Posts Tagged ‘Lunch packing’

Back to school season is the perfect time to up your game with the goal of having zero or reduced waste lunches. By planning, your family can greatly reduce the amount of food waste created. Here are a few tips from the Ohio State University Extension Sustainability Team:

  • Purchase glass, stainless steel, or food safe bamboo containers for your sandwiches or leftovers. There are a lot of stainless-steel bento style boxes available right now. Avoid using plastic bags or wrap, and aluminum foil.
  • Purchase reusable storage bags, straws, utensils, and cloth napkins that you wash and use over and over. If you use paper napkins, purchase 100% recycled paper napkins.
  • Make sure you use the oldest food in your cupboard, pantry, refrigerator first – as something gets older you may be able to freeze it for later use if you are watching (for example, you can freeze yogurt and fresh fruit for smoothies).
  • Bring your own condiments in small containers – rather than using or purchasing salad dressings or ketchup in single use packaging.
  • Compost your fruit or vegetable scraps. If composting isn’t available at your work or school, consider implementing a program.
  • Recycle what you can and keep up to date on the recycling program available in your community.
  • If you eat out, plan to take part of your meal home for lunch the next day. Eat at restaurants that use brown, eco-friendly to go containers, or better yet, bring your own.
  • The lunch bag options are limitless, so choose one that is easy to care for and fits your personality. Do you like Star Wars, Disney, the NFL, or our beloved Buckeyes? There are handy choices available for the whole family.

You may say that some of these sustainable products are a little pricey, so watch for back-to-school sales or buy these items as gifts for family members and friends gifts. I have been buying my friends glass or bamboo lunch containers the last few years and my daughter bought almost everyone in the family cool decorative mini-coolers last year for the holidays. The coolers work great for lunches or trips. We can’t wait to hear your favorite sustainable practices or lunch packing products.

Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.

Reviewer: Laura Stanton, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County.


Ohio State University Extension, Sustainability Team – https://fcs.osu.edu/programs/resources/sustainability

Stanton, L.M. (2021). Ten Tips for Packing Waste-Free Lunches, Ohio State University Extension. https://go.osu.edu/waste-free-lunches

United States, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reduce-reuse-recycle-resources-students-and-educators.

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a tortilla spread with hummus and filled with chopped olives, chopped red bell pepper, feta cheese and spinach

Greek Veggie Wrap

Every day, millions of people pack lunches to take to work or send to school with their kids. Maybe you are one of them!

There are many benefits to packing lunch. When you pack your own lunch or prepare lunch for a child, you are able to control portion sizes, maximize nutrition and save money.

I pack my lunch almost every day of the work week, but sometimes I find myself in a “lunch rut”. Have you found yourself there, too? If you find yourself preparing the same sandwiches to take for lunch day after day, one simple way to change things up is to make wraps instead. For example, if you make lunchmeat sandwiches, try rolling lunchmeat and cheese in a whole grain tortilla, instead. No fancy tortillas are needed- I typically buy the store brand which come in a pack of 10 for less than $2. You can add lettuce for volume and your favorite condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressing, hummus, guacamole, etc.) for flavor.

If you’re someone who makes peanut butter and jelly on the regular, try spreading peanut butter on a whole grain tortilla and filling it with slices of fruit like bananas or apples.

Other tasty wraps that I have made include:

  • Italian Tuna salad – a tortilla filled with tuna, white beans, lettuce and Italian dressing
  • Tuna or Chicken salad – a tortilla filled with a mixture of tuna or chicken, plain nonfat yogurt, chopped celery and sliced apples or grapes, topped with lettuce
  • Chickpea “Chicken” salad – the above description using a can of chickpeas, run through the food processor, in place of chicken
  • Greek Vegetarian (pictured above) – a tortilla spread with hummus and filled with chopped olives, chopped red bell pepper, feta cheese and spinach (you could add chicken if you like)
  • Mexican Cabbage Salad – a tortilla filled with chopped cabbage and other chopped or shredded veggies (corn, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, carrots, etc.), pinto beans and a cilantro-lime dressing

If you’re in search of something you can mix up quickly, look for salad kits in the produce section of your grocery store. Kale and broccoli slaw or Southwest salad mix can serve as an easy “dump and mix” base for lunch wraps. You may consider adding a can of beans or sliced chicken to these mixes for added protein.

