Healthy eating for a healthy planet
April 20, 2017
What impact do "fast and convenient" disposable products and single-serve food items have on our wallets, our health, and the environment?
Is it really possible to save money, and improve our health and our planet by packing healthy, reusable, and waste-free lunches instead of a disposable one? Yes! And here is the "why" and "how."
What is the difference between a reusable, waste-free lunch and a disposable lunch?
Everything included in a reusable, waste-free lunch should be able to be eaten, reused, recycled, or composted. To help avoid exposure to toxic chemicals that can be harmful to our health, lunch gear should also be free from the chemicals Bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, PVCs, lead, and other heavy metals to name a few.
Disposable lunches, on the other hand, include items that can cost us more money, especially when buying small prepackaged foods instead of bulk foods; are often made with harmful chemicals, like BPA and lead, which can negatively affect our health; and contribute to waste in our landfills and pollution to our environment.
Why does it matter?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), every year in the United States the paper, aluminum, glass, plastics and other recyclable material we throw away would be worth $11.4 billion if it were recycled instead. Less than 14 percent of plastic packaging, which is the fastest growing form of packaging, gets recycled. And in addition to being a waste of materials, single-use food and beverage packaging is a prime source of the estimated 269,000 tons of plastic pollution currently floating around in the world's oceans, harming turtles, whales, seabirds and other marine life, and possibly human health as well?
For example, plastic juice pouches and drink boxes are generally not recyclable. If the 1.4 billion Capri Sun pouches thrown away every year were laid end to end, they would reach nearly halfway to the moon.
Here are some ideas to help you reduce food packaging in your child's and your lunch:
Buy in bulk with minimal processing. Go for large yogurt containers and portion yourself.
Cut out the middleman and shop close to the farm. Buy from farms, farmers' markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes, etc. Bring your own reusable bags, egg cartons or related containers when possible.
Select products based on packaging you can recycle. Glass, steel and aluminum are examples.
Make your own. There's no limit to what you can make on your own: jam, peanut butter, bread and baked goods, frozen veggies, frozen waffles, dried fruits, cheese, yogurt, butter, etc. All it takes is a little time and practice to learn how.
If you buy juice — buy frozen concentrate and mix it with your own tap water.
Avoid individual serving size packaging. Food marketers get us hooked on the single-serving concept from the minute our babies start eating solid foods. There are single-serving baby food jars and yogurt containers. Convenient, yes. Easily recyclable, no. As far as baby food goes, you're better off with frozen cubes of food like Happy Baby, or making your own.
Let's stop going for convenience first when shopping. If something is being marketed as "convenient", it's probably not good for you or the environment. Instead of grabbing a lunchable and a juice box, pack something similar, such as cheese and crackers, baby carrot sticks and grapes in durable containers. It doesn't take that much more time.
Food is for eating, not for packaging. Debate rages on whether corn-based plastics (polylactic acid or PLA) are the next big green thing. Food should be grown to be eaten. You can bet your bottom dollar the corn grown to become ethanol or PLA is not organic. Do not be fooled by the "corn-based" or "compostable" or "biodegradable" label — buying bigger is still better!
For meats and fish, ask the butcher do the cutting at the counter. It will be fresher and packaging is minimized (butcher paper versus foam tray and plastic wrap).
Drink Tahoe Tap! And drink mostly water. Except for milk and/or pure juice for the kids. If you do give your kids juice, limit it to one small cup per meal (all refills are of water).
Article courtesy of Jill Whisler, MS, RD, a member of the Rethink Healthy team of Tahoe Forest Health System. Packing a "green" lunch is the B-FIT theme of the month for April. Teaching our children is our passion for our health and our community. If you are interested in volunteering, please call our Community Wellness Coordinator Gwen at 530-550-6730.