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Early morning wake-ups, packing lunches, and after school snacks are starting to feel routine once again… but are you approaching this with a green mindset? I encourage you to not only consider what is IN the food, but what the FOOD is in.

Packing food for school (or work, if you have “graduated”) is mighty important, but can also be mighty wasteful. In regards to packaging, I say: aim for zero waste! With Project Green Challenge (which students can sign up for now!) and various engaging and educational food platforms, all programs of my non-profit Teens Turning Green, we offer ideas for how to reduce waste with sustainable practices. Did you know that the average school-age child using disposable lunch products generates an estimated 67 pounds of waste per school year?! This equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for each and every average-size school. That is entirely unsustainable and must change. So, we have compiled a few super simple suggestions on how to get started, based on resources from Laptop Lunches. As far as I am concerned, these conscious practices should be the norm in every household across the country and around the world. Are any of them a part (or soon-to-be part) of your routine?

1. Pack a cloth napkin instead of a paper napkin.

2. Pack stainless steel or other reusable utensils instead of disposable plastic ones.

3. Pack a reusable drink container instead of a disposable juice box or pouch, can, or plastic bottle

4. Pack lunch items in reusable containers or bags. Avoid using plastic wraps, plastic bags, wax-paper bags, and aluminum foil.

5. Avoid purchasing small, pre-packaged items. Buy food in larger containers and then divide it up at home using smaller, reusable containers.

6. Pack lunches in a lunch box or sack instead of relying on paper or plastic bags.

There’s one more thing that I cannot forget to address: snacks. Snacks sustain me throughout long days – and hours of academic classes and meetings! Overly processed snacks, however, are often filled with refined grains, white sugars, artificial dyes, trans fat, high amounts of sodium, and GMOs. Unfortunately, this means nothing more than unhealthy, empty calories. Allow me to suggest a few delicious, quality alternatives that are perfect to munch on during recess, between classes, after a practice or rehearsal or even on a mid-homework break. Fresh, locally-grown, organic fruit is at the top of my list – and the no packaging is a plus. Another great option is to parcel out bulk snacks (healthy options, of course, like those from Nature's Path or Annie's for example) in perfectly sized reusable containers.

So next time you go to pack a lunch or snack, I sincerely hope that you think consciously about both what is IN the food AND how you pack it – and let these responsible, sustainable habits extend into other aspects of your life! Please send me a picture of your best #zerowaste lunch or snack on twitter at @ErinSchrode. I love seeing how creative people can get with edible or reusable containers – and together, I believe we can create a far healthier, more productive, less wasteful, sustainable world.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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