One of the most challenging aspects of the back-to-school season for parents is thinking about two dreaded words: lunch boxes.
Five days a week, we must fill them with food and drinks we hope our kids will find appetizing while not forgetting to reduce the amount of packaging for the sake of the environment.
I recently did some research and discovered a few ways to pack an eco-friendly lunch without too much hassle. In fact, it can be as easy as stocking up on local, healthy food, ditching plastic bags and using reusable products and containers.
Karine Levy, a certified dietician in Montreal, says a “green” lunch begins with the choices parents make at the grocery store. Individual packages of crackers, cookies and juice boxes are often filled with unhealthy sugars and fats and all that packaging ends up in our landfills. Instead, Levy encourages parents to buy locally-produced and/or organic fresh fruits and vegetables. She also suggests parents chop up cheese and fruit into cubes, put yoghurt and crackers into individual-sized and reusable containers and invest in a few bite-sized metal cookie cutters for making sandwiches into cute shapes.
Containers of all kinds
Most large retail stores have plastic containers with easy-to-use lids as well as stainless steel bottles and mugs. And now, BPA-free containers can be found virtually everywhere – just look for the BPA-free label or sticker, or ask your retailer for more information on the product you're interested in. BPA is a chemical that seeps out from polycarbonates in plastic and has been found to affect the development and cell activity of both humans and animals. BPA used to be commonly found in some plastic water bottles, baby bottles and children’s sippy cups, and there are still products lurking around with BPA. Luckily, there are now many plastic products containing no BPA as well as alternatives such as stainless steel, glass, wood, ceramic and lacquer ware.
Klean Kanteen is a popular brand of BPA-free water bottles that are made of stainless steel. They can be purchased at Bummis, the North Face Boutique, Altitude, Le Baron, and Eco-Quartier Cartierville, as well as on their website at www.kleankanteen.com.
Thermos is another popular brand, and its line of children’s products, Foogo, for ages six months and older uses all FDA-approved materials, and does not use plastics containing BPA. Furthermore, their bottles are made from high-quality stainless steel, contain no inner plastic linings and include a soft silicone straw for easy sipping. Foogo can be found at Junior Baby, Le Baby Shop (on Harwood in Vaudreuil), Toys R Us and Zellers, or purchased directly from Thermos’s website at www.thermos.com.
The Ontario-based company Balanced Day offers “eco-packs,” which are plastic containers with no BPA. The boxes are air-tight, leak-proof, and come in various sizes. Two Montreal locations carry their products: M-A Vetements on Blvd. Saint-Charles in Pierrefonds, and Le Baby Shop. For a listing of their other products or to purchase them online, go to www.balanceddaylunchkit.com.
You can even avoid plastic altogether by using LunchBots, containers made from stainless steel. They come in different colours and sizes and can be bought at Le Baby Shop and online at www.lunchbots.com.
Plastic wrap alternatives
An intriguing alternative to plastic wrap is the Wrap-N-Mat, a square of PVC-free plastic that wraps around a sandwich to keep it fresh. Velcro flaps keep the package together and, when undone, the mat serves as a little place mat. They also have a product called the Wrap-N-Mat Snack Pouch, which can be used for storing snacks and comes with an easy-to-use hook and loop fasteners. For more information, go to www.wrap-n-mat.com.
Other companies also offer snack bags made from cotton fabrics with liners that are free of lead and phthalates. For example, SnackTaxi bags come in two different sizes and can be washed and re-used. They are made in a home-based workshop. For more information, go to www.snacktaxi.com.
LunchSkins sandwich bags by 3GreenMoms were created by three women who wanted an alternative to plastic bags. They offer three sizes of bags, as well as forks and spoons made from cornstarch, which can be tossed in the compost. For more information, visit www.lunchskins.com.
Green lunch boxes
Of course, once you’ve made sure that the food is healthy and the container eco-friendly, you might still have questions about the lunch box itself. When buying a lunch box/bag, you ideally want something that is free of phthalates and PVC.
Balanced Day Lunch Kit makes bags with two compartments. One can be used for lunch and the other for snacks. Check out the various models at www.balanceddaylunchkit.com.
Built NY Gourmet Getaway lunch bags and sandwich bags are very popular as they have been tested for lead safety, are made of neoprene (wetsuit material) and have no vinyl or PVC. They can keep food hot or cold for up to four hours and are machine-washable. For a listing of their products, visit www.builtny.com.
Crocodile Creek also makes kid-friendly lunch boxes and entire lunch kits with drink containers, snack and sandwich boxes and more, that have lead-safe linings and are phthalate and PVC free. They are available at Rêve d’Enfant in Pointe Claire Village or online at www.crocodilecreek.com.
Websites that sell “green” items
Fenigo, a home-based Internet site run by a mom out of Kitchener, is devoted entirely to the green lunch box/ Hundreds of items are available on the site, including Pack It personal coolers, which is a lunch bag that can be tossed into the freezer overnight so that food items stay cool all day. Visit the site at www.fenigo.com.
The website www.reuseit.com has hundreds of products grouped in over 30 categories. You’ll find lunch boxes, shopping bags and different kinds of water bottles.
Montreal-based company www.gogreeninstages.com has various eco-friendly products including a “Waste Free Lunch Kits,” which has a stainless steel food jar for hot meals, a Klean Kanteen bottle, a lunch bag from Built NY, and stainless steel food containers that comes in a variety of sizes for big or small lunches.
Quebec-based company www.lifewithoutplastic.com has sandwich bags, stainless steel lunch boxes, popular individual popsicle molds with a reusable bamboo stick, bento box lunch containers with removable dividers, microwavable glass containers and bottles, and much more.