Posts in kids
5 ways to make less waste when buying school supplies

Just like that, summer is almost over and “back to school” time is upon us. Well, in Colorado, at least. With heading back to school comes supply shopping. I have to be honest, I LOVED shopping for my school supplies as a kid. Picking out the perfect new notebook and a fun new set of pencils. Getting it all organized. But, still being honest, school supplies that are made of natural materials that do not end up in the landfill are infinitely more beautiful and exciting, in my opinion.

Stop for just a second and think about how many schoolchildren there are across the country. Across the world. And how many of them are buying a pack of Crayola plastic markers for school. And plastic glue sticks. And plastic folders. And plastic binders. And plastic plastic plastic. Where’s it all going to go when they’re done with it or it break? Ok, enough thinking about that, it’s depressing.

In an effort to “green up” your school supplies, here are my tips:

one // Use what you have. Scour your house for leftover paper from last year. Tear pages out of a half-used notebook and send it to school with your kid (no teacher is going to count the number of pages!). Collect some slightly used crayons to make a full set. Take the free folder you got from a work event and put a sticker on it. Don’t buy supplies unless you truly don’t have them.

two // Look for supplies at secondhand stores. I often find paper, pens, pencils, tape, binders, markers and more at Goodwill and other thrift stores. I’m not sure why they’re there or why they didn’t get used, but someone needs to use them up! It’s always better to buy used than to buy “eco-friendly.”

three // Ask around. I posted on a FB group that I was looking for 1” white binders with clear inserts on the front. Turns out someone works in a courthouse where lawyers leave tons of binders lying around after hearings. So I’m going to go “save” two binders and my daughter will be all set for 2nd grade! You never know unless you try.

four // Work together with classmates and friends! Maybe arrange a school supply swap? Or buy things in bulk quantities and split them up amongst the class. Often things are sold in sets that might be more than you need.

five // When all else fails, buy responsibly. The sustainable goods market is taking off, and it’s not as hard as it used to be to find non-plastic materials that are okay for the earth.

Check out these sites:

  • Wisdom Supply Co. - They have almost everything! markers, crayons, notebooks, folders, pencils, dry erase markers…be sure to read their descriptions of products if you have questions. Very helpful. They also have a fantastic document that shows how to swap their products for the more “traditional” ones you might see on your kid’s supply list.

  • Package Free Shop - Binders, notebooks, pencils, and crayons. Good place to shop if you also need some household items.

  • The Ultimate Green Store - Good selection of pencils, markers, and paper products. Other products too, such as backpacks and household items.

  • Onyx and Green - (Available on Amazon) Made mostly of recycled and natural material. Good middle-ground products.

What do you think? Will you give any of these products a go? Or just buy the traditional ones? Does Crayola pay schools/teachers a dividend or something?

Happy back to school, everyone! Now, if someone could just tell me what to do about the two plastic containers of Clorox wipes I’m supposed to buy…

finding nature in (or near) the denver metro

As I mentioned recently on my Instagram, my goal for the summer is to try to get the kids outside for at least 3 hours a day. Some of this will be swim lessons and other planned activities, but I’ve recently been reminded of the importance of unstructured outdoor play. I grew up doing this, on a large lot of land in northern New York, as I’m sure many people my age did. I’d spend hours playing in mud and water and setting up forts amongst the trees. But in recent years, there’s been a shift towards spending more time indoors with increase supervision. I’ve been reading “There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather” by Linda Åkeson McGurk and she has me completely convinced of the benefits of freely playing outdoors.

We moved a couple years ago to a house with a larger backyard. We try to get the kids outside as much as possible. But lately I’ve been thinking about finding more “real” nature for them to explore. More trails and streams and mud. I reached out to some of my parent networks on Facebook, and received tons of great suggestions. I’m compiling them all here for my own purposes, and perhaps for your reference as well. I haven’t been to even half of these spots, so do let me know in the comments if you have any feedback on any of the suggestions.

Where to find nature experiences within the Denver metro area, divided by region.
Spots closest to Denver are listed first. —

NORTH

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge // 6550 Gateway Road, Commerce City, CO 80022
There’s a driving loop for viewing wildlife, but several short walking trails as well.

Broomfield Bike Park // Zuni Street, Broomfield, CO 80023
Bike park and supposedly fantastic nature playground nearby. Free.

Sunflower Farm // 11150 Prospect Road, Longmont, CO 80504
A single-day admission ticket gives you access to this quaint farm in Longmont. Feed animals, play on swings and the treehouse playground, ride the horses or tractors. They also offer a preschool and summer camp options. Reservations required to visit.

Eldorado Canyon State Park // 65 Baldwin Cir, Eldorado Springs, CO 80025
Four trails ranging from 0.5 miles to 3.5 miles. Tip: aim to go on a weekday; weekends get very crowded.

Dirty Bismark Trail // Superior, CO - various trailheads along loop
{from the website} Dirty Bismarck Loop Trail is a 13.8 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Louisville, Colorado that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail.

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SOUTH

Washington Park // S. Downing St. & E. Louisiana Ave., Denver, CO 80210
Great walking paths, a new playground, and a creek to explore. Recent improvements have minimized car traffic inside the park.

South Platte Trail // various starting points along a ~20 mile route.
”Scenic bike ride but lots of places to stop! Get out down south by the Botanic Gardens at Chatfield.”

