Here’s the thing – I’m not a chef.  I work full-time (and sometimes more), as does my partner. And we have two kiddos with dance or piano lessons every day of the week (except Sunday).

SO, our dinners have to be FAST.  Easy.  Kid-friendly.  Vegan.  And low waste.  Here’s what we’re eating this week for dinners.

Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week

Fruits & veggies for the week.

We shop for these in our cloth veggie bags that you can buy here.  I take them out of their bag for the pic but we keep them in these cloth veggie bags  in the fridge or in a hanging fruit basket in the kitchen. 

This week we bought:

  • lettuce
  • ginger root
  • cilantro
  • garlic
  • fresh tumeric
  • carrots
  • cabbage
  • sweet peppers
  • onions
  • cucumber
  • jalapeno
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • cauliflower
  • bananas
  • brussel spouts
  • mushrooms
  • string beans (still in their bags) – see bottom picture.

 

And a day or so before we made our big grocery run, we got kale, bananas, lemons, mangos, oranges, apples, avocados, and bread in a paper bag.

quick mini-grocery run

This is a pretty typical haul for us.  I have lots of green smoothies for breakfasts.  We have lots of veggies at each dinner.  And the kids take fruits and veggies in their lunches pretty much every day.

 

Pantry staples from bulk bins

We take our own clean containers like mason jars, old veganaise jars, old olive jars, and others to fill with staples that are a little messier.  We weigh the jars before we fill them.  Most stores have a scale you can use to get the weight of your container (aka the tare weight).  Or you can ask a cashier to weigh it. 

This week in jars we bought:

  • coffee beans
  • salt
  • corn flake cereal
  • nutritional yeast. 

We put nutritional yeast on everything – pasta, salads, fancy toast, popcorn, veggies.  Nutritional yeast (aka nuty yeast) gives food a little earthy-salty flavor. Plus its got vitamins and minerals.

the main weekly grocery run

For foods from bulk that aren’t too messy, we put them straight into the same cloth bags you can purchase here.  This week in bags we bought:

  • ramen noodles
  • chocolate chips
  • sushi rice
  • cornmeal. 

We should’ve put the cornmeal in a jar – it got the bag pretty powdery and I’m still finding bits of cornmeal in our grocery bags ;).  Next time….

 

Packaged foods

We aren’t perfect and still get a few packaged goods most of the time.  We pick foods that are yummy, will simplify meal prep, and are popular with the kids.  Or essential for my coffee (COCONUT MILK!).  Or when the bulk version is out of stock.  This week olive oil was out of stock, so we got it packaged. 

So this week’s packaged foods were:

  • a yummy vegan dip called Bitchin’ Sauce that my kids will put on just about any vegetable in their lunches and on their sandwiches. 
  • Corn and flour tortillas for taco/burrito night and for lunches and snacks. 
  • Coconut milk for my coffee. 
  • Olive oil for everything every day. 

Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week

Here’s what we’re eating this week.  All low waste vegan meals:

  1. Sushi bowls with sushi rice (I found a recipe online that was yummy and easy – rice wine vinegar and sugar) plus finely sliced carrots, cucumbers, and avocado.  Plus local seaweed we get in a paper bag at the Santa Cruz farmers market.  A little dab of veganaise.  Soy sauce.  Pickled ginger from a little glass jar that we’ll reuse.  We put all of this into a bowl together.  Super yum.  Kids asked for this meal this week and they ate it up!
  2. Tacos/burritos with pressure-cooked pinto beans; brown rice cooked with onions and spices; homemade salsa made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, lemon juice, and salt; shredded cabbage tossed in a little veganaise; super simple homemade guacamole (avocados + lemon juice + salt), and tortillas.
  3. Ramen noodle bowls with
    • ramen noodles;
    • veggie broth (from bulk);
    • sauteed onions with fresh garlic and ginger;
    • sauteed mushrooms;
    • fresh thinly sliced carrots, zucchinis, and cabbage and cilantro;
    • beef-style TVP (boiled, drained, and then tossed in a quick and dirty “teriyaki” sauce of soy sauce, powdered ginger, peanut oil, rice vinegar and sugar;
    • plus roasted cauliflower for the side or with the bowl
    • lemon wedges. 
    • And a couple hot sauces in glass jars.

