It’s not easy being a parent in today's hectic world: with both parents often working, little ones on demanding schedules and a constant stream of contradictory information about what you should or shouldn’t do to feed, educate or entertain your children, it’s very easy to be tempted to block it all out and take little shortcuts.
All for good reason: we are exhausted. I know I am. And so single-use plastic, quick, synthetic, easy (and often stylish, actually) kids fashion and cleaning products that seemingly don’t require you to brush, scrub or iron seem like life-savers. Except that they’re not: they’re planet wreckers.
Now, this isn’t a judgemental blog, because everyone’s life is challenging enough, and Ludovic and I are far from perfect eco-citizens ourselves. But we do inform ourselves and we do try, and I thought it made sense to take you along on our green parenting journey and share what we have found to work. With a little bit of research, we were able to find eco-alternatives to quite a lot of the products we had just grown into the habit of using without questioning, without turning our lives into a logistical nightmare.
My first tip is - don’t try to tackle everything all at once. Do what you can, right now - because doing something is already amazing, and the idea is not to freeze and do nothing because it is just too much and so many people elsewhere in the world do not care anyway. When it comes to our planet, every little does help. So change your habits, change your mindset: one little thing at a time.
The second thing I would suggest if you are thinking about embarking on a green parenting journey is to take your children along with you...- you might find that they end up keeping you on your toes! Our two sons, like most children, are real sponges: they absorb everything they hear and see. They question things, they question us. I believe that if we, as parents, have an understanding of, and respect for the natural world, we can set the right example and our children will naturally follow in our footsteps. And possibly soon become the teachers...
Since there is so much to say about this topic which is - you’ll have guessed - very close to my heart, we have turned this into a series. Every Friday throughout October, we will release a new ‘chapter’ where you will be able to read about everything from food waste to green cleaning to why you should limit the use of wet wipes. I’ve really tried to include all of my best tips to make the going-green process all a bit easier, even for the busiest of parents. So here we go! Part 1 of our Green Parenting Guide:
Be Conscious About Food Waste
The “finish your plate!” battle never had more meaning than in a world where you can actually explain to your children that growing food requires a LOT of water and energy - and so we should try as best we can to eat up, and not waste, because it helps the whole planet! We, as parents, also have a responsibility to try our best not to waste what we already have in the fridge. The best way to do this is to plan your meals and stick to a shopping list you know more or less works to optimise what is in your fridge on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Planning will not only help you reduce food waste, but it will also make it easier to keep the whole family healthy as it will prevent you from making impulsive decisions in the food store! (Last perk: way more hassle-free to know what you are going to cook when 6 pm looms and your little ones are tired and hungry...).
The second thing to start looking into is reconnecting with the long-lost art of using your leftovers. A little slow-cooked onion, some herbs, a bit of white wine perhaps - and something that wasn’t looking too enticing can all of a sudden look much more promising on your plate again. Lastly, if you ever find that you have extra food in the fridge that you know for sure you will not eat, take it to friends or family! or download OLIO, the revolutionary food sharing app that allows you to share food with your nearby neighbours. If you want to know more about food waste, read our interview with the inspiring founder of OLIO: Tessa Clarke.
Reduce Your Meat Consumption
We all know that meat overproduction and overconsumption is really, really bad for the environment. We have all heard that we ought to reduce our meat consumption, (or even cut it out entirely) by switching to a diet that is as plant-based as possible. How vegan are we talking about though? There’s a lot of debate in our company (and the wider world) about that, especially when it comes to children and their nutritional needs as they grow. I am not a nutrition expert and would never advise one way or the other, but no one will disagree that getting your little ones to eat more vegetables is a good thing to do. In fact, it is the right thing for the whole family.
My take on all this for our family? Use your usual recipes - but change a small portion of it to start with to make it more plant-based. Don’t eat meat or use cow’s milk when you really don’t have to, or when you’re not too sure where it comes from. You can make mashed potatoes or hot chocolate with ⅔ oats milk and ⅓ cow’s milk if you really like the taste of that (or perhaps start with ⅓ oats milk, and increase progressively), and I can guarantee that your kids are very unlikely to tell the difference. Make your Spaghetti Bolognese with lentils, or you can try a Pea and Spinach Pasta instead, ready within 10 minutes? If you don’t usually eat a lot of veggies and are in fact looking for inspiration, Deliciously Ella needs no introduction, for she is the Queen of making veggies taste good. She has definitely been my go-to to help my family reduce our meat consumption and up the ante on our love for vegetables. With her tasty and nutritious recipes, eating your veggies will most definitely not be the hardest challenge of them all - download her app for more of the green, good stuff!
Give a Lesson in Farm-to-Table
Teach your children the value of food. That is really important. Tell them where it comes from, how hard and energy-intensive it is to grow it, and why having varied, nutritious things for dinner is such a privilege in a world where that is far from available for all - maybe take one day per week where you cook dinner together? And take them on a farm trip if you can, or suggest one to their school if they aren’t already planning one. According to a survey by the British Nutrition Foundation, more than one in ten children aged 8-11 believe that pasta comes from an animal, which confirms that we are getting more and more disconnected from what we eat and drink on a daily basis. We need to give children that connection back and make mealtimes count. Spending more time cooking and eating has also been shown to have plenty of other benefits - from reconnecting the family and improving communication, to helping your children develop good and long-lasting habits when it comes to their relationship with food.
Find Plastic-free Alternatives
Studies abound (read an interesting one here from the Biodesign Institute of Arizona) about how many toxic chemicals leak out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Yuk, right? Plus I do not need to go into how much plastic is one of our planet's environmental plagues. So ditch the plastic! And explore the world of bamboo tableware for your little ones. It works just as well, it’s safe, does not break easily, is dish-washer washable and it's eco-friendly. Scandiborn is a good place to start if you’re looking to renew your range. Secondly (this one is trickier I realise, but can be done): say no to plastic bottles, and yes to glass bottles. For infants, I’ve used NUK and MAM glass baby bottles in the past. For bigger children, BKR makes a great option as their glass bottles come with a silicone cover to avoid breakage. Third, forget the cling film! Reusable beeswax wraps such as those super cute ones from The Beeswax Wrap Company are made by infusing pieces of cotton with a mixture of food-grade beeswax, pine rosin and oil, usually jojoba or coconut. The waxy coating makes the cloth waterproof, but breathable - and they stick to the top of your (glass) tupperware, enabling you to keep those leftovers for later use!
Food is such an important topic to tackle - both as we guide our children to develop the healthiest habits, and in our fight to minimise the impact we all have on the planet. The kitchen is where we cook, eat, talk about our days and socialise - and so I hope you got some inspiration to green it up a bit. I’ve added a sustainable parenting cheat sheet below, with a quick list of the sustainable products I mentioned in this blog post.
Sustainable Parenting Essentials: