Reusable Take-out Containers Reduce Restaurant and Cafeteria Waste

Waste not, Want not

I’ve already shared about taking reusable containers with you when you’re on the road, on a family outing, or the like.

But what about going out to eat? Packing up your restaurant leftovers, and thereby avoiding non-microwave-safe reheats and non-biodegradable garbage when you’re done? I like my segmented EasyLunchbox containers for this, since they’re big enough to hold a whole meal’s worth of food, they keep the foods separate, and then lunch is already packed for the next day! But really, anything would do.

They come in handy too, if you happen to go to an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Leftovers can go home with you in case your eyes were bigger than your stomach, which can easily happen when there are so many goodies to choose from.

Cafeteria-style food is already more eco-friendly than other fast-food type restaurants, in that most of the dishes are turned in at the end, washed, and re-used, much like a sit-down restaurant. But often, every little item is given its own dish, which can add up to a lot of wasted dishwater!

Takeout Without is a site dedicated to education and sharing information to help reduce restaurant waste. Currently, their efforts on the restaurant-end are limited to parts of Canada, but anyone anywhere can use their tips and ideas to reduce restaurant waste on the restaurant eater-outer end! Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep the ideas and inspirations coming!

Easy Cafeteria Boxes

So here’s my easy solution, great for college students, or for anyone who eats lunch or some other meal in a cafeteria-style venue regularly (hospitals, for example, or companies like Microsoft, Google, and Zynga). Even grade-school kids, if their school cafeteria will let them. (Now there’s a great topic for your next PTA meeting!):

Bring your own re-usable segmented lunch container, or multiple containers, with you each day. Have them serve you directly into your container(s). Not only will you be reducing dishwater waste (wash your one dish, rather than a small plate for your fries, a medium plate for your pizza, a bowl for your salad, etc.), but your leftovers are already packed and ready to go with you to snack on later or combine with others for lunch the next day!

Or if you know you’ll be going out to eat at a buffet or cafeteria-style venue, like IKEA or Zoopa, plan ahead and bring your container(s) with you!

You can also try this at fast-food restaurants, if you avoid going during lunch or dinner rush. Go inside to order, explain face-to-face, and supervise. Help talk them through what you want in each compartment, and give them the lid too so that they don’t need to put everything in wrappers first to serve it to you (some venues have rules about food needing to be covered in some way before they can hand it to the customer.)

It may take a few tries to “train” them properly, but eventually you can even get them to squirt the condiments directly into your container from the little dispensers they use in the grill area, and save on the little disposable packets too!

If you tend to order the same thing(s) regularly (not that I eat at, say, McDonalds regularly or anything. *cough*) make a little drawing of your desired food layout to show how you want your food/condiments in there. Great idea for the kids meals especially, since their food fits easily, and it’s conveniently packed to take with you and eat in the car, if, say, you forgot your book are ready to leave before they finish their meal.

Kendra Peterson blogs under the name of Ludicrous Mama. She has posted almost 170 times (!) about her love for EasyLunchboxes on her blog, Biting the Hand That Feeds You. Despite her “complete lack of cooking skills and innate laziness”, she decided to try and cook (from actual recipes!!) and make healthier meals for her family. “Since I don’t really know what I’m doing and I suck at following directions (and rarely have all the ingredients on-hand anyways,) I usually just end up faking it.” Despite her self-deprecating humor, Kendra actually comes up with wonderfully delicious meal ideas and is one of the delightful contributors to my new book Cooking With Trader Joe’s Cookbook – Easy Lunch Boxes.