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OK, so we all know we should be reducing our plastic use, right?
But how many of us find this easy, least of all with busy families to manage and care for? As one Desertmum reader said (see I Want to Save the Planet…But I’m Late for the School Run), “I know I’m meant to not purchase fruit in plastic wrapping or buy bags of single serve kids’ snacks… But…it’s so helpful having little prepared snacks to chuck in the bag in the rush out the door”.
Amen to that.
Family life is busy enough – so finding time and energy to reduce our plastic use just doesn’t feel possible at the best of times. (And at the worst of times? It can feel suffocating, yet another thing for us to feel Guilty about as parents.)
One thing I said in I Want to Save the Planet was that we should listen to, and take seriously, the concerns of our children – after all, it’s their future which is at stake.
With this in mind, at the start of Lent our family was doing the daily reading from Love Life Live Lent, a fabulous Lent resource for families produced by the Church of England. The challenge was to consider something we could give up or reduce, which would have a positive effect on the environment.
Even though we hadn’t arranged to give anything up as a family, we started to talk about how maybe we could reduce plastic by not eating snacks which had been wrapped in plastic.
Gulp. Talk about a challenge.
We were eased in by the fact we already had a week’s supply of Dairylea Dunkers, Cheese Strings and other plasticky snacks to use up first (no way was I chucking these out…food waste is another, equally damaging environmental problem).
So anyway, this challenge – which we’re still in the thick of, by the way, Lent not ending till Easter Day – got me thinking about which snacks I could add to our online food shop which didn’t come wrapped in plastic.
And, going back to my reader’s comment earlier, I was also looking for things which were easy to sort out, with no/little prep.
Now I’m not going to lie and say that it’s just as easy to prepare the following snacks as to whip out a pre-packaged little tub of convenience. The following ideas will take a bit more prep than just chucking some snack packets in your bag and heading out.
But divvying things up into separate tupperware is, after all, simply a habit. And if it takes just a month or two to form a habit, perhaps it’s worth the initial pain? Besides, I’ve added as many time-saving tricks as I can, to help ease the load a little.
If you don’t have small-ish tupperware, I highly recommend these nesting snack boxes. The different sizes are perfect for larger items like sandwiches and wraps, right down to small snacks like blueberries, grapes or olives. We’ve had ours for years and they’re still going strong. Yes, they’re plastic, but are in no way single-use. They have also helped eradicate our use of cling film, so win win.
I also highly recommend beeswax wraps – or these vegan food wraps which are made with vegetable wax, rather than beeswax. These are great for wrapping homemade bread, loose cheese or ham, or for using instead of cling film over bowls and dishes to ensure snacks are stored safely in the fridge.
I also need to remind you – although I expect you know – that NO packaging is entirely good for the environment. Paper and cardboard printing can have a massive carbon footprint, and who knows what new info might come to light in the future about the damaging effect of recycling, for example, foil or tin cans?
But these snacks have been chosen in the light of what we know currently about the dangers of too much single-use plastic: the lack of biodegradability, the impact on our oceans, chemical contamination into the soil, the carbon footprint of producing and incinerating so much of the stuff…
I could go on, but let’s cut to the chase: here are my top 20 snack ideas which use no plastic (or minimal plastic):
Let’s get the obvious two out of the way first. Actually, are they that obvious? Sooooo much fruit and veg comes unnecessarily wrapped in plastic these days, that it can be quite a challenge to find loose stuff.
I’d always recommend getting a local veg delivery if you can, as these businesses are usually far more likely to give you loose fruit and veg. Ours even delivers grapes in a paper bag.
Examples of great fruits which can usually be sourced loose are:
* Tomatoes (cherry or big)
Avoid berries if you want to go truly plastic-free, or buy them loose from a grocer, or (more realistic) get them just once a month, rather than weekly, as a special pat-on-the-back for reducing your plastic for the rest of the month!
If there are no local shops to deliver your veg to you, and if an online shop is the only way forward for your family right now (I’m so with you), it can be extra hard to find loose veg.
I’ve found that different supermarkets have different policies on this, so it’s worth shopping around. And also – if you have time – why not send an email to customer service to voice your disappointment that everything is plastic-wrapped? In this culture especially, supermarkets can’t afford to ignore this opinion.
Here are some veg which are usually available loose and can be served raw, thus making excellent snacks:
* Carrot sticks
And, depending on your food supplier (and children’s tastes), you might be able to source cucumbers, mangetout and radishes loose as well.
3. Tinned sweetcorn
I don’t often think of turning to my tins cupboard when the kids are hungry, but I’m not sure why, as there’s loads of potential lurking amongst the kidney beans and chopped tomatoes!
