Our 2019 low waste advent calendar

Are you hoping to slow things down and savor this special time of year WITHOUT a ton of trash?  Want some ideas for a low waste holiday season?  

 

Check out our easy low waste advent calendar ideas from 2019.  Having a low waste advent calendar is one way that we embrace the holidays and stay connected with each other during these busy days.  

photo of Christmas pyramid

 

We’ve been doing this family advent calendar for the last 5 years.  You can read about what we’ve done in previous years here.

 

Each year we keep our favorite activities from the previous year’s low waste advent calendar and create new ones too.  So I thought I’d share our 2019 low waste advent calendar ideas with you in case you are looking for some near zero waste advent calendar inspiration.  

 

Oh, and if you’re wondering what our physical advent calendar, it’s basically a fabric tree with 24 pockets.  Each pocket has a little fabric ornament that velcros to the tree.  We slip a piece of paper behind the ornament with each day’s low waste advent calendar activity/treat :).

low waste advent calendar
This is our actual calendar with pockets and velcro ornaments.
rocking horse ornament
The little slips of paper fit behind the ornaments in the pockets.

 

Ready to hear our ways of staying connected?  Here we go!

1-Make paper snowflakes.

 

Got paper in your recycling bin?  Watch a quick tutorial on YouTube to learn how to turn that paper into paper snowflakes.  We have fun make at least a few paper snowflakes each in different colored paper.  Then we’ll tape them to our windows and walls for a little extra holiday spirit.  

 

Don’t forget to compost the tiny bits of paper that come off in the cutting.  Most recycling centers don’t have a way to easily catch these and so they probably won’t get recycled.  

photo of paper snowflakes

2-Check the cupboard or fridge for a special treat.  

 

We’ll go by a local bakery the night before and get them each a cookie, donut, cupcake or anything special that we wouldn’t normally get to eat at breakfast.  Pre-COVID days we’d bring our own container to avoid the packaging trash.  And even today some places are coming back around to the realization that our own containers aren’t filthy, disease ridden super spreaders.

 

Little low waste treats like this are sprinkled into the advent calendar for busy days – we don’t have time for fun-tivities everyday, but we can take a moment to mark the day in easier ways.

 

3-Hot chocolate with whipped coconut cream.  

 

Another easy breakfast treat.  We get coconut cream in a can.  Simply scoop out the hard part of the cream (leaving behind any coconut water/milk) and then whip it either by hand or in your stand mixer.  You can add a dash of vanilla extract and sugar too.

photo of hot cocoa
Coconut cream is an awesome vegan whipped cream alternative.

4-Candlelight snuggle story time on couch.  

 

SO fun!  After dinner one night, we got out extra blankets, light candles, and snuggle around a good book.  We have a few Christmas decorations that involve candles, so this is a perfect time to light & enjoy those.  As for books, we’ve been loving The Mysterious Benedict Society lately.  My partner will read outloud to them for long stretches at a time.  I tend to lose my voice before him, so I get to sit and snuggle and listen instead :).

photo of Christmas pyramid
Our Christmas pyramids arent this fancy after years of wear and tear :).

 

5-Shop for adopt-a-family.  

 

Does your school or church or community group adopt a family around the holidays?  Our school participates each year and we join in too.  Last year the kids and I had fun at Target picking out what we thought our person might like.  My partner stayed home (not a huge shopping fan) and made dinner so we could squeeze this in after school and dance.  We don’t all 4 have to do everything on the calendar together – we try to keep it manageable for our regular life stuff like school, dinner, dishes, homework, piano practice, etc!

 

6-Night swimming.

  

Yes, just like the REM song ;).  We have a local heated swimming pool (Simpkins Swim Center) that has evening hours.  It was a blast.  Swimming at night feels magical.

 

7-Watch the lighted boat parade.  

 

At the Santa Cruz Harbor each year, there’s a parade of boats decorated in lights.  We went last year and took a couple of their friends with us.  It was pouring rain, but that made it more memorable.  Plus I packed a thermos of hot apple cider and some cups, and some popcorn.  We huddled under umbrellas, sipped cider and munched popcorn and watched the boats go by.  The rain seemed like a bummer at first but it made the night that much more memorable for everyone. 

 

8-Pick out a tree.  

 

We’re still getting a real tree each year although we’ve talked as a family about other options, wondering what is the most eco-friendly option.  As long as we aren’t driving far to get a tree (fewer emissions) and if we compost the tree at the end of its life, it feels fairly sustainable to get a real tree.  But there’s a tree rental place in our area called Rent a Living Christmas Tree (RentXmasTree.com) for another option.  

