Life with a Newborn: Take 3

Baby #3 is finally here (Yay!). The sleepless, drugged day-into-night time warp feeling has begun as has the overwhelming joy in having a new addition to the family (and to finally getting to enjoy chocolate and decaf coffee without heartburn again – hooray!).

Being our third time around the newborn baby block, I find myself thinking about how this time is different from all other times. So, before the fog of the newborn period lifts, I figured I’d write a post, one-handed, about how our third time on the newborn merry-go-round has been different than our first or second one.

  • Newborn #1: Parenting 101
    • Summary: Even though we thought we were prepared to become a family, we totally weren’t and our unrealistic expectations made the transition hard for us. We had no idea what we were doing and we held parenting books/websites and other people’s opinions in way too high regard. I googled e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g at midnight, 2 am, 3:30 am, 5:05 am, etc. and did silly things like expect my house to be clean like it was pre-baby (and then I religiously cleaned instead of napped to meet that high standard). I believed I could “have it all” and felt like a failure when I didn’t meet society’s ridiculously high standards for mothers. I second guessed myself all. the. time. My husband and I had very few dates and a lot of stress due to no family or friends-with-babies nearby and no sleep. When our adorable baby was less than adorable (hey, it happens!), I thought those moments would last forever, especially during long sleepless nights. I brought a suitcase full of baby supplies with me on trips to the grocery store and stressed over when and where to nurse and change the baby. In fact, I stressed over everything: Will giving my baby a pacifier ruin her developmentally or cause her to need braces? Am I a bad parent for putting my baby in a stroller instead of wearing her? Am I causing hip problems for her because I am wearing her?…
    • What I learned: Chill. out. Life with babies is different.
  • Newborn #2: Outnumbered 101
    • Summary: We had made it through one newborn, so we could do it again (high five for us!). This time we were a little smarter: I cooked and froze meals before the baby came. I reduced my work hours and requested a slightly longer maternity leave than I had the first time. We worked on saving some money before baby came. We found a sitter we trusted who could help us out. However, we still had a few silly beliefs, namely the following:
      • Whatever techniques we had successfully used and mastered for the first baby would work for the second baby.
      • That our older child would feel betrayed when we brought home a new baby.
    • What I learned:
      • Everyone is different, so how you build a positive relationship with them will be different. This is normal and healthy.
      • Any change, no matter how big or small (like reading Goodnight, Gorilla instead of Goodnight Moon), is a big deal to little people and will bring about big emotions. In the long run, the close love-hate-love sibling relationship your kids will form is one of the greatest assets they will have.
  • Newborn #3: Relationship Management 
    • Summary: This time, I feel a lot more prepared. I started getting all non-essentials out of our life before Baby #3 came; I unsubscribed from email lists, opted out of events, donated rarely used items to Goodwill, ruthlessly recycled mail I didn’t need to save … you get the picture. Then I made time for the important things in life: my marriage, my sanity (Read: carving out time for things that make me a happy and balanced person, like reading books or writing this blog), my friends, and my kids. My husband and I majorly lowered our standards and re-prioritized our time: When the newborn napped and the older kids were being watched for a few hours, we skipped cleaning the house and went out on a date instead (with our newborn, a.k.a. Mr. Wingman). We took turns sleeping when various kids slept and when they were all awake we took turns playing with them. I accepted any and all help from friends and family (and even asked for it!).
    • What I am learning: This third time around seems much easier than the other times (so far!). But then again, I’ve called in a lot of help from friends and family (and have gotten it – thanks, y’all!). I’m realizing if I just go with the flow and have some fun (and donuts and coffee with my spouse!), I can enjoy this crazy time. Attempting anything else is optional.

 

Raising Three Kids: When to Bathe

Bath time. It’s fun. It’s messy. Some kids love it. And some kids really (really) hate it. I like bath time, but I also find it challenging when there are a bunch of little ones around.

First, there is the time and people management piece. There are number of children to bathe to consider (Do I bathe them all at the same time? In quick succession? On separate days?) and how to handle the variety of kids who are dirtier-than-mud, Mr-Clean-clean, or somewhere in between.  I have also needed to start evaluating my options in case someone starts wanting snacks, needing to use the potty, or aspiring to world domination while I are up to my elbows in bath toys.