Which wrap ideas do you plan to try? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below!


Author: Jenny Lobb, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County, lobb.3@osu.edu

Reviewer: Susan Zies, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County, zies.1@osu.edu



Hunter, J.G. & Cason, K.L. (2011). Packing Lunches for Work or School. Clemson Cooperative Extension. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/nutrition/food_shop_prep/food_prep/hgic4246.html

UC Davis Health (2013). Packing the perfect school lunch. http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/2013-2014/08/20130828_school_lunch.html

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Back to school means back to packing school lunches. Children need a healthy lunch with the right calories and nutrients to help them learn, grow, and play. Not only do we want to pack our kids a healthy lunch, we want them to eat it, too! Sometimes we need some new ideas to keep lunch interesting. Here are some tips for packing a school lunch:

Plan ahead. Just a little planning time to get the right foods on the grocery list, in the cart, and in the fridge is the right place to start.

Plan together. Sit down with your child weekly to talk about lunch menu options. Allow your child to help plan the menu. He will be more excited about lunch and more likely to eat it.

Try something new. We all tend to get tired of the same foods every day. Change up the menu. Look up some new ideas together.

Try a different shape. Food that looks fun is more fun to eat. Try cutting a sandwich in a different direction or use cookie cutters. Sliced cheese and fruit (especially melon) will also cut nicely with cookie cutters.

lunchBuild in some color. Research shows the more colorful the food, the more appetizing it is. One of the easiest and healthiest ways to do this is with fresh vegetables and fruits. See if you can ‘pack a rainbow’ of color in your child’s lunch throughout the week.

Use MyPlate for your Lunch Bag! This fact sheet from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach gives a variety of ideas from every food group! Aim for at least 4 out of the 5 food groups for health and variety.

Rethink the drink. Water and low-fat milk are the best options for lunch. Sugary drinks are considered ‘empty calories.’ Calories but no nutrients.

Invest in “cool” lunch packs. Ice packs, insulated thermoses and insulated lunch bags allow for more varied menu options by keeping food at the right temperature.

Pack the night before. If you’re pressed for time, mornings can run more smoothly when there is less to do. Pack lunches in the evening right after dinner clean up. Or you could even try prepping lunches for the week on Sunday and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

For more ideas on packing a healthy and safe lunch, check out What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag!


Iowa State University Extension



Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

Reviewed by: Misty Harmon, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County


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As the summer school break comes to an end and packing lunches is a nightly routine, it is important to remember to make sure the lunch is handles properly and safe to eat. Perishable food must be kept cold. Here are some back to school food safety tips:

Clean – Clean Hands, Clean Surfaces

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water before preparing or eating food.
  • Wash utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Use clean packaging and bags.


Separate – Don’t Cross Contaminate

  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a different one for meat and poultry to avoid cross contamination.
  • At lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

Chill – Keep Lunches Cold

  • Keeping food cold slows bacterial growth and keeps food safe.
  • Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” — the temperatures between 40 and 140°F.
  • Keep perishable food refrigerated until time to leave home.
  • Include a frozen gel pack or frozen juice box with perishable food in the insulated lunch bag or lunch box.
  • Use an insulated soft-sided bag if possible. It’s best for keeping food cold.
  • Store perishable items in a refrigerator (if available) immediately upon arrival.

Keep Hot Lunches Hot

  • Use an insulated container to keep hot food hot — 140°F or above.
  • Cook frozen convenience meals according to package instructions, including standing time if using a microwave.

Author: Susan Zies, Ohio State University Extension, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator, Wood County, http://wood.osu.edu/.

Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Ohio State University Extension, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator.


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At one time, brown bagging was popular just among school children and construction workers – but not anymore!  Carrying meals to be eaten away from home has become a way of life for more and more people.

There are a number of reasons why individuals choose to carry their lunch.  Whether it’s because they are weight-conscious, economic-minded, a nature lover (lunch is a picnic everyday), or a busy office worker who doesn’t want to wait in line at the local deli, people are “brown bagging it” and enjoying it.

