Of all the zero waste swaps we’ve made over the past few years, the switch to cloth napkins has been my absolute favorite. They are so much more beautiful than the quilted, flower-printed, paper kind. Just by setting the table with cloth napkins, our family dinners are instantly elevated to restaurant class – even if nothing else about the meal is fancy. And they are so practical because I have little kids and the number of flimsy paper napkins that we would need at each meal is enormous.
How to use them…
Originally, I was afraid to make the switch because I worried that guests would be afraid to use them and that my children would destroy them and that the added laundry would be a hassle. Turns out, however, that the napkins are the least hassle of all the swaps. I have even used them for big dinner parties [well, “big” being 15-20 people which is all my house can hold]. When we are done, they just go straight into the washer to be cleaned with the next load.
They definitely get messy, but they come clean in the wash and in our experience, each person only needs one no matter how messy the meal is.
Where to get them…
I bought mine from World Market years ago when we were first making the switch, but now I wish I had just made some myself. You can also buy them at home goods stores such as Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, and don’t forget Amazon! But, as you know, I’m not a big proponent of buying things, so don’t buy them if you can make them! Or check out Etsy. Or pay a friend who sews to make some for you.
I love having a variety of patterns and the ones that I bought are really beautiful. I have also been gifted a few packages of cloth napkins. [One of the great things about identifying as a low waster is that you will often receive AWESOME, practical and beautiful gifts! I have received so many wonderful zero waste tools as gifts and I am so grateful for my understanding and thoughtful family and friends!]
Why to have them…
The better question is why would I want to continually buy paper napkins bound for the trash when I can use beautiful, reusable cloth napkins instead? It has been four years since I have bought any paper napkins, and I have no intention to ever going back.
Of course, there is an environmental cost to both paper napkins and cloth napkins. Reusable cloth napkins require water and energy to produce and to wash; and though paper napkins require much less water and energy to produce, they are only used once before being thrown into the trash where they will continue to have a negative affect on the environment in a landfill.
Over the lifetime of a cloth napkin [which should be as long as a persons lifetime – if not longer], reusable napkins are much more environmentally friendly.
For three years now, I’ve been a moderate vegan, or a “vegan before 6,” as I like to say, but I recently committed myself to the official, full-fledged vegan diet – for three reasons:
1. For the planet. The other day, I watched David Attenborough’s new documentary, A Life on Our Planet, and was reminded again of how urgent it is that we stop our short-sighted use of earth’s resources. The easiest way for individuals take action is to stop eating meat and dairy, which are HUGE contributors to our man-made environmental crisis.
One pound of meat requires 2,400 gallons of water, while one pound of tofu requires on 244 gallons. [source]
While meat only provides 18% of calories, it’s production uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. [source]
Human meat consumption is one of the leading causes of the current mass extinction of earth’s wildlife [source] and is the greatest driver of deforestation worldwide. [source]
A plant-based diet aldi makes zero waste living much easier because you never have to buy, handle, or store raw meat or dairy. There are ways to be omnivorous and reduce your waste, but it’s definitely a lot easier to just eat plant-based foods that can be readily found without packaging.
No matter how you look at it, eating plants is better for the planet. In fact, David Attenborough himself says at the end of the film that one of the easiest and simplest ways to reduce humanity’s negative effect on our ecosystems is to eat a plant-based diet. And luckily, being a vegan has another important benefit.
2. For my health. A plant-based diet is not only better for the planet, it is also better for the human body. Despite all the confusion around healthy eating and all the contradictory information, it is clear to me that too much meat is ruining our health.
[Full disclosure – there are plenty of sources representing opposing views regarding the risks of meat consumption, so do your own research and make your own informed decision.]
“Recent evidence from large prospective US and European cohort studies and from meta-analyses of epidemiological studies indicates that the long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, in both men and women….It is concluded that recommendations for the consumption of unprocessed red meat and particularly of processed red meat should be more restrictive than existing recommendations.” [emphasis is mine]
Battaglia Richi E, Baumer B, Conrad B, Darioli R, Schmid A, Keller U. Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2015;85(1-2):70-8. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831/a000224. PMID: 26780279.
If you don’t want to read all that, I’ll summarize. Red meat increases your chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death and we should be recommending that people eat less meat.
Currently, we’ve got two problems: people are already eating more than the recommended amount AND the amount of meat that individuals are consuming is going up, not down.
The USDA, who makes the dietary recommendations for the United States, recommends that the average adult eat between five and six ounces of meat per day. [source] But it turns out that the typical American is eating double that amount [source] and meat consumption continues to be on the rise. [source]
So, while there are those who disagree with my assertion that eating meat is bad for our health, I have one more bit of subjective evidence to share: a plant-based diet makes me feel better.
3. For my well-being. A plant-based diet is better for the planet and my health, but it also makes me feel better – and I’m not just referring to the internal feeling of happiness I get when I make the humane and ethical and environmentally-conscious decision to avoid meat. I mean, I literally feel better physically. Of course, I have no sources to site about this, no proof to offer, no cold, hard evidence, but I can assure you that I feel much, much better on a vegan diet than any other diet.
