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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Naked Lunch

Posted by Julie
Towards Sustainability

The "Naked" lunch? Call it a "Waste-Free" or "No Rubbish" lunch, it's the same thing - a lunch box that contains only items which are edible, compostable or reusable!

Here in Australia, school resumes next week after the end of year break, so school lunch boxes and their contents are a hot topic right now. Every year, millions of tonnes of rubbish are generated from lunch boxes, so clearly it makes sense from an environmental point of view to reduce lunch waste.

However, reducing this waste also makes a lot of sense from a financial point of view: for example, the pre-packaged, single-serve items many of us used to rely on are much more expensive than buying the same items in bulk and re-packaging them ourselves into reusable containers.

These days a typical lunch box might contain:
* sandwiches, fruits and vegetables packed in disposable plastic bags,
* pre-packaged chips, biscuits/cookies, fruit straps and leathers, muesli/granola bars and cheese,
* single-use tubs of yoghurt, fruits, and puddings,
* disposable juice boxes, pouches, bottles, and milk cartons, and
* plastic cutlery and paper napkins.

The Naked Lunch however, is waste-free. In order to be waste-free we need to avoid:
* Plastic wrap, Styrofoam and disposable bags,
* Disposable drink containers such as Poppers/ Juice boxes and cartons, and
* Paper napkins and disposable cutlery.

It isn't as hard as it might seem at first to do this! Some ways you might reduce waste include:

* Try packing small reusable containers inside a larger lunch box instead of using disposable plastic bags. Have a look at how Rhonda packs her lunch for work for example. If you are in the market for a new lunch box, you might consider one of the many Bento-style lunch box systems such as the one below, or other compartmentalised lunch boxes which are becoming increasingly popular and easy to obtain. If you prefer to go plastic-free, there are many steel or enamel stackable tiffins on the market, some of which come with insulated carriers to keep food warm or cool (I am buying one these for my husband's work lunches for his birthday this year).

Originally uploaded by KitAy

* Shop in bulk instead of buying individual serves. For example, buy large packs of nuts, dried fruit, blocks of cheese and larger tubs of yoghurt, then re-package these into smaller reusable containers.

* If it is it possible, cook muesli/granola bars or healthy muffins in bulk once a week and freeze them instead of buying prepackaged ones. If not, you could add a serving-sized portion of muesli/granola in a reusable container to add to some yoghurt at lunch time (or even better, make your own trail mix).

* If you are packing lunch for your kids, encourage them to pack their own lunches, or at least help with the choices - they are more likely to eat what they've packed rather than throw it away uneaten.

* Pack cloth napkins and reusable cutlery to be brought home for washing.

* Don't forget to include an ice pack in the lunch box if you are packing meat or dairy items like mayonnaise or yoghurt. Freezing a small drink bottle of water, juice or milk works well, and it will be thawed in time for lunch and a cold drink.

* Use reusable drink bottles instead of disposable ones. If you prefer to avoid plastic bottles, there are many metal bottles on the market now such as Thermos, Sigg and Kleen Kanteen bottles.

* Pack lunches the night before to save time in the morning if repackaging bulk items is an issue. Many sandwiches can be frozen to keep them fresh ahead of time.

* Use leftovers - pack them straight into a lunch box as you are putting them away after dinner.

Personally, my two older girls use Tupperware Sandwich Keeper Plus lunch boxes, but only because I picked up them up cheaply second hand on eBay. Their smaller size is ideal as they don't eat as much as an adult, and I can pack their lunch and recess without using any wrapping at all.

My youngest however, attends 3-year-old preschool and they have to refrigerate all foods as a condition of their licence - as such they request parents use paper bags instead of lunch boxes because they cannot physically fit twenty five lunchboxes into their refrigerator! Instead of disposable paper bags, I use simple draw-string calico bags labelled with my daughter's name (I bought mine from a local market, but they are very simple to make yourself if you sew).