When planning any “brown bag” meal, it’s important to make it nutritious, interesting and food safe.  Here are some tips to help take the boring out of your packed lunch while keeping it safe and nutritious.


  • White bread isn’t the only sandwich loaf – Try whole wheat, banana – nut, cranberry-nut, rye, sun-dried tomato, pumpernickel, pesto, multi-grain, bran, dill, pita (pocket) bread, herb bread, bagels, muffins, biscuits or tortilla wraps.  Choose low-fat, low-cholesterol sandwich fillers like turkey breast, lean ham, or roast beef.  They come in a variety of flavors – Cajun, smoked, honey-roasted, or peppered.
  • Serve hummus on toasted pita bread or crackers.
  • Make your chicken salad or tuna salads with low-fat mayonnaise.
  • Add vegetables to your sandwich whenever possible – spinach, tomatoes, peppers, shredded cabbage or carrots.  Pack in a separate container.  Add just before eating for a fresh taste.
  • Soup and crackers make an excellent option.
  • Pack a salad; choose a salad with pasta and vegetables.
  • Add vegetables to your lunch for crunch and nutrition such as cucumber coins, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, pea pods, radishes, peppers, spinach or romaine lettuce or zucchini sticks.
  • Pack fresh fruits including, but not limited to a banana, orange, plum, nectarine, pear, peach, apple, clementine, kiwi, grapes or grapefruit.  Canned fruit packed in juice or very light syrup is great for lunch too.
  • Pack applesauce; sprinkle with cinnamon for a change.
  • Pack last night’s leftovers.
  • Balance out your lunch with a dairy option of skim milk, low-fat yogurt, pudding, or string cheese.


  • Top your favorite luncheon meat with well-drained coleslaw instead of lettuce for a new taste and texture sensation.
  • Add zest to a cold roast beef or pork sandwich by combining a little horse radish and chopped green onion with plain, low-fat mayonnaise before spreading it on your bread.
  • Add character to your “brown bag” sandwiches by punching out various shapes (hearts, animals, etc.) in bread with cookie cutters.
  • Pack halves of two different kinds of sandwiches for variety.
  • Try a variety of peanut butter sandwiches.  What about peanut butter and tomato? (It’s one of my husband’s favorite summertime sandwiches.)  Use peanut-butter mix-ins.  Try finely chopped apple and shredded mild cheese; applesauce, raisins and a dash of cinnamon; or drained crushed pineapple and shredded coconut.
  • Be innovative.  Who says you have to take a sandwich?  What about leftover pizza or casserole that can be reheated?, soups or stews?, a large garden salad with lots of vegetables?, or a couple of mini muffins, skim milk and a piece of fruit?
  • Treat yourself to a low-fat cookie or sweet for dessert.  Try oatmeal-applesauce cookies, fig bars, or pumpkin cupcakes.  Choose baked goods that contain less sugar, fat and sodium.

Food Safe:

  • Use clean utensils when preparing food.
  • Remember the golden rule . . . Keep hot foods HOT (with a high-quality thermos) and cold food COLD (use an insulated carrier).
  • When there’s no refrigeration to store lunch, keep lunches safe and cool by freezing overnight, or include an ice-or-freeze pack insert in the bag, add a box of frozen fruit juice or freeze the sandwich bread and filling.
  • Clean your food carrier often.

With a little imagination you can take the “boring” out of brown bag lunches.  An interesting, satisfying lunch goes a long way!

Writer:  Cindy Shuster, CFLE, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension, Perry County or http://perry.osu.edu.

Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension, Ross & Vinton Counties, http://ross.osu.edu.


Better Ways to Brown Bag It, The Thomas J. Lipton Company.

Brown Bag Lunches for Healthy Children, OSU Extension by Kathryn K. Chenoweth, Marietta, Ohio.

Brown Baggin’ The HeartFest Way, American Heart Association 1993.

Lunches to Go, Roman Meal Company.

Right From the Start – ABC’s of Good Nutrition For Young Children, Food Marketing Institute, 1750 K Street, NW, Washington, DC  20006-2394.

$martFood™, Nutrition Matters, Volume 6, Issue 8, August 2002.

What’s to Eat?  Healthy Food Hungry Children, U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Wrap it, Bag it, Dow Consumer Products, Inc.

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