As someone who is obsessed with health – especially healthy eating – I have tried many, many “diets,” different dietary fads, and ways of eating. I’ve done juice cleanses, fasting, no carb, low carb, calorie restriction, no processed foods, no added sugar, high protein, vegetable only – to name a few. But when I went strictly vegan three years ago in a desperate attempt to ease my nursing baby’s reflux issues, I had never felt better.
How exactly did I feel better? I had more energy and no longer experienced that midday fatigue. I stopped getting sick as frequently, which I attribute to my increased intake of nutrient dense foods like fruit and vegetables and legumes. My skin cleared up, and that is no small thing because I’ve had oily skin and acne issues since puberty. But the moment I cut out meat – and especially dairy – my skin cleared up so well that I stopped wearing makeup altogether. My performance at the gym improved. I could exercise longer and recover faster.
And, in general, I felt better internally. No more gut issues. No more bloat. No more gas cramps. No more exhaustion – unless, of course, I wasn’t getting my six hours of sleep.
For me, this was enough of a reason to go vegan, which is why I’ve been a moderate vegan ever since that first experience three years ago.
Bonus reason: For my finances. In addition to the benefits I’ve listed above, being vegan is also much cheaper than eating a traditional American diet heavy in meat and dairy. Though it’s not a motivator for my choice, it may encourage other people to consider being vegan when they realize how much money can be saved. Meat and dairy are the most expensive food groups, besides oils and fats. Even on sale, I can’t find chicken for less than $2 per pound and beef is twice that expensive and fish is four times the cost. However, I buy fruits and vegetables for less than $1 per pound.
The info graphic below by Peta answers more questions about veganism.
As great as it is, being vegan is not without its challenges. Eating out, for instance, can be tough. My partner and I went out last night and there were a grand total of two menu items that were vegan – the French fries and the house salad.
July was a crazy month. I started my two new jobs and felt like I was working ALL THE TIME. I’ve also been preparing homeschool curriculum and gathering resources, books and materials. And I volunteered 12 hours to the food bank in June, packing meals and working at a pop-up drive through food pantry one Saturday morning.
Now that we don’t have Brett’s full-time income [and my part-time income is measly in comparison], I have been thinking about money more than usual. Unfortunately, it turns out that homeschool curriculum is not cheap and that getting a new job means buying appropriate work boots. So, we spent some money.
However, a small mercy came in the form of a bag of clothes diapers that a girlfriend offered me literally a day after I told Brett that I need new ones because I cannot seem to solve the diaper rash problem we are now experiencing with our fourth baby. The same friend also gave us a bigger bike for our son who has completely outgrown the little twelve inch bike he currently uses, which my sister-in-law found for him at Savers for $2.
I already mentioned in my previous update post about making masks for the family which kept me from having to buy any.
I have also inherited a new sewing machine which is perfect timing because [though I’ve grown quite fond of my little $20 machine] there is more I would like to make and I needed a bigger machine.
This month was Evangeline’s sixth birthday [!!!] and she told us that she really wanted roller skates. We stumbled upon a pair of adjustable roller skates at Goodwill [while looking for work boots]. And we picked up a pair of used knee and elbow pads for her [that also came with a bike helmet that is perfect for my younger daughter] from a neighbor [I love OfferUp!].
I was really stressed about finding work boots because I had to have them in less than a week for my start date and I didn’t want to spend $200 on a new pair. But with just one day left, I was able to find a used pair of steel-toe work boots for $20 that fit perfectly. In my previous life I would have run out immediately to the closest shoe store and bought whichever pair was my favorite. But these days, our new values [which include: intentional living, minimalism, and waste reduction] keep me from making impulsive buys. And I am so glad. Now, even facing a job loss, we are not worrying about money.
So, it may seem that we’ve hit a rough patch financially, but, as always, the universe takes care of us.
What we bought
Roller skates for Eva’s birthday ($5): I’ve written several times already about how and why we give used gifts to our kids. Evangeline didn’t care at all that these were used and they are adjustable so she can wear them for years.
Shoes for Brett ($6): Brett didn’t need shoes urgently [especially since he’s out of work], but while he was in Goodwill looking for work boots for me, he also found himself a pair of brown dress shoes to replace his worn out pair. These shoes are in perfect condition and are apparently very expensive new. Maybe will start shopping at Goodwill more often!
Bell and streamers for Eva’s bike ($19.33): We couldn’t find these used so we bought them from a locally owned bike shop in town.
Knee and elbow pads for Eva ($10): I was so glad to be able to find someone selling these used pads for Evangeline to use with her roller skates [a tough skill to master, turns out].
Work boots ($20): Took a while to find them, but they’ve been working great since I started my job three weeks ago.
Shampoo and conditioner bars ($27): I usually buy Lush bar products, but this time we went back to Ethique, whose bars are cheaper per ounce. It may seem pricey, but our last shampoo bar lasted four months and the conditioner bar is just now almost gone and it’s been nine months. Ethique’s website states that one shampoo bar replaces eight bottles of shampoo.
School curriculum for Eva– minus math ($113.05): I went with a digital download curriculum to cut down on the cost. The program doesn’t include math, however, so I had to buy a separate math program.
Math curriculum ($92): I bought just the teachers edition and student workbooks [no manipulative or resources] and it was still almost $100! I know their are cheaper options out there, but I really need more direction than professional homeschool moms.
