The Waste-Free Lunch Checklist for Parents

It’s time to ditch the Ziplocs! This school year, keep it green and try packing your child a waste-free lunch. The key is to cut down on the stuff your little one throws away as they leave the cafeteria.

Learn all about zero waste lunches – and how they can help save money and the environment.

But if you’re only used to packing juice boxes, pre-packaged snacks and plastic baggies, where do you begin? It may seem tricky at first, but it is easier than you think! Try using this handy checklist to help you pack your kids a waste-free lunch that will fill their tummies, not the lunchroom trash cans.

Tools to get started

  • Durable lunchbox
  • Thermos or reusable drink bottle
  • Reusable sandwich bags and snack packs
  • Stainless steel utensils
  • Cloth napkin

Food ideas

  • Try cubed cheese instead of string cheese.
  • Make your own granola bars.
  • Pack boiled eggs and compost shells.
  • Cut up apples and squeeze on lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Get creative with leftovers and send pastas or stews.
  • Purchase yogurt and applesauce in large containers and portion into reusable containers.
  • Bring your own bags and buy snacks from bulk sections of stores.

Get the kids involved

  • Go grocery shopping with your child. Let her make her own healthy choices and listen to her likes and dislikes. School lunch is not the time to try out new foods.
  • Encourage your child to bring home everything she didn’t eat. Then, adjust portion size and food choices accordingly.
  • Add lunch duties to the chore chart. Kids can help pack their own lunches and, when they get home from school, rinse and ready their reusable containers for the next day.
  • Let your child personalize her reusable containers with her name and stickers. This also helps ensure the containers won’t get lost.

Easy granola bar recipe

Not every granola bar has a wrapper. Here’s an easy, waste-free recipe to try at home. Source: My Kitchen, My Vice blog by Keri Middaugh.

  • 1 1/2 cup rolled oats (oatmeal)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup ground nuts (I use peanut butter)
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or oil
  • 5 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped
  • Optional: 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips, or 1/4 cup Grape-Nuts cereal for crunch


  1. Mix all this in a medium bowl.
  2. Add more honey to moisten or more oats to dry, if necessary.
  3. Press into an 8-by-8-inch glass pan or pie plate.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 F.

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for 2016.


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