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What’s For Lunch? Packing a Kid (And an Environmentally) Friendly Lunch

Packing your child’s lunch just got more complicated. The question of “what’s for lunch?” has now been expanded to “what’s your lunch packaging”, as parents are faced with product safety issues, new school waste mandates and reducing their family’s environmental footprint.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that one student taking a disposable lunch to school each day will create 45 to 90 pounds of garbage per year.

In an effort to teach children about the environmental impact of their food and beverage choices, and focus on reducing, recycling, and reusing to avoid waste, many schools are committed to reducing waste on campus. One method is to encourage parents to pack a “waste-free” lunch. This means everything in your child’s lunchbox is reusable or consumable. Schools such as Marin Primary School in Marin, California, are not only recycling and composting, but they have done away with plastic utensils, cups, and plates by washing reusable plates that the children have made themselves.

Local children’s cloth napkin company, Fabkins, is working with schools to provide children’s size napkins for fundraisers, classroom party baskets, and lunchrooms throughout the country. While Kids Konserve offers stainless steel food containers, sandwich wraps and safe party ware for kids’ lunches and celebrations.

The number of children’s product recalls due to lead paint, poor plastics, and PVC have increased dramatically. Luckily there is a big “green” market to fill the void of safe products, when it comes to lunchboxes and food storage. There are many fun and colorful lead-free, old-fashioned metal lunchboxes as well as soft PVC- and lead-free lunch totes that children can choose from. Allowing your child to choose is important so your child is proud of his lunchbox and excited to see and eat what’s inside.

To deal with portion control and eliminate the waste of plastic bags, sandwich wrap, and waxed paper is with a lunchbox system. These are composed of a set of safe plastic boxes arranged in a larger box, like that of a traditional Japanese bento box. These boxes are easy for parents to pack and determine an appropriate size portion for your child. It is also easy for children to pack and clean up, as the pieces fit snugly together as a puzzle. Preschool teacher Joanne Haight advises parents to pack foods for school in containers that keep food fresh and safe but are also child friendly to open. She says especially for preschool age children, that self help is just as important as what they are eating.

These green on-the-go tips work for all ages and venues, whether they’re headed to school, daycare, or a family outing.

Keep perishables cold in insulated lunch bags. There are many PVC- and lead-free choices. Rather than using an ice pack you can freeze backpack with detachable lunch box items such as yogurt or water, which will thaw and be ready by mealtime.

Pack food, drink and soups in reusable, non-plastic containers and thermos bottles. Containers made from stainless steel and aluminum reduces waste and concern of leaching of toxins such as Bisphenol A, which is linked to birth defects, miscarriage, and prostate cancer.

Wrap sandwiches in reusable sandwich wraps, such as by Wrap-n-Mat. Opt for foil over plastic wrap and baggies. Unlike waxed paper and plastic wrap, aluminum foil is available in 100 percent recycled form, is recyclable in most areas, withstands heat and cold, and works better than plastic and waxed paper at keeping moisture in. Aluminum is also oil free and is not made from petroleum, the way that wax and plastic are. Reduce landfill waste by eliminating plastic bag use, as they can last up to 1,000 years.

Provide metal or ceramic utensils that can be reused and washed. Just remind your child to bring them home. Or provide bamboo renewable and biodegradable forks and spoons, rather than plastic.

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