Packing Disposable-Free Kids Lunches – Including Fruit Cups

2 Disposable-Free Kids Lunches

2 Disposable-Free Kids Lunches

When our kids started attending daycare a few years ago, they needed a lunch packed for them every day, and so started our daily need to pack lunches for two children.  At first, as for many people,  this meant the daily use and disposal of items like fruit cups, juice pouches or boxes, sandwich bags, paper or plastic cups, napkins, etc…

In retrospect, in the daycare days I had it easy because they provided the kids with morning snack and drinks.  Of course, they still used the disposable cups and paper towels and napkins. (By the time our children started kindergarten our daycare had started using completely reusable dishes, silverware and cups, but that’s for a different post.)  Now that our twins are in elementary school, I have to pack lunch and snack, and the school does not provide them with anything (unless they buy lunch).   While this more work for me, it also provides more chances to skip the disposable stuff.

While we occasionally fall back to the the stand-by of a one time use juice pouch (which we upcycle through TerraCycle) or juice box (which we recycle through our city’s single stream recycling) we try to use as few disposable items as possible. Our kids even collect the juice pouches and boxes from their classmates, bringing them home to recycle them. (We provide them with ziptop bags that we wash and reuse to carry the containers home.  Note, the zipper style work best for young kids enabling them to close it reliably and avoid leaks.)

Today, I sent them to school with a completely reusable lunch and snack consisting of:


  • Pasta (with spaghetti sauce for one, olive oil and Parmesan cheese for the other)
  • Fruit Cups
  • Milk


  • Carrots
  • Water for one, Lemonade for the other

Two tricks to packing a disposable-free lunch that I used today are Jars of Fruit and Contigo AutoSeal Kids Cups.

fruit jars and small cups

Fruit from jars for
custom fruit cups

Fruit cups have always been a favorite of my kids, and we used to buy flats of them and send them in every day.  We eventually trained their teachers to let them bring home the empty cups for reusing or recycling, but that still felt wasteful.  We avoided making our own fruit cups for quite a while because of concerns surrounding BPA in the can linings. We tried, but we just don’t have time to be cutting up and preparing fresh fruit every day.   Then we discovered jarred fruit at our local store.  Now we can make up our own fruit cups in a cost & time effective easy way, that is BPA free.  Today’s fruit cup included peaches and mandarin oranges.

Contigo AutoSeal Kids Cups

Contigo AutoSeal Kids Cups

Contigo AutoSeal Kids Cups have been wonderful and deserve their own post.  For a while we were reusing milk containers with screw cap lids that we picked up on road trips. We would run them through the dishwasher and put fresh milk in them.  Unfortunately, we had a few too many milk leaks in the back packs, so we had gone back to juice boxes & pouches.  Because we really felt that single use containers (even if they are recycled or Terracycled) are wasteful – and expensive – we bought a pair of Contigo autoseal kids cups after having a wonderful experience with their no spill travel mugs for coffee.  We got the 9oz model because they were smaller and our kids don’t need that much to drink with their lunch or snack.  We have been using them daily in their lunches for over a month with no leaks plus they are dishwasher safe.  Another tip for these (or any) kids cups, you don’t have to fill them all the way if your son or daughter isn’t drinking it all every day.

So, today was a successful disposable-free lunch packing day.  And don’t forget to include the reusable cloth napkin and silverware (if needed for something like pasta).

Happy Greening!

p.s. from Alicia – Yes, Jon really packs all the kids’ lunches and snacks in our house!


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  1. Thanks for the post! My kids are in half-day K, so I don’t have to worry about lunches yet, but I do try to send zero-waste snacks. Only problem I’m having is cheese–my kids love it, but it seems to get hard/yucky by snack time in reusable containers. I find it really needs to be wrapped, even just for those few hours. Any tips?

    You also might be interested in this article: . One of the girl scout troops in our town sponsored a zero-waste lunch day at one of the elementary schools, and they cut waste by over 6 bags of trash in a single day. Amazing–I wish other parents/schools realized how quickly all those bags and single-use packages added up!

  2. I wonder if wrapping the cheese in a small reusable cloth would help keep it fresh inside the reusable container. I’m thinking something along the lines of a small cloth napkin.

  3. We have done pretty well with milk in a reusable Thermos Foogo straw container this whole school year. Not 100% sure if it has ever leaked at all, but it also keeps the milk cold, which is great for not having a stinky mess to clean by the end of the school day.

    We also like to send English muffin sandwiches in a round plastic container repurposed from very short takeout/deli containers/etc – the perfect size.

    I’d love to figure out:
    – single servings of yogurt that won’t leak (just the packaging)
    – single servings of something like a granola bar (both the packaging and where to find the food not prepackaged… I could make my own, maybe?)

  4. In terms of keep milk cold, Contigo released an insulated kids version earlier this year. We haven’t tried it yet. We send the milk inside slightly insulated lunch box or beverage holder to help keep it cold. As summer kicks in, we’ll have to see if this is enough. We have one friend that freezes the milk with the lid off (different containers) and by lunch time it is milked and very cold.

    As for yogurt, we’ve used the small Glad (4oz) cups to send ketchup and fruit cups and they haven’t leaked. I think the key is ensuring they don’t get crushed in transport. We’ve used a bigger Ziploc versions in our own lunches for yogurt without problem.

    As for granola and cereal bars, we upcycle them through TerraCycle. They qualify for the Energy Bar brigade.

  5. Hey just curious.. it sounds like your school doesn’t recycle? Is that true? If so, don’t be embarrassed, many don’t, to my surprise!
    So on to waste-free lunches. I have 3 children – 9 yo and twins 7yo. Once you get in the habit, a zero waste lunch is very do-able. I volunteer a lot in the schools and quite a few kids bring zero-waste lunches – very encouraging. I always forget the napkin! But I think my kids use their sleeves! LOL
    As for yogurt – I have had good luck with a stainless steel container with a screw on lid. Think I got it at Target, brand is embark. You can usually put it on tight enough so it won’t open, but not so tight they can’t get it off.

  6. Hi Jon and Alicia, thanks for the info! Just wanted to let you know I’ve added you to my blogroll, please feel free to reciprocate if you feel so inclined. Tonight I’ll be posting about the DIY snack trap I made for my son. 🙂

    All the best!

    ~ Alicia O

  7. Cute bags for the carrots! 🙂 ~Stephanie

  8. Samantha R Gonzalez says

    Yes! Sometimes the internet rocks. We’ve been green for a while when it comes to lunches (contigo bottles for their waters, fun cloth napkins, sandwhich containers, thermos, and various sized screw on lids for snacks (nuts, fruit/veggies, muffins (I use a box mix, bake into mini muffins and freeze… take a few out/pack frozen and by lunch their thawed!), etc)… BUT. We still use disposable applesauce, yogurt, and fruit cups because they leak 🙁 Got on google and typed in looking for non leaking snack containers and found this! (yay) I will be trying the suggestion from the comments for Target having non leaking stainless steel containers! (hopefully smaller than a thermos (we have those/great for smoothies or soup or rice but too big for sides)

    Thanks for the article/comments! (if any one has other container suggestions for applesauce/yogurt I’d love to know)

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