This dinner was super popular with the kiddos and grown-ups.  It probably took about an hour from start to finish, but we had leftovers to help out with other meals so I don’t mind the time too much.  Plus I love eating lots of veggies at dinner.  

ramen bowl dinner

.

4.  Homemade pizza, with quick homemade dough topped with vegan homemade cashew cheese (see Nora Cooks Vegan for her awesome vegan cashew queso!).  Plus sauteed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  And chopped olives. Plus a green salad and probably some popcorn and probably a movie too.  

 

So there you have it – our low waste vegan meal plan for this week.  Does this give you any ideas for your upcoming dinners?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz @ No Trace

8 zero waste gifts for kids! 

Whatever your budget!

 

I’ve been asked what are the best zero waste gifts for kids, so figured it was time to put together a post on our 8 favorite zero waste gifts!  I’ve got easy, thoughtful gift ideas for you that don’t create trash or plastic. The holidays are coming up, after all! Check these out and let me know what you think :).

1. The first zero waste gift for kids is also my favorite: EXPERIENCES! 

 

Instead of a thing, give the young one in your life a special experience.  This could be something as elaborate as a trip to an amusement park (like Universal Studios – thanks, Aunt Olivia!) or something as simple as having your friend over for a special playdate to bake cookies or a cake or a fort or a mud pit (don’t ask me why, but my girls love making mud pits and then smearing the mud from head to toe!). The gift of your time is really the most special, isn’t it?

Here are a few experience gifts, from cheap to pricey:

-playdates to bake, build, or craft something together

-a playdate at a local extra fun park or beach

-a special lunch at your little one’s favorite restaurant

-a trip to a kids bounce house or other fun kids space

-a visit to a local kids museum (Children’s Museum of Discovery in Capitola is super fun for younger kids and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is awesome for all ages!)

-going to a sporting event together (Santa Cruz Warriors, anyone??)

-Amusement parks!  Can’t go wrong with a trip to an awesome amusement park, right?? This is definitely on the pricier end though.

 

2.  A membership to somewhere fun. 

Similar to a shared experience, but something the little one in your life could use over and over again.  These can be pricier than a one-time outing, but also give memorable experiences all year long! In the Santa Cruz area, we’ve got the Museum of Art and History that has kid friendly events all year.  Nearby is the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium.  So much to see that we never get to it all in one day!  We’ve also got the boardwalk that has season passes. And the Children’s Museum of Discovery offers memberships.

 

3.  Something homemade. 

Even if you aren’t super crafty, there’re probably awesome things you know how to make.  Maybe you like to bake? Or sew? Or paint? Or do a little woodworking? The gift doesn’t have to require tons of your time.  I love to make things that will fill a certain need or be consumed, rather than just something to be admired. E.g., an apron for a budding baker.  A veggie bag for a budding zero waster. A homemade mix of powdered hot cocoa. A batch of cookies. A little water bottle holder. A box to hold their toys.  

 

4. An awesome book. 

This is definitely a thing, but I love turning my kids onto some of my favorite books from childhood – especially books they’ll read again and again.  Calvin and Hobbes, for example. Anything by Shel Silverstein. The Farside comics for the older ones in your life. Have they ready Harry Potter yet? Lots of kids (and kids at heart – like me!) will read this series more than once.   You can probably find some of your favorite books at a second hand bookstore. And when your little one is ready to pass it along, it can go back to a second hand bookstore or onto a friend.

