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Change the World Wednesday – 6 Ingredient Challenge

20 Feb

It’s that time of week again – a chance to see what Reduce Footprints has suggested as this week’s #CTWW. There’s a definite food theme at the moment, after last week’s Use it Up challenge to reduce food waste, as this week it’s about the 6 Ingredient Challenge that Hobo Mama is hosting.

This is a great idea – a simple but effective way to change our habits and help the planet by only buying food with 6 ingredients or less. The aim is to have more whole foods by cutting down on processed food. This is both good for our health (as it helps avoid hidden salt & sugar) as well as the environment (as less processing means less carbon dioxide produced). It’s also a great way to become a more savvy consumer, as we should all get to grips with reading food labels.

While I had never thought of it in this way, I’ve realised that I already try to do this. For instance, we mostly buy dry beans & pulses as using our magic pressure cooker to gives us that lovely “straight out of a can” taste (honestly, no amount of soaking & boiling ever got our black beans tasting “right” until we discovered the pressure cooker!). Or yogurts, we avoid “diet” yogurts, with their artificial sweeteners, by using organic skimmed yogurt and adding a little stevia or honey if we need it sweetened. I also avoid children’s yogurts and the like, as they’re loaded with sugar and additives (I’m lucky that my kids actually love plain yogurt as they don’t know any different!). We make our own salad dressing using oil and vinegar.

But after checking my kitchen I’ve discovered some foods that I hadn’t really thought about – cereals and bread.

At breakfast we generally all have porridge, but my son also loves Trader Joe’s Os. In fact, he has a bowl of porridge & a bowl of Os and eats them both (yes, we’re in the midst of the fussy food stage so he insists on the two bowls!). I’ve just checked the ingredients of the Os and there’s definitely more than 6 on there. The rest of our breakfast selection seems quite virtuous (rolled oats, wheatgerm, flaxseed, fruit) and our son doesn’t get any added sugar or honey. But it’s a reminder that these Os are processed, despite the cute box with the tasty looking strawberry garnishing a bowl of them and “wholegrain oats” in large font. Realistically, I’m going to leave him to his Os as, honestly, I just like that he eats breakfast without a fuss (which can’t be said at every meal time!). But I will make sure that his nearly 1 year old sister doesn’t get her hands on them. It’s tempting to just give her a handful to scoff while I prepare breakfast but I’ll try and give her fruit instead.

But bread is something I can work on. I just checked and yup, our organic spelt bread contains lots of ingredients including sugar (I find America to be full of very sweet bread – it was kind of a shock when we moved!). I’m lucky that my husband makes great bread. But it’s something I’d love to try. So I’ll try to do my bit for #CTWW by making my own bread this week. Hopefully by declaring my intention on here I’ll have to do it!

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Change the World Wednesday – use it up!

13 Feb

In January, myself and LowImpactPapa had a serious look at our food shopping habits. We had had an expensive few months with the move from London and Christmas and were looking at ways to tighten our belt financially. Grocery bills were an obvious area to examine (along with abstaining from eating out for the whole of January and turning our thermostat down a couple of degrees!). We were on a mission to reduce our grocery bill, reduce our waste and eat healthily. So we started meal planning and trying to find some new, simple recipes to approach our usual ingredients in new ways.

And it worked! We’ve significantly cut our grocery bills, we’ve cut our food waste by being more mindful in our eating, we’ve each lost about 9 lbs and we’ve got some new recipes that we are enjoying. Plus the kids are enjoying the new takes on familiar ingredients!

But food waste is a huge issue for the world. The NRDC released a report last year about this  called “Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40% of its food from Farm to Fork”. (see here for more information including a pdf of the report). Here’s a quote from the summary:

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables. Increasing the efficiency of our food system is a triple- bottom-line solution that requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers. The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction; businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money; and consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, buying produce that is perfectly edible even if it’s less cosmetically attractive, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers[emphasis in bold added my me]

So this week’s Change the World Wednesday (#CTWW) over at Reduce Footprints really chimes with the current food philosophy here at Chez Lowimpactparenting. This week’s challenge comes via Mrs Green’s Half Term Challenge over at My Zero Waste. It’s about taking stock of what’s in our fridge, planning some meals around it and enjoying them, knowing that we’re saving money and protecting resources. It’s sounds like what we’re trying to do anyway, so how could I not join in :). But seriously, we were away visiting the in-laws at the weekend, so we’ve been a bit more lax this week than usual as we didn’t have the time to meal plan as thoroughly as usual so this challenge is helping me to refocus on this.

