Zero waste vegetarian dinners:  

What our family eats in a week (working parents – you can do it!).

 

Yes, I have a job outside being a mom.  And yes – we still eat mostly home cooked, zero waste dinners.  My hubbie and I both work full time (and then some) and aren’t amazingly organized.  But we still get it done. And you can too!

 

Now, I’ll admit that I work from home most days and don’t have a long commute on the days I go into the office.  BUT – and this is important to keep in mind! – I RARELY start on dinner before 5:30pm. We put our kids to bed around 7:30 (they read, wind down, and pass out around 8) so we try to eat dinner around 6:30.

 

BTW, this is part 2 of my series on easy zero waste meal planning for families!  In case you missed part one on zero waste breakfasts, check it out here!

 

Okay, back to easy zero waste, vegetarian dinners.  We aren’t big planners but we know the kinds of foods that we all like to eat.  So we shop for a lot of the same foods each week.

 

Big disclaimer:  These aren’t gourmet dinners.  If you’re looking for fancy, you’re on the wrong site!  BUT – these are healthy, well-balanced, low waste dinners.  And our kids LOVE them!

 

5 easy zero waste vegetarian dinners

 

Monday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner

 

Pasta dinner with TVP and a big green salad

 

We’re lucky enough to have bulk pasta at two shops in Santa Cruz – New Leaf in Capitola and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz.  We usually fill a big bulk bag once a month at Staff and it lasts us a few weeks (depending on how many dinner guests we have!).

 

Sometimes we’ll get a glass jar of tomato sauce (and reuse the jar) or canned tomatoes (and recycle the can – cans are generally valuable to recycle in our town).  Other times we’ll toss the pasta in olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper and sauteed veggies. Think mushrooms, sweet peppers, onions, broccoli, zucchini. Or whatever veggies we have lying around in the fridge.

 

For protein, we’ll rehydrate some dried TVP (texturized vegetable protein).  We can get this in bulk bins at Staff of Life and New Leaf. All we do is soak it in hot water for maybe 10 minutes, until it’s tender enough to eat.  You could saute it with some seasoning, but we often just toss it with the pasta. The TVP in bulk at Staff of Life comes in 2 sizes – large chunks and small pieces – like ground-round sizes.  The small pieces you can toss right into pasta sauce without rehydrating for added protein.

 

We make a super simple salad dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinegar, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper – all available in bulk at Staff of Life.  Or, we swap out the vinegar for fresh squeezed lemon juice (and leave out the pepper) for another super simple and delicious homemade dressing. If we have enough lemons (usually from our tree!), I’ll make extra dressing and put it in a jar to use for other dinners that week, or for lunches.

 

Salad includes whatever veggies and greens we have – usually lettuce, shredded carrots, sweet peppers, and cucumbers.  Toss it with dressing just before you sit down to eat.

 

That, my friend, is our pretty well balanced, easy, zero waste dinner number one!  Moving on…

easy pasta dinner with veggies and TVP

Tuesday night’s low waste veggie dinner

Tuesday night is taco night, amiright???  

 

Here’s what we usually do for taco night:

Homemade pinto beans.  We soak these overnight and then pressure cook them with bay leaves, chopped onions, salt, and cumin in about 30 minutes.  SOOO delicious!

Homemade rice.  Just rice. Sometimes we cook it with chopped tomatoes or onions or canned tomatoes.  Usually we skip the extras and make it plain.

 

Shredded cabbage with a little lemon juice and olive oil or a little mayo

Avocado, chopped tomatoes, and cilantro

Note:  sometimes we have homemade salsa too if hubbie has time to chop tomatoes, cilantro, onions, jalapenos, and lemon juice.  With a little salt. So yummy.  Or we pick up salsa in our own container from a nearby taqueria!

Getting salsa in our own container at a taqueria!

 

Corn tortillas.  As of this writing, we can still recycle the plastic bags that we get our store bought tortillas in, so this is honestly what we usually do.  BUT, there are zero waste options out there. We have a tortilla press and make homemade tortillas too when we have time. It takes us about 20 minutes to make everyone in the family a few tortillas.  You might also be able to find a taqueria that’ll sell you homemade tortillas. Another option is to ditch the tortillas all together and use lettuce as your shell! We don’t do that but I’m sure it’s delicious.  

 

Cheese – we do a few things for cheese.  The fastest homemade vegan cheese I’ve made so far is based on Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Mexican nacho cheese sauce.  We use ingredients from bulk for this – everything straight into the blender and then warm and serve. Super yum.

Another easy homemade vegan cheese calls for nutritional yeast plus flour (chick pea or wheat or whatever flour you have).  This is ready in about 10 minutes. All the ingredients are available in bulk. Check Bob’s Red Mill recipe here. Other times we buy dairy cheese at the store and ask them to cut us a piece off a big block.  We also buy it in plastic wrap that, as of this writing, we can recycle. As fewer and fewer recycling centers take plastic wrap, we’ll probably be opting for store-cut and homemade cheese only in the near future.    

