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How "Green" Are Your School Lunches?

And just like that, summer is over and the routine of school has begun once again. New backpacks and homework packets and of course, daily lunch packing. But how "green" are the lunches you are sending to school? Curious about how to send school lunches that are good for your child and the Earth?

First, the hard facts about disposable lunches:

Green School Lunches
  • According to the EPA, the each American school-age child throws away an average of 67 pounds of lunch waste a year.
  • An estimated 2.81 million juice boxes are sold each year in the U.S., most of which cannot be recycled due to the inseparability of the cardboard, plastic, and aluminum foil used in the product.
  • Lunchtime trash is second only to office paper, as the leading source of school waste, according to Green Teach Magazine
  • 3,460,000 tons of tissues and paper towels wind up in landfills each year.

The good news? It's easy to make some simple changes to help reduce the impact of school lunches on the environment. "Packing your child’s lunch is one of the greenest school lunches your child can eat, so long as you have sent the lunch in a reusable container," says Terra Wellington, green mom expert and author of the e-book The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home. "The food choices make a difference as well," says Wellington. Here are her top tips for greening up school lunches.

  • Use a reusable lunch bag. Skip the brown bag and opt for a cool reusable lunch bag. "Preferably choose one that is labeled PVC and BPA-free," suggests Wellington. We love options by SkipHop and Pottery Barn. Look for a bag that is insulated, durable and sized for both your child and your reusable containers.
  • Skip single-serve snacks. "Instead, buy larger, less-expensive versions of the same thing and repackage it yourself using the reusables," says Wellington. Skip those plastic baggies and instead invest once in reusable lunch bags and cute containers. Or opt for a bento box with built-in dividers to keep food separate. (Planetbox is one of our favs!)
  • Send reusable utensils. According to, we use an estimates 40 billion plastic utensils every year in the United States - the majority of which are thrown out after just one use! Instead invest in some cute reusable cutlery (check out some of our favorites here) or reuse those cute spoons from your local fro-yo place.
  • Send cloth napkins. Up to 3,460,000 tons of tissues and paper towels wind up in landfills each year! Then again, are your kids even using a napkin? We may want them to, but if it's just going to get thrown away unused, consider skipping it. I send my kids with one if I'm including some especially juicy or messy.

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Let's be honest - it may take a few more minutes in your day to pack a greener lunch - but any new habit does! And we think it's worth it. You'll save money on buying bags and pre-packaged food, your kids will eat healthier, and the Earth will thank you.

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