I hadn’t realised quite how many different leftovers we had lurking until doing this. We have some leftover pizza sauce, some leftover rice, some leftover egg whites (from Pancake Tuesday last night!) as well as some homemade black beans. So for lunch today I think I’ll do some bean quesadillas with rice & beans on the side.

Vegetables-wise, we have some courgettes & leeks that I bought last week so should really use up. So I think it’ll be homemade courgette & leek pesto for dinner tonight (which conveniently gets some veg into my nearly 3 year old who’s going through a fussy food stage…though he’ll eat pesto til the cows come home!).

In the fruit bowl, we have some bananas that are on the turn, quite a few grapefruits and some pears, including one that’s half cut already. Luckily, neither of my kids turn their noses up at brown bananas though sometimes we’ll mash them up and serve them on toast if they’re just too mushy to eat from the skin. So afternoon snack will  be bananas and pear and a grapefruit (my 10 month old loves her citrus fruit so I’ll share it with her as the boy only likes grapefruit in juice form!).

Though I’m hoping to get some messy play aka baking in this afternoon too (since Valentine’s Day tomorrow is the perfect excuse for some heart-shaped baked goods!) so afternoon snack may well end up being derailed by that…

Easy green cleaning

5 Feb

Our cleaning products can be full of nasties and can pose a real risk of poisoning if children or pets get into them. It’s no surprise so many households are packed full of harsh chemicals, after decades of “Better Living Through Chemistry”  and advertising telling us we need to have homes that are cleaner than clean or whites that are whiter than white or floors cleaned with antibacterial wipes.  Luckily it’s a very easy step to take to green your cleaning products. What’s even better is that by making your own cleaning products you’ll save a ton of money too.

Making more of my own green cleaning products is one of my eco aims for 2013 so I thought I’d share 3 easy green cleaning solutions that will make your home a cleaner, greener space.

All purpose cleaner:

1 cup water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tbsp of lemon juice
10 drops tea tree oil

Tea tree is a wonderful essential oil with natural antic bacterial and anti fungal properties, so this cleaner is great for everyday use on most surfaces. NB leave out the lemon juice if you have granite counter tops as it can stain them!

Window & Glass cleaner:

Just mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and you’re good to go. Just spray on any glass surfaces and wipe (we use old newspapers for the wiping).

Microwave cleaner:

This is an old trick but works so brilliantly. Put a bowl of warm tap water in the microwave with some lemon slices and cook on high for 1 minute. Then let it sit in the microwave for a few minutes, so the steam stays trapped inside. Then just wipe out the microwave with a damp sponge – easy peasy!

I use spray bottles that I’ve saved from the commercial eco cleaners I was using before switching to homemade. You can also pick up empty spray bottles in places like a dollar store (or pound shop!). I’d love to hear if anyone else has homemade green tips to share, as I’ve become a bit of a white vinegar bore in real life since it’s such a great (and cheap!) alternative to expensive eco cleaners!

 

How green was 2012?

14 Jan

I’ve reviewed 2012 with personal highlights here but I’ve also been thinking about the green highlights (and lowlights) of the year. I’m hoping that it will provide me with inspiration for living green in 2013!

Baby

I had my second baby in 2012 (and an utterly gorgeous baby she is too!). We didn’t buy much for her – there’s something very special about seeing your second baby in clothes that your first baby has grown out of!- but we did buy a newborn insert for our Ergo. And we loved it and recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.

We also treated ourselves to a Tummy Tub for her first months – I had wanted one with my son but was given a bath & a bath seat so couldn’t justify it. This time we couldn’t resist and it was a joy to use – bath time was so special, as her 2 year old brother could really get involved and it was a lovely bonding time for us all. I’d definitely recommend it.

Diapers-wise, this time we used some Bummis prefolds & wraps to boost our washable diaper stash, as our son was still using his Bumgenius v3 and Flips. I was nervous, as I thought they seemed like a lot of hassle but we needed an inexpensive solution until our daughter could start using her brother’s diapers. And not only was I won over, but I fell for them utterly! Gorgeous soft fabric, fast and easy to use, quick drying. Very enjoyable to use and I highly recommend them.

But a green lowlight was that we used far more disposables than we should have. During our first month in the US we had no choice – our washables were being shipped over with the rest of our stuff – but then we got lazy. We got used to the convenience…and used “eco” brands to assuage our guilt. Luckily we’re back on track using washable diapers & wipes now but it was a lesson in how easy it can be to slip into bad habits.

A resolution for 2013 is to primarily use washable diapers & wipes.

Housekeeping

2012 was the year I started using white vinegar…which doesn’t sound like much but honestly, it is a revelation. I love it!