 

5.  Paper notebook and colored pencils and other plastic-free art supplies. 

For the budding artists in your life, there are never enough paper notebooks to capture their art.  I wouldn’t get this just to give “something”, but if you know your little friend loves to draw, why not get them a nice pad of paper that can be recycled or composted?  You could also make them a small book from recycled paper. I like this tutorial by Dana of Made Everyday.  And nice new colored pencils are great too.  I tend to steer away from markers, but maybe you can recycle plastic markers in your community.  We have Terracycle at the Art Factory to take old markers and recycle them. Check your area for available Terracycle boxes here.  

 

6.  Lessons or other experiences they’ll enjoy on their own. 

Piano lessons, horseback riding lessons, surf lessons, cooking lessons, sewing lessons  – you get the picture. These can be pricey (unless you can teach yourself) but can be amazing memories for the kiddos and give them skills that they’ll use again and again.  This zero waste gift for kids is one they won’t forget.

 

7. A small plant they can take care of. 

Another thing, I know. But for some kids, it’s a learning experience to have and care for a plant of their own.  My kiddos love getting little potted succulents. And they’re super easy to care for. Some plants help clean the air in their bedrooms, too, to help their little lungs stay healthy at night.  Plants like the rubber plant, peace lily, Boston fern, golden pothos and more help clean the air. Get them something in a nice reusable, plastic free pot to keep the zero waste gift truly zero waste.

 

8.  Zero waste supplies of their very own. 

Of course, these are more “things”. But one way to a brighter future is to get kids caring about the planet from a young age.  Things like reusable straws. Their own small utensil kit. A stainless steel lunch container. An organic cotton lunch bag. Organic cotton napkins and sandwich and snack bags.  These can be fun gifts to receive and also get kids thinking about trash and packaging. These zero waste tools might spark conversations among kids and their buddies about sustainable alternatives.  And of course at No Trace, we’ve got lots of sweet and cheerful options for kids and kids at heart right here.

 

Those are my 8 favorite easy zero waste gift ideas for kids. 

No plastic. No trash. Just special experiences and gifts that kids will remember long after their birthday.

 

What’re some of your favorite gifts for kids?  I’d love to hear so share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz  

 

The TRUTH about going zero waste with kids

 

Are you thinking of reducing waste in your family but not sure you can do it?  Are you overwhelmed with the idea of reducing your family’s trash to almost nothing?

 

I’m here to give you an honest look at what it’s like to go for zero waste with your family.  

 

This post is for you if YOU:

-got interested in zero waste AFTER you had kids already

-aren’t a minimalist family with very few possessions

-hang out with other families who aren’t super into zero waste

-go to kids birthday parties

-go to potlucks  

-send your kids to school

-let your kids go on field trips

-throw parties  

-go to school fairs and gatherings  

-take road trips and family vacations     

-go to festivals and special events

-let your kids do art camps and piano lessons and other after school activities

 

Does any of that sound like you?  If so, keep reading for the inside scoop on going for zero waste with kids.

 

I’m breaking everything down into two categories.  First, I’ll cover the super challenging stuff. THEN, don’t despair, I’ll get into the super do-able stuff.  So hang in there – it’s not all tough!

 

First, the super challenging part of zero waste with kids.  

Bad news first, right?

 

Let me start by saying –THEIR TRASH IS NOT THEIR FAULT!  We live in a linear economy. AKA – almost everything we come into contact with is designed to end up in the landfill.  Your kids are part of a system they can’t control. Always remember that – kids are reacting to a system that’s designed to make trash.

 

So, the hard truth of it is this:  If you’re kids are gonna be in the world without you by their side, they’re gonna make some trash.  That’s the plain and simple of it. No way around it until they are old enough to really care about this themselves.

 

You can help them prepare to be out there.  Practice being assertive. Practice saying “no thank you”.  Practice polite refusal of those freebies and treats and giveaways and STUFF.  

 

But when your kids are young, there are going to be times when they say “YES, PLEASE!” with excitement.  Times when the goodie is really inviting and they can’t easily resist. They don’t have an inner voice yet reminding them of the bigger picture.  

