Last week, I participated in a #letsmakelunchfun challenge on Instagram. So, the idea was for a group of mommy bloggers to share interesting lunchbox ideas for children. While the previous evening went in planning the meal, the next morning was all about execution. What followed were pictures of beautifully presented food in fancy, colorful boxes. All in all, great fun! As the week comes to an end and I browse my instapics for the nth time, I can’t help but think about the actual ‘lunchbox’ itself. As parents, we try and ensure that our kids eat healthy, well-balanced meals at all time. However, have we given enough thought to the ‘material’ that goes into the making of these boxes?
One look around, and it is evident that we end up using reusable plastic food containers, more often than not. There are many reasons this makes sense. Plastic containers are simple and durable. They come in a range of cheerful colors and designs, making them apt for our little ones. They are easy to handle and most of them have sturdy clips that ensure no leakage.
However, is plastic safe?
From the point of view of the environment, it is not the most ideal material. Plastic, in itself is non-biodegradable and hence, cannot be decomposed. When a substance cannot be decomposed, it ends up becoming a major cause of pollution, something that the world can definitely do without.
Reports suggest that in order to make plastic products tough, durable and colorful (the way we like them), it needs to be blended with some serious amounts of additives. Besides increasing overall performance, additives also reduce production cost, thus making it a win-win for both the consumer and the producer. Commonly used additives include plasticizers and Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA. When food comes in direct contact with plastic containers, these additives can gradually erode and get ingested into our kids’ bodies via their food.
What about BPA free?
BPA is the product that is used to harden plastics; and is pretty much everywhere – in medical devices, sippy cups, water bottles, lining of tin cans etc. Over the years, there has been a growing concern on the ill-effects of BPA on health; right from it causing disruptions in hormone levels, behavior issues, brain development problems, heart conditions and even cancer. As scary as this might sound, most reports also suggest that nothing has been established in entirety. While the U.S. Food and Department Administration has expressed ‘some concern’ on the potential negative effects of BPA on health, most of the tests have been conducted on animals.
In light of these concerns, the market is flooded with BPA-free products at the moment. Now, while this label clearly indicates that the product in question does not contain the possibly harmful Bisphenol A; what it also means is that the chemicals that are used in place of it are equally harmful, if not more. This clearly establishes the fact that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer.
What does this mean?
Should we then start shunning everything to do with plastic with immediate effect? On the one hand, it might be a good idea to reduce exposure to any kind of chemical as far as possible. However, considering the reach plastic can have (with it being everywhere), that might be a difficult road to tread. Also, with some experts claiming that the current ‘low levels’ of human exposure to BPA is safe, it is probably okay to continue using it should you wish to.
Remember to never use plastic in the microwave though, as heat is known to cause BPA to leach out. Similarly, try and cool the food completely before transferring it into plastic containers (something I always do). Lastly, get rid of containers/boxes that are chipped, cracked or damaged as they can breed bacteria.
For those who wish to consider other options, there are many.
Glass is completely safe as far as hot food goes. It can be popped into the microwave without a second thought. Also, it is cheap, stain-free and generally easy to wash and maintain. However, since glass can shatter into several pieces when damaged, it is not recommended for children. Glass containers are available is most leading supermarkets in Dubai including Spinneys, Union Co-operative and Lulu.
Stainless steel is the latest fad and for good reason too. It is eco-friendly, antibacterial and does not leach chemicals unlike plastic. While steel containers may not be the prettiest thing around, they are sturdy and dishwasher safe. The downside is that they are not microwave-safe and might be difficult to handle (open and close) as far as younger kids are concerned.
Several interesting versions of stainless steel lunch boxes are available in the market today. The bento-style ones with several compartments from PlanetBox are very popular.
LunchBots is another company specializing in stainless steel boxes and insulated food containers.
Organic cotton cloth sounds old-school but are a great way to package food. However, their utility is restricted to sandwiches and dry, whole fruits. Variations of these can be found on Amazon as well.
If you’re concerned about the safety of food both inside out, it may be time to start considering these non-traditional methods of packing food.