It is the time of year when people are getting organised for their little one to start school next year. Orientation days are occurring, and little people are either excited beyond belief or filled with trepidation. Parents are starting to think about uniforms and school bags along with lunch boxes and drink bottles. The Christmas before school starts is probably the only one that you will get away with school gear being received with excitement. School hat and bag along with a lunch box and drink bottle make a great present. Buying a good quality school bag is a sound investment as it is likely to last a number of years rather than being almost disposable. Plain bags are also a better idea than one covered in the child’s favourite character -you can almost guarantee they will be completely over the character bag in twelve months even if the bag has plenty of life left in it. Uniform bags seem to be good quality and reduce competition for who has the better bag.

School lunches can be the bane of a parent’s life! What to pack, quantities, how to keep it cool and edible are all topics that parents stress over. Many schools have policies around what can and can’t be packed in lunch boxes including nut-free policies. Schools are now starting to engage in the ‘nude food’ trend with items wrapped in plastic being either banned or frowned upon. I have seen many discussions on social media lately about the trend towards nude food – not all positive discussion by any means. Words like “lunch box Nazis” and “plastic police” are being bantered about. I believe that to create change we need to start with children who then put pressure on their parents for positive change. This process is now occurring, and some parents are very resistant to change. This is a very natural part of the process of change but one that seems to take on a life of its own with social media groups bringing the discontent together. Those who are happy about change tend not to engage in the conversation, so it is the negative viewpoint that is heard. Eventually, things will settle, and nude food lunch boxes will be the norm.

The cost of purchasing good quality food containers that last well and stand up to the treatment that children will put them through may seem prohibitive initially, but long-term money will be saved. Kids need to be taught to recognise their own items (good name labels will help with this) and to put their belongings back in their bags so they go home at the end of the day. Expect a few losses occasionally but if it is happening frequently you may need to speak to your child’s teacher to come up with a strategy to prevent it.

There are many different options for school lunch containers these days from thermal-lined containers that you can add a small ice brick to, up to amazing bento boxes and thermos flasks. Washing lots of little containers at the end of the day may not be a super fun task and certainly throwing plastic wrap or bags in the bin may seem like an easier option but the damage all that plastic is doing to the environment is worth the effort.

The school my child attends has been auditing the litter in lunch boxes every Wednesday for the entire school year. The litter is counted (this does not include food waste which is put into containers and fed to the school chooks and worms or put in the school compost bin) but empty plastic packets or plastic wrap is counted. My child obviously knows my interest in this area and frequently reports back to me on the number of pieces of litter from his class. One day in the first term of school there were more than 3 pieces of litter per child in the class. I know my child and one other did not have any litter so some of them must have had heaps of pre-packaged food in their lunch boxes. The fact that he is interested and many of his classmates are now engaging in the process gladdens my heart.

I know I have talked about tips to reduce lunch box litter before but it seems a good time to go over it again. Homemade biscuits and snacks are great because you know exactly what goes into them and can control things like the amount of sugar you use. It is also easy to make sure your home-made goodies are the right size for your containers. Bulk baking things like muffins once per month and freezing them is a great idea. In summer frozen items help to keep everything else cool and will be thawed by the time the child is ready to eat it.  In our time-poor lives, it may be beyond many people to provide homemade food for school lunches and there are plenty of other options that don’t involve plastic wrapping. Buying food that is not individually wrapped is not difficult and it is easy to put a few biscuits or snacks into a container. The one thing that I haven’t found free of individual wrapping is muesli bars! Fruit makes an excellent snack and things like bananas, oranges and mandarins come in their own very natural wrapping and no need for further containers.

Another issue that occurs at the beginning of each year is the schoolbooks coming home to be covered. I totally get the fact that books that are covered in contact stay neater and last much longer than those that aren’t, but I am a total contact klutz – bubbles and wrinkles just seem to occur no matter how careful I am, I hate hate hate contact and the fact that it is plastic just makes it worse. You will never find my name on a list of volunteers to cover new library books – that is a disaster just waiting to occur. Last year I discovered that someone had invented slip on plastic covers for schoolbooks (I figure it was another contact klutz that came up with the concept). I know they are plastic, but they last for longer than 1 school year and can be removed if the books are being tossed or composted. Sometimes it is a matter of the lesser of two evils. Roll on high school when folders with loose leaf paper are the norm and don’t need covering, just another five years to wait …….. audible sigh!!!!