While my children love nature, their enthusiasm for outdoor activities definitely calms with the arrival of fall and winter’s rainy and chilly days. This time of year, getting my girls outside is a priority. I want them to learn to appreciate nature and make their own fun in the great outdoors no matter the season, weather, or temperature. Maybe most importantly though, time spent outside together offers my family an opportunity to meaningfully connect outside of the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Check out the full article here. Happy creating!
The debate about what it takes to be a "good" parent is an endless one without easy answers. I'm not sure exactly what "good" parenting looks like to others but I've come to one big conclusion about what it looks like to me. Read my story here.
Green Minded Mama
In my household, summer and popsicle making go hand in hand. The girls and I have a blast creating unique popsicles and of course, eating them together, preferrably barefoot while standing in sunshine. I've been making these for years and have my method down to a science.
Get all of my tips and delicious raspberry lime popsicle recipe here!
Figuring out how to be the best parent for your particular child is a huge and complicated task. It's a moving target at best, yet, for a while, I thought I had it figured out, for myself and for other parents as well. While admitting how judgemental I was makes me feel very exposed, it also makes me realize how far I have come. I've moved past that person and become someone who is stronger, more confident and more kind. I'm grateful for the lesson learned and the perspective it has given me.
You can read my story here.
Most of us adults are disconnected from our sense of play. While many of us would say we love fun and having a good time, carrying the spirit of play through our days and our parenting challenges can be a challenge in and of itself. Making the effort to find fun in even the smallest moments with your children truly pays out big. Getting weird and goofy with my kiddos has helped me to connect with them and enjoy this big and sometimes daunting job called parenting. In my April article for the Portland Mom's Blog I write about how I've done this and how you can too.
Read my article here!
How do you find the fun in parenting? Share your tips in the comments below!
To lie or not to lie? Moving through life with young children means facing daily delights and daily challenges. For a while it seemed that a steady stream of white lies was useful parenting strategy for me. I write about my decision to stop the lying in my first official post as a contributor for the Portland Mom's Blog. I am thrilled to be part of this vibrant, smart and caring community of moms and writers and spread the Green Minded Mama message!
You can read my post on the Portland Mom's Blog by clicking here.
What do you think about lying to children? Necessary evil or something to be avoided at all costs? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Even the most health conscious among us at least occasionally give our kiddos cake and cookies. Pintrest abounds with rainbow cakes and brightly colored cookies and I'm sure you've seen your share of glowingly bright birthday cakes, but have you ever stopped to think about exactly what is making these colors so vivid?
Sorry to bring the bad news, but most of the time it is artificial food coloring giving our treats their colors. Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum. Yep, that means that the same stuff that makes your car run is making your Ninja Turtle cake bright green.
Many countries in Europe including Norway, Finland and France ban some or all artificial food dyes. Across the European Union products containing synthetic food coloring are sold with warning labels, but here in the United States we have no such regulations or labels. According to our very own American Academy of Pediatricians, the consumption of artificial food dyes has been linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children.
(If you are looking more information and background about the potential risks of artificial food dyes consider this article by Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann. She is a pediatrician and a mother and does a thorough job of reviewing the science and studies on synthetic food dye. )
Recently some big companies have begun to reduce or eliminate artificial food dyes. Mars pledged to phase these out of their products over the next five years and Campbell's Soup Complany and Nestle USA have made similar pledges. While these changes are great there are still thousands of products that will keep their toxic colors.
So, what should concerned but busy parents do? First, don't freak out! So far it seems that the dose makes the poison, so if your children eat some synthetic food dye in a cupcake here or a candy there, it isn't the end of the world. That being said, when you are out and about know that most of the time, any colors you see in food products, from sprinkles to ice cream to Nutri Grain bars, and even some you might not notice, like whole wheat pizza crust and pickles most likely come from artificial food dye. Be aware of what your child is eating and do your best to limit the amount of synthetic dye your child eats.
Next, control what you can and use natural food dyes in the treats you color at home (I use them in play dough and crafts too!). This is an easy way to have fun with food while keeping your kids healthy.
Here are three companies that offer natural food dyes. All three are readily available in stores and online.
I first discovered Confection Crafts when looking for natural food dyes to use in my daughter's first birthday cake and I've loved their products ever since. This is a small company based in my hometown of Portland, Oregon and it has a HUGE selection of natural dyes, sprinkles, cookie paints!, and writing and molding chocolate all in a variety of bright, beautiful colors.
