Americans STILL Aren’t Eating Their Veggies

Last month, The New York Times reported that despite 20 years of “public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)

These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000.

The government recommends four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (which equals nine servings) for people who eat 2,000 calories a day.

People know that vegetables are good for them and can improve health, but they are also seen as a lot of work and have a much quicker “expiration date” than processed foods. Even if you buy veggies with the best of intentions, if you don’t consume them fast enough, they are doomed to rot in your refrigerator. I think this is something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by White Wave Foods indicates that almost half of us leave our fruit in the refrigerator until it rots. I can only assume that even more vegetables suffer a similar fate.

At Mother Nature Network, Katherine Butler asks, “what is the price of not eating vegetables?”

Mostly, it means that Americans are lacking in vital nutrients. Antioxidants and fiber fill vegetables, as well as key nutrients such as potassium, beta-carotene, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Fiber can reduce cholesterol; potassium, found in foods like spinach, helps blood pressure. Vitamin C helps gums and teeth, while vitamin E fights against premature aging.

Apparently, orange veggies are something we should be focusing on too. According to The Ohio State University Extension blog:

Orange vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes contain nutrients and phytonutrients found in no other group of vegetables. That’s why experts recommend we eat at least 2 cups a week of orange vegetables. How many do you eat? If you’re not eating enough, now is the perfect time of year to start!  All types of winter squash — acorn, butternut, hubbard, etc. are in season and cheap.  Pumpkins and canned pumpkins are stocking the shelves. Carrots and sweet potatoes are found commonly throughout the year.

I’m not sure there’s a solution for getting adult Americans to consume more vegetables. They know they are healthy, but they still don’t eat them. Even with convenient options like prepackaged servings of broccoli and bagged salads available, they aren’t biting (pun intended). Until Americans make eating vegetables a priority, it’s not going to happen. After all, you can’t force feed them. Maybe we could hide vegetables in french fries? Hmm. Probably not. Although that is a technique some people use to get children to eat their veggies (remember Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious?), though not everyone agrees with it.

Organic Authority points out the important of fruits and vegetables for children. “A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers—all of which currently contribute to healthcare costs in the United States,” says William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

Lisa Johnson mentions that some high schools have added baby carrot vending machines next to the typical junk food machines and wonders if the packaging (designed to look similar to a potato chip bag) will entice kids to buy them. Lisa says, “I have to say I think it’s a good idea. It might seem a little condescending to some but we are visual creatures and we react positively to colorful items that grab our attention while glossing over the ho-hum stuff. Shouldn’t we just capitalize on human nature to achieve a greater good?”

The Huffington Post reports “The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced what it called a major new initiative, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids’ use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.” Some schools are employing psychology tricks in hopes of getting teens to make healthier lunch choices in the cafeteria. Cornell researches have dubbed these little tricks a success: “Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.”

Perhaps the veggie avoidance can be traced back to infancy. I wrote in 2007 about a study that showed breast-fed babies are more likely to like fruits and vegetables (if their mother ate them while breastfeeding) than their formula-fed counterparts.

Senior author of the study Julie A. Mennella, PhD said, “The best predictor of how much fruits and vegetables children eat is whether they like the tastes of these foods. If we can get babies to learn to like these tastes, we can get them off to an early start of healthy eating. … It’s a beautiful system. Flavors from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. So, a baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”

However, regardless of whether your baby is breast-fed or formula fed, the article points out the importance of offering your baby “plenty of opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables as s/he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods.”

What’s the answer to get Americans to eat their veggies? I vote for focusing on the children. Perhaps if Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution continues, not only will children start eating healthier, but their new habits may rub off on their parents too.

Photo via Masahiro Ihara on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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BPA Exposure ‘Much Higher’ Than Believed & Proposed BPA Ban

Bisphenol-A or BPA — a chemical used primarily to make plastics — has been under scrutiny in the United States since 2008 when its safety was called into question. Most recently, a study published Sept. 20 in the online NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives “suggests exposure to BPA is actually much greater than previously thought and its authors urge the federal government to act quickly to regulate the chemical that is found in baby bottles, food-storage containers and many household products.”

