Welcome to the fourth installment of my eco-friendly kitchen series. Reusable food storage is the focus of this article. In case you missed them, Part I focuses on kitchen cabinets and floors. Part II is all about kitchen sink, lighting, and small appliances. Part III concentrates on large eco-friendly kitchen appliances. Be sure to check out those articles for great eco-friendly suggestions for the whole kitchen.
I am an admitted zero waste wannabe and have made conscious changes in my own home to decrease the number of disposable products I bring into it.
While I may not be totally zero waste (yet!), I have changed some wasteful habits, most of which are in the kitchen, and feel good about the progress I have made so far.
One of the best side effects of this eco-friendly, zero waste (or near-o waste as I like to call it) journey is that my kids see what I am doing and are totally on board and love using the different products such as reusable straws. They even get on these crazy rants about litter when we are out for walks and they notice some on the ground. It’s quite funny, maybe I have a couple of environmentalists on my hands! We have even started bringing an empty grocery bag with us so we can pick up the trash as we walk, filling it with litter, and throwing it away when it is full. Unfortunately, it is always full by the end of our walks.
Eco-friendly reusable kitchen Products
Saying goodbye to disposable kitchen products such as plastic wrap, baggies, aluminum foil, wax and parchment paper (just to name a few) can be very liberating. It’s like a huge weight being lifted off your shoulders when you know you are doing your part in keeping our environment just a little bit cleaner. Not to mention keeping harmful plastic products out of your household, making your family healthier in the process.
This is also a time where you get to try out new products and learn different ways of storing food and other items in your kitchen. Getting caught up in the routine humdrum of life happens, we are creatures of habit after all. Shaking things up a bit and changing the way we operate is a great way to keep routines fresh and interesting.
It may sound a little scary to replace all of your disposable products with reusable ones, but trust me, it’s not. You don’t have to
do it all at once, ease into it by replacing products as needed. You might as well use up what you have since you bought it already. For instance, when it’s getting time to replace the roll of plastic wrap, look for a reusable alternative instead of falling into your normal habit of purchasing a new one the next time you go grocery shopping. I am still using plastic storage containers which I am slowly replacing with glass as needed.
Not sure what products are out there that will sufficiently replace your disposable items? No problem, that’s where I come in with great eco-friendly suggestions that actually work!
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Wrap
I stopped buying plastic wrap quite a few months ago, admittedly it was hard because plastic wrap is a very convenient product. Can’t find a lid, no problem, cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Too easy.
Now, instead of pulling out the box of plastic wrap, I use containers. Lots of containers. Honestly, it really wasn’t too big of a learning curve once the plastic wrap was used up and I didn’t have any other choice. Reaching for reusable containers was a natural thing to do, mostly because I didn’t leave myself with any other option.
If using a multitude of containers isn’t your thing, you don’t currently have an endless supply of containers, or if you have a small fridge or limited cupboard space that can’t hold too many bulky items, there are other options.
Beeswax Food Wraps
These are handy, beeswax infused cotton (or hemp) cloth pieces of various sizes. They are pliable and can be used to cover bowls, or wrap the unused portion of avocado and lemons, just to name a few uses. These are not generally big pieces of material, so they wouldn’t work for covering a plate of leftover dinner, but they are very useful for smaller food items.
To use, you just simply wrap the cloth around the food item as tightly as you can. The warmth of your hands helps the beeswax to stick to itself, without leaving an unpleasant residue on your hands or food.
To clean, use cold water to wash off any small food particles that may be stuck to it. For larger messes, use a bit of dish soap along with the cold water. Less is more when it comes to cleaning these cloths. Only wash if you have to in order for you to get the most out of these beeswax wraps.
Beeswax cloths will typically last around one year. Of course, the longevity will depend on how much they are used and washed. The good thing is, at the end of its usefulness, they will biodegrade in your compost. Also, if you’re looking for a firestarter while camping, well, they can help with that too!
