Tried ‘n True Gear for the Zero Waste Lunchbox

A simple guide for packing a zero waste lunch, with tips for reliable gear.

I‘m coming up on a decade of packing school lunches and it’s high time I shared my tried and true gear guide for the zero waste lunchbox.

Good containers for lunches on the go have to be easy to clean and hold up year after year. There are so many options out there and I’ve tried my fair share. I know what breaks and what lasts, what kids enjoy using and what is actually worth the price tag.

At its simplest, packing a lunch requires a few containers, a jar and a tote; at its maximum we’re using everything from beeswax wraps to banana guards.

Hit the jump and keep scrolling because I’m about to show you aaaaaalll our items for a zero waste lunchbox.

Invest in Quality Lunchbox Gear

Brace yourself, because as you can see, I’m a bit of a reusable lunch gear maximalist – with good reason! I’m raising three healthy eaters and I like to keep the midday meal exciting.

Now, I’m about to throw a lot of information your way, but before you pass judgement on the amount of items, here’s a quick breakdown of just how often we put everything to use.

  • 3 daily school lunches, 5x a week = 15 meals/week 
  • 1 daily office lunch – 5x week = 5 meals/week
  • Weekend picnics and lunches on the go for 5 people = 5 meals/week
  • Travel foods/road trip snacks x5

This gear gets us through upwards of 25 meals per week, with extra use for road trips and weekend excursions. That’s over a thousand meals throughout a 40-week school year.

As you can see, we use a wide variety of materials: glass, stainless steel, plastic, cloth, bamboo and beeswax. This well-curated selection saves us from using and tossing:

  • plastic sandwich bags, upwards of 20/week
  • plastic bags for cut vegetables or cookies (or both), easily 20/week
  • juice boxes, estimated 15/week
  • yogourt cups/tubes – 10/week
  • plastic water bottles – 25/week
  • plastic utensils
  • and so much more disposable plastic garbage.

Since I’ve been packing homemade school lunches for a decade now, I figure that investing in zero waste gear has kept me from sending thousands of baggies, bottles and plastic containers to the landfills.

Small Steps to Zero Waste Lunches

One of my favourite quotes about eco-consciousness is from Anne-Marie of  Zero Waste Chef:

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

For now we still use a lot of reusable plastic lunchbox items that are BPA-free and Phthalate Free. For us, this is one step better than plastic wrap/tin foil/plastic bags that will get trashed every day. Will I ever go completely plastic-free? I’m not sure.

We avoid single serving foods with disposable wrappers such as cheese, yogurt, juice, crackers, cookies. We still buy granola bars occasionally, but as often as I can I try to make my own cereal bars and snacks like in this post: DIY Power Bites, Granola Bars and other healthy snacks

Small steps. Good intentions. Day in and day out. Imperfectly.

Clara’s lunch gear (Grade 1)

Tried ‘n True Gear for the Zero Waste Lunchbox

Since we’re looking to be eco-friendly, I encourage you to recycle as much as possible by shopping at your local thrift store. Good quality reusable food storage is built to last and much of it can be found second hand.

I get our reusable water bottles and coffee to-go cups from a local Value Village where there are hundreds to choose from. Since they are the item our family tends to misplace the most, I’ve given up on buying new!

If you’re shopping new, here are a few websites to bookmark.

  • FENIGO. Canadian zero-waste lifestyle products with a great selection of lunch gear.
  • Trudeau: Another Canadian brand for food-to-go containers.
  • Colibri Canada: Canadian made snack bags, wet bags and more.

For actual lunch bags, go with anything machine-washable (for kids). PlanetBox makes a very sturdy carry bag that still looks like new after years of use. On the other hand, this insulated cooler bag from YumBox was shredded on the inside after one school year.

Main Dish Lunch Gear

PlanetBox – The all-in-one stainless steel lunch box is ideal for elementary school aged kids. PlanetBox is the best of the best. It’s an investment that will last longer than your child is in school. Highly recommend! We love the Rover.

GlassLock Containers – A stash of these glass containers with snaplock lids are a must for the (adult, teen) lunchbox. I fill them with foods to be reheated – everything from lasagna to stew. I freeze them, bake them, and send them to be microwaved. I prefer the GlassLock brand.

