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Waste-Free Lunches (the lunchboxes)

It’s a little early, I guess, to be obsessing over school supplies for September.  August. That’s right, now we send kids back to school in August.  In something like 4 weeks.  Okay, maybe it’s not that early. (I’m the kind of mom who is at the store the night before school starts, most years, and I’m trying to avoid that this year.)

The preschool my kids went to last year had instituted school-wide “waste-free lunches.”  What this basically meant was that kids should bring their food in re-usable containers, rather than throwaway baggies and those ridiculous “lunchable” things full of packaging.  (Okay, yeah, when I was a kid I thought Lunchables were pretty cool too.) At first I, like most of the parents probably did, grumbled a good bit.  But once we got the hang of it, it was really easy and in fact became the turning point for my deciding this greening thing might be worth a shot.  So far, I haven’t really looked back.  It was almost shockingly easy.

One has a few choices for waste free lunch packaging, of course.  The cheapest and (IMO) easiest is to get those reusable ziploc containers from the grocery store and use them again and again.  The one-cup size seems pretty good; they come in round or rectangular shapes. (One cut up apple fits into the rectangular one, but not the round one. If you care.) You can get sandwich-sized and -shaped ones too.  (The farther and more complex options for waste-free packaging will be dealt with in a future post.)  The only real problem here becomes the jigsaw puzzle issue of fitting your desired set of containers into the standard-issue big box store lunchboxes that were, at the time, all I knew about.

Then I found these:

Built® Munchlers™ Backpacks - Insulated Medium Kids Lunch Bags

Okay, so they don’t have Optimus Prime or Anakin Skywalker on them.  But they also don’t have lead in the lining, they fold for FLAT storage (!! I love that!), and they open out into sort of placemat-things while you eat.  And their size and shape are such that a pretty wide-ranging set of container options fit inside.  And they are mini-backpacks, which for some reason my kids think is  amazing. My son has the tiger, my daughter the bunny.  Apparently the tiger doesn’t quite make 6-year-old-boy cool factor cut, but my son still likes it (They should make a robot or something–but kudos to him for independent thinking and still liking it even if his friends don’t!), and my daughter’s friends (she’s 4) still think hers is very cool. 

If you (unlike me) are willing to spend a lot more money than the just-over-$10 that these cost. there are lots of very classy options: check out these “bento boxes” . These actually look really nice, I just am not willing to spend this much for something I could assemble on my own.  Also, the “go green lunch boxes”  look even nicer, with fewer pieces to get lost and a much higher “cool” factor (Pirates!)…but again, for me it’s going to come down to cost. (Although if I did the math, I wonder how much extra I’d really be saving by not having to buy and keep track of those little cups and lids…) (Chicago folks: supporting Green Life is supporting a local mom-owned business, which wins it a lot of points in my book!)

Then again…if you do package your food well (i.e. not leaving an apple rolling around loose inside the lunchbox) there’s probably nothing awful about using the vinyl and possibly-lead-containing ones we find everywhere right next to the crayon and Trapper Keeper aisle of school supplies.  We are told that safeguards against unsafe substances are being enforced much more than in the past, and any “offgassing” that these vinyl lunchboxes might give off could probably be dealt with by just opening it up and leaving it outside for a few hours with a nice breeze or something–and the old-fashioned stainless steel ones like we had when we were kids seem to be making a comeback, too…

But check out the site for some really startling statistics on not only how much less garbage we’ll generate but also how much money a family can save in a year by switching to this kind of lunch. 

And take it from a really busy, really lazy mom–it’s not that hard at all. 



You might be going green if…

The Green Phone Booth is another of my favorite blogs…this post made me smile.

I’m a goon. And a packrat. And this is why.

We’ve had this giant bag bound for Goodwill for literally the past 4 or 5 months.  It’s been sitting in our basement since shortly before my parents came to visit. (Doesn’t everyone hide stuff in their basement when their parents come to visit?)

I won’t let my husband carry it away.  Because I keep going into it and salvaging things that I thought at the time I wouldn’t need, but then that I realized later I could re-use.

Case in point: about 4 years ago I bought a couple of yards of nylon mesh to make shower and swimming baby slings. (Like these: ).  I did make one, and I used it for a while, but I never got around to making the additional ones I’d intended to as gifts and such.  So the rest of this mesh fabric just sat around.  A few months ago I decided I’d probably never use the rest of that mesh, it was taking up space and my stash was beyond ridiculous, so I put it in the Goodwill bag.

However, that was before I discovered our local farmer’s market. (Another post for another day.) Long story short, I was slightly appalled at how many of those awful grocery store plastic bags one has to use there if one does not come prepared, and so I started looking into reusable produce bags.  I discovered things like this ( and this ( and vaguely in the back of my mind remembered that folded yard or so of turquoise nylon mesh still sitting downstairs in the Goodwill bag…(by the way, these are great businesses–I’m waiting for my order right now–but if there’s something I can make on my own, I’m not going to pay someone else to make me one.)