Then, there is the “optimal” amount of time in between baths. Do I go ol’ skool and bathe them daily? Do I strategically skip days so that I optimize the amount of good bacteria on their skin? How does using/not using soap change showering frequency? What if they want to join their sibling in the bath – does that reset the bath cycle?

But today, I figured out when I would know it was time to bathe my sweet, sweet baby: When he starts smelling like Umami. Yep, if I snuggle up next to him and inhale and am reminded of cheese or miso soup instead of Mr. Snuggles, I know it’s bath time. Mind you, he gets a pass if he just smells like goat cheese – anyone can smell like that with just a splash of dried spit up (Child’s play, really). I’m talking like a sharp cheddar or aged Romano. Love those smells from the kitchen, just not from the fat rolls hiding my baby’s neckline.

There ya have it: When to bathe baby – When he smells like miso soup. Or poop (obviously). No spreadsheet or predictive modeling required. Enjoy!

 

 

Raising Three Kids: Determining Pickup Time

My mother in law was visiting to help out while my husband had an especially busy workweek. 

On the first day she was here, she said “So what time do we need to leave to pick up the girls from school today?” 

It would seem like there is a very simple answer to this question, like 12:15. However, I have a newborn and our two preschoolers go to different schools, which have similar pick up times. So I have to bring my newborn to get the 2 year old from her school and the newborn and 2 year old to get the 4 year old from her school. It’s a little chaotic. 

I thought about my pick up juggling act for a few seconds and then replied, “I have no idea what time I need to leave to get the girls. I’ve been trying to figure that out for the past week! Yesterday, when I picked up my oldest, she said ‘Mommy, why do you always pick me up late now?’ So … Yeah, I will let ya know once I finally figure it out!”  She laughed. I laughed too. No reason to stress over it while you are sleep deprived and the house is a disaster. Everyone is just lucky that I can feed them at this point. 

Moral of the story – If you’re a parent of three young kids, it may take you a few weeks to figure out how to time everything so that you can pick your kids up on time. Things that need to go into your mathemagical equation include the following variables:

  • Nursing the baby (Baby’s gotta eat All. The. Time. Else suffer the consequence: Being in a car with a very vocal p*ssed off back seat passenger). 
  • Burping the baby 
  • Changing the baby’s diaper
  • Changing the baby’s clothes (If it’s wet, another outfit you get!)
  • Changing your clothes (Well, Junior just Niagra Falled on me so … new outfit with new undies it is!)
  • Remembering to make yourself presentable to outside society (Did I put on deodorant this morning?)
  • Putting the baby into his/her car seat (If baby is not already sleeping in said car seat. (S)he is your third child after all…)
  • Locating your keys/wallet/coat because you forgot where you placed them due to lack of sleep (Keys in refrigerator? Check!) or because your Mini Me’s played with them and relocated them on your behalf (Keys in laundry basket? Check!)
  • Figuring out the fastest route to school given fluctuating traffic conditions (Maybe if I take the surface streets here and then take the second most popular road, I can get there slightly faster…)
  • Getting your toddler or preschooler from the first pick up to cooperate so that you can get on time to your second pick up (Do I wait 7 minutes for my 2 year old to get into her car seat by herself or do I pick her up and do it for her and deal with a tantrum right before the next pick up?). 
  • Getting the baby and toddler out of the car to then pick up your oldest (Because naturally you cannot pick up the older child first – she has a real “class” with a strict schedule – No Early Pickups Allowed – even though that would make your life a million times easier since you’d be dragging the older kid to get the toddler instead of the other way around). 

In short, I’m still working on figuring out the algorithm to get to my kids’ schools on time. I’ll let you know when (if?) I ever find it!

Coffee with bagel

The (J)Oy! of Bagels

Eating clean. It’s been real, it’s been fun, and it’s been real fun. It’s also been adventurous. Recently, in my committed attempt to eat bagels that do not have additives (like derivatives of human hair in them – blah!), I decided to make my own bagels from scratch.

The idea came to me when I had stopped in my neighborhood bagel shop and saw that a single bagel cost a whopping $1.30! That meant that a dozen bagels would cost me well over a dozen dollars (even with the price break you usually get by buying a dozen of anything), and I had a hard time forking over so much money for something that was made with flour (cheap) and water (really cheap). But, there was no going back to the  store-bought, 12-for-$5 bulk bagels either. So in a flash of genius (or maybe sleep deprived delirium?), I decided I would cut out the middle man and make the bagels myself.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I love New York style bagels. There’s just something about their chewiness that makes them so much better than the lighter, airy bagels out there (sorry Montreal bagel lovers!). So I decided to try out a recipe for chewy, New York style bagels (which I found here).

