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Make Back-to-School Lunches Tasty and Sustainable

Aug 31, 2020 ● By Tiffany Hinton

Photo Credit: Kristy Haare at LifenReflection

Many local grocery stores have posted signs directing us not to bring our own bags—no more using cloth, reusable market bags due to COVID-19 precautions. This is similar to the concept and rules of many of the Chicago area schools and daycares that will be opening this fall for bringing lunch to school. Many of the children in our area will be eating in their classroom and are not allowed to bring home any packaging from lunch. For families with food allergies, while we are still able to bring safe food, our reusable container options have changed.

Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 8 percent of children in the U.S. according to the CDC. That’s one in 13 children, or about two students per classroom. A large concern with the new school lunch policy is all the waste created by using disposable packages each day. The average American family already uses 500 resealable bags every year. Current consumption of single-use plastic baggies contributes to the existing 26.8 million tons of plastic deposited each year in landfills. They take up to 500 years to decompose and are not compostable.

Erlene Howard, from the Chicago area nonprofit Collective Resource Compost, offers recycling and composting options for many local schools. They provide compostable collection bins and are able to help reduce the waste impact on our environment by collecting waxed paper, parchment, string, newspaper and even organic food waste like banana peels. Using a few ideas from Howard, there are ways to make lunches this year fun and more sustainable for the Earth. Here are three tips for using more sustainable lunch packaging:

  1. Use a brown paper bag each day to take your lunch. This gives mom the ability to write an inspiring message or affirmation each day. Or give them a riddle to share with friends and write the answer on the bottom of the paper bag.
  2. Use the parchment paper lunch bags for more than a sandwich. Pack chips or other dry items like granola. Use recyclable, decorative tape to close them by folding over and securing. These can easily be added to the compost or paper recycling bin at school.
  3. For liquid items, yogurt, soups and other items, use a glass jar left over from jam, pickles or other condiments. These jars can easily go in the recycle bin at school, helping to reduce landfill waste.

Here are two of GF Mom Certified’s favorite recipes for school lunches.

Mixed Berry Mix Salad

Yields: 5 servings

1 pkg strawberries, rinsed and halved

1 pkg raspberries, rinsed

1 pkg blackberries, rinsed

1 pkg blueberries, rinsed

Mix all the berries together in a large bowl and store covered in the fridge. Store in a glass container for longer freshness.

(Single Serving)

1 cup berries mix salad

1 tsp ground flax



Yields: 12 servings

2 cups quick oats

¾ cup chia or flax seeds

¾ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup almond slivers

½ cup toasted quinoa hot cereal

1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and minced

1 cup dried cranberries

⅓ cup sugar

⅓ cup maple syrup

½ cup agave nectar or honey

¼ cup vegan butter

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

¼ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp Himalayan salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400º F. 

On a baking sheet with raised sides, stir together the oats, flax or chia seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds and quinoa cereal. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until toasted.

Remove from the oven, transfer to a large bowl and stir in the ginger and cranberries. Line a 11 x 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the coconut sugar, maple syrup, and agave/honey, vegan butter, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and salt to a simmer, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour this mixture over the nut mixture and stir so everything is coated. Transfer to prepared baking dish and use a rubber spatula to spread out the mixture and press it into the pan.

Place a sheet of wax or parchment paper on top and press down hard to compact the mixture into the pan. Let this cool in the pan for 2 to 3 hours, then turn out onto a cutting board and use a large knife to cut into bars.

Preheat oven to 300º F and place the cut bars on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Recipes courtesy of Tiffany Hinton, GF Mom Certified. Connect on social media @GFMomCertified.