Our new budget is to spend as little money as possible – so I guess we went over budget this month. But, overall, we did pretty well. We still spent money, but we bought mostly used and did our homework to find the most ethical purchasing option available.
What We Gave Away
We have set aside a collection of maybe twelve kids utensils that we no longer need, but we haven’t even had the chance to donate them.
Now that we are almost halfway through the year, I have started asking myself why I even bother to track my purchases. It is a hassle since I am really only tracking my partner’s purchases because I never buy anything. It has also lead to a few passionate [aka heated] discussions between the two of us on what constitutes a “necessary” expense.
But that is exactly why this is a helpful endeavor [despite the nuisance]. It forces us to consider each purchase, instead of just buying whatever we want whenever we feel like it, which is what we used to do.
But it’s not easy to stop impulse buying. The very definition of the word “impulse” implies that it will be hard to stop. The American consumer culture preys on our inability to control ourselves when it comes to spending. Advertisers use all kinds of tricks to get us to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. But we have the power to choose more intentional spending habits. It takes discipline and practice, which is exactly what I am doing with this shopping audit.
Questions to Ask for Intentional Purchases
Before we buy anything, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
Do we need this?
Can we use something we already have?
Can we make it ourselves?
Is it reusable?
How often will we use it?
How long will we need it?
Can we buy it used?
Honestly, the first two questions usually rule out the purchase. But if we do determine that we really do need it and it can’t be found used, we ask more questions – and these questions are just as important as the first set.
What business do we want to support when buying it?
What is the most environmentally friendly option for this product?
Where can we buy this to ensure it was manufactured ethically?
What is the plan for disposing of it at the end of its life?
I will once again share this graphic by Sara Lazarovic [youre going to see this a lot from me].
The point is not to keep us from making any purchases, but rather to help us make intentional purchases. And, also, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever buy anything you want ever again. We still buy things that we technically want more than need, but we are intentional about it – which makes all the difference.
The Story of Our Bike Pump
We needed a new bike pump. Our kids are biking every day and I have two jogging strollers [a single and a double] that I use very frequently that needed the tires refilled. Our bike pump broke last summer. So, once we determined that we needed a new one and couldn’t buy one used, we agreed to buy one. However, instead of running to Walmart or Target that day to pick up the cheapest one we could find, we waited until a local bike shop in our town was open so that we could support a local, ethical business with the purchase.
The bike pump was technically a want, not a need, if you define “need” as something needed for survival. I mean we don’t have to go for bike rides or walks. But, let’s be real, this is a source of enjoyment and health and stress relief and quality time and immersion in nature that our entire family adores. We live on a bike path and use it every single day. And in order to continue, we “needed” a bike pump.
So was it a need or a want?
We made the decision that it would be used a lot and could support a local business and would enhance our lives and so we bought one.
I’m sure your thinking [like my partner did], Geez, what’s the big deal about buying a bike pump? But this bike pump is one of many, many purchases that suddenly pops up. Each time, we try to make intentional purchases. In the case of the bike pump, we purchased a new one from a local business. But in many other cases, we choose to do without, or to wait, or find an alternative.
A few weeks back, I chopped my hair shorter than Brett’s and wanted headbands to make me look less like my little brother. I could have immediately ordered a set from Amazon, but instead I made some out of the old clothes that are too shabby to donate. When we needed to install a French drain in our yard, Brett could have gone to Home Depot straightaway to buy the necessary piping, but instead waited and – lo and behold! – found someone giving away enough tubing for the whole project. And when I wanted cute little bumblebee candies to put on my baby’s first birthday cake, I did some research and found a cute way to make them myself using almonds instead. There’s also the tea kettle that would be handy for heating water and the bathmat that I’m now making out of old towels and the new television because ours keeps shutting off on us randomly – but none of these purchases are necessary, so we haven’t bought them…yet.
Usually buying less just requires taking a pause before buying the first option that comes to mind. And in the end, if the choice is made to purchase new, then “where” and “what” become important questions to consider.
As Anna Lappé said, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” We have the choice to buy cheap and support big businesses who promote greed in our economy and ourselves. Or we can buy ethically and environmentally and support small businesses – the businesses of our neighbors and friends and our community – and find ourselves less concerned about the money and more concerned about things that truly matter.
So, without further adieu, here is our purchases for May.
What We Bought
Bike pump: $40 – I’ve already discussed this purchase at length above [you should have heard Brett and I discussing it for DAYS].
Mother’s Day Gifts: $184.10 – We sent gifts to both our moms, both of our living grandmothers, and my sweet Auntie Paula who is like a mother to me. Especially during this time of being separated from our loved ones, I thought it was important to send special gifts. However, even these were ethical and intentional. We sent two gifts through Etsy in order to support small businesses. We sent two gifts of Fair Trade coffee from Grounds for Change, which is a family-owned and operated business in Seattle that we frequently support because they are ethical and eco-friendly. And we sent a candle that supports one of our favorite charities, Charity:Water, the proceeds of which will help provide clean water to people around the world. So even in buying gifts, we try to make intentional and ethical purchases that support causes we care about from companies whose values align with our own, while at the same showing our family that we love them.