One of the researchers, Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a news release that the study “provides convincing evidence” that BPA is dangerous and that “further evidence of human harm should not be required for regulatory action to reduce human exposure to BPA.”

According to a New York Times article, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “it is OK for humans to take in up to 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight each day. The new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that we are exposed to at least eight times that amount every day.”

In August, Canada placed BPA on a toxic-substance list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The country first banned BPA-containing plastic baby bottles in 2008, “but the new move will see BPA removed from all products on store shelves. As a result, Canada will become the first country in the world to declare BPA as a toxic substance.”

Five states in the USA – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, New York and Oregon – have limits on BPA, particularly in children’s products, but California state legislature recently failed to pass a bill that would have eliminated BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula cans.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) believes BPA should be legislated on a national level and wants to amend the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act currently under consideration in the Senate to ban BPA from children’s food and beverage containers. However, Republicans and industry representatives are pushing back, saying that research hasn’t conclusively proven that the chemical is harmful. Sen. Feinstein said, “In America today, millions of infants and children are needlessly exposed to BPA. This is unacceptable. If this isn’t a good enough reason to offer an amendment, I don’t know what is.”

What is BPA and Why Should You Care?

Bisphenol-A is “a synthetic estrogen used to harden polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin.” It is found in many plastic containers as well as in the lining of canned goods. According to the Environmental Working Group:

Over 200 studies have linked BPA to health effects such as reproductive disorders, prostate and breast cancer, birth defects, low sperm count, early puberty and effects on brain development and behavior. BPA leaches from containers like sippy cups, baby bottles, baby food and infant formula canisters into the food and drink inside where it is then ingested by babies and children. The CDC found BPA in 93 percent of all Americans. Just last year EWG research revealed BPA in umbilical cord blood of newborns, which demonstrates that babies are exposed to this toxic chemical before they are born.

The Environmental Working Group has some tips to avoid exposure to BPA. Raise Healthy Eaters also has a post about How to Become a BPA-Free Family. Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a registered dietician, recommends things such as:

  • Switching from plastic food storage containers to glass
  • Reducing your canned goods use
  • Using stainless steel water bottles and more.

Take Action:

If you’d like to urge your Senators to support the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and Senator Feinstein’s amendment to ban BPA in baby bottles and other children’s products, you may send them an email.

Related Posts:

Photo via nerissa’s ring on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Boys, Girls, Bathing Suits and Inequality

As I was getting the kids ready for an afternoon of carefree fun at the pool today, my almost 6-year-old surprised me with this question, “Mom, why do girls have to wear bathing suit tops or shirts, but boys don’t?”

I wanted to shout, “Patriarchy!” as I like to blame most things on the patriarchy and I know it would have made Denise proud, but somehow I was pretty sure that response wouldn’t suffice.

It occurs to me now that this may be the first time she’s really had to deal with inequality in the world (or the Puritanical society in which we live). Yes, I know it’s only a shirt (or a bathing suit top), but this may be the first time she’s realized that different rules exist for different people. That’s a pretty big deal.

Back to my story. I can’t recall exactly how I replied (I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t study! I didn’t know there was going to be a test!), but it was something to the effect of blaming “the man” for making “rules” like that. She didn’t think it was fair. I can’t blame her. It’s not.

Later that evening I mentioned her question to Twitter and asked how they would respond. I received an interesting mix of replies.

I think my favorite came from Denise (Eat Play Love) who said, “Tell her breasts make people really really nervous! ;)” I have to agree. That pretty much sums it all up right there!

Emily (Mama Days said, “best answer: men have it easier in basically everything in life ;)” While I tend to agree with this statement, it wasn’t the message I’m quite ready to give to Ava.

Cassie (Cassie Boorn) said, “I totally had a fit about that when I was young. It was my first sign of feminism ;)” I get the feeling many little girls find the notion off-putting.

While Amy (Entertainment Realm) said, “I went shirtless when I didn’t have any boobs i.e. at that age. no biggie.” Interesting. I can recall my little sister toddling around without a shirt when she was 2 or 3, but probably not as old as 6.

