When I was working in our local school district, I had “lunch duty” each day. Basically that meant helping the other two teachers make sure the kids each:
a. had a lunch
b. ate that lunch
c. kept their “inside voices”
d. kept their hands to themselves; and
e. (my least favorite) threw away their trash.
Besides the fact that some of the kids didn’t have the best aim (I occasionally “wore” what some kids had left on their trays or in their lunchboxes…yay me!), it was the actual volume of trash that broke my heart. It was amazing how much trash was generated by a group of kids who only came up to my waist.
In some cases, the lunchboxes were just over packed. It was as though the parents weren’t sure what their little ones might be in the mood for that day and so they ensured a wide variety. Or maybe they thought their first graders would be famished from all the knowledge we gave them. Either way, I just could not convince these kids to take home what they hadn’t opened. “Nope! Mom says don’t keep anything in your lunchbox because it might leak on your clothes.” Can’t argue with that, I suppose.
So here’s a thought: pack the lunch together. Decide on one main item. Maybe it’s a thermos of soup or a sandwich or wrap. Let’s add some veggie sticks, along with peanut butter, or yogurt or hummus to dip them in. Then, some fruit chunks for dessert. You get the idea.
There really is no need for a sandwich and a bag of chips and half a dozen Slim Jims and a pudding cup and some cookies and an apple for good measure. It’s just not necessary. You’d be better off standing on your front porch watching your money float in the wind. Because chances are, what didn’t get eaten isn’t coming home. It’s headed to the landfill!
And it wasn’t just the food being thrown away, but the packaging. One of the biggest trends I saw in the lunch room was that of the “lunchable”. Have you seen these? It’s like a “cold” TV dinner for kids. You can find either chicken nuggets, mini pizzas or lunchmeat with cheese and crackers, along with a tiny candy bar and a sugary juice pouch. And they call it lunch.
So, I was thinking about how great it would be to solve two problems at once: making sure kids eat actual food for lunch (they still have to get through the afternoon) and the problem of too much waste. Here are some thoughts:
- Send lunch in a sturdy, reusable lunch box. Let your child pick it out. Make sure it zips or latches well, especially if you’re worried about “leakage”. According to Paperless Kitchen (visit them at www.paperlesskitchen.com) it takes twice as much energy to make a paper bag, than it does a plastic one. Who knew?
- Skip the soda, juice box, juice pouch, etc. These drinks are filled with chemicals and sugar and they create a lot of waste. Use a reusable thermos or water bottle instead.
- Forget the plastic tableware. If you’re worried about your little one throwing away your silverware, then try to pack lunch items that can be eaten by hand or sipped from a thermos.
- When my boys were younger, they would often argue about who got the last (cracker, cookie, chip, etc.). So I would buy these items in bulk, put them in reusable containers, and each of the boys had their own “snack stash”. When the stash was gone, it was gone. You could incorporate this idea into lunch packing.
- Another idea from Paperless Kitchen: send a cloth napkin. I know what you’re thinking. The school lunch room is not a 5 star restaurant. But you’ll not only be saving the planet, but saving money. You can wash and reuse that napkin over and over and over again, rather than constantly buying new paper napkins from the store. And if you don’t want to buy them, you could always make them.
Until schools get on board with serving “real” food to kids that is nutritious and not chemical laden, I will always prefer sending a lunch from home. But it’s up to parents to make sure their children are getting adequate nutrition and not creating unnecessary waste. These small steps will not only help your child embrace a greener lifestyle, but will likely make a few “lunch duty” teachers happy as well!