So I fished it out.  Tonight I hope to make some produce bags for the next time I visit the market.  Photos to come soon.

Plastic grocery bags are the pits. I did an earlier post on the reusable bag thing: check it out (



Well, this is heartening…(bottled water bad…)

Found at

Consumers Regain (Some) Sanity

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Sep 16, 2008 at 12:38:10 PM PDT

Believe it or not, high food prices and economic recession have resulted in at least one good thing: consumers are ditching their bottled water habits!Sales of bottled water go flat as consumers return to the tap 

The ubiquitous plastic water bottle, long the bane of environmental campaigners, is being ditched by consumers in Europe and the US as incomes slump and people return to the tap for a free drink.Sales of the world’s best-known brands, including Aquafina and Volvic, have tumbled in some countries as weakening economies take a toll on household incomes and consumers become more concerned about the environmental impact of throwing away the plastic packaging of a liquid that can be drunk for free.


In the US, where bottled water consumption is higher than in any other country, supermarket sales are at their slowest rate since bottled water became popular a decade ago.Total sales volumes are up just 1 per cent this year (including recently popular brands such as Glaceau that contain added vitamins and fruit infusions), according to US soft drinks newsletter Beverage Digest. This compares with growth of 11 per cent over the same period last year, and more than 21 per cent in 2006.



(By the way…La Vida Locavore,, is one of the blogs I follow fairly religiously; they are very up to date on what’s going on especially at the government levels where green and anti-green initiatives are concerned, and there are some writers who do great stuff on local forage-able herbs and stuff…they are all WAY more hardcore than I am, but it’s good info!)One of these days I’ll write a longer bottled water post, but  for me it boils down to this: WHY? Why buy disposable plastic bottles which are filled with a substance that you can get free from your tap? I mean, okay, if you live in a community where you have demonstrable poor water quality, that’s one thing (though it’s a heckuva lot cheaper and greener to buy drinking water by the gallon, or buy a water filter), but most people who don’t “trust” tap water feel that way for no actual reason beyond the marketing hype that wants to make them not trust their tap water so they’ll go out and buy bottled water.  And lately it’s been coming to light that we have absolutely no idea of whether it’s safe or not ( –there are very few regulations in place regarding the purity or safety of bottled water, as opposed to tap water, which has much stricter standards–and there has been scary stuff found in it (






Little soaps–hotels and greenness

Part of this whole greening process for me has involved taking new looks at things I used to take for granted, or not even think about.  One of those things, this week, has been the tiny sthese little oaps and shampoos that seem to be part and parcel of every hotel bathroom I’ve ever been in.

First, the soap–you open up a bar of soap, use it for a shower or two and washing your hands for the duration, and then you leave it there when you leave and it gets thrown away and replaced with a new one the next time housekeeping is there.  The tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner are thrown out and added to the landfill piles.  Consumption nightmare.

So I did a little thinking, and a little research.

First of all, we of course have the option of not using the hotel soaps and shampoos; if they are still there, unwrapped, or with the seals unbroken, one assumes the hotel will leave them there for the next guest.  This is honestly usually my choice, because the hotel stuff tends to be too heavily scented for me, and I’d just as soon bring my own from home.  As an alternative, using them and then bringing them home to finish using them is also not a bad idea, especially with the bar soap.  The shampoos and such–hard to get around the negative implications of those tiny bottles.

Many homeless shelters will accept donation of unopened soaps and shampoos–while this is a great thing to do, it also in a way does not solve the problem; the soaps and shampoos will still likely get used once and thrown away.  Few if any shelters will accept already opened products, for obvious sanitary reasons. 

A group called Clean the World Foundation ( in Florida has a program whereby hotel chains can donate their used soaps for recycling; they seem to have a lot of local partners, but they are hardly a nationwide phenomenon.

You can also check out for the mappable locations of different hotels who qualify for a one-to-four “trees” rating for how many things they are doing to be environmentally friendly…it’s not as informative as I might have hoped, but it’s something. 

The recommendation in hotels with a real commitment to greenness seems to be dispensers–soap, shampoo, conditioner.  It seems to be slow to catch on, but it’s not a bad idea…

In the meantime, there are a bunch of sites with suggestions for what to do with used soaps–I plan to try some of these with our basic at-home soap slivers… –six different ideas for re-using old soap pieces –makes old soap pieces into pump-able liquid hand soap –a kid-friendly, microwavable way to turn lots of little pieces of soap into a new bar 

If anyone tries any of these, let me know how they worked!



Re-usable shopping bags?