Diapers/Diaper Cream/Toiletries: $22.57 – I have to include this purchase, though it pains me. We did some traveling last month and so we bought disposable diapers and some disposable toiletry items. At home, we use exclusively cloth diapers and I use a menstrual cup and reusable menstrual pads, but when traveling to stay with family this becomes…uncomfortable. So we typically buy disposables for travels.
Brake parts for van: $96.88 – At least we didn’t have to pay the cost of labor to have the brakes changed because Brett has picked up this skill [among many other mechanic skills] and saved us lots of money over the years.
Bike: $10 – We bought a used bike for Evangeline because she outgrew the one she had been using. Now her old one is being used by Josephine.
Connectors for French drain: $5 – Oh, the joys of home ownership. But again, Brett is saving lots of money by digging the draining and doing all the work himself.
Tube for kids bike: $5 – One of the kids’ bike got a flat, so we had to replace the tube. I told you we ride A LOT!
Total spent: $363.55
Over budget: $134.10 [We weren’t over budget on the month as a whole, but we did technically overspend in the “gift” category – we just love the moms in our life so much!]
What We Are Going To Do With It
Everything we bought [with the exception of the disposable products] will receive lots of love – especially those new brakes for the van.
What We Got Rid Of
This month we went through the kids toys. I recently read Simplicity Parenting, which reminded me once again how important it is to keep the levels of toys from overwhelming me, and our house, and even the kids.
Thirty-five total books and toys have been temporarily removed to a safe place where they will wait to see if anyone misses anything [they won’t]. Then off to Salvation Army.
The kids’ room is once again under control.
[Speaking of Simplicity Parenting, over the next few weeks I am going to be posting about how we’ve been simplifying our mealtimes, schedules, possessions, and food choices to improve our time together and provide our kids with plenty of opportunities to just be kids.]
Even though we spent quite a bit, we also gave away a lot of money in May to important organizations such has No Kid Hungry, Save the Children, Charity: Water and our local food bank. We spent over $300 on ourselves, but we gave over $1500 away to help people impacted by this global crisis.
Brett and I are both still furloughed from our jobs, but this time has only made us more aware of how blessed we are and rather than stressing about money or worrying for ourselves, we have turned our attention to people less fortunate than ourselves and given what we are able.
This is a very stressful time for our country and our world, so I hope you all are doing okay, staying safe and healthy, and taking care of yourselves and your loved ones!
When I was a little kid, we had one HUGE desk top computer in our basement that we could power up to play a game if we had the patience and determination to actually get the machine on and the floppy disk running. But today, my kindergartner has spent the last three months doing her school work on an iPad – watching YouTube videos, playing math computer games, and reading digital kids books.
Times have definitely changed.
I know that opinions are very strong on both sides of the screen time debate, and so I have no intention of weighing in on how much screen time kids should or should not have. I’ll leave that to the experts. But I have realized that even more important than setting healthy boundaries for my kids is modeling healthy screen time usage for myself.
While reading Carla Naumburg’s book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, it dawned on me that I am breaking many of the screen time rules that I would want my kids to follow. So I decided to set some boundaries for my own screen time.
I don’t have Facebook, but I still often get sucked into spending a lot of time staring at the screen. Sometimes I pick up my phone to check the weather and realize an hour later [after checking emails, responding to texts messages, practicing Spanish, and catching up on news] that I still don’t know the forecast.
But even still, I don’t believe that using my phone is bad [or that you shouldn’t use yours as much as you want]. I have just realized that if I expect my kids to have healthy boundaries for screens, I need to have healthy boundaries as well. While adults may not have the developmental issues associated with screen time that kids do, we still risk negative side effects such as trouble sleeping, weight gain, and a general loss of time.
My Screen Time Limits
I am not trying to say that everyone should follow these specific rules. Your usage will depend on how your phone serves you. [And it’s important to remember that the phone, tablet, computer or device is there to serve you, not the other way around.] For me personally, these changes over the past few months have provided me with more quality time with my family, less time wasted wandering aimlessly on my phone, and a better example of how I want my kids to manage their own screens when they are old enough.
1. No screens during mealtime. I’ve been working on table manners and dinner time routines with my kids. One of the new standards is no screens at the table. Right now my kids don’t have their own devices, so it’s really just a rule for my partner and I. Sometimes our phones are so attached to us that they come to the table with us, but this just causes a distraction from the focus of time together as a family during meals.
2. Absolutely no phones while driving. This rule is a no-brainer especially since it is now a law, but it is still a struggle. I have a habit of checking my phone at stop lights and using it for directions or even occasionally making calls. Could these things wait? Most definitely. Do I want my kids thinking that it is ok to use their phones while driving? Absolutely not.
3. No television when the kids are awake. Oh, man. This is tough. Television is such an easy and convenient distraction. A few years back, I would start reaching the end of my rope around dinner time while I was waiting for Brett to get home and trying to make dinner and the baby was screaming and my emergency response was to turn on the television. And I wasn’t even putting on kids shows. I would turn on The Great British Baking Show or American Ninja Warrior. I wasn’t trying to distract my kids. I was trying to distract myself. Talk about setting a bad example for my children!
