i guess we all know the struggles when it comes to packing up food for work, uni or even a picnic in the park, especially when it comes to zero-waste. right now i’m doing an internship, before that i was travelling a lot and prior to that i was at uni everyday 9-5. in all of these situations it can be quite challenging to find a good way to enjoy healthy meals during stressful and busy days. in addition to all that there is such a thing as ‘comfort food’, that doesn’t only apply for food which might be heavy and not very healthy but also applies for situations when you could have easily brought your own but due to a tight schedule, you just go and grab that pizza or pad thai from the cheap asian place across the street from your office or uni.
well, as said earlier – i guess we’ve all been there. it’s also important to find the right balance between eating out with colleagues and bringing your own breakfast and lunch BUT, and here’s the but, it is generally better for many reasons to always bring your own. it’s better for the environment if you stick to reusable containers and bottles. it’s also better for your wallet because it is MUCH cheaper to go grocery shopping once or even a couple times a week and using these ingredients throughout the entire week rather than spending quite a bit of money on restaurants and cafeterias every single day.
one of the most important reasons of all is that preparing and cooking your own meals, packing them up and bringing them to work lets you be in a position where you know exactly what you are eating, how much you are eating and also where you are eating it. to sum this up, you’re much more flexible and don’t have to go to the same old cafeteria every single day of the week. when it’s sunny and warm outside you could grab your lunch and get some vitamin D while your co-workers or colleagues at university stay inside most of the day. when packing your breakfast too you could even go as far as eating it while commuting to work or uni. notice the difference?
for me it’s also valuable to know what exactly i’m eating in order to make sure my food is not contaminated with gluten, additives, flavoring, chemicals, preservatives, GMO’s, refined sugar, or excessive amounts of salt. by now you should know what i’m talking about. another great plus when bringing your own food along wherever you go is that you can choose to eat organic. when you’re out and about and you just have to fit in your lunch somewhere between meetings and work tasks, i’m quite positive you won’t find any good organic options unless you work for an awesome company who chooses to have organic food in the company’s cafeteria.
well, anyways i hope you see where i’m coming from. packing your own food and bringing it to work or school has so many benefits that i can’t even really come up with any disadvantages besides cleaning your food containers every night (unless you have a dishwasher 😉 ) or not knowing the right tips and techniques on how to pack for a zero-waste breakfast and lunch. but that’s where i’m jumping in and telling you all the secret hints and hacks about bringing your own food!
#1 get good air-tight containers
and get them right away so you don’t need to go through all the leaking containers and washing your backpacks multiple times. i don’t work with any of these brands but i do recommend to use weck glass containers simply because of the fact i use them every single day and i absolutely love them! they are quite heavy and bulky though and probably rather made for fermenting veggies at home or storing your homemade jams in them. however if you don’t have to commute very far or if you get to bring multiple containers at once and store them in the fridge in your office – they are definitely worth to consider. if you’re in the US then you might not find these but i’ve also heard really good things about ball mason jars as well. of course there are tons of other companies that offer and sell good solutions to pack food to go but i have not yet bought any of these. some of them include lunchbots food boxes, klean kanteen food canisters, and hydro flask food containers. i might wanna get one of these for the summer soon so if you have any experience with either one, drop me a comment down below. thanks!
in terms of material i would try to focus on stainless steel containers since they are easy to clean, very lightweight and convenient to take with you. glass works for me because my commute to work consists of literally three minutes of walking but that might not work for everybody else.