Seven years ago on my honeymoon cruise, when the ship docked on Catalina Island, I found a string shopping bag– one of those crocheted string things that squeezes down into almost nothing but seems to expand almost endlessly as it fills with things. (We almost missed the last shuttle back to the cruise ship buying it, but that’s another story.)  This was of course before you could find re-usable bags selling for 99 cents at every grocery store in the world, but I still use the thing. 

Now, of course, lots of people are bringing their own bags for grocery shopping.  Since I have a memory like a cheezy plastic trap, those big things they sell in the stores are worse than useless to me; I need something that can live in my purse and not flop around the inside of my car all the time.  My old string bag from Catalina absolutely fits the bill. But despite being almost infinitely expandable and really strong, it is at last beginning to wear out. So I am starting to look for the next one.

So…I check out “Earth-Saks” ( reusable bags.  They fold up into a nice little pouch, which I really like the idea of.  And there’s also a mesh produce bag which looks handy. 

Reusable bags seem to be a big item these days–a google search for “string shopping bags” got a huge number of hits and a dozen good sites right off the bat–there was (these have wider shoulders…looks nice and much more comfy than the skinny straps!), and (I think the first one listed there under string bags is just like my Catalina bag), there are directions for how to knit ( or sew (” different kinds of bags to take with you…

(Honestly, though–directions for how to sew a reusable bag? I mean, not to be obtuse or snooty, but what’s to explain?  Heck, if that’s what you want, bring a pillowcase, you know?)

It’s been another of those adjustment things for me, but especially where a bag that expands so much is concerned, I feel like switching from grocery bags to these reusable string ones is a fairly low-stress switch to avoiding generating more garbage…

Besides, with all you can fit in one–one of these bags can take what would take 3 or 4 paper  bags and God knows how many of those stupid plastic ones. (You know, the ones they usually put about 2 or 3 items in?), so it’s also easier to get them into the house.

Reusable bags. Think about it.


Ten steps to being a Greenmom on the fly

Ten Secrets to being a Greenmom on the Fly:

10. Cook in quantity and freeze leftovers.  Four (or more) quarts of soup (or cooked black beans or green chili) take exactly the same amount of time to cook as 1 or 2. If it’s something you eat a lot and you have room in the freezer, make LOTS and save yourself time next week. Or next month.

9. If you must use meat, don’t add it to the “in quantity” part unless you’re freezing it right away, and don’t thaw it unless you know you’ll eat it soon—plant-based foods keep in the fridge much longer!  If it has meat in it and has been sitting in your fridge for 3 days, you’re taking a chance; it might not taste bad, but it could have lots of live wigglies in there to completely screw up your digestive system or worse.  Veggie products are easier: if they look good, feel normal, and smell fine, they generally are. Plus when they are not, they have an obliging way of getting slimy, growing mold, or generating a weird smell which tells us fairly clearly that they are no longer good to eat.  And it takes them a lot longer to get there.  So much less scary!

8. Avoid generating tons of unnecessary garbage and recycling by making and freezing your own applesauce, pasta sauce, cooked legumes (beans and lentils), etc. (Yogurt too, but you can’t freeze it as well.) (See #10!)

7. Use your crockpot. Use it often. (See #8 and #10! Further posts about how to do this to come!)

6. Know that the difference between “convenience food” and “processed food” has a lot to do with how many ingredients there are in it. Try not to buy anything with more than maybe 6 or 7 ingredients max, and make sure you can pronounce them all.

5. Use yogurt instead of mayonnaise and sour cream, and yogurt cheese instead of cream cheese. (To make yogurt cheese, drain plain yogurt in muslin or cheesecloth for a couple of hours.) Much better for you, and just as versatile and flavorful. Enjoy tuna or pasta salad again without guilt.

4. Use an immersion blender to puree soups or to disguise vegetables in otherwise chunky foods. I used to ignore any recipe that said “puree in batches in your food processor”–too messy, too many things to clean! The immersion stick blender can just go in and whack things up without moving them from their original pot or bowl.

3. Never use white flour or rice products where you can convince your family to eat the whole wheat or brown rice version.  This sometimes takes creativity, but every family will be different.  Also, beware the term “multigrain” on packaging–that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, it just means that there are at least two different kinds of grain in it. It could be 90% refined white flour and 10% oat flour, or worse, and still be “multigrain.”

2. Grow your own herbs and veggies, preferably near enough to the kitchen that harvesting is a piece of cake.  A sunny kitchen window for herbs, if you have one, is awesome.

1. Don’t jump into Greenmom-ness all at once! Start with a couple of small things, and just keep adding. I started this thinking I’d be making sacrifices to be greener, but once my mindset shifted I’ve discovered it’s actually much easier and cheaper in the long run, and my kids are eating good stuff.  And it’s fun.