This is a family-owned company based out of Maine. They offer natural food dyes and sugar sprinkles. I've never tried their dyes but their sprinkles are lovely.
Based out of Seattle, this is a wide-reaching company whose products are sold across the country. India Tree makes a range of products but I have only tried their natural dyes. I would rate the dyes as just ok.
If you have a favorite natural food dye please share in the comments below!
Watch the food dye segment here!
The cookie party was shot at Village Preschool of Portland, those kiddos are so cute! All of the sprinkles and frosting colors featured are made with natural dyes from Confection Crafts.
When I learned I was pregnant with my first child I was thrilled and thought the hard part was over. While that idea seems laughable to me now, finally getting pregnant after a year of uncertain fertility made me feel like I’d won a first class ticket to Babytown. I attacked pregnancy and nesting like a tiger mom, determined to do anything and everything I could to help my baby be the healthiest and smartest she could be. Prenatal vitamins, fish oil and belly dancing? Check. All natural diaper cream? Check. Read books like, The Philosophical Baby and Brain Rules for Baby? Check. Check.
Only when my daughter arrived eight days early did I realize my mistake. I had been caught up trying to be the perfect pregnant mom and had overlooked the fact that after the baby shower and the babymoon comes the baby. A baby that would have her own needs, her own schedule and above all, her own personality. On top of that, I was completely clueless about the many ways my body and emotions would be taxed and tested as I started my sprint down motherhood lane.
After I brought my daughter home I went in to panic mode. In between feedings and diaper changes and frantic attempts to eat or brush my teeth, I scanned every baby book I could get my hands on and quizzed everyone around me on baby care and development. Again, I got caught up and lost perspective. As I focused on being the best new mom I could be, I lost focus on myself, my needs and my feelings.
I had gone from a full time teaching position to a full time stay-at-home mom. My husband left his stable corporate job to start his own business. Spending my days home with baby, I became disconnected from the work friends that had been an important source of community. My family came to visit after the baby was born, but they all lived far away and I didn’t have any day-to-day support. Most of my friends outside of work didn’t have kids, and suddenly it was hard for us to relate.
In my pre-baby life I was physically active, loved yoga, dance and hiking. Now most of my days were spent in pajamas, nursing my new baby on the couch. My normally svelte body had puffed up marshmallow style with no signs of sucking back in. The amount of swelling, stitches, bleeding, leaking and other postpartum injustices my body experienced left me wondering if “back to normal” was a phrase I would ever be able to use.
Everyone told me to sleep when my baby slept, however my daughter was up every 2-3 hours at night, rarely slept for more than forty minutes at a time during the day, and required a constant rotation of play time, baby wearing, nursing and movement to stay content.
Leaving the house felt like a bizarre version of Russian roulette-would the baby be happy or would she scream for the entire outing? Would her diaper blow out requiring a place to change her, a new diaper and a new outfit? Would she be satisfied with the feeding I gave her before we left or would she cluster feed and demand to nurse every twenty minutes? Not to mention keeping track of the myriad diaper bag details: burp clothes, diapers, wipes, diaper cream, extra clothes, pacifiers and toys. Pack the wrong amount or forget any of these items and disaster could result.
I was overwhelmed as well as physically and mentally exhausted. My body and my life had become unrecognizable. In the attempt to be my own version of super mom I had lost myself. Swallowed up by a sea of expectations, I couldn’t be everything to everyone no matter how hard I tried. It was difficult to admit, but I needed help.
I talked with my family and made a plan to have someone visit for at least one weekend a month. I talked with my husband and we came up with a number of ways for me to get some time to myself so that my “me time” consisted of more than the occasional shower. My husband began to do the lion's share of the grocery shopping, we lowered our standards for the cleanliness level of the house, we divided up time with our daughter for parts of the day during the weekend so we both could have some baby-free time, and, instead of trying to go out, we invited friends over for easy ‘happy hours’ at our house after work.
I found ways to exercise with my baby: hiking with her in the carrier, Stroller Strides and weekend family walks. I put on the research hat for myself and found a supportive mom’s group and enrolled in a ‘mommy and me’ baby swimming class. Occasionally I was even able to squeeze in a solo yoga class or dinner out with friends. I found new community and new routines.
