Plastics, as well as plastic-free products, have been in the news lately. Why is that, you ask? A few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), released a statement addressing chemicals and additives in food and food packaging (you can read it here.) They addressed not only manufactured packaging, but also plastic containers that you might use at home in your own kitchen.
The AAP's statement brought renewed concern about chemicals in food and food packaging in the United States. It focused specifically on indirect chemicals found in plastics, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard, and coatings used for processing and packaging. (Reference) Basically, any type of manufactured food or food packaging (including storage containers and dishes) seems to be of concern! The chemicals pose an increased risk to children because they eat more, pound for pound, than adults do. They are also still developing, which puts them at greater risk in and of itself.
Many of the chemicals the AAP specifically mentions are endocrine disruptors. This means they interrupt the normal functioning of hormones, and can cause lifelong negative effects. Examples of the side effects of these chemicals are changing the timing and effect of puberty. They also can increase obesity, affect brain development, increase ADHD symptoms, and cause gastrointestinal and metabolic issues. These are just some of the side effects caused by chemicals found in food and food packaging. And children are exposed to it daily!
Now this should be said with a caveat. And it’s a caveat that even the AAP agrees with. Research continues to be ongoing on these chemicals. And you’ll find many people, especially big companies, who will argue that there’s nothing to say specifically that plastics or other additives are harmful. The concern the AAP has, and really that many people have, is that there really is no regulation here in the States on chemicals that have the potential to cause harm. In some cases, there is already reasonable evidence for this harm.
So what is the recommendation?
The AAP recommends things like serving more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. This would help to avoid food packaging and processed foods with additives. They also recommend avoiding heating plastics at all, including by microwaving or using the dish washer to clean them. Even for baby bottles. The recommendation is to use plastic alternatives whenever possible. Especially avoid plastics with the numbers 3, 6, or 7, as those have the chemicals of highest concern in them.
Now this does not mean that you need to rush out and get rid of every single piece of plastic you have in your kitchen. Or never ever buy packaged foods again. But it does pay to be aware of the potential for harm. So to start with, stop washing any plastic that your child eats from, or that you store food in, in the dishwasher. Hand wash it so that there is no potential for it to get hot enough to leach chemicals into food.
Then, replace whatever you can with glass or stainless steel. Check below for some recommendations on what to buy! The biggest concern with this recommendation is that plastic is cheap. Stainless steel and glass generally are not. I don’t know about you, but it’s just not a feasible option for my family to replace all of our plastic currently. That would be prohibitively expensive! But what we will do is gradually phase in stainless and glass. We will also try our best not to buy any more plastic.
More: Feeding babies can be hard! For more help with baby led weaning and how to help your baby succeed with eating, be sure to check out this article with a comprehensive guide to baby led weaning and first baby foods!
Putting the Brakes On!
Plastic is not some crazy awful product by any means! It has some amazing uses, and especially when you’re dealing with a baby who throws things on the floor and breaks them, it sometimes might be the only option. So know that there are some instances where plastic is really the best option, even when you look at the risks. But there are many other times where plastic is the convenient option, sure, but not the only one. It’s these that will likely be the easiest to replace.
So what types of things are we talking about here? I’m working on ridding my own kitchen of plastics. Starting with finding alternatives to plastic baby cups and bottles, and finding the best plastic-free products. I am also doing my best to transition to glass food storage containers as well as reusable sandwich bags and plastic wrap. It may sound like quite the undertaking to get rid of all that plastic, but in baby steps it won’t be that bad!
I’ve gone on a bit of a research bend, trying to find the highest recommended and best plastic- free products to help transition your kitchen. I’ve compiled them all here, for you to use when you’re ready to transition to your own plastic-free kitchen! Now I know there's no way I've gotten all the good products that are out there. So if you have plastic-free products that you absolutely love, be sure to let me know about them.
So without further ado, here they are!
The Best Plastic-Free Products
The heart of what you need for feeding your baby! It can be easy to think that everything must be strapped to the table for your kids. But as your baby or child progresses in their skills, it can be a great learning tool to introduce them to adult-style dishes. Let’s be honest, though, you’d be pretty brave to start that right from the start! So in the meantime, there are several other great options. The first that come to mind are silicone placemat/plate combos and the bamboo plates that are becoming more popular. They aren’t glass or stainless steel, but they don’t have any of the harmful chemicals that are in the plastic models. My favorite are these silicone mats and these suction plates for toddlers and babies. I prefer undivided plates when first starting to feed if at all possible.
When you’re ready to introduce your baby to adult-style plates, these stainless steel plates have great reviews and will be one of the first additions to my own kitchen. The stainless steel bowls and cups also look awesome! For those of you still wanting to have something to stick to the table but want to avoid silicone or bamboo, this stainless steel baby suction bowl and lid is the perfect solution. And finally, if you just want something stainless steel but are really hoping to keep it on the more affordable side, this cup and bowl set is very reasonably priced and is highly rated in its category.
One of my best recommendations is to teach your baby to drink from an open cup from the start. It not only helps with their development, but also helps to eliminate the need for plastic down the line! If you have a shot glass lying around you can always use that as an appropriately sized glass baby cup. I have also tried multiple different stainless steel shot glass and dipping cup options. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that is just right.
