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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. 



How To Shop Your Local Farmers Market

Last Saturday morning I visited the Downers Grove Farmers Market.  I wish I could compare it to other markets I’ve been to, but I blush to admit that I had actually never gone shopping at a local farmers market before—I, who have a username like “greenmom,” had never been to a farmers market.  Sort of embarrassing.  So I figured I’d better head out there to one.

 (Not by way of excuse but explanation—my problem isn’t the going, it’s the timing; I never seem to remember on Thursday morning that it’s actually Thursday morning, know what I mean? I’ll go, “Oh right, I wanted to hit the Burr Ridge farmers market Thursday of this week, what day is it? Oh crud, it’s Friday already, now I have to wait till next week…”  I have the same problem remembering to take the garbage out to the curb for pickup, which is why I’m glad my husband takes care of that aspect of home life.)

It was a good thing, this farmer’s market. I was surprised at how much non-fruit-or-veggie stuff was there for sale—seemed like everything from gourmet dog biscuits to made on the spot fresh donuts to breads and cheeses to locally made soaps and cosmetics were there.  We got a bag of mini-donuts that were literally moments out of the hot oil. (Yeah, oil. I know. What can I say, I cracked. And they were delicious.)

Some things I learned:

  1. Shop around.  If the first produce-selling stall has green peppers and lettuce and sweet cherries, odds are good that the next 4 will have variations on the same fruits and vegetables.
  2. Not everything is necessarily grown locally.  If a farm is selling beautiful huge rosy beefsteak tomatoes when you know perfectly well the ones on your bush at home are still little green globes about 2cm in diameter, ask where they grew their tomatoes.  (On the other hand, going to the farmers market and buying tomatoes grown in Arkansas is a good bit less carbon-footprint-y than going to the grocery store and buying tomatoes grown in Chile, know what I mean?) I found some that were grown in southern Illinois, no doubt hothouse, but very reasonable and very good.
  3. Go with a budget.  Better still, go with exactly as much cash as you are willing to spend that day.  And have some idea of what you want to get before leaving the house—don’t be inflexible, but also don’t go thinking “wow, I’ll just buy what looks good!” It all looks good.
  4. The next time you go, start off to the left first, since last time you ran out of your budgeted cash well before you got to the last third of the stalls.
  5. Free samples.
  6. Bring your own produce bags, or be prepared to schlep home a whole bunch of those annoying plastic grocery bags.  Unfortunately, your string bags won’t help you here, because produce is a little messier than stuff you get at the store. (My experience with making produce bags is in a subsequent post.)  Do a Google search for “reusable produce bag” and you’ll get places like,,, and many more. Bear in mind—for farmers market shopping almost any mesh or muslin type bag will be fine.  If you want something to use in a grocery store, it needs to be fairly transparent so that the scanners can read it. This topic will get its own post eventually…

To find your own local market, if you don’t know already where they are, check the web– has a pretty good search engine, as do and –for that last one, you need to scroll down to find all the markets; the list that comes up first has only featured ones, I think; it also appears to have more info and be more up to date than the site.  What’s kind of cool is that since the days rotate around with a different market in a different place every day of the week, if we suburbanites are lucky we may be able to go any day we want and even hit a lot of the same vendors who cycle around the different markets all week.

Happy munching! (The donuts were worth every fat-laden calorie, too…)


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 (



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.