Save Money and the Planet With a Greener Lunch

Having your child bring lunch to school -- or brown-bagging it yourself at work -- benefits both your budget and your health. But when you look at all those plastic bags and juice boxes, it becomes clear that it's probably not so good for the planet. Add in concerns about BPA and phthalates in plastic containers and lead in lunchboxes, and going green starts to look very appealing.

Luckily, it's easier than ever to pack your lunch in reusable, safe, eco-friendly containers. And these options are considerably more stylish than a brown paper bag!

Here are some tips on how to pack a "green" lunch for your child to take to school:


Sandwich bags and wraps: These clever little numbers are generally cotton fabrics lined with food-safe materials like BPA- and phthalate-free plastic or water-resistant nylon. They wrap around your sandwich and are secured with a hook-and-loop closure. The bags generally need to be hand-washed and turned inside-out to dry; to my eye, the wraps look a lot easier to clean. And they can even be used as place mats! These might be a good first step to wean yourself off plastic bags. They are cute, stylish, and reasonably cost-efficient, when you total up the price of a few boxes of plastic baggies.

Alternative lunchboxes: Apparently there are parents who put a lot of thought into their child's lunch. There are whole corners of the Internet devoted to people who craft these elaborate, funky-looking bento boxes. But luckily for those of us with, um, a little less time on our hands, the bento concept can be a lot simpler. Basically a larger box with a bunch of smaller containers that fit neatly into it or one that's already divided into compartments, bento boxes let you pack a variety of little bits of food or even a standard sandwich-and-side lunch. They come in stainless steel and BPA- and phthalate-free plastic. Kids seem to love bentos -- which give a standard PB&J a certain amount of panache.

Safe containers: Individual stainless steel containers would be a good alternative to use-and-toss plastic ones; there are also colorful, sturdy, "safe" plastics that can take a lot of re-washing. For dips, dressings, etc. you can even find cute little bottles that work better than packets.

Utensils and napkins: There are durable, Earth-friendly, bamboo utensils that are dishwasher-safe; some even come with their own cases. And you can find reusable cloth napkins in a wide variety of patterns and materials. There are even glass straws!

Reusable water bottle: You're already doing this, right? They're very easy to find and save so much money and pollution over the plastic single-serve ones. Just make sure that whatever you choose, it's BPA-free (even some stainles steel water bottles were found to be lined with BPA).

What's your favorite "green" lunch product?


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