Having baked bread before, I knew that I would need to allow ample time for the dough to rise (Read: This will be a multi-hour process). However, what I didn’t account for were the many steps involved in the bagel baking process, which also included shaping the bagels and boiling them.

Now don’t get me wrong here, boiling bagels takes like a whopping 5 minutes once you have the water going. That wasn’t too bad. But where the real added time comes in in cleaning up all the mess that comes from boiling bagels (where do you put a dozen wet bagels once you take them out of the pot?) and sprinkling on sesame seeds (“nature’s confetti”) … which makes a mess that is really <insert-adjective-of-choice> to clean up.

All that by itself would have been okay, but I had no idea how to then bake the bagels to get the flat bottom and nicely rounded top. Do you bake them upside down and then turn them over halfway or is it the other way around? Or, maybe you just leave them as is and hope they bake evenly? “Hmm…These are questions the neighborhood bagel baker who charges $1.30 per bagel would know the answers to…”

In any case, I made a few guesses and a big mess and ended up with deliciously chewy, albeit misshapen, bagels. I’ve never felt prouder eating an uglier piece of bread in my life.

At the end of my bagel-baking adventure, I had delicious, “clean” home-made bagels that cost me a couple bucks (and a lot of sweat equity) to produce. And more importantly, I held the neighborhood bagel baker (and his prices) in much higher esteem. Maybe $1.30 for a bagel ain’t so bad after all!

Shopping Clean: On Buying Real Food

In one of my previous posts, I shared with you my horror of learning about what I was actually putting onto my family’s plates: processed human hair. Gross!

Now that I have removed the offending “not-food” from my pantry, I have to ensure that when I shop, I shop clean and buy real food.

Now, I don’t know what your shopping routine is like, but mine is highly unpredictable, which can make it stressful at times. No, I’m not talking about impulse buys of ice-cream  at the grocery store (although I am definitely guilty of those!); I am talking about corralling preschoolers in a grocery store during the late afternoon when everyone’s energy levels are all over the place (Read: All I want is a nap) while I attempt to get through a grocery list quick enough to be able to have enough ingredients on hand to make something healthy and yummy for my family to eat. Some days this experience is amazing – my kids act like little angels, help me find items off my shopping list, take turns pushing the cart, and ask me to buy broccoli (for reals). And some days … well, let’s just say some very nice strangers come over to me to give me very kind words of encouragement (Thank you grocery store angels!).

In any case, I need some kind of quick and dirty way of figuring out whether an item is real food or just a poser, and I need to be able to figure it out while keeping preschoolers entertained and somewhere near my cart. This means I need to be able to evaluate a food in less than 15 seconds. To do that, I have developed a mental cheat sheet to help cut down on time. I’ve been working on this over the past few weeks and have found that over time, it has become easier and more automatic to choose foods that don’t have artificial preservatives, colors, additives, and flavors in them. Here are my tips in no particular order:

