How to pack low waste lunchboxes for school or work

How to pack low waste lunchboxes for school or work

One way to reduce the waste is to pack waste free or low waste lunchboxes. These can be for school, work or any time you have to take lunch with you.

What are low waste or zero-waste lunchboxes?

Low waste lunchboxes are those that only contain packaging that can be composted or recycled. At the end of lunch, there won’t be any rubbish to go into the bin.

A selection of Lunchboxes from an article on Stuff

The actual food in lunchboxes is the final part of the supply chain. There are lots of packaging considerations before you get to this point. Thinking about the packaging that the lunch items comes in is part of the whole process.

There are many ways you can reduce packaging waste for lunchbox foods. Buying food with minimal packaging, buying in bulk, or baking items yourself can all reduce waste.

All the small changes help reduce how much rubbish ends up in landfill.

What tools or items are useful for making low waste lunches?

This is a kind of starter kit of items for putting together a zero waste lunchbox. However I will say that my kids are now tweens and preteens, so they can handle all these containers. Younger children may need containers that are easy for them to manage on their own at school, and are appropriate sizes.

Lunchboxes kit:

Lunchboxes or bags: Over the years, we have tried many different lunchboxes and bags to carry the lunch to school or work. Some have been more successful than others! Bento style plastic lunchboxes have cracked or broken too easily. Stainless steel lunchboxes are more robust, but are easy to dent if kids swing their school bags around (which happens with my kids). We have ended up using lunch bags, like the one below. They are easy to wipe clean inside, and and you can wash them completely if there are food spills inside.

Cloth lunch bags can be easily washed
Lunch bag from The Warehouse

Reusable containers: We use a selection of different sized plastic containers for all kinds of food stuff. They have lasted for years, and the brand we use also replaces any broken clips. The downside to all these containers is that is does create more washing up. They can go into the dishwasher, but will get a bit dull after repeated washes.

Reusable lunchbox containers
Containers made from recycled plastic

Utensils: I bought some stainless steel spoons from a charity shop specifically for lunchboxes. I put these ones in the lunch bag/box for foods like yoghurt and jelly, as it didn’t matter too much if they get lost at school. Now my kids are older, the spoons usually come home, but if they lose the odd one or two, it isn’t a drama.

Liquid food containers: I don’t usually send liquid foods such as soup, but if I did, I would use a flask. This was very common in school lunchboxes when I was a kid, but I don’t think it happens as much nowadays. Maybe because matching lunchboxes and flasks was very much a thing back in those days!

Water bottle: Similar to lunchboxes, we have been through many types of reusuable water bottles over the years. We’ve eventually found brands and sizes of bottles that are suitable, easy to open, and don’t leak. The best bottles we have are from Tupperware, and have lasted for many years.

Items for wrapping sandwiches

Napkins or paper towel: With juicy or messy food, such as blueberries or cut up fruit, you may need to put in a cloth napkin or a piece of paper towel. The napkins are easy to wash, and the paper towel goes into the compost bin.

Paper sandwich bags: This may not be the advice from every zero waste blogger, as I am recommending a consumable item I don’t reuse. However, for my kids, I use paper bags for their sandwiches or wraps. They go into the compost after use, so they don’t end up in the bin.

My husband prefers sandwiches wrapped in a napkin inside a square plastic container, to keep them fresh – this approach is zero waste, as these items can both be washed and reused.

Beeswax wraps: These can be used for wrapping sandwiches etc, instead of using cling film. However, my kids don’t like the flavour they can transfer to bread. They are happy to have cut up fruit wrapped in beeswax wraps though, as they flavour doesn’t seem to carry over to these foods.

How to store the items for zero-waste lunchboxes?

The truth is, I have a drawer in my kitchen full of plastic reusable containers, It can be a bit annoying to have lots of containers to wash up and leave to dry every day. But if I want to reduce packaging waste, this is the trade off I can make (I know that not everyone has as much time as me, as my paid jobs are part time from home).

Lunchboxes in funky colours

Ideas for foods for a low waste lunch

Thinking about what kinds of nutritious and interesting food to put into lunchboxes is the next challenge. Its a good idea to keep a list of foods that work well, so you can quickly get some inspiration when you are running low on ideas!

Here are some ideas for what to include in low waste packed lunches:

  • Sandwiches, rolls or wraps with cheese, meat, and veggies (either inside or in a separate container to be added at lunch time for freshness)
  • Sushi – this is fun to make at home
  • Leftover dinners from the previous night
  • Crackers from a large pack, put a few into a container
  • Cut up veggies like carrot, cucumber, capsicum, or cherry tomatoes
  • Dips for crackers and veggies – such as hummus, peanut butter, avocado, salsa.
  • Popcorn – we microwave plain popcorn kernels, and the kids like it as it is, but you could add a topping such as a little salt
  • Cut up fruit – apples, oranges, bananas
  • A small container of raisins or dried cranberries or apricots (these are high in sugar, so just a small amount is enough)
  • Frozen blueberries, put into a container on a piece of paper towel, which soaks up the water as they defrost
  • Veggie fritters or pikelets
  • Bliss balls – this recipe from Countdown is a good one
  • Home baking – biscuits, fruit muffins, muesli bars
  • Yoghurt decanted from a larger tub
  • Homemade jelly in small pots

Every little step towards zero waste helps

It may feel difficult to go completely zero waste, but any reduction in waste is a step in the right direction. Always aim for progress over perfection with the philosophy that something is better than nothing.

Share your low waste lunchbox ideas

I’d love to hear your feedback, and about how you make low waste lunchboxes work for your family.

5 thoughts on “How to pack low waste lunchboxes for school or work”

  • These are great tips. I love my round hinged Tupperware sandwich container. I had one that lasted me at least 10 years before the hinge broke. Since they don’t carry this particular style anymore, it was worth it to me to pay a little more to someone that had a new one but had never used it. I also use a glass water bottle. So I have little to no garbage to throw out after lunch. I have machine-washable fabric lunch bag, so no disposable paper or plastic bags for me!

    • That’s so awesome Maureen, it’s great that your Tupperware container lasted so long. And so handy that you found a replacement second hand.

  • I use usually one that keeps my food hot during cold months and in summer it’s often veg/fruit smoothies. There is lot of lunchboxes on offer, I’m sure anyone who needs one will find some good tips. Thanks for some great ideas!

    • Thank you Smiley, smoothies are a great idea.
      I forgot to say in my post that a small ice pack works well in a lunchbox to keep things nice and cool until lunchtime!

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