Bringing your own lunch to school or work is green—good for you, good for the planet, and good for your wallet.
Our kids took lunch to school, first in lunch boxes and then brown paper lunch bags. Lunches consisted of sandwiches, fruit, chips, and desert. For a time, the kids took disposable drink boxes for lunch. I shudder to remember a brief dalliance with package intensive, minimal nutrient, prepackaged lunches.
Taking Your Own Lunch to School
Having kids take lunch to school has several benefits:
- Kids and parents know what it is in the food kids are eating for lunch.
- Kids have an opportunity to learn about food and how to make healthy choices.
- Kids learn responsibility by helping make lunch or preparing their own.
- Kids have more time to eat, relax, and play during lunchtime.
Throughout my working life, my lunch habits have varied widely.
When my job entailed visiting client’s offices and job sites, I frequently drove through fast food restaurants and ate in my car while driving (I know that’s bad). Other times I’d go out to lunch with coworkers and we’d split the bill. Mexican food and sushi were favorites.
I ate at my desk more often than I would like to admit. My favorite lunches were those I packed myself and ate with a few coworkers at a local park.
For several years, I’ve worked out of my home office so eat lunch at home. Lunch menus consist of peanut butter or tuna salad sandwiches, salads, soups, or leftovers.
Eating Lunch Out at Work
Over one’s work lifetime, eating lunch out can really add up in more ways than one. Let’s say one eats lunch out 3 days a week for 48 weeks a year over a period of 40 years (3 x 48 = 144 days per year X 40 years = 5,760 lunches out).
For our example, we’ll assume a mix of different lunch venues with an average cost of $10.00 per meal. Over 40 years, eating lunch out would cost $57,600. That does not include gas and wear and tear on your vehicle if you drive to lunch (or greenhouse gas emissions). Imagine what you could do with an extra $57,600.
Restaurants put ingredients and additives in food to make it taste good and keep people coming back. Foods that seem healthy, like a salad, may turn out to have a whopping calorie count and high fat content. Some restaurant meals contain more than an entire day’s calories.
The restaurant industry produces a huge amount of food and packaging waste.
Fast food and fast casual restaurants often serve meals in single-use, throw away packaging that ends up in landfills or sometimes on the side of the road. If only 50% of the 5,760 lunches in our example were of this type, visualize the pile of packaging waste that would be created by 2,880:
- Carry Out Bags
- Sandwich / Burger / Salad Packages
- Chips / Fries / Desert Packages
- Drink Cups, Lids, Straws or Stirrers
- Napkins (how many people grab just one?)
- Catsup / Soy Sauce / Sugar Packets (how many people take just one?)
Taking Your Lunch to Work
Taking your lunch to work has similar benefits to taking lunch to school as well as saving money and reducing waste. With a little effort, taking lunch to work can be easy, inexpensive, healthy, and green.
- Take lunch in a reusable insulated bag or other carrier, with a cool pack if needed.
- Use reusable containers, utensils, napkins, and cups or bottles.
- Just say no to bottled water.
- Skip prepackaged frozen or ready-to-eat meals.
- Assemble lunch the night before and leave it in the fridge (this is especially helpful for non-morning people like me).
- Get out of the office at lunch. Eat on an outdoor patio, take a walk to park, or run errands on foot.
I have read articles and blog posts aimed at helping people add variety to their “boring” homemade lunches. Interestingly, some health experts say simplifying meal choices and even eating the same thing for one meal every day may help people eat healthier. This approach streamlines the process of preparing a take-to-work lunch.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Adult Obesity Facts
- End Food Waste Now – Restaurants
- Fast Casual – LivingSocial survey: Lunch is most popular dine-out opportunity
- NPR – For Restaurants, Food Waste Is Seen As Low Priority
- People – Nutritionist and Trainer Harley Pasternak Talks High Caloric Price of Eating Out
- Sharecare – Why can eating a variety of foods lead to weight gain?
- Statistic Brain – Fast Food Statistics
- The Daily Journal – Senator seeks new fast food waste policies
- Time – How to Save $2,500 a Year on Lunch