  1. Shop at places where it is easy to find clean food. I have found that I can drastically cut the amount of time I spend selecting food if I shop at places where clean, minimally processed food is abundant. For example, I have found that independent bakeries, natural foods stores, and farmer’s markets often (but not always!) have pre-made food that is fresh, made from real ingredients, and tastes really good.
  2. Restructure your grocery list so that the bulk of your food is unprocessed. For example, instead of buying a frozen chicken teriyaki dinner entree, buy chicken, fresh veggies (pre-cut if you want to spend extra to save on prep time), and a sauce (or make your own!). You’ll still have to read the ingredient label on the sauce, but at least you will know the chicken and veggies are fresh and unprocessed (plus you have more freedom over deciding which veggies and cuts of meat go into your food). Unprocessed foods that require little or no label reading include all the following:
    • Fresh fruits and veggies
    • Fresh cuts of meat
    • Dairy (milk and eggs).
    • Dried or milled foods (whole grains, dried fruits, beans, legumes)
  3. Read no more than 5-10 food labels during each grocery store trip. Yes, you will need to read labels to find out which foods are the real deal and which are posers. However, there is no reason to force yourself to read all of them in one trip. Decide which dishes you will “clean” ahead of time (Your favorite casserole? Stir fry? Pasta?) and then read labels for that type of food during that particular grocery store trip. The good news is that once you have found a clean substitute, you won’t need to read the labels again. The new brand will become your “go-to” brand (and who knows, it might taste better too!).
  4. Spend less than 15 seconds looking at a label. I don’t read food labels, I scan them looking for problematic ingredients. Here are some tricks I have to speed up reading labels:
    • Are there any ingredients I cannot visualize? …coconut milk…carrageenan… (“WTF does carrageenan look like?). Stop. Food goes back on the shelf.
    • Are there any ingredients my toddler cannot pronounce? …milk…calcium propionate…(“Pro-PIE-on-ate? PRO-pee-on-ate?”) All I know is I am not eating it.
    • Are there any acronyms in the food list? …chicken … PDMS… (“Is that like PMS???”) Doesn’t sound like a food. Out it goes!
    • Are there too many ingredients in this label for what it is? I know from cooking that pasta sauce has a handful of ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic/onions, and spices. If the label of the basic pasta sauce I am looking at has 2-3 times as many ingredients, it goes back on the shelf.
    • Is sugar one of the top 3 ingredients? I love sugar, but sugar should not be the star when it comes to my plate. For much of human history, refined sugar was not used in food plus it’s consumption been linked to health problems. Do yourself a favor and avoid foods that have sugar towards the top of the ingredient list (which means it makes up the bulk of what you are eating). My one exception: Treats or condiments that are supposed to be sugary (like cookies or jams).
    • If 15 seconds have passed and I am still reading the ingredients label, the food goes back on the shelf.
  5. Avoid Poser Foods. Want to drink milk that isn’t from a cow or goat? Want to eat cheese that is low (or no) fat or meat that isn’t from animals? Poser foods like these often have additives in them to make them have the consistency, aroma, or appearance of whatever real food they are imitating but with a lot less nutritional substance. If you really want the taste and texture of milk without buying the real thing, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time reading the labels of competing brands. Or spend that time googling a DIY recipe for it. Your homemade version might taste better than the store-bought one (or it might not), but at least you will know what went in it (and possibly have a funny story to tell about your epic cooking failure if your version doesn’t turn out so well).
  6. Buy items that don’t have packaging. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meats, beans, etc. are exactly what they are and don’t come in packages. In addition to knowing you are buying a real whole food, you will also save time not having to read labels or un-package food. Plus, you can feel good knowing that you are reducing your waste by purchasing food that doesn’t have any packaging that needs to be recycled or left in a landfill to rot over the next several decades.

Cleaning Pantry

Hello again! It’s been a while since I last posted. Due to the California deluge, many people have been indoors most of the time, which has resulted in everyone in my family taking turns getting sick multiple times (including yours truly). I guess we are just really good at sharing. Maybe I should cut back on the “sharing is good” lecture I give my kids whenever there is a quarrel or just add in a caveat…hmm…

In any case, I am still scarred from eating hairy bagels and have been working on cleaning my pantry. This task has been surprisingly easy and difficult simultaneously. It’s been easy in that now I read the list of ingredients on everything that comes in a box, bag, jar, or can. If there is an ingredient on the list that I can’t picture in my mind (WTF is ‘palm stearin‘???), then out it goes.

Reading ingredient labels is simple and surprisingly quick since once you rule out an item, you never have to re-read the label again. However, I have found that once I determine a food is on the no-go list, I am faced with an ethical dilemma:

Is it better to eat this bag of not-food-posing-as-food (shudder) or to throw it out (shudder)?

While standing in my kitchen deciding the fate of the box of faux-food that is in my hands, I am instantly transported back to family dinners decades ago. There I am sitting at the table staring at the overcooked, slimy spinach on my plate, and hearing my father lecture me about world hunger: “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.” Silent and blinking, I am staring down at the shiny, smelly green mess on my plate wondering why anyone would want to eat it, while also wondering if there were a way to somehow invite this figurative person over for dinner so they could finish the food on my plate…

And we are back. It’s 2017, and here I am holding the not-food instant soup mix in my hand. It’s an open container, which means I cannot send it to my local food bank. And, I am hearing my father’s voice in my head “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.“… I decide to punt and put the box back into the pantry for now.

