habit shift: zero-waste snacks.

July 6, 2017

zero-waste snacks | reading my tea leavesIn general, I’d say I fall on the forgetful side of the snack toting spectrum. I’m not a person (or a parent) to tote an impressive store of snacks with me while venturing to, say, the post office or the playground. But on longer days spent out of the house or traveling, I will concede that a well-timed snack can mean the difference between melting down and keeping the relative peace. (They’re great for avoiding kiddo meltdowns, too. Wink.) And so I try to plan accordingly. 

As many parents of small children can attest, kids love things in bags or containers meant especially for them. Give a child a small snack served in a vessel that they can hold themselves and watch pure joy spread across their cheeks. Kid-sized snacks have the extra advantages of helping to ensure that dinners aren’t spoiled by too much gorging and snacks aren’t too badly wasted when they inevitably tumble to the ground or get rendered otherwise unpalatable by grubby fingers. Plus, they’re just easier to carry.

It’s understandable then why there are so many pre-packaged, single-serving snacks marketed to parents and their hungry offspring. If a small bag of crackers can stave off a witching hour meltdown, who among us wouldn’t pop open the bag? I’m the first to admit that a merciful bag of popcorn handed over by a kind attendant on our flight home from Seattle saved us from a familial implosion.

Happily, I’ve found that with a little forethought, and a little encouragement, it’s easy enough to get into a habit of packing snacks that don’t require a whole bunch of single-use packaging or a whole lot of time to prepare. I’ve already divulged my potato chip habit, so no need to rehash that I’m far from perfect. Still, I do make an effort to pack simple snacks in reusable containers whenever I can. Here are a few ideas that work well for me; I’d really love to hear what kinds of portable snacks you guys turn to, too.zero-waste snacks | reading my tea leaves

Vessels:

+ Bags: We don’t use plastic snack or sandwich bags in our house, but we’ve found that just about any small bag cloth bag will work for snacks. We often use cotton or muslin drawstring pouches of the sort that come into our house via small gifts. They’re easy to come by (and inexpensive to buy), but, you’ve been warned, frequent washing (or dextrous toddler fingers) can make relatively quick work of pulling out that small string. Recently, we welcomed a set of three of these organic reusable sandwich and snack bags into the fold. They’re very simple to use and an extreme winner in the eyes of a certain three-year-old. We got ours from RMTL sponsor Natural Linens. (If you’ve got spare fabric and a sewing machine, I’d imagine they could also make a simple weekend sewing project!)

+ Small containers: For the older folks in the crowd, you know I think a Bonne Maman jar (or regular old mason jar) makes a perfect snack vessel. For folks who frequent parks and playgrounds and other places where glass vessels might not be welcomed, small stainless steel containers make relatively lightweight alternatives for messier snacks like fresh fruit or sliced veggies. zero-waste snacks | reading my tea leaves

A few favorite snacks we like to pack:

+ Dried fruit: Apricots, mango slices, and apple rings are all pleasantly chewy, relatively healthful, and readily available in bulk at many health food stores or neighborhood markets.

+ Nuts: We try to be mindful about bringing these into contact with folks who might be allergic, but from the time Faye was first able to crunch them, nuts purchased from the bulk section have been the mainstay of our snacking repertoire at home and away. They’re quick, easy, and nutritious. 

+ Veggie slices: We often slice up fresh vegetables before we head on a trip (on a plane or just down to the park). A container filled with sweet pepper, cucumber, and carrot slices makes for the perfect crunchy snack. Add some slices of baked tofu, and you’ve got yourself lunch.

+ Fresh fruit: If you’re like me, you might have a toddler who would gladly be a fruitarian if given the chance. A small container of cherries or berries or grapes makes for a very delighted traveler. Fruits like clementines or bananas that comes with their own biodegradable packaging can be even better. 

+ Baked goods: This might be easier done in the city than some other places, but when I don’t have a snack already on hand, I try my best to duck into a bakery instead of a bodega. Save a spotted banana, it’s difficult to find much that’s snackable in a bodega that doesn’t also come in a package. But stop by a bakery and a little cookie, or a fresh roll, or a small pastry can stave off hunger pains. You can have the clerk hand it to you directly, no packaging required.
zero-waste snacks | reading my tea leavesWhat about you? Favorite snacks for taking out and about? For yourself? For kiddos?