High Line Canal // various starting points
{from the website} At 71 miles long, the High Line Canal is one of the longest continuous urban trails in the country, twisting through the most populated area of Colorado while crossing a diverse mosaic of communities and nature. The Canal originates at Waterton Canyon in Douglas County and runs to Green Valley Ranch in Northeast Denver, falling within one mile of more than 350,000 residents.

Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms // 8500 W Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton, CO 80128
{from a mom who works there}: “Amazing place to let your littles run around and explore. Farm animals, lots of birds, frogs, and beavers dams all along the creek. Most folks don't walk the full loop of the trail along the creek so miss a lot of the site.”

Chatfield State Park // 11500 North Roxborough Park Road, Littleton, CO 80125
{from their website} “Float your boat in the lake, bicycle or hike on a trail that provides scenic views of the neighboring foothills and Platte River valley, camp, ride a horse and even fly a model airplane - all at Chatfield State Park, nestled next to the foothills southwest of Denver.”

Castlewood Canyon State Park // 2989 South State Highway 83, Franktown, CO, 80116
Slightly hidden in the plains (not the mountains) which makes this park unique and sometimes less crowded than other state parks. Various hiking trails and much nature to explore.

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EAST

Bluff Lake Nature Center // 3400 Havana Way, Denver, CO 80238
No bikes or dogs allowed. Free entry. 1.2 mile loop and several other trails and areas to observe nature.

Star K Ranch // 16002 E Smith Road, Aurora, CO 80011
They do a great nature class for kids 5 and under on Thursday mornings. Check their Facebook for details.

The Urban Farm at Stapleton // 10200 Smith Road, Denver, Colorado 80239
$5 admission for ages 2+

Cherry Creek State Park // 4201 S. Parker Road Aurora, CO 80014
{from the website} A scenic oasis in the Denver area offering a wide variety of water and land activities for outdoor enthusiasts. The 4,000-acre park and modern campground are open year-round. View birds and wildlife, recreate or relax with the majestic Rocky Mountains as a backdrop.

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WEST

Crown Hill Park // 9357 West 26th Avenue, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033
Nice walking loop around a lake.

Anderson Park // West 44th Avenue and Field Street, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033
Access to Clear Creek. Possible water play and much to explore by the creek.

Alderfer / Three Sisters Park // 5136 South Le Masters Road, Evergreen, CO 80439
There’s also an east trailhead.

Bear Creek Lake Park // 15600 W Morrison Road, Lakewood CO 80228
When I first moved to Denver after living in places with more water, I laughed when someone told me this was a good beach. Then, a few years later, I took my kids to swim and said to friends, “this is GREAT!” It’s not the Adirondacks or Minnesota, but it’s still fun!

Lions Park // 1470 10th Street, Golden, CO 80401
Walk by the creek and play at the playground before or after. Water level varies so be cautious if there’s a high/strong flow.

Bear Creek Greenbelt // 2800 S. Estes St., Lakewood, CO 80227
{from the website} “This lovely, natural stream corridor provides a continuous trail connection and wildlife corridor from Wadsworth Boulevard west to Bear Creek Lake Park. The 379-acre preserve parallels Bear Creek and contains wetlands, fishing ponds, riparian forests and abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. Trail connections provide endless options for biking and walking along the scenic floodplain heading toward Denver or Bear Creek Lake Park and the foothills beyond.”

Lair o’ the Bear Park // 22550 State Highway 74, Idledale, CO 80453
Great walking path along a creek. Good for families and usually suitable for a stroller with large wheels.

Matthew Winters Park // 1103 County Highway 93, Golden, CO 80401
Various trails, but apparently the trailhead itself is a great place to play; a stream and some trials offer kids ample opportunity to explore nature.

North Table Mountain Trail // Access the trail via Highway 93 just north of Pine Ridge Road. (4758 Highway 93)
{from the website} North Table Mountain Trail is 1.5 miles and traverses the southwest side of North Table Mountain below the cliff band. There are excellent views of the Golden Valley. The trail is moderate to advanced in difficulty, with 300 feet elevation gain from the north and 400 feet elevation gain from the south. The trail branches left to the Golden Cliffs Trail shortly after the trailhead in the north. Stay right to keep on the North Table Mountain Trail. The trail terminates near Peary Parkway at its southern end.

Apex Park // 121 County Highway 93, Golden, CO 80401
Close to downtown Golden, this trail is nice on really hot days, it eventually follows a stream with good shade thanks to a dense forest. This trail is popular with mountain bikers, but there are “directional use” restrictions: “Bicyclists are required to ride in one direction only (uphill/west) on odd-numbered calendar days.”

the simplest way to make life less stressful

I’d say I’m a relatively competent individual. I’m saying this not at all to self-aggrandize but rather because it’s relevant to the the advice I plan to give in this post. So about me: I graduated college, have a masters’ degree, have kept a few steady jobs, pay bills, usually get places on time. I make mistakes like everyone but I’m pretty good at keeping track of belongings, going to required medical appointments, making my kids’ lunches, buying groceries.

But here’s the catch: I’m a slow mover. I don’t do things very quickly. For a long time, I didn’t like this about myself. I tried to speed myself up. I hurried. I cut corners. Until more recently, when I had a revelation. Or maybe I just reminded myself of some wisdom others have been sharing forever:

Life is a journey, not a destination.

