The journey of a Christian wife, stay-at-home mom, quasi-tree-hugger, and cheapskate to find ways to "CHanGE" her life to be Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier. Constructive feedback always welcome!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pickier About Plastic, Part 2: Food and Drink

In an earlier post, I talked about why plastic-bag usage should be minimized and ways to do it. Now, a plastic-reduction segment that I'm still struggling with: eating and drinking utensils. Dot is our main concern here, but even Huz and I are far from perfect when it comes to minimizing plastic for our own use.

Any parent of a baby or toddler knows that giving them a "real" plate, bowl, or glass is asking for trouble. Even when they get past the phase of intentionally dropping them and flinging them around, they can still be pretty clumsy with them. Huz has already had to glue one bowl back together that Dot got into without him noticing (see, I'm not the only "Cheaper" one around here! lol), and we've had to throw away a glass or two. Thankfully, silverware holds up much better to the abuse of young fingers, but many times little mouths are too small for regular forks and spoons to fit. And of course, kids need ways to store snacks. So, what are the options for all these?

- Disposable tableware, paper or plastic. We don't tend to use this unless we're having a large gathering, and only because it's Easier. It's certainly not Cheaper or Greener. One exception to this is drinking straws. We do have some reusable ones, but they get gunky over time and can be hard to clean.

- Reusable plastic storage and utensils. This definitely appears to be the most popular option. Many drink bottles/sippy cups and storage containers are plastic. There are some concerns as to whether or not the latter should be heated in the microwave or put in the dishwasher if they're plastic due to concerns over potential leeching of chemicals into the food, even with BPA-free plastic. And I know with Dot's plastic sippy cups, sometimes putting milk into them leaves a particular smell behind even when the cup is all clean. When she was a baby, I tended to put her food either on small plastic plates I had bought long ago or on plastic-storage lids. I was too Cheap to go out and actually buy toddler plates! This did the job fine, but I usually tried to warm up food on our regular plates and bowls. She also had plastic spoons for feeding, which were nice due to the softer edges and smaller overall size. And we have tons of plastic storage containers for both her snacks and our leftovers. She now is old enough that I feel comfortable simply letting her use Corelle plates and bowls and our regular silverware. I do give her a salad fork instead of a regular one because it's smaller. I wouldn't be too concerned about using plastic if you already have it as long as it's not exposed to extreme temperatures, there are no cuts in it, and you know it's BPA free. Some baby bottles in the past have had BPA in them, so be wary of accepting older used bottles.

- Glass. This is what I try to use for storing leftovers both in the fridge and freezer. And Huz and I are pretty good about grabbing glasses for our drinks around the house as opposed to plastic cups. With Dot, however, it's a whole other story. Now that she's 3, I've just now gotten comfortable enough with her handling abilities to let her try using a regular glass. A strategy that's worked fairly well for her is taking a neoprene soft-drink koozy (we have received several for free) and placing a small Mason jar (think 8-12 oz) or juice glass into it. It gives the glassware a bit of a cushion and also gives Dot something a bit sturdier to grab when she goes for the drink. Be warned, though, that this is not foolproof. I tried and tried and tried to break a glass one day with it in the koozy by dropping it multiple times onto both our wood deck and concrete sidewalk and didn't even chip it. Apparently Dot is more adept at finding just the right way to drop the koozied glass to make it break. Thankfully she learned from that and has been very careful since then. Another option for using glass that I'd love to try sometime is the Siliskin system:

You essentially have a regular drinking glass and put a silicone sleeve over it to help absorb the shock if the glass were dropped. Silicone sleeves can also be used on glass baby bottles if you want to use them but are worried about the shatter factor. This website is actually what gave me the inspiration to try the koozies on our existing glasses (again, trying to be Cheaper). LifeFactory sells glass baby bottles with silicone sleeves included, like this:

If I ever have another baby, I'd love to try something like this. They also sell glass drinking bottles with silicone sleeves for adult use, but the main time I use drinking bottles is when I'm at the gym, in which case I prefer to be able to use a straw so I don't have to fiddle with the bottle too much in the middle of a workout.

- Stainless steel. Stainless steel does have the advantage over glass that it's much more durable, but it's also quite expensive. You can find stainless-steel drinking bottles, cups, storage, utensils (of course), and more. I've only just started to convert some of Dot's plastic sippy cups to stainless-steel ones--because, after all, I'm not taking glass on the go with a preschooler! Here's what I've gotten so far:

Stephen Joseph Stainless Water Bottle, Ladybug Design

I balked at the $9.95 price tag, so some searching on eBay found a vendor who had the same thing on sale for...$5.50 plus shipping, I believe. Dot's ladybug cup is a different design than this one (hers is purple), but they may have redesigned it. It's definitely cute, and it does a better job of keeping water cold than plastic does, but Dot has trouble opening the sport-bottle spout, and she's not crazy about how slow the water comes out when she does try to drink. So she usually pours the water into the cap and drinks it out of there. So, yeah, she's drinking out of plastic again. But at least it's not being used for storing the water. The cap also seems to have trouble staying shut on the bottle.

What we just got in the mail yesterday as an early Christmas present:

(Eco Vessel Insulated Stainless Water Bottle with Straw Top)

Eco Vessel sells this style of bottle in both kids' and adults' sizes (about a 4-oz difference, and different patterns). I balked even more at this nearly $20 price tag, but I was able to find it for $15.25 plus free shipping on Abe's Market. I liked that it has a straw, as Dot is sometimes more willing to drink out of one than she is to just sip regularly, and that it was insulated to keep the water colder longer, which would be a must for these long, hot Southern summers. It is leak-proof when the straw is closed but leaks quite a bit if the straw is open and the bottle is being shaken upside down. So it's not recommended for children under the age of 4. (Yes, this would include Dot as well, but she seems to be handling the bottle well thus far.) It's a little heavy, so I don't fill it up all the way. She can handle opening and closing the straw herself, but she has to put some muscle behind it. Eco Vessel also has non-insulated options that are a little cheaper, as well as stainless-steel sippy cups and snack bowls for the toddler set. If Dot decides after all that she doesn't like her cup, I'm taking it! :) If she does, I'd like to get the adult-sized one for myself.

I would eventually like to replace some of our plastic storage sets with stainless-steel ones, but that takes a fair amount of money, so that'll be a very long-range plan. Another drawback to stainless steel is that obviously you can't heat food in it. So I would like some silicone storage for that option as well. Some places sell collapsible silicone lunch containers that would be a heat-safe option to conventional plastic, and they might not take up as much room.

I feel like this post has been all over the place, as I tried to cover so many bases at once. But I hope I've shown that there are other materials you can use if you need something that won't break, even though they may be more costly. Keep your eyes peeled online for Groupon-like deals where certain websites selling these goods may be offering these up for a discount.

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