Thursday, April 15, 2010

Greening Young Minds and Lunchboxes

I was asked to speak to the 5th and 6th grade class at my son's school this week,on the environmental and ethical considerations of our food choices.  For real.  Me.  I am not an expert on these topics, except by the nature of having to find ways to line up our need for food with our ethics.  I have chosen to learn a lot about our food system, food policy and health and nutrition, but I'm an amateur.  Our son's lunches are famous at the school because they are "healthy" and "green".  Typical lunch box items:
  • cloth napkin
  • reusable containers
  • spoon
  • pbj sandwich made on whole grain bread with natural peanut butter and low sugar preserves
  • organic local yogurt (no "kid" yogurt with HFCS or artificial colors)
  • a piece of fruit (usually organic or local apple, banana, berries or pear)
  • cheese (usually organic, but not always)
  • a cereal or granola bar (usually a Kashi or Trader Joe's brand)
  • fresh carrots
  • nuts and raisins
You get the idea, nothing weird or out of the norm for a lunch or snack.  And yet I have heard from more than one teacher about the boy's lunch and we got a shout out at parent-teacher night.  And now this lunch packing practice has gotten me invited to speak to children on the importance of food choice and the environmental impacts of the lunchbox.

We thought we were just following instructions to pack a "no- or low-garbage" healthy lunch, which was what they told us was school policy at orientation. So now I am left to wonder what do parents pack for their children's lunches?  Our son eats at school what he eats at home. Sure it is easy to control what a 3 year old eats.  But we are also setting up habits and preferences that will follow him through his whole life.

I offer these tips to any parents wanting to pack a green lunch:

Use cloth napkins - you can buy them on sale off season or you can make your own
Buy reusable containers, particularly stainless steel (I like LunchBots ) and cloth (cloth snack and sandwich bags)
Pack whole foods 
Pack organic, local and sustainably-raised items whenever you can by shopping local farmer's markets, check out the selection at your local grocery store and ask for healthier, sustainable options wherever you shop.
Say no to processed foods whenever possible.
Make your own food whenever you can.  Bake your own bread or muffins over the weekend, for example.

It's not an all or nothing game.  Every change you make, makes the next change easier.  Here are some other resources for healthy and green lunch options.

Laptop Lunches
Waste Free Lunches
Organic Buying Guide- what you should worry about and what doesn't really matter
Some Tips from Michael Pollan on Healthier Eating

Here's a school that is taking the healthy lunch thing a little too far, if you ask me.

What do you pack for lunch?


  1. We usually give our gal (almost 2) leftovers from the previous night's dinner. She doesn't like sandwiches (including PB&J) and it makes me feel good that I'm not wasting food, that it's a balanced meal, and I know that she'll eat it. Her snacks are usually fresh fruit or something low in sugar. And she ALWAYS has organic milk -- rBGH gives me the heebie jeebies! The nature of her meals means they're always packed in reusable containers.

    My biggest problem is how to stay non-judgmental towards the other parents for their food choices. Your query about what other parents pack for lunch is a state of blissful ignorance that I wish I had! There is a communal refrigerator where all the kids' lunches go and I REPEATEDLY see McDonald's wrappers or Capri Sun containers or a Twinkie (for a two year old!) with the same kids' names written on them. Just this morning, I heard a dad use the excuse "Well, she likes it," when a teacher asked why he gave his daughter chocolate for breakfast.

    Count yourself lucky that you aren't painfully aware of what terrible things the other parents give their kids. I find it difficult to hold my tongue!

  2. I wish I was blissfully ignorant. After a couple of preschool outings with O's school I have seen what accounts for lunch for a lot of kids (not all). I can't believe that people give their kids Lunchables or fritos regularly for lunch. I can see an occasional quick fix for a hectic morning (occasional meaning a couple times a school year). I send O with sweet treats once in a while, but those are usually homemade and are usually a crazy healthy muffin recipe I found or something like it.
    Having done a lot of research about childhood obesity and the myriad health concerns our children are facing as a result of their lack of nutritious foods and adequate physical activity, I feel like this is one of the most important issues for our generation of parents. Our children may be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. We are literally killing our kids with junk food and inactivity. I plan on writing a lot more about this issue in future posts and hope to share information and action steps for parents who want to know how they can change things in their homes and schools.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.