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Instagram Blogger Hannah from California Shares Her School Lunch Ideas

We might steal some of these tips for our own lunches!

As soon as August rolls around, we instantly start planning for back to school. While this month is filled with exciting beginnings (new school, new supplies, new teachers), one thing always remains the same… what do I pack in my kid's lunch box?! We asked Instagram blogger Hannah From California to share some tips on how to create easy and healthy lunch box meals. Keep reading for a fun Q&A that includes tips on how to deal with picky eaters, school lunch prep, and how to pack a lunch as a busy parent.

BH: What inspired you to start your Instagram account?

H: My reasons for starting my Instagram account were totally selfish! As a new stay at home mom I was craving that connection, adult conversation, and sense of community from other parents who were all in the same boat as me. Sharing about the meals and snacks I made for my son happened organically, and I quickly realized the challenge of coming up with fresh and nutritious meal ideas day after day. After receiving positive feedback from my food related posts and requests for more simple, healthy meal ideas, I just ran with it! I figured that since I was making all the food anyway, it was easy enough to snap a few photos in hopes that it would give other families some ideas!

Cheese, turkey, pitas, apples, snap peas, bell pepper, cucumber

BH: What are your top 3 tips for parents of picky eaters?

H: First and foremost, I've been there, and you've got this! I do have some tips and tricks that have worked for my son, but before I go into that, I wanted to share about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility Theory. This will hopefully change the way you view meal times (for your own sanity)! The Division of Responsibility is the idea that we (the parents) and our children each have jobs when it comes to mealtime. It is our job as parents to provide a variety of healthy food options and multiple opportunities to sit down and eat. Then, it is our children's job to choose how much and what to eat from what we provide. If you can accept this theory when it comes to feeding your child, like truly BELIEVE it, you will save yourself hours in the kitchen as a short order cook, and overall, you'll be less stressed when you hit those picky eating phases!

Tips & Tricks for feeding picky eaters:

  1. Involve your kids in the meal making!
    There are a number of benefits, both life skills and academic skills, from cooking with your kids, but one of my favorite parts about involving my son in the kitchen is that I know it will greatly increase the chance that he'll eat the meal he helped prepare!
  2. Eat the same food! My son, husband and I eat the same food. Eating with your child, and also eating the same thing, not only makes it easier on you (only preparing one meal), but it allows for modeling during mealtime (look at mama trying and enjoying these different foods and flavors)!
  3. Include a dip! When I include a familiar dip with my son's meal, I can almost guarantee that he'll at least try a new food! Hummus is his favorite!

Finally, whatever you do, do not stop serving the food your child is being "picky" about because exposure is key! Sure, take a day or 2 or a week off, serve it up differently (raw, baked, steamed, with a dip, cut in circles or sticks), but keep including that food with meals because you just never know when they'll be in the mood!

Pita and kale almond hummus, edamame, seaweed, cherries and bunny grahams

BH: What advice do you have for packing healthy school lunches that are easy to do for busy parents?

H: I am a huge advocate of packing lunch boxes the night BEFORE school. Not only does it make mornings (while you're trying to do all the things) much smoother, it allows you take the time to prep and actually think about what you want to pack vs. reaching for all the packaged food while feeling rushed to get out the door and to school on time! Here are a few things I have learned about packing lunches thus far!

  • A lunch box with different sized compartments is key! This helps encourage you to include a variety of healthy options, and the great thing about these boxes is that each section in the box closes completely, so there are no foods mixing together (ex. juice from your strawberries leaking into your sandwich and making it soggy).
  • Note the amount of time your child has to eat at school/camp/daycare and pack accordingly! They only have a certain amount of time to eat at school, which is typically a lot less than we allow for them to spend eating at home. So, If you want your child to eat some of each food included, consider cutting your portions down (for example, pack a ½ a sandwich vs. a full one so that your child has time to each the sandwich and also has time to eat the strawberries and snap peas you included as well).
  • Include foods that you know your kids enjoy and will likely eat! Packed lunches are not the time for you to throw in all the foods your kid is refusing at home; rather, you want them to have a yummy lunch that will fuel their body while they are away from you!

