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

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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

Zero waste travel tips

Right now it’s summer time, which in my house means family trips!  Traveling opens doors to new experiences and perspectives and I really value our family trips.  It also changes up our routines and takes us from the comforts of home, which creates a few challenges for our zero waste goals.

 

So, to help us all cut down travel waste, I’ve put together my top 4 tips for zero waste travel.  These steps are simple enough for even the busiest families and individuals, so check them out and give them a try!

 

Here are my top four tips for zero waste travel.

 

1. Prep a simple travel kit.

 

If you’re traveling with your family or friends, it’s a great idea to have at least some of these things for each person.  Here’s what we pack in our zero waste travel kits.

 

  1. Water bottle – and fill it up after security if you’re traveling by plane!
  2. Napkin, handkerchief, or both – say ‘no thanks’ to paper napkins and tissues.  You can even wash this in a small sink during your travels if you can’t easily run a load of laundry.  Check out my napkin & hankie offerings here or find some at your local thrift store!
  3. Small fork, knife, and/or spoon (or, my personal fav – a spork)!  Note that you don’t want to bring knives if you’re traveling by plane!  Airport security doesn’t like that :). I got us each a little set at a local camping/outdoor gear store in Santa Cruz.  
  4. Mason jar – perfect for leftovers, a smoothie, juice, you get the idea :).  We usually bring one with us when we go out to eat to avoid the doggie bag/box, which can be made of plastic.  
  5. Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap – great for bringing along a sandwich or picking up a pastry or cookie when your out and about.  You can buy a sandwich bag made by me here and a beeswax wrap here.
  6. Travel coffee mug – if you need some caffeine in the morning like me, this is a great way to get it to go and avoid disposable coffee cups and lids.  Your kids may not need to bring one along, but hey, maybe they’d like some hot cocoa in the morning!
  7. Market bag – again, maybe kids don’t need this, but I would recommend bringing along at least one bag for shopping.   Our market bag often doubles as our kit bag. I’ll ask the kids to carry their own water bottles, and usually I’ll toss a few napkins, utensils, mason jar, etc., into the market bag.  I try to bring this along for our outings in general, and especially if we are going to be out and about for the day or going to eat somewhere. And of course, I make a market tote that you can see here.  
Part of my travel kit from my recent trip to Seattle

2. Bring extra snacks.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to buy some last minute packaged treat because we didn’t have enough snacks!  For example, ever have a morning bike ride that was supposed to end before lunch? And suddenly it’s 1pm and everyone is losing it?  Been there. Or that flight that was delayed now that you’re in the airport surrounded by shiny packaged treats? Been there too. So, I try to bring snacks that travel well (i.e., the opposite of a peach).  Think nuts, granola, carrots, apples, and banana chips. What’s available in your local bulk bins or farmer’s market that will hold up well on a journey? Or, can you squeeze in an hour to make a tin of cookies or granola bars?

 

One more thought about snacks – I try to bring snacks that are a little extra special – good enough to compete with roadside and airport junk food.  I’m sure that’s different for every family, but try to find some options that everyone will get excited about.

 

3.  Check out nearby bulk foods, farmers markets, and natural food stores.

 

Look into bulk shopping options wherever you’re headed!  There might be some fun and unique offerings, and I’m pretty confident that you can find bulk options almost EVERYWHERE.  Bea Johnson of zerowastehome.com has a cool bulk finder app to help you find something wherever you’re headed. Check it out here.

 

If you’ll be visiting somewhere long enough to shop for food, you might want to bring along some reusable bags and jars to avoid waste.  I’ve got some made by me with love for sale here, but you can even use an old pillow case or make your own!

4.  Consider your compost options.

 

Anywhere you travel, you have some compost options.  Some cities have curbside compost pick up, making it super easy (yay, San Francisco!).  Other cities have composting services you can check out. Santa Cruz, for example, has a local business that will come pick up your compost for you – by bike!  How cool is that? Check them out here. The local farmers market might collect compost as well.  If you’re staying with friends or family, maybe they have a little compost pile you can add to, or maybe you can inspire them to start something simple.  You can purchase some compost bins for under $50. Some folks also recommend burying your non-meat, non-dairy food scraps (think eggshells, fruit and veg peels) in the dirt, at least 10 inches deep.  My cautions, though: 1. You need to be aware of possible pest issues – you don’t want to burden your host with an onslaught of new critters in their yard. 2. You need to be careful of nearby plant roots and landscaping.

 

Another option, which we do whenever we camp or road trip, is to collect your scraps in a bin or bag and bring them home to compost.  We’ve done this for up to a week of waste scraps with no issues – no smell, no pests. We’ve used a big cooler as our bin before, or a big plastic tupperware, or even a big plastic bag when we forgot our bin in the past.  Back at home, we just add it to our compost bins and voila! Soil! (months later 🙂 )

compost after a week of vacation with 2 other families

So there you have it – my top 4 tips for zero waste travel.  I hope you found these helpful! Do you have any to add? Have you tried any zero waste travel tips?  I’d love to hear, so share 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

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 zero waste lunches for kids – easy swaps for your favorite packaged options! 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Trying to travel zero waste?  Learn from our mistakes with these tips.

My family and I recently went on a trip – our first airplane trip since we’ve started in earnest to become zero waste.  We did some planning on our way out to try to fly zero waste, but here’s a picture of the wreckage from the way home:

 

We got thirsty, we got hungry, and I needed a cocktail 🙂 .  A couple of the cups got recycled already, but you get the gist.

We packed lots sandwiches and snacks.  We each had our own water bottle and filled them before we got on the plane.  But here’s what happened – our flight home was delayed an hour, a bunch of the sandwiches we made were “too spicy” for the kids.  Also, even though our flight was nearly 6 hours, the flight attendants wouldn’t refill our water bottles and would only pour out water into their cups.  We also didn’t remember to bring earbuds for everyone and our snacks (fruit) weren’t as exciting as the little mystery packets from the flight attendants. 

I try to think about this zero waste fail as a learning opportunity for me and my family.  So I took a moment to reflect on what we could do differently next time to minimize the waste the next time we travel.

Tips for flying zero (or near zero) waste with kids:

  1. Bring larger water bottles! 
  2. Bring snacks from bulk that are as enticing as the junk food in the airport.
  3. Remember to bring earbuds for everyone.
  4. Bring some extra food – flights get delayed all the time!  Better to have too much than run out and end up buying at the airport or on the airplane.
  5. Talk about our food and drink plans at the airport and on the airplane before we get in the situation.
  6. Offer a juice option before or after the flight as a replacement for the juice we won’t be having on the plane.
  7. Bring a variety of sandwich/wrap/whatever options.  If one turns out too “spicy”, there’s a back up.

On a side note, learning to say “no” to the flight attendants’ offers of drinks and snacks is an ongoing process in my house.  These little prepackaged snacks and fruit drinks are perceived as treats to my kids, and saying no is not our natural inclination.  We are working on this 🙂 .  

That’s what I’ve learned this time around.  Do you have any tips for traveling zero waste with kids?  I’d love to hear them 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!