Sweetcorn is a great one if your kids like it. Simply drain it off, spoon some out and keep the rest in a sealed container in the fridge, for even quicker snacks over the next couple of days.
The beauty of tins, in addition to being non-plastic and therefore easily recyclable, is that they have a long shelf-life, so are brilliant ‘reserves’ towards the end of the week when fresh snackage has run out.
4. Tinned fish – tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel
Again, if your child likes fish, these tinned varieties are packed with Omega 3 and a great general source of protein. A little bit scooped onto the side of their snack plates is great – or mix with mayo and put in a wrap or sandwich.
My kids have always been obsessed with olives – but, luckily for us, they only eat the cheapest ones on the market. No fancy marinade for them, thank you very much.
For this reason, I always buy mahoosive jars of black, stoned olives to stock up our food cupboard. (Heaven forbid my child is proffered an olive with a stone in it, or – worse – a green olive.) And the best part is that any leftovers tend to last for a week or so in the fridge (check guidance on the jar), making the next few days’ snacks much easier.
6. Hot dogs from a jar or tin
If your children eat meat, these are just great. Check the instructions, of course, but most brands come fully cooked, so although heating them up is preferable, it’s not actually necessary from a food safety point of view, making them a super quick and easy snack (although please check the instructions on the brand you buy, rather than taking my word for it!).
Our kids like them cold, either chopped into the tiniest pieces you could imagine, or whole – whereby they ‘skin’ them with their teeth, making them look rather like a……
Well, yes, we won’t go there. I turn my back and let them have a good old laugh together about it.
(Side note: I fear that this blog post, which started off as one about non-plastic snacks, might be better rebranded as Guilty Confessions of the Desert Household. What do you think?)
7. Tinned fruit
Most children LOVE tinned fruit – largely because it comes in a bucketload of syrup. But, again, it’s a great option for when fresh fruit has run out, or is out of season, or at the end of the week when, let’s face it, we’re past caring how much sugar our kids are consuming.
There’s so much choice out there: peaches, lychees, pineapple, pear and apricot – they’re all great stand-bys to have on hand!
8. Bear YoYo
These are a hit with my family – they’re not cheap, but they ARE handy, just pull them out of the cupboard and off you go.
They come in a cardboard box, and I *think* the individual packets are paper, but I’m never quite sure whether they can be recycled due to the plasticky lining on the inside – likewise the cards which each packet contains.
Anyone know? Certainly a lot better than the alternatives which are definitely more plasticky.
9. Dairylea triangles/Laughing Cow
Now my own kids aren’t fans of cheese triangles, but I loved them when I was a kid. (Probably because there were no cheese strings or Bear YoYos. We were deprived as heck in the ’80s.)
Anyway, they’re still on the shelves, which must mean that some people are buying them, and if you’re one of them, then they’re a GREAT alternative to plastic-wrapped snacks, as they’re foil-wrapped in a cardboard box. They have the ease of being able to grab them and run, although you wouldn’t want to take them out with you on a hot day. Fortunately that’s rarely a consideration for us up in Yorkshire.
(Small disclaimer, you’ll need to dispose of the little red plastic thread which is used to open them – otherwise it’s all foil, paper and cardboard.
10. Jus-Roll Croissant Dough
OK, these are a little labour-intensive – but they’re so fun to make that your kids won’t even mind the wait. They come in a cardboard tube for easy recycling.
Again, I enjoyed doing these as a child, but totally forgot about them until a friend got them for her kids and ours to enjoy when we went to stay. ALL the kids aged 4-10 enjoyed making them – so much so that they were distracted from the fact they were hungry.
They don’t take too long to cook in the oven, and the smell is amazing while they do so. We had them for breakfast, which is the more obvious time of day for a croissant, but they’d make an awesome after-school snack too – maybe on a Friday, to celebrate the weekend?
11. Sundried tomatoes
I include these because my experience of children and food is that they don’t always eat what you expect them to, but they do sometimes eat what you don’t expect them to.
Missy devours sundried tomatoes – she can’t get enough of them. Sold in jars, they are the perfect non-plastic snack! And if they’re kept in their oil, they will last a reasonable length of time in the fridge too (check guidelines on jar).
12. Homemade bread/toast
If you have a bread machine, this is such an easy (and cheap) plastic-free snack.
I know bread machines get a bad press, but we have one which we were given for our wedding and which is still goinI honestly think that, as long as you want to use it and have space on your surfaces for it (don’t put it in a cupboard! it’ll never get used!)g strong, nearly 18 years on.
