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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. 



Taste of Westmont–our town summer festival

Okay, so Summerfest it’s not.  But several blocks of Cass Avenue are blocked off, there are carnival rides for kids, games, booths for various local businesses (at least I assume they were local) and of course lots and lots of food from local vendors.

I met a lovely woman with her own green business–Ann Brixie has a web business called “Green Life” ( , from which she sells stuff like waste free lunchboxes, reusable shopping bags that fold up into their own little pouch (I so have to get a couple of those; I love my string bags, but they keep getting tangled up in things!), earth-friendly water bottles that won’t leach plasticky weirdness into your water, and such.  I chatted with her for a while–her whole business came about pretty much the way this blog did–she’s an ordinary woman trying to live life in the burbs and raise kids on the generally horrific schedule of Today’s Mom, and wasn’t finding the resources she needed.  So she went out and started to provide them herself, which I think is awesome.

Aside from Ann…well, there wasn’t a lot green about the Taste of Westmont.  Vast and scary amounts of trash generated, way too many beverages served in styrofoam, and the only way one could get water was to buy it. In a plastic bottle.

Except…for the church.  Westmont Bible Church, I’m pretty sure, on Cass just north of the tracks.  They sat outside the church with a giant jug of water and paper cups (or they’d refill whatever you had) and just handed out free water all day.  And in their parking lot wherethe youth group had their mini-golf thing set up, side by side with the garbage cans there were recycling bins.  They were un-pushy, didn’t proseletyse at all, but were just a lovely presence there all day.  Not that I didn’t appreciate the other churches there who were handing out fans to cool off, or little candy prizes and balloons for the kids and all, but this church brought water.  (Rather biblical, actually, when you think about it. Oh, let all who thirst…)

Free water and recycling bins. Score one for the Jesus People.