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Meals To Go - And Make 'Em Green

Ok, so I’m a bit behind here –
doing an article on ways to pack lunches that are a little more
environmentally friendly, when chances are you’ve already got
day care or preschool well under way. And you’re probably
muttering under your breath right now, something to the tune of,
“Where was this article two weeks ago when I was buying all
my school supplies?”

To that I can only say, it was rattling around in my head with
about a thousand other things and this is the first time I’ve
remembered it while sitting in front of a computer. So sorry, but
better late than never.

Here’s the lowdown: you have to send
your toddler with food every day, whether it’s to daycare or
preschool or your friend down the block’s house. I’m
assuming your kid is beyond the pureed baby foods and can somewhat
feed himself. I’m also assuming that you are at least a
little bit concerned about the environment or you'd simply baggie
everything and forget it. I’m also assuming you have at least
a passing interest in saving some cash and not forking over a ton
of dough for lunch items you’ll have to replace several
times. In other words, you’re a bit like me: trying to do the
right thing, sending lunches you hope will be somewhat healthy,
hoping your choices have a good impact on the environment, and,
well, cheap.

With that said, here’s my first advice: step away from the
baggies. Listen, I know they’re God’s gift to harried
moms of toddlers, but they’re expensive and unfriendly to the
environment. Let’s say four baggies a meal – sandwich,
chips, fruit, cookie – times five days. That’s twenty
baggies a week. Times ten kids in the class – that’s
two hundred baggies a week being tossed in the landfill, in one
preschool class alone.

I’m not saying you can never use them – they’re
easy, they’re airtight, and they take up less room than any
other storage solution. And most important, you don’t mind if
your toddler forgets to bring them home. But let’s look at a
few alternatives.

First, the big picture – what to carry the lunch in. Your
school or daycare may have rules about this, but you should have
some flexibility here. Most kids opt for the insulated soft-sides,
which works for me; soft-sides weigh a bit less, which helps since
most everything you try will weigh more than a baggie. Of course,
you may opt to not have a separate bag for lunch and simply put
everything in the backpack, which means it’s even more
imperative that you ditch the baggies and get something a bit
sturdier to protect those goldfish and pretzels.

Obviously, those little snack tupperwares that came out a couple
years ago are awesome. We have about 20 of them, and probably 18 of
them are filled at any one time with some sort of snack-in-progress
or future snack or remnants of a past snack. They’re
recyclable in many places, and they’re cheap enough that if
your two-year-old forgets them somewhere you don’t have to
take out a loan to get new ones. Buy them in any grocery store, and
stock up. I find they’re even a good enough seal that I can
use them for applesauce and stop throwing away those
single-servings I used to have to buy.

For sandwiches, you’ve got a couple options. We are a href="http://www.wrapnmat.com/" target="_blank">wrap-n-mat
family, and I absolutely love them. They are earth-friendly
sandwich wraps that fold up nice and snug, Velcro shut, and open up
into a place mat when you’re ready to eat. We use them
constantly on picnics, eliminating the need for disposable plates.
They’re very lightweight and easy to stuff back into a bag
afterwards. Trust me, you’ll love them.

But if you’re not into those, you can go for the hard plastic
containers. The href="http://www.containerstore.com/browse/Product.jhtml?CATID=74067&PRODID=10022310"
target="_blank">lunch 'n go
is a hard case with a
sliding, removable divider in it so you can put in a small sandwich
and fruit, or cheese and crackers, or a whole sandwich, or
whatever. There’s also the href="http://www.containerstore.com/browse/Product.jhtml?CATID=74067&PRODID=10021676"
target="_blank">klip it lunch cube
, which has two separate
compartments for your sandwich and everything else. And I also love
the href="http://www.containerstore.com/browse/Product.jhtml?CATID=74067&PRODID=69697"
target="_blank">snack ‘n dip
, a square container
with an attached bowl in the middle. Store your ranch dressing in
the bowl – safely covered with its own small lid – and
store the carrots around it. I know I can’t be the only
parent with a kid who loves dipping; think hummus, think pita
bread, think fruit dip.

Kids seem to really dig the small compartment thing – I know
Maddie loves everything organized into nice little spaces. And for
that very reason I’ll probably break down and get her a href="http://www.reusablebags.com/store/laptop-lunches-bento-wbook-p-528.html"
target="_blank">bento box
by Laptop Lunches. It’s
strong plastic, with five (count them, FIVE!) reusable,
microwaveable containers that fit into a larger outer case. Two
inner containers have separate lids, and there’s a final lid
over the whole thing. I know Maddie will hugely dig having all her
different foods laid out so neatly, so mess-free, in such a
container. I’m sure we’ll eventually be getting a few
of those babies, then fighting over who gets to use them.

And going beyond organizing your food, think through how you shop
for these meals away from home. Those individual applesauces cost
more and certainly take their toll on the environment; ditto with
the single-serves of chips or pretzels or goldfish. Take twenty
minutes Sunday night to fill up your little tupperwares for the
week, and your mornings will go just as fast, and for a lot less
cash. Think, too, about those drinks; that’s a lot of juice
boxes and water bottles thrown in the trash every day. My girls use
a combination of the plastic straw cups you can find in any grocery
store, and the href="http://www.reusablebags.com/store/sigg-bottles-kids-c-19_33_23.html"
target="_blank">SIGG bottles
. SIGG bottles are lead-free,
safe, stainless steel. They’re safe for the dishwasher, yadda
yadda yadda. My girls are always begging to drink out of mine, and
they make small, kid-sized ones in a variety of cool styles. Yes,
they’re fifteen bucks, but your child will think it’s
so cool she’s guaranteed to bring it home every day. Many
Whole Foods Markets carry them if you want to check them out.

And speaking of bottles, check out these href="http://www.inchbug.com/1a1.html" target="_blank">bottle
by InchBug. They’re a great solution to having
to hope no one else takes home your kid’s sippy cup (or
worse, your child picks up some other sick child’s sippy cup
by mistake) and a reasonable cost. Based on the concept of a
customized rubber band, they’re reusable and dishwasher-safe.
They fit a variety of bottles, and are way better than the old
masking-tape-across-the-front label.

Finally, if you have to use a baggie, get your kid to bring it
home. Did those chips really ruin that bag beyond future use? Teach
your toddler to put his baggies back in his lunch box rather than
in the trash can; then you can sort what’s trash and
what’s reusable. You’ll see savings and feel a bit
better about the whole thing. We make our homemade breakfast bars
and freeze them in individual serving bars in baggies; they are
simply the least messy option out there for quick, easy bites. But
we save them and reuse the baggies over and over again for the same
breakfast bars. You can do it, I promise.

So go out there and give it a shot. If you’re not quite into
daycare or preschool yet, you can still pick up some of these items
for picnics and diaper bags. You’ll be helping the
environment, and in the long run, saving some green of your


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