How to Pack a Zero-Waste Lunch

The average school-aged child produces 67 pounds of waste per school year just from their lunch alone. The solution is pretty simple… zero-waste lunches. They are easy to create and are more affordable over time than the typical packed or school bought lunches.

Here are some tips on items you should include and items you should avoid in your child’s lunch along with other tips to cut down on lunch waste and tips for zero-waste adult lunches.

Packing a zero-waste lunch is very simple. Just replace  Here are items that you want to include and avoid in a zero-waste lunch. Many of these zero-waste lunch items are available in the WasteLessThinking shop.


  • Reusable lunch box
  • Bento box
  • Reusable snack bags or containers
  • Reusable utensils
  • Cloth napkin
  • Stainless steel straw
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Disposable paper or plastic lunch bag
  • Plastic snack or sandwich bags
  • Prepackaged or individually packaged snacks
  • Plastic straw
  • Juice box, soda can, disposable water bottle


Other tips:

Avoid wasting leftovers by using them as your child’s lunch. Cut down on lunch packing time by putting leftovers in containers the night you cook the food, so in the morning all you have to do is throw it in the bag with other lunch supplies.

Practice less wasteful grocery shopping techniques when shopping for lunch food, like buying dry items in bulk and perishable items in small quantities. Avoid single-serve snack foods, like chips, yogurt, crackers, or applesauce, that create a lot of packaging waste. Instead buy snack items in bulk and package them in reusable snack bags.

Choose lunch containers that your child can use throughout their school years. Buying lunch boxes, water bottles, and snack bags with your child’s favorite cartoon character on it may seem like a good idea at the time, but children’s interests change quickly. This can leave you buying new lunch items often and not having such a positive impact on the environment. Stick to generic lunch supplies that your child won’t grow out of as they age.

Avoid plastic containers. Plastic is still harmful for the environment, even when used to make reusable items. Plus, plastic containers tend to not last as long as containers made from other items, like stainless steel. This means that they still end up getting thrown away, and replaced eventually. Plastic can also leach harmful chemicals into your food. So when you hear “reusable containers” don’t think plastic Tupperware, think stainless steel, fabric, wood, etc.

Put reusable utensils in your child’s backpack. Even if you cannot pack their lunch one morning, they can still 818U2B0LenL._SL1500_avoid using plastic silverware if they have a reusable set with them. They will also have utensils in case of a class party or if a student brings some cake for the class on their birthday.

Pack what your child will eat. Lunchtime waste does not just come from packaging and utensil trash; food waste is another big contributor. Talk to your child about what they like to eat and give them food that they will actually eat for lunch. And make sure not to over-pack their lunch. If they are coming home with leftover food every day, you are packing too much in their lunch.

Tips for zero-waste adult lunches:

It’s also a great idea for adults to pack zero-waste lunches to bring to work. Your lunch can produce just as much waste as your child’s lunch.

Bento boxes (like this one from the WasteLessThinking shop) are a great way to pack an adult lunch. You can put your main course and snacks together in the same container and just slide the bento box into a bag that you already carry with you to work.

Glass jars are also a great storage technique for adult lunches. By adulthood many of us have outgrown the PB&J 54a3a22c573eec6cfa4d652211c03b21sandwich as the go-to lunch entrée. Glass jars are great for storing things like salads, pasta, soup, noodles, and other things that adults prefer to eat for lunch.

Keep lunch supplies at your desk so you do not have to bring them back and forth every day. The less effort you have to put into creating a waste-free lunch the more likely you are to actually stick to it. If you have a sink available to wash your items, leaving silverware, napkins, plates, and bowls at work can be a great way to make lunch easier and cut down on the load you have to carry to work every morning.

Find a comfortable way to carry your lunch with you. If you don’t like carrying your lunch to work with you, you probably won’t do it as often as you should. Find a lunch bag that looks stylish, is easy to carry, and doesn’t take up much room. If you already carry several bags just throw the components of your lunch into a bag you are already carrying.


Bento box

Reusable utensils for kids

Reusable utensils for adults

Reusable snack bags

Silicon lunchbox separators

Stainless Steel Straws

Stainless Steel Water Bottle

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