One of the best ways to save money, calories and generally “be healthy” is to bring your own lunch to work. It’s hard to avoid the siren song of the Golden Arches, or to cut out your daily run. But, if you track your lunch costs for a few weeks, you’ll be shocked at what you can save by brown-bagging it.
Sam and I are pretty diligent about taking our lunches to work. We both work in schools and have tight schedules. Despite what you might have heard about the state of school lunches in our country, I am fortunate to work at a school that offers vegetarian, made-from-scratch lunches three days a week (the other two days are “meat days”). When I looked at my budget, paying $4.50 for a school lunch was steep. Especially one with at least some dairy component that I don’t eat, was just stretching it too far. Even though mornings can be hectic, I decided to suck it up and pack our lunches.
Even the best processed lunches contain a lot of waste (and a fairly large carbon footprint). In most cases it is best to prepare and pack your own lunch. If you are crunched for time, or just can’t manage a lunch every day, try frozen. Amy’s, Kashi and Gardein all make frozen options that are pretty yummy. Recycle the packaging, or reuse the containers as much as possible. Teracycle is no longer partnered with Kashi, but will still accept and recycle their packaging.
So what’s an eco-runner to do?
We package our own lunches as much as we can, and use reusable products so we can have waste free lunches. Usually I make a few large dishes on the weekends and then we package them individually so we have grab-and-go portions each day. In a typical week I’ll have a rice bowl of some sort, a casserole and usually some type of soup. This gives us a variety of items to choose from depending on our tastes that week.
In the summers we get our CSA share, so we end up with more salads, and roasted veggies to take with our lunch. Sam and I both love hummus, and I make my own and then put it in small glass containers to take for the week.
Best Lunch Packaging
We love the sandwich and snack wraps from Fresh Snack Pack. These are easy to clean, they stay closed and they hold a sandwich, crackers, chips, or cookies. They have a Velcro closure, and are BPA-free free of phthalates made out of a plastic called EVA.
We received the Takenaka bento box for Christmas and it’s great for taking snacks back and forth to work. They are made from a sturdy, food-safe plastic, and come in really cute colors (and beautiful designs). I’m not into microwaving plastic, but they are microwave and dishwasher-safe. We typically use ours for dry snacks, fruit and other items that are prone to getting squished when slung in a backpack.
The majority of our food (particularly the items that need to be reheated) we use the Wean Green Glass Lock containers. These tempered-glass containers are safer than plastic. Also, they are better for the environment and work great for the freezer or in the microwave (I take the lid off first).
We also have a collection of tried and true Pyrex dishes that we use for storage and to transport food back and forth. They are not the lightest containers, but they are glass and the lids are made of BPA-free plastic. When I make freezer meals, or have leftovers, we save them in individual portions so that we can always grab a little variety for lunch.
I carry my Light My Fire Spork in my purse. Yes, I know that’s a little weird, but it’s great! It’s sturdy, you can use it to cut up a kiwi, eat soup or eat forkfuls of pasta and salad. Plus, who doesn’t love a spork? It’s just fun to say. Spork, spork, spork. Mine is blue, but they come in a variety of colors.
Truth be told, I am so over the whole “put it in a Mason jar” trend. However, there are some really good uses for Mason jars, and they do make nice, eco friendly containers for items. They’re great for transporting bulk foods from the grocery store, and they store spices and dry goods safely, and easily. There’s also the whole “salad in a jar” thing—cue CUPPOW! These little guys convert your Mason jar into a dip, dressing and sauce-machine! You can use them to separate out your dressing. They carry hummus far away from your pretzels so they don’t get soggy. Plus, you can use the “drink lid” to convert your jar into a beverage container. It works great for making single-serve ice tea (the jars transfer easily between hot and cold).
To carry our coffee back and forth, there are so many options. There are a variety of reusable and travel coffee mugs that great and save on the huge landfill-clog that are disposable coffee cups (or even worse—Styrofoam coffee cups, yikes!). We went through several Contigo mugs but they kept leaking on us, or popping open. Now we use the totally unglamorous, but practical and functional Uniware Vacuum Flask. They are inexpensive, and Sam has had his for roughly 10 years, and the thing is still ticking.
There are so many great reusable water bottles! Klean Kanteen makes a bunch of easy to clean, and eco-friendly options. When looking for a water bottle, go with stainless steel for a safer option than plastic. It’s lightweight and long lasting. Look for something with a large enough mouth to clean (I love my SIGG, but it’s really hard to clean without special tablets, and who has time?).
The key with water bottles is just to have some that are easy to use, and clean, and lightweight enough to carry with you. For exercising Sam uses the USA made Polar Bottle. These are BPA-free insulated bottles that are lightweight plastic, and sporty. They keep water cold for hours and work great for running, biking and other outdoor activities (they’re a go-to in the kayak).
So what eco friendly lunch and snack options do you use? Do you take your lunch to work?
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