Why Cartons, Paper Boxes, and Glass Jars Should Be On Your Pantry Shelves Instead of Cans and Plastic Bags and Containers

For all your last minute dinner needs

Having some staples in the pantry is always a good idea for last minute dinners. But, instead of the typical cans and bags, we have some suggestions for healthier and safer shelf stable options. We recommend glass containers and cartons whenever possible. Cartons are those shiny papery boxes that most broths come in now that look like giant juice boxes. As you stroll the aisles, you will notice a lot more options starting to come in these boxes including tomatoes, beans, and even chunky soups.

But, why do I need to look for glass or cartons? Most canned food is lined with BPA so that the food doesn't react with the metal of the can. While the BPA lining makes the cans safer in terms of the food inside not eating away at the can (a positive thing), it can also seep into the food (a less positive thing). That means that when we are eating canned foods, we are also eating low doses of BPA, a chemical that has been linked to numerous health issues like cancers, brain and behavioral problems, reduced sperm production, infertility, diabetes and obesity, and heart disease. Maybe not the best. (Read more about why repeated low doses are no good).

Similar things are true for foods packed in bags (think rice, pasta, and nuts). While the bags may not all have BPA, they are still often made of plastic. Some have phthalates instead of BPA, but these types of chemicals all mess with your hormones. Additionally, some food packaging materials have chemicals like PFAS, which make them oil and water resistant, meaning the food won't break down the packaging. This is a benefit if we want the food to be shelf stable for a while, but less good when we realize that just like BPA and phthalates, the PFAS can be absorbed by the food inside, too. All of these chemicals can cause issues like infertility, weight gain, and cancers.

To help you out, we have been grocery shopping a lot lately searching for the best options. Look for things like oils, sauces, jellies and other condiments in glass jars. Most of these are pretty common and not significantly different in cost than options available in plastic containers. It's just a matter of knowing to search for them.

In the canned food aisle, you'll now notice more and more items coming in cartons. Broth and soups have been coming in these for a while. But now, you can find tomatoes in these cartons too. Tomatoes, because they are acidic, have been shown to absorb more of the BPA from the can linings. Some brands, like 365 Everyday Value at Whole Foods and Simply Balanced at Target, have also started selling prepared beans and chunky soups in cartons too.

Another good option is milk in these cartons. In the US it is much easier to find milk alternatives like soy, almond, and rice milk in boxes, but in other countries they have been selling cow milk this way for decades. You can also find lunch box sized milk boxes in the US from brands like Horizon or Organic Valley.

While cartons have been shown to be a healthy alternative in terms of containing fewer chemicals, we do recognize that they may be difficult to dispose of in certain place. Some neighborhoods have the ability to recycle them, but not all do. You can check if cartons are recyclable in your zip code. Depending on your ability to recycle these cartons, you will have to weigh the pros and cons from an environmental and landfill perspective.

Options that come in paper boxes are also an improvement. Try looking for things like rice, oats and pasta in boxes instead of plastic bags. Some have small plastic windows so you can see what's inside. This isn't ideal, but a small amount of plastic is much better than the entire package being made of it.

If you are having a tough time finding exactly what you want in carton or glass jars, consider looking in the bulk section or the frozen foods section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great budget friendly option and don't absorb anywhere near as many chemicals from the packaging as canned options do. They are just as easy to use for last minute meals, and often times an economical way to buy organic. Our favorites are things like spinach, corn, peas, and any and all types of fruit.

As you start to notice these options more often as you stroll the aisles, hopefully you will start to see a change in what you store on your shelves, too.

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