A Waste-Free Lunch Will Save You Money!

By blog team member Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page.

Do you take your lunch to work? Pack lunches for your kids? If so, you’re off to a good start and should pat yourself on the back! That is obviously a great way to keep the food “real,” but let’s take things a step further and look at what you’re packing all that wholesome real food in. We’re going to show you why a waste-free lunch with reusable containers makes sense instead of disposable bags or other single-use lunch items out there.

A Waste-Free Lunch Will Save You Money! on 100 Days of Real Food

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Lunch packed in containers by UKonserve. Save 25% off your purchase with code 100DAYS.

Sponsor Shoutout: MY ECO Bags

Being waste-free can go far beyond just packed lunches. In fact, most people probably already have some reusable grocery bags in their life, but I bet they aren’t quite as nifty as our all-time favorites – MY ECO Bags! Lisa made a quick video to show you exactly why we like them so much and how easy they are to use. 

Why Choose Reusables

Prepackaged products and disposable bags are convenient – we get it. But using paper and plastic adds up both cost-wise, and garbage-wise. In fact, I’ve compiled some data which illustrates these facts further.
Here are some reasons to choose reusable:Reusable lunches will save you money on 100 Days of Real Food

  • Glass tastes good. Have you tried it? Drinking water out of a glass bottle is so much better than plastic. Plus, San Francisco recently banned plastic water bottles. What city will be next? Beat them to it by going for glass already.
  • Make room for a better metal. The EPA reports that in 2013, the US discarded about 2.8 million tons of aluminum. If you’ve been favoring foil, you may want to make the switch to a long-lasting stainless steel lunch box instead.
  • Cut it cleaner. It’s no secret that plastic cutlery can negatively affect the environment by impacting natural resources and landfills. Plus, we have to admit, they aren’t always the easiest to use.
  • Don’t skip the sandwich. Just package it differently. Every day, over 20,000,000 sandwich bags from school lunches are thrown away. Seriously!
  • Paper napkins are a no-no. Every year, enough paper (including paper bags, napkins, and other disposable lunch gear) is thrown away to make a 12-foot high wall stretching from New York to California. Cloth napkins are cute, cost-effective, and can be used for years!

Reusable Lunch Containers Save You Money

To further illustrate the reasons why we prefer a waste-free lunch, I did a cost comparison of two different lunches. Let me preface by saying we understand there is an initial up-front cost for some of the products needed to pack a waste-free lunch. Let me also say I’ve had some of our reusable containers for 4 – 5 years now. So yes, you can amortize the costs of the products over a good amount of time.
Also, let’s not forget that we need to be conscious of taking care of our environment. It’s another large factor that needs to be considered. Can we even put a value on that cost?

The homemade lunch** vs. The packaged lunch  
Apple $0.79 Pre-cut apple slices + Ziploc baggie $0.83
Yogurt (8 oz in reusable container) $0.99 Yogurt (in disposable container) $1.19
Water $0.00 Water bottle $0.56
Carrots (in reusable container) $0.40 Carrots + Ziploc baggie $0.44
Bar (homemade)* $0.36 Packaged bar $1.19
Nut butter sandwich $1.56 Sandwich + Ziploc baggie $1.60
Napkin (reusable) $0.00 Paper disposable napkin $0.01
Lunch bag (reusable) $0.00 Brown paper bag $0.04
Total: $4.10 Total: $5.86

*Homemade bar recipe
**After the upfront cost of reusable containers. We used the following products to pack this lunch: Funkins reusable napkins, lunchbox from Land’s End, and box and container from UKonserve. 

The Bottom Line

I know you may be thinking – so what? $1.76  difference? What’s the big deal? Well, let’s add that up. 180 school days times $1.76 is $317. Now I don’t know about you, but I can think of PLENTY of things to do with $317! I’d love to hear your comments below.

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25 thoughts on “A Waste-Free Lunch Will Save You Money!”

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  1. I pack lunches for myself and love my lunchbots boxes and my S’well bottles but I do wonder sometimes if the water and soap I use to wash them is that much better for the environment.

