Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Choosing a Healthier Lunchbox :: Why I Buy Steel and Wood Instead of Plastic

In 2011, I wrote about lunchbox styling here - and given that schools across Australia start up again next week (including my baby girl's) - I thought I might revisit the topic. Revamp it. So over the next little while, I'll try to write some posts about lunchbox-based stuff - recipes, ideas, shopping lists, tips to make life easier. 

Because this time of year I think we could all use easy.

I've used all kinds of things as lunchboxes in the past: scrapbooking trays, old cookie tins, metal pencil cases, and - perhaps surprisingly - real lunchboxes. I still haven't found my perfect fit. My perfect lunchbox would be scrapbook-tray sized, stainless steel, and would have a removable multi-compartmented insert so you could just rinse the main part of the box and slot in a new insert for the next day (while the dirty insert gets washed overnight). It'd have a handle, a clip lock, and some cute designs etched on the top. 

Sounds awesome, right? Alas, it doesn't exist. But until someone steals my idea and makes a fortune on the design, here are some things to think about in choosing lunch-carrying devices from what actually does exist:

Steel vs plastic lunchboxes
I've used plastic in the past, but I've now replaced nearly all the plastic (including melamine) storage-and-food stuff in our house with glass or steel, so this year I've transitioned to stainless steel lunchboxes. They're expensive, yes, but safer. 

What do I mean? Many plastics contain chemicals that - if ingested - act as estrogen-mimicking compunds in the body, and these excess estrogens (natural or otherwise) appear to be associated with unhappy changes in breast tissue. If you've had breast cancer (as I have), a family history of breast cancer (as my daughter has), or are just concerned about all the estrogens present in our modern environment, you might want to consider reducing the plastics you use.

Now, of course you're not usually going to sit down munch on plastic directly - but in my opinion, there's enough evidence out there that the estrogen-like compounds in plastic food containers may leach into food or water to make it not worth the risk. There'll be enough times when I can't control the plastics being used. At home? This is my territory.
Go steel.

Features to go for in a lunchbox
In a future post, I'll be talking about the Lunchbox Food Groups (which aren't going to be what you expect!) - but to really enhance the look and variety of food within a lunchbox, it helps to have multiple compartments. The more, the better!

Other features to look for? Ease of cleaning, destructability, and spill-resistance.

Non-lunchbox stuff
Again, in my attempt to remove plastics from the kitchen, we no longer use plastic cutlery or water bottles. Instead, I recommend finding a dishwasher-safe stainless steel water bottle or two - as a bonus, the water doesn't taste weird and plastic-y after a day. Same goes for mini-thermoses and so on.

I have in the past sent stainless steel cutlery to preschool, but I'm running out of the random ones that I don't mind losing. This year, I've bought packs of bamboo or sustainably-harvested wooden cutlery - meaning fewer plastics going into my child's mouth (getting bitten and chewed and so on) but also less waste going into landfill. And if the forks or spoons don't make it home from school? No big deal. If they do? Bamboo cutlery lasts ages, but I even handwash and reuse my wooden ones till they show signs of visible wear.

Where to get all this stuff?
Check out your local organic or natural foods store for stainless steel lunchboxes, thermoses, water bottles and biodegradable cutlery. In the US, check out Wholefoods or Sprouts, or even order direct on Amazon. Here in Brisbane, I purchase my lunchbox-y things from Wray Organic and Biome. Yes, steel is be more expensive than plastic, but if cared for properly it should last longer, too. Go for quality!

More tips and recipes coming soon,
Amanda xx


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Thanks for commenting! Amandaxx

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