3 Eco-Friendly Meal Ideas for Kids Lunches

Be honest: how many times have you searched on Pinterest for “healthy lunch ideas”? 

I’m guessing more than a handful of times. 

I’m right there with you. This is something I’ve been researching like crazy lately because... 

I want Madeline to eat. 
Real food not crap. 
That she will actually like, not trade. 

And food that is as eco-friendly as possible.

I mean what working mom isn’t looking for a few more ideas for her kids’ lunches? Or even her own lunches. 

The thing is… we aren’t really going to be talking recipes or things like that. These are tips to pack low waste, economical, environmentally friendly meals your kid will enjoy.

Is that even possible? 

Turns out, it is. 

I came up with 3 things to share with you that have reduced waste and upped our lunchtime sustainability game big time. 

I’m pretty excited about them and hope they’ll be helpful for you, too. 

Eco-Friendly Lunch Idea 1
Switch to reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging wherever possible.

There are five ways you can do this almost immediately. 

The first is to swap out all plastic bags for reusable ones, or compostable ones. Most places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and even Target have awesome options for this.

You can get sandwich, freezer and quart size bags that are reusable or compostable. 

Reusable ones in many cases are dishwasher safe, or sometimes washer/dryer safe if they’re made of fabric that has a waterproof lining. 

If you go with the reusable option, make sure you fill your kid in on this so she doesn’t accidentally throw them away.

I actually found out about these from my daughter when she was about 5 years old and I started packing her lunch one day (my husband was usually the one who took care of this task). She took one look at the bag  I was about to use and said, “mommy, those are not good for the environment “. 

Hey. We live in Boulder CO. So we were OGs over here. Anyway...

The second thing you can do is start using reusable plastic or glass containers in place of disposable containers. 

You can also invest in a really nice thermos - these are obviously great for packing hot or cold food or soups in their lunches. 

But if your kid takes salads to lunch (j/k what kid takes salad, right? I’m lucky if I can get mine to eat an edamame bean), you can use the reusable glass or plastic container for that. 

The third thing you can do is swap out aluminum foil and plastic wrap for beeswax coated paper.

You can cut the paper up into whatever shape you need. Warm it slightly in the microwave to shape it around whatever you’ll be covering. Then, it can be wiped off and used again. 

You can find this stuff easily. It’s sold in rolls at the stores I’ve just mentioned. 

And hey, if you're going to be using this, again, be sure, to let your kid know it needs to come back home because it is reusable. 

The fourth thing you can do is swap plasticware for actual silverware. There’s no reason to send a plastic spoon or fork in your kid’s lunch box when you can send a regular piece of silverware that comes home and is washed. 

Which leads us to the fifth thing... stop sending paper napkins. I’ve got a stack of cloth napkins that are for school lunch. I wrap a napkin around whatever piece of silverware is going in the lunch box and Madeline Knows to bring that + the silverware back home.

Easy peasy and no waste. 

Eco-Friendly Lunch Idea 2 
Pack the right portions.

You don’t really need to pack a ton of food. Most of the time kids don’t have long lunch periods. 20 min. Max. 

And chances are you don’t either. 

You can dramatically cut down on waste by packing just the right size. 

Invest in a few very small reusable containers to help you with this. Or grab your kid a Bento-style lunchbox and use the compartments as your guide.

School lunch cafeteries see so much food waste, but a lot of it could be curtailed if we reduced portion sizes.

Think of their lunch experience more like an appetizer plate you're responsible for curating rather than a full on meal with courses. 

Plus, they usually have tiny bellies. 

Don’t be afraid to send an assortment of small stuff rather than tons of big stuff. 

Now here’s one other thing you can do -  ask your kid to please not toss out what wasn’t eaten.

Here’s why: you have no idea how much food your kid is throwing away, do you?

If you start asking her to bring home her lunch - whatever isn’t eaten - you’ll get a handle on what that portion size needs to be. 

You’ll also get a handle on what she actually likes and what she doesn’t like. 

And that leads me to my third and final tip…

Eco-Friendly Lunch Idea 3 
Lunchtime is not experimentation time. 

Don’t send stuff your kid hates or won’t eat at home. She won’t eat it at school either. 

I know often times you'd prefer her to be eating something better. Healthier. But hey,   it’s more important she’s eating something. 

Save the experimentation for when you’re home and it’s a safe environment. 

Try to think of yourself as a tapas chef 

… for a tiny person with a very limited palate lol

This isn’t to say you can’t expand horizons a little here and there. But if your goal is to be eco-friendly, and if a huge part of that is reducing waste, then the more you stick with the favs… the better.

If you’re truly stumped on where to go with this one, you can sit down with your kid over the weekend and ask: what do you want to pack in your lunch this week? And literally get some ideas directly from the source.

Then stick with the plan!


Comments (2)


Kirsty Neilson

Mar 11, 2020 04:31 AM CDT

Hey Hayley, thanks so much for these fabulous tips! My youngest is starting school this year so they will come in really handy! These tips are also totally transferable for a general use at home too! Thank you ??



Apr 13, 2020 11:26 AM CDT

You're welcome!

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