  2. The MyEco bags are cute, but I strongly prefer to use washable canvas bags. Re-usable bags have been found to be really dirty in a bunch of different studies and most people don’t wash them regularly. Canvas bags can go right into the washing machine on a high temperature with soap.

  3. Kerry McCaffery

    I live in Australia and would love to be able to purchase the MY ECO bag system, but it doesn’t seem to be available unless I want to pay $60 through eBay (half the cost is for postage). Do you have any suggestions as to how I could get some?

  4. My son came home from school after a lunch presentation wanting a cloth napkin, so I dug out our old cloth baby wipes to use. Baby washcloths are the perfect size for a kids lunch napkin! It’s REDUCING waste and REUSING old things by RETHINKING their purpose! We were both happy with that!

  5. Thanks for all of these great tips – I think reusable lunch containers are so important considering it is a part of our daily routine all year! With minimal sewing skills, kid-size cloth napkins are easy to make, too! My kids enjoy helping picking out fabric in their favorite colors or with their favorite characters. I’ve also had great luck with the Reduce Water Week water bottles for school lunch. They are plastic versus glass and not insulated, but they are a great size for kids and I’ve found that I am using enough ice packs for the other lunch items that it hasn’t been an issue that they are not insulated. What glass water bottles do you recommend for school lunch use?

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Hi Kristin,
      I personally love the LifeFactory water bottles. My kids all use them and love them. The bonus is that they are really easy to clean! HTH.

  6. I love the “bento box” style but the don’t fit in my kids lunch bags with a water bottle. Any recommendations on bags/boxes to carry the containers and a water bottle in?

  7. What are some alternatives for ziploc bags- the ones I have are very difficult to clean- they are almost “cloth” in the inside.

  8. Hi,

    Am looking for good grade stainless steel gill for outdoors,do you have any suggestions?

    I am looking for one which not react with food and resist free.

  9. I ordered from the UKonServe site to get my 25% off… thank you so much. My order was over $50 so I got free shipping too.
    I also ordered the Eco Bags, but they were the same price on Amazon even without a code, and since I’m an Amazon Prime member I got free shipping so had to go with them… but thanks for the heads up!!
    Some great ideas here. Our kids are grown, but we both pack lunches, so this will work for us too!

  10. While I agree in theory, what’s been neglected from this article is the cost of water and soap for washing reusable containers and cloth napkins. It may add just a few pennies, nickels or dimes, I don’t know how much, but I think it should be factored.

    1. I was thinking that it should show a cost per use for the reusable items, because they do have a cost and they will wear out/break.

    2. I was thinking the same thing, here in California we are in a serious drought so it’s difficult on which area to be the most “green” in, whether it’s less plastic or less washing.

  11. I can highly, highly, recommend Planet Boxes. True, the upfront cost is a bit steep but they are so well made I’m sure my daughter’s will last years. It also reduces the time it takes make lunch and at the end of the day it is one thing to go in the dishwasher, not lots of little boxes like before. I bought a pack of white cotton napkins from Marshalls and she had great fun tie dying them and the crazy random patterns mean they don’t show any stains.

  12. Hi Kiran,

    Are the ECO bags easily washable? They look cute and functional, but I’m paranoid about putting meats in reusable bags. I usually have them bagged in plastic even when I remember to bring my own bags. Thanks!


    P.S. Just starting to learn about this real food stuff. Your site is SO helpful! Thank you!

    1. Hi Sandy,

      Yes … they are very easy to wipe down. I’ve had mine for years and LOVE them. And I’m glad that you are here and finding the site helpful!! :)


  13. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve added a few things to my wish list! Is there a napkin brand you recommend that won’t curl after washing and carries less loud patterns, say for a cute basket on the dining room table? TIA!

    1. HI Chelsea,
      I use MyFunkins.com and they have held up really well. There are some patterns that are louder than others, but right now they are all 70% off. HTH!

    2. I bought cloth napkins from my local Goodwill. At $2 or less for a set of 4, they’ve been one of the most economical purchases I’ve ever made!