Plastic Free Packed Lunches


It’s September and the kids are back at school. After six weeks of summer sun, road trips, long lazy evenings and losing track of the days, we slip into our usual routines with frightening speed. Now it’s all about washing uniforms, being on time and helping with homework. While there’s something quite comforting about the repetitive, day-to-day tasks, it can be easy to lose momentum and inspiration. Auto-pilot is switched on again and we don’t think to question the way we do things. Before you know it, your summer resolution to live a more mindful and eco life is quickly forgotten and you’re busily stuffing your child’s lunch box with plastic wrapped snacks while brushing your teeth and trying not to fall asleep where you stand. So, here at Monkey Wrench we’ve done the research and prepared some easy to follow tips for creating plastic free packed lunches:

1. Stop buying things

Our first tip is perhaps the most important and to be honest, we could end this blog here, but that wouldn’t be much fun! While there are so many wonderful, eco-friendly alternatives to plastic lunchboxes, sandwich bags and all the other lunch time accoutrements it makes no sense to buy these eco options while you still have surplus plastic items in the cupboard. More and more people are taking the pledge to live a no-buy year to try and break the consumer habits that are drummed into us from childhood. We need to use up the things we have already bought and only when these run out or break should we consider buying a sustainable replacement. So, let’s dust off our old Barbie lunch box or break out the Chinese takeaway Tupperware before we hit the shops.

2. Ditch cartons and bring a bottle

Supermarket shelves are lined with packs of little juice cartons and bottles, many of which claim to be perfect for packed lunches. Don’t listen to them! Buying one large carton of juice and filling a bottle every day is better for your bank balance and the planet. You could even buy fruit locally and get you kids making their own smoothies.

3. Wrapping up

We know that a successful packed lunch isn’t just about what’s in it, but how it’s packed. Lunch boxes are often in for a rough ride as they’re flung into a pile or buried in the bottom of a backpack. Our sandwiches, fruit and sweet treats need to be secure and protected to avoid your child facing a mushy pile of lunchtime carnage when they open the lid. Plastic sandwich bags are often used for this task, but we’ve found a whole host of eco-friendly alternatives. Beeswax wraps are hugely popular and come in a variety of beautiful patterns. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more secure, you could try silicone snack bags, available from BUYmeONCE. Recycled kraft paper is also a great alternative.

4. Let’s get baking

Our initial tip to avoid buying things applies to food as well as lunch boxes. There are numerous, individually wrapped snacks, puddings and treats on the market for children’s lunches and while they might be more convenient, you’ll eventually find so much satisfaction out of baking your own treats. You can shop for ingredients locally, ensure that your children are eating healthily and avoiding preservatives, and you can get them involved in the baking process. According to a report published in international research journal Appetite, “Children, who cooked their own meal, had higher intakes of salad[…] [and] meal preparation increased positive emotions in the children.” So, if you’re struggling to get your little one eating their carrot sticks, try letting them prepare and pack the sticks themselves (with adult supervision of course!).

5. Fruit ninja

Yes, just like the game, our next tip involves cutting your own fruit! While it might seem more convenient to buy little packs of pre-cut fruit, it really only takes a few minutes more to chop the fruit yourself. It’s all a case of slightly adjusting your lifestyle for a couple of weeks before it becomes your new normal.

Children, who cooked their own meal, had higher intakes of salad[…] [and] meal preparation increased positive emotions in the children.
— Research journal, Appetite

6. Re-filleries

While we definitely need to stop wrapping our kids’ lunches in plastic, we also need to stop buying ingredients that are packaged in plastic too. More and more health-food shops, green grocers and markets are popping up in our high streets, so if you’re lucky enough to have one of these near your home, shopping here will definitely earn you some eco points! Just pop a few containers in your bag, head to these shops and fill them with dried fruit, yoghurt covered raisins, a variety of nuts, etc. These can then be packed in your child’s lunch as a snack or pudding.

If you’re new to zero-waste shopping, The Beeswax Wrap Co. have created a zero-waste shop map to help you find your nearest re-fillery.

7. Stop peeling veg

Not only is peeling veg time-consuming but it leads to unnecessary waste and less nutrition. According to an article published in Advances in Nutrition “Whenever possible, the entire fruit or vegetable, i.e., peel and membrane, should be consumed to increase fiber consumption.” So, let’s make things a little easier for ourselves and stop peeling.

8. Leave the car on the drive

When heading out to buy food for packed lunches, the most eco-friendly way to travel is on foot or by bicycle. Embracing slow travel is enormously important if we’re to successfully battle the climate crisis. Walking and cycling is also better for your physical health and the opportunity to talk with your children and experience nature is brilliant for your mental health too.


9. Get your children to help

Instead of looking at baking from scratch, chopping fruit and washing up reusable containers as an extra chore, try to see it as an interesting activity for your children. A survey completed by the University of Alberta found that “Vegetable preference was[…] 10 per cent higher among children who helped cook. The data also showed that kids who did meal prep and cooking were more confident about the importance of making healthier food choices.” 

10. Leftovers

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted[…] Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.” With this in mind, leftovers go from a minor inconvenience to a serious problem. The severity of the climate crisis demands that every single person reduces the amount of food they waste. So, the next time your child’s lunch box comes home with food inside, you could offer it to them as an afternoon snack. If there’s lots left then they might even like it for their tea. Many items of food will last until the following day and some foods could also be incorporated into other meals, for example left over veg sticks could easily be added to a soup. Leftover fruit can be given for pudding or put into a smoothie for breakfast.

Do you have any tips for creating plastic free packed lunches? We’d love to hear them. Please tag our Monkey Wrench founder @alexandrajellicoe on Instagram and Facebook or @alexjellicoe on Twitter and follow her for the latest #monkeywrenchnews