- made from natural ingredients such as:
- jojoba oil
- tree resin
- organic cotton or hemp
- require a little more care than plastic wrap, as you do need to wash them in cool water if they get dirty after use
- they are not see-through, so you’re going to have to use some memory cells to know what is wrapped in them unless you can tell by the shape
- not suitable for all food types, as they are not ideal for directly wrapping raw meat, fish, or wet foods such as watermelon
- an easy solution to this problem is to put these food items in a bowl and use the beeswax wrap to cover the bowl and seal it tightly
- a high price tag, they are reusable so you will get your money out of them, but they will cost you more up front
Some brands of beeswax wraps you might want to check out are:
Cloth Bowl Covers
Cotton cloths with elasticized sides make great bowl covers for when beeswax wraps just won’t cut it and you want to keep your meat and wet foods fresh.
There are different types of bowl covers, including ones made of silicone. Now, there is no hard and fast scientific data specifically stating that silicone is bad for humans or the environment, but I stay away from it if possible anyway, it’s a little too close to plastic for my liking. I encourage you to do your own research and make your own call on using silicone products in your kitchen and home in general. That being said, the focus is on cloth bowl covers for this article.
If you are a DIYer, or crafty in any way, you can certainly make these at home. I found this great tutorial on Youtube if you want to give it a go.
For those non-crafty people, such as myself, take to Etsy There are so many options to choose from when it comes to design, it will be hard to choose just one!
You will have the choice of purchasing laminated fabric or non-laminated fabric. It will most likely say in the description of the product. The difference between the two is outlined below so you can make the best decision for your needs.
Laminated fabric is cotton, or some other type of fabric, coated with a thin layer of polyurethane which is applied to the fabric using heat.
- the coating does not contain BPA, phthalate, or lead
- thin coating ensures fabric stays soft and pliable
- makes the fabric waterproof
- easy cleaning
- wipe clean
- washing machine safe- hang to dry
- long lasting- they should last for years
- not ‘all natural’ as polyurethane is used
- expensive up-front (but you will get a ton of use out of them)
Non-laminated bowl covers
These are straight-up cotton or hemp fabric with elasticized sides. No bells or whistles. Simple and effective.
- no unnatural coating
- easy to clean
- wipe clean
- washing machine safe, line dry
- may become stained
- not as easy to wipe clean as coated covers
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Baggies
This is a tough one to replace, no doubt. Especially for lunches where plastic baggies reign king of the lunchbox. Plastic baggies were probably the hardest item for me to stop buying. They are just so damn handy! I finally just stopped buying them. We ran out and I simply did not replace them. I really had no plan other than to use containers.
This worked for a while until I started collecting containers with no lids and lids with no containers. Sheesh, you would think a 6 and 8-year-old would be able to bring back what they take to school. I’m kidding, of course, that is an unrealistic expectation. Kids really don’t care about containers and are in too big of a hurry to get to the playground to bother checking to make sure they repacked their lunch containers with everything accounted for.
So, what to do about my dwindling drawer of useful containers? I could have purchased more (which I did because I still use an awful lot of them) but I also turned to the internet to research alternatives that maybe, just maybe, my kids would not lose in a day.
Reusable Cloth bags
These are great for snack items like crackers, trail mix, cookies, as well as sandwiches. There are a lot of sizes, shapes, and design features to choose from. Again, Etsy is your friend here. Most of these reusable cloth baggies are not found in brick and mortar stores, at least not big box ones, so take to the internet to find a set or two that suit your needs.
Here are some qualities to consider when purchasing reusable cloth baggies
- Durability: Is the material of high quality in order enough to withstand the test of time? Organic cotton and hemp are your friends here.
- Closure: Choose from zippers, buttons, loop and hook, snaps, or straps. Loop and hook and zippers are good for snack bags that need a strong seal for your kid’s lunch bag, for example. Snaps and straps are good for sandwiches or adult lunch bags when you know they are not going to get kicked along the sidewalk on the way to the bus stop in the morning. However, if you plan on using the washing machine to clean them, loop and hook will not last as long as the others.
- Material: Organic cotton or hemp is a good choice. Some bags are lined with polyurethane – easier to clean, but if you’re trying to stay away from plastic, unlined is the way to go.