I’ve always tried to buy green cleaning products – Ecover was a favourite brand in the UK but I now use Method (which are now, conveniently, the same company!). The impact that cleaning products can have on our eco systems is something that really matters to me. But when my baby started eating her food off the table I was suddenly very bothered by even my green surface cleaner. I didn’t want any unnecessary chemicals polluting her food. So I switched to a 50% white vinegar solution and I love it – surfaces are clean & sparkling, there’s no vinegar-y smell, it’s super cheap (which is a big factor now I’m a stay-at-home parent) and I don’t have to worry about contamination of her food. I’m a convert.

A resolution for 2013 is to switch to more homemade green cleaning products.

We’ve also had our first experience of using a tumble dryer. We didn’t have one in the UK and never missed it. When we spent a month in Manhattan we had no choice but to use it – there was no other way to dry clothes in the tiny apartment – and I really didn’t like it. I shrank some clothes that I really loved and just felt guilty about it. But it became a habit that carried over into our new home.

But we have a spacious basement and my husband picked up a big sturdy clothes horse (it dwarfs our trusty clothes horse from our London life!). So we’re back to air-drying clothes with the tumble dryer for emergencies only. But it’s something to keep an eye on as I can now see how seductive the tumble dryer can be!

A resolution for 2012 is to primarily air dry our laundry.

Food

We had the joy of baby-led weaning all over again with our daughter. Like her brother, she’s never had processed baby food and it means we all eat more healthily as a result (since we watch the salt & sugar intake in everything we cook so she can handle it). I recommend baby led weaning to all parents as it is really a wonderful time in your baby’s first year – so much fun as your little one discovers the fun of food (my 9 month old daughter is going through the phrase of intentially dropping food on the floor, watching it falls…she’s like a mini physicist discovering gravity!).

We’ve also decided to eat more vegetarian food to reduce the carbon footprint of our good (read up on the environmental benefits of vegetarian eating here). So today was lentil soup & spelt bread for lunch and the Moosewood’s super tasty sweet potato quesadillas for dinner.

A resolution for 2013 is to have at least 2 vegetarian days a week.

Household Waste

I’ve already admitted to our disposable diaper addiction above, so that was a definitely green lowlight of 2012 in terms of household waste. But we’ve also had to sacrifice our home composting in our new rental home in Maplewood. We have no garden, so have no where to use any compost we create, and food waste isn’t collected by the town (oh how I miss Haringey’s food waste collection!). But we’re hoping to buy our own house this year and having an enclosed back yard we can garden is a priorty so I hope that by the time 2013 ends we’ll be back to home composting most of our food waste.

A resolution for 2013 is to start composting as soon as we can.

We’ve also just stared having milk delivered from the Green Market Dairy – and we love it! There is something so satisfying about the lovely glass bottles. And since the bottles are then reused it is also help cut down the volume of single use plastic or tetra packs we recycle.

OK, quite a rambly post but I hope that this informal green audit helps me move into 2013 more committed than ever to living green!

Words to live by

19 Nov

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
William Morris

These have been my words to live by recently. The furniture we shipped over from London was rather sparse in our new home (the joy of moving from a tiny flat to a bigger house) so we needed to get some new bits and pieces. We also couldn’t bring any of our electricals with us when we moved (we had some fun times distributing things like our toaster and vacuum cleaner among our London friends! I know that doesn’t sound like fun but it conveniently coincided with also drinking all our booze, since we couldn’t ship that either). So we’ve had to restock appliances too. But I’m trying to think like William Morris and get things that are (ideally) both useful and beautiful but one or the other will do.

The furniture has been new to us, rather than storefresh, as we try to buy secondhand or freecycle where we can. This is easier here than in London, since we have family close at hand (so we’ve inherited a two-seater sofa, or loveseat as they rather charmingly call in the US, and amazing crochet afghans and the like) but also because of the joy that is Craigslist. I’m sure any readers from North America will be like “Craigslist is so a million years ago” but it’s a revelation to me. There is so much stuff for sale! Why would we ever buy new again?!? It’s so much better than the London equivalent (Gumtree). In fact, I’m typing this post while sitting on this sofa bought from Craigslist:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s lovely and comfortable and I know it’s an hilariously impractical colour with 2 small children but hey, it cost $75 so I really don’t mind what stains it gets! They’ll all just add to the character of it (I say optimistically). Oh and the crochet afghans are some of the family ones we were recently given – my amazing grandmother-in-law crocheted them. She’s 96 and still crochets if the light is good. While telling stories and singing old songs and cracking jokes. She is an amazing lady!

I’ve also discovered the joy that is yard sales. OMFG, as the youth would say, they are brilliant! For practically no dollars I got a hall mirror, some bedside lamps and cool toys for my son. Check out this lamp:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then guess the price…$10? $5? No no no, a measly $2!

