How to Cook and Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

by | Jun 22, 2021

With many office workers heading back to the office this summer and fall, it’s time to get back in the habit of packing a lunch. Working from home brings lots of economic benefits, including not eating out. But you can continue to save money (and the planet) by cooking and packing zero waste lunches. 

Check out these recipes, products, and tips.

What is a zero waste lunch?

We unconsciously make a lot of waste when we are getting lunch. There are several options that come in plastic or single use packaging that are easy to grab on the go.

If you consciously choose to pack your lunch without using disposable packaging, you would save time and money as well as reduce your carbon footprint and the amount of waste that goes to landfill because of you.   

how to cook and pack a zero waste lunch

How to cook and meal-prep zero waste lunches

The key to zero waste lunch is meal prep once a week. It gives you the freedom to quickly prepare and pack the lunch each day. Let’s admit it, adopting the zero waste lifestyle can be overwhelming because it appears to be time consuming and expensive. But the truth is you actually save both your money and time. 

Even when you invest in a few equipment, containers and other essentials. First off, to make batch cooking easy, get a food processor that has a shredding and slicing feature, many of you would already have one.

Now, determine what vegetable you’re going to use mostly. Invest in some clear containers to store the veggies in the fridge. Take half a dozen in the beginning. Suppose you have onions, kale, beets, carrots and cucumbers. Peel the cucumbers, beets and carrots.  Slice the onions and cucumbers and shred the beets and carrots. Remove the kale stem and slice it. Store the veggies separately in transparent containers. You may also want to peel garlic and keep it handy. This way you will have several different vegetables ready to use for the whole week.

Similarly you can batch cook your proteins. You can roast a whole chicken and store its meat and use it later in many different ways. You can hard boil your eggs that you can peel and slice later to use in salads or other recipes. You can pre cook beef mince with taco seasonings to have quick batches ready to make a tasty wrap.    

Consider what type of food can make a great leftover

Packing leftovers from home for lunch is a great way to cut food waste. Pastas, pizza, lasagne, chilly, and shepherd’s pie are some of the meals that actually taste better the next day, in my opinion.

Moreover, you must know the art of turning the leftovers into creative new meals. 

You can use leftover veggies in a stir-fry. Add leftover purees to your soups or pasta sauce. Save the leftover fruits in the fridge for tomorrow or in the freezer for a smoothie or a jam. 

You can turn leftover sweet potato enchiladas into enchilada soup. Roasted chicken with a side of veggies from last night can be used in a roasted chicken and veg sandwich today. 

You can make french toast out of leftover banana bread. Fruits that start to go mushy can be turned into a jam. The possibilities are endless. 

Plan ahead, so you don’t grab wasteful options last minute

Meal planning helps a lot in zero waste cooking. Here are a few pointers to help you plan zero waste lunches: 

  • Try to consume the perishable food in your kitchen first.
  • Look for recipes that use ingredients that you can bulk buy.
  • During a week, prep and use the same ingredients in different recipes.
  • Choose recipes that don’t need unusual ingredients that may not be used again.
  • Get an idea of the serving size that gets finished each time.         

Zero waste lunch recipes

Here are some quick and cost effective recipes for packing a zero waste lunch:

1. Fruits, crackers, cheese & protein of choice


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A post shared by Hayley Mete (@ecopiggy.mama)

This picture has grain free crackers, organic turkey, fresh blueberries and kiwi, apricots, and Parmesan in a zero waste lunchbox. You can whip up a quick zero-waste lunch with whatever you have got. The available or favorite choice of fruit, cheese and protein can work with your choice of crackers. The protein can be turkey, chicken, meat balls or even boiled eggs. You can choose to buy crackers in bulk or you can even bake your own. Here is a recipe for Sourdough Discard Cheese Crackers that uses leftover sourdough discard to make delicious crackers:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300-350 º F.
  2. Mix Sourdough discard with melted butter, mixed dried herbs and salt to form a batter.
  3. Apply a very thin layer of the batter on a parchment paper, put it on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and score the crackers with a knife into squares and bake for 45 more minutes.
  5. Let cool, then break into pieces and shift the crackers into an airtight container.

