Quantcast

4 Tips for Stocking a Kid-Friendly, Nontoxic Kitchen

Food
Sean Locke / Stocksy

By Molly M. Ginty

You shun Styrofoam tableware, buy organic oranges and even get your kids to eat leafy greens. But are you doing all you can to protect your children from toxic chemicals that may lurk inside their favorite foods?


"When it comes to pesticides, preservatives and other toxic chemicals, you need to set priorities for your family," said Kristi Pullen Fedinick, a staff scientist with Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) health program. "You may not be able to eliminate all potentially harmful chemicals from your kitchen, but you can work to minimize them."

Because their bodies are still developing and their neurological and endocrine systems are more sensitive than those of adults, kids are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals that pollute food. A recent study in the medical journal Lancet concluded that "children are at high risk of pollution-related disease." Health issues that are linked to toxic chemicals found in food include asthma; reproductive deformities; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); the early onset of puberty; and learning disabilities, lower IQ and other neurological problems.

When pollutants in food are ingested by kids who happen to be going through growth spurts, it's especially risky. "The stage from infancy to age three and the pubescent phase are critical times when these chemicals' influence can be even larger because of how the body is developing," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist in NRDC's Health program. "During these windows, even small exposures can potentially have long-term effects."

Here are four tips for reducing that risk at home.

1. Mix it up.

Stay vigilant about your family's menu choices. But don't allow your kids to get too fussy in turn. "Young children have a tendency to like eating only certain foods," Rotkin-Ellman said. "But there was a documented case of a kid who had mercury poisoning because of eating the same type of mercury-laced tuna-fish sandwiches day in and day out."

By exposing your children to as many flavors, textures and varieties of food as possible, you'll not only expand their horizons but also help them stay safe. "I have a three-year-old son," Rotkin-Ellman said, "and by cultivating variety in his diet, I'm lessening his chance of getting overexposed to any single toxic chemical."

2. Feed them plenty of fruits and veggies, but avoid pesticides.

When shopping for produce, it's especially important to make your selections free of chlorpyrifos. This common pesticide has been shown to delay development and cause neurological problems, yet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has recklessly approved it for continued use on our crops. To avoid exposure to chlorpyrifos and other pesticides toxic to kids, choose foods labeled USDA Organic.

"Organic food can be more expensive," said Rotkin-Ellman, "but from a health perspective, it's definitely beneficial for those fruits and vegetables your kids eat most." The Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists are helpful guides, especially when making decisions about which items to splurge on from your grocery's organic produce section. Items on the Dirty Dozen list include strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.

As an extra precaution, or when it's not possible to buy organic products, wash all produce thoroughly and carefully before eating it, and peel conventionally grown fruits and veggies.

3. Proteins are important, but stay away from those packed with mercury or raised with antibiotics.

When it comes to fish, the top concern is mercury. The toxic metal is often found in high concentrations in the bodies of fish toward the top of the food chain, such as tilefish, bluefish, grouper, king mackerel, swordfish and tuna. Children with prolonged or repeated exposure to mercury can suffer brain damage and learning disabilities. To avoid mercury contamination, serve smaller varieties of seafood, and look for mercury-free fish sticks for those who prefer finger food.

Gil Axia / iStock

When buying meat, poultry and dairy, opt for products from animals raised without the routine use of antibiotics. This helps prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria in communities. Look for any of these labels: USDA Organic, USDA Process Verified Never Ever 3, Global Animal Partnership (GAP), American Grassfed, Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved. Note that while animal products bearing labels such as No Antibiotics Administered, No Antibiotics Added or Raised Without Antibiotics communicate the producer's commitment to responsible use, they are not third-party certified as coming from farms where routine use of antibiotics is prohibited. Fortunately, there are now more affordable options in this category, especially for chicken products.

4. Cut down on processed foods.

Yulka Popkova / iStock

Scientists estimate that more than 3,000 chemicals are currently being added to foods during processing, often without safety testing first. Consider phthalates, additives that are used to make plastics soft and flexible. These harmful chemicals can make their way into food through packaging and the manufacturing process, and though they are known to disrupt hormones and impair neurological development in children, they "are used in much of the factory equipment that food goes through," said Rotkin-Ellman. "And as foods get more and more processed, their phthalate levels go up." In a recent analysis of macaroni and cheese powders by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging, of which NRDC is a member, phthalates were found in all 10 products sampled. The presence of these chemicals in "kid-friendly" foods is particularly troubling given that children's phthalates levels can be double those of adults.

While NRDC, our partners and concerned consumers continue to push for stricter regulation that prohibits risky chemicals in our food, here are some simple ways to protect your family:

  • Opt for simple, unrefined foods with as few additives and preservatives as possible. Think melted whole cheese and not cheese powder. "The closer you are to a product as it originated, the better off you are," said Rotkin-Ellman.
  • Avoid canned foods as much as possible. An estimated two-thirds of food can linings contain bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to behavioral problems in children. And higher levels of BPA can be found in canned acidic foods, like tomatoes. Unfortunately, a BPA-free designation doesn't guarantee safety because companies often replace this chemical with related ones.
  • Don't buy foods containing artificial colorants and sweeteners. It's noteworthy that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to list these additives generically on food labels without spelling out what the specific ingredients are. Not only are consumers kept in the dark about what they're eating, but, said Rotkin-Ellman, "some artificial colorants and sweeteners have been linked to cancer and ADHD in kids."
  • Have a baby starting solids? Choose oatmeal or multigrain cereals instead of rice cereal. A recent report found that infant rice cereal contained six times more arsenic than other varieties of infant cereals.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new rule that ends limits for hog slaughtering speeds could increase animal suffering, advocates warn. kickers / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Trump's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a new hog slaughtering rule Tuesday that environmental and food safety advocates warn could harm animals, plant workers and public health, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Prehistoric and historic walrus skulls, tusks and bone fragments often wash ashore on the southern coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland. Hilmar J. Malmquist

A unique subpopulation of ancient walrus in Iceland was likely hunted to extinction by Vikings shortly after arrival to the region, according to new research.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Drivers make their way on the US 101 freeway on Aug. 30 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

In its latest move to undermine action on the climate crisis, the Trump administration will formally rescind California's waiver to set stricter auto emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.

Read More Show Less
Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Read More Show Less
Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
This illustration can convey a representation of "eco-anxiety" — "chronic fear of environmental doom." AD_Images / Pixabay

As the climate crisis takes on more urgency, psychologists around the world are seeing an increase in the number of children sitting in their offices suffering from 'eco-anxiety,' which the American Psychological Association described as a "chronic fear of environmental doom," as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
Electric cars recharge at public charging stations. Sven Loeffler / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Ben Jervey

Drivers of electric cars are being unfairly punished by punitive fees in several states, according to a newly published analysis by Consumer Reports. Legislators in 26 states have enacted or proposed special registration fees for electric vehicles (EVs) that the consumer advocacy group found to be more expensive than the gas taxes paid by the driver of an average new gasoline vehicle.

Read More Show Less
A plastic bag sticks to a wire fence in a remote location in the Mourne Mountains, co Down, Northern Ireland. Dave G Kelly / Moment / Getty Images

Ireland is ready to say goodbye to plastic cutlery, plastic balloon sticks and grocery items wrapped in plastic as a way to drastically reduce the amount of waste in Irish landfills, according to the Ireland's national broadcaster, RTE.

Read More Show Less