- Size: Consider what their predominant use will be and allow for a little extra room when determining what size to purchase. Better off a little big than squishing the food inside them.
- Design: There are an endless amount of designs available so consider who will be using them the most. Cute, brightly colored animal prints are great for kids, teens might want a solid color, and you may want some funky patterns.
- Maintenance: These are going to have to be washed or at least wiped out after each use so determine what you are willing to do. Are they going to be thrown in the washing machine at night, washed by hand and hung to dry for the next day, or should they be dishwasher safe? Decide what method will be best for you and buy accordingly.
Some brands you might want to consider are:
- Colibri Canada: They make great sandwich and snack bags in different sizes along with other eco-friendly accessories. This is a Canadian company, but no worries, they ship to the U.S. too and offer free shipping to Canada and the U.S. if your order is above the minimum requirement. Their bags are 100% cotton, with a PUL (polyurethane) lining.
- Fluf: These super cute snack bags come in packs of 2. They are made with 100% organic cotton and lined with PUL. With a loop and hook closure, they are perfect for the whole family.
- Life Without Plastic: This is one of the only brands I have found that are not lined. They are made from 75% jute and 25% cotton. These sandwich bags are completely plastic-free, and their closure is a simple cotton string loop with two wooden buttons for size adjustment. These are super simple, very eco-friendly, and perfect for inside an adult’s lunchbox.
For more options, head over to Etsy and you will find an almost endless selection of designs and sizes to choose from, along with all different types of closures as well.
Since unlined bags are hard to find, you might just want to make these yourself. Here is a great text tutorial for those of you who can DIY. For those of you who prefer video tutorials, this is a good one. *Note: In the video, she uses laminated cotton but I am sure you can adapt the method for non-laminated cotton fairly easily.
From lunches to leftovers, reusable containers are a great option over plastic baggies any day. Admittedly, I still use plastic containers in my house. Gasp! I know, I am slowly phasing them out. So, when my kids return home from school with only one half of their container, or I broke a lid trying to close the tabs, I am not too bothered since it means I can replace it with a non-plastic item. Slowly but surely is how we do it in our house!
There are some great non-plastic reusable storage containers designed for lunches out there right now, here are a few of them.
Metal lunch containers
Sandwich and lunch boxes made from stainless steel are an excellent option over just sticking your sandwich in a plastic bag. They look pretty slick, are easy to open for little fingers, and best of all, are plastic free!
- leak-proof (ish)
- expensive up front
- not microwavable
Here are a couple of great brands to consider:
They have a few different air-tight stainless steel options available for food storage, including:
- a large round container- perfect for salads and soups
- a rectangular sandwich container
- a rectangular container with 3 sections which are removable
- a round container with 3 removable sections
Their 3-in-1 nesting lunch box is perfect for you, and the kids. What’s handy about this lunchbox is that it is a nesting bento box, so you can keep your food in separate containers, keeping your main dish apart from your snacks. You can also use the snack container separately, allowing more space for food in the larger compartment.
It’s important to note that gaskets are not used with the lids, so it is not entirely leakproof. However, if you don’t toss it around too much, leaks probably won’t be an issue.
A great feature where kids are concerned is the metal closure clips are able to be adjusted looser or tighter depending on your child’s dexterity. Hopefully eliminating any frustrating attempts at opening their lunchbox. No kid wants to ask their teacher to open it for them, that’s just embarrassing.
The ECOlunchbox is also easy to clean as it is dishwasher safe. Just remind your kids not to throw it in the microwave, despite the cool light show that will transpire if that happens!
Glass Food Storage Containers
Reusable glass containers are another great option for storing food over using plastic bags. Glass does not leach toxic chemicals as it is completely inert. Also, it lasts an incredibly long time and can be used over and over again. If it does break, it can be recycled and begin the process over again. As always, there are advantages and disadvantages to any choice, let’s explore.