I tell my husband, who is a full-on pragmatist, about my dilemma and he suggests we eat through whatever we already have and then stop buying it. We’ve eaten it before so why not just finish it out? Makes complete sense. However, once you know something, it is very hard to un-know it. So now when I see the marked boxes, cans, and jars of not-food, I can’t actually bring myself to eat them. So I try to punt again – I’ll just let (make?) my preschoolers eat the “berry” cereal they love that has additives in it to make the berries look nice and red. However, guilt sets in as I watch them eating it. Little kids can get really sick from things that minimally affect adults (think viruses, contaminants, and so on), so why am letting them shove additives and not-really-healthy (or fruity) food into their faces when I can just find a substitute?

After a few guilt-inducing meals, I decide to chuck all opened not-food “food” packages with one important caveat: If my pragmatic husband will willingly prepare and eat the food himself until it’s completely gone, then it gets to stay.

I go through my pantry and put all the not-food into the compost and all of its packaging into the recycling. Guilt assuaged; pantry cleaned. Done and done.

 

Taking the Leap: Saying “No” to Hairy Bagels

I was buying a bag of freshly baked bagels from a store the other day when I decided to flip over the package and read the ingredients. I had recently read some of Michael Pollan’s books on “real food” verses “processed food” and was pretty confident that these freshly baked bagels were fine. That is until I noticed that the bagels in the bag in my hand seemed unusually soft and pliable today. Maybe I just happened to pick them up right after they were baked? Upon reading the ingredients, I found several I didn’t recognize. Ahh, it’s fine, I told myself. These are probably just fancy names for baking soda or something.

Well, the curiosity hung on and after I had made myself and my family a few delicious toasty bagels at home, I decided to play a form of Russian Roulette and randomly google one of the mysterious ingredients; L-Cysteine was the winner.

I figured it would be pretty boring since I assumed that it was some kind of amino acid (trying to remember biology from high school). Turned out I was right. Except I found out something highly disturbing that I wasn’t expecting: the source of this additive could be duck feathers or … human hair! Given that this amino acid is most abundant in human hair (which means it is also probably the cheapest way of manufacturing it) and that human hair is very inexpensive to procure in Asia, one can safely presume that I had been happily scarfing down hair clippings from the other side of the world for several weeks. BLAAAARRGH! Fast forward to me throwing out the rest of my bagel and feeling like I had just eaten a hairball – actually many hairballs; who knows, maybe I had done the equivalent of licking a salon floor post hair cut. I texted my sister, who is a medical school student, to inform her of my horrifying discovery, who reassured me it wasn’t human hair at that point and “That [it is] like saying eating veggies is the same as eating sh*t.” Thanks, Sis, for making me feel so much better.

To make matters worse, I am pregnant, so this whole I-think-I-am-eating-bagels-but-really-I-am-eating-Chinese-hair-clippings episode really threw me for a loop; what was I supposed to eat if freshly baked, FDA approved store bagels had completely bizarre, non-food ingredients in them? Did anyone know what effect (if any) these “approved” additives and preservatives had on unborn children?

I decided I wouldn’t wait for science to determine whether this was the new margarine or not (“Hey this is totally fine, just eat it. Oops, causes heart disease. My bad. Guess you should have just downed the butter. Oh well!”). I decided to quit processed food cold turkey.

And so I am. It just so happens that this coincides with New Years, which makes me hesitate to say “This year, I am opting out of all non-food ‘food'” mostly because I don’t like New Years Resolutions (so much pressure, so little follow through). But, this time I decided to interpret this as a nice coincidence that meant that I had a whole year of clean, non-hairy eating in front of me. That and learning how to cook and substitute out boxed goods.

So join me on my quest to nix the packaged and boxed items while attempting to juggle work, family, and home (possibly in that order).

PS – Don’t believe me on the human hair because it is just so disgusting? Check it out (along with other horrifying additive sources) here.

 

 

How to Save $200 on a Pair of Jeans

I had a major shopping victory this week: I paid $10 for a pair of designer jeans. Really.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am the type of gal who is very particular when it comes to jeans. I like quality. I like cut. I like style. Pre-kids, I could spend a whole day trying on clothes and nixing them for one reason or another until I found “the one” (you know what I am talking about), at which point I would take out my shiny piece of plastic and charge it. Not so any more!