 

We go to a local business to get the tree (Capitola Produce) and the kids usually want to play hide and seek among the trees a few times before we bring one home.

photo of kids in Christmas tree farm
We try to have a little fun when we pick out our Christmas tree.

9-Pick a charity to donate to.  

 

As a family last year, we talked about the different causes we cared about and then picked one charity to donate to.  The kids wanted to donate to a charity that provides global health services, and so we picked Partners in Health.  

 

I will say, though, the amount of unrequested paper mail we’ve gotten from them over the year has been INSANE.  So this year, when we make a donation, we’ll remember to make a firm request for NO MAIL.

 

10-Make caroling video.  

 

The past few years we’ve recorded ourselves on our iPad singing a Christmas carol.  It’s of family-viewing-only quality, and a lot of the joy comes from looking back at our videos over the years.  Pretty dang cute! It’s neat to see how they’ve grown each year by Christmas time.

 

11-Write a letter to Santa.  

 

This is a big highlight for the kids, of course!  They each get to ask Santa for 1 pre-approved thing from Santa (i.e., we might veto certain items before they get in the letter.  Think more animals or an iphone or other devices).

 

12-Aquarium outing with Grandma & Grandpa.  

 

We are super lucky to have grandparents nearby who do fun things with our kids.  This past year they wanted to take them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the day.  So fun!  There are lots of great outings in our community – local parks and beaches, art museum, children’s discovery center, the animal shelter, etc etc.  You get the idea.

 

13-Ornament shopping with Grandma & Grandpa.  

 

This is another annual tradition in our little family.  Each year the kids head out for the afternoon with Grandma & Grandpa.  They drive to a few different locally owned stores that carry really cute ornaments.  The kids take everything in and then make their decision (sometimes having to go back to an earlier store, but that’s okay).  Part of the joy of this is just seeing all the creative and sparkly and beautiful ornaments.  Plus they love showing us and picking a spot to hang it on the tree.  And when we decorate the tree (which is often an advent calendar activity), we all like looking back at what they’ve picked each year.  E.g., a glass pink cadillac, a glass stand mixer, a fuzzy squirrel, glass ballet slippers, and more.

 

14-Doggy christmas at dog park.  

 

We made this up but basically brought our dogs to the dog park (which we RARELY do) and got them each a little something at the pet store.  Fun for the dogs, fun for us!  

photo of dog and ball
happy dog at the park!

 

15-Gratitude letters and hot spiced cider. 

 

One evening after dinner and before bedtime, we sat down to write a few things we’re each grateful for while we enjoyed hot spiced cider.  I like to buy spiced cider from Santa Cruz Organics because it comes in a glass container vs plastic.

 

16-Make an online family Christmas card.  

 

This was super fun, especially for my older daughter who’s into design.  We found some simple templates (Canva.com has plenty – all free), picked our favorite, and then picked family photos from our google photos and uploaded them into the card.  Once we were done, we downloaded it and sent it in email to our family and friends.  We aren’t doing real cards any more, although it was fun to do each year in the past.  But this is a more eco-friendly option.

 

17-Tea party for dinner.  

 

Although this is the most work, it’s my FAVORITE advent calendar event.  I make a big pot of herbal tea and then a bunch of finger foods – homemade cookies, popcorn, hummus, chopped veggies, vegan cream cheese & cucumber sandwiches, a couple other dips, and crackers. We put all the food in the living room and sit around our little coffee table on the floor and enjoy our special meal.  So fun!

 

18-Family S’mores night.  

 

By December we’re out of fire season, so it’s s’more season! At least for a bit.  Again there’s the packaging of vegan marshmallows (and graham crackers and chocolate!) If you’re feeling super ambitious, I’ve seen recipes for vegan marshmallows & you might be able to find the ingredients unpackaged in a bulk store.  Here’s one recipe: https://thehiddenveggies.com/vegan-marshmallows/ and another one: https://happyfoodhealthylife.com/vegan-marshmallows-recipe/.  

 

You could get creative and roast something else – i’ve seen folks do bananas (but they’re wrapped in tinfoil).  Or just have a little backyard fire.  The real fun is being in the yard on a cold night, warming our hands and feet around the fire pit.  

 

19-Family movie night.  

 

You know those nights when you’re exhausted and want to be horizontal for as long as possible?  Perfect excuse for a family movie night.  We try to pick a holiday movie, but honestly whatever the kids can agree to is great.  Elf and Home Alone are a couple of our family favorites.  

 

20-Ice skating with Grandpa.  

 

He likes to take the kids to the ice skating rink at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk that gets set up around the holidays.  Super fun for everyone.

 

21-Hanukkah breakfast at the Bagelry.  

 

We love our local bagel restaurants and added a little breakfast to the advent calendar.  They have loads of vegan spreads.  Yum!