InnerWizdom said that personally she wouldn’t enforce that “rule” because she finds it “bogus.” She added that her kids do go topless at the public pool or beach, but not in stores because nobody is supposed to go shirtless there. She also said that she doesn’t know how anyone can explain to a 6-year-old “that adults see their chest as sexual, as something to hide away, even though it looks the same as a boys.” Yeah, I really didn’t want to get into sexuality with her at that point. Also I admire her for not “forcing” her kids to do something just because that’s what society says they should do. I don’t know that I could do that.

So what do you think? What would your response be if your 6-year-old daughter asked you the same question? Would you blame anatomy? Blame the patriarchy? Blame the Puritans? Blame the American prudery (as my friend‘s husband suggested)? Or is the answer: “that’s just how it is?”

Photo credit – Flickr: bunnygoth

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If Parents Don’t Protect Their Kids from Harmful Chemicals, Who Will?

Being a parent today seems to require a hyper-vigilance to make sure your child is protected from unhealthy — sometimes even toxic chemicals — in their toys, clothing, eating utensils, furniture, household items, and more. Between lead-based paint, PVC and phthalates in toys, bisphenol A (BPA) in water bottles, flame retardant in pajamas and recently cadmium — a carcinogen — in McDonald’s Shrek glasses, there’s a lot to keep moms and dads on their toes.

The question becomes: What is the best way to keep your child safe? How can a parent know that something they (or a friend or relative) buy for their little one isn’t going to cause them harm? Even if you make your own toys, buy them handmade by an artisan or buy supplies for your children to make their own simple toys, how can you know that the materials are all safe?

The fact is there is not enough being done in the United States to protect anyone, but especially children, from harmful chemicals.

According to the CNN article Toxic chemicals finding their way into the womb, “The EWG [Environmental Working Group] study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born late last year.”

They are chemicals found in a wide array of common household products — a list that is as long as it is familiar — shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses, electronics like computers and cell phones, among others.

“For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs,” said Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It’s really a terrible mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

Environmental attorney and mother Patti Goldman believes, “When it comes to protecting our kids from toxic chemicals, parents need a system that meets us halfway. We need to shift the burden from families to the companies who are manufacturing and distributing the chemicals used in these products.”

The potentially good news is that new legislation called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was recently introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on April 15. This new act amends the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and would “require manufacturers to prove the safety of chemicals before they are marketed. Of particular concern are carcinogens, to which the public remains dangerously exposed and uninformed.”

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals. Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure.”

In the meantime, what is a parent to do?

  • You can start by checking out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Toy Hazard Recalls list to see if any of your children’s toys have been recalled.
  • Vote with your dollars. Buy toys from manufacturers or artisans you feel you can trust.
  • Stay current on what’s going on in the movement to protect children from harmful chemicals by reading Healthy Child Healthy World
  • Check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database to find out what personal care products – shampoo, soap, lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste, diaper cream, etc. – are safest for children
  • Watch the EWG’s video “10 Americans
  • Visit Safer Chemicals Healthier Families – A nationwide effort to pass smart federal policies that protect us from toxic chemicals.
  • Take Action! by reading about the Safe Chemicals Act and send emails to your representatives and senators, email Congress, and don’t forget to tell your friends about the act and ask them to take action as well!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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No Zoo For You: Confession of an Anxious Mommy

Last week when I picked up my 3.5 year old son Julian from preschool, his teacher Miss G mentioned that she’d like to take the four children in the program on a field trip to the zoo or children’s museum the following week to celebrate the last day of school. I was immediately taken aback. My baby riding in a car on the expressway to a destination nearly an hour away with someone other than my husband or me? My heart skipped a beat.

I tried to play it cool because logically I knew that Julian would probably be just fine. Also it’s not like I don’t trust this teacher. She was Ava’s preschool teacher since Ava was three and became Julian’s teacher this year as well. She’s an amazing person and I have no doubt that she would take great care to protect my child on the field trip. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this just didn’t feel right. (It didn’t help that I’d recently watched a 7 minute video of horrific car wrecks that someone posted on Facebook. Why do I do this to myself?)

I emailed a friend who also has children at the preschool to see how she felt about it (and confirm whether or not I was an overreacting freak). She said she’d let the teacher take her kids on other outings before and she was OK with it. But she said she understood how I felt and encouraged me to tell Miss G if I was uncomfortable with it.