In the past year or so, I’ve made a conscious decision to slow down. And this seemingly small choice, just deciding not to rush, has decreased stress in my life dramatically.

Stress is terrible for our well-being. And I’m convinced, for me at least, there’s a direct correlation between feeling rushed and feeling stressed. When I’m feeling pressed for time I snap at my kids. I forget things. My blood pressure rises. It’s just not good all-around.

So I started telling myself to just slow down. To take my time, as has always been my nature. To do this, of course, you have to allot extra time to do things or get places. So that’s just what I do. If I need to be somewhere at 9am and I know it takes 10 minutes to get there, I leave the house at 8:30. Sure, you could say I’m wasting time by getting there early, but is stopping to breath some fresh air or check my Instagram really time "wasted?”

Of course, I recognize, this isn’t always possible. People have places to be and things to do. But whenever possible, I give myself and my family a little extra time to do what we need to do or to get where we need to be, and I think we’re all happier and more relaxed when we take this approach.

Happy weekend all! I hope you all have a moment to slow down.

kidsMelissa Colonno
low-waste snack ideas

One of the main reasons people buy food in packaging is for convenience. Right? That’s why I used to. Individual servings of chips, applesauce, granola bars etc. make it easy to pack lunches for yourself or your kids. Therefore, when you “give up” these individual packaged snack foods (which I would obviously recommend you do!), it can feel a bit daunting to have to come up with other snacks.

As a first step, you can always try just buying the food you like in the larger size…not zero waste but less packaging. But if you want to take it a step further and try to eliminate the packaging altogether, fear not: there are still tons of snacks available!

Easy “finger” foods:

  • Pasta (maybe tossed with some pesto)

  • chopped veggies

  • apple slices

  • chickpeas or lima beans (make your own from bulk or buy in cans)

Foods that come in their own “packaging:”

  • bananas

  • oranges

  • lychees (find at Asian markets)

  • snap peas

  • hard-boiled eggs

Foods that come in bulk*:

  • sesame sticks

  • nuts

  • dried fruits (mango is usually a hit!)

  • peanut butter pretzels

  • granola

  • trail mixes

  • plantain chips

  • popcorn

  • veggie chips

  • dark chocolate pieces or chips

  • chocolate-covered fruit or nuts

  • “real fruit” gummy bears (these are basically fruit snacks)

My favorite recipes for snack foods:
Most of these are freezable either after they’re baked or in their pre-cooked form. Keep a stash of any or all in the freezer for your snacking needs!

Snacks/recipes I want to try:

9 easy ways to reduce parenting waste

Sometimes, when I read “zero-waste” blogs or Instagram accounts, I think to myself “well, easy for them to have just a Mason jar of trash when they don’t have kids.”

There’s definitely some truth to the fact that having children increases the amount of waste you produce. Tiny humans need things, and sometimes those things come in plastic packaging. However, the dominant parenting culture in the US often sends the message that the tiny humans need more things than they actually do. Moreover, marketers are constantly trying to convince parents that certain products will make our lives easier.

The truth is, more stuff rarely makes your life easier. Less stuff is the way to simplify! So, if you’re trying to cut down on your family’s waste, here are nine easy steps you can take:

Register for less. It’s been 7 years since I was pregnant with my first, but at that time, as soon as you were pregnant you started creating your baby registry. It was exciting. It was a way to prepare. A way to materialize an important life event ;) Despite being aware of the pitfalls of too much stuff, I still registered for too many things. I’m not sure exactly what I’d do differently if I could go back in time, but I know there are ways this cultural phenomenon could be adjusted. So much baby stuff could be procured from friends or second-hand stores. Maybe there’s something else you could ask your friends to gift you?

Use CLOTH wipes! The wet wipe has become ubiquitous. Any time one of my children has a runny nose or a messy face, another well-meaning parent will offer me a “wipe.” I sincerely appreciate the gesture, but on the inside I cry a little that wipes are so readily available. They are so bad for the earth. Single-use water bottles or disposable straws get used for longer than a wet wipe, and many of us have come to realize how awful those items are for the environment. I am not alone in this opinion: the UK is currently considering a ban on wet wipes.

The solution is simple: carry a little bag of cut up rags (made from old clothes or towels!) in your diaper bag, add water, and you have a wet wipe! Cheaper, too. Not to mention, a wet cloth arguably works better to clean a soiled bum. And if you feel like you just can’t give up a wet wipe for a poopy diaper change, maybe you could try to use fewer throughout the rest of your parenting day. It never has to be all or nothing!

Rethink convenience foods. Plenty of kids have made it to adulthood without eating a goldfish cracker. Honest! And babies learned to eat before puffs that come in plastic containers existed. And don’t even get me started on pouches of pureed foods (in short, they’re bad for kids’ health and bad for the environment).

Give your kids real food. Bananas and oranges come in their own “wrapper.” Apples are easy to transport without getting squished. Dried fruit tastes a lot like fruit snacks. Nuts are full of protein. Of course we all love crackers and pizza and mac and cheese from time to time, but remind yourself that babies and kids can usually eat the same foods you enjoy.

