We can’t avoid the fact that packed lunches often seem to involve an awful lot of plastic. There’s the plastic wrapping on each of the yogurts and cereal bars. There’s the cling film wrapping the sandwich. There’s the individually packaged savoury snack such as crisps/ chips, nuts or popcorn. It’s hard to avoid. I’ve been making packed lunches daily (during the week) for the past 11 years. The way we think about packaging has changed in that time.
As a nutritionist my primary concern has of course always been health and the nutritional value of food we put in packed lunches, but it seems that health of ourselves is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment. Reducing the amount of plastic waste that we produce is something we should be focused on. So, lately I’ve been researching ways in which we can all be doing our bit. The size and breadth of that “bit” really varies. You may already be doing more than you realise to help by, for example, buying in bulk and decanting produce into smaller sized packages for lunches.
There are some simple things that most people can be doing right now, without spending any money. In fact, reusing already purchased plastic tubs is one of the better approaches because energy went into creating that plastic container in the first place. Don’t go replacing all plastic with stainless steel unless your plastic packaging is not fit for use.
For those who’d like to contribute to the betterment of their environment, I have created a list of 6 top tips that show simple ways in which we can be doing our bit:
1.Say no to individually wrapped children’s foods. Buy in bulk and decant those larger portions into smaller, lunchbox sized portions.
2. Buy the best quality food your budget will allow:
- Say no to the dirty dozen! Buy these as organic instead in order to reduce your exposure to as well as the use of pesticides and herbicides – apricots, apples, asparagus, peaches, parsnips, cherries, pears, strawberries, lemons/limes, oranges and grapefruit.
- Say yes to the clean fifteen to reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides in the environment and in our bodies. These can be purchased as non-organic. Beetroot, corn on the cob, mushrooms, swede, rhubarb, figs, turnip, onions, avocado, cauliflower, radishes, sweet potatoes, broad beans, pumpkin/squash and leeks.
- Eat seasonal – this is when the produce is at its best nutritionally and when it has to travel a shorter distance, having less environmental impact from transportation.
- Eat local – local produce means lower transportation costs (economic, environmental and nutritional) and will thus most likely also be in season!
3. Pack a water bottle – it’s too easy to forget this important component of a balanced (nutritionally speaking) day. Using an insulated water bottle means no disposable plastic bottles need to be purchased and it makes it less likely that cartons of juice or smoothies need to be packed too.
4. One pot, one pan cooking tends to mean less food waste, more energy efficient cooking, less washing up and water required to wash up.
5. Use up leftovers. In order to ensure you waste less food try to plan meals for a week with a view to using up all ingredients. Also plan to use leftover meals in lunches or to repurpose e.g. baking a spaghetti frittata with leftover cooked pasta or making arancini (risotto balls) from leftover risotto. A good quality insulated flask means hot meals can be transported easily to work or school.
6. Compost leftover scraps – when vegetable matter is compacted between other materials it doesn’t break down properly. When food scraps are composted, they become food for new plants as fertilising gold!
None of these tips are too onerous. Whilst we may not achieve all of these points all of the time we can work towards achieving them more often.