In the first of a series looking at how we can reduce waste, reuse and recycle, service improvement officer Jenny Lowes, who has worked in recycling and waste management for 22 years, takes on the lunchbox challenge.

Four weeks into a new school term and both my children are now in secondary school and refuse to eat school dinners – I suppose I was lucky to get seven years off while they were in primary school and happily ate what was on offer.

When they used to have a hot lunch, there wasn’t quite as much pressure to provide a healthy tea, but now trying to think of a healthy packed lunch (and dinner!) for children is a headache – but trying to help the environment too can prove a challenge. 

Some people reading this might be anti-plastic, but that is not the case here. I love the Tupperware and old takeaway containers, they are reused over and over for freezing food and using in lunches and I especially like the little pots that I can put small things in.

We have a number of reusable water bottles and I even bought an expensive one, but this was on the proviso that child number 1 did not buy any bottled water from school – especially so if it was from Fiji (which she was thrilled about!). A heated discussion followed and it was agreed that she takes the posh reusable water bottle each day but can buy a fizzy drink on a Friday only. I wanted to suggest that she use the soda stream and take her own on Friday but that was a compromise too far, so as long as the bottle or drinks can gets recycled we will settle at that.

I’ve bought some of the beeswax wrap, but I do still like tin foil (which can be reused a few times and is infinitely recyclable). It just gets scrunched up with the milk bottle tops and when it’s about the size of a tennis ball it goes in with the kerbside recycling.

It’s very true that a clear head is required to try to create a healthy lunchbox that your child will actually eat. To avoid food waste and brain overload on busy mornings, I try to make them the night before:

The NHS recommends a balanced lunchbox containing:

  • Starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes or pasta
  • Protein foods like meat, fish, eggs or beans
  • A dairy item, like cheese or yogurt
  • Vegetables or salad and a portion of fruit

BBC Good Food has lots of lunchbox inspiration.

Portion size is also important to avoid food waste and reducing the cost of the packed lunch. Children have small tummies and may not need two slices of bread to make a sandwich.  One slice might be enough, also cutting the cost of the sandwich in half.

Crisps – they love them and who doesn’t? But it’s not easy to recycle that packaging and don’t get me started on Pringles (another banned substance from the house, much to my children’s disgust). However, I do try to buy big bags of crisps and use the bag clips to keep them fresh and just put a small amount into a plastic tub each day. I am sure some people reading this will be rolling their eyes. But like others, we now have a bag of wrap and bread bags/crisp bags next to the normal bin and kerbside recycling items. It’s amazing how quickly it fills up ready to be taken back to one of the supermarkets collecting this type of film. A new plastic film/wrap recycling kitchen bin may be going on the Christmas list this year.

In September, we attended the launch of the new plastic wrap recycling bin at the Co-op in Whitby to demonstrate what goes in the shop recycling bin and what goes in the kerbside plastic recycling.

Sadly, the packed lunch fruit regularly comes back uneaten and looking a bit worse for wear, so it ends up either in the liquidiser for a smoothie or, if really bad, in one of the home compost bins. We have Jeff and the Rotters to thank for our love of smoothies.