Use what you have. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s good to keep reminding yourself that before you had children you likely had most of the things you needed to live, and many of those items can also be used for children. Marketers want you to think you need baby-specific everything, but honestly how different are baby nail clippers from regular nail clippers? And are baby wash cloths softer than the wash cloths you already have? This logic is widely applicable. Before you buy something, ask yourself if you already possess something that could serve the same or similar purpose. But if you don’t…

…Borrow + buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, we shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second…. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! If you can’t find what you need from family, friends, or neighbors, hit up your local consignment stores or Goodwill. There are also lots of Facebook groups to “buy nothing” or you can purchase used clothes on online/app options such as: thredUpKidizenSwap.com, or Poshmark.

Buy milk in glass bottles. Some kids don’t drink milk. But some kids drink a lot of milk. If your family likes dairy, try to find milk in reusable glass bottles. The glass goes back to the dairy to be refilled. Hurray for a circular economy moment! In Denver, you can find this milk from a local, organic dairy (their milk isn’t yet marketed as “organic” because they’re in one of the final years of an almost decade-long process of getting organic certification). You can also use their milk to make delicious homemade yogurt (if you’ve ever had Noosa yogurt, it’s made from their milk, so clearly it’s a good choice for yogurt!).

Say “no thanks” to cheap plastic toys. You know the kind I’m talking about. The ones you get at birthday parties or school carnivals or at the dentist. These toys serve barely any purpose. They’re fun for a minute, and then they break and/or are forgotten. Just save the whole hassle and teach your kids to say “no thank you.” This goes for balloons and stickers too! Some might say “what’s the harm?” But I say, “What’s the point!?”

Make your kids share. If you have more than one child, don’t aim to have multiple versions of everything. Of course we all want our kids to learn to share, but this can be applied to more items than we might realize. Water bottles. Lunch boxes. Swim floaties. An iPad. Your kids will benefit from realizing that resources are finite and they don’t always get their own everything. In our family, the things we buy for the kids are to be shared right away. If they receive a gift for a birthday or holiday, they can decide they don’t want to share it for one week. But after that, everything is to be shared. (This family policy is a work in progress for us…of course the kids are changing all the time, so we’ll keep revisiting the rules. But overall, I want to promote the idea that we share things and each member or our family doesn’t always need their own specific things.)

Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one in Denver, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that's new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have baby wearing libraries. Awesome.

kids, at homeMelissa Colonno
foods i {sometimes} buy in packaging

Below a picture from a trip I made to Safeway about 2 years ago. This was, clearly, earlier in my zero-waste “journey.” I used to buy some of these items regularly. Now, they are things I only buy a few times a year if I’m really in a food jam or it’s a special treat.

Nevertheless, these items show some of the challenges of shopping without packaging. There are many items you just can’t get. There was a time when I’d buy things anyway…I’d say to myself “well, raspberries only come in plastic, so that’s my only option.” But now, I just won’t buy raspberries. There are so many other fruits available without packaging. It’s hardly a sacrifice!

There are probably less than 1,000 people in the whole world who are actually going to sort of achieve a zero-waste lifestyle. For the rest of us, we have to use our consumer power to “vote.” If we won’t buy things in plastic packaging, we’re sending a message that we want different options. This is our power. Ask the manager at the store. Email the company. There are a lot of ways to make your opinion known. Don’t be shy; express it! And, if you really truly want the raspberries, get them!


1. Pasta. For some reason, pasta is rarely available in the bulk section. Occasionally I've found whole wheat macaroni at Whole Foods and tri-color rotini at Sprouts. But you can't count on it. So, I usually buy pasta in as much paper or cardboard packaging as possible (instead of in plastic bags). It's hard to find a box that's 100% recyclable, but most stores have pasta in cardboard boxes with just a tiny bit of plastic.

2. Alternative milk. I buy cow's milk in reusable glass bottles. I sometimes make nut milks at home. I buy coconut milk in cans. But as a family of 5, we go through a good amount of milk in coffee, cereal, etc. Tetra-pak (shown above, what many milks come in) is not at all a good choice. It's terribly difficult to recycle because it's a combination of plastic, aluminum and paper. Denver now has facilities to recycle it (as do most major U.S. cities), but it's questionable how many cartons are actually being captured and whether or not the material salvaged can really be used in any meaningful way. I buy in moderation and try to buy in a plastic jug if possible. because simply plastic is actually more recyclable.

3. Bread. Thanks to my mom, I have an awesome recipe for homemade bread. I make it regularly. If I don't have it in me to bake, I try to buy a loaf of bread without packaging from a local bakery. But let’s face it: life happens and the kids still need school lunches. Occasionally I buy bread at the grocery. I like this Dave's bread because it's one of few on the market that doesn't have added sugar. Plus it has a good amount of protein per slice. I reuse the bags and then take them back to the store recycling bins for plastic film.

4. Tuna + Beans. Aluminum is one of the most sustainable forms of packaging. Cans contain more recycled content than plastic or glass containers. They are easily melted and reformed into more packaging. They're light to ship. If a type of product is available in aluminum I will chose that over glass or plastic 100% of the time. When I occasionally buy my kids juice, I buy pineapple juice that comes in cans.

5. Yogurt. This is the worst thing I buy! Even though I've started making yogurt at home, and my kids enjoy it, when given the option to pick a "special treat" at the store, they often choose a fancy yogurt. They love the novelty of it, I guess? I hate it. I’ve gotten better at saying “no” or opting for the ones in glass instead, but occasionally I cave. I’m human. I like making my kids happy, and yogurt is a lot better than many things they could pick. I recycle the plastic...but that doesn't really make it much better.

