Low impact lunchbox

So back to school for us this week with mixed emotions. We have had a great summer kicking back and and enjoying the lack of routine and the outdoor freedom the good weather has given us. We are not looking forward to sitting a desks and being expected to concentrate for more than 5 minutes at a time. O.K. maybe that’s just me!

Now we are back to the mundane hum-drum of the working/school week, part of me is shouting ‘Yay!’ as it will be great to actually be alone for 5 minutes but it can make our low-waste ambitions harder to achieve! I find school packed lunches particularly tricksy. Everything my kids like to eat comes wrapped in several layers of (mostly) unrecycle-able plastic! Think salami sticks, cheese sticks, yogurts and the list goes on, and then there’s what to wrap stuff up in if you do make sandwiches or whatever.

So I have set myself a challenge, about creating lunches full of things they love (ok, I mean things they might actually eat) but not full of or wrapped in rubbish, edible or otherwise! They have also got to cope with being chucked around in a school bag.

It may seem like I am just giving myself a hard time. Getting everyone up and out of the house with everything they need is tough enough right? The benefits are more than just environmental, though that is a big motivator for me. Less rubbish heading to landfill or blowing around the playground (in to fields…in to rivers…in to the sea…)  On the whole, it is financially better value to make your own than buying items for packed lunches and a valuable alternative to school provided meals (though that depends on the quality & quantity). A homemade packed lunch means no yucky processed foods and no leached nasties from plastic packaging either. When you consider the news this weekend that there’s a 40% increase in childhood obesity you have to know that your kids are also getting a good food education too.

We like wraps in our house but the rubbery shop bought versions include additives and palm oil and come plastic wrapped - several no-no’s there for me. So, we make wraps (following a recipe from River Cottage  ) with a few amendments to the ingredients and process to suit us. A bit more oil stops them being too floury and popping them in an airtight container (yes, it’s plastic but I’ll use it til it dies) as soon as they’re cooked keeps them softer once they have cooled. 

Wednesday they had hummus & salad in their wraps. There was a request for cheese & marmite for Thursday (well no one’s perfect). I tend to cook a big batch as they will keep well for 3 or 4 days. So we eat them with dips, savoury & sweet fillings and my fave, lentil dhal. I keep half out and put half in the freezer - once cool,  layer them with baking parchment and wrap in a large beeswax food wrap to freeze. They will freeze for up to a month. If they do get a bit stale, cover in cheese (and any other toppings you fancy) and grill to make a sort of quesadilla.

Sweet treats this week are simple – fruit and flapjack. You would never have guessed it from the way so much fruit is packaged in the supermarket but many come with a pretty good outer packaging of their own! Biscuits, tray bakes, cakes and cookies however are harder to come by unwrapped so we made our own. 

This weeks flapjacks are organic oatmeal & malted wheat flakes with chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and cranberries. Thankfully my daughter reminded me that nuts aren’t allowed in school before I added the almonds you can see lurking in the photo below – so I ate them...well, we are aiming for zero waste after all! 

25 minutes later and we have 16 squares of wholesome, toothsome goodness to keep us all working through the day. For the kids I wrap them a piece in a small wax wrap or you could use 100% recycled aluminium foil if you prefer. 

Lunch is finished off with a couple more of their 5 ( or is it 7 now?) a day in the form of a piece of fresh fruit and some dried fruit of some sort, usually in a paper bag. Today son is going with apple rings and daughter with dried apricots. This way I know they have a snack they can dash outside with at break time and if the rubbish ends up in the landfill bin it’s not the end of the world. 

To pack a lunch there is no right container – depends what you already have and what you are packing. Bea Johnson, the zero waste guru, suggests wrapping lunches up Furoshiki-style in her book ‘Zero Waste Home’. Furoshiki is the Japanese art of wrapping in cloth. Place the lunch items in the centre of a kitchen tea-towel, fold diagonally and then roll up, lift the ends and tie. Simple, though I fear my kids lunch would be an inedible mush by lunchtime if we did this!

Use containers you already own if you can or find a versatile reusable one like the rice husk lunchboxes that can go in the freezer, in the microwave, oven and dishwasher! That way, if you decide to take your leftover lentil dhal and a wrap or two to work you can heat it up. Win!

The kids take a water bottle each and I add a reusable coffee cup to my on-the-go lunch kit. If there is something that requires cutlery to eat (dhal is a bit messy with your fingers) then I chuck that in too. Forward planning is the key here. If you go prepared there is no need to generate waste and who doesn’t want a discount on that cup of coffee*?

So, new resolutions to be better at zero waste lunches are in place and week one has gone pretty well. OK so it’s only half a week. I admit this is going to be a tall challenge to keep going and I think one of the hardest things will be coming up with ideas to keep it fresh and keep the kids happy so if you have any top tips or recipe ideas to share please do. You can pop them in the comments below