#2 get a reusable water bottle
and fill it with water and water only. water nourishes you the most, hydrates whenever you need it and is clearly the best liquid you can give your body at any time (except if you just ran a full marathon and you’re dehydrated, then stick to coconut water). but in most cases – it’s water, water, water, and even more water. we’re so lucky to live in a part of the world where we have (as of now) enough pure and clean water to hydrate our bodies so go and make use of it! by the way, it’s also the cheapest option out there – this is especially for all the people telling me that healthy products and things are usually much more pricey :p
#3 think about menus
if you think about breakfast and lunch ideas that you like and that you could easily pack up, it makes the entire process of bringing your own food and aligning it with the zero-waste concept much easier. think about wraps, vegetable salads, couscous/quinoa/bulgur salads, vegetable sushi rolls, soups, smoothies, pasta salads, sandwiches, fruit salad, knäckebröd with hummus or dips, porridge and overnight oats, veggie sticks with nut butter, healthy muffins, yoghurt with granola and fruit.. there are endless options out there, you only need to go shopping and do some prepping.
#4 go shopping
number 4 should be make a list and then number 5 would be go shopping but i decided to put it all under one point. so first you make a plan for the meals of the week. if you’re vegan that’s quite easy cause you mostly end up buying 80% of fresh fruit and veggies anyways and you always have a few grains and legumes at home so it’s easy to come up with meals even if you don’t have a set plan. but in general, especially in the beginning, it’s very beneficial to have some sort of grocery list. next step is to actually go and get all groceries – easy if you know what exactly you need to get.
#5 do some meal prepping
save yourself some valuable time during the weekdays and do a proper meal prep on sunday night. this will make it a lot easier during the week and you can spend the free hours relaxing or exercising. i usually try to cook for one or two days ahead of time, so on sunday i would prep for monday breakfast and lunch and tuesday breakfast and lunch. sometimes i even do dinner for these days on sunday already which is awesome as i get to come home to a home cooked meal and don’t even need to do anything for that. on tuesday or wednesday, depending how it goes with leftovers and such, i do another meal prep for thursday and friday.
#6 use & pack real cutlery
this makes such a difference in the zero-waste world. you don’t only to good for the environment by saving tons and tons of plastic forks and spoons, it’s also much more authentic to eat with actual, real cutlery. believe me, you will like it once you start doing it. there are great options out there – from reusable bamboo cutlery, many different versions of to-go-ware, or simply just bringing your own cutlery from home.
#7 find a reusable lunch bag
instead of bringing lunch in plastic bags or brown paper bags that you will throw out every day right after unpacking your breakfast or lunch, go and find a fabric one that you will reuse. you can easily wash it and it will last you a life-time!
#8 pack multiple containers
this is important in order for you to keep going with bringing zero-waste lunches to work or school. if you bring a salad, you want to make sure you pack the dressing in a separate container so the salad stays fresh and crispy until your lunch break. also when bringing yogurt, granola and fruit as breakfast – separate the granola from the yogurt and if needed, also the fruit. mix it altogether when you’re ready to eat breakfast and it will be just as good as if you would devour it back home!
#9 use bee wrap or fabric bags
uuh, what? bee wrap? yep, bee wrap. never heard of it? well it’s about time i’d say. it’s such a versatile thing, you could literally use it for everything. with bee wrap you can wrap cheese, half a lemon, a crusty loaf of bread, and fruits & vegetables. but you could also cover a bowl, or pack a snack for your work or your next adventure. it’s made with organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. no kidding, it’s not only reusable, it’s even compostable so this goes far beyond zero-waste! amazing, isn’t it?
same goes for fabric bags – you can use them to bring nuts, seeds, toppings for your yogurt, crackers, bread – pretty much anything i guess?
#10 be creative & think zero-waste
this one is so, so, so endlessly important. as long as you are and stay creative in the way you do things, you will succeed. meaning that if you really want to bring food zero-waste, there is definitely a way to do it. sometimes this means carrying more weight in your backpack, other times this means bringing home scraps to compost it back home. make sure to always think about your options before you choose to grab that plastic fork or throw away your four napkins, three of them which you didn’t even use.
i hope this really helps a little and gives you an idea of how you could create a zero-waste breakfast and lunch situation. i’m planning on actually giving you more meal ideas which you can easily take to-go for work or uni – would that be of personal interest to you? let me know in the comments below and i’ll make sure to get to it as soon as possible. until then, enjoy some vitamin D during your lunch break 😉