Sandwich Guard – Keeps sandwiches from getting squished or soggy. We use these way more than I thought we would! Find the S’witch Guard at Fenigo.

YumBox – These colourful all-in-one lunchboxes are such fun. Clara uses both the Bento YumBox and the Snack YumBox.

Jars, Jars, Jars – For packing big salads, Weck Jars are a must. They last forever; I’ve never, ever broken a Weck jar and I take them everywhere. I use jars of all sizes, right down to mini, which are perfect for a single serving of vinaigrette.

Stainless steel vacuum insulated food jar – The kids take soups, stews, pasta – leftovers of all kinds in these containers. I use both a classic Thermos and a Canadian brand called Trudeau. Here’s the exact container my teen uses and loves.

Lunch gear for my tween & teen.

Gear for Packing Snacks

Beeswax Wraps – Super great for snacks like cheese, pepperoni, cookies, vegetables, crackers…. I like that I can cut an apple, wrap it tight in a beeswax wrap and it doesn’t go brown in the lunchbox. I buy a local brand called BodyHonour; a bigger brands is Bee’s Wrap. Check your local markets and buy local.

Reusable Snack Bags – I use super cute ones from Colibri Canada. Two sisters started this company and I love supporting their work.

Snack Box  – for vegetables and dip, we love these Trudeau Snack & Dip Sets. There’s never any leaks and they come with a little spreader utensil for peanut butter or hummus.

Banana Guard – I thought these were a gimmick for the longest time – until I invested in three and NOW my kids happily eat their bruise-free bananas.

Stainless snack containers – We use the little Dipper containers from PlanetBox. They are easy to open and spill-proof. Absolutely everything goes in these from yellow mustard to a single cookie.

Utensils and Water bottles

Bamboo Utensils – Each family member has a To Go Ware Bamboo Utensil Set and we use them year-round.

Water bottle – Stainless steel insulated water bottles are an absolute essential. I can recommend Klean Kanteen as well as Manna, but any alternative to disposable plastic water bottles is a step in the right direction.

Bamboo straws – Or glass straws, which we love. Or silicone. Just not plastic.

Cloth napkin – My kids take a napkin from home every day.

Cloth bags and totes – I pick these up from all over! Check your farmer’s market and buy local.

Final thoughts

I remember when little five-year-old Noah started kindergarten and I began building my reusable lunch gear with a single PlanetBox Rover, a bamboo fork and a cloth napkin. It was the start of it all.

He loved eating from that lunchbox and I loved packing it for him. I know that having a special lunch from home helped ease the transition to school for him.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of options out there, so start small, shop local, and reuse when you can. Every step towards zero waste helps.

Thanks for following along.

Related posts:

Share your favourite gear options for lunches on the go!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. Why use bamboo utensils over regular silverware?

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Nice of you to stop by!

      Easy answer for me:
      1) Because it’s much lighter than silverware. It’s also a mini version, so kids can have all three utensils at a fraction of the weight of three regular sized forks and knives.
      2) Bamboo is biodegradable, and thus it creates less waste in the long run.

      I hope that helps.

  2. Nice to see your selection. My son uses a double bento box that I bought him at the start of the school year and I have to say I have been pleased with the results. No leaks.

    I convinced my husband to pack lunch almost 7 years ago and he doesn’t want to look back. He is away for 12 hours each day and carries his lunch in a random tote bag until the holes are too big! We started by using the cheapest IKEA plastic containers and ungraded to the glass containers almost two years ago. He always carries his main, a big salad, some snacks and 2 fruits.

    I am not against plastic and I do use them quite often, but I always try to use them multiple times before I toss them, i.e. single serving dressing cups, plastic bags etc.

  3. very creative use of things I might throw away, thank you for so many great ideas

  4. I’ve bookmarked this list and plan to come back to it whenever I need to add to my lunch grear! I’m only at the beginning of my school lunch journey (my son will be in Grade 1 in Sept and my daughter will be in JK) but I’ve already realized that it pays to invest in quality materials that can last and last through the years. Thanks for a great post!

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