Sunday, September 17, 2006

Smart Lunches

With kids finally back in school and work routines returning to normal, the daily task of packing up lunches can be both time consuming and frustrating. Enter Schneider's new back-to-school "Smart Lunch" campaign. Launched in the traditional media and on the web at, the campaign promises parents they can feel good about giving their kids, "Convenient nutritious meals that make lunch preparation easy for busy Moms and Dads." The website is even linked to Canada's Food Guide for Healthy Living to assure parents what a great job they're doing for their kids by buying over-packaged, over-priced, pre-portioned food.

A couple of years ago when the first generation of portioned lunches, "Lunchables" was introduced, I did a pricing comparison. I purchased the same items, both in bulk and in pre-portioned packages, and then did the math. The pre-packaged lunch costs $ 5.58 per day, or a total of $ 27.90 per week. The pack-your-own lunch cost only $ 2.52 per day, or $ 12.60 for the week. This translated into a net saving of # 3.06 per day, or $ 15.30 per week, per child.

And then there is the packaging. In total, packaging makes up 25 percent of our garbage by weight and 30 percent by volume, and adds unnecessary dollars to the family grocery bill, to say nothing of the school board's budget. I was surprised to discover that this is the primary reason why more and more school boards are encouraging parents to send their kids to school with garbageless lunches.

"The biggest reason to promote litterless lunches is that schools have to pay to have their garbage removed. Reducing waste disposal costs means that money can be spent elsewhere in the schools," said Cathy Abraham, a trustee with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

"There's also the question of litter and the pests that they can attract, particularly in the school yard. This can possibly be life-threatening for children with bee and wasp allergies." Uneaten fruit and organic waste such as apple cores and banana peels that are dumped in the school garbage can become an insect hazard especially in the fall when wasps are attracted in large numbers.

Judy Gould is the Waste and Energy Officer for the Durham District School Board. She points out that waste audits done at Durham area schools consistently demonstrate that a significant amount of school garbage is made up of unopened prepackaged foods, uneaten fruit, full juice boxes, etc. As part of its EcoSchool Program, the Durham Board is encouraging all schools to reduce their waste by promoting either a waste-free or boomerang lunch system.

"A waste-free or litterless lunch produces no garbage through the use of reusable and recyclable container," said Gould. "A boomerang lunch means that any uneaten food and any waste material produced as a result of a lunch coming to school is returned home. Any food items are returned home in a resealable container so that lunch bags, backpacks and lockers remain clean. Both lunch programs ensure that there is no food garbage generated at the school."

"When students take this home, it reduces this waste and also allows parents to observe what the student has and has not eaten for lunch," said Gould. She suggests that children be encouraged to take their organic wastes home and add them to the family compost heap.

Last, but certainly not least, is the environmental ethic that we pass on to our kids when we act responsibly. Jean Marchard is the principal at Dr. G. J. MacGillivray Public School in Courtice, Ontario. He says that promoting garbageless lunches sets a good example for our children.

"Teaching the students about conservation and environmental issues has an impact," said Marchard, "But not as great an impact as modeling the behaviour."

To help you save money, protect the environment and set a good example for your kids, here are a few suggestions:

* Buy foods in bulk and portion into smaller containers.
* Re-use margarine tubs and other food containers or purchase inexpensive reusable ones.
* Label food containers and lunch bags to make they are brought home again. (Use favourite stickers for younger children)
* Freeze refilled water bottles and place in lunches to keep everything cool. The water will be thawed by lunchtime and perishable food will be kept fresh. (Note: only fill the bottle 3/4 full to allow for expansion when water freezes.)
* Create a reward system to encourage kids to return containers back home.
* Purchase inexpensive cloth napkins at the dollar store. Have your child pick out a favourite colour or pattern.
* Helping kids to pack up their own lunches the night before can help eliminate stress in the morning and encourage children to take responsibility for themselves.
* Packing up lunches isn't just for kids. Adults can benefit from better nutrition, lower food costs and time saved by not having to run to the local fast food restaurant to grab a quick bite.


Smart? I don't think so. Check out

You could skip the advertising and go directly to Health Canada's website and follow the links to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Living.


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