While I still kept high expectations for myself, I learned to include my own needs in those expectations. The farther away I got from actually giving birth the better able I was to find a balance between the ideal and the real. Gradually, I began to feel like someone I recognized instead of a mommy zombie.
My new life might not be the perfect image I once thought I wanted, but I have found a new self within it. My body has changed but I'm still me, I’ve lost a few fickle friends but I've gained incredible new ones, my house is often messy but I'm less stressed, grocery shopping alone is now a privilege and I'm ok with all of it. This is my new normal and it’s as full of beauty as it is struggle. I’ve learned to delight in the imperfect and measure my success by the laughter of my children. For a parent after all, is there any better sound?
I'll admit it, I get a bit crazy when it comes to my kids and screens. With both of my kiddos, I had a strict no TV of any kind policy when they were under 2 years old. Even after they hit that mark I had the brakes on. When she was a little over two, my oldest started with the occasional 20 minutes of nature videos (Disney's Oceans was a hit!) or Daniel Tiger and we were good with that. Then a family friend (who we adore) asked if she could watch this fun new Disney movie, Frozen, with my daughter. My daughter had never watched a movie before. She had never watched a video longer than 40 minutes, and I had no desire for her to do so. However, we love our friend, and she made a convincing case for watching the film. She said it was funny and different from the usual fairy tale because it focused on the love between sisters. Keep in mind, this was before Frozen completely blew up, before the viral videos of countless children (and sometimes their parents) singing every song by heart, before Frozen themed birthday parties, clothes, books, costumes, sleds, water bottles, shoes, stickers, dolls, musical instruments, and (have I forgotten anything??) ice skating shows. So I said, sure friend, I trust you, this sounds like a sweet first movie to see. Famous last words!
Fast forward to the present. My daughter hasn't seen so much of a clip of the film in (I kid you not) two years, yet she still sings the songs, role plays the characters with her friends, and turns in to the toddler equivalent of a screaming teenage One Direction fan anytime she sees so much as a Frozen sticker at the store, "MAMA IT'S ELSA!!!!" Suffice it to say that I've been on the hunt for something else, an antidote to the Frozen obsession.
Disclaimer: if you and your kiddos love Frozen, good for you! My fed upness is coming from a place of total mental exhaustion on my part and a desire to break my own kiddo out of the Frozen ice capsule and into the world of other things to care about. No judgement intended!
Enter the film Song of the Sea. Now nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, we first discovered it on the flight home from visiting family in Minnesota this summer. Even on the teeny seatback screen, my daughter and I were entranced and I ordered the film soon after arriving home. Song of the Sea is the story of a child named Ben and his sister Saoirse who live in a lighthouse with their father on an island off the coast of Ireland. Though she is 6, Saoirse does not speak and Ben is moody and brooding, blaming Saoirse for the disappearance of their mother the night she was born. Soon after the film begins Saoirse discovers that she is a selkie, a being who is a seal while in the ocean and who can live for a time as a human on land. After they are both sent to live on the mainland with their grandmother, Saoirse and Ben embark on a journey home where they meet many incredible characters from Irish myth (fairies, owl witches and elves oh my!), learn to trust each other, and discover that true courage comes from facing your feelings and believing in yourself.
I love this movie for so many reasons. First, the children depicted in the film resemble actual children. They don't have weird permanent make-up or Barbie-style bodies, and their facial expressions and body movements are slightly clumsy and nuanced like those of actual children. The art of the film is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Much of the animation is charmingly hand-drawn and the depictions of the natural world throughout the film are vivid and sure to inspire curiosity and appreciation for it. The characters of Ben and Saoirse, are interesting, filled with strengths and weaknesses and very relatable. Song of the Sea is appropriate for children without being cheesy or snarky or overly cutsey. There are no annoying meta winks at the camera or grown up jokes that subtly insult kids while going over their heads. Instead we are immersed in the tale of a brother and sister having an adventure in a world that is ethereal food for the imagination.
How has my daughter responded to the film? While she still occasionally talks about Frozen, I'm happy to report that more often she is singing the melody from Song of the Sea and "swimming" around our living room like a selkie. Success!
You can watch the trailer and first 6 minutes of the film below. Enjoy and please share your favorite films to watch with children in the comments!
