Monday, August 16, 2010

Alternatives to Plastic and Paper Packaging for School Snacks & Lunches

So, in our last post, I mentioned that this year I'm committed to removing the last of the plastic from my family's packed lunches and snacks. I wanted to share how I'm making this change.

We started by eliminating paper napkins years ago, swapping them for cloth ones. The comment I hear over and over from parents when they see the kids' cloth napkins is, "but that's so much extra laundry!" Honestly, this hasn't been the case for us. We use cloth napkins for every meal and snack. I simply toss them into the wash with the towels. When the kids reached pre-school age, this was the first piece of laundry they learned to fold. Cloth napkins are perfectly sized for easy folding by small hands. We are lucky enough to have been gifted most of our napkins, which last for years, but you can also purchase beautiful and fun organic cloth napkins or swing by thrift stores and tag sales to pick up some (often barely or never used) secondhand napkins on the cheap.

Next up was eliminating plastic utensils. Even though we've always washed and re-used these, it still bothered me that we were using them at all. Sending my regular utensils to school wasn't an idea I was fond of, as I envisioned them getting lost and  I enjoy having a matching set when we sit down at home for a meal. Enter the thrift store and tag sales once more. There are many mismatched pieces of flatware out there that are perfect for packed lunches and snacks since losing one (or more) doesn't make a difference to your own set. Another option for the younger set is bamboo utensils.

Now on to the actual food. I've never liked using plastic sandwich bags, so we've been using re-usable plastic containers for food. Not caring for this solution, I've debated old fashioned waxed paper but since most waxed paper is made using petroleum, that just doesn't seem healthy or eco-friendly to me. Aluminum foil was another option. Even though it's recyclable, the disintegration when it comes into contact it with salt, acidic foods and highly spiced foods - creating aluminum salt in the food - is less than desirable. Glass containers are frowned upon at schools, for obvious safety reasons. I've tried wrapping sandwiches simply in our cloth napkins, but they never stay as fresh as we'd like. Finally, I saw cloth sandwich wraps coming onto the market. What a clever idea! Again though, there was a drawback. Most of these are made using a vinyl lining, which aside from having petroleum, is also often loaded with heavy metals such as lead to prevent deterioration and phthalates to give the plastic flexibility.

Enter snackTaxis sandwich wraps. These sandwich sacks are made with cotton and polyurethane coated nylon. According to the most recent information from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act's website (the CPSIA deals with the safety of items used by children), these materials have been found to be inherently free of lead of lead and phthalates, and therefore do not require testing. The snackTaxi nylon has been tested, however, and confirmed to be lead and phthalate free! Perfect! Even better, they come in basic colors and fun prints as well as different sizes, making eco-friendly lunches fun to bring to school.

Now, for older kids, say my teenager, lunchboxes seem to be too bulky to fit into a full backpack and/or locker. While willing to pack a lunch, usually her sandwiches got smashed when tossed into the backpack. In case you've never experienced this, a smashed pb&j sandwich is not very appealing. This is where stainless steel lunch containers become a perfect alternative to plastic. The multiple sizes of LunchBots provide options for salads, sandwiches and snacks for kids of all ages.

Finally, drinks. In my family we've always gone with plain water, but I know lots of kids bring juice or milk to school instead. Either way, a stainless steel water bottle is a great, plastic-free choice. While I mentioned in my previous post that I fill ours up with an inch or two of water and freeze it the night before, which has always worked perfectly for us, you may want to think twice before doing this. If you're using a Klean Kanteen, their one year warranty will be void if you put it in the freezer. You could always fill it with ice cubes instead.

Don't forget to enter to win one of three 18 oz stainless steel Klean Kanteens in our giveaway! You have until Friday August 20th @ 5pm EDT!

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