Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box

Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box

January 17, 2023

By Healthy Child Staff

With school back in session, who doesn’t have lunch on the brain? As if figuring out what food to make that the kids will actually eat weren’t enough to contend with, there’s also the key issue of what to pack it in.

For most, the material of choice is plastic; it’s lightweight and it won’t break. But some plastics contain BPA or phthalates, two chemicals that fail health class, among other unsafe substances. Others are a lot safer. Plastic-free alternatives include cotton or hemp sandwich bags, plus shatterproof glass and stainless steel containers.

If you or your school insists on using plastics, the two safest kinds for lunch storage are high-density polyethylene (HDPE)—marked with recycling code #2—and polypropylene (PP) or recycling code #5. Both of these plastics have not been shown to leach their chemical components into foods. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), code #4, commonly used for plastic wraps, is also a reasonable choice, though not reusable. Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or code #1), polyvinyl chloride (PVC, code #3), polystyrene (PS, code #6), and code #7 “other,” a catchall category which includes BPA-filled polycarbonate plastics, should not be used.

Since crowdsourcing is endlessly useful to the parent standing in front of the fridge contemplating yet another lunch making session, we reached out to our blogger friends to ask what they use for their own school lunches. Here is what they had to say:

• Nancy, the Mama Maven, packs favorites like black bean quesadillas and organic yogurt in bento-style lunchboxes.

• Jennifer of Happy Tot Mom, puts stainless steel containers and water bottles like those from ECOLunchboxes in a organic cotton lunch sack. Her kids love fruit slices and whole wheat pita bread dipped in Sunbutter.

• Judith of  Juicy Green Mom, gives her brood a variety of choices so if they don’t like one thing, they can eat another. A favorite is homemade granola bars. She uses stainless steel containers with silicone lids like those from LunchBots.

• Trina of O’Boy! Organic makes her own snacks like raw nutballs and muffins, and puts the works in BPA-free containers that include a cloth napkin and placemat to reinforce the importance of good table manners. Inspiring!

However you pack whatever you choose to make, remember that lunch should never be microwaved in plastic of any kind. Also, the safest lunch is one that leaves home with a freezer pack or frozen water bottle to maintain safe storage temperatures until hunger calls.