Now, since I am so particular when it comes to quality and since I live on planet Earth and have to stick to a budget, I had to come up with a new way to get high fashion clothing at low fashion prices. Here is how I updated my shopping strategy to save $200 on a pair of designer jeans:

  • Do your homework. Would you show up for an exam without studying and expect to get an “A”? Umm no. That kind of I’ll-just-show-up-unprepared scenario is the stuff nightmares are made of. You know, the kind where you walk into Mrs. So-And-So’s class and find out you have an exam you weren’t prepared for then wake up in a cold sweat? Yeah, not so much fun. Well, the same kind of prepared attitude needs to apply to shopping. Before you purchase anything, you need to know what you want, what the going rate is, and what you are willing and able to pay for it. This means you will need to put in a little bit of time initially doing some shopping research. In my case, I looked for my jeans at a handful of different stores: Nordstrom’s Rack, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc. so I could know what size, cut, color, and price I could expect. Note that you don’t need to comparison shop at every store. Just pick 3-5 stores you think might carry the designer brand you want at a decent price and check them out.
  • Comparison shop online. Now that you know what you can expect to pay for your desired purchase in person, check out three stores online to see if you can find the jeans (or whatever it is  you are in love with) at a better price. Why not just start online? Well, because I have found that often you will get better prices in a store when they have a sale or move the clearance for that season. Some stores try to lure you in to purchase their produces by tempting you with amazing prices on some (but not all!) of the products they sell. And sometimes online giganta retailers just totally undercut the market. But you won’t know until you compare.
  • Wait for Your Prey. Have you ever noticed how a cat will track its prey long before it actually pounces? It will just sit there licking its lips while it patiently tracks the poor mouse before finally pouncing. By waiting, the cat can put itself in a position to succeed before it jumps. Same goes for shopping. You see your prey (the designer jeans), you watch as the item moves through the season, you track the online sales, you compare the coupons that come to your inbox, and you wait patiently for the price to get within range of your budget before you leap for the item. Maybe you wait for the end of season clearance to score big. Maybe you wait for the sale on the end of season clearance. Often, the longer you wait, the lower the price will go (to a point of course).
  • Walk Away When Needed.  If you want to have control over your money (rather than your money having control over you), you need to be able to walk away from the purchase if it isn’t in line with what you can afford. The same principle applies when shopping online sales or auctions. If you find yourself saying things like “Oh, but these are PERFECT. I will be SO SAD if I don’t buy them,” then run to the nearest restroom, splash some cold water on your face, stare at yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself to get a grip by saying “I was perfectly happy before I saw <insert name of item here>, and I will be perfectly happy later if I don’t have it. I will live to shop another day.” Then go reward yourself (pat on the back, a cookie, whatever) for sticking to your budget. Good for you!
  • Step 5: Embrace De-Appreciation. We see shiny new things and think “Wow, my life will be so much better once I get a new pair of these amazing designer jeans.” Then 6 months or a year later, we may look at the same item and not really care nearly as much. Well, you can score big off of other’s lack of appreciation for the things they own. Maybe someone bought the jeans for $198 but now they are over them and the jeans are just sucking up space in their closet. Buy them like new for $10 on eBay or at a consignment shop or garage sale. Then you’ll save your wallet ($200) and the planet (no need to manufacture new jeans for you if someone has a pair they don’t want).

Follow these steps and you can score big on a small budget. I bought like-new gently used Hudson jeans that were hemmed (win!) on eBay for $10. If I had bought them in a store, paid 10% sales tax, and had them hemmed, I would have spent $198 x 1.10 + $10 = $227.80. Being patient pays off ($217.80 in this case)!

 

 

 

 

 

How To Throw Your Money Away – Almost Literally

Open your wallet and take out three dollars. Now, go to a public trashcan (where you won’t be tempted to dig it out). Look into the trashcan; inhale the sweet scent of rotting food, receipts, and stale beer. Stare at the trash – doesn’t it look so pretty? Now hold your fist with the three dollars in it over the trashcan, and let go. Can you do it? I bet you can’t (or if you can, you don’t want to).

When you purchase one-time use, disposable products, you are literally throwing your money into the trashcan (and generating a lot more waste in the process). In terms of energy and waste, it might even be better for the environment to just throw your money directly into the trashcan than to purchase plastic knives, which will remain a plastic fork albeit buried in dirt for hundreds or even thousands of years. To put this into perspective, it means that we could dig up plastic forks from the Civil War (if they had used them bask then) today. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave?

