What You Actually Need to Pack No-Waste, Eco-Friendly School Lunches

A simple guide to packing a no-waste lunch: what you really need and what you don’t.
What You Actually Need to Pack No-Waste, Eco-Friendly School Lunches via FoodforMyFamily.com

No-Waste School Lunch Necessities

Walking through the aisles of major retailers it’s easy to feel inundated with the sheer amount of options available when it comes to packing food for your child to bring to school for lunch. With so much on the market, how do you know what you’ll actually use, what will hold up, what won’t leak, what the kids can open, and what’s worth the price tag? This is a list of the basics, pure and simple.
What You Actually Need to Pack No-Waste, Eco-Friendly School Lunches via FoodforMyFamily.com

Nesting containers or an all-in-one unit that’s easy to wash.

I have four kids, which means I need to clean and store four sets of lunch containers. I’ve taken to using plenty of things we already had, like mason jars and leftover-ware, to store small items. They already had a spot in my house, and I didn’t need to make more space to accommodate them. Still, I have picked up several lunch-specific containers as well, so here are a few that I love.

I really appreciate the durability of stainless steel when packing school lunches, but as I mentioned in my school lunch buying guide last year, some are harder to open than others. I’ve had good luck with Kids Konserve containers for my youngest, and despite their sticky lids, all of our To-Go Ware Containers are still going strong.

In the name of simplicity, the real winner here is the PlanetBox. It’s the most durable all-in-one system around, and the one-piece model makes cleaning it extremely easy. You can even load it in the dishwasher like a plate. There are no lids to lose or nooks and crannies for food to get crammed into. The only downfall for me, as someone who often packs hot items, is there is no insulated container option. It’s definitely worth the investment for ease of use, durability, and all-in-one nature.
What You Actually Need to Pack No-Waste, Eco-Friendly School Lunches via FoodforMyFamily.com

Beverage containers you don’t care about.

I love a good many water bottles. The wide mouth Klean Kanteen bottles with their straight sides and interchangeable tops and carabiners to hook them on anything are hard to beat. Thermos makes a wide range for your drinking needs with regular twist-off, sports caps, and straws. Lifefactory’s silicone-covered glass bottles are durable and come in fun colors.

However, when I’m looking to send a bottle in a lunch bag, I’ve found that they get bumped and bruised more than our everyday use at home, and sometimes they don’t make it back through our front door. As such, I’ve started sending a different kind of bottle to school. I still need it to be BPA-free and reusable, but one of my favorite lunch bag beverage containers have become the reused iced tea and kombucha bottles. Made from thick glass, they’re easy to refill and toss in their bag. If you are wary of sending glass with your kids, a good alternative are all those branded stainless steel bottles you seem to amass from sports teams with their logos, companies at the fair, or the ones your employer passed out at the annual meeting. When they get lost, broken, or abused, you won’t sigh quite so loudly.
What You Actually Need to Pack No-Waste, Eco-Friendly School Lunches via FoodforMyFamily.com

A reusable utensil

I prefer having a separate utensil for my kids’ lunches. A silver spoon from our drawer is more likely to land in the trash or, more probable, be picked up by a well meaning lunch supervisor and thrown in with the school’s silverware than one that definitely does not belong to the school. Perhaps this is because our home use silverware is pretty basic, and if I went for an intricate design I wouldn’t have this problem.

I believe the latter because by sending brightly colored spoon/fork/knife combos to school, I have yet to have one that didn’t return home safely tucked in the lunch bag. Plus, it’s one utensil for all the things. There are more than a few brands that make these. Sometimes they are called a sporf, sometimes a spork. Light My Fire sells them as a 4-pack, and Smart Planet has them in their collapsible containers, and you can buy them as a replacement item. They’re affordable, even more so because they didn’t walk off like my spoons did.
How to Prepare and Pack Freezer Smoothies for School Lunches via FoodforMyFamily.com

An insulated jar

If you’re like me and appreciate the ability to send leftovers, warm soups on cold days, and whatever else you can dream up in the warm category, an insulated jar is a must. I’ve tried many, and stainless steel vacuum insulated food jars from Thermos remain my favorite because they seem to keep food hot longer.

If you aren’t sure how to preheat an insulated container, my mini spinach frittata recipe has some simple instructions. Be sure to fill it up, as airspace doesn’t stay hot as effectively as a boiling liquid or a tightly packed container of hot food.
What You Actually Need to Pack No-Waste, Eco-Friendly School Lunches via FoodforMyFamily.com

A lunch bag that you can wash

Finally, once you have your containers filled and ready to go, you have to stick them in something, preferably something with a wipeable surface or that can be thrown straight into the laundry because it will get dirty. Whether they drop it in a mud puddle, kick it down the hall of the school, their neighbor spills government-mandated “counts as a vegetable” ketchup on it, or a container lid doesn’t quite make it on as they toss everything in and run out the lunch room door for recess, you will need to clean it.

Who cares what you get here. Go big and buy a durable, insulated bag that will last years. Cheap out and pick one up on clearance a week after school starts. Use an all cotton sack or a fancy waxed canvas bag from a local artisan. The things that are important are that it is reusable and free of PVC, lead, phthalates, and BPA. For wipeable surfaces, pick one that lacks lots of stitching and seams on the inside where food will spill. For ones you toss in the laundry, look for one without velcro and that will reform after it’s been washed dozens of times. Those cute embroidered designs? Picture them with sunflower butter mashed between the detailed stitching and go for something a bit more practical.

Likewise, cut up some old dishtowels or even t-shirts to use as napkins. You can sew a simple hem on them or not. Toss them in the wash with everything else. When they get lost, no harm done.

More School Lunch Posts:

Looking for more inspiration and helpful tips on packing school lunches? Here are a few to get you started.

::Get inspired by our school lunches on the Food for My Family Facebook page.
::10-Minute Macaroni and Cheese for School Lunches
::The Back-to-School Lunch Box Buying Guide
::A Back-to-School Eat Well, Spend Less: ABC Ideas for Your Lunchbox
::How to Prepare and Pack Freezer Smoothies for School Lunches: Eat Well, Spend Less


  1. I wish you were my mom, packing my lunch!! Great ideas here Shaina!

  2. You amaze me, What an awesome post filled with great ideas! I love back to school time!

    • Haha, I guess I loved this post so much I forgot I had left a comment last night. Oops… I need more sleep or maybe I just need you packing my lunches. So healthy and full of color!

  3. Great post! Pinned.

  4. I bet your kids have the best lunches at the school! Great ideas you have here!

  5. With 4 kids I’ve seen my share of ‘reusable’ lunch bags, bottles and containers disappear throughout the years. I love these sectioned, all in one containers and also love reusing bottles or at least ones with the tops attached so as not to get lost. Thanks for the great healthy lunch box ideas! Pinned. oxox


  1. […] want all my lunches made by Shaina. These school lunch ideas are honestly the […]

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