Friday, September 18, 2009

Waste Free Lunch

Last year, someone sent Anouk a Tinkerbell lunch box, which she loved. It was the soft kind, with a vinyl lining, and we used it all year. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to this kind of lunchbox. Vinyl is evil, for one. The production of PVC is detrimental to the health of the workers in PVC factories, as carcinogenic compounds are created both in the production and destruction of PVC. There is a movie called "Blue Vinyl" that documents a woman's inquiry into the Vinyl industry that manages to be hilarious while exposing how horrific this industry is. So, I'm really trying to find alternatives to vinyl whenever possible.

Next, I keep hearing about pthalates in lunchboxes that may be released into the food contained therein. I haven't done any research into this, but I'd rather err on the side of safety when it comes to the food my child ingests. On Monday, a water bottle rep at the State Fair insisted to me that "anything you inject into a rat is likely to cause cancer." He also said the pthalate talk is all a plot to put water bottlers out of business. I say, if there's a chance it causes cancer, I'd rather not put it in my body and wait to find out.

More pragmatically, I found it hard to clean the lunchbox. Inevitably, Anouk would deliver home a box with schmutz smeared inside and out, into crevices in the seams, and soaked into the cloth cover. I would have to soak it and scrub it, and still there was always dried gook in the corners. On top of this, I needed to provide small, plastic containers and baggies to keep her food separate within the lunchbox. I don't like to put her food in plastic, and she would often throw them away, so there I was buying more plastic, nagging her all the time to pay more attention.

This year, before school started, I began a hunt for something better. I was looking for a pthalate-free lunchbox with a removeable, dishwasher-safe liner for easy cleaning. There are actually a lot of options out there. Sadly, few of them can compete for the novelty of a lunchbox with their favorite characters or bright designs on them. (Someone needs to work on this.) I happened into a Storables store in Portland in late August, not expecting to find anything useful. On display right in the entryway was a whole table of waste-free lunch items. There were the lunchboxes I had been searching for, some with very cute designs printed on them, pthalate-free with removeable liners. There were also some bento boxes, a Japanese stackable lunchbox system. These can be found in very fun shapes and colors, but are still plastic. On top of the whole display, like a beacon, were 2-tier Tiffin boxes, a lunch system from India made of stainless steel bowls that lock together with a handle on top. They were on sale for about $20, so I bought one.

Now that we've been using this Tiffin box for a couple of weeks, I can't tell you how happy I am with it. Mike was afraid that Anouk wouldn't be able to figure out the latch on it, but she got it right away. I was nervous that she would reject it for being plain, but she thinks it is really cool. I love that I can put saucy foods in without concern that it will spill in her backpack, and they are in separate containers. It came with a small, round container for dipping sauces, but I use it to send a little extra snack or treat. Best of all, they clean extremely easily. A little bit of soap and water is all it takes to get even sticky food off, and if I'm lazy I just pop them into the dishwasher.

There were also some reusable sandwich "bags" in the display, which were made of a waterproof material that you simply fold around your sandwich and velcro shut. When you unfold it, it is a placemat. So simple! I figured I could make some of these myself when I get around to it.

I know it is a bit late for posting information about lunches, but I'm in the throes of appreciation for our new system now, and I noticed that Bento and Tiffin boxes are much cheaper right now than they were in August. Look it up on to see the many sizes and colors there are. And if you send sandwiches, look into those reusable sandwich bags, and leave no plastic behind.

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