We use a plastic baby cup that is about the size of a shot glass, and we have no fear when it gets tossed onto our hardwood floors in the early days of learning to drink. If they ever come out with a stainless steel version, it will be our first and go to option! Currently, we don’t put it in the dishwasher, and after several months of using it our daughter has progressed enough that we are phasing it out to a stainless steel cup that has fit all of our needs. There are several other stainless steel kids cups out there, like this one and this one. These seem to have the best reviews from a quality and ease of cleaning standpoint. They are also next on our list to buy in this category.
When out and about we have my daughter drink from a stainless steel sippy cup with a straw lid. There are 2 main contenders in this category, each with their own pros and cons. This one has a plastic handle and lid, but no plastic that touches the contents of the cup. This one is the one that we use and love, but I have heard mixed reviews of it elsewhere. To be honest, I debated even mentioning it here. Some people say that the teeth in the silicone spout can come off, making it a hazard. We have used it for several months already, though, and we absolutely love it. We've had no problems with it, either. The other option, and a great one for smoothies, especially, is this silicone lid and straw that fits over any cup and can be easily used with a stainless steel kids cup.
Stainless Steel Baby Utensils
Baby utensils, as well as toddler utensils, seem to run the gamut from traditional to all out wacky inventions. Some of those wacky inventions do have developmental purposes at times. I, however, prefer to help kids practice with more traditional looking spoons and forks whenever possible. These are the best baby spoons, and entire set of silverware for that matter, that I have found. They have the perfect shape for little baby hands to pick up. While they do have plastic around their handles, the actual spoon and fork part are stainless steel. This other stainless steel with plastic covered handles utensils set also have great reviews and look pretty developmentally appropriate. For pure stainless steel, this baby spoon and fork set are a great option. Different babies will take to different options. What we find to work perfectly may not work for the next family. These three different options are great places to start, though!
Stainless Steel Lunch Containers and Other Necessities
For all of you with older kiddos, here are some options to get rid of plastic at lunch time. Bento boxes are a great option for school lunches. They help to keep portion sizes small, which can help to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the food at lunch. That usually results in more food being eaten, which is a great goal! While there are lots of plastic bento box options out there, there really aren’t all that many stainless steel ones. And the ones that are out there tend to be fairly expensive. So gird yourself for the sticker shock. The daily use you will get out of them makes up for it, as well as the safety. But it is a bit of an investment upfront.
The most popular version, especially on Instagram, is this one. It is incredibly practical, and a great option if you can afford it. For a bento box without the bells and whistles of a carry case and added containers, you can grab this stainless steel lunchbox for almost half the price. If you want to avoid the bento style compartments all together, or just want a smaller container for snacks, this is a great option for a leak proof container and lid. Whether you choose bento style boxes or not, adding some novelty with cookie cutters and silicone muffin liners as containers is a great way to increase your child’s willingness to eat. Switching things up from the usual is sometimes all kids need to be willing to try a few more options at lunch!
Along with lunch boxes, sandwich bags are also a pretty frequent go to of families here in the states. Try these reusable sandwich bags, instead. They come in multiple different sizes, including these large and small sizes, as well as lots of different prints. They are the same fabric used for cloth diaper covers, so are lined with a waterproof layer. That can be important when packing something like fruit. I was unable to find the specific details about what is used in the waterproof layer. In my mind, though, this is one of those times where a little plastic type material is better than a ton of it!
For the Kitchen in General
Changing over your kid items can be hard enough, I know! But there are a few fairly easy swaps that can be made to help reduce plastic in your overall kitchen, as well. Many of us tend to use plastic wrap to cover foods and leftovers. Did you know that there are better (and less frustrating!) options? If you haven’t heard of it before, this bee’s wrap is amazing. It is reusable, and can be used for everything from wrapping sandwiches to half cut fruits and beyond. It is a great kitchen staple!
These reusable silicone bowl lids that suction to the top of your bowls are also a great storage option. They fit many different size bowls, and are much simpler to use than plastic wrap or foil. Having small little plates and bowls in your kitchen is also a great option for prepping and cooking your baby or toddler’s food. Custard bowls like these, and small bread and butter plates like these are go to options in our house. The options for this type of stuff are usually better at your local home store or a big box store like Target, Walmart, or Ikea. So check out their kitchen section the next time you're in one!
Finally, get rid of that tupperware! This was a hard one for us to commit to, as glass containers can just be so expensive. We are gradually replacing our bigger tupperware pieces with sets of glass storage containers with lids. For the smaller things, we had a ton of mason jars on hand that are the perfect in between option. Even if you don't have them already at home, they are relatively cheap for glass containers. We love this smaller size as well as this medium one. While we have some bigger options, we haven't found ourselves using them as much when it comes to leftovers. They might work great for your family, though! They might not be what you traditionally think of when you store leftovers, but they are such a great option that a lot of people already own.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it will definitely get you started on changing to a kitchen with more plastic-free products in it. Remember, there is no need to go and dump all of your plastic at once! Rotating in plastic-free items as you need new things, or as things break, is a great option. Looking for sales on some of these items is really the best way to go. The good news is something made of stainless steel is usually going to have a much longer lifetime than something made of plastic. Hopefully this means that in the end, the investment will not turn out to be quite as large as it first seems.