Salami sandwich on seed bread, watermelon stars, bell pepper, pea chips, multi-vitamin gummies

BH: How do you make healthy eating fun for kids when there's so much packaged and processed foods marketed towards kids?

H: For me, I think it is all about our family's attitude toward food, and also what is available in our home. We believe that real, healthy, fresh food is fun! We go to our local farmer's market to see, touch, and taste-test seasonal fruits and veggies. We talk about what foods we're in the mood for, and how might prep it or cook it up! While packaged and processed food is not the norm for us, it's also not viewed or talked about negatively. I have always just made a point to explain to my son which foods do what for our body, and how real, healthy food tastes delicious and can help our body grow strong.

BH: At Because Health we recommend limiting plastic around food and water and buying organic when possible. How do you limit exposure to plastics, toxics chemicals and food additives in your kitchen and food?

H: It's so important to pay attention to what we're putting in (and on) our bodies, and the more I read and learn about this topic, the more I aim to limit the exposure to plastics, toxic chemicals, and food additives. A few simple changes that I have made over the years have been to store my food in glass or stainless-steel containers, use reusable bags, use non-toxic cleaners, and buy organic when possible (especially if as you guys say the produce is leafy, berries, or something you eat with the skin on)!

Bamboo dishes — you've probably seen them as a healthy and eco-friendly looking alternative to plastic bowls and plates. Maybe you've thought about investing in bamboo dishware for their hulk-like unbreakable properties. Or maybe you love them for their fabulous colors and modern style. With all of these amazing characteristics, it does seem almost too good to be true… right? If you're wondering how bamboo dishware really measures up against all the above claims, we've got you covered. We'll let you in on the secret: when it comes to bamboo, looking at what materials are used in combination with the bamboo really matters. Here's why!

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Roundups

Non-Toxic Kids' Dinnerware

Alternatives to plastic dishes for your growing kiddos

We know getting kids to eat at meal times can be a challenge, and that a lot of kid-friendly dinnerware is made from melamine. Why is it so hard to find a fun kid dinnerware that isn't made from harmful materials?! We shouldn't have to compromise health for functionality, which is why we rounded up our top 9 melamine free children's dinnerware! These plates, dishes, and utensils are all durable enough to withstand a temper tantrum but are made from safe materials like silicone, stainless steel, or tempered glass. Your kids will love the fun shapes and colors, and you'll love how sturdy they are!

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Food

Why It's Not a Good Idea to Use Melamine Dishes for Kids

Plus, non-toxic alternatives that will withstand mealtime mayhem

Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next dinnerware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are some good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too! If you're just looking for alternatives to melamine, check out our roundup of Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware.

What is Melamine?

Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, that led to 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, but research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.

How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?

Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It feels and looks harder than plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware. Many times the word melamine will be in the product description or details.

What Do I Use Instead Melamine?

If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:

  • Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
  • Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food in after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
  • Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
  • Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
  • Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!

If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.


References

  1. Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
  2. Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.

When it comes to fragrance, we always say that the safest option is to look for products that are completely fragrance free. Choosing to go fragrance-free is a great way to avoid chemicals that may be harmful to your health. Plus, does everything we own really need to smell like cotton candy?! In case you haven't heard why fragrance is so problematic, we break it down below.

What's Actually in Fragrance?

One of the big problems with fragrance is that there are so many different chemicals that can be added to a product. According to the International Fragrance Association's Transparency List, there are approximately 3,000 fragrance ingredients that can be used in consumer goods worldwide (1). And since the FDA does not require approval before a chemical goes onto the market, it's impossible to say that all of these fragrance ingredients are safe to use. The chemical that's making your house smell like clean laundry or a cinnamon apple might also secretly be toxic.

Even though there are a lot of untested chemicals, we do know that some fragrance ingredients are definitely harmful to human health. Many fragrance ingredients can be allergens that cause headaches, runny noses, sneezing, or coughing (2). Allergens are probably the reason you have to stand two feet away from that one coworker who wears a super strong perfume.

Phthalates are widely used in as a solvent or fixative in perfume, shampoo, lotion, and nail polish even though they're endocrine disrupting chemicals. Fragrance found in candles has been shown to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which can cause short-term health effects like irritation, and long-term health effects like cancer (3, 4).