 

A few examples:  

-A spontaneous stop at Starbucks after a school field trip for treats (courtesy of a chaperone) leads to a plastic frappucino cup, lid, and straw.

-A visit to the craft fair at an eco-minded event and we suddenly have a plastic craft creation that won’t last long.

-Playdate with a friend can lead to trash from a candy bar or hot cocoa cup or popsicle wrapper or some other treat.

-Classroom arts and crafts activity could mean dozens of plastic beaded bracelets.  Or dozens of plastic bead art designs. Or duct tape crafts. All coming home to our house.

-A pinata at a birthday party full of wrapped candy.

-A friend at soccer practice hands them a granola bar.

-A speaker at school passes out free trinkets after a fun talk.

-A relative sends a birthday gift that’ll eventually break and end up as trash

people love to give kids STUFF

You get the idea.  Other grown ups and events and activities in their lives will lead to trash.  And it’ll probably come into your house. I’m not always going to be there to intervene.  Until they have the commitment and maturity to say no thank you to all freebies, they’re gonna bring home some trash.  My preference is to let my kids be in the world even when I can’t be by their side because I value these experiences and relationships for them (not so much the trash).  But I know I can’t make the other people around them aim for zero waste too.

 

That’s the tough part.  That’s the low down dirty truth of going for zero waste with kids.  While your kids are young, you might never get all your family’s trash into a mason jar.  Sorry to bear the bad news.

 

Okay, are you ready for the good news now?

 

There’s SO much you CAN do to help your kids go for zero waste.  

With some thought and energy, you CAN avoid tons of trash with your kids.  Here are my three major strategies for zero waste with kids:

 

My number one tip is PLAN AHEAD!  

If you think temptation will come up (e.g. cake at a birthday party handed out with plastic forks, a stop at the yogurt shop during an after school playdate, lemonade in plastic cups at a potluck) get prepped!  Talk about it in advance with your kiddo and bring that cup/fork/straw/bowl/plate or snack or bulk bin treat or whatever might get between your little one being a part of the activity and sticking to your family goals to cut waste.  

 

Try to find the activity that doesn’t involve plastic at the craft table and encourage your kids to do the same.  Let your kids’ teachers know that you are trying to limit how much plastic comes home with them. Better yet, if you’ve got the time, help your kids teachers with ideas and suggestions for activities that don’t lead to trash or involve plastic (an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bead art?  YES PLEASE!). If you are really organized and don’t feel it would be too imposing, reach out to party or event organizers in advance and let them know your family goals and if you can help with party favors or supplies.

 

And, of course, remind your kiddos of the family goals and what challenges might lay ahead.  Which leads me to my next tip!

 

My number two tip is to inspire them!  

Remind your kids why it’s important to care for the earth and that there are so many ways to do that.  Remind them why you’re avoiding plastic and cutting trash. Show them pictures of the great ocean garbage patches.  Tell them heartwarming stories of human actions leading to environmental changes.

 

For example, did you hear the story of Ryan, a 7 year old in southern California, who started his own recycling company to help the earth and save for college?  One child has recycled thousands of dollars worth of cans and bottles from his neighbors. Or did you hear that a camera trap in Gabon’s Bateke Plateau national park captured a photo of a spotted hyena?  They thought the animal was extinct in that area! But the work of rangers and other partners to protect animals in this park has led to big game surviving and thriving. And there’s the story of a classmate of one of my daughters who organized a beach clean up at a local beach.  So cool! Stories like this are everywhere, and show kids (and grown ups!) that our actions can make a positive impact. Share them with your kids and help them stay motivated toward zero waste!  And I have another post just on inspiring zero waste kids – you can read it here.  

 

And my third tip is to keep a positive attitude when you talk with folks outside the family about your goals.  

