· By Julia Boase
Eco-friendly lunch boxes - benefits beyond the food.
This article has kindly been written by Accredited Practising Dietitian Dr Amelia Harray, ADP, PhD. of Eat Sustainably. Dr Harray is an expert in the area of sustainable approaches to eating, plant based diets and is currently conducting research into the heath impacts of plastic exposure through Curtain University in WA.
Dr Harray runs the wonderful online community and program at Eat Sustainably. Her mission is to empower you with the skills to improve your family's health and nutrition and support the planet by eating more plants, less meat, more local foods, less plastic in food and less food waste. You can learn more about her services, research and programs here.
Exposing our kids to eco-friendly nutrition isn't just about the food; it’s about shaping their future and the planet they'll inherit. Fortunately, science tells us that foods good for the planet are also beneficial for health and wellbeing. If you and your family are new to the concept of eco-friendly nutrition, welcome aboard! By making manageable, small changes, this journey can be enjoyable, educational, inclusive, and lay the foundation for a healthier and more sustainable world for generations to come.
Many Aussie kids are learning about sustainability and the environment at school. What you may not know is that about one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are related to food. So, making eco-friendly swaps in your kids’ lunchboxes will reinforce what they’re learning and empower them to know that together, we can all make a difference.
Are you open to packing more eco-friendly lunchboxes? If so, I suggest starting with one small change at a time. This is more manageable for busy parents and carers (trust me – I have four kids), easier for children to accept, and increases the chances of long-term sustainability.
Here are three tips for making lunchboxes more eco-friendly:
Seasonal Local Fruits and Vegetables
Choosing and enjoying locally grown produce when it’s in season feels and tastes good. It also has far-reaching benefits for your community and the local economy. Fruits and vegetables naturally grow at different times of the year. While they may be available year-round, trying to grow winter produce in summer requires extra resources, like extra water.
Choosing locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables can:
- Save you money, as produce is cheaper when in season and hasn't travelled far
- Add variety to the nutrients your family consumes
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions through lower food miles and less cold storage use
- Support local farmers
- Connect you to the land you're on
- If you're unsure what’s in season, check out our free Seasonal Eating Guide, ask your local supermarket or greengrocer, or look for what’s cheaper per kilo.
Choose Bigger Packets
Avoiding all food packaging in a lunchbox can be challenging for busy parents. While reducing plastic food packaging by shopping at bulk food stores or using paper bags is ideal, many people are time-poor.
If you mainly shop at supermarkets or do online deliveries, consider swapping individually packaged foods for larger tubs or packets. Store food in airtight containers to extend shelf-life and reduce food waste. Some examples include switching from individual bags of popcorn to a larger bag, and serve your child's portion in a steel lunchbox compartment. Or exchange individual yoghurt pouches for a larger tub and portion servings into smaller containers. As simple swap like this can:
- Save you money, as individual packets are often more expensive per kilo
- Reduce exposure to plastic chemicals, such as BPA or phthalates, found in soft plastics
- Minimise plastic ending up in landfills, releasing greenhouse gases
- Likely reduce food waste as you can tailor serving sizes for your child
- Be more convenient for little hands, eliminating the need to open multiple packets
Offer Plant-Based Proteins
You don’t need to become a vegetarian to eat sustainably, but including plant-based proteins in lunchboxes exposes your kids to a wide variety of nourishing and eco-friendly foods. Plus, lunchboxes don’t have to contain meat, poultry, or seafood to be nutrient-packed!
Plant-based proteins are often rich in dietary fibre, helping kids stay fuller for longer.
As a mum of vegetarian kids, here are some go-to plant protein lunchbox foods:
- Chia seeds mixed through natural yoghurt
- A mini tub of hummus with seeded crackers and vegetable sticks
- Roasted fava beans and chickpeas
- Nut-free seeded bliss balls
- Edamame beans with a splash of reduced-salt soy sauce
To reduce the environmental impact of your packed lunchboxes, brainstorm eco-friendly options and tape a list inside your pantry door. This serves as a handy reminder of quick, convenient, and minimally processed lunchbox foods.
Remember, when you’re wondering what to do and what you can manage in terms of eco-friendly choices, be gentle on yourself and remember - It’s not about some people changing everything, but everyone changing something.
Dr Amelia Harray
PhD, APD, Researcher, and Founder of Eat Sustainably