based online retailer has a great selection of these, as do most Target locations.

Foldable cutlery, like the forks and spoons Fuel make, don’t take up too much room in the lunchbox and are dishwasher-friendly. It’s a good idea to have at least two sets of these per child.

There are a variety of cloth napkins available to purchase, but making your own is cheaper and extremely easy to do. You can also make them with the kids as a craft project. For an easy tutorial on making your own, click here.

You’ll also need a good insulated lunch bag to pack everything in. These range in size and styles. If you’re sending bento-style containers, a deeper bag works best. For sending sandwiches, a slimmer bag works.

Label everything

Of course, the most important thing about litterless lunches is getting everything back at the end of the day. To ensure this you’ll need to label everything you send to school with your child’s full name.

Mabel’s Labels, based out of Hamilton, Ont., is a service highly recommended by parents across North America. The site allows you to design personalized labels and tags with your child’s name and info on it. Because they come in many different sizes these can be used on everything from shoes to sunglasses and won’t come off in the washing machine or dishwasher, making them great for reusable containers and cups.

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If you prefer to make your own labels, you can purchase a labelmaker for around $30 to $40 from most office supply stores. These labels won’t be as strong or fancy as the Mabel’s Labels, but will give you the freedom of labelling for many different names and things.

A sample of Mabel’s Labels. Mabel's Labels

Practice what you preach

If you want to stick to your litterless lunch plan longer than the first few weeks of school, you’re going to need to get your kids to embrace it. And the best way for them to embrace it is by seeing you do it as well.

Telling your kids it’s important to use less waste and eat healthier is great, but it’s not going to work if they see you taking baggies and junk food to work. Why should they take it seriously and put in the effort if you’re not?

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Once they see you following the plan, they’re going to want to as well. This will keep the momentum going for the rest of the school year and will carry forward to family camping trips and vacations as well.

SOUND OFF: Do you have a litterless lunch plan? Share your tips and tricks of sticking to it in the comments below.

Photo above courtesy Flickr user Wendy Copley. Used under a Creative Commons license

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