With so many of us sending our kids back off to school this time of year (some of us actually THIS morning), I thought I’d share a few ideas and tips for making your child’s school experience less toxic and more environmentally friendly. Plus, I’d love for you to share a few tips in the comments section below, too.
First, let’s talk lunches.
Since my son, like countless other children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), is on a Gluten-Free and Casein-Free (GFCF) diet, he takes a homemade lunch with “safe” food every day to school. At some point last year I realized that though his foods were GFCF compliant and in my mind “safe,” I was putting them into plastic containers and baggies which are filled with quite questionable chemicals.
Some such chemicals found frequently in the spotlight the past several months are BPA (Bisphenol A), Phthalates and PVC. Phthalates are used to make plastics more soft and pliable; they have been found to disrupt hormones (and I imagine when studied further will be linked to many other debilitating diseases and disorders). BPA is a chemical often used in water bottles which is tied to breast and testicular cancer, hyperactivity and obesity. PVC has been studied in association with mothers who had PVC flooring in their bedrooms while pregnant. These mothers had higher rates of children with ASD diagnoses than mothers who had different flooring in their bedrooms.
All three of these frightening and scary chemicals were enough to give me pause and force me to reconsider what I was sending to school in my son’s lunchbox every day!
Since then, I have tried to minimize how much “plastic” my son’s food actually touches. Instead of placing sandwiches, veggies and fruits in Ziploc or plastic zipper baggies, (while they are super-convenient, cheap and easy), I try to wrap foods up – much like little presents – in wax paper. To make sure they stay closed, I seal them with fun labels printed with my son’s name and images of things in which he’s interested. I have also found some great, medium sized stainless steel containers which work well in my son’s lunch box, too. They’re not cheap, but at least I feel more comfortable using them on a daily basis than plastic bags. On occasion I will also wrap some foods, like left-over GFCF chicken nuggets, in aluminum foil.
When it comes to sending water to school for lunch and snack time, I buy only stainless steel or BPA-free bottles that can be washed and reused each week. In doing this, we avoid buying water bottles which utilize and transfer Phthalates and we also keep “disposable” bottles from ending up in landfills for centuries upon centuries. We have found BPA-free bottles in bright, cheerful colors and small sizes that fit right into a lunchbox. I have also found medium and larger sized bottles (also in a rainbow of colors) which fit nicely into a side pocket of my guy’s backpack, too.
Now, let’s talk actual school supplies.
Thanks to some great people, like those at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), people across the world now have a greater understanding of which products we should be wary of when sending our kiddos off to school. I would recommend you check the EWG’s excellent tips for in-depth information, but I do still want to share a few basic suggestions here.
How many of you have ever considered that your child’s actual backpack itself might have nasty chemicals which could harm him/her? Sadly, it is something most of us don’t even consider when we’re preparing for each school year. This is the first time I’ve ever considered it and my guy is going has been going to school for several years now! The EWG suggests that many backpacks are made with PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride – symbol #3). When possible, look for packs made with natural fibers and avoid making PVC your child’s invisible daily companion to and from school five days a week.
When shopping for spiral notebooks and binders, again – be wary of that nasty PVC. Look for products made of recycled cardboard, natural fibers or products with a tags advertising “No PVC.” With more and more people becoming environmentally alert and health-conscious, there are many “all-natural” products to choose from; often right in the stores where you typically shop. You’ll just have to spend a tad more time to hunt for the products and also be willing to spend a little extra dough. Both the extra time and money are worth it - in my opinion.
Finally, that pesky PVC is also often present in children’s lunch boxes…it is best to find a box or bag made from natural fibers when possible. They’ll be less likely to have PVC, BPA, lead paint or dangerous anti-microbial agents.
In summary, it seems that the more natural we can go with what we pack our kids’ foods in, the healthier their foods will be when they finally make it to their mouths and into their bodies. And, while it might not seem like a big deal to have PVC in backpacks and notebooks, it really might be for kids (like mine) who are simply unable to effectively process toxins out of their bodies like the rest of society. We just don’t have enough data yet to indicate that we shouldn’t be worried. Realistically, based on the disturbing data we do have, the less we allow these dangerous chemicals to be around ALL of our kids (with ASD or not), the healthier everyone will be!
I’d love to hear your tips for healthy and safe lunch-packing and the school supply options you’re sending with your child(ren) to school this year! Please take a few moments to leave a comment below so that we can all learn from one another.
Here’s to a healthy and happy school year!
Leigh Attaway Wilcox is a Writer and Editor, Children's Book Author, Literacy Specialist and proud mom to a spunky, smart 7-year-old boy who happens to live with Asperger's Syndrome. In addition to blogging here for AutismSpot each week, Leigh writes for the Dallas Moms Blog about a variety of parenting and special needs topics. For more about Leigh, her writing and her family's journey with Autism, visit her website and blog.