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30 Comments

  • Reply Priscilla July 6, 2017 at 9:07 am

    We are empty nesters with no kiddos around, but I do remember back in the day that clementines were the BEST. They’re so easy to peel for wee hands, and no plastic wrappers. A wet rag tucked in a (then, plastic) small, Tupperware-like container was the only “napkin” the kids needed afterwards. For myself, I’ve always enjoyed a warm beverage, even in summer. (It gets warm here in the summer, but rarely downright hot like, say, in the deep south.) I carry straight up coffee in an insulated mug if I’m not worried about getting hungry, or I take along homemade hot cocoa with half the sugar if I think I’ll need some fuel to keep going. On a few occasions when it was truly hot, I switched to iced coffee or refreshing fruity drinks.

    • Reply MissEm July 9, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Love these ideas! Every fall and winter, my kids and I love taking walks in the park/forest with a thermos of mint tea or miso soup and some child size mugs.

  • Reply Cynthia July 6, 2017 at 9:56 am

    When my boys were young, we often met other moms/kids at the beach on summer afternoons. Because I wanted to bring snacks for sharing, my favorite became a dozen hard-boiled eggs in a basket and a huge batch of homemade popcorn in a brown paper bag. I had a picnic salt shaker that got tossed in the egg basket and with water bottles for each of us, we were good to go. I came home with an empty basket every time.

  • Reply Floppo July 6, 2017 at 10:37 am

    As a mother of four I have very clear the concept of ” familial implosion”, so I always try to be prepared. My kids love snacks, so I often prepare them different containers with tomato cherry ( that they eat as if they were sweets); baby carrots; small apples (minimal waste) and cucumber slices.

  • Reply Kathleen July 6, 2017 at 11:57 am

    I have three boys ages 10, 7, and 4 and always have snacks with me. Their metabolism is raging these days and they seem to be hungry all the time. I admit to falling off the wagon a bit with using reusable bags. It has felt very hard to maintain all the time. But we do have a decent set of reusable bags and reusable containers (plastic, glass, and metal) and they are in heavy use, along with some plastic sandwich bags (which I tend to re-use if I can). We go a similar route, sticking to cut up veggies and fruits, nuts and raisins, pretzels and crackers and other salty snacks, thin rice cakes, and granola bars. I also made a set of reusable cotton bags to purchase items from the bulk section a while back and those sometimes double as snack bags. These bags look very cute, sturdy, and practical, and easy to make if I could carve out the time! 🙂

  • Reply Julia July 6, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Since it is very hot right now in Germany I replaced my usual snack bag by a little cool bag, that saved me literally from many melt downs these days. It keeps fruit and cheese bites heavenly cool. At the moment the most favorite snack of my 2 year old girl is yoghurt, I usually buy it in big bulk glasses and then I fill little portions in marmalade containers, to have it to go. Cold yoghurt on a hot day in the park is sooooo good!

  • Reply Courtney July 6, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Perfect timing! I’ve been looking for reusable bags for lunch boxes. Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 6, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      So glad!

  • Reply shannon July 6, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    I need to make a few cloth snack bags! To me, Mason jars feel a bit overkill for things like crackers and cookies 🙂

    This looks like a straightforward tutorial for a DIY fold-top cloth bag: http://www.paper-and-glue.com/2016/03/reusable-snack-bag-tutorial.html

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 6, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      Yes! They’re so lightweight and easy!

  • Reply Jessica July 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve been intrigued by those cloth bags from another of your posts…but do they keep things like nuts (or, smaller, sunflower seeds) contained? For reference, they’d be up against very….energetic….two-year-old twins.

    Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 6, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Ha! Not a stranger to high energy over here! That said, I actually find Faye gets pretty serious when there are tiny snacks involved. Do they ever spill? Definitely. But she’s used to keeping them corralled or risk losing them, so we don’t typically end up with a snack explosion!

      • Reply Jessica July 6, 2017 at 2:04 pm

        Hm I think my two could use a lesson from Faye in Serious Snacking 😉 Thanks!

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 6, 2017 at 2:06 pm

          😉

    • Reply Audrey July 6, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      We use the same bags from natural linens, but I bought a pack of the reusable tea bags (they are less expensive and a bit smaller). They are perfect for nuts and trail mix etc. my kids are 4 and 6, but I imagine as they get older, a larger size might be more appropriate.

    • Reply Gaia July 13, 2017 at 5:28 pm

      I feel your pain!
      Baggu makes small zippered ones that are perfect for containing:)

  • Reply Szilvia July 6, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    As a full-time nanny of two, I was excited to read this little piece of advice/inspiration/reminder ahead of the summer holidays, which – for us in London, UK – kicks off tomorrow. Can’t wait for daily excursions with the twins, as well as happily snacking on museum steps, in royal parks and all. Thanks, Erin, for the constant inspiration!

