What About Box Tops?


It’s back-to-school time! Moms are excited to have some peace and quiet, but we still have to do that before-school shopping, for clothes, supplies and lunch foods and snacks. And if you are like me, you probably can spot a Box Top from across a room. Like myself, many parents keep quite a stash of these, and even ask co-workers, family and friends to do the same. Then we divvy them up between the kids so they can take them to school in hopes of winning an ice-cream party for being the class who brought in the most.

What I find challenging about this is that most of the food items on which box tops are found, are incredibly processed, packaged foods that are full of GMOs, high-fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, BHT, ascorbic acid, MSG, artificial colors, sweeteners, yeast extract, conditioners, other preservatives, etc. You get the idea. I do not get these items for myself or for my family (granted, I do use certain cereals for desserts, i.e. Rice Crispies,) but I know many people do. And if they are not aware of what they are really feeding their children, they will often go for the cereal that’s on sale AND happens to have a Box Top. Better yet, some items offer double Box Tops! And all because they feel they are contributing to education.

Indeed, they are, but at what expense? Don’t get me wrong. I often will buy the Ziploc Brand sandwich bags, or Scott paper towels, or Kleenex tissue if they have a Box Top (and because they are usually far better quality,) but I have a really hard time cutting out a .10 label from something that is harming my/our bodies far more than the savings or donation value can ever compare to, just to help win my child a class party. Now this is not to say that the schools are not actually receiving the funds, because they are. I am a huge proponent of education donations and contributions, since our education system is in such desperate need of it, but I do not believe we as parents, should be buying those food items for the sole purpose of a .10 donation. I would much rather keep a jar on the counter to which I add a dime every time I get a much more healthy, organic, non-GMO product.

Have you ever noticed who implemented the Box Top program? General Mills. That’s right. Most of the food products that have Box Tops are from this one corporate giant who is one of the world’s largest food companies. Yes, it is a highly respectable act to support education, but it is very much a way to lure the consumer to their product by creating a sense of “giving back” to the schools. The Box Top program has given schools around the country $525 million since it started in 1996. That is nothing to shake a stick at. But just think of how much General Mills product we purchased to make that happen!

Cascadian Farm is the only organic company who is owned by General Mills that participates in the Box Tops Program. (Other organic companies owned by General Mills are Muir Glen and Larabar, but are not participants in the Box Tops program.) Although General Mills will not honor expired Box Tops, Cascadian Farm will. If you happen to find an expired Box Top on their product, (which does not mean the product is necessarily expired, but rather due to logistics of packaging) they recommend you call customer service and they will replace them one for one. And by the way, Cascadian Farm is now enrolled in the Non-GMO Project! (They have to be, if they want their product to remain on the shelves at Whole Foods.)

I propose that some of the other organic, non-GMO brands come up with their own program to support education. These products are usually much more expensive, which is hard enough when you are paying for the groceries, but to know that you are buying much more nutritious foods AND helping your local schools…what could be better?

One of my favorite organic companies is Annie’s. They are not participants in the Box Tops program but they have an amazing “Grants for Gardens” program you can apply for to build a garden at your school! They have donated funding to more than 200 schools since 2008, and those schools are able to offer a hands-on experience in gardening to their students.

Another of my favorites is Barbara’s Bakery; also not a Box Tops participant, but actively engages children in learning about the world around them, contributing to community and of course, eating well! They have a Kids Corner on their website which offers nutritional advice as well as interesting facts about the famous Puffins they promote on their packaging. Although not a Box Top participant, they have an adopt-a-puffin program, in which you mail in 15 UPC code flaps from a product and they send you a biography and photo of a puffin from a colony you helped restore.

Most of these organic companies are family owned and operated and some pledge to always be. They are doing their part to contribute to their community, promote healthy food choices, help the environment by using recycled packaging, plant based dyes, and promote recycling on the part of the consumer. All of these things are what we need more of! So I urge you to support them and start or continue searching for healthier food options for your children. Make sure that the product you are purchasing with a Box Top is what you really want, and look for other ways to contribute to your school.

Deanna Kohlmeyer