Lunch without the waste

Lunch at school or the office doesn't have to be wasteful, and full of disposable plastic packaging.  If you or your child are going back to school soon, or you just want to change up your lunchtime routine at the office, here are some ways to cut out disposable packaging and make sure you have a homemade lunch.

Lunch without the waste: How to reduce disposable packaging, and pack a nutritious lunch everyday | Cellist Goes Green

Pack your own lunch.

If you bring your own lunch, not only are you avoiding the disposable plastic waste from takeout or the cafeteria, you are ensuring you are eating real, nourishing food.  I usually pack myself a salad of quinoa with some veggies, avocado and beans, and throw in a piece of fruit, maybe some almonds.  For me, it's easier if I usually pack the same thing daily, so I don't have to think about it, but there are plenty of ways to add variation to your lunch while sticking to the same basic formula.

Grain: quinoa/brown rice/barley
Bean: chickpeas/black beans/navy beans/pinto beans
Veggies: green peppers/zucchini/cherry tomatoes/carrots/celery
Greens: spinach/kale/chard/romaine
Dressing: apple cider vinegar/EV olive oil with balsamic vinegar and mustard
Extras: avocado/cheese/chia seeds

Plan ahead.

It is no fun scrambling in the morning before work to try to find something to bring for lunch.  I've been there, and what that usually means is getting stuck with just a piece of fruit for lunch, or eating out and getting stuck with packaging you don't want. 

As I said, I like to stick with a similar lunch each day, which makes things easier.  On Sunday evening, I will cook about 3 cups of dried quinoa, which is enough for my husband and I during the week.  I will do the same thing with dried beans or chickpeas--I'll soak a bunch on Saturday night, and cook them on Sunday evening so they're ready for the week.  That way all that's left to do in the morning is cut up a couple of veggies and throw in some greens.

This is really the most important thing, because you can have all of the containers and lunch boxes you like, but they won't do you any good if you don't actually make lunch!

Use glass or stainless steel containers and utensils.

Say no to plastic baggies and take out containers!  It's best to avoid storing and reheating food in plastic, so use a glass or stainless steel container to hold your food instead.  After I broke one of my glass Pyrex containers using it to take my lunch to work, I decided to invest in a stainless steel lunch container.  It works really well, and seems like it will last a long time.  I use a mini one for nuts, and you could also use it for cut up fruit.  I really like that the latches are easy to open--they're definitely easy enough for even a young child to use.  You can bring a spoon or fork from home, or get a set of travel utensils or a stainless steel folding spork.  I also throw in a cloth napkin from home, and I bring my glass water bottle.

We also use wool-insulated lunch bags (they also have an orange one) from Life Without Plastic.  They keep food at the right temperature, and they don't contain any plastic or other harmful materials.  According to a 2012 report, 75% of popular children's back to school items contained phthalates (which have been banned in children's toys since 2008).  One lunchbox from the study contained phthalates "over 29 times the allowable limit."

Take your compost home.

Banana peels, apple cores, and orange peels don't belong in the garbage.  Take them home in your lunch container to put in the compost!  (Unless you are lucky enough to have a school or workplace which composts food waste!)

This post includes affiliate links to Life Without Plastic, a company whose mission and values I fully support.  As always, I recommend trying to buy used or use what you have first, and as a second choice looking for products from a company who makes ethical and sustainable products.

Preserving summer food to reduce packaging in the winter

My recycling bin changes with the seasons.  In the late fall and winter, it is fuller than I would like.  And that has to do with the lack of local produce in the colder months.  I live in an area with four distinct seasons, and our farmer's market is only open from the end of May through early November.

Preserving summer food to reduce waste in the winter

Some things I end up buying at the store off-season which are not zero-waste:

  • Salsa
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Jam

To prevent some of this waste, I would like to take advantage of my farmer's market this summer and preserve some of the wonderful locally grown, organic veggies I can get there.  Even if I can't preserve enough food to get me through the winter :), I can at least reduce how much I rely on some of these grocery store items.

On my list:

  • Fermented salsa (recipe from Zero Waste Chef) (I tried this already with some out-of-season tomatoes, and it was delicious! I can't wait to use the local tomatoes.  This isn't canned, but can keep for several months in the fridge.)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Strawberry Jam (The canned recipes use a lot of sugar, so I think I am going to stick with freezer jam)
  • Fermented pickles

 What are some things you like to preserve? Any tips for someone new to canning?