I thought about it some more and figured I’d just muscle through it. “Julian would be fine,” I kept telling myself. “I completely trust Miss G with him.”

I saw Miss G at the May Pole Celebration this Sunday and we were talking more about the impending field trip. I must have seemed a bit reluctant because she suddenly said, “I’m sorry, I should have asked you if you were OK with this. Are you?” I confessed. I told her I wanted to be OK with it, but the truth was that I wasn’t completely OK. She offered to let me go along with them, but due to prior commitments that day, I just couldn’t do it. I told her I would be OK and that the field trip was fine. Apparently I lied.

The next day my anxiety disorder – that has been for the most part under control for almost a year – kicked into high gear. My throat felt tight, like it was closing up. It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with, as it was one of my many anxiety systems when I was in the thick of the illness. I knew better than to get freaked out about it, even though it’s a very unpleasant feeling, and instead tried to figure out what could be causing it. Surprisingly, the field trip was not the first thing that came to mind. As you may know, we are in the process of selling our house and buying a new one – both of which are causing my stress level to be higher than normal. So I figured it was the house stuff getting to me even though nothing in particular had happened in the last few days.

I tried not to dwell on the anxiety, but the field trip must have been in the back of my mind because out of the blue I decided to ask Twitter (my favorite sounding board) at what age they let their child ride with another person (outside of family) for the first time and if they were nervous about it. I got a lot of feedback. Most responded that it was very hard the first time. Others said they hadn’t let their child ride with another person yet. Others said they do it and it’s fine.

It made me realize that even when my 5 year old was scheduled to go on a field trip with her kindergarten class (also to a destination nearly an hour away), my husband and I were OK with her going, but he was going to chaperone, thus ride on the bus with her and the class and be there for the whole trip. She ended up coming down with the flu and didn’t go anyway, but it made me think, “If I’m not OK with my 5-year-old going on a trip an hour away from me without one of her parents, why would I be OK with my 3-year-old doing it?”

I decided to talk it over with Jody Monday evening and we came to the conclusion that it was totally OK for us to NOT be OK with Julian going on a field trip an hour away when he’s 3 years old. If it doesn’t feel right and is giving me severe anxiety, then it’s not worth it, even if it does make me *that* overprotective parent.

I emailed Miss G and explained how I felt and even filled her in a bit on my anxiety disorder. I apologized for ruining the field trip, but said that I hoped they could still go somewhere nearby to celebrate the last day. She graciously responded and said they could walk to the nearby park instead and that she’d do the zoo trip the following day (on a day Julian doesn’t go to school). I was relieved.

I know there will come a day when I have to let my kids go, but for now I’m OK with the fact that this wasn’t the right time. I’m actively working on my issues again (I found a new therapist) and in time I will be able to continue to work through some of my fears. If right now my mental well-being is more important than a field trip to the zoo, so be it. I have to trust myself and do what works for me and my family. I am thankful I’m now at a point in my life where I can recognize where my fears are coming from and address them. I will get there, eventually.

–Progress, not perfection. —

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Chocolate Toddler Formula – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

When I first saw a link to Food Politics’ blog about chocolate toddler formula I thought it was a joke. Yes, I’d heard that formula companies make formula for toddlers as well as infants, but chocolate-flavored?? Seriously?! Yes, seriously. Mead-Johnson’s new Enfagrow Premium Chocolate Toddler Formula with “natural and artificial flavors” is on the market for toddlers age 12 to 36 months. Apparently it’s not enough that we load our elementary school-aged kids full of sugar in the form of chocolate milk. What we really need to do is get them hooked on sugar while they’re young – really young – like 12 months old. I wonder what Jamie Oliver would have to say about this?

Enfamil describes the NEW Enfagrow™ PREMIUM™ Chocolate as follows:

A delicious new flavor for toddlers 12 months and older – with prebiotics for digestive health!

As your child grows from an infant to a toddler, he’s probably becoming pickier about what he eats. Now more than ever, ensuring that he gets complete nutrition can be a challenge.