To avoid using plastic wrap or plastic bags for her sandwich, I made a simple reusable fabric wrap. I have been using it for a year now and it still in good condition; I simply wash it gently after each use in the dish washing water at night, rinse it and leave it to air dry.

So, as you can see there are many ways to go about achieving a Naked Lunch! I'm sure all you clever people out there have even more suggestions though, so please share them with us in the comments :-)

Happy lunching!


Jenny said...

Not all of Australia goes back to school next week. here is Tassie we don't go back until around Feb 10th.I am on the look out for the ultimate lunchbox so I will check out the Tupperware ones you mentioned.

Joanne said...

This is a tricky one for me. The powers-that-be in their wisdom have progressively pushed lunchtime further back- now the primary school kids don't eat until 1:30. Keeping food from drying out, getting shaken to bits or going soggy from condensation off the ice brick is a constant worry to me. The tupperware sandwich holders are all very well, but if I decide to give them tortilla chicken wraps, a favourite lunch, they don't fit so well. Plastic wrap kinda holds the whole thing together.
Not to mention how many small plastic containers and/or lids that go missing at school throughout the year. And all of those smaller containers take up a lot more room in the school bag, and add weight as opposed to the smaller box they could take when it was all glad-wrapped.
But I'm totally with you on the purchased individually wrapped items. Most of them aren't healthy anyway so I have phased them out.
Hooray to the preschool that has a refrigerator! It is something I wish all classrooms had. I'm sure the teachers who bring their lunch get to refrigerate it. Our kids should have the same, especially with lunch such a long time from when the lunches are made. My eldest is starting high school and I'm not even sure what time they eat. I may get him an insulated cooler style box but they are quite bulky and he will already be carrying a lot of extra books.
Its a dilemma. I think its going to take a while for me to get a system that really works for us.

Ms.Moxie said...

LOVE the idea of small cloth bags!!!!

Anonymous said...

I already do all that, great to see someone else doing it. Why i do it is a didnt eat the sandwiches and processed snacks. they melted in the heat and were disgusting. Hubby did it too, we stole change from the change jar and ate at the canteen. our lunch went in the bin. our work lunches are always drooled over at work and my baby will go to school in the same way. i only buy reusable products, or something that can be turned into something else.

Pat aka Posh said...

Those cloth bags are neat.. I'm retired now but when I worked I always took my lunch in containers along with a fork that I brought back home to wash. A lot of my lunches were leftovers.
When I was a kid going to a one room school we never used anything that was tossed unless it was simple wax paper because all the boxes and plastic that we have now just wasn't available so we either had tin lunch boxes or used empty syrup buckets and laid our food in the bottom mostly unwrapped and the bucket/lunch box was washed each night.
We are now such a 'throw away society' that it makes me shudder... everything seems to come in a container that has to be tossed.

Julie said...

Hi Jenny,
Ooops, I should have said here in NSW :-)

Hi Joanne,
How odd that the school has moved back lunch time - around here the primary schools have moved lunch forward to 11.30am to stop the afternoon energy slump after lunch. They have afternoon tea about 1pm (at which they encourage fruit).

Anyway, it can be a tricky situation sometimes as you say, and there really isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Have you tried wrapping the tortillas in foil, which could be reused (although my kids would tear it apart). Or perhaps cutting it in half to fit snugly in a smaller container? I used to scour the op shops for small containers so that the money spent on lost container lids was minimal, but with just the one compartmentalised lunch box they use now there are no extra bits to get lost. The extra bulk in their school bag is an issue with us as well (especially when it's swimming season and their bags are full to overflowing on sports day). We've gotten around that somewhat by attaching the lunchbag to the outside of their school bag on those days, as their bags happen to have clips for that purpose...

Cheers, Julie

Barbara said...

Can you buy Mr. Bento here in
Australia? It's a great system
for taking lunches to school
or work.

Georgie said...

My daughter uses the Tupperware Sandwich Keepers (just the regular size), and then normally has 2 pieces of fruit with that, which just go in the insulated lunch bag loose, and then another snack item like popcorn, a homemade muffin, or dry cereal, which goes in either a small container or one of these snack pockets:

In 2 yrs at school we have lost very few containers/lids.