 

22-Birthday celebrations.

 

My youngest daughter has a birthday in the middle of the holiday season and this day is her day – we do a family dinner party and then she has something with friends too.  We put any parties that we’re going to on the calendar as well – those are special enough for the day! 

 

23-Cookies with grandma.  

 

Another super special annual tradition.  Grandma bakes a bunch of sugar cookies the day or two before and then the kids come over for a decorating bonanza.  The kids have also helped bake the cookies in the past, but the decorating part is their favorite. And it makes it a little easier for everyone if they’re baked already.  Bonus: parents get to eat the cookies!

 

24-Craft date with momma.  

 

I like to put together super simple crafts that we can finish in a couple hours.  It’s a fun time to invite the kids’ friends over too.  One year we made cloth crowns with elastic bands out of fabric that they picked.  Another year we made simple sandwich baggies out of fabric they bought at the store.  Friendship bracelets are fun and easy.  Or bookmarks out of scrap fabric.  Lots of easy options!

 

There’s our 2019 low waste advent calendar.  Do any of these sound like fun for your family?  Or do you have any to add?  I’d love to hear – leave a comment below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz

 

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Low waste vegan meal plan:

What we’re eating for dinner this week.

 

The coronavirus has hampered our low waste/zero waste efforts in this week’s shopping trip. We tossed our veggies straight into our shopping cart instead of using plastic bags.

 

All our bulk goods had to go into paper bags or we had to buy packaged.  

 

Fruits & veggies for the week (or longer) in bags: tomatoes, brussel sprouts, and mushrooms.  

Bulk goods: coffee beans, dried mangos, walnuts, red lentils, cashews, instant beans, chia chunks/snacks, almonds, nutritional yeast.

Packaged goodies: bread in paper, toothpaste, rice dream, massive bag of brown rice, pasta in paper boxes, bread flour, pickles, veganaise, earth balance, popcorn kernels in plastic, cereal, soy sauce, wine, olive oil, honey, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, veg broth, & olive oil.  

Plus some canned foods for our outside supply.

Here’s our meal plan for week:

  1. Spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized veggie protein (TVP), and either roasted or sauteed veggies.  We usually use canned tomatoes with a few dried herbs, maybe some sauteed onions, as the pasta sauce. Plus TVP for some protein.  When I roast veggies, I usually toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (whatever suits my fancy) and then cook them at 425F for about 30 minutes, stirring them halfway through.
  2. Tacos with home cooked pintos from the pressure cooker.  We soak the pintos overnight, then drain and rinse them. Toss them in the pressure cooker with chopped onions, cumin, salt, and bay leaves.  Cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Homemade salsa is just cilantro, onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. Shredded cabbage tossed in lemon juice or in veganaise.  Simple guacamole of avocado, salt, and lemon juice. 
  3. Vegan mac n cheese with cashew cheese (check out Nora Cooks Vegan for recipes!), brussel sprout salad (my new fav).  I make a honey mustard dressing and toss shredded brussel sprouts, chopped almonds, and chopped dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, or dried persimmons.
  4. Red lentil soup with toast and a green salad.  We add onions, spices, and a little lemon juice to the soup.  Mmmm yum!
  5. Homemade pizza (I like Bobby Flay’s dough recipe) with cashew cheese (same Nora Cooks Vegan recipe as for mac n cheese) and sauteed veggies (I love mushrooms, onions, and sweet peppers on top) and olives; green salad.

 

And I’ve got a few food storage tips for you in case you’re buying in bigger quantities right now:

 

  1. Store your carrots in water to keep them fresher for longer.  Change the water every few days – pour it on your garden :).
  2. Clean your greens when you bring them home.  Then store them in a cloth bag in the fridge.  A little dampness helps keep them fresh.  
  3. Mushrooms last way longer in a cloth or paper bag than plastic.
  4. Clean and dry/spin your fresh herbs and store them in a cloth bag to keep them fresh and breathing.
  5. Nuts keep best in the freezer.  We put ours in jars in the freezer.  
  6. Fresh nut butters keep great in the fridge but if you go through them fast, you can also store them in your cupboards.
  7. If you have extra room in your fridge – keep extra fruit in there instead of on the counter.
  8. Try pickling your veggies with a quick pickle recipe.  If you haven’t seen Portlandia’s “We can pickle that!”, drop what you’re doing and watch it now ;).  We’ve pickled carrots, cabbage, & beets. Other crunchy veggies like cucumbers (duh) and cauliflower would be delish! 

 

There’s our week of low waste vegan meal planning!  Are you getting into meal planning? Any tips or suggestions for me?

 

Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the earth.

Liz