Healthy Lunch Box Ideas with Less Waste

If you send kids off to school every day, you know just how hard it is to pull together a zero-waste lunch. And one that’s healthy. If you’re trying to skip plastic products as well, it’s even harder. What’s a parent to do?

I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to cook healthy meals at home than to pack a meal for when we’re on the go. Thinking of the moms and dads making five lunches a week for the back-to-school crowd makes me thankful that my boys are grown, because that grind gets old fast. Am I right, parents??

As with dinner, though, the key to making school lunches with fewer headaches is to plan ahead.

Think: Leftovers for your school lunch sanity.


Double Down

My favorite way to plan ahead is to simply double (or triple) something I’m already making.

  • A side dish pasta or grain salad: Add cubed chicken or lentils to up the protein content and you’ve got a main dish salad for lunches.
  • Whole roasted chicken? Pull the meat off the bone for chicken salad.
  • Making pizza? You might as well make an extra one to pack for tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Waffles for breakfast? Make extra and use them as “bread” for peanut butter and jelly.
  • Send leftover taco meat along with non-GMO tortilla chips for “nacho scoops.”
  • Leftovers like soup and chili can go straight into the lunchbox if your kids will eat them cold (like mine will). If not, heat them in the morning and send them in one of these.

Stock Your Pantry

Make sure that you’ve always got enough lunch packing supplies in your pantry for an entire week. This will ease your lunch preparations when you have one of those weeks. Or when you’ve had an overly busy but fabulous weekend and there’s not a meal plan in sight. Things to keep on hand:

  • Nut butters (or if your students attend a no-nut school, try sunflower seed butter)
  • Dried or canned beans for making hummus, bean dip, or adding to a salad
  • Jarred fruits and applesauce from your summer harvest
  • Pizza sauce for dipping
  • Dried fruits

Healthy Lunch Box Ideas

  • One of my sons would happily eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every. Single. Day. That definitely makes it easy to stock the pantry.
  • Make a batch of my refried beans and roll up a bunch of burritos for the freezer. Pop them into the kids’ lunch box while they’re still frozen; they’ll be thawed in time for lunch.
  • DIY Jello cups allow you to skip the plastic-packaging, plus they’re made with actual fruit.
  • Homemade hummus is easy to make and inexpensive. Pair it with carrot sticks and healthy crackers for a protein-packed lunch.
  • Make a big batch of granola bars for the freezer. They’ll be easy to grab and toss in the lunch box on busy mornings.


zero-waste, lunch, kids, snacks, school, lunchbox

Greener Lunch Boxes and Containers

I cringe to think of all the plastic baggies I threw away when I was going to school. We were not a green family.

Recent concerns about the safety of plastic in our kids’ lunch boxes (and other products) may be a wake-up call for many parents. Reusable plastic containers reduce the amount of waste generated from each lunch box, but in the end they’re still plastic. Happily, non-plastic alternatives are becoming much more readily available.


Made of stainless steel, the hinged lunch box opens to reveal five individual compartments of various sizes. It kind of resembles an institutional food tray (or, to date myself, one of those old fashioned TV dinners!). The raised compartments in the lid allow you to fill the bottom tray generously and still close the lid. When closed, each food item is sealed into its separate compartment, keeping the sandwich from touching the fruit for finicky eaters. Now, they’re not cheap. But the simple styling of the PlanetBox will last a kid through years of school lunches without becoming dated, like the My Little Pony box that is so last year. And bonus for the kiddos: PlanetBox comes with a set of magnets to decorate the outside.

I received a PlanetBox for review purposes.


Never heard of a tiffin? I hadn’t either up until a few years ago. A tiffin is a stackable collection of several food containers that easily snap together into one easy-to-carry container. This one is stainless steel. This one is, too, but it’s got a bit more pizazz.

Stainless steel containers

The kids will need something to carry these in (check Etsy for lots of cute options), but the containers from Lunchbots are hard to beat. I have a friend who invested in one for each family member and they’ve been using them for years.

Drink bottles

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who rely on plastic water bottles on a daily basis. I am adamant about this: There really is no excuse to continue using disposable bottles. It’s wasteful. It perpetuates the use of petroleum products for a container that will be thrown away (or maybe recycled). And it’s becoming more and more apparent that it’s not healthy. There are a multitude of options for reusable water bottles out there, but I’m a fan of the insulated S’well bottles for kids’ lunches. Though a bit larger, the Hydroflask wide mouth bottle allows the easy addition of ice. Because they’re insulated, these bottles don’t sweat and they retain the temperature (hot or cold) of the liquid you fill them with.If you send kids off to school every day, you know just how hard it is to pull together a zero-waste lunch. And one that's healthy. If you're trying to skip plastic products as well, it's even harder. What's a parent to do?

