When we’re travelling for extended periods, I tend to pack a picnic lunch for us most days (eating out every day gets expensive but we don’t want to have to come back to wherever we’re staying to prepare lunch, so taking food to have while out makes sense).
Likewise when we’re hiking or likely to be far from amenities for a good portion of the day, I always come prepared with plenty of food and drink (it’s one of my top tips for hiking with children; check out this post for my other suggestions).
So what do I store everything in to make sure it stays fresh, the right temperature, and doesn’t leak everywhere?
These are my zero waste food storage essentials. I would recommend them to anyone, not just families, looking to move towards a less wasteful, less plastic-filled lifestyle.
We use these every single day, not just when packing for picnics. Theo’s snack bags get filled with everything from rice/corn cakes, to nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade sweet and savoury treats. These are a great zero waste food storage solution for any age (I use them for my snacks too!) that remove any need to use cling film or plastic sandwich bags.
We love Planet Wise; made to last (ours are still going strong with no wear and tear after more than 2 years of daily use), no leaks, the perfect size, and they come in a lovely range of patterns. I wash them at the end of the day in the kitchen sink, but they can also be put in the washing machine if you prefer.
My go-to picnic lunch for us all are sandwiches; energy-boosting, tummy-filling, easy to prepare in travel accommodation, and can be packed full of goodness. Sandwich wraps are therefore a staple when it comes to packing for picnics.
A piece of cloth with an easy wipe-clean lining, they fold around your sandwich and seal with Velcro, keeping it fresh and secure. When unwrapped, they act as perfect plate.
We use two brands: Keep Leaf and Planet Wise. Keep Leaf are circular and more flexible, which equates to more forgiving when trying to pack thick sandwiches (or two on top of each other), whereas Planet Wise are square and less prone to staining; pick your priorities!
Both are great for zero waste food storage either at home for work lunches, or while travelling and out and about, it’s really a matter of personal preference.
The Planet Wise tint range has the added bonus of forgoing the cloth lining, meaning both sides can be wiped dry after cleaning. While not as pretty as the cloth patterns, this has proved very useful when camping or when we have limited time or ability to hang items to dry.
Insulated stainless steel bottle
If you don’t currently carry a reusable bottle, where have you been??? Stop buying disposable plastic bottles and invest in a good quality reusable one. My preference for material is stainless steel, and I particularly love Klean Kanteen’s vacuum insulated versions.
For me, it’s all about keeping my water cold, but they’re just as effective at keeping hot drinks hot if that’s what you’re after. Many coffee shops and smoothie bars even do discounts if you provide your own bottle or cup so it’s worth asking! When I’m packing for picnics, particularly if the excursion involves some strenuous exercise and the weather is warm, cold water is essential and I can rely on our insulated Klean Kanteen bottles to keep us refreshed and rehydrated all day.
Stainless steel canisters
Maybe sandwiches aren’t your thing and you’d rather have salad, soup or yesterday’s leftovers. As plastic Tupperware is prone to leaking and breakages (even the expensive stuff!), it’s far from ideal when packing for picnics and doesn’t make the cut for zero waste food storage! Stainless steel canisters are a great alternative and if you opt for the vacuum insulated ones, you can even enjoy a hot meal followed by still-frozen ice cream!
Like their bottles, Klean Kanteen’s range is reliably leak-proof, made to last, and consistent with marketing promises regarding the length of time food will remain hot or cold.
I am not suggesting you throw out all your plastic Tupperware to replace it with these (or glass alternatives to keep in the freezer). Keep using what you have until it’s not longer fit for purpose, but instead of buying more plastic ones when you do need to replace them, you might like to consider these instead.
So, where do you put all your sandwiches, snacks and hot food once they’ve been prepared and stored?
You could of course just stuff it all in your day bag (and when we’re only taking out snack bags, this is exactly what i do) but when I’m packing for picnics, I prefer to store all the food together so I know where it is, nothing gets squashed at the bottom of my rucksack and I have somewhere to put all the empty wraps (and leftover crumbs that would otherwise be destined to spend eternity squished into the seams of my bag) once we’ve eaten.
Although the idea of them is romantic and incredibly quaint, let’s face it, picnic hampers aren’t all that practical! Unless you fancy lugging your woven wicker basket up mountains or even just to the office every day, you may want to invest in a lunch bag.
The size you opt for will depend on your meal preferences; for us, we have a small, box-shaped one with a zip lid that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s big enough for about 5 sandwiches plus fruit and a snack for each of us. This works for us (for now…we’ll likely need something bigger as the boys get older!), but there are lots of ethical brands out there making lunch bags in all shapes and sizes and in a range of sustainable materials. Fresk and Fluf are two brands with great ethics that are worth checking out to see if any in their ranges would suit you.
Stainless steel straws
I always have some reusable straws in my bag, not just when I’m packing for picnics, so I’m always prepared to decline any plastic ones. We like stainless steel ones as they’re incredibly durable and easy to clean.
We have tried two brands: U-Konserve and Klean Kanteen. My slight preference is for the U-Konserve ones simply because they’re straight and only made from steel, but Theo likes the Klean Kanteen ones as they have a colourful silicone bendy tip which detaches from the metal straw.
If you don’t like metal in your mouth or you want to allocate a different colour to each member of the family, Klean Kanteen are the ones for you. I also imagine that the soft, curved tip would be better for some people with disabilities. Personally, I don’t like the silicone tips; they’re unnecessary dust magnets whether they live in my bag or in the kitchen draw.
Klean Kanteen straws come in a pack of four with a little brush for cleaning but I find it gets stuck very easily and is more hassle than it’s worth. The U-Konserve straws can be purchased in a two-pack or as a single with a brush (we don’t have a U-Konserve brush so I can’t comment on this).
The final zero waste food storage essential on my list for packing for picnics are beeswax wraps. Eliminate the need for cling film by getting (or making) some of these wraps in a range of sizes.
There are a growing number of brands on the market and I’m sure they are tough to differentiate. We have tried Abeego and Honeywrap and love them both.
Our Abeego wraps have been heavily used for about 2 years and are still going strong. The Honeywraps, which we’ve only had for about a year, seem a bit more durable so I expect to last for even longer.
We use the extra large ones to keep bread fresh, the large for covering plates or wrapping sandwiches, and the medium and small are ideal sizes for chopped fruit and veg (perfect for corn on the cob, which is one of Theo’s favourites!) and covering bowls.
They’re a great addition to your kitchen cupboard and your travelling kitchen kit, but consider what you’ll use them for. They’re certainly not as long lasting as the sandwich wraps so if this is all you envisage using them for, your money is probably better spent on an extra couple of those.
If, however, you end up with a lot of chopped avocado halves, half eaten apples and pears (I believe this is symptomatic of a household with young children!) and you’re looking for a zero waste food storage solution for purchasing bakery items, beeswax wraps will be ideal for you!
An additional use for travellers is that they can be used to store soap or shampoo bars. The wax sticks to itself, keeping in even wet, sudsy soap!
Remember to wash with cool water only (otherwise the wax will melt) and with a mild soap or dish soap.
So, next time you’re packing for picnics, whether they be for a family hike or a mid-week office/school packed lunch, be sure to try out some of these zero waste food storage items to reduce your family’s footprint and make eating on the go a fun, mess- and waste-free affair.