6. Produce stickers and tags. Not much we can do about these unless the industry standards change. Even farmers' markets often have produce with stickers. I try to take the stickers off as soon as I get home so we don't accidentally compost them (on banana peels, avocado skin, etc.).

7. Tortillas. We eat a lot of tortillas. I really want to get a tortilla press and learn how to make my own, but in the meantime I reuse the resealable bags for storing food and produce.

8. Frozen peas. I buy almost all of our produce without packaging. But peas are the vegetable my kids will consume the most of, and so I like to have a “back up” bag in freezer for those times when there aren't any other vegetables in the house or I'm super tired or lazy. I wish fresh peas were more available. Maybe this summer I can find a bunch and shell them an freeze. #goals

::

Other things I occasionally buy with problematic packaging:

  • Cheese

  • Fish/seafood

  • Tofu

  • Dates

  • Potato chips

  • Frozen foods at the Asian grocery - dumplings, baozi, etc.

Foods we love but I try not to buy because of their packaging:

  • Clementines

  • Grapes

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Baby carrots

  • Rice cakes

  • Crackers

What about you? Do you think about the packaging on the foods you buy? What tips do you have to share? 

baby items you {i} actually need for the first year

Not long after I had my first baby, I discovered we actually didn't need anywhere near as much stuff as I'd thought we would. I was shocked to realize how little we used a stroller. People always talk about how expensive kids are, but for the first several months of her life, I felt like she didn't cost us anything! Fast forward to two more kids later and I’m regularly saying “we have too much stuff!” But a lot of it we actually need. You need more for three kids than for one baby, that’s for sure.

^^ look how light we were traveling with just a 6 month old! ^^

^^ look how light we were traveling with just a 6 month old! ^^

From the very beginning, I tried to take a "less is more" approach. I felt like I didn’t put too many things on my baby registry… but we still somehow ended up with way too much stuff. We've since gotten rid of some of those things, but we've held on to most and continue to use them since we already have them. And I've of course bought new things. But. If I could go back in time and only buy or ask for the stuff that's absolutely a necessity, here's what I'd recommend to my former self:

Convertible car seat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in New York City, you probably drive sometimes. And if you're going to drive with your baby, your baby needs a car seat. Your baby does not, however, need an infant seat. The car seat companies just want you to think that they do. That way, you'll eventually buy another car seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat. I didn't realize this before Willa was born, but there are lots of "all-in-one" car seats on the market. Meaning, one car seat that you use from birth until they no longer need a seat or booster of any kind. We're a fan of the Diono Radian because it's one of the narrowest on the market and also because it folds flat for travel. (It is not, however, the lightest!) Now, I know what you may be thinking: “but how will I take my baby out of the car if I don’t have a bucket seat I can carry into the store?” You use a baby carrier my friends. Car seats are meant for cars. No where else. I know it’s convenient. But it’s not that great for your baby. Or your back.

^^baby carrying around NYC^^

^^baby carrying around NYC^^

Prefold cloth diapers. Babies need diapers. (Well, actually, you could go the Elimination Communication route, but that is a whole other topic that we don't need to get into here.) I'm a fan of cloth diapers for so many reasons. Economic. Environmental. Logistical. It just seems weird to me to throw away a product several times a day when you could get a reusable one and wash it over and over again. I’m hoping we can make cloth diapers the norm again!

There are so many choices for cloth diapers you can buy. The first time around I went with All-in-One cloth diapers because they seemed easiest, but experience has made me realize that prefolds and covers are a better bet. If one or the other gets worn out, you can replace them for relatively cheap, and most adjust small enough that you can use them from day one. I highly recommend econobum, but if you have a bit more of a budget, the Flip "diaper system" is awesome. And be sure to get some diaper cream too, as well as biodegradable bamboo liners so you don't ruin your cloth diapers with the cream (these are also good if you're squeamish about poop and want it to be thrown into the toilet easily). Bamboo liners can be composted if they’re only peed on!

Cloth wipes. I use cheap baby wash cloths for everything. Someone gave me a pack of 20 when Willa was born and they’re still going strong 6 years later. I use them for diaper changes. Runny noses. Spit up. Ice cream hands. I also cut up old clothes and take them with me on the go. Once used, I sometimes save them in a small wet bag, but sometimes I toss them in a trash can. They were destined for a landfill anyway, so at least they got a few more uses!

Baby carrier. I read somewhere recently that baby carriers aren't just for attachment parents, they're for parents who like to get sh*t done. You can either hold your baby and get nothing done, or you can wear your baby and get stuff done. Especially when you have a toddler doing the most dangerous thing feasible at the playground on your first outing with the new baby. You need a carrier. Also, babies are tiny. They like to be held close. (Ok, maybe I am a bit attachment-y.) I have two favorites: the Solly wrap and an Ergo. Get both. (The Beco is a close 2nd to the Ergo, but if you only get one the Ergo is a better choice because it's good for toddler carrying too.)

Bloom Alma Mini Urban CribThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in their parents' room for the first 6 months. With both kids, we've had them in a Pack-n-Play in our room and then we've moved them into a crib in their own room. However, during those first months I always stress about where they should be napping and if I'm providing continuity (or does it even matter?). If I had to do it all over again, I'd buy one of these so I could keep it in our room at night and wheel it down the hall or wherever for naps etc. Folded up it's approximately the same size as a playard anyway, and much prettier. Not to mention it looks much more comfortable.