However, even if you don’t, check out the supermarket bakery sections for bread which comes in paper bags. Or perhaps they’ll even let you bring your own reusable bag. It’s worth investigating and asking. Otherwise – homemade bread is the way to go!
13. Creme Eggs
Granted, they’re not the healthiest, but to be honest I didn’t need an excuse to eat plenty of these – and now I’ve got one (they’re wrapped in recyclable foil and cardboard), I’m even less likely to want to avoid them.
Hats-off to Cadbury’s Creme Egg for not switching its packaging to plastic like so many other brands. I don’t even care that each egg contains the entire recommended monthly sugar allowance for a blue whale – we all need a treat every now and again, even our kids.
While we’re being slack on the health front, Toblerone is another treat which comes foil-wrapped in a cardboard box. Just don’t take them anywhere nut-allergy sufferers are likely to be hanging out.
15. Pork pies/sausage rolls/ham
If you’re lucky enough to have a butcher close enough to be convenient (or one who delivers – do check if you haven’t already, as many will do this in exchange for your custom), then grabbing their paper-wrapped pork pies, sausage rolls and ham is a great way to not only have a much yummier and fresher meaty snack than the supermarket equivalents, but also to avoid the plastic.
If they’re likely to wrap these loose products in plastic, simply ask for paper (or bring your own containers).
You can also use the deli counter at the supermarket in the same way. There’s no reason these items need wrapping in plastic. Take your own tupperware to fill (just stick the barcode label on the box for scanning at the till).
16. Fish fingers
Perhaps not your typical snack, but fish fingers do tend come in a cardboard box, with no additional plastic wrapping inside – brilliant! And although they take a bit of thinking ahead, once they’re in the oven they’re no fuss. You could even cook double and keep the rest in the fridge for a quick snack tomorrow.
We’re supposed to eat protein whenever we stop to eat; one reason is that it slows the release of sugar, which is much more likely to keep us (and our kids) on an even keel. Another reason, of course, is that it’s so good for growth and repair, two things our children are doing a lot of. (Especially repairing, if you’re my kids.)
So fish fingers = protein = don’t knock ’em.
17. Gherkins/pickled veg
So you know when I mentioned Missy and her sundried tomatoes? Now I’m going to tell you about Mister and his gherkins. He absolutely loves them. Goes crazy for them. Monkey and Meerkat like to partake of one or two as well, but not quite as many as Mister.
I got him the HUGEST jar of gherkins one birthday, and he was happy as Larry.
Me? Can’t stand them at all – but as they come in a jar and my kids are willing to eat them, I’m all for adding them to my shopping list.
Gherkins, onions or other pickled veg can be a surprising hit with children – I think it’s something to do with the sharp vinegary taste which really appeals to some.
18. Kinder bars
Wrapped in paper and cardboard, this is another great plastic-free snack for when you feel like indulging your kids.
They’re amazingly moreish…when I buy them ‘for my kids’, you can almost guarantee I’ll have scoffed the lot in the car on the way home from the supermarket.
Eggs might not be the first thing you think of when I say ‘kiddie snacks’ but they’re an awesome source of protein, they can be prepared in so many different ways, and they come in cardboard boxes. Triple win!
Ah. Did you hear me say ‘prepared’? Yup. These bad boys won’t be very handy if you’re nipping out the door with minus ten minutes to spare.
But with a little forward thinking…correctly stored, hard-boiled eggs can last in the fridge for up to a week. You can batch-boil a whole load, then you have quick snacks ready for days. Egg mayo is another make-ahead possibility – on homemade bread for a totally plastic-free snack, or in wraps or pitta.
And omelettes take just a few minutes to cook if you’re feeling ambitious…
20. Homemade yogurt
Most kids are great fans of yogurt, so although the homemade variety is not something I’ve tried myself, I definitely recommend it if you have yogurt-eaters in your household.
It doesn’t have to be as time consuming as you think – if you have an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, they’ll pretty much do all the hard work for you (check out this Instant Pot yogurt recipe).
You can add pureed fruit, sugar or honey for a flavoured yogurt – or keep it plain with vegetable sticks and toast to dip. Either way, making a decent pot-load will last you the week with minimal fuss for quick snackage.
To explore the wider issue of ethical choices in family life, check out I Want to Save the Planet…But I’m Late for the School Run.
Or, for specific advice for new parents, check out Joanne’s excellent guest post on Sustainable Parenting.
And, if you’re planning a kids’ party, don’t miss 50 Plastic-Free Party Bag Fillers!
How do you balance trying to make ethical decisions with having no time to prep more ‘ethical’ snack food? Or is this an area you compromise on, and make changes elsewhere? It’s so hard! Let’s chat in the comments…