  • Reply Emily Crittenden July 6, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    I’m getting a lot better at snack packing now that I have a 9 month old daughter who is very enthusiastic about anything food. She honestly helps me keep it healthy and zero waste as well, because I think more about her diet and my impact on her future and present planet . I made a ton of flip top easy sew snack bags for us recently, and hope to use more scrap fabric to sew up some easy drawstring bags.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 6, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      Awesome! I love the flip top ones!

  • Reply Lisa July 6, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    Carrot sticks dunked in peanut butter! I just got a set of dip-sized stainless steel containers, so I fill one up with peanut butter and a mason jar with carrot sticks. Just enough crunch and protein to keep me going in the afternoon!

  • Reply Maria July 6, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Clementines, bananas, any other fruits you don’t need a knife to eat (e.g.: oranges). Nuts and dried fruits work well too, as you already know. If you’re not out for too long, yogurt is nice too. And well, smoothies! For the somewhat savory options, carrots with or without hummus, edamames, popcorn, olives, cheese bits, pickles, cherry tomatoes… I was never a fan of cold eggs, but those would work too. For the adults, I like to make protein balls (sounds really fit, I know, but I’m not): just nuts + dates, put on the blender/processor and press with your hand to make balls – I like to freeze them but you don’t actually need to, and they are great for combating those sugar cravings, if you have them. For your new office, I like to keep a jar of almonds at my desk, just in case, you know, hanger strikes 😉

  • Reply Nicole July 7, 2017 at 1:04 am

    My kids adore easy snacks, fortunately–cherry tomatoes, cucumbers (tiny ones, eaten whole so no packaging needed), sugar snap peas, sweet peppers, blueberries, etc. Cheese and yogurt too, but it’s too hot to take those on expeditions right now!

  • Reply Anna Gerard July 7, 2017 at 8:29 am

    When I am doing an excursion with my boys (twin 5 year olds) or meeting friends at a park, I always pop some popcorn in coconut oil then just some sea salt after..mamas and kids love it! Sliced apples with lime juice squeezed in a container–give it a good shake. Refreshing! Nuts and veggies.

  • Reply veronika goisova July 7, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    yes to all,don’t do over snacking but when we go out for longer time-daily) I love to pack veggies and fruit,avocado dip and corn chips,home made granola etc,having few great containers but also made bees wax wraps and love them very much ,I also sewn one bag out of linen and bees waxed when done and its perfect water proof bag used very often-have to make more)

  • Reply La Shell July 7, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    I really need to get rid of plastic bags in our home. But we usually season and clean meat in advance and store them in sandwich bags in the freezer. I’m wondering what can be an alternative to the plastic in the freezer. That’s what we use the bags for most. Loved this article. Thanks!

  • Reply Breanna Marie July 7, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    I am a dried fruit fanatic and have been putting off investing in steel containers. I use glass pyrex ones that I inherited from my mother. However, as the seals begin to crack, I may just end up with one of these stainless puppies. Thank you for the suggestion!

  • Reply Amanda K. July 8, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    I love this. Being a parent of three children tempts me to abandon no-waste snacks for convenient alternatives. we OFTEN spend the morning at a park and then eat lunch before heading home. Baked goods — as you said — are great take-a-long snacks, even for non city dwellers like me (it just means I have to make them rather than grabbing them at a shop!)
    I love to pack smoothies, frozen to start and then melted by lunchtime.

    I recently cut my hand pretty badly so I cringe at the trend of toting glass around. We have a lot of heirloom tupperware we inherited from my husband’s grandmother that I mainly use, along with cloth wraps and bags.

  • Reply MissEm July 9, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    We eliminated morning snacks, which has been great – they eat better lunches, we go through less food, and I don’t feel like I’m prepping food all the time. But for school or when we’re out for a while. We often use the lunchbots four-section bento boxes and do a fruit, a veg, a “protein”, and either a sweet, something salty, or an extra fruit or veg.

  • Reply Grace July 9, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    What an easy way to stop plastic bag waste. I normally use small pyrex or mason jars to carry my snacks, but between my roommate and I, we run out of those containers halfway through the week as we both pack lunches for work.
    I am going to look into these reusable bags. Heck, maybe I will even sew my own. Such a simple alternative I never even considered!

  • Reply Felicia July 22, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    Those reusable sandwich bags are perfect! I need those for myself when I package up snacks for on-the-go moments!

    xx

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