Wednesday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner

Okay, I don’t know what your Wednesday’s are like, but I’m usually feeling the mid-week hump by this day!  So I love a super easy meal we call

 

FANCY TOAST!

 

Yes, it’s toast for dinner.  But we make it extra specially with some homemade hummus.  We might make hummus on the weekend or that night. It’s super fast and easy if we remember to soak chick peas the night before.  Then 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Then blend with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, a little water, and garlic. I put out cheese slices, olives (Staff of Life has delicious bulk olives), sliced tomatoes, and sliced avocado.  For veggies, we have roasted cauliflower or a big green salad.

 

The bread we get from local bakeries (Gayle’s and Companion) in our own bags usually.  Sometimes we get bagettes in paper bags if we can’t get to the bakeries.  

Super easy and tasty!

 

Thursday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner

If we have extra chick pes aafter making hummus, we’ll often saute them with canned tomatoes, onions, and seasoning (garam masala, tumeric, ginger, a little lemon juice) to make Chana Masala.  Served with with rice and sauteed broccoli or some other fast cooking veggie. We usually have a jar of mango pickle in the fridge for a little tang and heat. The jar gets reused or recycled. We put a little salt or soy sauce (from bulk) on the rice.  Super yummy.

 

Friday night’s easy low waste vegetarian dinner

I usually don’t cook on Friday nights so we usually either have leftovers, go out to eat, or order a pizza.  I know, pizza delivery isn’t the most sustainable option. But sometimes, especially if hubbie is out of town, it’s what I have the energy for.  We ask for it without the little plastic do-hicky and we compost the box at home in our compost. If you want to invent a reusable, plastic-free pizza take-out box, PLEASE DO IT!!!  I will totally buy one from you. The world needs a reusable option!

 

So that’s a pretty typical week of zero waste vegetarian dinners for our family.  Is that helpful for you? What are your favorite low waste weeknight meals?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Easy zero waste breakfast ideas

for busy families

 

Do you feel overwhelmed by going for zero waste or low waste living?  Not sure how to make the switch? I’ve got a few posts for you on easy zero waste meals to help you cut your waste.  

 

How about we start with zero waste breakfast?!

 

Beginning your day with a belly full of whole foods – easy to prep, easy to find in bulk, and good for you – is a win-win-win!  Maybe we should call it a win cubed? To the third? You get the point here…

 

Going for zero waste means eating more whole foods and fewer processed foods.  Lots of packaged food is also processed food. So when you cut out packaging, you cut out some less than awesome food choices too.  

 

But packaged food is so convenient – I get it!  And there are lots of healthy packaged options out there too.  Your mornings are probably busy and maybe even a little hectic, without loads of time to spare.  So how do you get a nutritious breakfast without reaching for something packaged?

 

I’m here to help! Check out these top 5 zero waste breakfasts that whip up super fast.  Bonus: total kid-pleasers! Vegan options! And gluten free options! You ready?  Zero waste breakfast, here you come!

1. Ugly smoothie

 

This is one of my favorites and I crave these some mornings!  If you have kids, you have food scraps. (BTW – if you have kids and you don’t have food scraps, please call me right away and tell me how you do this).  Okay, so those scraps – carrot sticks, cucumber slices, half an apple, orange slices, etc.  You know the ones. At our house, they sit in the fridge. Pulled from lunch bags at the end of the day, shoved into the dark corners of the fridge. And forgotten. I beg the kids to eat them but it doesn’t always happen.

 

So here’s the solution: pop those forgotten fruits and veggies in the blender for an ugly smoothie!  I add a spoonful of coconut butter, a little sweetener, a little water, a little ice.  Blend it up and pour! So easy. And super refreshing. And vegan and gluten free! Another option – add cocoa or cacao powder for a richer flavor with added iron.  

 

2. Toast

 

Okay, it might sound dull, but we LOVE toast in our house.  LOVE IT! We usually buy bread straight from the bakery – either Gayle’s or Companion Bakeshop.  They’ll put it in our own bag (check these bags out here). If we can’t make it to the bakery, we’ll get bread in paper bags – bagettes come in paper bags at most of the big grocery store chains.  We recycle the paper if it isn’t stained.  Otherwise, we add it to our compost.  Not ideal, but better than landfill or plastic!

 

Lately we’ve been eating toast with Miyoko’s vegan butter – it comes in 100% compostable packaging.  0% plastic or bio-plastic. And it’s DELICOUS! But some other awesome toast ideas: peanut butter from bulk and sliced bananas on top.  Avocado with tomato and cucumbers, and a little salt and pepper. Almond butter with sliced apples. Or homemade cashew cheese (check out my post on that here) with tomato slices.  And homemade jam (I admit, I don’t make this, but I’m lucky enough to have a mother in law who does 🙂 ).

 

So fast and easy.  The kids make their own toast.  Actually, they make most of these recipes on their own!