- microwavable (won’t warp)
- transparent so you can easily see what food is inside
- can go from freezer to oven or microwave seamlessly
- easy to clean- dishwasher safe
- does not absorb smells
- breakable- not a great choice for your child’s lunchbox
- expensive up front
There are some key features to keep in mind when choosing glass food storage containers, such as:
- Size: When picking out a set of glass containers, try to stay away from very large sizes and very small sizes. In general, average to large sizes are what you are going to use the most. You don’t need barely used containers taking up precious room in your cupboards.
- Material: Borosilicate glass (think Pyrex) is best for food storage. It is good at handling extreme temperatures like being removed from the freezer and put directly into the oven. Tempered glass is a close second, it is good for extreme temperatures as well, but it has been ‘treated’ either through thermal or chemical means to be resistant to breakage.
- Lids: Make sure they are airtight. They are generally made from glass or plastic and have a silicone seal that locks into place. Some types of lids do not have a silicone seal, these will not be as airtight and may warp over time with continued use. Finding lids that are dishwasher safe is a bonus as well, as it means less clean up for you.
- Storage: If you are tight on space in your cupboards, containers that nest into each other or stack safely are definitely a space saver.
Glass Food Storage Containers to Consider for your lunchbox
There are an almost endless amount of glass food storage containers widely available to use at home. Including mason jars, and even reused pasta and jam jars. However, these may not be the greatest containers to choose for your lunch, especially if you plan on using glass food storage containers for your kid’s lunch as well. Here are a few options that are more suitable for your lunchbox.
These containers are cool, colorful and a welcome addition to any lunchbox. They come in many different sizes so it should be pretty easy to find some that suit your needs. Other useful features include:
- they are made with tempered glass
- leak-proof and airtight plastic lids
- easy snap lids- good for little fingers, but I would still be hesitant to send my younger kids to school with glass in their lunchbox
- dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe
- available in snack, lunch, and meal sizes
These glass food containers are super cute and chic. You will definitely have your coworkers asking where you got them so they can snag some for themselves. Along with looking good, these containers have other great features, including:
- many vibrant colors and sizes to choose from
- made with tempered glass
- come with a silicone sleeve to provide extra protection
- also helps secure the lid
- sleeves do not need to be removed before cleaning
- both containers and sleeves are dishwasher, microwave, oven, and freezer safe
- lids are plastic
- not microwave or oven safe
If you are looking for a set of glass food containers that you can easily just go out and buy from a big box store, Rubbermaid has you covered. These glass food containers are awesome if you are anything like me and spend more time looking for the matching lid of a container than it takes to actually make the food going into them! Well, I might not be that bad, but it sure seems like it some nights. With these containers, the lid snaps right to the base for storage, thus ending an unwanted game of hide and seek with your lids. Some other features include:
- made with tempered glass
- dishwasher, freezer, microwave, and oven safe
- leak-proof ‘one press seal’ lids
- bases and lids nest in on each other for more compact storage
- the lid is all one piece, so no extraneous piece of silicone to clean around
What I have laid out here so far are just some of the options available for eco-friendly food storage. By no means is this a comprehensive list of products, but a start to help get you thinking about making a switch from plastic to a safer, healthier (for you and the environment) choice. Seriously, any small change you decide to undergo truly does make a difference.
Sticking with items generally found inside kitchen cabinet drawers, let’s tackle the papers. I’m talking parchment and wax (not rolling!). While we’re at it, we’ll take on aluminum foil as well.
Eco-friendly Alternatives to Parchment Paper
I know, I know, parchment paper is so useful when baking and cooking. Nobody wants to be stuck scrubbing baked on potato or sauce that has been burnt on the pan. That’s why we use parchment paper, right? Throw some of that down on the pan before we bake, and viola, all we have to do is throw out the parchment paper, and the rest of the cleanup is a breeze.
Unfortunately, throwing away parchment paper on a daily basis is not great for our environment. But fear not, there is a relatively simple substitute- silicone mats. I’ll be honest, silicone is not my favorite material in the world, but in this case, I make an exception. I have used silicone mats for years and really love them. They are just too handy, they work exactly like parchment paper, minus the annoyance of trying to rip off the right size of paper without ripping the parchment paper right down the middle in the process. But I digress, they are easy to clean and most times I don’t even wash the pan they were covering because it remains clean (I should note that I do not cook meat of any kind, if I did, I would probably wash the pan as well as the silicone sheet.)