Bottle(s). Nothing drives me more crazy on a wedding or baby registry than "sets." Knife sets. Sets of pots and pans. It's a racket! No one needs both a 6" and a 8" chef's knife. But anyway. Bottles. Here's the thing about bottles: your baby can't drink out of more than one at a time, right? And, once emptied, they shouldn't be left sitting for long or the milk residue will grow bacteria (see useful breastmilk storage/use guidelines here). So. You might need a few bottles. But you don't need 10. And if you're not going back to work full-time, you probably only need one. Ok fine, maybe two.

Blankets etc. Similar to bottles, you do need blankets, but probably not 15. I have 8 of these aden + anais ones and it's way more than enough. I could get by with just 4. Make sure you read the material content of what you get though, because aden + anais blankets are now sold at Target and other stores and they're not all created equal. Get the real deal ones. I also recommend sleep sacks. You don't want to skimp in the sleep department.You can swaddle with blankets, but at 2am when you're sleep-deprived the velcro version is pretty fantastic. When you baby gets a bit older, this one is awesome because it can be used as a swaddle or not, depending on what they like.

Clothing. Your baby needs clothes. But they grow super fast in the first year and you don't need the added stress of making sure he wears all his cute 3 month sized outfits in one week. You'll likely get plenty of clothes as gifts, but if you need more, Goodwill is the bomb. And I love thredUp too. Also of note: sets of white onesies seem to be ubiquitous, but I have no clue why. A pooping baby and a white wardrobe? Stock up on dark-colored basics, like these.

Highchair. I believe it's super important to include babies with you at the table for meals, and to do this you definitely need a highchair. (Ok, you can have them sit in your lap, and if your baby will sit with you and let you eat your food, I am insanely jealous. Mine won't. They need straps.) I like chairs that don't have trays, so you can put your baby at the table with everyone else. Which exact chair you get depends on your table/eating situation, but it's hard to go wrong with the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It resells on Craigslist for almost retail because it's that awesome. I also love Phil&Ted's chairs. We have this one, which was discontinued, but their newer model looks fantastic, and Inglesina makes a good one too. Great for counters, travel, restaurants, etc. I also like the totseat for travel.

Eating accessories. 
In my limited experience, babies do need a few items in addition to their highchair to help facilitate meals. I do, however, try to limit how much plastic we bring into our lives and baby eating items involve a lot of plastic. Whenever I buy new things I try to stop and really think about if it has to be made of plastic. A place mat? Yes. A place mat is a good idea, especially if you have a table that could be damaged by excess crumbs and food scraps. I'm a big fan of this one because it is silicone and it sticks to any surface (several of them have suction cups which don't work on wood or any porous counter/table).

We don't, however, have much by way of plastic dishes or utensils. My kids use the espresso spoons that came with our flatware, and I also have some wooden spoons that we use a lot. For plates, bowls and cups, we use stainless steel ones that I’ve found at consignment shops or bought from Asian grocery stores (Korean stores always have a good selection!). I also have some small glasses the kids use for practice being careful.

We love the Pura Kiki bottles because they have interchangeable tops that go from bottle up to regular cap. No need to replace bottles (unless you lose them, which you will!). Tip: get the ones without the silicone sleeve! Silicone is a great replacement for plastic but there’s no reason your bottle needs a sleeve and it just makes them harder to wash!

You also need a few bibs. I like these because they're plain and the velcro doesn't wear out after several washings (I hate, however, that they're labeled "boys." They're primary colors!)

Thermometer. Self explanatory. But don't waste money on a fancy pants one. Rectal is the most accurate.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Mat. Part of me wants to say that a baby doesn't really need any toys. And that's somewhat true. But, your life will be easier if you feel like you have a designated place to put your baby down. And this activity mat comes with 5 awesome toys, which makes it a good deal. Also, I recently discovered that almost every single one of my closest mom friends has this exact item. So that is pretty significant.

unnecessary restaurant waste

I am annoyingly concerned about waste. For the past several years I've been working on reducing waste overall, and more recently I've become more aware of the problems with plastic, so I try to avoid it as much as I can.

My willingness to ask others to help me out on these issues has increased over time. For awhile, I just gave in to how our society and economy functions. I went with the flow and didn't want to make too many waves. I feel differently now. I guess you could say I’m more of an activist now. I think every single voice matters. I think one person can spark change.

A couple years ago, we were out at a local pizza place, and I overheard the two groups in front of us ordering. They both had dietary restrictions. The first was allergic to gluten. The second was severely allergic to tomatoes. Setting aside the conclusion that these folks should have perhaps considered a different cuisine for their Saturday night, the restaurant, rightfully so, made great efforts to accommodate their needs. Then, we ordered, and despite our requests, we received straws and sippy cups. Now, I do not have any immediate health risks with straws or sippy cups, so this comparison is of course only tenuous at best. Allergies are no joke. But the damage single-use plastic is doing to our earth is not something to take lightly.

Below I'm listing a few of the small actions I take to minimize waste when eating out. Maybe if more of us make these "waste restriction" requests at restaurants, they'll start to change their ways.