The first 6 minutes of the film:
For a child, what's not to love about face paint? Messy and colorful it allows kids (or anyone for that matter) to be creative and jump into the skin of something or someone else. This kind of creative play is the work of childhood and helps children to develop cognition, imagination and a sense of self.
Despite this, my kids have had almost no exposure to face paint. Why? Because I am always on the defensive with cosmetic products due to the very loose ingredient safety and labeling laws in the U.S. Face paint in particular worries me because it usually sits on the skin for a long time after being applied, and is often applied to or near the eyes and mouth, areas that are sensitive and known bodily entry points for disease and contaminants. Even if the face paint isn't applied to the mouth or eyes, we all know how kids like to rub and smudge and then put those hands in their mouth, scary right?
Enter the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their 2009 testing of 10 popular face paint brands. Their research found lead in 10 out of 10 of the face paint kits tested and nickle, cobalt and chromium in 6 of the 10 samples. These metals are no joke, especially for young kids whose brains, bodies and hormones are still developing.
Nickle, Cobalt and Chromium
Nickle, cobalt and chromium are heavy metals that can cause skin allergies. The levels found of these chemicals were higher than the recommendations of several industry studies. Nickle in particular is a prevalent contact allergen in children and adults and its use in cosmetics is banned in the European Union. Chromium is widely restricted from use in cosmetics. It is banned in the European Union, Canada, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
To add insult to injury, some of the tested samples were labeled as "hypoallergenic"--the nerve! FYI: the label "hypoallergenic" on cosmetic packaging doesn't actually mean anything.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that lead exposure is not safe at any level and that lead accumulates in the body. Even at low levels, lead is a neuro toxin and has been found to have many negative effects on children including decreased IQ, ADD, kidney damage, decreased muscle and bone growth and language impairment.
Lead typically enters the body through ingestion or inhalation and the amount of absorption that occurs from exposure on the skin is still being studied. I am definitely a "better safe than sorry" kind of mama and the dangerous impacts of lead are something I will avoid at all costs.
While lead is banned from cosmetics in Canada and Europe it is allowed in U.S. cosmetics in any amount. Isn't that unbelievable? No wonder then that Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-N.Y., is now calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to tighten regulation of novelty cosmetics and face paints. Go Senator, way to fight for the health of our kids!
What to Do
All of this information is important to know, but how do we as parents navigate through all of it? Here is my advice.
Avoid Face Paint Made in China: This is an easy one. Read the label, act accordingly.
Make Your Own: If you are feeling crafty this could be a fun project. This site has three DIY recipes that look great, but really these abound on the internet and Pintrest so go for it!
Choose a Mask: Just make sure it is PVC free!
Buy a "safe" alternative: I put safe in quotes here because the lack of required FDA testing on our cosmetics products means it is a buyer beware kind of jungle out there. If you've been keeping up with my blog however you know the worst chemicals to avoid so do your due diligence and read those labels. Below are a few options that look good but full disclosure, I haven't tried any of them!
Go Green Face Paint: This company's paints are certified organic. That certification means that 95% of the product's ingredients must be organic. The ingredient list on their site appears to be free of the main toxic offenders like lead and parabens.
Natural Earth Paint: Here also the ingredients look pretty good. I've also seen this brand in stores quite a bit so the easy to find factor is a bonus.
Do you have a favorite DIY recipe or safe face paint brand? If so please share in the comments!
My kids love bathtime. They splash, they play, they shriek in delight (or despair if they can't agree on toy sharing rules), they insist on helping with the soap and shampoo and sometimes drink (or sip and spit!) the water. Bathtime is a ritual that allows them a last energetic hurrah before the quiet of bedtime as well as some fun QT with mama and dada.
When you consider the fact that some of the chemicals we put on our skin end up in our bloodstream, (up to 60% by some estimates) the amount of time our kids spend in the bathtub, sitting in bubble bath, soap and shampoo, adds up day after day, month after month, year after year. I used to think that all cosmetic products were created equally and that it didn't really matter what or which ones I used. Then, when I was pregnant with my first child, I started looking more closely at the beauty products I use, the ingredients that comprise them and the laws that regulate them. Wow was I surprised and alarmed by what I learned.
Simply put, the federal law that regulates the use of chemicals in our health and beauty products has not been significantly amended since the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This act brought the cosmetics industry under the regulatory jurisdiction of the FDA. However, the job of verifying the safety of cosmetic products and ingredients and much of the regulation that takes place is not mandated by law or executed by the FDA. Instead it is voluntary and carried out by the cosmetics industry itself.