To illustrate just how much money we are throwing into that dirty, smelly public trashcan, I went to Target to get some sample prices on disposable items. Here is what one dinner party for 8 would cost you:

  • $1.99 for a set of plastic forks and spoons for 8 people
  • $1.59 for “cute” paper plates for 8 people (16 total, 1 for the main meal and 1 for dessert)
  • $0.38 for 8 plastic cups
  • $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth

Total Amount of Money Thrown Away = $3.96

Now, if you happen to make a special trip to the store to purchase said disposable goods, you will need to add an additional $5.10 into your trashcan:

6.8 miles – Average distance from your home to the grocery store round-trip x $0.75 per mile (average cost to drive a car per mile)

Tack on another $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth and you’re looking at $10.85 you just threw into the trash. And we didn’t even include sales tax.

Now, if you decided to use real plates and utensils, you could load an entire dishwasher with them, use 4-6 gallons of water (on average) to wash them at $0.02 per gallon, 1.8 kw of electricity (average energy use for one load) at an US average of $0.13 an hour. You could even use a fancy dishwasher detergent pod ($0.19) and you end up spending 50 to 53 CENTS to provide utensils and plates for your dinner party. Of course you will need to factor in the cost of items like plates and a dishwasher (over time), but if you already own these (as most of us do), then why opt to waste money and resources and buy disposable when you can put that money to more enjoyable uses, like getting better food for the party or saving for a Hawaiian vacation (we can dream big here)?

So next time you reach for that disposable plate, ask your self, “Self, do we want to throw this money into the trash or do we want to sip Mai Tais by the beach?” I think you’ll know the answer.

How to Institute a Veggie Loving Household: Step One – Examine Yourself

Neither my husband nor I started out loving veggies. Years ago, words like “kale” or “brussels sprouts” would send shivers down our spines. That has changed. Now we love roasted brussels sprouts and frequently add kale to our soups and smoothies. And our young kids love eating them too (cue birdsong and waterfall sound effects). So, how did we get here?

The first thing we did was have an honest look into our veggie eating (or not eating as it were) habits. Those discussions really got us started down the path of eating well, and I think the questions we asked ourselves can be of use to you as well. So, Step One is to examine your and your partner’s (if you have one) attitudes towards vegetables. Here are a few questions to get your discussion started:

  1. To maintain a balanced diet, what percentage of your breakfast/lunch/dinner plate should be filled with fruits and veggies? (Answer is below)
  2. How much of your plate is usually filled with fruits and veggies (10%? 33%?)? Be honest here.
  3. Why do you want to eat more veggies?
  4. Forget your kids. What is stopping you from eating more of your veggies?

Before we delve into our tips and tricks, let’s examine how much of a plant-based diet we should have. According to the latest recommended dietary guidelines for Americans, half – yes, half! – of your plate should be occupied by fruits and vegetables. No, this is not some kind of state-mandated punishment. This is the amount of vegetables needed to maintain a healthy (read not dying from heart disease, cancer, etc.) lifestyle and a hot bod (most veggies and fruits are low in calories and high in nutrients). And let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to be the hottest and healthiest version of themselves?

Alright, now that we know why eating our veggies is crucial for our well-being and how much we should be eating, look at your answer to Question #2. Did you answer 50%? If you didn’t, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, get ready to start eating more veggies more consistently and look for opportunities to add them (more on this in a future post).

Now that we have come to terms with what we are eating verses what we should be eating, let’s focusing on what can motivate you to eat more veggiesDo you want to fit into your pre-baby jeans? Do you want to age gracefully (and look good while you’re doing it)? Do you want to get off the sugar-and-caffeine rollercoaster (veggies can help stabilize your blood sugar)? Find your reason and write it on a sticky note somewhere where you can see it when you need a reminder (maybe inside the cupboard or the fridge)? Then, focus on your goal and remember that every piece of spinach, asparagus, and okra will help get you closer to your goal. Slip ups happen. That’s okay. What matters is that you keep on focusing on your goal.

Now, let’s take a look at your answer to Question #4 above: What is preventing you from eating more of your veggies? Is it time? Money? Distaste for all things kale? Really sit down and figure out what is stopping you from eating your fruits and veggies on a daily basis. Then, come up with a way to overcome it (Buy pre-washed veggies? Buy on-sale veggies? Find a new way to cook kale?). By doing so, you’ll get yourself to eat more veggies. And believe it or not, your family will follow eventually.

Once you get yourself on the fruit and veggie wagon, you will feel better about yourself and you’ll be a more convincing salesperson to your anyone nearby (“Mmmm…fennel! I love this!). And you might just end up loving veggies in the process too.