The Non-Toxic Lunchbox
Isabella chose baby led weaning over purees very early on and tends to eat a little of a variety of finger foods. This has meant that a simple pot was never enough to carry snacks and lunches. Having just started back at work, the food prep I’ve been doing has increased exponentially. Twice a week, I send Isabella to my parent’s house for the day with all her food ready to go- snacks, lunch and dinner. It means my parents can just focus on having fun with Isabella… I’m also a bit picky about what foods I give her and so this way everyone is happy (I make sure the dirty dozen fruits and veggies are always organic and try to give Isabella a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains and organic protein.) Having prepared the day’s healthy smorgasbord, it’s important to me that I then don’t pack it into something that will leach chemicals!
You’d hope that all lunchboxes would be made out of safe materials, however unfortunately that’s not the case… even with some that seem to say all the right ‘BPA-free’ things! Lunchboxes and lunch bags can contain chemicals that really aren’t appropriate to be making contact with food… especially for babies and children.
What are the materials we want to avoid and why?
PVC is used widely- both in bendy plastics and lunchbags. PVC contains so many phthalates they can actually make up 30% of PVC’s weight! Phthalates leach into food and drinks from containers easily because they aren’t bonded into the plastic. Phthalates are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. There are strong links between phthalates and asthma and also foetal exposure causing lowered testosterone, undescended testes and reduced sperm quality. Not something you want making contact with your child at all- let alone their lunch!
- Plastics with BPA:
BPA is in polycarbonate plastics which are used in hard plastic reusable food and drink containers. Studies have shown that BPA leaches easily into it’s surroundings. BPA is an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical which means it interacts with our body’s hormones. Studies have shown an association between BPA and decreased thyroid function, altered liver function, increased allergies, inflammation, asthma and obesity.
- Plastics with BPS:
When studies came out about the negative impact of BPA, industry started using a chemical called BPS in their plastics instead. They did this without having performed studies on BPS’ safety. Now studies have been done, BPS isn’t the safe substitute they were hoping for and it also has Endocrine Disrupting Activity– maybe even more so than BPA under certain conditions.
Tritan is made by the Eastman Chemical Company. It has been marketed as a safe BPA substitute and is used widely in ‘safe’ plastic drink bottles and food containers. The company claims that it doesn’t have any endocrine disrupting activity and only has a self-funded study to prove it. This has been disputed by a rival plastics company which has carried out studies showing otherwise. It’s all ended up in the courts, but it sounds a bit suspect to me.
Another worrying issue is that the body breaks down the Tritan chemical component DMT into something called TPA. More research needs to be done, but there is one test tube study whose findings suggested that potentially TPA exposure could trigger cancer in vulnerable populations.
When Tritan was first used it was thought to be a safe plastic and so it features commonly in ‘BPA– free’ plastic water bottles and also supposedly ‘safe’ plastic lunchboxes like the Yumbox and Munchbox. In both lunchboxes, the clear inner tray is unfortunately tritan!
What materials are safe?
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel is non- reactive and doesn’t leach chemicals. It is also tough and long lasting. Look for 18/8 Stainless steel as this is the highest quality and least likely to corrode.
- Silicone: Silicone is non- reactive and doesn’t leach chemicals
- Safe Plastics: Plastics ♻2 (HDPE), ♻4 (LDPE) and ♻5 (PP) are the safest of the plastics.
I’ve been trialling the best safe lunch boxes out there and here’s what I thought:
This is a lunchbox which will last a lifetime. It’s really well made, 100% stainless steel and super spacious (960ml). It isn’t just a toddler lunchbox- it can be used for school and is also big enough for adults to take to work for lunch.
I use this lunchbox if I’m packing food for Isabella for a whole day or if I’m going out for lunch and need food for both Isabella and I. I’ve also used it for picnics to bring along snacks to share. The main compartment is big enough a large sandwich / salad or another main meal. The other sections are great for chopped fruit and veggies or protein/ a roll etc.
Will last a lifetime, spacious and tough. Dishwasher safe. 100% Plastic free. 18/8 Stainless Steel.
