With only a few weeks left of summer, parents are already thinking about getting their kids ready for back-to-school. But, there's one thing kids don't need to pack in their backpacks this year: toxic chemicals.
Chemicals with links to cancer and hormone-disruption can hide in back-to-school products like school supplies. Kids are more vulnerable to toxics than adults. So, it's important to help reduce young students' exposure to these chemicals.
Here are some toxic-free back-to-school shopping tips:
1. Choose eco-friendly school supplies
Every year, parents and students head to stores armed with a list of back-to-school supplies that they need to buy. While shopping, let your nose be your guide. Here's why: products like scented markers or crayons use fragrances with ingredients that are not always listed on label. Fragrances can contain phthalates, a group of chemicals that are linked to asthma, risk factors for diabetes, and one type, DEHP, has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Instead of reaching for the smelly supplies, choose instead non-toxic pencils, crayons, oil pastels and chalk. When buying pens choose scent-free and made from recycled or biodegradable materials whenever possible. Also, keep an eye out for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label on products.
Phthalates can also be found in PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a type of plastic. Plastics marked with the number 3 contain PVC. Plastic covers on binders and spiral notebooks are usually made with PVC, so it's best to choose binders or notebooks made with recycled cardboard or natural fibres or check the label for a "no PVC" marking.
2. Non-toxic clothing chic
If you're planning on buying back-to-school clothes, watch out for stain- or wrinkle-resistant chemicals or pesticide-treated cotton. All of these contain toxics that could rub off on to a child's skin or could be inhaled while worn. Instead, choose clothes made of natural fibres like cotton or wool. Or organize clothing swaps with friends or share hand me downs with other families.
If it's time to buy a new backpack, ones made of natural fibres are best. If you can't find a natural fibre one, check the label to make sure it does not contain PVC.
3. Keep BPA out of your kid's lunchbox
Thankfully, bisphenol A (BPA) was banned by baby bottles in Canada, however, it is still found in other products such as food packaging and the lining of cans. While packing your kids' lunches this year, choose stainless steel containers and water bottles. If you have to purchase plastic containers, choose ones that say "BPA-free" on the label.
It's important that lunch boxes are made of non-toxic materials because they contain the food kids put in their mouth. So, when shopping for a lunch box, choose cotton, BPA-free plastic or unpainted stainless steel. Also, find out how you can reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the food you buy.
Want more non-toxic tips for this upcoming school year? Sign up for our toxic nation newsletter to receive tips and information all year long.
<strong>Ants on a log:</strong> This one might make you feel nostalgic as you make it. Turns out this classic kindergarten snack isn't just fun, it's also healthy: celery is a source of potassium, peanut butter has protein, and raisins have fibre.
<strong>Carrot sticks and hummus:</strong> Make this crunchy snack — a great way to get some protein and vitamin A into their bellie — easy to transport and eat by putting the hummus at the bottom of a small jar and placing the carrot sticks in so they stand up. A great idea for a workday snack for you, too!
These are the perfect way to sneak in healthy ingredients like yogurt, greens, or chia seeds — <a href="http://www.marthastewart.com/search/apachesolr_search/smoothies" target="_hplink">Martha Stewart's site has some great recipes</a>, but doing an online search for your favourite ingredient plus "smoothie" is sure to bring up tons of suggestion. Companies like <a href="http://thesilico.com/proddetail.php?prod=silisqueeze" target="_hplink">Sili Squeeze</a> and <a href="http://www.yummipouch.com/" target="_hplink">Yummi Pouch</a> sell portable smoothie containers that are great for all ages, from toddlers and up. Just squeeze and enjoy!
It's hard to beat simple, whole fruit as a snack — it's healthy, it's easy to transport, it requires zero prep, and it's inexpensive.
Okay, maybe your creations won't be quite as stunning as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/back-to-school-bento-box-lunches_n_1730487.html" target="_hplink">these Japanese ones</a>, but a bento box is still a great snack idea. You can make ingredients like rice balls en masse and use them throughout the week, and layer in other options like chopped meat (a way to repurpose leftovers!) and raw veggies.
There are a million things you can do with this basic recipe: get a healthy pita (look for whole grains and fibre), spread it with your ingredients of choice (goat cheese and jelly, almond butter and chard, hummus and thinly sliced meat, anything you can come up with — just make sure you have a sticky layer), roll it up, and then chop it into fun wheels.
Here's a great option if your kids love chips — you can incorporate their favourite flavours, like salt and vinegar or chili, with a healthy ingredient like chickpeas, a source of fibre and protein. <a href="http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/10/exactly-how-i-roast-my-chickpeas/" target="_hplink">This basic recipe</a> can be adjusted with your favourite herbs and spices.
Greek yogurt is all over the grocery aisles now, and it's a good thing — it's full of healthy bacteria that keep your gut humming along, and it's a great source of calcium. To avoid excess added sugars, look for plain yogurt, and add in your own mixers like berries or chopped pineapple.
Trail mix can be a great snack, but packed mixes are often full of fat and added salt and sugar. Easy solution: make your own! Just pick the ingredients you'd like to have, mix through, and package into smaller containers to make it easy to grab and go.
These cheese discs are easy to transport, fun to unwrap, and a great hit of calcium, filling fat and protein. They come in several different flavors so you can give your kids their favorite cheese.
Kids love pizza, but it can be greasy and covered in unhealthy toppings. An easy solution is to make your own — you can go lighter on the cheese, and heavier on the healthy stuff like greens and lean meats. Mini pitas or slider buns are a great way to make these mini, which also makes them more fun.
You can give the kids something crunchy without putting chips in the lunch bag. Crisp up some pitas in the oven—brush them with a bit of olive oil, maybe sprinkle with a bit of cumin for a kick. And pair it with a healthy dip or salsa — even homemade!
Popcorn is actually a whole grain, and it's a good way to get some fibre in your kids' bellies. And if you air pop it, it's low in calories, which means you can beef it up with some fresh parmesan and your kids' favourite herbs or spices.
In Japan, edamame is a bar food — sprinkle with salt, pop them open, and enjoy. Much healthier than pretzels! They can be a fun snack for your kids too, one that provides them with some protein to help them get through the afternoon.