Joanne, would the sandwich wraps on that site above work for tortillas etc?

Green Bean said...

Great reminder. I have to admit to having an occasional clif bar sneak in but for the most part, I rely on small reusable containers and "nature's containers" (e.g., the small apple, the hard boiled egg).

Slice of life said...

I like the idea of the draw string bags.

I have been scouring the charity shops for net curtains to make draw string bags since I saw them for holding fruit and veggies on Down to Earth. I really love that idea

Shel said...

Julie, my husband has a steel thermal keeper - it's GREAT for winter aswell in that he can put leftovers in the pie warmer at morning tea time and it's nice and warm for lunch!!

Our school also encourages, not only healthy eating, but naked lunches also. I fail to see the need for gladwrap in my house; I have many containers of all different sizes which have worked a treat through kinder, G's work and my work.

Love the sandwich bags though; my darling husband might just buy me a sewing machine for my birthday - so they might be a first test!!!

linda said...

I have gotten into making bento lately for the kids and my husband. If you buy the official boxes, you can do some research online about what size of bento is appropriate calorie wise for different age groups. I have read that many use this way to lose weight as well. My tip:When we use grains that are sticky, such as rice, we actually mold them into shapes the night before (using bento specific supplies you can buy online in Japanese dollar shops). this way, they take up more vertical space and less horizontal, leaving room for more fresh fruit or veggies.

livinginalocalzone said...

And not just for school children, I know lots of adults (myself included) who follow similar habits. Some use bentos etc, but I think its just as important to emphasize that even a simple cloth lunch bag with inexpensive rubbermaid/tupperware can do just the same job. On the cutlery, rather than even disposable, why not metal that is brought home, washed, and sent back the next day? For children, many can be bought with dull blades/times. Eating whole unprocessed foods and homemade bulk items (like the muffins you gave as e.g.) can make the job easier on the wallet too.

Hana said...

Thank you so much for the tips!

There's one little thing that makes me wonder, it has to do with the usual "my country has it differently" issue. :-) Here in the Czech Republic, the kindergartens (I suppose that's what you mean by pre-school) make snacks and lunches for the kids themselves, so they don't need to bring it pre-packed. I learned to eat and love fresh parsley on my bread in kindergarten... This practice can also be a source of problems, because the kids don't always like what they're getting... but at least it might cut on the waste of wrappers.

attila said...

Thank you for a very inspiring post. My husband just bought me a laptop - so he can hog the other one - ah well - and paid for it out of our savings. He is paying back the savings by giving up his pocket money and by packing sandwiches every day instead
of going to the canteen. OK, so we still have to pay for the ingredients, but I'm all for it; he gets a healthier lunch this way. This started last week so your post is very timely for me.

Dani said...

Great post. Very timely.
We've been doing our lunch prep this week and will continue into next. I've never used disposable wrappings for kinder or creche. My son is tartign school this year and his school has a 'nude food' policy for at least three days a week. We use an insulated bag with two small ice bricks. In that we use an assortment of small containers, both lids and boxes have names on them (I use masking tape). In addition to this I have made fabric sandwich and snacks wraps in various sizes. My son gets to choose his own fabric and I've made some new ones for this year as we will need more than last year.
I'm so pleased we have a school that supports the way we choose to live.

Chookie said...

I want one of these children that doesn't lose lids, containers, drink bottle lids, and hats. How much glad wrap equates to one lost lid anyway, given that both will end up in landfill? WRT actual lunches, I believe a lot of children are overfed and under-nourished.

Stacy said...

This may sound like a silly tip, but to avoid losing lids, I drilled a tiny hole in the container and lid with a Dremel, then tied embroidery floss in a knot. Just make the loop big enough to be able to move the lid to the side. The embroidery floss is thin enough to keep a good seal for things like sandwiches. Usually it's just leftovers from craft projects, so it saves that from the trash too!