Pack kids off to school with a litterless lunch

ASK any child today about the 3Rs and instead of Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmatic they are likely to say Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Kids have grown up understanding the need to reduce the amount of garbage we produce, to protect the environment and to compost.

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And yet, we go into stores and aisle after aisle, product after product is designed to produce garbage.

There are all kinds of ways we can engage our children to become aware of how to become more ecologically responsible. And one easy place to start is with lunch.

Lunch bags, food wrappings, serviettes and drink containers can all be reused with just a little planning and thought.

There is a range of lunch bags on the market. They come in all sizes and shapes so you need to consider the needs of your child. You may want to use an insulated bag to keep food hot or cold or you may prefer to use a cold pack to keep sandwiches cool and a thermos for hot foods.

When you are choosing a bag, involve your child so that he chooses one he likes. Make sure it's easy to open and close. Velcro tends to work best for kids. You can also get bags with compartments if you are sending food for breaks and for lunch.

You will need a variety of containers. Think about what an average lunch looks like for your child and choose containers accordingly. When buying containers, ensure that they are food safe. For cold food, polypropylene containers marked with #5 are food safe and don't leach chemicals.

Replace bottled water or packaged juices with drinks in their thermos. Use tap water or buy juice in larger containers and decant what they need on a daily basis.

This is also true for things like applesauce or yogurt. You can have the kids decant their serving into a single serve container. It may take some time but the more you buy in bulk, the more money you can save.

Stainless steel containers are another option because they are shatterproof and lightweight.

Fun and brightly coloured cloth napkins can replace paper and there are even reusable sandwich wrappers, some of which are machine-washable.

Pay attention to the weight of everything you are purchasing. If the total package is too heavy, your child is more likely to put it down somewhere and forget it.

There are some downsides. In case your child loses things, label them so they can be returned or easily identified in the lost and found box at school. I'm told there is a company called Lovable Labels that offers a product that is dishwasher safe.

But what about time and convenience? After all, this would seem to imply making lunches from scratch rather than simply purchasing pre-packaged foods. The best answer is to involve

the kids. Having them prepare their own lunch with some direction to make sure they cover more than one food group has real benefits. First they are helping with the work, they are learning about food preparation and they are much more likely to eat a meal they had a hand in preparing.

I understand that it's not as convenient. But it's the right thing to do. It's modelling caring for the planet for your kids and it means they are also having a healthier lunch.

There are many ideas for litterless lunches and you may want to choose just one for starters and move forward to further ideas as you and the kids are ready.

Soon, planning meals and snacks that are litterless will be second nature to both you and your children.

Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker, broadcaster, columnist and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. For information or to book Kathy for a speaking engagement, go to her website at www.ParentingToday.ca.

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