Zero-waste School Lunches

Back to school is always a time of uncertainty. Will the kids like their teachers? Will their best friends be in their class? How will the school drops offs and childcare arrangements work? This year has the added uncertainty of COVID-19 and the potential for disrupted workplaces and school schedules.

Among all of this, there is one thing that’s certain, the importance of a healthy lunch. Food is the fuel that provides the energy needed for running around the playground and learning. It’s what feeds the immune system and keeps us healthy. That’s why it is really important to have a lot of healthy lunch options in our fridge and cupboards, particularly zero-waste lunch options.

Zero-waste lunches are:

• Simple! With the right ingredients in your kitchen, it shouldn’t take much longer than packaged food options.

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• Healthier! Processed food replaces the flavour of fresh ingredients with fat, salt and sugar.

• Fun! Lots of options means that everyone will find something they enjoy.

Here are a few tips to making zero-waste lunches a success:

1. Keep all the lunch foods in one location in the fridge and cupboards. That way it’s really easy to see what you have and keep track of when you need to stock up.

2. Have your kids pack their own lunches. Just let them know where they can find the food and let them fill their own containers.

3. For younger kids, it’s worthwhile explaining the importance of eating from all the food groups. Or give them labeled containers with: vegetables, fruit, carbs and protein so they can make sure to have a balanced lunch.

When stocking up for zero-waste lunches try to find a variety of different food options.

Here are some suggestions:


Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

Chickpea snacks


Pepperoni sticks

Peanut butter (or alternative butters)

Hard boiled eggs


Fruits and Vegetables

Carrot sticks


Cherry tomatoes

Peas and green beans


Manderine oranges





Corn chips

Rice cakes


Leftovers also make great zero-waste lunches. Just make a double batch of dinner then let your kids reheat it for their thermoses. Soups, stews and hearty salads are usually taste better the next day.

Here are two recipes that benefit from spending a night in the fridge. Both of them are eaten cold, so all you have to do is fill a thermos for a healthy and delicious lunch.

French Lentil Salad

(Total time: 20 minutes)

This lentil salad is completely customizable to suit your taste. Feel free to replace the tomatoes and cucumber with grated carrot, steamed broccoli or green beans. Switch the feta for toasted sunflower seeds or cubes of cheddar. Add olives or toasted pinenuts for a richer flavour. However, you mix it, lentils are perfect for a healthy and delicious lunch.

1 cup of dried lentils

2 tomatoes

1 cucumber

2 spring onions

4 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1⁄2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Boil the lentils in 3 cups of water until just starting to soften. Usually, it only takes about 15 minutes.

2. Prepare the rest of the salad while the lentils cook. Dice the tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions into bite-sized pieces.

3. Mix the olive oil, vinegar, mustard and salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Then add the vegetables, mixing to combine.

4. When the lentils are finished cooking, drain them and rinse with cold water. Add to the vegetables and dressing; mix to combine.

5. Top with the crumbled feta.

6. This salad can be eaten right away, however, it is best if made in advance so the flavours can blend.

Tex Mex Bean Salad

(Total prep time: 15 minutes)

This bean salad is also delicious as a really hearty salsa. Serve with corn chips or corn tortillas for a fun and flavourful lunch. If chili powder is too spicy for your children’s tastes, then use a mix of 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp sweet paprkia instead.

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

1 large red bell pepper

6 spring onions

4 roma tomatoes

1⁄2 cup of frozen corn

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1⁄4 cup cider vinegar

11⁄2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp chilli powder

1⁄2 tsp ground black pepper

11⁄2 tsp salt, to taste

1. Drain and rinse each of the cans of beans and place the beans in a large bowl.

2. Chop the red pepper, spring onions and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and add to the beans. Run the frozen corn under warm water to defrost, then add them to the salad.

3. Add the oil, vinegar, lemon juice and spices. Toss everything to coat. Taste and adjust the salt as needed.

4. The flavour of this salad improves with time, so it’s perfect for leftovers!

Emillie Parrish
Emillie Parrish
Emillie Parrish loves having adventures with her two busy children. She lives in Victoria and is the author of the fermentation-based blog