2. Beet Hummus, crackers, chocolate fruits, and veggies of choice



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A post shared by Jill Chesley-McGinnis (@auntb_jill)

You have to be creative and create a different mix each day so it doesn’t get boring and everything gets eaten up.  This lunch box has a creative recipe of beet hummus that’s both easy and delicious.

Add to the food processor half a large cooked beet, one can chickpeas, half can tahini, one tablespoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, one tablespoon tamari, splash of vinegar, salt & pepper…blend till smooth.

3.  Date & peanut butter smoothie and bites combo



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A post shared by Clean Plate (@cleanplatenz)

This is another power packed no-fuss zero waste lunch that will surely get finished in no time. Making the Date and peanut butter bites is super easy. Just deseed the dates and fill with your favorite peanut butter, smooth or crunchy. You can make them in batches and store them in a sealed container inside your fridge. These are wholesome and scrumptious. They taste delicious when cold.

The date & peanut butter smoothie is a flavorful, nutritious and filling treat that you can pack inside a reusable drink pouch. You can freeze this smoothie overnight to send a frozen lunch treat in the box.  

To make the date & peanut butter smoothie, soak two to three dates in a little boiling water to make them soft. In a blender add the dates, one Tablespoon peanut butter, one heaped Tablespoon oats, one banana (fresh or frozen), 200 ml milk and blend well till it is creamy and frothy.

4. Egg Muffins



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A post shared by Nora French (@_norafrench_)

Egg muffins with vegetables are the perfect low-carb ‘on the go’ lunch for those of you watching your weight. They are much more nutritious than the standard sandwich and taste great both cold and warm. You can keep them in the fridge for 2-3 days.

 The recipe is super easy! The veggies that go in the muffins include spring onions, bell pepper, carrot, garlic, and cherry tomatoes for topping. Mix the eggs and vegetables together, fill the muffin tins with the batter and bake the muffins in the oven. You can add ham cubes or whatever protein you have readily available to give it a flavorful boost.

5.  Quick Curry



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A post shared by Tutte Le Spezie Del Mondo (@tuttelespeziedelmondo)

If you have pre-cooked meat in the fridge, for example boiled meat or roast chicken, you can prepare an excellent quick curry:

 Sauté a clove of garlic and 2 onions (or fresh spring onion) in oil;

Add a little ginger (optional) and one or two tablespoons of your favorite curry and add salt; 

Add the coconut milk and let it simmer for 5/10 minutes until the sauce has thickened;

Sauté the meat already cooked in the sauce and enjoy it in this tasty and anti-waste version, accompanying it with a little rice.

How to Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

You’d need some supplies to get started on your zero waste meals journey. Consider these as long term investments that will actually save you money in the long run.

Replace everything plastic

When shopping for your kitchen, you can go to your local farmer’s market and take your own grocery bag.

Mason jars are not only great food storage containers but also a great to-go carrier to keep a salad or juice or dip in a visually appealing way.

And instead of using plastic to wrap up meals, use beeswax wraps.

Buy or sew cloth napkins

Paper napkins are wasteful. You can up-cycle your old pieces of clothes or rags and turn them into DIY napkins. If you wish to buy napkins, you can get some really cool linen napkins.

You can also find some really useful foldable napkins that can work as a snack carrying bag with multiple dividers.

Purchase metal or bamboo utensils

You can replace plastic cutlery with bamboo cutlery.

Swap disposable food containers with metal bento boxes.

Switch from single-use cups to reusable bottles.

Going zero waste requires your commitment. While none of us is perfect, we can take conscious steps each day to lead a sustainable life. Bit by bit, we definitely can achieve the minimal waste lifestyle.