That’s why we created new Enfagrow PREMIUM Chocolate with Triple Health Guard™. With more nutrition than milk, Omega-3 DHA, prebiotics, and a great tasting chocolate flavor he’ll love, you can help be sure he’s getting the nutrition he still needs even after he outgrows infant formula.

The chocolate formula sells for $19.99 (for 18 servings) at Safeway in Colorado, but is currently on sale for $16.99. (What a steal!) Yes, I went into the store to check it out for myself (and snap some pictures of the nutrition information). I was tempted to buy a can for the sake of research, but I just couldn’t justify giving Enfamil my money, not even in the name of investigative journalism. For the record, they also make a vanilla flavored formula in case your toddler isn’t into chocolate.

Marion Nestle lists the main ingredients in her post Chocolate toddler formula?

Here’s the list of ingredients for everything present at a level of 2% or more:

  • Whole milk
  • Nonfat milk
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Maltodextrin

Nestle also states that, “Mead-Johnson representatives explained that Enfagrow is not meant as an infant formula. It is meant as a dietary supplement for toddlers aged 12 to 36 months.” Yet, as she points out, it’s called “FORMULA” and it has a Nutrition Facts label, not a Supplement Facts label. Hmmm.

Green Mom in the Burbs had this to say: “Gross. I mean, this is just…gross. No, not the KFC Double Down, though that’s pretty disgusting too… I’m talking about this: Chocolate formula for toddlers. Gross. And I thought trying to get chocolate and strawberry flavored milk out of school cafeterias was important. This is just…wow. I’m not sure even Jamie Oliver can save us.”

Cate Nelson from Eco Childs Play calls Enfagrow Chocolate Toddler Formula the “Gag Me Product of the Week” and said, “There are serious problems with this product. First off, why do toddlers, even those who are no longer breastfed, need an infant formula? Is “baby” not getting proper nutrition? And if so, how in the world is a chocolate-flavored formula going to solve this problem?”

Kiera Butler who writes at Mother Jones explains a bit about toddler formula. “So what is toddler formula, anyway? Nutritionally, the unflavored version is pretty similar to whole milk, except with more calcium and phosphorous. There seems to be a consensus that after age one, kids don’t really need formula at all, as long as they have a healthy solid-foods diet and are getting plenty of calcium.”

Danielle, who blogs at Momotics said she was shocked by some of the comments she read on CafeMom about the chocolate toddler formula. One comment read, “What’s the big deal? Kids extended breastfeed.” Danielle responded, “AHHH! There is NO comparison between a chocolate formula for toddlers and a mothers breast milk. They aren’t even on the same page, or in the same book!”

She also wants to know “why are we going to encourage our children into unhealthy eating habits by providing them with a tasty chocolatey treat? In a country with obesity rates in our children growing, it seems like simple and unknowing choices like this as children could lead our kids into serious risky eating habits as adults.”

Danielle adds, “I think the biggest realization this all brought me to today is that Jamie Oliver is right, there is such a huge issue with food, eating, nutrition, and our parents today that we need to seriously take a look at in our country. There is a problem, and the comments that the parents on CafeMom brought to the table did nothing but prove that parents are grossly un- and undereducated on what we should and should not be giving our children.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting points out that because of breastfeeding, her babies got all sorts of great flavors through her breastmilk without having to actually eat artificial flavoring.

JennyLou is concerned about the potential health problems as well. “Our obesity rates continue to climb. More kids are now obese than ever before. Kids don’t know what vegetables are. Kids won’t eat vegetables. Kids are drinking juice, soda, etc. out of baby bottles and then sippy cups. And now, enter chocolate formula. What a recipe for disaster.”

Christina who blogs at A Mommy Story wonders about the possible caffeine levels in the cocoa used in the formula.

All in all, I have to say this product scares the heck out of me. I understand that some children need extra calories and may even live on a entirely liquid diet and there could potentially be a need for this (though I’m guessing there are healthier alternatives), but having a product like this available to the masses seems like a bad, bad idea. Our kids already have the deck stacked against them when it comes to nutrition in this country, why make it any worse?