And that was with no haggling (which is good as I cannot haggle. Having to haggle practically brings me out in hives).

There have been yard sales every weekend that we’ve lived here but I’ve had to give them a bodyswerve. I could get completely addicted to them and before you know it I’d be mainlining estate sales and I’d have lost the children under some nifty vintage dinnerware. And I’ve not even sampled the delights of our local thrift store or Goodwill yet…

Putting the “Eco” in “Economical”

21 Jan
We’re living in tough economic times. It’s stressful, managing a household when your income may be dropping or your job precarious. And then you find out you’re having a baby (or another baby) and your financial woes take on a whole new level – how will you afford all the stuff that comes with a baby? And how will you afford maternity leave? Let alone all the expense that goes into raising a child (according to some sources, it costs over two hundred thousand pounds to raise a child to adulthood in the UK today.)
But having a baby doesn’t have to break the bank. With a bit of time and creativity, you can take a frugal (but fun!) approach to having a baby. And by embracing your inner cheapskate you can reward yourself with green brownie points at the same time. It’s about putting the “Eco” in “Economical”.
Cutting back on consumption (reducing) and embracing second-hand or hand-me-downs (reusing) are two of the fundamental tenets of taking a frugal, green approach to raising a baby. And because it’s more economical, it means that when you do have to buy new you can afford to buy quality products that last. So you can either reuse them on a subsequent child or sell them on when you no longer need them.
So I’m going to start a series of easy tips on how to have a green baby just by being frugal. With baby no 2 on the way, it’ll allow me to refresh all the things we learnt with baby no 1. And I’d love to hear any frugal tips you have – what baby stuff did you love? Or hate? What’s your top green tip for parents or parents-to-be?

 

Easy eco resolutions

4 Jan

The new year is a time of making (and breaking!) resolutions. I think that resolutions can be great – taking the time to review your habits or lifestyle and deciding what you’d like to do differently is interesting and productive. But I don’t like how resolutions can set you up for failure. There’s nothing worse that making a long list of resolutions about the “new you” only to then feel terrible when you wake up in February having not changed anything!

Resolutions should be realistic and achievable. Setting realistic goals then gives you the great satisfaction of achieving them. And small steps can take you on a long journey, if you’re prepared to take it slow.
So here are some my top five easy eco resolutions that will help you have a greener 2012:
1. Bin bottled mineral water. Give up buying bottled mineral water. It’s tremendously expensive compared to tap water and eats up oil to package, store and transport. Not to mention that the bottles are usually sent to landfill so hang around the planet far too long. So buy a reusable BPA-free water bottle (we’ve got some lovely ones from One Green Bottle) and go tap. Chill it overnight in the fridge and bring it to work. Flavour it with slices of lemon or lime. And enjoy all the money you’re saving while you avoid the environmental pollution associated with the bottled water industry.
2. Go cold turkey on plastic bags.  This is perhaps a controversial one, as it takes a lot more energy to make a resusable bags (see Wikipedia for more info) so you need to use your bags as much as possible. But I just hate single use plastic bags. I hate the mindset it encourages – use something once and then chuck it. I hate seeing plastic bags blowing in the street or hanging off trees. And I just love my resuable bags. I use envirosax and I’m a huge fan of them. They’re lightweight but super sturdy – I have two that I’ve used for 4 and half years and they’re still going strong – and very easy to stash in handbags/car/work desk drawer/bike bag so you’re never without a resuable bag. If you do end up with plastic bags, try to reuse them when you’re shopping and recycle them via your supermarket.
3. Consume less. Buying less stuff is a great way to help save the planet. Becoming more conscious in what and how you consume will help you to minimise your waste. In our house we’ve resolved to have (at least) two “buy-nothing days” a week. This should be super easy, with just a little bit of planning in terms of bringing lunch to work and having a dinner meal planned, and will hopefully help us (by saving money) while we help the planet.
4. Avoid meat at least one day a week. Food production is a huge component of global green house gas emissions, with livestock being responsible for most of that (see Meat Free Mondays for more info). So the more meat you eat the bigger your carbon footprint will be. Avoiding meat helps to cut your carbon footprint, with added benefits for your health and your wallet.
5.  Turn down the thermostat. Turning down the thermostat on your heating is a really great way to save both money and energy (see the Energy Saving Trust for more info). If it’s not appealing then consider turning it down gradually, so you can adjust to the heat. So reach for a jumper or cardy if you feel a little chilly. Keep throws and blankets handy for when you’re sitting on the couch. And rediscover the joys of warm flannel pjs.
Small changes can add up to big benefits, so I hope this provides some inspiration on how to make 2012 a greener year. And if you have any eco resolutions or tips I’d love to hear them.