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Kids’ Environmental DIY: Make a Pizza-Box Solar Oven

The nice folks at GrowNYC, formerly Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC), have implemented a city-schools program to train students in initiating renewable forms of energy in their homes. One of the most popular projects in their program is the pizza box solar oven. As I recently found out firsthand, this homemade solar oven is an easy, educational and inexpensive DIY project that you’ll enjoy doing with your children and their friends.

Comprised of stuff you probably already have around the house plus, you guessed it—a recycled pizza box, this homemade solar oven can reach temperatures upwards of 275 degrees! And it’s easy and fun to put together.

Mike Zamm, Director of Environmental Education at CENYC, recently took the time to tell me about the pizza-box solar-oven project, which has now reached over 4,500 students in New York City schools.

The pizza-box project is great because it is something that kids can really touch and feel and it’s inexpensive and easy to transport. Best of all, students really enjoy building them. And they work reasonably well if you don’t ask them to do too much.

Kids Environmental DIY, How to Make a Pizza Box Solar Oven

I recently enlisted the help of my two school-aged nephews and their mother in the construction of a pizza-box solar oven—and then tested it by baking s’mores. The materials you need are:

  • Black construction paper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Clear plastic laminate
  • Non-toxic glue
  • Clear plastic packing tape
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Magic Marker
  • Wooden dowel or straw
  • Pizza box

Here’s a Step-by-step Description of the Process:

  1. We gathered the materials, including a recycled pizza box from our favorite restaurant.
  2. We drew a one-inch border around the top of the pizza box.
  3. Mom and the boys cut the top of the box along the lines on three sides and gently folded it back forming a crease along the fourth (near the spine of the box) so that it formed a large flap.
  4. We cut several pieces of aluminum foil, enough to cover the bottom of the new flap, smoothed out the wrinkles and glued it in place. This flap lined with aluminum foil serves as a conductor for solar rays.
  5. The boys took a few recycled Ziplock bags and restructured them to be bigger than the window in the pizza box made by the flap. They taped the plastic to the underside of the pizza box top across the window, making sure it was well sealed. This plastic will help hold the heat in the box—the place where all of your food items will be cooked.
  6. As for the inside bottom of the pizza box, we applied more aluminum foil via non-toxic glue and then, over it, we taped a layer of black construction paper to help absorb the heat. We then closed the top and admired our handiwork work… not bad for a bunch of items that were already scattered around the house.
  7. Now that it was assembled, we put our favorite graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows into our new oven and placed it in direct sunlight for 30 minutes with a stick propping up the flap. It took a bit of adjustment until we made sure the maximum sunlight was reflected off the foil on the flap and aimed through the plastic window to the food inside the box.
  8. Presto! S’mores eco-style!

We’re told you can make cookies, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, hot dogs and other foods in the solar oven. Use an oven thermometer to gauge how hot your solar oven gets. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind as well:

  • Allow about half an hour for the oven to preheat
  • Expect the cooking time to be about twice that of a conventional oven
  • Don’t be concerned about overcooking—it’s unlikely
  • The oven is usable for at least six months a year in northern or southern climates—and year-round in the tropics.

I highly recommend this inexpensive kids’ DIY ecology project. Children learn about recycling, solar energy and whatever other environmental lessons you care to teach along the way. In addition, they are exposed to cooking and building something with their own hands from scratch. They and you will have a blast in the building and cooking processes. And, if that isn’t enough, you can all enjoy a tasty reward at the end. What could be better than that?

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