The compartments aren’t completely sealed off from each other and so if you pack anything with too much liquid, it could make it through to the other sections (so there’s a slight risk of a soggy sandwich if you pack the wrong things into the other compartments!) I’ve seen some people get around this by using little silicone patty cases in the snack section or otherwise you can get the Lunchbots’ Dips containers which fits into the lunchbox perfectly for anything that could leak. The lid is tight fitting, but not leakproof.
This is a set of three stainless steel circular pots with safe plastic LDPE lids. They are really useful sizes- 148ml, 236ml and 473ml. The smallest is perfect for little snacks- cherry tomato quarters/ sultanas/ blueberries. I’ve even managed to fit in a little pikelet stack. The middle one is great for fruit/corn cakes/ a peanut butter sandwich cut up etc and the bigger one could hold some stew/ frittata or bigger bits of fruit like melon. These are leak proof and easy to clean. They are dishwasher safe except for the tops, which are better handwashed to make sure they don’t leach any chemicals.
Super convenient sizes. Leak proof. 18/8 Stainless Steel.
Even though it is a safe plastic, I recommend the lids should be handwashed.
This safe plastic polypropylene lunchbox is spacious and has lots of compartments allowing for creativity. The main body is divided into one large compartment and two snack sized compartments. There are also two separate leak-proof tubs for dips.
The larger compartment (1.1L) can hold a sandwich lying flat or otherwise a sandwich cut into squares in addition to the two dipping containers. The snack sized compartments (262ml) can hold chopped fruit or carrot/ cucumber sticks with the dipping containers (177ml and 77ml) say holding yogurt for the chopped fruit to be dipped into and hummus for the veggie sticks.
It holds a lot of food and has lots of separate compartments (which do not leak between each compartment) so you can include a whole variety of contents. It’s big enough for an adult’s lunch too if you packed it well. The lid is easy to remove and put back on, so a toddler could do it. It has a carry handle.
While it says dishwasher safe, it’s a plastic and I’d prefer to not put it in the dishwasher and to hand wash it. It’s a smooth plastic and so is easy to clean. The whole body of the lunchbox isn’t completely leak- proof (though the compartments won’t leak between one another) but the dipping tubs are leak-proof.
These bowls are made from silicone and have a really clever top which you press down and it forms a suction seal. I’ve been using these daily for a long time now. They are just so convenient and were all I used in the early solids days. Having a 250 ml capacity, I use them regularly to carry single serves of stew, cucumber sticks, chopped berries, steamed pear slices etc. for Isabella.
Easy to use. Form a great leak- proof seal if you treat them gently. A convenient capacity for single meals. Dishwasher safe. Silicone is non- porous and therefore bacteria resistant and easy to keep clean.
These can leak if they get squished from the side in the nappy bag. Small capacity. A little awkward in shape if you’re carrying too many or trying to fit them in an insulated lunchbag. Defrosting anything in them that wasn’t frozen in them to begin with can be difficult because of the round shape. I get around this by freezing meals in them and tipping them out into a glass container in the freezer when frozen. To defrost, I then simply put them back into the Adora bowl again and into the fridge!
The safest cutlery is made from either silver, stainless Steel, silicone, safe plastic or wood/ bamboo.
This cute and convenient fork and spoon is made from a single piece of bamboo. It’s nice to have the option of a fork as well as just a spoon, but it’s blunt enough that I’m not paranoid about Isabella playing with it. It’s well made and is smooth and comes in a little mesh bag for travel.
I use one of my grandmother’s silver teaspoons for a lot of Isabella’s meals. Nothing beats a silver spoon; silver has antibacterial properties and then there’s the lovely sentimental factor. I don’t however feel too safe leaving the house with it, so the bamboo spork is my out of home go-to!
I hope this helps you to choose a safe lunchbox! Now all I need to do is get some interesting lunchbox ingredient ideas! Isabella has been off her food with a cold recently and I’d love some ideas to entice her back to solids a bit more… Hence in the competition I’ll be asking you what 3 things you would put in your child’s dream lunchbox. I can’t wait to read your answers!
Biome is an amazing Australian store which is really trying to make a difference by providing fantastic environmentally friendly, non-toxic and reusable products. I approached them when I was thinking about writing this article as I wanted to be able to properly review some of the best non-toxic lunchboxes available so I could give you my thoughts on a range, rather than just one. Some of the above lunchboxes were provided by Biome.