Eco-Friendly and Frugal: Buy Less Packaging and Get More Food
Everyone wants to save money, right? When we are busy being hammered by an economic crisis that could rival the Great Depression, we're always thinking economy. Right now, we need to have our precious dollars go further.
But sometimes, we get fooled by packaging. While it might seem like processed and prepackaged foods save you time and money, it's a carefully crafted illusion. Packaging is designed to entice you - and your kids. But it isn't delivering any nutritional value.
On top of that, packaging (which is primarily plastic) is behind what could be one of the biggest environmental issues out there. Our oceans are full of plastic - as many as 46,000 pieces per square mile according to a United Nations report. Our newest tumbleweeds are plastic bags, dropped or discarded, or picked up by the wind from landfill sites.
How can we save our time, our earth and our pocket book? It's easier than you think. Here are 5 simple tips.
1. Buy Fresh Fruits and Veggies For Fast Snacks
Nothing is better than fresh produce for your child's - or your - lunchbox. However, most of us think that a few processed snacks are not that bad and certainly aren't that expensive.
On a recent shopping expedition, I purchased a 3 lb bag of organic apples and 6 organic dried fruit bars. The total cost of 6 fruit bars exceeded the cost of 1 bag of apples! On top of that, I get 3 more snacks out of the apples. It's just as quick and easy to drop an apple in a lunch as it is to drop a fruit bar. Just be sure to buy smart: keep in mind my recommendations on reducing your pesticide intake when buying your fresh produce and keep your focus on whole food.
2. Buy Larger Sizes
This is a no-brainer: buy the size of package that your family can reasonably use before the expiry date.
However, you have to pay attention: retailers know that consumers buy big and may not pass on savings to you! Therefore, whip out that cell phone and make use of the built in calculator to figure out if you are getting a break on the cost per unit. If you are, buy big - you'll save both packaging and money.
You can buy bulk in a variety of ways: online; at a "big box" store like Costco; or even at your local supermarket. Don't forget your small local health food retailer. Many of these stores will cheerfully order in a case or bulk bag of a needed item, and will charge a smaller markup than usual. Just be sure to get the final price first before you order, so there are no surprises.
3. Do It Yourself
Do your kids (or even you) like the occasional cookie, muffin or baked good in a packed lunch? Designate a baking night and make cookies with your kids. Not only is this great for the environment, your kids will love it too! Your homemade baked goods will be free of preservatives, free of artificial color and flavor, and will never have come from a package.
Bulk ingredients will add even more bang for the buck: less packaging and better prices for staples of home baking or food preparation, like flour or grains.
While baking can seem like a lot of work, you are normally looking at less than 15 minutes to prepare a batter from scratch, and then about a half hour to bake - depending on the size of the batch and the cooking time. However, you can shorten the time by investing in a second baking pan. Most stoves will hold 2 standard size cookie sheets side by side.
Don't worry about monitoring the cookies: your kids will listen for the timer and give you updates on the status of the cookies whether you want it or not!
Can't quite get yourself to bake? Even if you make sandwiches from scratch rather than giving your kids pre-packaged meals such as Lunchables, you are saving packaging and money. If you don't have those few extra minutes in the morning, try putting together most of the lunch the night before - and only add perishable ingredients in the morning.
4. Buy A Reusable Juice Bottle
Those innocent looking juice boxes create a lot of trash in our schools. Even if the juice box itself can be recycled where you live, the plastic straw and plastic wrap on the outside become garbage as soon as the drink is done.
Your best bet is to buy a re-usable juice bottle. While the initial cost of reusable bottle can be significant, you should save that and more over the life of the item. Buy one that is rated for either water or juice; some of these bottles are only for water. Think of brands like Sigg or Kleen Kantine if you are ready to take the plunge.
Once you have a re-usable bottle, you can buy better quality juices in larger quantities and save money every time your child heads off to school! Keep in mind that you should avoid conventional apple juice; if you can't afford organic, choose 100 per cent orange as a lower pesticide option.
5. Invest In Reusable Containers
When my son arrives home after school, I empty out his lunch bag. I put the wax paper in our municipal composting bin, along with any apple cores or orange peelings. That's all the "garbage" that ever results from his lunch.
The trick is a variety of reusable containers that will keep food secure and fresh. Your best bets are to stay away from plastic as much as possible - not only does current research show that plastics do affect our health, but they will also become garbage at some point in their lifecycle. Focus instead on glass or stainless steel. While these items may have a plastic lid, that still reduces the amount of plastic that you are using or ingesting.
Your local "dollar store" is often a great place to find these kind of containers. I recently purchased a number of stainless steel bowls with snug-fitting lids for $1 each. One size is perfect for my son's favorite lunch "sandwich" - leftover chicken with mayo on a rice cake! The rice cake doesn't break and the contents stay nicely in one place.
Stainless steel is a real plus, if you can find it: you never have to worry about breaking and a few dents aren't likely to hurt the container. Just keep in mind that these are not microwaveable; for those things you want to heat up, you'll need glass.
Once you have your reusable containers, you'll stop spending money on plastic bags and plastic wrap - which can add up to over a hundred dollars a year for a family of four. Kids love it too: even my daughter knows to carry her snack for nursery school in a container with her name on the lid.