No health studies or pre-market safety testing are required before a product like bubble bath or shampoo hits store shelves. This passage from the Environmental Working Group sums up the situation: According to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the federal Food and Drug Administration, “…a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.” (FDA 2012) The FDA does no systematic reviews of safety*, instead authorizing the cosmetics industry to self-police ingredient safety through its Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel. Over its 36 years, this industry panel has rejected only 11 ingredients as unsafe in cosmetics (CIR 2012). By contrast, the European Union has banned hundreds of chemicals in cosmetics (European Commission 2012).
*with the exception of color additives
The bad news: there are ingredients used in our health and beauty products that have been found to be carcinogenic or causing some other risk to human health. Another unfortunate fact is that, because many chemicals on the market have not undergone significant safety testing, not much is known about their effects on human health. This means that companies can use these ingredients and claim they are "safe" because nothing to the contrary has been proven.
The good news: not all ingredients are toxic! Also, many of the most toxic chemicals have been identified which makes avoiding them in your cosmetics something that you absolutely can do. Minnesota, Washington and California have all enacted their own regulations to keep consumers safe from toxic cosmetics. If we all keep speaking up about this issue to our own legislators and to the companies making these products we can help to make our cosmetics safer!
Chemicals to Avoid in Children's Bath Products
I chose the chemicals in this list because they are the ingredients I see pop up the most in standard children's bath products. I know how overwhelming learning about all of these chemicals can be, so start here and you will be in good shape!
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): This is a coconut-derived foaming agent (it makes those shampoos and soaps creamy and foamy) and has been known to irritate eyes and skin.
Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): Like SLS, this is a coconut-derived foaming agent and can also irritate eyes and skin. SLES contains the known carcinogen 1,4 dioxane.
Fragrance/Parfum/Perfume: I wrote about the dangers of fragrance in my 3Ps post. What is dangerous for adults is typically as if not more dangerous for infants and children, and this is an ingredient full of potential toxins for bodies of any age. There are over 300 chemicals in this class that have never been tested for safety and some have been linked to reproductive and developmental harm.
Parabens: This is another ingredient important for everyone to avoid and one of the 3Ps. The EU banned parabens in products for babies under 6 months old and is looking in to further restricting or banning them all together. Parabens can mess with our hormones, and while that is not something that's good for adults, the potential impacts on developing children could be even more severe.
Methylisothiazolinone: A preservative used in personal care products, sometimes this one pops up in cleaning products as well. Methylisothiazolinone is an allergen and suspected neurotoxin and Canada and Japan have restrictions on its use.
Some of My Favorite Bathtime Brands
There are many safe brands and products out on the market today which is great news for busy families! The three below are favorites of mine because they are brands that seem to truly care about creating safe products, they are open about their ingredients and work to help consumers understand the ingredients they use, their products work well, and each is easy to find either locally or online.
Babytime by Episencial
All of Babytime's products are free of fragrances, parabens, phthalates, phenoxyethanol, and petroleum byproducts and some of their ingredients are organic. One thing I really appreciate about this company is that their labels include the chemical and common origins of their ingredients and are color coded by source to help the reader understand the kind of chemicals included in the product, all which makes understanding what is actually in their products much easier. The company makes their products in the USA, is a certified B Corporation, uses solar power and certifies their products as cruelty free and reef safe.
Earth Mama Angel Baby
Full disclosure, this family opened company is based in my home state of Oregon and I love that about them! Started by a mom in her kitchen, this company has been passionate about and devoted to safe, healthy and effective products for mom and baby since 2002. This is one of the very few companies that I really do trust because they are so committed to transparency in their ingredients and the health of the moms and children who use them. The number of their awards and accolades are to numerous to mention one by one and they continue to set the standard for clean, beautiful and effective products made with care and integrity. I've tried many of their products and have loved every one. When my children were babies and waking up throughout the night I would use the Happy Mama (Morning Wellness) Spray to help me keep my spirits up and I use the Angel Baby Body Wash and Shampoo on my kiddos at bath time.