UNNECESSARY WASTE #1: Single-use cups
Action:
Request no kids' cups
Success rate: High. Restaurants seem to understand when you want your kid to use their own cup.
Annoyance factor: Low. You have to remember to ask quickly, but it's usually met with reasonable response.
Benefits: Waste reduction; fewer spills

As soon as the host is leading us to our table, I try to remember to tell them we don't want any sippy cups or straws. Sometimes they tell me I can tell my server, but usually this is the time to ask, because most restaurants waste no time bringing out waters. Kids' cups drive me the most crazy of all waste-producing restaurant trends. It is common practice in our parenting world to have a water/milk/juice cup for your child. Almost every parent I know rarely leaves home without one. Therefore, most kids who arrive in restaurants are already going to be in possession of their own cup. We don't need to add more plastic to the world!

Now, you may be thinking, what about those cute plastic cups with cartoons on them and bendy straws that you can take home and reuse? First of all, the exciting nature of these cups makes them more of a problem than they're worth. My kids are always trying to test the straw's functionality in a way that results in spillage. Also, they are made of such cheap plastic that they don't hold up at home, so you're going to throw them out soonish anyway.

Related: what age does a kid have to be before restaurants will just give them a regular glass!? Seriously.

UNNECESSARY WASTE #2: Straws
Action:
Request "no straws" and BYOS
Success rate: Low
Annoyance factor: Medium (server usually looks at you like you're crazy)
Benefits: Waste reduction; use of more enjoyable metal straw

I usually have success preventing kids' cups from appearing at the table. Straws, however, are a much bigger challenge. I think it's just force of habit? Restaurants that serve drinks with straws just can't seem to help themselves. I've also seen my drink appear on a bar with a straw, and then the server just takes the straw out and throws it away. Giving me what I want, I suppose, but missing the point. Nevertheless, I'm going to keep asking.

Perhaps the most egregious of all straws are cocktail straws. Usually, they're used merely to stir a drink, and then placed aside. Plus they usually give you two straws per drink! When ordering a cocktail, I try my best to remember to request no straws. I really think restaurants should invest in trendy drink stirrers. It seems so odd to me that a nice place serves you a $12 drink with a plastic straw...

When I do succeed, but still want a straw, I use metal ones that I carry with me. More enjoyable to drink from, too, I find.


UNNECESSARY WASTE #3: To-go containers
Action: 
Bring your own container(s)
Success rate: Very high. No one has ever said anything.
Annoyance factor: Low. You're basically doing your server's work for them, right? Sometimes I feel a tad awkward, but there's really no reason to!
Benefits: You can not only take your leftovers home, but also the food you probably wouldn't want to ask for a container for (bread, rice, condiments, etc.). Not only are restaurant take-out containers not usually recyclable, but they're also often not air-tight. If you bring your own container, you don't have to transfer the leftovers into a different container when you get home!
Exception: Pizza boxes. They're 100% compostable or recyclable, so I don't feel too bad about them. Also, do you have your own container big enough for pizza slices that also fits in your purse? I don't.

UNNECESSARY WASTE #4: Barely-used crayons
Action: 
Take crayons home with you
Success rate: n/a
Annoyance factor: Low; you don’t have to talk to anyone.
Benefits: I've been asking at restaurants lately, and if they give your kids new, individually-packaged crayons, they're going to throw them out if you leave them on the table. Take them with you! Or better yet, say “no thank you” because you brought your own. Now, if they bring over a cup of already-used crayons, they are an awesome restaurant who knows what’s up. In this case, don’t steal their drawing implements! ;)




eating out, kidsMelissa Colonno
ten first steps to reducing household waste

one. // Use what you ALREADY own.
Being “eco-friendly” is trendy. There are stores that will sell you many things to help you go forth on your “zero-waste” journey. Some of these things are very useful (metal straws). Some of these things are beautiful but not necessary (Wreck jars). Use up the things you already own. Using items that are already in your life is always better than supporting the manufacturing of new materials. Even if those companies are sustainable and ethical. Just a few examples of many:

  • There are some health reasons to avoid using plastic for food, but you can still find other uses for the plastic containers lying around your house. Use them to organize toys, or screws and other hardware.

  • If you’re having a party, don’t buy new decorations; decorate with what you have!

  • Shop your closet before buying new clothes. You probably have forgotten about some of the things you own.

  • Break out your grandma’s china. It should be used more than once a year!

  • Have you kids make art projects with “trash” instead of buying new art supplies.

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two. // Buy LESS and buy USED.
The cold, hard truth is that the world is against us in this crusade. It might change in the future, but for now we live in a disposable economy and it’s incredible hard to avoid having trash come into your life. The best way to create less waste is to just consume less. When you need or want something, first shop your house. Maybe you have something like it that you’ve forgotten about. If not, ask around. Maybe you can borrow it or get it for cheap from someone you know. If that fails, buy it used. There are lots of online or local consignment options.

Food is obviously a semi-exception to this point because you have to buy some amount of food. It’s still a good area to think about buying less (statistics about wasted food are crazy!) but when talking about shopping for food, this is an area it’s more important to consider the packaging…


three. // If you have to buy, CONSIDER the PACKAGING and the MATERIAL.
Best choice = buy without packaging.
Better choice = buy with compostable packaging.
Good choice = buy in paper, glass, or aluminum packaging.
Less than ideal choice = buy in recyclable plastic packaging.
Worst choice = buy in non-recyclable packaging.

