Back to school means planning and packing lots of lunches for the kids. Sure, you have your child's favorite foods or easy, go-to items, but if you're looking for a healthier change, Alexandra Zissu, editorial director of Healthy Child Healthy World, a nonprofit public benefit corporation with a mission to empower parents to take action and protect their children from harmful chemicals, provided these five tips.
Choose organic: "Organic food is required to be free of synthetic pesticide residues, growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified ingredients, but 100 percent organic might not always be possible — due to your budget or lack of access," Zissu said. "Make sure to at least pack organic for the produce that retains the most pesticide residue: for example, apples, strawberries and grapes." Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce for help.
Go unpackaged: To avoid artificial colors, flavors, extra sugars and other additives, send kids off to school with unpackaged foods, Zissu said. "Simple, unprocessed food is best for their developing bodies. This has the added benefit of minimizing kids’ exposure to the various questionable chemicals found in food packaging. For the items you do want to buy prepackaged, always read ingredient lists. If you can’t pronounce something, it’s not likely found in nature."
Pack PVC-free: "Lunch boxes can be made from polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC or plastic type #3, which can expose children to endocrine-disrupting chemicals called phthalates," Zissu said. "A 2012 study found that 75 percent of tested back-to-school items had elevated levels of these dangerous chemicals. Vinyl can also contain lead, a potent neurotoxin. Your best bet is to seek out PVC-free lunch gear."
Choose safe containers: There are a number of chemicals found in plastic — containers, wraps, bottles — that have been linked to hormone disruption, obesity, cancer and more, Zissu said. "These chemicals, including BPA or bisphenol-A and phthalates, migrate out of the containers and into your kid’s food," she said. "Choose safer materials like shatterproof glass, stainless steel and washable fabric or even beeswax reusable sandwich bags and wraps."
Ditch plastic bottles: Keeping well hydrated is critical for active young kids. "Fill up stainless steel water bottles with filtered tap water," she said. "Avoid plastic bottles as well as lined metal bottles. Instead, choose stainless steel or shatterproof glass with a protective silicone sleeve."
Looking for lunch box ideas? We found 45 your kids will love.