 

3. Oatmeal with the works

 

This has been another go-to for me lately.  I make oats with the works and all of it can be found in bulk!  We get gluten free rolled oats at Staff of Life. The ratio is easy – cook 1 part oats to 2 parts water.  These cook super fast – about 5 minutes for 1 to 3 servings (½ cup dry oats per serving). I add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 to 3 tablespoons of raisins (1 T per serving) at the start of cooking.  I like the way the raisins plump up and add natural sweetness to the oats. And the cinnamon gives it a nice flavor.

 

Once the oats are cooked, I add peanut butter, shredded coconut, chia seeds, chopped fruit, a little sweetener, and sometimes coconut milk or water (from a can of coconut milk.  Although not totally zero waste, cans from the coconut milk are relatively valuable to recycle, so I don’t worry too much about the can ending up in the landfill). Or you can leave the coconut milk/water out.  

 

These oats are super filling and full of awesome fiber.  

vegan gluten free oatmeal – zero waste breakfast idea #3

 

 

4. Vegan pancakes

 

Okay, before you skip ahead, let me say that you CAN whip up pancakes from scratch and FAST.  We love the pancake recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance (and can find all the ingredients in bulk).  The recipe says to let the batter sit for 10 minutes before cooking (or even overnight, covered with a beeswax wrap), but skip that step if you’re in a hurry.  

 

Here’s what you need for 6 big or 10 medium pancakes:

1 ¼ c flour

2 t baking powder

½ t salt

1 t cinnamon (optional)

 

2 T veg oil (we use safflower oil)

⅓ c water – or less, if you use water instead of non-dairy milk (see below)

1 to 1 ¼ c non-dairy milk OR water (we always use water because we never have milk on hand)

1 t vanilla extract

2 T maple syrup or sugar (if you use agave syrup or beet syrup, you’ll need less than 2 T – probably 1 T only).

 

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients.  DON’T OVER MIX! Mix just enough so that most of the lumps are gone.

 

Cook on a hot skillet until you see bubbles form on the top, then flip it over and cook a little longer.

 

We love these vegan pancakes with Miyoko’s butter on top and either brown sugar, fruit, jam, agave syrup, or maple syrup (which we can’t find in bulk, unfortunately, so don’t get that often).

 

5. Eggs

 

If you eat ’em, you know that eggs cook up sooo fast.  Sometimes we make omelettes with leftover veggies from the night before.  Or omelettes with cashew cheese – yum! Or real cheese, if you can get that without too much waste wrapped around it.  We love them soft-boiled, fried, and scrambled at our house. They seriously only take a little time to cook – fried eggs especially can be done in about 5 minutes.  And you get some protein for the day!  We save our egg cartons and return them to either Staff of Life in Santa Cruz or direct to egg farmers at the farmers market, and they get reused again and again.  Love that!

 

soft boiled eggs in a beeswax wrap – zero waste breakfast idea #5

That’s what we usually eat at our house – fast, easy, (mostly) zero waste breakfasts.  And our kids love these zero waste breakfasts!

 

If you can spare 10 minutes in the morning, you can make any one of these (or all of them!) and avoid packaging waste.  

 

What do you eat for breakfast?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

It’s a new year, and time for some zero waste new year’s resolutions!

This year for the first time ever I actually set some goals and WROTE THEM DOWN! Woohoo! I set goals across the important areas of my life, including health, family, friends, money, work, and business. And I ALMOST forgot to set myself some waste-related goals. Whoa. Luckily I caught myself and added some zero waste resolutions for the year. So here they are.

Zero Waste New year’s Resolution #1:
Have at least one 100% freebie-free week with the kids.

Freebies and gifts are one of the major sources of trash in our life still. It’s gotten easier for me to say no to freebies out in the world, but my kids, on the other hand, are still working on this, understandably – it’s freaking hard! Our culture embraces and encourages the act of giving gifts and things, and it can come across as ungrateful or rude to refuse a gift. Unfortunately so many of these freebies are wrapped in plastic or made of plastic or in some other way destined for the landfill. My kids are offered and accept little bits and trinkets pretty much every week from friends, family, school, and outings. Just last week there was a butterfly making project at the library. The butterflies were made of paper (yay!) and wooden laundry clips (yay!) and little pipe cleaners (hmmm…). Not sure what to do with the pipe cleaners – they’re made of metal and synthetic fiber. They can be used over and over again, in theory, but once they break they are landfill foder. A few days before that, my daughter was on an outing with her class and a parent took her and her classmates to Starbucks where everyone got a beverage in a plastic cup with a straw. She’s 9, so it’s hard for her to remember to say no to a straw (heck, I forget to say this still!), and she doesn’t carry around a coffee mug for impromptu visits to Starbucks like me (guilty!). They also got bags of chips at Starbucks, so there’s another source of garbage.

I can’t control my kids every move and I wouldn’t want to. I want them to be able to be in the world making their own decisions. That said, one of my goals for this year is to have a very deliberate week-long period where each of us works to say no freebies, especially freebies with plastic/synthetic/non-recyclable or non-biodegradable pieces.

