Eco-friendly bento box lunches bring nutrition to the table, and reduce trash.

Take-along lunches are back in style. Packing your lunch saves money, encourages you to eat a healthy meal and can reduce waste. Lunches packed with disposable items, such as plastic baggies and yogurt containers, create an average of 67 pounds of waste per year, per person, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Eco-conscious California moms Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring created a line of reusable bento-style containers called Laptop Lunches that make packing a lunch fashionable and launched a website of useful resources, Waste-Free Lunches (

During an Earth Day activity at a Sacramento elementary school last year, Hemmert and Pelstring taught students how to reduce waste through food choices, such as buying a quart of yogurt to portion out instead of several individual containers. The children designed nutritious lunches and the following week they brought them to school in their reusable bento containers.

"The scene was exactly what Tammy and I envisioned when we came up with Laptop Lunches," said Hemmert. "We saw happy, healthy children enjoying nutritious, waste-free lunches. We had envisioned schools committed to teaching environmental stewardship and reducing waste. And there it was."

If you don't have a bento box, use reusable containers to pack a waste-free lunch.

5 Tips to Pack a Bento-Style Lunch

  • 1. Pick your container: Bento boxes come in styles for all ages. Basic reusable food-storage containers work well too.
  • 2. Get creative: Sandwiches and wraps work in a bento, but don't forget less-typical lunch fare, such as roasted tofu, rice balls or pasta salad.
  • 3. Think colorful: Typically a bento contains at least five different colors-fill yours with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • 4. Pack efficiently: Pack foods in small containers to control portion size and use reusable silicone cupcake liners or even lettuce leaves to keep foods separated.
  • 5. Keep it cool: Refrigerate or pack the box in an insulated lunchbox with a freezer pack.

March/April 2009