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School Lunch Green Suggestions

Do your kid's school lunches make the grade?

Send the kids to class with healthy lunches and sustainable snacks to sharpen their young minds while teaching a valuable lesson on eco-friendly living.

The Benefits

  • A is for Apple (whole fruit). Wean kids off juice drinks that often only have about 10% real juice, are loaded with sugar, and contain no fiber. Choose 100% juice or include whole fruit in your kids' lunchbox.
  • B is for Butter (organic nut butters, that is). Take a healthy new spin on an old favorite with organic nut butter on whole grain bread.
  • C is for Conscious about Waste. Replace juice boxes altogether with refillable bottles, store foods in reusable containers (if you think your kids will bring them back), and buy lunch staples like yogurt in bulk.
  • D is for Vegetables. (Well, D does sound like V). Add healthy veggies to sandwiches or include veggie sticks as a snack.

    Lunchboxes: Easy Greening
Some of us are so focused on the challenge of what to put in our kids’ lunchboxes that we don’t consider the lunchbox itself. But a 2006 report found disturbing amounts of lead in vinyl lunchboxes. The highest lead levels were found in the lining of the lunchboxes--yes, that would be the area closest to food. (You wash the organic apple, then snuggle it up against the lead lining of the lunchbox—yikes.) Here’s an update on toxic lunchboxes and some safe alternatives.

If your children's school has yet to institute Alice Waters’ healthy and sustainable school-lunch curriculum, you're probably packing their lunch in an effort to protect them from scary chicken things. But the lunchbox you pack it in may be even scarier. Reusable seems the most eco-friendly choice, but a report by the Center for Environmental Health found that common soft plastic (PVC) lunchboxes often contain lead. The level of lead in one lunch box, an Angela Anaconda box made by Targus International, tested at more than 90 times the legal limit for lead in paint in children’s products.

Not only were the highest levels found in the interior of the lunchboxes, but lead was found on the surface of the lining and could easily be transmitted to food or hands. Low levels of exposure to lead can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage. At high levels of exposure, the effects are even more frightening and can result in death.

Since the time this report was published a number of leading lunchbox manufacturers have agreed to reduce or eliminate the amount of lead in their lunchboxes. As a result, although all lunchboxes are not yet free of lead, the number has decreased.

Some lunchbox makers are now labeling their products as lead-free, and you can test vinyl lunchboxes using a hand-held lead testing kit available at most hardware stores. But as much as we hate to rain on your lunchbox parade, the bad news doesn’t end with lead. A common additive to the vinyl used in lunchboxes is DEHP—a phthalate that is a suspected carcinogen and reproductive toxicant. So what to do? Might be best to steer clear of vinyl lunchboxes altogether and try one of these alternatives:

(And if you’re thinking “brown paper bags,” they are free of health hazards, but consider this: The average school-age child generates 67 pounds of lunch trash per school year. It seems most thoughtful to pack lunches with as little garbage as possible.)

Or try a classic vintage metal lunchbox, the Center for Environmental Health recommends metal lunchboxes as a good alternative to vinyl. 
By Melissa Breyer, Producer, Care2 Living

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