I actually hate packing lunches. I HAVE to do them the night before or it’s just utter chaos in the Scrap House of a morning. Silly really, I’ve been packing lunch for myself and others ever since I first left Grandma and Grandad Scraps house at 18. You’d think it’d be a doddle by now.
Thing is… work or school lunches are probably one of the easiest places to lower waste and save some monies.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I went to work one day and didn’t pack my lunch because I have decided that just for one day a month I will treat myself and buy lunch from one of the cafe’s near the office. I budgeted for it out of my “mad money” (I might blog about how we budget one day) so it wasn’t a shock at all, but lunch cost me about $12. It wasn’t a fancy lunch either. A chicken schnitzel sandwich and a drink. It was nice. I was full afterwards and didn’t feel the need to snack at all between lunch and dinner. The archaeologist I work with also brought her lunch (a toasted wrap, some fries and a drink) for around the same price. We decided to take our lunches back to the office and eat in the conference room, so the woman at the cafe wrapped our schnitzel sandwich and toasted wrap in paper and put the fries in a bag (we both carry reusable coffee cups so no disposables there).
Not so bad I thought … but…. together our lunches cost about $25. I worked it out that if I worked 5 days a week (at the moment I’m only doing two but that will change next month when Uni finishes) and brought my lunch from a cafe every day at $12, thats $60 a week. Multiply that by 50 weeks and that’s a whopping $3,000 a year! Even more if Mr Scraps was doing the same… and more still if the Teens brought lunch from the Caf at their school every day!
I actually know families who do this. No wonder they’re broke despite earning decent wages.
Not only did it cost money but buying our lunch and bringing it back to the office also left us with paper wrapping and paper bags. I know, paper is recyclable and compostable but….
When I bring my lunch from home in my own reusable container and make a coffee at work in my own cup it costs less than $5 (sometimes as little as $1 depending on what I pack). It also produces no packaging waste. That’s Zero Waste.
Plus (if I’m doing it properly) it’s usually A LOT HEALTHIER than a schnitzel sandwich (I’m not giving them up completely though… I still love a good schnitty).But I quickly get bored of sandwiches and so do the Teens and Mr Scraps.
My work is actually great for zero waste lunches (I’ve blogged about our zero waste office before …you can read it here) and taking leftovers from last nights dinner is great but sometimes it’s nice to have something “special” just to break up the day. It makes the school or work day so much nicer if you know you have a great lunch to look forward to and you don’t have to worry about how much it’s going to cost you. So these are my must-haves for a great zero waste pack-up (I do ours the night before because … well you know…. mornings…) and at the bottom are some links to my current favourite pack-ups.
- Drink/water bottles – These are a must! I have a glass one because it sits on my desk but the Scrap kids have BPA free plastic ones because they get thrown about in school bags and dragged around the school oval at lunch time or during sports. I have a couple of spares tucked away in the back of the cupboard for those days someone forgets to bring theirs home.
- Lunch Boxes – I pack them up the night before. We have a collection. Plastic ones, wooden ones and metal ones. I like the Bento style ones with the little compartments. They get used for all sorts of things around here not just lunch, but we have lots because I like to cook extra stuff for the fridge or freezer so we can just grab-n-go. You don’t need a fancy box to put your lunch in though, just use whatever you have, an old Tupperware container or reuse a takeaway box. The only rule about containers I have for the Scrap House is NEVER reheat anything in plastic (put it on a plate before you pop it in the microwave).
- Jars – I’m really into food in a jar at the moment. So many things you can put in them Noodles, Oats, Salads, Soups and they look so pretty on Insta-stalk, That Pin Stuff site and Face-lurk. It’s a good idea if you’re going to eat straight from the jar to have one with a wide mouth. They don’t have to be fancy mason jars either. We reuse old salsa and sauerkraut jars. But anything you can put in a jar, you can put in an old Tupperware container…except maybe the soup (unless you’ve got a good lid).
- A Thermos – we have a couple of those wide-mouthed ones and a tall skinny one for hot coffee or tea. A thermos for me is a must for fieldwork days and trips to the park with the Threenager. They’re awesome on cold winter days, but most people forget they’ll keep thing cool too! Just about anything you can put in a jar or lunchbox (that’s not a sandwich… although I haven’t tried it, maybe there’s a way) you can put in a thermos. Just remember if you’re going to eat straight from the thermos that you’ll probably need long-handled cutlery.
- Beeswax or Vegan Wraps and Cloth Napkins – you can buy expensive wraps or make them yourself. I usually find that a napkin does the job, but beeswax or vegan wraps will act a bit more like cling-film. You don’t really need them if you have reusable containers. Its just handy to have something to wrap that sandwich or muffin in. I found the wrapper your butter comes in (wiped clean of course) is also a good alternative for small things.
- Cutlery- You can get some lovely little “to-go” packs. The bamboo ones are cute, but the Scrap kids and I just grab flatware from the drawer. I brought some extra spoons and forks from the local op-shop a while ago (because someone will always leave one at school in their locker or in the dish drainer at work – although my work now has their own for us to use so I don’t need to take my own to the office anymore).
So besides last nights leftovers, what do you pack in these things other than sandwiches?
There’s lots of “Lunch in a Jar” articles on the interwebs,and they’re not all for salad or noodles.Try here or here for ideas. And remember that anything you can put in a jar you can put in another container. But the jars look so damned pretty.
For times when I have access to a microwave, I like to cook up lasagne in small glasslock style containers. Just pop on the lid on when they’ve cooled and throw them straight in the freezer and pull them out on your way out the door. They make great “TV dinners” too for those nights when my meal plan doesn’t work, something unexpected comes up or I just can’t be bothered. Lasagne sheets are one of the few really cheap pasta options we can get here in a cardboard box, sometimes we make our own but we don’t always have the time (or the energy).
I also make pies for the freezer. I can get away with feeding the rest of the Scrap household almost anything if I wrap it in pastry. From scratch I fry off some mince and onion, add some finely chopped veg and a little gravy then pop into pastry in the pie-maker that Mr Scraps found at a garage sale a few years ago (it makes four pies at a time before that I baked them in large muffin tins in the oven). More often though I make them from leftovers like vegetable curry, beef stew or homemade pasta sauce.
For winter, soup is great for the thermos and it’s mega cheap if you make it at home! It does need to be heated up in the morning before popping it in the thermos though (unless you’ve got a super-duper on. I used too but the lid broke and I haven’t managed to find a replacement). There’s lots of soup recipes out there on the interwebs. I like to use up leftovers and veg scraps to make soup like my Carrot Top Soup. You can find a recipe here. Or I just throw some Scrap Stock in a pot, add veg and some shredded chicken, season well and you have chicken and veg soup.
For snacks (that aren’t fruit) we like – a little pot of dip or salsa with flatbread or veg like carrot or celery cut into sticks, Scrap to Snack Muffins, Not little Bear Biscuits, Banana Bread or No Bake Museli Bars,
In an ideal world we’d have time to make everything from scratch and completely zero waste. it’s not an ideal world though so if you don’t have the time to cook from scratch (or your family are fussy eaters or just plain out won’t eat homemade lunches) you can still do lower waste, cheap lunches. Just buy things in the biggest packets you can find to minimise packaging and keep the cost down. I sometimes do this with nuts or corn chips. Just dish them out into reusable containers as individual serves and recycle the packaging.
The challenge for today: is to do a recipe book or internet trawl and find yourself (and anyone else you pack lunches for) some appetising pack-ups. Even if you are a stay at home mum without school kids and you’re packing snacks for a trip to the park with your baby or toddler, it doesn’t have to be boring.