I don't want to say it, but the school year is just around the corner (and may already be here for some of you). I remember when I was around nine-years old, my elementary school had a zero waste lunch competition. You would gain and lose points based on the way your lunch was packaged, and the teachers would remove all the garbage and recycling bins until points had been tallied. The best score I could ever get was 0 because my snacks always came prepackaged. I'm sure most schools nowadays aren't as intense as mine was, but eco-friendliness is now much more widely encouraged. I've done a little research and here are a few tips to help your kids have a minimal-waste or zero-waste lunch! (Please note, zero-waste lunches are generally only possible if you are committed to sending your child to school with a homemade/home prepared lunch.)
Get your child a reusable lunch container.
There are tons of different food containers in a variety of styles these days: Plastic, pyrex, stainless steel, stackable, separate compartments, the list goes on. Go shopping with your kids and let them help you pick their container. Make sure your child can open it on their own, and is at least a little excited about using it. And if they're mature enough, teach them how to take care of it. (That's one thing off you're daily to-do list!)
You may also want to consider reusable food wraps. Personally, I would only use these for items that won't fit into a container well. I don't like using my beeswax food wraps for sandwiches because the sandwich always comes apart. However, I love using them for pre-cut fruit & veggies. The only downside is that these are definitely hand wash only.
Get a reusable water bottle/thermos.
Juice boxes are nice and recyclable, however, the straws and plastic wrapping the straw may not be. Buying a reusable bottle lets your child go to school with whatever drink they prefer and you can save some money. (It is definitely cheaper to buy 2L of chocolate almond milk than it is to buy the tetra pack version.) Also, if you child's classroom has a sink, the bottle can be washed and refilled with water during the day.
Stock up on cloth napkins and reusable cutlery.
Cloth napkins and reusable cutlery are washable, therefore, minimal waste. If you're worried about a forgetful child, buy some cheap cutlery and napkins from IKEA or a thrift store. That way if anything gets lost you're not missing part of a set. Maybe offer a special treat occasionally if your forgetful kid comes home with all the pieces they left with!
Also, I don't remember ever using a napkin at school outside of pizza days. If I had a messier meal, I usually just went to the washroom to wash my face and hands.
Use a lunch bag.
Lunch bags are great. They keep food separate from important notices and homework, and fit well in most backpacks. They can also be used to keep a lot of separate foods items together in one space. Plus, a reusable bag is way better than a plastic bag! I find they hold spills better and most are easy enough to clean. If you are concerned about longevity, buy a lunch bag with a simple design or that is a solid colour. I can guarantee that your kindergartner will not want that Paw Patrol lunch bag in a few years.
Buy in bulk or DIY.
As I mentioned before, prepackaged snacks were my zero-waste downfall. If you have the time, make your own snacks and freeze the excess (this works great for muffins, granola bars, cookies, etc.). If you don't have the time, visit a bulk food store or buy fresh baked goods with recyclable packaging. These snacks can go in your child's lunch container and the waste can be recycled at home.