- non-stick (duh!)
- food bakes evenly
- cools down quickly
- easy to clean
- can withstand high temperatures well
- easily stored as it is flexible and can be rolled and snap back to shape when needed
- can be cut with a knife, so don’t use as a cutting surface
- becomes dirty looking over time but still fine to use
- is made from silicone which is safe to use and is not proven to leach chemicals even under high temperatures, but it’s ultimately your choice between disposable parchment paper and reusable silicone mats (Again, I am not a huge fan of silicone but in this case there are not a lot of other options so I choose the silicone mat over continuing to purchase something that harms the environment every time you use it.)
There are a lot of different brands of silicone baking mats on the market these days. That is awesome for consumers since you can pick whatever size and shape you need. No need to settle, alright!
To help make your decision, here are some features to consider before you purchase:
- Size: Will you be using it on round or rectangle pans? Take note of the size of your pans and buy accordingly.
- Use: While there is no smell or taste transfer with high-quality silicone mats, you still may want to get a set for baking and another for cooking.
- Maintenance: Are you going to be handwashing it or do you require a dishwasher safe mat?
As previously stated, there are many a brand of silicone mats to choose from. Silpat is the original powerhouse in this category, so be sure to check them out. For many other options, head on over to Amazon and have your pick, just make sure they are made from a combo of fiberglass and silicone as these are basically guaranteed to be high quality.
Eco-Friendly Alternative to Wax Paper
Wax paper is another disposable item in your cupboard drawers that can be replaced with a more environmentally friendly option. Along with being not so great for the environment, conventional wax paper is made with paraffin wax which is a derivative of petroleum products. Do you really want that near your food?
There are a couple of products that can satisfactorily take the place of wax paper in your kitchen. The first one is the silicone mats mentioned above. They would be great for nonstick preparations such as chocolate covered strawberries or for cooling chocolate art designs.
The second alternative is soy wax paper. This comes in the same packaging as conventional wax paper, but instead of paraffin wax, it is coated in soy wax. The big difference between the two is that soy wax is compostable and nontoxic, as it is made from soy and not petroleum. Soy wax paper is great for wrapping food such as produce, baked goods, and deli items, just like its conventional counterpart, only more environmentally sound.
Eco-friendly alternatives to Aluminum Foil
There is no denying that aluminum foil has a ton of useful functions when it comes to food prep and cooking. From lining pans to keeping food warm to grilling on the barbeque, aluminum foil does it all.
However, as convenient and versatile as aluminum foil is, it’s not the best choice for our environment. While it can actually be recycled, just remember to wash off any food particles first, most of us throw it away in the trash out of convenience. It takes an incredibly long time to break down at the landfill (as much as 400 years) so if you are finishing up your last roll before you choose an eco-friendly alternative, please remember to recycle it, just like your aluminum cans. We don’t need any more foil sitting around in landfills for hundreds of years.
Here are some eco-friendly alternatives you can try based on the various functions of aluminum foil.
Wrapping your meat or veggies with aluminum foil and throwing them on the grill is a delicious summer staple. Instead of using aluminum foil, try:
- grilling directly on the barbeque rack
- using a grill basket
- using a grill pan
- using a barbeque topper
Keeping Foods Warm
Admittedly, aluminum foil is handy for keeping that batch of pancakes warm until the flock makes their way to the table and devours them within minutes. Luckily, there are some reusable alternatives to keeping your food warm.
- Use lidded cookware
- Chef’s Planet Thermal Food Cover is reusable and easily cleaned
Instead of wrapping your leftovers in aluminum foil, try any of the food storage methods mentioned way back at the beginning of this article instead. Here’s a quick list if you need a refresher:
- beeswax wraps
- cloth bowl covers
- metal or glass food storage containers
I hope you have found this list of reusable food storage products useful. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, any seemingly small switch to an eco-friendly product is a huge win for your health and the environment.
Let me know in the comments below how you store your food. Am I the only one in a constant search for lids? How do you pack your kids lunches?