How should I pack my lunch?
February 13, 2005 11:49 PM   Subscribe

I work a standard full-time job. How do I keep the amount of rubbish generated from lunch down to something I'm not ashamed of? [Would you like to know more?]

If I put my lunch together in the staff lunchroom rather than going out for lunch, I typically have one of two things: Noodles or salad. I am not attached to the noodles, they're just very convenient. Noodles involve a Styrofoam cup, wrapped in plastic -- with two separate plastic flavour packs inside. I usually add tuna either from a foil pouch or a small tin. Lately I've been adding a single-wrapped processed meat stick. Salad involves a pre-prepared salad mix in a plastic bag with as many as three plastic bags inside (eg; dressing, croutons and bacon for caesar salad) plus a range of other items including tuna again, fetta (six serves to a jar), a separate single-serve dressing if it doesn't come with the salad and a range of items such as mushrooms or sun dried tomato strips all in jars that are also thrown out.

Lunch room facilities are minimal. There's no cutting board for example. I have limited time and I don't want to have to bring in something every morning. I have a small fridge in my office and I have at least got my drinks down from a 24-pack of Pepsi to filtered water (I have my own filter) that re-uses the same bottle.

I use a snap-lock (zip-lock) bag to keep the salad going after it's been opened. I can get about 1.5 serves from something labelled "serves two". If I put lettuce directly into the snap-lock bag it gets icky quickly. Normally I keep the pre-prepared salad in its original bag and put that in the snap-lock. This way the snap-lock bag lasts for weeks before it shows any sign of ick.
posted by krisjohn to Food & Drink (9 answers total)
How about a multi-compartment bento box for the salad ingredients, rather than individual jars? You can find covered plastic ones which can be brought home, washed, and re-used rather than throwing anything away.
posted by Danelope at 12:11 AM on February 14, 2005

You could replace the processed meat stick in your noodles with an egg. It goes very well with noodles, and you'd only have a single carton to toss after six or twelve meals. You could easily keep a small bottle of dressing instead of dealing with single-serve pouches as well, it should last for more than a week.

Also, try using organic vegetables double-sealed. They last longer anyhow, and if you use a snap-lock bag inside of a reusable tupperware style container, vegetables should last a fair amount of time. Make sure to "burp" out all the air from the bag first.

You can also make a few sandwiches at home for the week and wrap them in plastic. Alternatively, many grocery stores and convenience stores offer pre-made sandwiches wrapped in plastic which usually have a shelf life of at least one week.

You also sound fond of tuna. A fair size tin of tuna with crackers can make for a great light meal, especially with a bit of hot sauce on top. The crackers only generate one recyclable box and a single plastic pouch for what could easily last three or four meals, and a bottle of hot sauce should last you well over a month.

In any case, I wish you luck in your endeavors. I produce a shameful amount of garbage as well, and it's inspiring to see someone try to reduce how much they go through.
posted by Saydur at 12:15 AM on February 14, 2005

Response by poster: Does anyone have any details on the environmental impacts of dishwashing vs just throwing away a disposable cup? I can't choose the detergent, so I have to assume it's the cheapest and nastiest on the market.

Danelope: The trick is getting anything to last if it doesn't come in (and stay in) a well sealed jar. I'll see what I have in the way of small containers that seal well. Thanks.

Saydur: Are you suggesting I hard-boil half a dozen eggs at home and bring them in? How long does a hard-boiled egg last before it goes rotten? I would have thought even a day would be pushing it. I don't have the facilities to do anything with eggs at work.

I use tuna as a convenient source of meat. I'd love to see some properly prepared jerky-style meats that can survive without refrigeration, but that seems to be a lost art.

In amongst this all I'd like to go low-carb, hence the not being particularly attached to noodles. So crackers and sandwiches are sort of the wrong direction. Sorry, I should have included that in the first post.

