EWG's Enviroblog
This Back-to-School Season, Protect the Lunchbox

This Back-to-School Season, Protect the Lunchbox

August 29, 2023

Back to school means books, studying and recess – to kids. For many parents, this time of year means packing lunches.

When you make lunch at home, you know your child will consume a well-rounded, nutritional meal. But figuring out the best portable options can sometimes feel like a monumental task, especially when you’re trying to avoid food additives, pesticides and potentially harmful food packaging.

Here are some easy tips to pack a healthy, clean school lunch:

Make sure lunchbox staples are organic or on EWG’s Clean Fifteen list

Fruit – such as grapes and apples – and veggies, such as carrot and cucumber sticks, are lunchbox staples because they’re healthy and easy to eat. But all four foods are on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with the highest levels of pesticides. Consider buying the organic varieties.

Another option is to select fruits and veggies from EWG’s Clean Fifteen. Avocados top this list of conventional produce least likely to hold pesticide residues, so you could pair asparagus spears, cauliflower florets or organic carrots with a guacamole dip. Clean, conventionally grown fruits include pineapple, mango, kiwi, grapefruit and cantaloupe.

Use glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic

There’s less waste when you pack food in reusable glass or steel containers. And EWG’s searchable database will tell you if bisphenol-A, a hormone-disrupting chemical in epoxy, is lurking in canned food, glass jar lids or beverage cans.

Of course, remind your child to bring home reusable containers.

Avoid unwanted additives

From artificial colors and generically labeled “flavors,” to potassium bromate, the Food and Drug Administration allows food processors to use any of 10,000 additives in their products. Some additives are linked to health problems. You can check EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Good Additives to find the worst offenders and learn which foods are not heavily processed.

EWG’s Food Scores database and Healthy Living app make it easy to search more than 80,000 foods and find healthy choices. Food Scores takes into account nutritional value, health concerns about ingredients and degree of processing to rate each product on a scale from 1 (best) to 10 (worst).

Planning ahead is a key to success. EWG has done the research for you to make easy, but educated decisions about what goes into the lunchbox this school year.