I discovered this company when my oldest was a baby and I still use and love its products (all of which are made in the USA, very cool). Dolphin Organics is a family-owned company, started by a mom, and guided by the input of their "Dolphin Moms." The labels on their products are set up in category columns and clearly labeled so that it is easy to see which of their ingredients are organic, natural, etc. Many of their products follow the strict standards of NSF/ANSI 305, which means a product must be formulated with at least 70% certified organic ingredients, and the remaining 30% materials must be derived from non-GMO agricultural products. I've used almost all of their products over the years and I've never found one that I didn't like. Their bubble bath has great foam and staying power too which can be hard to find in non-toxic bubble bath products.
Now through October 30th new customers can get 20% Dolphin Organics products at their online store. Just type in the code INTRO when you check out!
Share your favorite green bath products and tips in the comments below!
From shampoo and conditioner, to lotion, to deodorant and make-up, most of us are slathered in beauty products on a daily basis. In fact, the average person uses no less than nine of these products a day (yes men, this means you too!). Anything and everything that we put on to our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream. This means that the beauty products you use each day can have a significant impact on your health.
The Green Beauty Rules by celebrity makeup artist and green beauty expert Paige Padgett just came out and man oh man is this book amazing! There has been some celebrity buzz around this book because Jillian Michaels (a la the tv show The Biggest Loser) wrote the forward, but this is not celebrity-inspired fluff. Instead it is a thorough and easy-to-read how-to manual for getting the toxic chemicals out of your cosmetics. What I most appreciate about this book is the fact that it is written for the average person. Padgett doesn't try to guilt or scare the reader, instead she offers practical tips, thorough information, and numerous product recommendations that anyone can easily follow. This book has become a go-to reference for me, and it makes a user-friendly guide for anyone looking to learn more about how to decrease the number of toxic chemicals in the cosmetics they use.
Avoiding the 3Ps in your cosmetics is one of many useful tips mentioned in Padgett's book. The 3Ps are: parabens, perfume, and petrochemicals. These are three of the most common chemicals in cosmetics and definitely chemicals I have long worked to avoid. In order to spot these chemicals you need to do your due diligence and read the ingredient lists on the products you use.
Parabens: Used primarily to kill bacterial and other microbes these chemicals are rapidly absorbed into the skin and accumulate in our bodies. Parabens are endocrine disrupters and the Environmental Protection Agency and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products have linked parabens to metabolic, developmental, reproductive and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.
What to look for: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, other ingredients ending in –paraben. These are pretty easy to spot since the word 'paraben' is always present.
Perfume: Used to add scent to products, companies are not required to list the components of parfum/fragrance. This means that while the fragrance used in a product could contain or be made up entirely of essential oils, they could just as easily contain toxic chemicals such as phthalates.
What to look for: The words, fragrance, perfume or parfum.
Petrochemicals: These chemicals are made from petroleum or natural gas. Natural gas in my lotion? No thanks. Petrochemicals can be tricky to spot because they are used for a wide range of purposes (thousands in fact, from food to body armor to shampoo) and fall under a wide range of names.
What to look for: The abbreviations PEG, DEA and SLS. A few common petrochemical ingredients, PEG-12 Dimethicone, PEG-150 Disterate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl ether sulfate.
The good news is that as public awareness of these toxic chemicals has become more widespread so has the availability of affordable, non-toxic beauty products. No longer are health food stores and specialized boutiques the only places to find green beauty products, most local grocery stores have at least a few products, even stores like Target are jumping on the green bandwagon.
Do you have a go-to green beauty product or place to shop for them? If so please share in the comments below!
As the long hot days of summer morph in to the shorter crisp days of fall, it is hard for most parents not to be caught up in a flurry of back-to-school preparations. Lunch supplies are an absolute back-to-school essential. The bad news? Not all lunch boxes and food containers are as safe as you would hope. Many lunch supplies come filled with toxins like phthalates, PVC and lead. The good news: there is no shortage of non-toxic lunch supplies and they are easy to find. Here are my tips for lunch chemicals to avoid and guidelines to follow when packing up those lunch boxes for your kiddos. You can watch my green lunch supplies segment for More Good Day Oregon here and read below for more detailed information.
