Sunday, August 5, 2018

2018 Back to School Guide

These lunchboxes showcase his favorite characters... but are they safe?

If you want to skip to see the items I am recommending you can find my selections in my Amazon SHOP (click SHOP in the menu at the top of this page!) 

Back to School is upon us all and kids and parents everywhere are looking to buy this year’s supplies that will fit our kid’s personalities, last (at least!) the entire year and that won’t expose them to nasty toxic chemicals.   

The good news is that every year there are more safe, stylish and non-toxic supplies available.  The bad news?  I recently spent two hours at Target sifting through countless backpacks, lunchboxes and other school supplies.   The backpack area, specifically, was exhausting.   Most labels are either non existent or vague or misleading. Its easy to spot the vinyl  (shiny plastic) and fruity smelling supplies but its the more tricky chemicals, like water proofing chemicals or antibacterial chemicals, that are much harder.  

My take away from my trip to Target and my own Back to School prep this year? 

1. Generally, if a product does not outright tell you what it is made off (look for this either in a paper label attached to the item or in an internal label inside a backpack or lunchbox), chances are it might be hiding something- so don't waste your time.

2.  Non-toxic items might cost more but they also tend to last longer.   My kids So Young lunch boxes that I am retiring this year (not because they are damaged but because I was gifted some Planet Box lunchboxes which I love) have lasted 2 years and are still going strong.   Our stainless steel snack containers?  3 years and going strong.   Our clothing snack bags? 4 years!
Pura water bottles?   2 years (although I am buying a new replacement nozzle since the original broke off) .. and I have boys who are not the most gentle with their stuff!!

Regardless of what you need to shop for this year, I hope this guide will  teach you what to look for and what to avoid, so you don't have to spend 2 hours at Target (unless its looking for fun items!).

Voila our 2018 Non-Toxic Munchkin Back To School Guide for kids of all ages.  


Here's a hint:   as you look around major retail chains you probably want to avoid the usual suspects of shiny cartoon, super heroes and princess characters on everything from backpacks to lunch boxes to pens and notebooks.  The key word here is SHINY. The smell (stench really) of plastic lingering in the back to school aisle is another clue of things to avoid.

 But first: a short tutorial of what to avoid (or scroll down to go straight to our recommendation for children of all ages) - print it out and take with you when shopping!

• AVOID: shiny and smelly plastic: you know what i am talking about - the most common, and usually least expensive supplies, are made of shiny smelly plastic, PVC and others.
• Found in: lunchboxes, backpacks, binders, folders, pencil cases
• The problem? This shiny plastic is made of PVC ( vinyl). PVC is considered to be one of the most toxic plastics for children and the environment since it constantly releases a cocktail of chemicals including phthalates (endocrine disrupting chemical linked to birth defects, decreased sperm count and damaged sperm, increased risk of developing behavioral problems, premature birth and asthma) dioxins ( carcinogens), PCBs ( long-term exposure to PCBs is associated with everything from cancer to endocrine disorders, and reproductive troubles. The compounds have also been linked to cognitive and behavioral problems in children) and even lead ( a proven potent neurotoxin ), among other harmful chemicals
• Alternative: 

- try to avoid plastic when possible. 
- Fabric, canvas, stainless steel, recycled cardboard are all great alternatives. Polyester or recycled polyester are also better alternatives (although, polyester is pretty bad for the environment, so if possible choose recycled polyester.  I have some great backpacks in my SHOP section made of recycled water bottles and recycled polyester)
- If your child's school list specifies plastic folder/ binder look for those specifically labelled ' pvc free' . Polypropylene ( #5 in the recycling triangle) ones from brands like Avery are a good option. 
- The most popular alternative to PVC is PEVA, up until recently considered not as toxic as PVC, but recent research has show it also gives off VOCs.   IT is 'better' than PVC but still not non-toxic.

• AVOID: Hard plastic
• Found in: plastic snack baggies, water bottles, food containers and lunchboxes
• The problem? While many companies have phased out BPA from their products even BPA free products can contain chemicals very similar to BPA which could be accumulating inside your child's body and mimicking their hormones. This class of chemicals are known to be linked to breast cancer, obesity, among other ailments. Additionally, placing hot food in plastic containers, or heating foods in plastic containers makes the chemicals in the plastics leech into the food- never heat food in plastic containers!
• Alternative: after spending time planning out your child's healthy lunch and snacks for the week the last thing you want to be doing is exposing them to these chemicals. Choose reusable fabric snack bags or stainless steel as an alternative to plastic- especially for all things that come into contact with food.