More lunch packing tips from around the web:




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  • Great contest, Kris! Just subscribed to your RSS feed, posted you to FB, and tweeted. :)

  • Jody ,

    Cool prize! I subscribe by email, like Attainable Sustainable on Facebook, and shared a link to this post on Facebook.

  • Christine ,

    Looks great! I already subscribe to your RSS feed, and I just “liked” your page on FB.


  • Anne B ,

    Love these!!!!

  • carie ,

    I “Liked” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook and I also Shared the post about winning the lunch box with the link to your FB page. I really like the look of that lunch box! Thank you for the opportunity!

  • heidi ,

    I already subscribe to the RSS feed and I just liked you on facebook.

  • NoPotCoooking ,

    I had a metal Hardy Boys lunch box in first grade. It’s been a long time since i’ve seen a metal lunch box! Very cool! Don’t enter me though – my kiddos are too old for this.

  • Lisa ,

    Love the blog and the lunchbox! I liked you on FB, tweeted and signed up for e-mails. Great info, can’t wait to hear more.

  • These are so cool! I’ve Tweeted and FB’d. Thanks for the great contest, Kris.

  • carey ,

    Liked you on facebook

  • Jenny Johnson ,

    Very cool lunchbox! I’ve never seen one before. We are using the tiffins like in India for leftover/meal lunches or regular lunchboxes with cloth sandwich wrappers. But yogurt wouldn’t work in these, eh?

    I LIKED this on facebook. It’s a great place to share new ideas!


  • Elise ,

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  • Lynn Abbott-McCloud ,

    Here’s what I’ve done!

    •Via RSS (one entry)
    •Get Attainable Sustainable updates by email (one entry)
    •“Like” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook (one entry)
    •Post this link on your blog (one entry)
    •Share on Facebook
    Plus, I’m a COTC subscriber. Whew! I’m tired! 😉

  • Great website. subcribed via RSS, get Attainable Sustainable updates by email and liked attainable Sustainable on Facebook. Great site too.

  • Elaine ,

    Liked you on FB and shared the link as well. Thanks!

  • Love this lunchbox, which would be perfect for my daughter, who’s broken two regular cheap metal lunchboxes by sitting on them when the ground’s dirty at lunchtime!
    I believe I’ve met the criteria — great idea for a giveaway!

  • Lulu ,

    Love it – and know a heap of friends who will love it!
    Already a member – and have shared you as a status update for my fans :)

  • Great contest! I have lost count of what I subscribe to, so will not enter the contest, but thanks for alerting me to this. Looks like a perfect b-day present for my granddaughter!

  • Hi,

    I just shared you on facebook and subscribed via email. Thank you for offering such a neat prize. I checked out the lunch box website. Very cool.

  • I just ordered one in Perfectly Pink, my granddaughter’s favorite color. Thanks for letting me know about this product.

  • Kim Eggerton ,

    I subscribed via RSS and liked Attainable Sustainable on facebook!

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  • Amanda Howard ,

    I also pressed the like button on Facebook. There is some really cool stuff on the Facebook page.

  • Amanda Howard ,

    After a moments hesitation I also signed up for email updates.

  • Dan Aminoff ,

    I have Tweeted, posted to Facebook, subscribed to the e-mail list, liked on Facebook. Great idea. I hope it does well.

  • Jane McKinstry ,

    Great giveaway! I try to pack a zero-waste lunch for my kids everyday. I subscribed via RSS and also tweeted.

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    Get Attainable Sustainable updates by email

  • Debbie Kaplan ,

    and last, I just subscribed by email – I thought I was getting everything on FB, but apparently I’ve missed some posts.

  • Cristina ,

    Hi here’s what I’ve done!I love this lunchbox!!

    • Subscribed via RSS (one entry)
    •Get Attainable Sustainable updates by email (one entry)
    •“Like” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook (one entry)
    •Share on Facebook

  • Cristina ,

    Oh and I posted it on SMMC, Southern Marin Mother’s Club!

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  • Simone ,

    What a great prize!! Here’s what I have done:
    Subscribed via RSS feed
    Signed up for Attainable Sustainable updates by email
    Clicked “Like” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook
    Mentioned on Twitter

  • Julie Domms ,

    Hi, I subscribe to your emails and follow you on facebook :)

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    Liked you on FB and signed up for email updates! Great lunchbox.

  • Davie R ,

    Love this! I have Liked you on FB, shared a link, and subscribed to your e-mail. I would do the RSS feed but I can’t get it to work. :(.

    You have definitely inspired me! Going rogue in the neighborhood with clotheslines, garden, and coming soon ~~ CHICKENS!!

  • Amanda ,

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    I just subscribed via RSS and email, shared the post on Facebook and mentioned it on Twitter (5 entries)! My fingers are crossed!

  • Allison Tryk ,

    Love it! I tweeted your message and liked you on Facebook. We like you outside of Facebook too!