RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Back-to-school is a great time to learn to pack a healthy school lunch and easy on-the-go snacks. And to save money, and cut down on the amount of lunch waste you—and your kids—send to the landfill. Unless you're way more organized in the morning than I am, the secret is to spend a little time on the weekends and evenings so each luncher can grab what he or she likes and, in the morning, be out the door in a flash.
My Secret Weapons
The trick to eliminating lunch waste is to find reusable lunch containers, and you don't have to spend a ton on fancy new stuff. A big box of snack-size zip-close plastic bags (these can be reused until they turn cloudy, which means the plastic has started to deteriorate) and a tall stack of four-ounce (½-cup) and eight-ounce (1-cup) glass jelly jars—the kind with two-part lids designed for preserving—are all you'll need.
Load 'Em Up
When my kids were in elementary school, we had the "snack basket," a rectangular basket about four inches deep. Once a week, the kids and I filled dozens of plastic snack bags with healthy snacks, such as nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, cookies, pretzels, homemade peanut butter crackers, and plain whole wheat crackers, and lined them up in the basket along with a selection of granola bars.
To do something similar, buy foods in bulk and measure a serving (¼ cup for nuts and such, and two to three medium-size cookies, for instance) into each bag. Bags of fresh veggies (shop the supermarket salad bar, or cut your own), slices of real cheese, and peanut butter and jelly half-sandwiches go in the fridge, as do glass jelly jars filled with pudding (made with organic milk), fresh fruit, fruit gelatin, a dab of ranch dressing (for veggies), hummus, and yogurt (plain organic plus fresh fruit or fruit spread). Four-ounce jars are generally best for kid-size portions of all these things, but if you have an active child who needs more energy, go with the eight-ounce jars.