Wasteless Family #3 Food

Wasteless Family #3 Food

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Hello again! Today I wanted to talk about what I think is the trickiest part of sustainable family life: food. But first, a depressing game:

Please imagine that you’re standing in the supermarket, looking at a pile of lovely avocados. How many of the following thoughts do you have?

Ooh avocados! I could make fresh guacamole…

Huh. You know the last six times you bought avocados to make guacamole they just went manky, right? What makes you think you’ll find time for it this week?

I will! I’ll definitely, definitely make guacamole this time! But hang on a minute… these avocados are from Colombia, that’s a pretty big carbon footprint…

Yeah but if I raise the kids on a diet of swede and potatoes they’ll never grow up to be adventurous eaters! How are they going to develop a healthy relationship with food if they can’t try ingredients from different cultures? What if they turn into adults who only eat Quavers or pickled eggs or something?!

Huh. I never tried an avocado until I was like 27. And I turned out ok. Plus, you do know we grow stuff other than swede and potatoes in Britain, right?

Can children survive on a diet of raisins and cereal? I’m sure I read somewhere that they’re supposed to eat vegetables. I’m letting them down by not feeding them these nutritious avocados.

Yes but I don’t want to buy avocados and waste them again. Maybe I should buy the ready made guacamole in the pot…

But that pot is made of plastic!

Yeah but these avocados are wrapped in plastic and sitting in a polystyrene tray!

What’s worse, a clear plastic pot or this horrible black foam stuff? I could reuse the pot…

What if I make the guacamole and they just refuse to eat it? That’s about 80% likely.

Most of it’s going to end up on the floor anyway…

…Maybe I’ll just buy a swede.

Repeat for every item in the shop.

If you make a habit of thinking about the impact of your food choices then you probably have a lot of these thoughts regardless of whether you’re responsible for feeding kids, but chucking a couple of children (especially little ones or picky ones) into the equation makes everything that much more complicated. You’ve got less time than ever for meal planning, careful shopping and cooking from scratch. They insist on being fed, they often don’t want to eat the stuff you want to cook, they inadvertently waste a bunch of food in the process of learning to eat like humans, and they’re obsessed – obsessed – with plastic-wrapped snacks. So what do you do? This is yet another area where I am still learning, sometimes painfully, what does and doesn’t work when it comes to reducing waste on the rollercoaster ride of feeding a small child. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Avoid buying new

As we covered in the baby gear post, loads of feeding stuff can be picked up second hand. As long as you give them a good clean and sterilise them carefully then breast pumps and bottles are all safe to use preloved. Second hand high chairs, especially those ubiquitous white IKEA ones, are very easy to find cheaply – in fact I’d recommend the IKEA one as it doesn’t have any fabric to stain or cracks to get filled with permanent grot, and it’s really easy to clean. Wooden highchairs are pretty easy to find second hand and, if they’re a bit well-loved, they can always be sanded down and refinished. There are a few brands, like the Stokke Tripp Trapp, that are designed to adapt as a child grows, making them last from birth to teenage years. They’re bum-clenchingly expensive but keep an eye out for second hand ones.

Alternatives to plastic

If you’re bottle feeding then consider choosing glass bottles, they’re getting easier and easier to find: Avent, Tommee Tipee, NUK, Mam and a bunch of other big brands now make them so it’s easy to find them to fit your prefered teats. If the thought of using glass around a baby sounds iffy to then then don’t worry, they are very strong toughened glass and can take some rough handling.

If you’re breastfeeding then opt for washable bamboo breast pads over disposable and work out a plan for milk storage; small glass or stainless steel containers work great, just remember not to fill them to the very top. You could also freeze milk in lidded silicone ice cube moulds then pop out the frozen cubes and store them in the freezer in larger tupperwares to easily defrost just the amount you need.

Once your baby has moved onto person food then there are lots of alternatives to plastic baby bowls, plates, and cutlery:

Stainless steel. You can pick up thali dishes (with the compartments, not the tray and bowls) quite cheaply and I’ve even seen mini kids ones.

Bamboo: Kids dinner sets, including cutlery, made of bamboo are very easy to find. They look and feel really lovely  – the only downside is that they can be quite brittle and can’t withstand a baby lobbing them on the floor too many times. I’ve found that the ones that look like wood are sturdier than the ones that look more like plastic.

Enamel. Harder to find but very long wearing.

China. My daughter (just turned 3) is starting to get a bit miffed that she has to use the same tableware as the baby so I’m going to let her pick out a small china bowl and plate at the charity shop as practice ‘grown up’ crockery.  

You can also find stainless steel and glass sippy cups – Nuby make a range. Another option are silicone lids that snap over your own beakers or glasses to turn them into sippy cups and limit spills – you can get them with a spout or a hole for a (stainless steel) straw.

One thing I’ve struggled to find are bibs: my son approaches every mealtime as an opportunity for creative self expression; if spaghetti isn’t coating every surface and forced into every crevice of his fat little neck then he’s not happy so a waterproof, wipe clean cover-all bib is a huge help. If anyone has a recommendation for a plastic free version I’d be really happy to hear it! In the meantime I use my IKEA ones until they are ready to fall apart or, in warm weather, I strip my son down to his nappy, stand well back, and enjoy the sight of a fat, semi-naked baby wallowing happily in his dinner.

