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Eco-Friendly and Frugal: Buy Less Packaging and Get More Food

Updated on June 16, 2009

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.

Nine apples or six fruit bars for about the same money
Nine apples or six fruit bars for about the same money

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.

Think again.

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.


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    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Thanks for dropping by, Brent! And you are right - there are lots of benefits from making food from your own fresh ingredients, and avoiding too much salt is a notable one...

    • Brent Whistler profile image

      Brent Whistler 

      4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Hey - this is a great article. There's another hidden benefit to eating simple: When you don't eat packaged food, you're not killing yourself with salt (typically). The difference in sodium between your homemade sandwich and those lunchables is probably jaw-dropping!

    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Rugsforall - it truly is astonishing at the amount of packaging that is geared towards enticement and otherwise, completely useless.

      I definitely take my reusable bags - and when I forget, I take the groceries out to my car in the shopping cart! I just make sure I have my receipt in my hand, so there's no mistaking that I actually paid for my groceries. ;-)

    • rugsforall profile image


      9 years ago

      What an interesting hub - it always amazes me at the amount of packaging that is totally useless! I do try to take my own bags with me to the store and feel very guilty if I forget.

      Look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      So sensible. After visiting a friend's commercial Apple orchard, I have only bought organic apples. The neighboring cherry orchard was worse. Poison warning notices hung from the corner of every section. Grow your own is the way to go! I only plant fruit trees in my garden. Congratulations hubnuggeter!

    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Frugalist - thanks for dropping by! ;-)

      I've got some great recipes for a variety of things - from cleaning solutions to personal care products - that not only save you money, but also packaging and chemicals! Stay tuned...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I love your hub. Good, solid information to help us limit the amount of trash we make and to eat more healthy. Everything you said in your hub are all things that I'm personally working on myself. I'll have to try finding some glass or steel containers at the dollar store here. It's hard to find them in many of the other stores I have shopped at.

      Anyway, I'm trying to reduce the plastics we use and eat a better diet with foods that aren't prepackaged -- I also call it shopping around the outside of the store. You almost never need to shop in the isles to get the best foods.

      I look forward to reading your future hubs. Good work!

    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Camping Dan - you are absolutely right. However, I'm surprised what I see in the grocery check-out line! The percentage of pre-packaged items of all kinds in many people's shopping carts is astonishing. That's why I'm spreading the word on the joys of reusable containers, buying in bulk / big quanitites and saving money by eating fresh (rather than processed).

      Personally, we always shop around the outside of the store - which means we aren't buying much of anything that is processed! (Those inner aisles are dangerous! LOL...) Then, I go home and make good use of my handy re-usable containers.

      I love the stainless steel ones. They'll survive anything! ;-)

    • Camping Dan profile image

      Camping Dan 

      9 years ago

      Surely by now everyone is figuring out you pay for convenient packaging. Baby carrots and pre-cut fruits always cost more. Those 100 calorie packs are easy to grab but it is cheaper to buy a big box and some small ziplocks and make your own. Warehouse stores can be money savers too but you have to be careful what you get.

    • jayb23 profile image


      9 years ago from India

      Lovely tips and an excellent hub. Keep it up

    • profile image

      Barbara Yurkoski 

      9 years ago

      Wonderful article Monique. Full of a variety of excellent suggestions.

      My daughter-in-law has reusable cotton bags that she brings to the grocery store to use instead of the plastic bags in the produce department.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      9 years ago from Ohio

      Wonderfully useful tips! I especially liked the one to focus on stainless or glass. You are right, and I never really thought of it before, but all the reusable plastic eventually becomes garbage!

    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Paper Moon - Exactly! That's the best way to go... no plastic used at any point!

      Personally, I take my kids to pick apples from the local orchards (preferably organic) in the summer and fall. We take our own bags; we get the apples weighed up after a fun couple of hours picking and eating and talking; we take them home and enjoy them! And no plastics required anywhere...

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 

      9 years ago from In the clouds

      As opposed to buying a 3lbs BAG of apples, bring your own bag and buy from the "bulk" bins.

      Great hub by the way.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Monique, Monique, I've got great news for you! Congratulations for this hub being a HUBNUGGET nominee! Check it out:

      Be sure to invite everyone you know to vote for you! And to all those who are reading this and if you love this hub: Vote now! :-)

      Love your advice about helping our planet earth by using less of plastics!

    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Great points, Kelsey. Polystyrene is evil and the type of plastic used for plastic bags is suspect. Bringing your own plastic (or other) container is a much better way to go.

      I'm going to do a hub on safer versus unsafe plastic. Stay tuned! ;-)

    • Kelsey Tallis profile image

      Kelsey Tallis 

      9 years ago from USA-Ohio

      Great hub, great advice! I've also started taking my own plastic containers to restaurants for leftovers... seriously, those polystyrene containers are EVIL! And use plastic containers instead of plastic baggies for leftovers...

    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      G|M - you are so right about the reusable bags!

      However, I do approve of one type of bag: many of the local stores in my town are using compostable bags for purchases. It's a great deal - I take my groceries home, and then I use the compostable bag to collect up my food scraps... The scraps from our veggies and fruits go into the compost bins in my back yar. Then, those food scraps become next year's soil for the garden! It reduced the amount of garbage we put out by the curb by at least 1/3, to just take our fruit and veggie waste and compost it ourselves.

      I'll have to write a hub on that! ;-)

    • GeneriqueMedia profile image


      9 years ago from Earth

      GREAT tips!

      And don't forget your reusable grocery bags! =D


    • MoniqueAttinger profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Depends on the dollar store - but I've found glass and stainless steel containers that had lids with a good seal. Perfect! I've got them in a variety of sizes to pack with anything. Of course, stainless steel are not microwave friendly - but the kids can't break them!

    • K.D. Clement profile image

      K.D. Clement 

      9 years ago from USA

      Love this hub and your reccomendation to use less plastic and non-plastic storage containers. I had no idea dollar stores carry stainless steel containers!


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