New Concerns about Food Additives and Kids’ Health

Getting ready for back to school means picking out the perfect lunch box and laying in supplies of lunch box goodies. A new American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement could make that traditional shopping trip a source of worry instead of fun.

There are more than 10,000 additives currently allowed by the Food and Drug Administration. The AAP worries that some of these substances could be dangerous for children, even if they are safe for adults. The AAP also notes that there has been new research since the most recent major change in regulations about food additives 50 years ago.

In addition to food additives, there are questions about chemicals that can get into food from packaging. Phthalates, for instance, can make their way into foods from plastic packaging and the adhesives used in those packages. These substances are controlled in some other countries. The AAP thinks it’s time they were controlled in the U.S. as well.

If you can buy it, it’s safe—right?

Updating safety regulations about foods and food packaging is a big step. The European Union has just gone through a decade-long process of improving chemical regulations. The FDA currently has no process for checking on the safety of substances that have already been approved. If the FDA were to work on making sure that everything in the grocery store is safe, it would certainly take as long as Europe’s process did.

That’s not going to help with your back-to-school shopping.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take.

AAP recommendations

  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned or plastic-packed goodies. Fresh fruits and veggies are a better choice for the lunchbox than processed snack-pack foods from the point of view of nutrition, too. Spend a little extra time in the produce section finding fun new fruits and vegetables, and schedule some weekend meal prep time to cut them into snackable shapes. Carrot slices and celery sticks are great, but kiwi fruit and jicama can add fun to lunchtime.
  • Avoid processed meats, such as lunch meats. This can add work to sandwich-making time, but fixing food together can also be fun. Homemade spring rolls, bierrocks, or cheese and spinach pastries are fun family projects as well as tasty lunch choices. Pulled pork or chicken, tuna salad, and nut butters make good no-nitrates sandwich fillings, too.
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic containers. Keep those containers out of the dishwasher, too. Giving up plastic containers may be a good long-range goal, but if you aren’t ready yet, follow these rules to limit effects on food. Move the plastic containers to the craft room or toy shelves instead of using them for food.
  • Pack food in alternative kinds of containers, not in plastic. Major plastic wrap makers say that their products do not contain the endocrine-disrupting chemicals the AAP is worried about. Avoid bargain brands, or use beeswax sheets and other alternative containers. Heavy glass containers can be a good option for older kids, or go old-school with waxed paper. Some of these alternative packaging choices brighten up the lunchbox, too. They may cost more up front, but they’re reusable, so they’re more affordable in the long run.
  • Check the recycling code on the bottom of plastic containers and avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols). Check while you are in the grocery store so you don’t bring these foods home.

Changing habits can be hard, but these changes are worth trying. Back to school can be a great time to make changes, too.