Once I realized my unhealthy tendency, I decided to move the television to the basement and not turn it on [outside of family movie nights or agreed upon screen times] until the kids are in bed for the night.
It has been a game changer. And not just for me, but also for my kids. We watch WAAAAY less television and my kids are much less dependent on it for their own entertainment. We have all learned how to handle boredom or stress without the television.
4. Phone away when playing with the kids. I knew something had to change when I found myself playing with my kids while responding to text messages. How terrible is that? I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I’m sure my kids could tell that I was not 100% present. Sometimes the kids and I are in the middle of an epic story about Brown Puppy [my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal] rescuing Super Chase [my son’s favorite Paw Patrol character] from the hot lava on Daisy Island [that’s our dog]…and all of a sudden, I’m thinking about my to do list and that I need to call the doctor to reschedule the baby’s appointment and I need to text Brett to remind him to pick up extra peanuts because I need to make peanut butter for tomorrow’s lunches…
The next thing I know, I’m on my phone and telling my kids to just hang on for one second.
For me, this is a major parenting fail. I want to spend time with my kids. I want to play. I will only have the opportunity to make these memories and share these times with my kids for so long. But I am so easily distracted by everything that I have to do that my brain can’t stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.
So, I don’t keep my phone within reach when I play with my kids. I set it far away – usually out of the room, sometimes even up stairs charging by my bed.
Not everyone has the ability to do this, since many people have to be available at all times, but I have found that even the conscious effort to set the phone down and focus on my kids has improved my ability to set my “adult stuff” aside and slow down my brain for a bit.
5. No screens in bed. The last rule I have set for myself is to not sit and stare at my phone [or any other device – though I don’t have any other devices] before I go to sleep at night. Screens have been proven to cause interrupted, restless sleep when used right before bed. Plus, it’s not a calming way to send myself off into sleep. I often read books on my phone, but for just before bed, I use a physical book. Or I just climb into bed and go to sleep, which is great because sometimes phones create this crazy time vortex where you lose three hours without even realizing it.
Anyway, these are just some of the things I’ve been personally working on in my own life as a mother – trying to do the best I can for my kids. It’s my job to protect them from things that will harm them, but it’s also my job to set the example.
In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.
My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.
Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:
Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.
But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:
1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.
2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.
[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]
3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.
4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].
5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.
6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!
Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?
[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]
I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.
So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]
I ended my last shopping audit [here] by saying, “February was nuts, but I think March is going to get even crazier!”
…I had no idea.
Of course, I was referring to the sale of our home and our impending move and our apartment search in Chicago – all of which is now on indefinite hold – but it definitely was a crazy month. I think March 2020 was the craziest month of my life thus far!
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we spent the second half of March on lockdown, and as a result, we didn’t spend much money. Mercifully [and for the first time in recorded history], all six of us were well the entire month and so we didn’t even need to pay doctor co-pays or buy medicine. We also didn’t spend money on family activities [for which we budget $50/month]. We didn’t get haircuts [$25] or buy any clothing [$50] and I even had to cancel my tattoo appointment [which saved me at least $100 of my fun money]!
We did, however, spend more money on restaurant food delivery to support local businesses and we spent more on groceries than we normally would. We brought home WAY more packaging than usual [all recyclable, but still made my heart a little sad].
We bought extra rice and canned vegetables and dry beans…you know, typical pandemic stuff. BUT, on the flip side, we went for three weeks without toilet paper because we couldn’t find any until just YESTERDAY! But, no worries, our “wee wipes” have been a big hit with everyone except my partner. The kids and I may never go back…
Anyway, we did buy some stuff though, so here is the full report:
What We Bought:
[My audit only includes physical items and does NOT include consumables, such as groceries, pet food, and toilet paper.]
Housemaintenance/yard supplies ($60) – Now that the weather is warming up, we needed to buy some things like mulch to fix up the outside of our home. Of course, the sale of our house is now on hold, but we do intend to sell eventually, so we have continued to improve the house.
Legos for Theo’s birthday ($22) – March 19th was Theo’s birthday. We already had a gift for him that we had been saving since Christmas [a used Paw Patrol Sea Patroller] but we decided to pick up a few [ok, 10] used sets of legos. We gave him some for his birthday and used the rest to entertain the kids during quarantine. [Definitely money well spent.]
Brita water dispenser and replacement filters ($40) – We had planned to buy a Brita for our move to the city anyway since we won’t be taking our Primo water dispenser with us. The coronavirus pandemic scared us into getting one early just in case stores were to shut down. I’m genuinely ashamed to admit this third world problem, but our well water tastes terrible and I have a really hard time drinking it [I’m genuinely working on this area of my born privilege].
Beats wireless earbuds ($90) Brett bought me these as a gift, using an old gift card, money from selling stuff and his own fun money. My old headphones had fallen out of my pocket in the driveway and sat in the rain until I found them – by which time they were so damaged that they would literally shock my ears when I wore them. And since our library is shut down, I have been pretty much relying on audiobooks during my outdoor walks, so this was a very helpful gift.
Lush toiletries ($40) This seems expensive, but because of a free shipping deal, I went ahead and bought four months worth of bad shampoo and two bars of deodorant for myself to try. We budget $20/month for toiletries but didn’t use any of it last month so this was still in budget.
