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July 14, 2018

Raising green babies: Teaching our children to love and respect the environment

Living a more natural life benefits our planet and your family’s health and wellness

Children's Health Katie's Baby
07122018_Katies_Baby Katie Gagnon/For PhillyVoice

Organic foods can be expensive but the benefits of serving your family produce and animal products grown and raised without synthetic pesticides, GMOs, artificial fertilizers, antibiotics and synthetic hormones are numerous. There are resources available online to make it easier and more affordable.

“It’s not easy being green,” said Kermit the Frog and many parents trying to raise their babies naturally on a budget.

Living an eco-conscious life can be arduous at times – not to mention expensive! But with a little guidance you may discover easy ways to make your family more environmentally friendly without breaking the bank. From recycling to mindful shopping, from non-toxic cleaning to healthy cooking we have more information than ever to inform a green existence which is not just imperative for the health of our children but also our planet.

With the Trump administration’s anti-environment agenda, the state of the EPA and our global environment headed toward disaster, now is the time for each of us to take responsibility for our own impact and make changes to boost our families’ eco-consciousness and social responsibility to benefit our children, communities and world.

CREATE NEW HABITS

Anyone else out there a creature of habit? I certainly am. And so are our kids. Our children are soaking up everything around them from a very young age. That is one of the reasons that introducing them to the habits of living a cleaner, greener, more eco-conscious life is really important to do while they are young.

Start teaching them about the significance of living a green life now and in short order these practices will be commonplace in your family. One study says it takes more than two months to form a new habit.

Introduce one at a time to your family and stick with it!

REVIEW YOUR PERSONAL PRODUCTS

The things that we are buying and using in our homes should not be harmful, unfortunately it can be hard to tell which products are actually safe to use.

I recently researched a bunch of my family’s favorite personal hygiene products and was really upset with what I learned. According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Cosmetic Database, some of my usual brands pose a moderate hazard to my family’s health. This includes the baby soap and lotion I have been using on Killian since he was born – the same kind that the nurses in the hospital used and my mother applied on me. I also was shocked to see the ratings on the organic baby sunscreen I have been slathering on my son.

Using the database, I found new products that have been evaluated by EWG to be completely free of harmful chemicals and are about the same price as my previous brands. I guess ignorance was bliss, but now that I know it is my responsibility to make a healthy change for my family.

Photo by Luka Siemionov/from Pexels

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

We all know the three Rs. But are we practicing those principles as much as possible?

When I evaluate how to reduce my family’s waste, it is clear that I use too many paper towels. I am trying to be more conscious of using less because, like the EPA says, the best way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Reusing things, like dish towels, keeps items out of landfills. Passing along and receiving slightly-used items and clothing as hand-me-downs and shopping at secondhand stores also saves money.

There are a number of great organizations that need your donations, like building materials and cars, way more than a landfill does. When you are shopping for new items, look for things made with minimal packaging and from recycled materials that can be used many times. Consider borrowing items that you need sporadically, like party supplies and tools, and maintain the things you already own so they do not need replacement. Is there anyone out there these days who does not recycle? There shouldn’t be!

Ensure you understand the collection practices where you live so you can recycle as much as possible.

THE BIG O

It can be so expensive to buy organic food but the benefits of serving your family produce and animal products grown and raised without synthetic pesticides, GMOs, artificial fertilizers, antibiotics and synthetic hormones are numerous. Not to mention that means less of that stuff going into the earth (so don’t use pesticides in your yard, either!).

Since buying organic can be cost-prohibitive, the EWG has put together a couple of lists to help guide us in the grocery store. The Dirty Dozen lists the top 12 fruits and vegetables that we should eat organic. Strawberries and spinach top that list. Luckily there are 15 other items, like avocados and pineapple, that you can skip buying organic to save a little money. I usually get my groceries from ShopRite and love the wallet-friendly and organic Wholesome Pantry line for things like Killian’s whole milk and jarred tomato sauce. I also like Amazon-brand Mama Bear’s organic baby food pouches because they are a little cheaper than other brands.

Not all of the food I buy is organic but I am mindful about ensuring most of the food in my home and provided to my son is clean, green and healthy. Eating food without chemicals is especially important for our kids because of their rapidly developing bodies. But the benefits are real for all of us.

MINDFUL ABOUT PLASTIC

Plastics are omnipresent in our lives. These materials are awesome and absolutely terrible – providing life saving devices like heart valves and also accounting for much of the world’s trash and pollution, especially in the ocean, because plastic takes a very long time to break down. Try to reduce your family’s use especially in the kitchen.

BPA is found in many hard plastics, like plastic water bottles and food storage containers, and can cause breast cancer and other health problems. When you have to use plastic, like for your child’s sippy cup, be sure it is marked BPA-free. Better yet, switch your family over to stainless steel water bottles (and fill them using filtered water from a pitcher). I use mason jars and glass storage containers to refrigerate and reheat the food I make for my family, including the baby food I used to make for Killian.

Try to cut down on your family’s single-use plastic consumption and say no to plastic bags.

GET A GREEN CLEAN

When evaluating how to remove chemicals from your family’s life, head to the cabinet where you keep the cleaning supplies. It may be hard to tell what is bad for you, considering companies that make housecleaning products are not required to list ingredients and some are labeled as “natural” and “organic” while still containing questionable components.

Once again, a quick search of my favorite cleaning supplies, including well-known “natural” brands that I use every day, leads to shock and horror so I have ordered new laundry, dishwashing and housecleaning products from a highly-ranked company that specializes in natural, healthy products. There are a number of resources online to help find the best natural cleaning products and formulations that are right for your family.

And there are some recipes to make your own natural cleaning products, too.

PICK UP LITTER

It should go without saying that littering is wrong. Picking up someone else’s trash may seem a little gross, but small efforts like grabbing that empty water bottle that someone left on your hiking trail can make a big impact in your local community. It also sets a great example for those little ones watching your every move.

My husband always picks up litter and has inspired me to do the same. Especially when I walk on the beach, I grab any plastic or trash that I see and deposit it in the receptacle when I am leaving.

Thom Carroll, File/PhillyVoice

A young woman walks the beach in Atlantic City.

LOVE NATURE TOGETHER

Whether it is in the backyard, a community garden, with a great local nonprofit like Urban Tree Connection, or part of an event, get outside! Our area is home to some beautiful parks and preserved areas like the Brandywine, Fairmount, the Poconos and Valley Forge. Not to mention all of the beautiful white sandy beaches along the New Jersey coastline. Kids love to play outside and being out in nature has benefits for the whole family.

Take time to explain to your children the importance of taking care of the earth so generations to come will also be able to enjoy the great outdoors. Leave the car at home when you can and walk or bike as a family to your destination. Being active outside in the fresh air is the perfect activity on a beautiful summer weekend.

Living a more natural life does not just benefit our planet; it also benefits your family’s health and wellness. This column was a great exercise for me to evaluate how clean and green my family is and I am excited to make some changes for the sake of my son and our world. I encourage you to do the same!

Incorporating some of these suggestions in your daily life will reap benefits for years to come.

Is your family committed to being eco-friendly? Why is it important to you and how do you teach your children? Share with me and other parents in the comments section below or Tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.