My personal approach is to use our zero waste supplies without any hub bub. We don’t wave around that we brought our own forks to a picnic.  We don’t try to make anyone else feel bad about their trash. In our two plus years of doing this, people sometimes notice and comment positively, or don’t notice at all, but I’ve yet to encounter anyone freaked out or upset by the goals we’re reaching for.  So don’t worry too much about how others might react. If they notice and want to talk about it, that’s great! It’s your chance to share what you care about without making someone else feel bad. Your kids will catch on to your attitude, so keep it positive!

 

To sum up the truth about going zero waste with kids:

  1. If you want your young kids to move through the world and make their own decisions, there’ll be some trash. And that’s not their fault.
  2. A little planning and prepping can cut out LOTS of your kid’s waste.
  3. Inspiring your kids can help them stay motivated.
  4. Bring a positive attitude to the non-zero wasters in your life.

 

So there’s my truth about zero waste with kids.  We participate in the world around us and still make some trash.  But with some energy and planning, we’ve cut back our waste DRAMATICALLY (aka – putting out our small 20 gallon trash can once a month or less) and you can too.  

 

What’s been your experience in aiming for zero waste with kids?  Any tips to share? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz

Zero waste advent calendar

 

Okay, you are in LUCK because today I’m spilling the beans on our awesome zero waste advent calendar so that YOU can have a low waste holiday too!

 

Rather than focusing on things, we use the holidays to focus on experiences together and soaking up all the holiday awesomeness as a family.  

 

My kids get SO excited for the advent calendar – they’ve been talking and asking about it for weeks.  They remember these mini-adventures more than any gifts.

 

Our actual advent calendar is a hanging fabric tree with 24 pockets.  We write the activity on a little slip of paper and put it in the pocket.  But you could use anything that lets the kids track the days and read the event for each day.  Check pinterest for loads of cute ideas.

 

So, if you want to make the holidays more memorable for you and your kiddos, and focus on experiences rather than things, here’s my guide for you.

A zero waste advent calendar – experiences, not things

A couple of the easiest ones are:

1. Decorate the Christmas tree

Whether you buy one or have an artificial one, or hang something simple on the wall, this is a great family activity.  We have a couple big bins of ornaments that we put up every year.

2. Decorate the house.

Mixed in with our tree ornaments are a few other decorations – gifts from my mom – including a nativity scene, mini Christmas carousel trees with candles, and some nutcrackers.  We’ve made a few garlands too that we hang.

3.  Make a wreath.

We have this awesome spot in town to make wreaths called Rancho Del Oso.  But you could make one with scraps from a Christmas tree yard, or go onto Pinterest for ideas that don’t involve real tree scraps.  

4. Family Christmas carol night

I’m not sure about you guys, but we love singing in our house.  We get the lyrics to a few popular songs and light up our Christmas carousel trees and sing a few together.  We even recorded ourselves singing one song and shared it with close family (ONLY!).

5. Make paper snowflakes

All this takes is a few sheets of paper and scissors.  We love to hang them in the windows once we’re done. If you’re ambitious, make enough for a strand of snowflakes.  So cute.

6. Write a letter to Santa

We still do gifts and ask our kiddos to pick one thing to ask Santa for.  Something within reason, of course. We get veto power (Apple watch? I don’t think so).

7. Family movie night

We don’t watch a ton of movies so this still feels special for us – Elf is one of our holiday favs.  

8. Hot chocolate for breakfast!

We don’t normally make hot chocolate, so it feels special.  AND it’s easy to do before school. Win Win Win.

9. A teeny tiny gift

Okay, this is another thing, but it’s awesome for busy school mornings to just slip a little something in the calendar.  We’ve done bulk candy before and little hair barrettes. Maybe a tiny glitter crayon, a tiny notecard, or necklace charm.  Or a tiny succulent cutting (they’ll need something or somewhere to plant it, of course). Or a tiny eraser. Or a tiny magnet.  Or a little homemade chapstick in a tiny jar. I try to think of stuff that isn’t just going to collect dust in their room, but might actually get used.  Also, google tiny gift ideas for some of the CUTEST things you’ve ever seen.

