Packing a No Waste Lunch (For School or Work)

Packing a No Waste Lunch (For School or Work)

Packing lunch for school or work is a necessity most of us face daily. Try these few tips to pack a No Waste lunch for a better midday meal.

When it comes to eating meals away from the house, it can be hard to keep up with your No Waste ideals. Whether you are packing a lunch to take to work or to send with your children to school, there are a few ways to keep the waste to a minimum.

And, even though a lot of students may be learning online, it sometimes helps to pack lunches anyways. They can grab them from the refrigerator when hungry if you are working. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing to make lunch. It’s just convenient for everyone.

Originally Published On: January 15, 2019

Last Updated On: August 27, 2020

The Food

Don’t Eat Out

The first, and most obvious, is don’t eat out. It can be easy and tempting to grab something from a restaurant or fast food place, especially if you don’t have a long lunch break, but don’t do it.

Think about how much waste is created when you go out to a restaurant. At best, you are at a place that uses real dishes and washes them along with their cloth napkins.

But, let’s be honest, if you only have a 30 minute or one-hour lunch break, it isn’t usually enough time to drive to a restaurant, sit down, order, eat, and drive back. This leaves you more likely to visit a fast food chain and order food to-go.

To-go food is some of the worst in regards to waste. You’ll usually have your food wrapped in some container that seems recyclable, but if it gets any food grease on it then it must be thrown in the trash. That is often in a paper bag with some napkins, plastic cutlery, and a plastic straw to go with your drink in a mixed-material cup.

Also, don’t forget how expensive it can be to eat out often. Save yourself money while also having lunch without the extra waste.

So, if eating out isn’t a great option, then what should be done for lunch?

Food in takeout containers

Use up Leftovers

When I was working in an office full-time, most of my lunches were carefully packed leftovers from dinner the night before. At that time, I was cooking for only two people, so we would make the full four-serving meal and save half for the next day.

Even though I work from home, I still eat leftovers for lunch most days. We use glass containers, so I can put it straight in the microwave without needing to dirty another plate. The same can be done at work, if you heat your food in a glass container then you don’t need a paper plate.

If you don’t usually have leftovers, then pick a meal or two to cook in a double batch the next time you make your meal plan. A few of my favorites that make plenty for leftovers and reheat well include Baked Ziti, Chili, Chicken Fried Rice, and Homemade Pizza.

Eco-Friendly Lunchbox

What you pack your lunch in can be just as important as what you bring and eat. There are many options for reusable, long-lasting lunch containers at a decent price point.

Lunch Boxes

When you choose a lunch box, make sure it’s one that will be big enough for whatever type of containers you plan to use for your food. There are a few great options available on Amazon, and they are all a little different.

Lunch Kits

A few years ago, we bought some bento box lunch kits for both of the boys. Tyler is on his 4th year of using his, and Ryan his 2nd year. At the time, we weren’t as aware of the plastic issue, and bought them plastic containers. Once these wear out, we will be replacing with stainless steel options.

There are multiple sizes and shapes available, so choose the one that will work the best for you. For younger kids, I find the ones with multiple small compartments work best to give them a variety. For older children and adults, if you typically bring a sandwich for lunch, there are boxes with larger compartments.


In addition to your lunch box and kits, there are a few accessories that you may need for your No Waste lunch. If you are putting this together for yourself at work, these are the items I recommend keeping at your desk. Use them, wash them, and leave them at work so you are never without.

Have a Backup Plan

Even the best-made plans can go awry. Have a backup plan for your lunch in case issues arise with your carefully packed No Waste meal. This is much easier if you are at an office where you can store a few things.

My backup for my son at school is to go buy the school lunch if necessary. He still gets a decent meal and they reuse the trays, so very little waste. For older students, I’d say keep a few things in their locker or backpack.

When I was working full-time, I’d always have a few snacks at the ready in my desk. Homemade granola bars or trail mix will last for a while if stored in airtight containers. I had a coworker who kept peanut butter and crackers at their desk for when she needed a snack or forgot lunch.

Your Turn

  • What are some of your tips for packing a lunch while reducing the waste you create?
  • Have you tried a bento-box style lunchbox before? Do you like it?
  • Do you have a go-to snack or food that’s not individually packaged?

More No Waste Kitchen Ideas

19 thoughts on “Packing a No Waste Lunch (For School or Work)”

  1. We always pack a lunch from home! Since I started my post pregnancy tune up I’ve been meal prepping for the entire week. So I have a bunch of neat lunch containers (I got a 50 pack on amazon) all labelled and we just have to reach in and grab one! It’s amazing.

  2. I think we do pretty well on this tbh… We try not to eat out too often and always use up our leftovers the following day (or freeze them down). And I always put my daughter’s lunch in a reusable lunchbox on the day’s she doesn’t have a school dinner, rather than wrapping it in cling film or tin foil…

  3. Ann F. Snook-Moreau

    My hubby and I often eat leftovers for our lunches and use reusable silverware/lunch bags. I do need to get better about packing sandwiches/veggies in reusable containers instead of plastic baggies, though.

  4. I always kept snacks at my desk to help me not eat out. I still ate out every other Friday with co-workers but other than that we packed our lunches. Now I work from home and I just eat salads or leftovers. Whatever sounds good or what I have prepped for the week.

  5. I love this! We try to anyways pack from home, but sometimes leftovers get left out or we just forget. Eeekkk. My go to snack is peanut butter and apples. I can keep apples in my office without it going bad because I work from home. 😉

  6. We use bento boxes at our house and I love them! We used them while we were traveling to prepack lunches too, so we didn’t have to stop for fast food! I love this whole idea of no-waste! Definitely will keep checking out your blog!

  7. This is some really great advice for making a lunch that doesnt produce a whole lot of waste. My husband doesnt “do leftovers” which is so awful and I am trying to break him of this habit!

  8. Recently I have been using beeswax wraps for my sandwiches and snacks, and they have been so useful! Also makes lunch look a lot more colourful!

  9. I have mixed feelings about the bento boxes, but YES to the rest of this! (We have had mixed results with the ones we have tried, vs. other types of compartmentalized containers.) The girls almost ALWAYS get leftovers for lunch, in washable/reusable containers, plus refillable water bottles from home. And while they do use plastic utensils for school lunches, these also come home and get rewashed/reused.

  10. I found a leakproof bento style lunchbox on amazon just before school started and honestly its been a lifesaver. my kindergartener is so messy, but its been holding up well to her roughness and everything else we’ve put it through.

  11. I always use a reusable lunch box and make sandwiches/pasta rather than buying it… but I do tend to throw in extra bits that are individually wrapped, which I need to get out of the habit of doing! Maybe being more prepared and making it the night before when I have more time would help.

  12. we’re good when it comes to no waste actually, we follow the same tips that you mentioned here, like eating leftovers or even rehashing them into something new…

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