10 Ways to Start the School Year Green and Healthy
As summer starts fading into fall, it’s time to make sure the kids are equipped for the exciting challenges of a new school year. Check out 10 ways you can start the school year green and healthy!
Set Up a Waste-Free Lunch System
Packaged food in school lunches creates a lot of trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates an average of 67 pounds of waste per school year, which equates to more than 40,000 pounds of waste for one average-sized middle school. That’s a lot of garbage!
Here are some ideas about how to set up a waste-free, toxin-free, lunch system for your child.
1. Lunchbox: Try a reusable stainless steel lunch box that’s safe for food and easy to clean.
2. Reusable water bottles: You may already have reusable water bottles that your child uses. If you don’t, consider whether stainless steel might work best (they do make an awful racket when they fall, and they can dent) or if silicone-covered glass might work better (there’s a slight chance that they can break). Try to steer away from plastic — even plastic that’s free of bisphenol A (BPA). Not only do health questions remain about the BPA replacement chemicals, but at the end of its life, plastic is much harder to recycle than steel or glass. Avoid single-use plastic bottles entirely, if you can.
3. Containers: With the variety of stainless steel containers available today, there’s no need to use zip-lock bags and plastic tubs. Stainless steel containers can go in the dishwasher and are virtually indestructible. You’ll want small ones for snacks and small servings and larger ones for sandwiches.
4. Snack bags: Yes, there are yet more ways to avoid single-use plastic! To reduce waste, try eco-friendly, reusable cloth bags and food wraps. You may find these work best for dry snacks or fruits like apples or pears, although plenty of people use them for sandwiches as well.
Pack Healthy, Whole Foods
Americans have gotten in the habit of assuming that packaged food is better than food you have to wash before you eat. As a result, we have an epidemic of unhealthy eating and obesity on our hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Data from 2015–2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity.” Prepackaged foods can be full of sugar, sodium, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, pesticides, and chemicals from the packaging. Here are some tips for packing healthy foods:
6. Fresh food: Include at least one serving of fresh fruit or veggies.
7. Easy, healthy sandwich: Roll up tortillas with fresh veggies and cream cheese for an easy sandwich.
8. Skip the chemical additives: If packing crackers or other crunchy snacks, buy natural brands without chemical additives, or, better yet, make your own.
Find a Nontoxic Backpack
9. Avoid PCV: It’s hard to believe that some backpacks are still made with toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC, also known as vinyl). A tell-tale sign? The strong chemical smell! PVC contains chemicals that may have adverse health effects. These can be avoided by finding a backpack that is made from a cloth-like hemp, linen, or cotton.
Buy Eco-Friendly School Supplies
10. Look for recycled and biodegradable materials: You can find pencils, notebooks, and notepads made from recycled materials. In addition, try to buy PVC-free binders, pencil boxes, and organizers. You can tell vinyl by its strong chemical smell and smooth plastic feel. As a teacher, I can smell the vinyl school supplies and know that the air quality in the classroom is much better without these fumes.
Wishing you the best possible start to the school year for your family — including good sleep, healthy eating, and moments of joy and calm during this exciting and busy time.
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