To make matters worse, companies don't even have to tell you all the ingredients they use in their fragrance! Trade secret laws keep companies from disclosing proprietary fragrance blends, but that means we don't actually know what's in our products. There could be 10 ingredients that go into the "fragrance" listed on your body lotion, or there could be 500! And if we don't know what all of these ingredients are, how do we adequately protect our health?

When in Doubt, Go With Fragrance Free

Like we mentioned before, the best bet is to purchase products that are free from all fragrance. Only look for labels that say "contains no added fragrance"... some products labeled as "unscented" may still contain fragrance as a way to hide ingredients that naturally have an unpleasant smell (2). If you really can't live without a fragranced product, go for something that only uses essential oils (although they have their own pros and cons as well).


References
  1. https://ifrafragrance.org/initiatives/transparency/ifra-transparency-list
  2. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389414010243
  4. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons-pahs
Life

Mardi Gras Beads Don't Belong in Your Mouth (or your kids')

Don't let these harmful chemicals ruin your celebration

Every year, over one million parade goers will fill the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as it's also known in the Christian calendar, is a day of feasting before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is known for many things like parades, masks, costumes, and music. But for most people a central part of Mardi Gras is collecting and wearing beads, also known as throws. While collecting throws can be a fun way to celebrate, there is growing concern about the health hazards of the beads and the environmental cost of the beads.

The vast majority of beads that are handed out during Mardi Gras originate from China. Back in the day, the beads were made of glass, but now they are made of plastic. It's estimated that China manufactures 25 million pounds of beads for Mardi Gras alone (1). Despite government regulations to keep hazardous chemicals like lead in children's products to under 100ppm, over two thirds of these beads did not meet the concentration requirement (2). Researchers at the Ecology Center, who tested Mardi Gras beads, estimate that a single year's inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead. Based on the composition of the chemicals found in the plastic beads, the researchers concluded that plastic from electronic waste was likely being recycled into producing Mardi Gras beads (2).

While exposure to lead and flame retardants is harmful to everyone's health, it's particularly dangerous for children. Even though Mardi Gras beads are not a children's product, many children collect and wear them during the parade and often put them in their mouths to chew on. Children also play with them and residues may end up on their hands, which is another way they could be potentially eating these toxic substances. It is recommended to limit the interaction your little ones have with Mardi Gras bead to prevent exposure to these toxic substances. If you have a toddler or baby who is teething, don't let them chew on the beads. And for older children, let them wear them for a short while and then consider donating them to be reused. And for everyone who touches the beads, make sure to wash hands before snacking or eating.

Aside from the health effects, there are also harmful environmental effects from Mardi Gras beads. The plastic beads end up in landfills or down storm drains, and contribute to the problem of plastic waste in our environment. In 2018, the city of New Orleans found 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads in just 5 city blocks that had washed down into storm drains (4). The toxic substances, like lead and flame retardants, then leach from the beads and end up in the waterways, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. These substances accumulate in fish, and in turn, put seafood lovers at risk for lead poisoning (3).

However, all this bad news doesn't mean that your kids (or you for that matter) can't accessorize with beads and have fun this Mardi Gras! A handful of companies are aware of the adverse impacts of traditional beads and have created more sustainable options. ArcGNO collects and reuses the same Mardi Gras beads each year while Atlas Beads creates handmade Mardi Gras beads from paper. Both are much better options than single use beads! Many krewes are recognizing the problem that Mardi Gras beads pose and are coming up with creative and reusable throws, such as aprons, cooking spoons, hats, and t-shirts. Some are even handing out local food items such as red beans, jambalaya mix, and coffee beans. It's great to see such creative alternatives to plastic Mardi Gras beads!

References
  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/toxic-truth-mardi-gras-beads-180962431/
  2. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/ho...
  3. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/etc.2641
  4. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/26/580933914/new-orleans-finds-93-000-pounds-of-mardi-gras-beads-in-storm-drains
Roundups

9 Non-Toxic Teethers

Your baby will love chewing on these safe materials!

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. Having a safe teether made of silicone or wood is your best bet for your baby's health. Check out our 9 favorite options that will give your little one some relief and will also make for some cute photos!