Real food staples

Last post, we talked about why preparing your own food is important.  Today, I want to share with you some of the things that have become staples in our kitchen and improved our cooking (and eating :) 

1. Chicken Stock
We usually roast a chicken once a week, and then use the leftover bones to make chicken stock.  While the stock will have to cook for several hours, the amount of hands on time is about two minutes.

  • Throw chicken carcass into your stock pot.
  • Put one to two onions (don't bother peeling, just wash, halve and cut off the ends), carrots (washed, unpeeled) and celery stalks in.
  • Add a bay leaf and a few pepper corns.  And a dash of apple cider vinegar. 
  • Cover with water and simmer for three to four hours (or more if you like).

This is super, super easy and adds tons of flavor to homemade soups and sauces.  If you are a vegetarian, you can make homemade veggie stock.

2. Homemade Applesauce
I like to put applesauce in my oatmeal every morning during the cold months.  This stuff is so much better than the canned variety.

  • Slice/core your apples.  You don't need to peel them.  I usually use about nine apples at a time.
  • Throw them in a pot.
  • Sprinkle in some cinnamon, nutmeg and a couple of cloves.
  • Simmer until the apples are a little mushy, and then throw in a blender or food processor.

3. Whole Wheat Bread
See recipe here.   Whole wheat flour, honey, molasses, salt, water and yeast.  That's it.  Good for sandwiches and spreading jam on. Once you taste homemade bread, you will never go back.  For those weeks where we are very short on time, we do get bread from the bakery, which is still a much better choice than the prepackaged, preservative-filled breads on the store shelves.

4. Yogurt
Homemade yogurt is very easy to make.  Heat up some milk, add a little bit of pre-made yogurt, let sit overnight.  See recipe here.  Not only is this great with fruit in the morning, it also can be good as a dip (add a little lemon and dill!) and a nice addition to salads.

5. Salad Dressing
Most likely, you have everything you need to make a nice salad dressing already in your pantry. I use the recipe here, except instead of white wine vinegar, I use balsamic.  I recently used this on a kale, beet and barley salad, which was AWESOME.

This week, I challenge you to pick one thing you usually buy prepackaged, and try your hand at making it yourself. 

It doesn't have to be complicated (it could even be just soaking and cooking your own dried beans!).  Let me know what you are going to make this week in the comments!

Why cook real food?

Making your own food from scratch is probably one of the best things you can do to "go green," reduce packaging and be healthier.  (If you are not familiar with the issues of packaged food, I would strongly suggest reading "Salt, Sugar, Fat" by Michael Moss.  It was an eye opening read). While the other things I have discussed on the blog are important, in my opinion, food tops the list.  What we eat fuels our body and keeps us healthy.

At least in the United States, it seems as if we have been trapped in a mindset where convenience always wins.  Adults are over-scheduled, children are over-scheduled, and suddenly what we eat moves from the back burner to the microwave, and we become completely distanced from where our food comes from and how to prepare it.

Why real food matters | Cellist Goes Green

1. By making your own food from whole ingredients (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, eggs, dairy, etc.), you avoid additives like food dye, preservatives, anti-caking agents, and artificial sweeteners and flavorings in packaged and processed food.

2. When you make your own food, you control the amount of salt, sugar and fat that goes in to it (and what kinds).  Processed foods often make up for lack of flavor by increasing these ingredients to unhealthy levels.  And while your body will still process all sugar as sugar (so it should be enjoyed in moderation!), I would rather eat raw honey than processed corn syrup. 

3. Real food tastes better.  If nothing else convinces you, this should.  Real food tastes like food.  Compare something you would normally buy packaged at the store to a time when you had that food homemade.  Did they taste the same?  Probably not.  Canned or boxed chicken stock just can't compare to the kind you make on your stove with real chicken and vegetables.  Homemade roasted tomato sauce with extra virgin olive oil is not the same as what you buy in the jar.  And that bread wrapped in plastic on the shelf is miles behind homemade or what you can get at the bakery.

4. It does not take that much time. One of the biggest excuses for not preparing home cooked food is lack of time (I often used this one myself as a college student--I am not pointing fingers!).  Yes, it will take more time than throwing a box in the microwave, but not that much more.  And that added time is not always "active time." While chicken stock technically takes several hours to cook, those hours are not spent slaving over the stove.  Just throw everything in the pot and walk away.

5. Cooking brings us together.  Passing down recipes, techniques and sharing them with friends and family.  Taking pride in something you made and sharing it with others. All things that are invaluable and shouldn't be underestimated.

So, if you're up for a challenge: this week, pick one thing you would normally buy in a box or can and try making it yourself.  It does not have to be a big thing, it could be as simple as pumpkin puree (yum!) or soaking your own beans.