Total spent: $252
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going to Do With It:
Some of these things, the mulch and toiletries, for example, will be used for their intended purposes and won’t need to be thrown out. Some things will stay with us for a very long time – hopefully their whole lives – until they are no longer functioning and will be recycled [the Brita and earbuds] or will be passed on to another person to enjoy [the legos].
What We Got Rid Of:
We’ve used this time to go through more of our stuff that we don’t want to take with us on the move, so now Brett’s car is entirely full of donations waiting to be dropped off once the Salvation Army and pregnancy center reopen.
Also, Brett went through his closet and set aside a huge pile of clothes to donate.
So, once again, we’ve removed more things from our home than what we’ve brought into our home.
Now that we are officially quarantined for another month, this seems like a great time to do a “no spend” month… what do you think?
***COVID-19 Carlson Family Update: We are on day 12 of the 15-day Social Distancing request by the United States Government and day 6 of the Illinois “shelter-in-place” order. We are all healthy [which is quite shocking even under normal circumstances because with a family of six someone is usually sick this time of year]. Brett is home working remotely and getting paid 80% of his salary, which makes us very lucky compared to many, many people in the retail industry. Today is the last day of e-learning for Evangeline before spring break next week. This is probably the only time I will ever say that I wish she wasn’t getting a week off since the school work gives us something to do each morning. Still no end in sight to this virus despite what optimist want to say. Infection rates are still increasing and we are still bracing for the worst while staying safely away from everyone. Also…we are still out of toilet paper.***
COVID-19 has changed the whole world, and my zero waste lifestyle is no exception. We are no longer allowed to bring our own reusable bags or jars to the grocery store. I have received emails stating that only prepackaged bulk goods will be available to purchase for the time being. In some of these minor ways, we have had to adjust just like everyone else. But many of the most important aspects of the zero waste lifestyle have become even more important and more necessary.
Although zero waste is commonly thought of as using a bunch of specialty products and buying a bunch of specialty foods — at the real heart of the zero waste movement is the simple concept of [duh] not wasting anything.
I’ve posted this quote before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. The whole point of zero waste is NOT to have all the aesthetically pleasing bamboo products — it’s about simply not letting anything go to waste.
And at a time like this, when people are surviving on less money and our very government is ordering us to stop going out, and shopping malls and stores are shit down all over the WORLD, now is the perfect time to stop all the wastefulness.
So, anyway, all that to say I hope that we come out on the other side of this global tragedy as a less wasteful society because we have learned how to “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”
In spite of everything, the world continues to turn, so I am continuing to make my usual zero waste swaps. This month I’ve traded traditional toothpaste for toothpaste tablets.
I purchased these a few months ago from Well Earth Goods but was determined to use up my current toothpaste stash before I started with these. However, my partner keeps bringing new toothpaste home from the dentist [I politely refuse their little plastic gift baggy], so I decided to start using the tablets for myself.
Brett saw me try one for the first time, and now he refuses to try it himself. [He said that I made a face which made it look very unappealing.]
What can I say? I was unprepared for how strange it would be to chew up a powdery tablet and then brush it on my teeth. But it didn’t take me long to get used to it.
I like these little tablets a lot now. They provide that minty zing I always want in a toothpaste and my mouth feels clean and refreshed after brushing. AND they are A MILLION TIMES BETTER than the homemade baking soda variety I tried last year. [Yuck!]
In reality, though, the primary reason I like these is that they don’t come in a plastic tube bound for the trash.
Let’s talk about the packaging of these bad boys.
These tablets came in a compostable package and were shipped in a [very nice] cardboard box with paper filler that could be easily recycled.
Still, I’m not a fan of compostable packaging because I’m not entirely certain whether they can be composted in a backyard compost pile, like I have at my home.
[I was disappointed to learn that a lot of packaging that proudly claims to be “compostable” has to be composted by an industrial or commercial composting facility – not just thrown in the backyard bin – which defeats the whole purpose in my opinion.]
I really love the company Well Earth Goods and plan to purchase from them in the future – particularly their laundry strips which I plan to move to exclusively after I’m done with cloth diapers. But I think there may be a better way to purchase the toothpaste tablets, say, in a glass jar that can be recycled or, even better, a container that can be returned to the company for recycling. [I believe this is the case with Lush products, so I will be buying toothpaste tablets there next.]
But over all, I give the toothpaste tablets a huge thumbs up.
I intend to make this permanent switch and now with my bamboo toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner bar, water flosser, and wee wipes [thank you, COVID-19], I have a [nearly] zero waste bathroom!
Next, I will be trying out bar deodorant and posting about that after a few week trial.
My first experience with a vegan diet was two years ago while I was breastfeeding my middle daughter. She was having terrible reflux issues and our pediatrician suggested trying no dairy or eggs. Since I was already eating a vegetarian diet, I suddenly became a vegan [and my [Nearly] Vegetable Only Diet was born].
The problem was that all vegan recipes either called for a vegan version of the standard ingredient OR strange ingredients I’d never even heard of, let alone had in my cupboard. If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you will likely be familiar with all of these things, but as a newcomer to that way of eating these ingredients were totally unfamiliar to me:
I had no idea at the time that cashews could become cheese, oats could make milk, quinoa could replace beef, black beans could make brownies, and avocados could transform into chocolate mousse.