• AVOID: fruity smelling art supplies
• Found in: crayons, erasers, pencils and other art supplies are all available in fruit scents as well as patches especially marketed towards little girls
• The problem? Although kids tend to love them, these items probably contain phthalates (chemicals that allow the fragrance to 'stick' to the product). Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, decreased sperm count and damaged sperm, increased risk of developing behavioral problems, premature birth and asthma
• Alternative: Water based markers are your safest bet. Avoid anything that smells artificially

• AVOID: Antibacterial supplies mostly labelled as 'microban'
• Found in: Folders, binders, backpacks, antibacterial gels
• The problem? Microban is a mix of chemicals meant to protect the product (not the user!) from bacteria, and mold and that may contain Triclosan. We don't really know if it contains Triclosan, since the company that produces Microban does not disclose its ingredients but this is a common antimicrobial chemical linked to skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, growth of drug-resistant bacteria or “superbugs.” dioxin contamination and even hormone disruption
• Alternative: Avoid "antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” or "microban" labels - even in items labelled as non-toxic. * If your class list requires you bring antibacterial gels choose natural versions like those from Babyganics.

Non-Toxic Munchkin Approved!
Our 2018 school supply recommendations 
* all of these items and more can be found in my Amazon SHOP (click SHOP in the menu at the top of this page!) 

 Lunch and Snack time
Although these stainless steel lunchtrays are costly:  ours are going on their 3rd year of use and still going strong.   The accessories have been updated (carry bag and some of the interior containers) but the lunchbox itself should last you a couple of years- so think of it as an investment... plus its actually really fun to fill the compartments with different t

This compartments has a much more affordable price than the Planet Box- however the cover is plastic.  I would recommend this, like I recommend other stainless steel snack containers with plastic lids:  not for hot food and not to be placed in microwave or dishwashing machine (since heat is what will cause any potential chemicals - like those that replace BPA- to leach into food) 
Fluff zippered lunch bag

FLUF ABC Lunch Bag, 11-Inch L by 8-Inch W by 4-1/2-Inch D Fluf has great designs for young kids and older kids - including ABC's, Sharks, cacti and camouflage, gummy bears and more!

Kids Konserve Stainless Steel Mini Food Containers, Set of 3 

3 years and going strong.  We have used these daily for 3 years and they still look like new!

Fluf Reusable Sandwich & Snack Bags (Set of 2), Good Eats

Lunchbots: choose a thermos that has a stainless steel
layer on the cover, so that no plastic comes into contact
with your food.

LunchBots Thermal 12 oz. All Stainless Steel Interior - Insulated Food Container Stays Warm for 6 Hours or Cold for 12 Hours - Leak Proof Soup Jar for Portable Convenience - Royal Blue :  A little more pricey but the key here is that the cover has stainless steel; absolutely no plastic comes into contact with the food 

Stainless steel is ideal, but for those kids that loose everything these bamboo utensils are pretty Earth friendly and won’t expose your kids to any nasties.

For the Journey to School
Stte Backpacks

STATE Girls' Mini Kane, Ice Cream  State has great designs for boys and girls of all ages.

Fjallraven Kanken Mini Daypack, Warm Yellow Minimalistic and very European these come in both smaller  (for little kids) and larger adult sizes.

 (PVC-, pthalate-, and BPA-Free)  My son used  his Dino print for 3 years!  This year he is getting a new backpack because, the Dino needs to be retired ... but rarely do you find a backpack that will last 3 years!  I purchased the larger sized backpack, but the toddler size is perfect for preschoolers.  
Their designs that are the perfect combo of sweet and urban. 

SoYoung toddler size backpack.

Jansport Superbreak Backpack (blue streak)

LEGO Brick Eco Backpack, Blue, One Size The LEGO Eco backpacks are perfect for LEGO obsessed boys and girls.  Every bag is made from recycled plastic water bottles, and you’ll find amazing designs from your fav Lego characters—NINJAGO and NEXO Knights; as well as brick-patterned fabric styles (in red, pink and blue) 

Herschel Backpacks are stylish for young and older students

A little pricey (this is the adult size, but would work for high schoolers or could be a great gift for a college freshman)  I literally spotted this model on an airplane and searched it out.   I find it masculine and stylish so had to include!

For the classroom


  1. I think that's an excellent idea! Our kids should have carried the thermal bags to carry their lunch. It will resist the bacteria and the chance of infection is less. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Back to school 2019 is coming. This post is really helpful for me.

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