How to Pack a Zero Waste Lunch
Zero Waste Kitchen
April 12, 2016 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on April 3, 2020
I pack my lunch almost every day for work. Not only is it economical, it’s also a really easy way to prevent waste. I store plates and flatware at work. We have a fridge where I can keep things cold, but I typically don’t find it necessary.
I have a large lunch sack I bring. It houses breakfast, lunch, snacks, and normal things like my wallet and phone. I like to make really simple food with loads of fresh ingredients. In the morning I typically have 10 minutes to make/pack everything for work.
I roughly abide by two salads, two sandwiches, one leftovers. I’m sure at some point in the week we’ll have leftovers.
Neither Justin nor I are crazy about eating the same meal multiple days in a row. We try to make portions just right for one meal. If you love leftovers, I’d double dinner and eat it for lunch.
Occasionally, I’ll really mix things up with some soup and a side salad. I double soup when I make it and freeze it in 16oz mason jars in the fridge.
If I’m ever in a huge hurry, I can grab one of those out of the freezer. It will be thawed enough to pop in the microwave by lunch.
my favorite work meals:
Taco Salad: We love to make nachos. I tend to double the toppings and use them in a salad the next day.
It’s typically a mix of pinto or black beans, fresh tomato, roasted red peppers, onions, jalepenos, olives, and corn. All of this assumes the ingredients are in season.
I crumble tortilla chips on top, toss with fresh salsa, and add avocado. Sometimes Justin adds chicken or ground beef to his or we might indulge in a drizzle of cheese dip.
Caesar Salad: This is as basic as basic comes. I cut a piece of my homemade sourdough loaf into cubes and toast in the toaster for 10 minutes.
I buy the caesar dressing in glass bottles, but I’m interested in making it homemade with lacto-fermented mayo. Justin will add chicken to his. And, occasionally we’ll make wraps with it.
Green Goddess Salad: Cucumbers, red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes with an avocado, cilantro, olive oil, and lime dressing.
Simple Citrus Salad: Oranges and pumpkin seeds with a citrus vinaigrette.
How To Carry It: I like to carry the salad and toppings in a 32oz mason jar and the dressing in a smaller 4oz jar. I don’t like eating out of the jar.
It’s hard to get everything equally dispersed, so I move it to a plate or a bowl. If Justin and I are sharing, I’ll put the salad in a large snapware so we can easily eat out of it without dirtying another dish.
- Tomato Soup: Great for the summer. It’s a combination of my tomato sauce recipe and veggie stock.
- Roasted Red Pepper Soup: Perfect for fall.
- Broccoli and Cheese: My pick for winter.
- Butternut squash and beet: Perfect for early spring. I roasted the beets and squash, blended with a little veggie stock, added spices, and the juice of several freshly squeezed lemons.
How To Carry It: I bring side salads in a tiffin or a 16oz mason jar. I also keep the soup in a 16oz mason jar for easy transit. I’ll wrap the bread in a cloth napkin or use one of the levels of the tiffin.
- PB&J: This is my favorite sandwich.
- Turkey: Justin’s favorite sandwich.
We could probably both live off of sandwiches. I get my peanut butter in bulk from whole foods or rainbow.
I’ve been eating some plum jam that my cousin canned which is AMAZING, but I’m almost out. Thankfully, strawberry season is almost here, so I can make some soon.
I buy turkey in bulk from the butcher. I get cheese from the goat man at the farmers market.
I had chatted with him about all of his goats before. (I love goats!) His cheese is packaged in plastic, so I hadn’t bought any.
One day I worked up the courage to ask him about bringing a mason jar. Come to find out he has some, I just had to ask! Then we load the sandwich up with the usual fixings lettuce and tomato.
How To Carry It: I typically tie my sandwiches up in a baby bindle with napkins. If it will fit in the tiffin, I’ll carry it in there too.
- Seasonal Fruit: Apples, oranges, berries
- Pretzels: Bought in bulk
- Cheddar Whales: Bought in bulk
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Dried Fruit: Raisins, mango
- Homemade Hummus
- Energy Bites
We typically pack two sides to go with any lunch meal. I like to keep most of these things on hand; because they double as snacks during the week. Most of them have a pretty long shelf life.
How To Carry It: I typically carry snacks on one of the tiffin tiers or in a mason jar.
Almost all the meals here are very simple. I think food should be easy, simple, and fresh. It’s also really easy to appease both Justin and me in our interdietary relationship.
With just a few simple tools, most of which you probably have, you can keep lunch zero waste!
Hi, Kath! I found you on IG, I love the work you do and your warm personality. Say, I saw yo say you work from mon to fri 9-5 and you write on your blog! I try to do the same but I just cant manage my times. I supposedly get out at 5 from office but here in México they dont allow you to leave until 6:30. I get home so tired. How do you do it?? Id appreciate a lot any advice you can share with me. 🙂
Yikes. I’d probably be pretty tired if I got off work at 6:30 too. I typically write on the weekend, and take pictures as soon as I get home from work. It’s all about finding a good schedule. Hopefully you can get into a rhythm soon!
Tell me about the tortilla chips. Are you able to buy them in bulk, or do you make your tortillas and them bake them into chips?
Making tortillas is my least favorite thing in the world. Seriously. Go read my post about personal sustainability, I rant and rave. 😉 I buy the chips and tortillas from the tortialleria around the corner in my cloth bags. Before I knew the tortialleria was there, I bought them at the local Mexican Restaurant also in my cloth bags. I leave tortillas to the pros.
I have started to really look forward to your blog ideas. It’s really great work. I love your topics and am starting to realise so many ways that I can stop wasting things in my life.
I have recently just started a blog and I love learning off your ideas. It’s very inspiring how you can work full time and keep the blogs up. I hope I can do that too ?
Keep up the great work.
Many thanks Zoe
We are organizing an office outing and would like to make it zero waste. A big question is how to do lunch for 12?
Thanks for sharing! I’ve tried out mason jars before and I agree – they are tough to eat out of. I will have to empty the contents into a bowl next time. Good tip!
Hey, Kathryn! Do you use affiliate marketing? I want to buy the tiffin container set with your code if you do!