Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's for Lunch?

It's back to school time--back to early rising, back to homework, and back to packing lunches. Whether your child is in high school, grade school, or MDO, the dilemma of what to pack can be an on-going challenge. But once again, I'm here to share ideas for how you can go green and save green for school lunches.

Since my first grader has no interest in school lunches, I'm packing every day. To cut down on trash, I've bought Laptop Lunch boxes (like the traditional Japanese bento box) for all three kids. They're a little pricey ($25 at or search online for "discount codes" before buying), but it's a worthwhile investment. Inside, there are two small and two medium size boxes (dishwasher and microwave safe). There's also a tiny box you could use for ketsup or dipping sauces, and flatware included. Most boxes don't have tops, but solid contents will not fall out, even turned upside down. I can attest that the boxes and flatware are great quality and will hold up to everyday use. They also fit into most standard insulated cases.

For a ton of ideas of what to pack in your laptop lunches, it comes with a handy book. Melissa at Frugalissa Finds has some great pictures and ideas too; here's another of her posts about how to actually get your kids to eat these healthy lunches.. If your school allows them the use a microwave, that opens up loads of possibilities. I send cooked pasta, lunch meat rolled up since they don't like sandwiches (aka: turkey or ham roll-ups), slices of cheese, cut-up fruit, Chex mix, popcorn, goldfish, cheezits, Annie's bunny snacks, raisons, mini carrots, and pretzyls. I stay away from anything already prepackaged, including Capri Suns and juice boxes. I send ice water in a Klean Kanteen instead; look for the sport caps for younger children. You can often pick them up for half price on

The most important detail is follow your program's guidelines on nuts. If peanuts are out but other nuts are allowed, I recommend fresh almond butter at Ingles for sandwiches. Since Devin has a classmate highly allergic to all nuts, I'll be careful of that.

For more ideas, sign up for Earthfare's Healthy Lunch Challenge. You'll get a coupon for a free insulated bag (value: $2.99) through 8/31 or while supplies last. Now through 8/24, you can get one pound of organic grapes (red or white) for FREE with this coupon. Remember grapes are one of the "dirty dozen" that you want to buy organic or at least grown in the USA. For other sale items at Earthfare and printable coupons, go here. And don't forget to check out

If you haven't made it to Kroger's mega sale the past two weeks, get there by Saturday for some great deals on lunch items. For fresh produce, there was a $4 off $20 or $1 off $5 coupon in the Kroger home mailer. I also had two store coupons for $.50 off mini carrots. Note: these do NOT double, but with the sale this week, each pack was only $.50. There's also a $.55 off Earthgrains bread; never underestimate the importance of good quality bread! Finally, there was a $1 off Hefty storage bags, which makes one box free this week. The gallon freezer bags are great for making freezer meals to save you time during the busy school year. If you don't get Kroger home mailer coupons, call customer service; they're great!

As for lunch meats, I prefer Hormel Natural Choice meats. They have NO nitrates, NO artificial ingredients, are minimally processed, have NO MSG added, are raised without added hormones, and are gluten free. You can also find coupons in the paper, online, or in blinkies near the meat. This week they're on sale for $2.50 each, and I used 2 $.55/1 and 2 $1/2 to make each pack about $2. The expiration is still a few months out; so I could stock up.

Thanks to creative couponing, you can get Fiber One bars, Nature Valley bars, Nature Valley clusters, Chex Mix, and Gardetto's Snack Mix for FREE this week. They're not as healthy or green in terms of packaging, but they sure are handy. You might also consider donating them to a food pantry. For details on how to get the best deals this week, go to Southern Savers. Coupon Katie and Gabrielle at Couponing in Critical Times also posted their trips to Kroger for guidance. I saved 53% today (a high percentage for me).

What tips do you have for making school lunches more green?


  1. We use Sigg bottles and like them as much as the Klean Kanteen ones that we have. They are available at Target and have been on sale recently. They also sell them at Mast General Store, and there is a coupon in the Knox County School Coupon book that is still valid.

    The other thing that we do is when we do use a plastic bag, we reuse it at least a few times before recycling. We like mason jars for storing food, as they are made of thick glass and do not break as easily as other glass vessels. I make a habit not to microwave anything in plastic, and we use the Pyrex containers when I'm sending something for lunch that needs heated.

    Great tips and ideas!!

  2. Awesome ideas! Just shared your link on my "Green Team Gazette" as I've been sharing a lot of "back to school" lunch ideas myself!!/home.php?sk=lf

    I agree with the microwaving in plastic idea just above as it can leach into the food...cheers to a great new school year, and may we all go forth with healthy lunches! ;-)

  3. Good points, ladies. But what's the solution for simplifying the microwave issue for a first grader? He has to do it himself if he wants to use the microwave. And his is a pasta fanatic, I should add. If I send pasta in pyrex and other items in the bento box, it's too much to fit into a standard lunch case. Plus, wouldn't you worry about pyrex breaking in the hands of a six year old? The alternative is sending a disposable paper plate with him, but that's more trash and won't fit well into his lunch box. Oh the environmental canundrums!

  4. Here's an option for a waste-free lunch, and one that a your first grader could microwave - My simple EasyLunchbox System is a bento-style, three-compartment plastic container with one lid which fits perfectly into our roomy cooler bag. In fact, you can fit a couple in - maybe use one for the food he heats up and the other for cold items and snacks. Still room for an ice pack and drink! Less pieces to wash and keep track of, which is a plus, especially if you have more than one kid. FDA approved. No BPA, phthalates, lead, vinyl, or PVC. Sized right for both adults and kids. Affordable and green.

  5. I totally agree--eco-conundrums galore! But when faced with a healthy lunch item in a reusable container of any sort versus pre-packaged, calore/sodium-laden crap food, the homemade variety wins every time!! We all have to pick our battles in life, and nutritious food is a good one to pick! I am impressed that your school allows for microwaving--as a teacher who has taught in 5 school during my career, that's a rarity! Most certainly if you have that opportunity, take advantage of it as it opens up so many food choices!!

  6. I'm sure someone could clear this up for me: If a plastic container does not contain "BPA, phthalates or lead"--as noted above at and, are they truly safe to microwave?