Packaging is pretty easy to “rate” but the material of the product can be harder. But the key question to ask yourself is “what is going to happen to this when I can’t use it anymore?” For this reason, I try to buy mostly clothing of organic fibers and toys made of wood or paper. And you always want to think about the quality of the item. If it’s really high-quality plastic that won’t likely ever break or is something you’ll use for years and years to come, then you should buy it!

four. // COMPOST and seek out COMPOSTABLE items.
Food scraps, brown paper bags, pizza boxes, wine corks, tissues, tissue paper, paper towels, paper napkins, toothpicks, bamboo = all compostable. Many cities, including Denver, have city-wide compost collection. It’s pretty ridiculous that in Denver we have to pay for it yet trash is free. However, the bin is large, so you can certainly share with several neighbors to defray the cost. Backyard compost is always an option too; look for free 101 classes at your local library or through the city.

If you need a single-use option, try to find one that’s compostable. It’s easy to order food “for here” at a coffee shop or restaurant and then pick it up off the plate with a compostable napkin. Much better than getting a plastic container! However, you should always try to use reusables before turning to compostable paper products. Paper towels, plates, tissues, etc. all take a lot of resources to manufacture and ship. This makes them less ideal for the environment.

five. // Develop a “rag system.”
In our house, we use different-sized towels or cloths for all kinds of tasks:

  • Towels are for kitchen clean up.

  • Large rags are for one-time messes like Zoë’s food on the floor.

  • Small cloths are used as baby wipes, tissues, or as toilet paper.

  • We use tablecloths and cloth napkins.

  • Cloth produce bags are for grocery shopping and taking food on the go.

After use, baby wipes (and cloth diapers) go in a wet bag and all the other soiled cloths are thrown in a big laundry basket in our unused downstairs shower. Everything gets washed on the “Sanitize” cycle in the washing machine and is used again. Our towels are an assortment of dish towels, and all the smaller cloths are cut-up old clothes. When I am out of the house I will sometimes throw away a “baby wipe” cloth. I figure the old clothing was destined for the landfill anyway, so at least it got a few more uses.

This is our system, but there are lots of ways you could do it depending on your family’s needs and your house/washing set-up. Also, everyone has a different tolerance for and understanding of germs…do what you’re comfortable with but I’m sure you can come up with a system that works for you!

six. // Use CLOTH BAGS and a WASHABLE MARKER at the grocery store.
Stock pile a whole bunch of cloth bags to use at the grocery for produce and bulk items. These can be bags you have bought (I, personally, avoid bags made of synthetic fiber, but that’s a personal choice), bags you already have (I have several cloth bags that purses or other items came in like TOMS shoes), or you can make your own if you’re a sewer (make me some too, please!).

The washable marker is to write the PLU number on your cloth bags for bulk items. The cashier can then see it clearly and it’ll wash right out in the laundry. If your grocery requires you to print out stickers for bulk items, your hands are probably tied, but you can always ask!

(A more “advanced” option is to take your own jars to places like Whole Foods that will tare them for you, but I don’t recommend tackling this if you’re just starting out.)

seven. // RECYCLE but only minimally. REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPAIR and ROT are all better choices!
Recycling is not the answer, particularly when it comes to plastic. Plastic gets downgraded each time it’s recycled and there’s not much of a market for thin/cheap plastic. I often hear people complain that their recycling bin is overflowing every week and they wish it got picked up by the city more often than their trash is collected. I agree with this to a certain extent, but if your recycling bin is super full, then you should still take a closer look at your materials consumption. Recyclables often end up in the landfill.

eight. // ANALYZE your waste.
Everyone is different and we all consume different types of products. Check out your own trash and recycling bins to see what you are throwing away on a regular basis. Ask yourself if you could procure those items in a different or better way.

Examples from my house:

  • Yogurt containers. Even though I was buying the big tubs of yogurt, we’d still have one in our recycle bin each week. As a first response, I started buying yogurt in a glass jar. That helped from the waste perspective, but it was expensive. I then started making my own yogurt which has worked really well for us. And it’s really not that hard!

  • Bread. We eat a lot of bread, and it was our main source of plastic bags. I used to occasionally bake bread, but now I’ve found a recipe that I can make weekly to keep us stocked. If I don’t get my act together to bake, I try to get to a local bakery and buy a package-free loaf.

nine. // Don’t be too SELF-CONSCIOUS.
Eighty years ago, people would have thought the idea of using something one time and then throwing it out was absolutely bonkers. But, today, it’s the norm. When you challenge the norm, people sometimes get a bit confused. When I first started asking for drinks without straws people looked at me like I had three heads. But now, they often reply, “oh of course, we don’t use straws anymore!”

The grocery worker often thinks I’m a bit weird when I ask them to put deli meat or salmon in my Tupperware, but then, sometimes, they have an “ah-ha” moment when they’ll respond “oh wow, that’s a good idea!” My family has rolled their eyes at me more than a few times, but I have observed subtle changes in their own behavior over the years. If refusing single-use packaging is important to you, just be friendly and polite, and usually you’ll get a decent response. Sometimes you’ll get a dirty look or a “no,” but just keep on trying!

ten. // Remember THIS:
All the plastic ever created still exists. It won’t go away in a period of time that we can conceptualize. That one fact keeps me up at night, but has helped me dramatically change my behaviors of consumption!

Now, go forth and reduce your waste. Fist bump, friends!