9 Non-Toxic Teethers

a) Bonbino Teething Rings

b) Itzy Ritzy Cactus Teether

c) Loulou lollipop Llama Teether

d) Chewbeads Elephant Teether

e) Caaocho Sola the Goat

f) Bumkins Gameboy Teether

g) Maple Landmark Ring Teether

h) Oli and Carol Kendall the Kale

i) Kleynimals Toy Keys

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Family

5 Everyday Objects You Shouldn't Let Your Teething Baby Play With

And why we recommend always having a safe teether on hand

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. We recommend always having a safe teether on hand, whether you're at home or on the go. Even though common everyday items may look harmless, there can be unsafe substances that your little one can ingest if they're chewing on them.

Wondering what household items could be harmful to chew on? Here are some common items that you shouldn't let your little one chew on, even though it's so tempting to let them gnaw.

1. Keys

Keys are always in our purses or pockets and babies are fascinated with them. Sometimes they're the perfect distraction to avoiding a meltdown in the grocery story line. But it's actually not a good idea to let your little ones chew on keys or even play with them. The metals used to make keys vary greatly, but many brass keys can contain up to 2.5% lead (1,2). Even keys that don't look like brass might be plated in another metal, which can wear off over time. Not all keys contain lead, but it's impossible to know for sure which ones do and don't. So pick one of our safe teethers, including these Kleynimal Stainless Steel Keys, and make sure to pack it for your next grocery run.

2. Remote Controls

Remotes have colorful buttons and fit perfectly in little hands, so it's no wonder you always see babies chewing on the ends. But remotes contain batteries, which are not safe anywhere near your child's mouth. Additionally, household electronics like remotes contain flame retardants, which can come off into mouths and on hands. Try to limit contact with remotes and definitely don't let them become toys! We like to keep them out of reach on a shelf.

3. Cell Phones

It seems like all babies become obsessed with cell phones... probably because they see us constantly looking at them! But is it safe to let your baby chew or mouth your phone? Definitely not. Cell phones are covered in germs, including some pretty nasty pathogens like E. Coli (3). They also contain a lot of chemicals and substances, like batteries, heavy metals, flame retardants, and plasticizers, which are all toxic. Plus, if your baby is teething or has teeth, they could chip the phone and little pieces could come off that can be a choking hazard. Because of all these hazards, teething babies and cell phones are not a good match. But if your child is old enough to play games on your phone, wash their (and your!) hands after they use it, especially before snacks and meals.

4. Jewelry

Jewelry is sparkly, shiny, and colorful, which basically just screams "please put me in your mouth!" to babies. Unfortunately, metal jewelry can contain toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium while plastic jewelry can contain bisphenols or plasticizers. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin at any dose, and cadmium can cause kidney, bone, and lung damage. Brass is also a common component in jewelry, which can contain up to 3% lead. And just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's safer; jewelry at all sorts of price points have been found to contain these heavy metals. Research has found that the amount of heavy metals that get ingested while chewing or mouthing jewelry can be dangerous (4). Even jewelry that seems completely harmless, like Mardi Gras beads, has been found to contain toxic substances. So let jewelry be just something nice to look at and let kids chew on a set of silicone teething beads instead.

5. Sunglasses

Sunglasses come in all sorts of sizes and shapes nowadays, but most sunglasses are made of a polycarbonate plastic that contains BPA. While it may not be a big exposure risk for adults who wear them, letting your little one chew on them or suck the ends is not the best idea. BPA is a hormone disruptor and kids are especially vulnerable as they are in a sensitive growth period. Yet another reason to always pack a safe teether in your bag if your little one is an especially mouthy one!

References
  1. https://cchp.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra181/f/leadinkeysen011804.pdf
  2. Kondrashov, Vladislav, et al. "Assessment of lead exposure risk in locksmiths." International journal of environmental research and public health 2.1 (2005): 164-169.
  3. Pal, Shekhar, et al. "Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of nosocomial pathogens." Advanced biomedical research 4 (2015).
  4. Weidenhamer, Jeffrey D., et al. "Bioavailability of cadmium in inexpensive jewelry." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 1029-1033.
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