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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Easy-To-Pack Snacks Are Frugal and Green for Families on the Go

Here's a scary statistic:  according to a study by Packaged Facts, a consumer research group, and reported in an article in the Dining section of Today's New York Times, Americans consumed $68.1 billion worth of packaged snack food in 2008. The article was actually an essay by a mother who has grown to resent the number of snacks she has to prepare for her children's extracurricular activities.

While the issue of snacks replacing meals in American diets is a big cause for concern, the amount of packaging surrounding those snacks really makes me cringe! Think about all those juice boxes and plastic straws; the mylar-like bags of potato chips and cookies; the foil pouches filled with trail mix or pretzels. How many tons of trash does that $68 million in snack money represent? How much do all those packaged snacks cost? And what kind of preservatives and non-food chemicals are used to make them?

Packaged snacks aren't frugal. They aren't green. And they may not be all that healthy.

How much extra effort is it to pack healthy snacks for kids (and busy adults) in reusable containers? I know every one is over-scheduled and always in a rush to get from school and practice to music lesson and dentist appointments.  But with just a little thought and planning, it's not that tough to put together tasty, interesting, healthful and filling snacks without creating trash.

Here are a few easy ideas:

First, make sure you have a good selection of reusable containers in lots of sizes, including those that are appropriate for drinks. Tupperware, Glad, Ziplock, Rubbermaid and other manufacturers make a huge variety of containers. Deli and take-out containers are useful too, and an inexpensive option. And look for insulated containers like the old Thermos types with screw on lids for packing hot snacks. Yes, these items are plastic, and we do want to reduce our use of plastic. But if you reuse these containers dozens or more times, their environmental impact is far lower than the snack packaging.

Baggies can also be rinsed out and reused. Some people use the waxed bag inside cereal boxes to hold snacks in lieu of a plastic Baggie or Ziplock bag. Also, look for utensils like forks and spoons at yard sales and on Freecyle. You don't want to send your good flatwear along with the snacks, but it would be another move in the right direction to rule out plastic utensils.

Finally, collect a few appropriate bags for carrying snacks - an old backpack; insulated lunch kits; small, reusable market totes; home-made bags fashioned from old denim jeans; there are so many options.

And here are some simple and mostly inexpensive snacks to prepare:

  1. Cut up celery and carrots into convenient-size sticks and keep on hand in the fridge. Fill a reusable container with a handful as you are running out the door to munch on in the car or after practice.
  2. Do the same with oranges slices. Or send along a whole Clementine, tangerine, peach, pear or a small bunch of grapes.
  3. Slice some apples; put them in a non-disposable container; shake in a little cinnamon. The cinnamon adds great flavor and hides the slight discoloration apples get after they've been sliced.
  4. Instead of buying individual-sized containers of cottage cheese, yogurt, applesauce or pudding, buy large containers and spoon it into small non-disposable cups with lids. Send along one of your inexpensive spoons with the snack.
  5. Cut up your favorite hard cheeses into small cubes and dole it out in bags or lidded cups. Add a few crackers or a slice of crusty whole-wheat bread.
  6. Heat up some leftover soup, stew, mac and cheese or spaghetti with sauce and pack it in an insulated container. Don't forget to include a spoon or fork.
  7. Home-made cookies; or banana or pumpkin bread with a schmeer of cream cheese
  8. Water with lemon and lime slices or iced green tea.
Making and packing these snacks are not as easy as buying big boxes of individually-wrapped snack foods. But it's not harder to shop for the items in bulk and only takes a few more minutes to pack. Aren't your children, and the future of their environment, worth it?

What are your snack plans? Please share.

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