Oh, the wonders of the vegan world!
But at the time, I just needed to eat something that wouldn’t make my baby sick. I didn’t have time to go down the rabbit hole of experimental vegan cooking OR go to the grocery store to stock my house with every vegan alternative.
And so was born a simple way to do plant-based, vegan meals – without a single specialty vegan product [no vegan butter, vegan mayo, vegan cheese, etc] or any of the fancy vegan ingredients that can only be found tucked away in the “international” aisle of your grocery store.
And even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian or even flexitarian, it is still smart, sustainable and healthful to reduce your consumption of animal-based foods. So, you may find these suggestions to be helpful as well.
I’m not here to provide recipes because I’m leaving that to the professionals. But what I DO want to do is inspire you to SIMPLIFY the food you eat. Eating healthy food is about taking whole foods in their original form, cooking and then consuming them. It doesn’t have to be complex. These meal ideas I’m going to share are just ways to take simple foods you would find in the produce section and make them into a nutritious and delicious meal.
So without further rambling, here are the simplest vegan meals.
Let’s start with a vegan breakfast – but, of course, I’m not opposed to the “breakfast for dinner” deal either. I LOVE breakfast. And oatmeal is most definitely my favorite breakfast.
If you are a cereal kind of person, then, yes, you could just swap your cows milk for a non-dairy milk alternative. But WHY when you could have a totally dairy free, incredibly healthy breakfast with so many possibilities you’ll never get bored of it??
Here is a secret: oatmeal DOES NOT need to be made with milk! I just add boiling water and let it sit for a minute or two then add my sweetener and toppings!
Oatmeal is the perfect breakfast because it is minimally processed and contains healthy carbohydrates, protein and lots of fiber. Top it with fresh fruit and you have a nutrient packed breakfast.
[My kids also love oatmeal! We eat it every morning – with the exception of rare, special occasions.]
Here are some of our favorite oatmeal varieties:
Chocolate and peanut butter
Cinnamon and raisins
Bananas and peanut butter
Fresh berries and maple syrup
Salads are totally misunderstood. People think of salads as bowls of lettuce drenched in sugary dressings to make them more palatable. But salads are DELICIOUS when done correctly.
Salad is not only about the greens. You can make a taco salad by adding salsa, black beans and corn. You can make a Greek salad [my personal favorite] by adding olives, artichokes, tomatoes and capers. You can make a classic salad by throwing in every vegetable you have in your house. You can add protein with quinoa or chickpeas. You can add fat with avocados and olive oil. You don’t even need a sugary, store-bought dressing – just toss your salad in fresh lemon juice, or make your own balsamic vinaigrette.
Salads are not just side dishes anymore! They can be a full, satisfying meal when you think outside the greens.
You’ve probably heard of “meatless Mondays” which are a good idea for everyone to implement because of the health and financial benefits of eating less meat. Years ago, when we started our own meatless Monday tradition, it was always Mexican because Mexican food is already full of so many wonderful whole foods – beans, rice, corn, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, to name a few. Of course, a big part of Mexican cuisine is cheese, but it’s still delicious to top a burrito bowl with salsa and guacamole and – if you’re like me – a large amount of hot sauce.
Our vegan burrito bowls are delicious and so simple because I just use whatever we have on hand. If I’m feeling extra ambitious I can always turn these into tacos by making flour tortillas. Or we can throw everything into the crockpot with a jar of salsa and have Mexican chili. Or we can make tostadas. Or we can make loaded nachos. Really, Mexican cuisine has endless possibilities. But I prefer the simplest option: a burrito bowl with rice, beans, peppers and onions, salsa, avocado, and some hot sauce.
I’ve already written about my vegetable soup obsession here. I make soup about once a week and it is always different because I throw in whatever I have. I always use some vegetables but I also frequently include other delicious whole foods like beans, rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc. Homemade soup is about as simple as it gets and it doesn’t require any weird vegan stuff – just real, normal, plant-based food.
On soup day in my home, I throw everything in a pot with some water and let it simmer until dinner time.
Stir-frying was my very first cooking experience. When Brett and I first married, I LOATHED cooking and so we bought a lot of those frozen stir-fry meals until I finally got smart and realized that I could make them myself.
To this day, my favorite way to eat vegetables is sautéd in a skillet with some seasonings. I usually skip the sauces because they are typically full of sugar or sodium, but I occasionally create my own with something like honey and balsamic or lemon and capers. But just a seasoning blend is enough to turn ordinary vegetables into a delicious meal.
Sometimes we put the stir-fry over rice or quinoa. Sometimes we eat it plain. Sometimes we make vegetable fried rice! The best of both worlds!
It’s a “choose-your-own-adventure” sort of meal.
Make Any Meal Vegan
Additionally, you can make any meal plant-based by following these simple tips:
1. Cook with olive oil. Just leave out the butter. It is not necessary. I keep butter on hand for baking treats for my kids, but we don’t use it otherwise. There is no reason to go buy a vegan butter. Just cook with oil instead. It is a plant-based, healthier alternative.
2. Pass on the meat. No meal that I have ever heard of is made 100% of meat, so just eat everything else. If you are like me and live with a family member who simply MUST have meat, then go ahead and cook meat. You don’t have to eat it just because it is being offered.
3. Make some vegan Parmesan. No vegan cheese is exactly like the real thing, unfortunately [at least not that I’ve found yet], but vegan Parmesan is a good enough alternative if you are trying to avoid animal products. It is cashew based and you will have to pick up some nutritional yeast, but it’s a worthwhile investment and will make the transition to a cheese-less existence more palatable.
So, hopefully you are on your way to a healthier and more sustainable way of eating!
The last few days have been CRAZY. By now the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, and my family is no different.
Earlier this month, I announced that my family is moving to downtown Chicago because my partner took a new job in the city, working with the Chicago Cubs. We already had a contract on the house, we were aggressively apartment hunting, and we were already packing boxes for the move. Now, however, the new job, the house sale, the moving plans, and my daughter’s schooling are all on hold until further notice. This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us.
[This feels like something out of a horror film, am I right???]
And yet, despite all the fear and panic surrounding this pandemic, despite all the unknowns about our house and our income and our future, I feel quite calm.
This whole situation is entirely out of my control, so I am doing the only thing I can do: staying home. Social distancing is extremely important right now, and we have committed to it fully. Other than necessary trips to the store, my family is staying home to help slow the spread of this thing [or “flatten the curve”] and I can only hope that everyone else is doing the same.
Of course, we could freak out, stare at our TVs all day, wring our hands, stock up on household essentials, and prepare for the end of the world as we know it. But it is much more productive [not to mention enjoyable] to spend time as a family, relax, spring clean, read books, cook from scratch, and spend time outside together.
I choose the latter.
So we have been enjoying the simple life, free from the pressure of work schedules, school activities, long commutes, social events, and even media overload. This has been a great time to unplug and unwind and hang out together AT HOME.
Spending Time Together
My cousin, Stacey, shared this GIANT list of at-home activities to keep kids busy:
We’ve been choosing a few of these activities to do each day. One day we used all of our building blocks [including duplos, legos, k’nex, magnet blocks, and even wooden blocks] to make one huge tower. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We painted pictures and then made up stories to tie all the pictures together.
We have NOT spent time watching tv [other than the news for a little bit each evening to stay up-to-date]. We haven’t been stressed out or frightening our kids about what’s happening. We have also not been glued to our phones [other than my daily Spanish lessons]. We have been present and attentive and enjoying each other.
Eating Real Food
This has been a great time to cook more from scratch. I usually cook a lot from scratch, but since I haven’t had much else to do, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.
Food from scratch is SO MUCH better than the convenient, pre-made boxed stuff. If you normally don’t have time to cook or bake from scratch, this is a great time to try it!
Exercising At [or near] Home
Exercise is a big part of my life and I am enjoying exercising outdoors now that the weather is warming up. I also have workouts that I can do at home through BeachBody On Demand. And yesterday, after my yoga workout, my kids did their own Cosmic Kids Yoga [you can check out these great yoga videos on YouTube].
When I started on my low waste journey three years ago, I never expected to encounter this type of doomsday preparation where basic household “necessities” are being fought over in the grocery aisles. But here we are – and having already adjusted to [nearly] zero waste living is a huge advantage. Being out of toilet paper is no big deal in my home where we have a bidet and plenty of reusable “wee wipes” [which are usually reserved for the baby, but can be used by anyone when necessary]. The same goes for all the other disposables that have become household staples here in America. We never use them anyway, so we are not worried. We have plenty of reusable diapers for the baby, towels for the kitchen, a Brita for our water, and everything else we may need. The only thing we need to buy is our food, which doesn’t seem to be in short supply at this time.
Speaking of food, a [nearly] zero waste pantry is also a big advantage at times like these because I already know how to make a wide variety of meals from scratch using pantry staples like rice, quinoa, beans and flour. So, should groceries become scarce, we would be set for a long time with just the dry goods in my pantry.
For example, if pizza delivery services shut down, I already make my own pizza dough for homemade pizza each Friday and I can even make an Alfredo sauce from cashews if we experience a shortage of cheese. Once a week we have vegan burrito bowls, which I can easily turn into tacos or tostadas by making homemade tortillas which only require flour, oil, and salt. I can make my own almond milk and nut butters. With just potatoes and flour, I can make homemade gnocchi. Lasagna noodles are also a cinch. Vegan chili is made with quinoa, black beans and kidney beans. With a simple bag of flour and a jar of yeast the options are practically limitless.
You would be AMAZED the things you can make with dry goods you can keep in your pantry. And you don’t need to buy any of these items in packaging.
[In fact, I had already been planning to share my favorite SIMPLE plant-based zero-waste meals – which I will still do later this week.]
I’ll write more about this later this week, but the truth about my journey to baking/cooking is that I never even cared to learn until I was motivated by the low waste movement to try. Sometimes it just requires the right motivation. And now, I love to cook and bake and have improved my skills exponentially.
Maybe this world-wide catastrophe will provide more people with the motivation to reduce their waste, improve their health, cut back their reliance on disposable and packaged goods, and start making more earth-friendly choices.
That would be another silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation.