School is already here for some of you, we started yesterday, and others don’t start until after labor day. But it’s Back to School Season and parents are busy getting the kids organized to start the school year. Here are my best tips for making safer purchases for your school supplies and some ideas on saving a little cash in the process.
Finding safe lunch gear can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to “non-toxic” speak or are just now learning why it’s important. Keeping food safe and reducing waste are on the top of all our lists. “So what do I look for?” When deciding on a lunch system you need to shop based on your needs. Some kids just need a smaller container or two to pack snacks, other’s need something more roomy to fit a healthy lunch and a snack, and some might need something more expensive for after school programs. Figure out how much food you need your child to take and then consult my SafeMama Lunch Gear Cheat Sheet for healthy lunch products. You want to look for something that doesn’t contain:
- BPA aka Bisphenol-a: a hormone disrupting chemical in plastics),
- PVC / Vinyl: very toxic material that should never be near food, you risk chlorine, lead and other horrible dioxins getting in your food and drinks,
- Phthalates: a chemical used in glues, adhesives and plastics to make them flexible – it is also a hormone disruptor, and
- Lead. All children’s products are required by law to contain less than 1000 ppm of traceable lead. That doesn’t mean they all are. Some companies proudly display LEAD FREE on their websites and products while other’s “Meet the requirements” and are hush hush abotu advertising that fact.
If this is all too complicated (believe, I know it can be tricky to wrap your brain around it) than I would urge you to look for lunch gear that is not made with plastic at all. There are great canvas lunch bags, stainless steel lunch boxes / bento boxes and glass food storage that are typically free of these toxins found in plastic and mass produced products. Some of my favorite lunch storage items in our home are made of stainless steel and glass or silicone.
Money Saving Ideas: Many people email me and say “But some of these brands are so expensive!” I know. But you’re investing in ONE good system of products that you can use every year, and they’re safe to reuse for years to come. I don’t have to buy one single thing this year because I scooped up deals last year on stainless lunch gear and used coupons where I could. Many of my wonderful supporters/advertisers offer discount codes too. My Little Green House and MightyNest offer my readers a 10% discount (Codes are on the ads).
School supplies can get really tricky, and I’ve not really mastered it yet myself. But there are a few things you can keep in mind to make finding safer school supplies easier.
Avoid PVC (vinyl) and Phthalates. This can be hard to do but not impossible. I always look for supplies made of natural materials but when you can’t, support companies who are dedicated to at least keeping PVC out of children’s products. Center for Environmental Justice has a great guide on brands that are PVC free for school and home supplies. Avoiding PVC will also help you avoid lead.
Avoid MicroBan. I know, I’m making you’re life any easier by instituting this rule but I really don’t trust the technology of it and since it’s “proprietary”, we really don’t know what it is. Is it Triclosan? Maybe but they don’t usually disclose that. I wrote a more extensive article about Microban last year which might clear up why I am so against it’s use in products. Bottom line is, Microban is not protecting your child from getting sick, it’s protecting the product from deteriorating. The Soft Landing has a good newsletter on the subject too. There is no benefit to it and it’s just one more unnecessary chemical in our world that profits from parents fear of the flu.
I could go on about looking for trusted brands that use the safest materials possible – which you can and I encourage. But for those of you that have kids in elementary school and up know that sometimes it’s out of our control and we have to just do the best we can. I feel the two thing above are what is most important. Last year I spent hours searching for the best supplies that were on the schools requested list. I went from store to store and shopped online. I was pleased with the safe pile I came away with. Only to find out later that they dump all the supplies into bins in class and they don’t actually get the supplies you chose.
Money Saving Tip: Before you go nuts at the store buying everything off your teacher supply list, take a minute to do some home inventory. I am willing to bet we all have piles of crayons, kid scissors, paper and glue sticks laying around. Collect what you have already before you shop. You’ll cut down on waste, and save yourself a few bucks in the meantime.
If you want to try to provide the best alternatives you can, here are some ideas to trade up the basic supplies schools ask for.
- Markers & Glue: Clementine Art Markers & Glue
- Crayons: Stockmar Beeswax Crayons
- Clorox/Lysol Wipes: Method AntiBac Wipes or Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Wipes
- Hand Sanitizer: Choose a safer brand without Triclosan or Phthalates with the Hand Sanitizer Cheat Sheet. I like to donate bottles of CleanWell sanitizer and hand soap at the start of the year.
- Nap Mats: Wildkin Nap Mats – No flame retardants or vinyl.
- Backpacks: Safer Back Packs Cheat Sheet
It’s true many schools are making attempts to make school food healthier. There are many movements underway that could help change things. Like the Let’s Move! Campaign launched by Michelle Obama or the Food Revolution started by Jamie Oliver. But as most of you know, if you don’t live in a progressive school, school lunches are still consisting of corn dogs (I once saw a child walking to class with her state provided “breakfast” of a corn dog and chocolate milk), pink slime meat, and mostly less than healthy options. If you have the means to pack a lunch of course, do so. Here are some great ideas and resources for finding healthy snacks and lunches for kids as wwell as some ideas on helping your school find ways to make better food choices for kids.
- SafeMama List of ideas to handle Pre-School (and Elementary School) Snacks at school – Actions to take when approaching your school or teacher about snacks, list of appropriate foods.
Green Plate Rule always has great food resources:
- List of Store-Bought Clean Snack Bars – Victoria – the queen of clean eating, has taken the legwork out of it for us. Here’s her list of store bought snack bars.
- Safe and Affordable School Lunch Items
100 Days of Real Food has some good info too:
- List of “rules” for the 100 day Challenge they do but it’s handy to read over when choosing food for yourself and your kids.
- 10 Ways to Switch Up Your Kids Lunch