 

We have a few fun outings too:

10. Breakfast at Gayles –  before school!

I know this might feel a little crazy.  But if you can get up a little extra early, maybe pack lunches the night before, you might be able to get a nice quick bakery breakfast before school.  It feels extra special this way.

11.  Donut breakfast!

Another before school treat, if you can fit it in.  Or bring it home to them. Either way, we don’t get a lot of donuts around here, so it’s an indulgence.

12.  The Nutcracker ballet

13.  The symphony

14.  The holiday lights train

These can be a little pricey, but it is super memorable for the kids.  And it could be a great gift from grandparents, if they need ideas. (Hint hint, mom 😉 ).  We don’t do all of these each year – usually just one.

 

And we get the family and friends involved too:

15.  Make Christmas cookies with Grandma

An annual tradition that they look forward to each year.  I look forward to the cookies.

16.  Special playdates with family friends

We have grown-up friends who are like aunts to the kiddos.  We make a special effort to schedule something with them during this time – a little tea party or making ornaments together.

17.  Picking out an ornament with the grandparents

Okay, this is a thing but it’s also an experience.  They each get to pick out one ornament a year.  The kiddos get super excited about this. I think it’s not about the actual ornament, but really about looking at all the shiny and creative options at different stores – surfing pink flamingo for the tree?  Yes, please.

18. Craft date with momma

I try to come up with a few simple craft ideas that we could do in an hour after school (a simple necklace, sculpey ornaments,  popcorn garland, or other simple garland) and then let the kids pick one for us to do.

19.  Holiday party

Any holiday parties?  Put ‘em on the calendar!  We have a family birthday during this time, so that party counts as one of our advent calendar events.  

 

And we try to think of others who are in need during this time.

20.  Get gifts for a family in need and wrap them.

Their school often adopts a family, and a lot of churches do this too.   Rather than making this an errand for MOM or DAD, this is a family affair – we go together to pick it out and the kids wrap it up themselves.

21.  Volunteer for a few hours

Last year the kids spent a morning volunteering at an organization that was wrapping gifts to donate to families in need.  This one is a little tricky because it might not be easy to find something to volunteer for if you aren’t already involved with the group.  And finding something that’s age-appropriate can be challenging too, so call around to find some options. And scheduling this can also be tricky when weekends are already jam packed.  So plan it out in advance!

22.  Donate a toy

We ask the kids to pick one of their gently used toys to donate.  Last year this ended up being a major toy closet clean-out, which was awesome.  But in other years, when they were younger, picking just one toy was a good goal.

 

And finally, I think our all time favorites are these:

23.  Night time Light walk .

We bundle up and grab an umbrella if it’s rainy.  We usually walk over to Depot Hill in Capitola for an awesome view of the town and all the lights at night.  It’s fun walking in the dark and cold together. And this is an easy after-dinner activity too for those busy weeknights.

24.  Tea party for dinner

This does require a little planning and effort, but it is so worth it.  We make a ton of finger foods including mini sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, peanut butter and jelly), deviled eggs, hummus and veggies, fancy olives from the bulk bar, popcorn, maybe some cookies or other baked goods and tea, of course.  We sit on the floor in the living room and eat around the coffee table. I love this dinner so much.

 

There you have it!  

easy zero waste advent calendar ideas. 

Do you have any to add?  I’d love to hear about them!  Share in the comments!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

zero waste snack ideas for kids

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:

zero waste snacks
zero waste snack ideas for kids
  • 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.  

We shop for these by putting them into our cloth bags at the store.  When we get home, we put all the tasty snacks into jars to preserve them better.  The jars are stored down low in a cupboard that the kids can easily reach and serve themselves.  We try to keep track of the contents and finish things off before getting more or before they get forgotten in a back corner :).

So there you have it – easy zero waste snack ideas for kids (and adults!).  

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!