Baby led weaning vs purees/ spoon feeding

I fell into baby led weaning through pure laziness; I do not have the patience to cook and blend baby food so I just gave both of my kids whatever we were having, minus the salt or anything too spicy, and chopped or squished appropriately to minimise the risk of choking. You pop their food straight down in front of them and let them explore and taste at their own pace. Boom, baby led weaning! No special equipment needed, especially if you’re comfortable putting their food straight onto the table or their highchair tray.

From a waste reduction perspective baby led weaning is pretty positive: you don’t need a blender and you’re not buying loads of pouches, tubs and jars to throw away. However, it is messy at first and it can be a bit nerve wracking watching your baby navigate chunks of food. There are also times when some baby convenience food can be a lifesaver (mainly if you’re ordering a pizza and don’t want to share). If you’re making your own baby food to freeze then a second-hand stainless steel mouli is a brilliant bit of kit – it’s a rotary grater that lets you puree or mash stuff quickly by hand.

Out and about

If you’re into baby led weaning then feeding a baby on the move becomes slightly easier as you can often give them a little of what you’re having. This isn’t always possible, however, so some small glass or stainless steel tubs for food and snacks are invaluable. Green City Becca very kindly gave me a tiffin tin which is perfect as we can, for example, put veggies in one layer, dip in another, and bread in the third. For purees you can find reusable baby food pouches, refillable from a zip in the base of the pouch. Swap out sandwich bags for reusable snack pouches or paper bags – I quite like the If You Care paper snack bags as they can be used a bunch of times (as long as you didn’t put anything too greasy in them) and they can go in the compost (or be used to light a fire) when they’re done.

After scrabbling around in my kitchen in a panic every time we left the house I finally put together little kit that goes out with us every time there’s a possibility we’ll be eating while we’re out. It’s a large zipped pouch containing:

A handful of washable baby wipes (either damp in a tupperware or with a bottle of water)

A set of reusable toddler cutlery

A set of reusable adult cutlery (bamboo so it’s not heavy and clinking around in my bag)

A couple of cloth napkins

A couple of stainless steel straw

A small bowl

Bibs

A wet bag (or just an old carrier bag) for dirty cloths, bibs, and cutlery.

A kid-friendly water bottle

How about snacks? Shop bought baby and toddler snacks can be a lifesaver, something to grab out of the cupboard on the way out of the house. The downside is that most of them are in plastic packaging; even cardboard boxes of raisins are often sitting in a plastic tray or wrapped in plastic. Bear brand snacks come in recyclable paper packaging but I struggled to think of any others that do. Wherever possible I make my own kid snacks, here are a few ideas:

Trail mix – the lowest possible effort toddler snack! Mix whatever (age, development, and allergy appropriate) seeds, nuts, crackers or dried fruit you like in a jar and chuck a couple of handfuls into a snack pot or bag as you go out of the door.

Dehydrated everything. My parents bought me a dehydrator for Christmas a couple of years ago and IT HAS TAKEN OVER MY LIFE. For packaging free toddler snacks it is amazing – banana chips, apple crisps, vegetable crisps and kiwi ‘gummies’ are all as easy as chopping up the fruit or veg and leaving them in there overnight. Homemade fruit leather, crackers, or yoghurt drops (not as weird as they sound) are slightly more involved but still very easy.

Energy balls. If you have a food processor or mini chopper these are the kind of lazy chuck-everything-in-and-whizz recipe that I love. You can tweak them to your kids taste’s and they freeze well so it’s easy to pull out a few at a time for a day out. Or squash them into ‘cookies’ and dehydrate them.

Mini ice lollies. Ok, not a good travelling snack but a handy thing to have in the freezer. Mini silicone lolly moulds are a perfect size for babies and lollies are an easy way to use up small amount of yoghurt, and soft fruit. Chocolate avocado ones are pretty good too.

Baby energy bars. There are a million recipes online for baked baby finger foods (I like this one) – usually a mix of oats, banana, maybe peanut butter and some fruit –  baked until you’ve got a kind of rubbery flapjack (mmm…) and then cut into little slices. You can freeze them then pull out a couple as you’re leaving the house, they’ll be ready to eat by lunch time.

Reuse it, pass it on.

If your gear is in good condition then sell it, give it to friends or donate it. If it’s a bit old, knackered or broken then offer it up anyway, you never know who might need a spare high chair tray, a replacement pump part, or a set of old tableware for a roleplay corner; I heard recently of someone who donated all her scratched up old baby bottles to a wildlife sanctuary for feeding tiny orphaned animals. Post your stuff up on your local Facebook parents group, you never know.

Formula tins can be a big source of waste but, luckily, they’re awesomely useful, especially as they come with lids. If the brand you use can’t be accepted in your local recycling then put those suckers to use – have a peek on Pinterest for some useful (and genuinely not-ugly) ideas.

Finally, baby food pouches can be recycled through the EllaCycle scheme, set up by Ella’s kitchen. Schools, nurserys, and community centres can sign up to be collection points for free and you just drop your pouches off. Here in Cardiff we have a grand total of… one collection point (at Y Meithrinfa Pelican) but you can ask your centre or nursery to sign up for the scheme.

In the next and final post I want to talk about tackling ‘hidden’ plastics – all the bits of crap and tat that make it into our homes and your life without us ever noticing. Spooky.

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