We’ve already started the conversation, too! In order to try out a full week, we’re going to pick a date, go over our family goals and strategies for polite refusal, and then get started!

2. Have a 100% plastic free week with the kids.

This might sound the same as freebie-free, but there are still some sources of plastic in our life that we buy deliberately on a regular basis. Earth balance (vegan butter), day-old bread from our local bakery, cheese, and tofu. We recycle this packaging, but another goal of mine is avoid all of these for at least one week. My daughters actually brought this idea up! We’ll be picking a week soon (not the same week as the freebie-free week) and going for it! I’ll let you know how it goes.

3. Bike more.

I used to bike ALL THE TIME. I’m not sure what happened, but I’m re-committing myself to biking more! My goal is to use the bike every weekend to take care of a trip or errand. So far in 2018, I’ve managed to use the bike every weekend for something. I took a delivery of No Trace goods downtown just recently. It’s a great way to get a little exercise and reduce my carbon footprint. Over time I’m hoping to do more and more by bike, but I’m starting with weekend rides for now. It feels achievable and would still make a big improvement in my waste reduction.

4. Find zero waste dental options

We go through a lot of floss and toothpaste in our house and we’re a little cavity prone so making our own toothpaste isn’t an option. My goal for this year is to find an affordable biodegradable floss and zero waste toothpaste with flouride online. I haven’t been able to find it in town, so it’s time to take the plunge and look online. I’ve been looking around and I’ll share what I find! Let me know if you have any leads.

So there you have it. My 4 zero waste goals for the year. Do you have any eco-goals for the new year? I’d love to hear about them! Share in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
Liz

How to Have a Zero Waste Halloween

What’s October’s challenge for ecoFamilies? Halloween!  

I can still picture last year’s wreckage: the massive pile of trick-or-treat candy in the cupboard that literally lasted for months.  The steady stream of candy wrappers in the tiny kitchen trash can that would show up every few days, foiling my zero waste attempts for the day or week yet again.  Is there anyway to enjoy the fun of halloween without leaving a trail of trash?   I wanted to know how to have a zero waste Halloween.

 

This year, I had a different vision of halloween:  a fun night of trick-or-treating with the kids and friends, followed by a teeny-tiny pile of trash and mildly sugared-up kids.  Could it be done?  I set out to test the waters.  

 

And I was armed with a plan!  Let me share my strategy.  As to whether it worked…You’ll have to read to the end for the exciting conclusion :).  

 

First, I knew I would have to get the kids on board WAY in advance, way before the shiny loot was in their eager hands.  Second, I knew I’d have to share my vision with my hubby, make sure he was on board, and also fill in any friends that were coming trick-or-treating with us.

 

You might ask – why even bother with trick or treating?  Candy is awful for them, why even tempt them?  That is an excellent question.  You, obviously, are a much stronger person than I am.  I decided not even to try to go there this year.  Maybe, in the future, I can convince my girls that passing out candy is more fun than eating it.  But they sure are cute going door to door and asking for candy.  So, here’s what I did.

 

 

Zero Waste Trick or Treaters

The very first step was to talk about it with my kiddos VERY early.  The very first mention of halloween, I told them that I had an idea I wanted to share with them.  In my least bossy voice, I told them I was thinking it would be nice to go trick or treating, but then to trade in their pre-wrapped candy for some bulk candy.  I told them we could go to the candy shop in town and they could get the same amount, by weight, as they’d get on halloween.  But this way, we wouldn’t make as much trash.  So, same amount of candy, no trash.  Then I asked them what they thought about it.

 

Gulp.

 

Here’s the thing – they were so fine with this idea that it shocked me.  Now, to be honest, I did promise that they could each eat 5 pieces on halloween before handing me the rest.  But I didn’t have to do any convincing.  

 

Hip Hip HOORAY!  That was awesome.

 

Now, the big question: Would this cooperation last?  Stay tuned!

 

Zero Waste Halloween Treats

Okay, the next step was to plan for the trick-or-treaters coming to our house.  We don’t get too many (the heavy action is one block away, for better or worse).  But we usually get some, so I wanted to have treats to pass out.  But of course I was hoping for something without wrappers.  I know, why not just pass out fruit?  No.  I just couldn’t.  Again, if that is your idea of a treat, you are a much better person than me.  Maybe some kids like getting fruit, but I’m pretty sure most don’t.  And I’m not interested in letting down happy trick-or-treaters on Halloween. No thank you!

 

So, zero waste treats to give away:  My original goal was to get candy in bulk and some cute paper bags to put it in.  I figured that the bags could be recycled and, if they don’t get recycled, they at least release fewer toxins in the landfill than plastic.  So, I got some bulk bin candy at Staff of Life (actually, hubby picked it up – thanks, honey!).  Then I drove around town in circles trying to find small, cute paper bags.  They. Do. Not. Exist.  If I’d planned in advance, I could’ve ordered some online, but then you have all the unclear shipping and packaging, probably some plastic wrapping thrown in there just to piss me off.  You know.  So, I never did find those cute bags in Santa Cruz or Capitola, and instead used some plain brown paper bags that I’ve had since before going for zero.  The big kind for lunches.  Sigh.  