Chemicals to Avoid
This group of chemicals is used to make plastics and vinyl soft and pliable and are widely used a a range of products, from flooring to nail polish to lunch boxes. However, phthalates can interfere with our hormones (know as endocrine disrupters) and have been linked to several health concerns including childhood asthma, reproductive health and damage to vital organs such as the liver and kidneys. There are restrictions or bans on the use of phthalates in the European Union, Japan, Iceland, Mexico and Norway. In 2008 phthalates were banned in children’s toys in the U.S. However, this 2008 ban does NOT extend to school supplies, i.e. backpacks, raincoats, and lunchboxes. A 2012 study by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice has detected phthalates in numerous school supplies including lunch boxes, often at levels that would “…violate the federal ban if the product were a children’s toy.”
Part of what makes phthalates so worrisome is the simple fact that they can travel out of products, potentially causing repeated exposures to those using the product (think about the number of times in a school day that a child touches their backpack or lunchbox!).
Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In addition, PVC often contains lead, which, like phthalates can travel out of products and onto your child's skin and mouth. Lead and other heavy metals are sometimes used as a stabilizer or to impart other properties to PVC plastic, and phthalates are used as plasticizers to soften the vinyl material. This means that in many cases PVC contains numerous toxic substances. Quick Tip: Avoid products labeled with the word "PVC" or the #3. If the item has either of these in the label it contains vinyl.
Some good news about lead: the Consumer Product Safety Information Act (CPSI) mandated that as of August 14, 2009, products designed or intended primarily for children aged 12 and younger cannot contain more than 300 ppm of lead. As of August 14, 2011 that limit went down to 100ppm. While this standard does not apply to products intended for those over the age of 12 it is at least a step in the right direction.
Green It Up!
We are lucky that many companies now are focusing on producing products that are toxin free and safe for our children. Here are a few tips on choosing products that are safe and a few of my particular favorites.
Lunch Boxes and Containers
Stainless steel is your friend! Unlike plastic and PVC stainless steel will not leach chemicals into food or on to your child's skin. Stainless steel lunch boxes and lunch containers make an excellent alternative to those made with plastic and PVC. There is a wide range of stainless steel lunch products, from bento boxes to single containers to straws. If your child is in preschool like mine and you provide the cup and plate choose stainless steel over plastic, the cost is comparable and the piece of mind is priceless.
My favorite stainless steel lunch container so far is the Planet Box Rover. It is easy to use, and in addition to meeting the normal safety standards, Planet Box puts their products through independent testing to ensure safety. Their fabrics are also made of recycled plastic bottles, which earn them double green points in my book!
Cloth is another safe and reusable option. There is no shortage to the number of cloth lunch bag options. Eco Lunchbox makes a range of products from stainless steel bento boxes to individual serving containers and cloth lunch bags and everything they make is plastic and toxin-free. (Side note: The lunch study page on the Eco Lunchbox website breaks down the cost savings of using reusable containers and makes a pretty strong case.)
We have the basic insulated lunch bag by Bumkins, and I've been happy with it. It has enough room for a good-sized lunch, keeps things cold (I always put a cold pack inside) and best of all it is free of BPA, phthalates, lead and vinyl. If you want to get fancy you could try an organic cotton lunch bag or something from ETSY but as long as you aren't using a paper bag or something loaded with chemicals you should be good to go.
Reusable Snack Bags
These are very handy, and I use them for everything from leftovers, to storage, to packing up lunches. The materials can vary and some close with zippers and some with velcro. I have yet to find a reusable snack bag that holds liquids but slightly juicy items stay contained so you could definitely use one of these for fruit or a sandwich with pickles and tomato, etc. When choosing your snack bag, make sure that the fabric is free of BPA, phthalates, vinyl and lead. A good company should tell you that information in the product details. If you have to hunt to figure this out, chances are there is something nasty in the bag.
I use snack bags by Smitten. I like them because they come in a variety of sizes and the company is stringent and vigilant about testing their products for toxins. All Smitten fabrics are free of BPA, latex, phthalates, vinyl, lead and other heavy metals, formaldehyde and brominated flame-retardants. My only complaint with these is that they hold up best if air-dried and that can take a while which is a pain.
Lunchskins is another company that makes non-toxic reusable snack bags. I've never tried these but plan to the next time I need to make a snack bag purchase, they get positive reviews and seem to wash up easily. I see these everywhere and they come in a fun variety of patterns and colors.
Additional Resources: Washington Toxins Coalition, Safe Start for Kids, Choosing Safer Products
*Disclaimer: I was given a Planet Box Rover and Bottle Rocket to review as part of my More Good Day Oregon segment but my ideas and opinions are my own.