The trick seems to be balancing the ratio of packaging to food while not buying so much that some gets wasted. Adding to the problem is that I'm not always able to control what lunch is going to be. If I open anything that only lasts the same number of days it has serves, there's a good chance I'll have to throw it out before I've finished it.

Thanks again, and keep those suggestions coming.
posted by krisjohn at 12:33 AM on February 14, 2005

Hard boiled eggs will last up to a week if kept refrigerated in their shells.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:44 AM on February 14, 2005

Well, I'd put it on raw, but I definitely would understand your hesitation at that. Preview- Thanks hout soup girl, that works well too.

Going low carb with little to no preparation facilities or time can be really difficult. However, I can tell you that in the southern US, they have the art of long-lasting meat mastered. Hunt your own deer, and if you don't know someone who does meat smoking and jerking, there's a store for it somewhere in town. The jerky lasts unrefrigerated for weeks. I don't know how easy that would be in Australia though. Of course, that all depends on your willingness to hunt, or knowing someone who'd sell you the meat. Probably not a viable suggestion.

However, it wouldn't be hard to bring in a small washable plastic chopping board for cutting veggies, would it? If space is any concern, you could probably even store it in your office fridge.
posted by Saydur at 12:58 AM on February 14, 2005

Does anyone have any details on the environmental impacts of dishwashing vs just throwing away a disposable cup? I can't choose the detergent, so I have to assume it's the cheapest and nastiest on the market.

I don't have statistics, but in general washing a reusable item is considered far preferable to generating more garbage. If you're concerned about the detergent, you could always bring your own (or take your containers back home with you to wash them).
posted by jjg at 1:59 AM on February 14, 2005

Best answer: I don't know your level of cooking ability or time to do so, but if you have access to a microwave you can take in pre-made meals from home, keep them in your fridge in any one of the various brands of reusable containers and zap them at lunch time. No waste whatsoever! I am away from home every day for classes and I have a Ziploc container divided into three compartments that neatly fits my lunch entree, dressing/topping and a morning snack. It isn't a burden to take in my back pack, so I think something similar could fit in a briefcase or whataver you take to work with you.

The very easiest thing to do would be make a little extra when you're cooking dinner so you purposefully generate leftovers. Then you have complete control over carbs. This doesn't mean you have to eat the exact meal three times, it means you generate enough or the base ingredients (rice, cooked meat, stir-fry, veggies, pasta, etc.) so you have the basis for another meal without having to cook again. This is something my mother taught me to do and I think it's a lost art. An example would be you could make up lots of ground hamburger or grilled chicken, take in a tortilla and rice/veggies/etc and wrap them all together (heat it up if you wanted, although I'd reccomend pre-cooked veggies in this case if all you have is a microwave).

If you don't mind eating "true" leftovers you can take enough of a main dish for a couple servings in with you on a Monday, keep a plate/bowl and silverware in your office, and dole out some each day from your fridge.

It isn't hard to buy veggies and keep salad ingredients in your fridge at home: spinach, celery, green peppers, radishes, carrots, whatever. I chop up only what I need in the morning, throw it in my tupperware and off I go. If you like the caeser approach, your local bulk foods place should carry both croutons and bacon bits (this will reduce your waste from purchasing packaging) and you can keep a jar of dressing in your work fridge. Again, if you can keep your own dishes at work this will reduce waste as well!

Kudos to you for trying to cut down your waste, it isn't impossible, it just takes some thought!
posted by nelleish at 6:18 AM on February 14, 2005

What nelleish said. Make a big low carb salad at home, bring it to work in a plastic tub, and keep the dressing at work. Add lots of protein and olives and nuts and bacon or whatever you like. I eat this for most lunches.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:02 PM on February 14, 2005

These threads on lunches weren't particularly geared towards minimizing waste, but they do have lots of great suggestions for what to pack, how to prepare ahead and how to do all of the above while keeping a budget in mind. I've bookmarked those threads and have tried out many of the great suggestions.
posted by fionab at 10:40 PM on February 14, 2005

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