Zero waste halloween candy from bulk!

Anyway, back to my treats.  Passing out loose, package-free candy to kids can feel a little…creepy.  It shouldn’t, but we’re all a little brainwashed to be afraid of anything that isn’t shrink-wrapped and sealed.  (this is part of why we have such a trash problem to begin with!  I know, preaching to the choir here).  So, what’s the best way to handle this?  Simple:  just let each trick-or-treater know that I’m doing a zero waste halloween.  I told the few that came that they could take a bag and a couple scoops of candy, or just dump the candy straight into their bags/pumpkins.  

 

The verdict?  None of the trick-or-treaters who came to our door had any issues!  They all opted for a bag.  It probably helped that I was surrounded by my own kids and friends’ kids when I passed out the candy – they make me seem less creepy and more mom-like :).     

 

Zero Waste Halloween Gathering

Alright, the last part of our zero waste halloween – the gathering!  Our neighborhood goes a little crazy during Halloween, so we had friends come over for a quick bite before hitting the streets.  A few friends offered to bring something, so I made suggestions that I knew could be zero waste (pasta salad, hummus and veggies).  I made an awesome black bean and corn salad, if I do say so myself :), served with chips from bulk bins.  I also let the other moms know my plan for zero waste, not to pressure them to follow suit, but so they could be supportive of my kiddos.  I’ve found that parents these days are pretty good about being respectful of other families food choices, and my friends are super awesome that way :).  Thanks ladies.  Now, here’s a little shocker – I used paper plates!  I know, I know, WHY?  Here’s why – they were a gift from a friend and the kids were excited to use them (they were Halloween themed).  And I knew they could be composted in our compost.  So, that’s what I did.  Once those were gone, we busted out the real deal plates.

 

Back to my kiddos….

You’re probably wondering how it went after we got home loaded with candy.  Let me tell you – it was GREAT!  They enjoyed a few pieces of candy, more time with friends, and were fine to put their candy away for the eventual trade in.  My older daughter actually gave all of hers to a friend after she had her pieces.

 

AH-MAZING!

 

There you have it: a (near) zero waste Halloween.  These kids constantly blow my mind!  I think they can tell that the true fun of halloween is not the candy.  It is every other thing – the costumes, the friends, the wildness of the night, the decorations, the excitement.  Really, with all of that, who needs candy?

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Kids & Zero Waste

If you know kids, you know they sometimes leave behind a trail of debris.  Kid detritus comes in many fun forms at my house – popsicle stick sculptures, broken bracelets they made at school, 100+ drawings of the family, valentines cards from 3 years ago, Dollar Store party favors, outgrown clothes they can’t quite part with, and more.  Right now our home is just about bursting at the seams with these things.  

 

Fortunately for me (and the planet), kids are also amazing at getting inspired and enthusiastic about worthy causes.  With a little effort, it’s totally possible to get kids excited about zero waste.  And the more we get kids on board, the brighter our future gets.

My ecokids.

 

Here are my top 10 ways to help kids reduce their waste and go for zero.  Zero waste kids, here we come!

 

Top 10 tips for inspiring zero waste kids

  1. Inspire them!  Share success stories from zero waste heroes.  Those year’s-waste-in-a-jar pictures can be really inspiring to kids.  I love Bea Johnson’s zerowastehome.com.
  2. Get them involved in your grocery shopping!  Showing them how to shop in bulk and what’s available in your store helps them wrap their heads around what you’re doing at home.  I let them pick a couple of snacks from bulk bins. Bonus: These snacks go into jars in the cupboards, so we can all easily see what’s available and how much.  They also love helping me take pictures of our groceries – all that arranging and color sorting.  Fun times for their busy brains.
    One week’s groceries, in rainbow order :).

     

  3. Give them the tools – their own napkin, utensils, water bottle, jar, containers, lunch box, etc.  If kids feel ownership and responsibility over their own tools, they’re more likely to enjoy and use them.  No Trace has lots of options here.

    Their own stainless steel mugs, and beeswax wraps
  4. Role model!  Actions speak louder than words.  When kids see you carrying your own water bottle and napkin, that’ll inspire the same from them!
  5. Find zero waste alternatives for their favorite foods.  Can you find a package-free alternative to one or two of their favorites?  Homemade everything is really hard – but maybe there is one really special swap you could do for your kiddos.  Homemade crackers or granola bars, maybe?  Homemade chocolate chip cookies?  Bonus: it’s a great way to get them helping in the kitchen – if they help you, you’ll make it!
  6. Anticipate the challenging moments, and prepare them!  Birthday parties, Halloween, air travel, dentist and doctor’s doctor’s offices, free samples at the grocery store.  Are they allowed to bring anything home?  Are there limits or restrictions?  Talk about it so they know what to expect BEFORE you’re in the moment.  We were going through a phase of being invited with friends to frozen yogurt after school every week.  I finally got my act together and brought jars and spoons to avoid the waste and say YES to the invite.

    Happy about some frozen yogurt and fresh fruit!
  7. No guilt, only encouragement!  It is really hard to avoid waste in today’s society.  They may not have any buddies whose families are going for zero.  Make sure they know that what’s most important is doing their best.  We’re trying to tread lightly on the planet so we can share it with others for generations to come.  
  8. Educate them!  Take them to the landfill or the recycling plant (Santa Cruz recycling does a great tour – and it’s kid friendly), show them kid friendly videos on landfills and plastic pollution.   There are some great things on youtube like this one on landfills and this one on plastic bottles!
  9. Encourage them to think about how much stuff (i.e., toys and clothes) they need, and whether they could share some things with others.  Sometimes helping them cut down on how much they own can help them cut down on how much they want to consume.  Is there a shelter nearby where you can donate some excess?  Or a thrift store with a cause you can all get behind?  In Aptos has Caroline’s thrift store, which donates it proceeds to worthy non-profits in the community.  If kids know where some of their things are going, it makes it easier to say goodbye to stuff.  
  10. Try to make things together, instead of buy.  I know, who has the time for that?  I had to make a promise to myself and my kiddos on this one – I gave them each a gift this past Christmas of a coupon for making something together.  Evenings and weekends are full of dance, soccer, birthday parties, dinner, homework, and reading.  There isn’t always a ton of spare time for extra projects on top of that.  But, if there are a couple of special items your kiddo really wants, you can both squeeze in the time over the course of a few months.  Especially if you’ve already committed yourself.

 

Bonus tips!  

  1.  Explain that every family has different ideas, values, goals, and projects.  Not every family can aim for zero waste, and that’s okay.  It’s important that they know that not all their friends will be able to or interested in cutting down their waste.  And that’s okay.   

 

  1.  I remember that we still make waste as a family, and I go easy on us.  We are doing a lot, but we aren’t perfect.  I try to learn from what we throw away and think about new habits to help us reduce our waste on a regular basis.  That feels like success in my home, and my kids are engaged and interested instead of overwhelmed.

 

There you have it.  My top 10 ways to inspire the zero waste kids in your life.  Is zero waste a family value at your house?  I’d love to hear about your family practices.

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Can you Go for zero waste with a busy family life?  Yes!

You’ve come to the right place!  Read further for my top 10 hacks!

Going for zero waste means trying to avoid pre-packaged food and instead cooking from scratch more often. This means not buying disposable, processed foods that are easy to grab and go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, which can pose a challenge if you work 9 to 5, like me, and need to feed your kids and get them ready for bed in a couple of hours time. So, how can we get it all done in our crazy hectic lives? Here are some tips that have helped me in transitioning our home to zero waste.

 

My Top 10 Zero Waste Kitchen Hacks (for busy families!)

 

  1. Pressure Cooker!  Get a pressure cooker! You can cook beans from dry to delicious in 1 hour or less! You don’t even have to remember to soak them overnight! It’s a bonus if you do – they’ll cook even faster :). So, if you are like me and are home around 5:30 and wanting to eat by 6:30, this is do-able! I got one for Christmas (thanks, honey!). Oh, and did you know that if you soak your rice, it cooks faster too? My mind was a little blown when I learned that trick :).

    I LOVE my pressure cooker! We use it once at week for sure.
  2. Bulk Bin Snacks! Keep your cupboards full of bulk bin snacks like granola, cereal, and plaintain chips that you can buy in bulk. Snacks can still be fast and easy without packaging. Our favorites right now are pretzels, sesame sticks, and cacao nibs. Delicious! 
    We are digging pretzels, plaintain chips, and cacao nibs these days!

     

  3. Snack Baggies!  Buy or make reusable, washable snack baggies for lunches and snacks. Fill one with something before you head out into the world if you think you or the kids might get hungry. If you’ve got something on hand, you avoid having to buy whatever you can find, which may not be healthy or package free.

    I make sell these snack baggies. They are so cute, if I may say so myself 🙂 !
  4. Fruit! Keep your fruit baskets full! This is the ultimate zero waste snack. Right now we’ve got apples from grandma and grandpa’s trees. I know, we are spoiled!

    Fresh local apples. Mmmmm!
  5. Menu plan! Menu plan before you grocery shop. I don’t always have an exact menu in mind, but I think of what we’ll have for protein (tofu, beans, TVP, nuts, dairy or eggs) and veggies for most of our dinners, what the kids will pack for lunches, and what are our popular breakfast items. The carbs seem to take less planning – there’s usually rice, quinoa, or pasta in our cupboards. And I always make sure to stock the snack cupboard! I generally go once a week, but sometimes less if life gets too crazy. In those days we just coast on fumes until I can make it to my local shop with lots of bulk bins.
  6. Leftovers! Cook enough so you’ll have leftovers. Leftovers are the best, right? We put in our lunches and have another dinner ready to go too sometimes.
  7. Your arsenal! Carry extra cutlery, napkins, and jars when you are out and about with the kiddos. Great for getting frozen yogurt, or food from the hot bar at your favorite natural food store. I keep meaning to leave some in the car too.
  8. Soak those nuts! Always keep nuts soaking in the fridge for last minute nut milk! We’ve been doing almond milk lately, but any nut will do!
  9. Popcorn!  Have some popcorn kernels on hand for feeding kids who show up for impromptu play dates at the house. We love nutritional yeast on our popcorn. Sometimes I make them eat it outside, though ;), to cut down on the clean up process – nuty yeast flakes end up all over the place.  Popcorn tends to be a popular bulk item, so hopefully you can find it near you!
  10. Water Bottles!  Help your kids remember to always take their water bottles out with them when they are on the go! We are still working on this in our home, but usually at least one of us has a bottle to share in a pinch. We still have plenty of kiddo germs, though, so I try to avoid sharing when possible.
I love my new S’well! It’s insulated and I spill less when I sip :).

And two bonus tips!

 

11. This is cheating but, know where you can grab a quick dinner that won’t result in waste. One of our defaults is a local taqueria. Occasionally there is a piece of paper on the plate (e.g., chips in a paper-lined basket), and we’ll bring that home and compost it.

12. Last one: Don’t be too hard on yourself! Life happens. Waste happens. We are all just doing our best to make things a little better around here 🙂 .

Those are my tips! Do you have some? I’d love to hear! Share in the comments below!

Thanks for reading,
Liz

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!

Kids Lunches!

It’s back to school again for my kids and I thought I’d share a little about how we send them off with package-free lunches.  Packaged items are all about convenience, and I completely understand their appeal.  On a busy morning when families are trying to get out the door on time for work and school (and maybe squeeze in a dog walk or some exercise), there isn’t a lot of spare time.  So having food that you can grab and throw in a lunch bag is really helpful.  And it’s possible to do it without any waste!  

 

Our kids (aged 6 and 9) make their own lunches with a little help from us.  We encourage them to pack a fruit, vegetable, protein, and carbohydrate in each lunch, and try to make this process easy for them.  

 

These kids know how to make some food – pizza time!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here’s our top TEN package-free Alternatives for Kids lunches.

 

Packaged baby carrots?  Swap them for:

  1. Easy to cut carrot rounds.  Our kids can safely cut carrot rounds, even with a butter knife.  We don’t peel the carrots usually, just rinse and slice.  
  2. Cucumber slices.  Our kids can peel these if they want, or they slice them unpeeled.
  3. Chopped sweet pepper – kids can slice them chunky and they are still delicious.  
  4. Cherry tomatoes are great too – no chopping necessary.

Granola bars?  Try switching them out for:

  1. Homemade granola bars.  I tried a recipe from Pinterest and the verdict was:  Homemade Chocolate Chip Granola Bars . Kitchen Explorers . PBS Parents | PBS
  2. No time for homemade granola bars?  Try a cute container full of loose granola from bulk bins.
  3. Try energy chunks or nibs from bulk bins.  We love cacao energy nibs – available at New Leaf and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz.  DELICIOUS!

Pre-packaged fruit snacks?  Try swapping for:

  1. Dried fruit!  My kids love dried mangoes, dried apricots, and raisins.  Plus, there’s generally no added sugar.  
  2. A small piece of whole fruit or half a fruit.  Apples, bananas, pears, berries, oranges, tangerines – these are easy to grab.  If the piece of fruit is really large, we might help them make a quick slice down the middle so they are less likely to waste the other half.  We also love all kinds of berries in our family!

 

 

Packaged nuts or chips?

  1. Check your local bulk bins for healthy, savory alternatives!  We can get pretzels, corn chips, sesame sticks, and more in bulk at New Leaf and Staff of Life.  Nuts are usually a staple as well.  

There you have it – easy zero waste options for kids lunches.  

I’d love to hear from other busy families – what’s in your kid’s lunches?

Thanks for reading!

 

Liz

ps – stay tuned for an upcoming post all about lunch containers

Kiddos out with grandma for lunch.

 


 

 

We just finished our first family backpacking trip and it was amazing! I’m proud to announce that my kiddos hiked 14 miles over 2.5 days with their packs, thanks to all the training hikes my partner did with them. And my accomplishment is that we had awesome (near) zero waste food and snacks all the way! We even carried out our compost (not much) and picked up other people’s trash during our trip.  Here’s my proud kids near the end of the hike.

I noticed that lots of campers bring freeze-dried, single packaged items for their meals, and individually packaged bars for their snacks. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to backpack without all of that packaging. 🙂

Just as an overview to our trip – we went to Big Basin State Park in California. On the first day, we left for the trip after work to park and camp near the trail head. We brought dinner with us, pre-made, so didn’t have to cook that night. On the second day, we hiked 6 strenuous miles along the Sunset Trail and camped at a back country campground called Sunset Camp that night. On the third day, we hiked 6 miles along Berry Creek Trail and Skyline to the Sea Trail and camped at a second back country site called Twin Redwoods Camp. On our last day, we hiked out 2 miles along the Skyline to the Sea Trail and ended at Waddell Beach, where we got picked up by Grandpa. The trails were beautiful and Berry Creek Trail has three stunning waterfalls along it. Well worth the effort.  In the picture you can see how large the falls are in relation to us.

So, to the food! Backpacking food doesn’t have the best reputation for being delicious. It is one of the trickier parts of the experience – you want to have enough to eat after serious hiking, but you have to pack light. In planning for this trip, we searched the bulk bins at our local health food stores to see what we could find that would be tasty, filling, and easy to carry and cook.  We put everything into plastic bags that we re-use, since plastic is light and water resistant.

Here’s the food we took:

3 Breakfasts (everything from Staff of Life bulk bins):
  • Quick cooking oats
  • Raisins, dried cherries, and chopped dried apricots
  • Chopped nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Two pears (from our tree ☺️)
  • Brown sugar
  • Dried hot cocoa mix
  • Dried soy vanilla protein powder – we mixed these last two for a type of “hot cocoa”. We need to work on our ratios because the first day it was very watery, and the second day it was like a pudding :).

This is a pic of our cooking and camping set up.

Lunches: (almost everything from Staff of Life bulk bins)
  • Dried hummus (delicious!)
  • olive oil in an old plastic water bottle
  • Sun-dried tomatoes*
  • Cucumber (from our garden ☺️)
  • Pita bread*
Dinner 1: (some bulk, some packaged items)

Burritos from home with flour tortillas*, home cooked beans and rice, avocados, cheese*, and cabbage tossed in Veganaise.

 

Don’t the burritos look cute snuggled together?

 

 

 

Dinner 2: (almost everything from Staff bulk!)
  • Instant refried pinto beans
  • Instant vegetarian chili (we mixed these two together)
  • Corn tortillas*
  • Avocado

The combo of chili and pinto beans was sooo delicious! I’m seriously going to keep those ingredients on hand at home for instant beans.

 

Dinner 3: (all from Staff bulk!)
  • Dried pasta
  • Texturized veggie protein (TVP) chunks (i.e., veggie “chicken” that you rehydrate)
  • Instant veggie soup rehydrated and strained on top of the pasta as a sauce
  • Olive oil and salt

Here’s a pic of our dinner set-up for night 3.  

Snacks: (all from New Leaf bulk bins)
  • Cacao energy nibs – like energy bar squares and soooo delicious – seriously, as tasty as dessert!
  • Sesame sticks
  • Fancy mixed nuts
  • Dried mangos

We also brought plaintain chips from Staff bulk but didn’t need these at all for snacking. I also tried making coffee with my compostable filters and fresh grounds, but this was a challenge and I need to do more research for next time. Complete fail.

A note about energy bars – my kids prefer the energy nibs to just about every packaged energy bar out there. And they come in bulk! I am so stoked we discovered these. Our hiking friends brought packaged bars and my girls preferred our snacks to theirs, despite the enticing, shiny wrappers.

Not everything was from bulk – the items marked with a * came in plastic bags that we can recycle. There used to be bulk sun-dried tomatoes in town and I won’t give up my search for more sun-dried tomatoes. Or maybe this is the year I make some ☺️. I’ll also keep thinking about other items we could use in the future to substitute for the pita and tortillas (or make some tortillas for the trip if I’m organized enough!)

There you have it. Do you have fun recipes for zero waste backpacking or backpacking in general? Do share! And thanks for reading.

 

 

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!

Kids like snacks. Who am I kidding – I like snacks. Having something in your cupboards that you can grab on your way out the door, that doesn’t need to be prepped or refrigerated, is super handy. These days there are countless packaged snack options at the store for convenience for a busy family – but these generally come with wrappers, destined for the landfill. Not great if you are striving for zero waste. Of course a piece of fruit is the ideal zero waste snack (just bring home the peel or core for your compost bin). But sometimes your kiddos (and you!) just don’t want fruit, or want something with your fruit. What’s a busy family to do?

Bulk bins to the rescue! Here are some of our favorite snack foods from our local bulk shopping:

  • Yogurt covered pretzels
  • Granola (we also use this as cereal in the mornings)
  • Sesame sticks
  • Homemade popcorn from bulk kernels.  I like to make a big bowl on Monday, jar it, and it stays fresh until Thursday, if it doesn’t get eaten before then.
  • Trail mix (if there are chocolate chips in there, it’s a guaranteed hit in my house!)
  • Veggie chips (although to be honest, these didn’t go over too well with the kids)
  • Raisins
  • Dried mangos or apples
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds

And here are my kiddos enjoying some snacks from the bulk bins.  

What are your favorite bulk bin snacks? How do you snack on the go and still strive for zero waste?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!