Nestle ended her post saying, “Next: let’s genetically modify moms to produce chocolate breast milk!” And Abbie, who blogs at Farmer’s Daughter responded, “I’m snacking on some chocolate right now and nursing my son. Funny coincidence. That’s as close as he’s going to get to chocolate milk for a long time.” Rightfully so.

Edited on 6/9/10 to add: FOX News reports Controversial Chocolate-Flavored Baby Formula Ends Production

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Dyeing Easter eggs naturally – a tutorial

Easter is right around the corner and since I’ve been totally immersed in house prep/selling stuff for the past month and I haven’t had time to do much blogging, I’m going to recycle this egg dyeing post from last year. Hope you give it a try! 🙂

Originally posted: 4/4/09

So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

To get started you will need:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below – As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I used last year along with comments on the colors that resulted.

RED

  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue

PINK

  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink

RED-ORANGE

  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color

YELLOW

  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow

GREEN

  • A mix of spinach leaves, canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color – I think it would work without the spinach leaves, but I happened to have some that were wilting so I threw them in.

BLUE

  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue

GREY BLUE

  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color

GREY

  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Instructions:
Last year I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It was like a fun science experiment that the whole family could get involved in. Happy egg coloring! 🙂

Pictures:
The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

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Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).


Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

Related posts:

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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Potty Learning with Patience and Praise

Like most everything related to parenting, when it comes to potty learning (or training) there is not a one size fits all approach. Just as every child is different, every family is different and what works best for one will not work for another. However, since potty learning is a hot topic in our house these days, I thought I would share what we have found to work best for us.

When it comes to potty learning and my kids, I approach it similarly to the way I approach weaning from the breast. I trust that when the time is right and the child is ready, it will happen. I know this is not a method that would work for every child or every family, but so far its been working for us.

My oldest Ava was completely out of diapers (including at night) somewhere between ages 2 1/2 and 3. Julian became interested in using the potty earlier than Ava, but the transition to using the potty full time has been much more gradual. He’s currently 3 years and 2 months and mostly potty learned during the day, but not for the occasional nap or at night.

While I say, “it (potty learning) will happen,” that’s not to say I (and my husband) don’t do things to encourage the kids. The process is not left entirely up to them, but I do let them take the lead and guide how fast or slow the transition takes.


Photo courtesy of juhansonin

Here are some of the techniques I used with my kids to facilitate potty learning

Naked “Training”
One of the first things I like to do that helps them get more familiar with their body and elimination sensations is allow them to be naked from the waist down while at home. If it’s particularly cold, I’d suggest the kiddo wear BabyLegs or something similar on his/her legs, though my kids don’t seem to mind the cold at all.

Another benefit of being pant-less is that they can run to the potty and use it without having to worry about getting clothes out of the way first.

Since I’m at home with my kids this technique has worked well for us. Obviously though, isn’t for everyone.

Amber from Strocel uses the naked time technique as well. “During toilet training I … allow lots, and lots, and lots of naked time. Because it’s much more obvious to both you and the kid that they’re peeing when they aren’t in a diaper.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting said, “Being naked helped him (her son) to feel what was going on, it felt different from having a diaper on, it saved on laundry significantly, and it also made it quicker when he did rush off to the potty because there were no snaps and zippers and things to deal with.”

Keep a potty (or two or three) nearby
I try to keep a potty in the room wherever the child is playing. In our house that’s usually in the living room. I think having the potty where they can see it and have easy access to it helped my kids learn to use it. When they move off into another room and the potty isn’t right there, that’s usually when the accidents happen. (If you can invest in a few potties to scatter around the house, all the better.)

Once they have mastered using the potty in the living room, I would either move it into the bathroom or just encourage them to transition from the potty to using the actual toilet.

Praise, praise and more praise
My husband and I offer a lot of praise when our child uses the potty or toilet. In fact, in the beginning there’s often a lot of cheering, clapping hands, silly dances, etc. to encourage the new behavior.

Read books about going potty
The book I loved for helping my kids learn more about their bodies and using the potty was “Once Upon A Potty” by Alona Frankel. There are two versions of the book – one for boys featuring Joshua and one for girls featuring Prudence. I have to confess, one of the reasons I loved this book so much was the way Ava would say “Pwudence.” So cute.

There are many books available on this subject.

Patience
If my child didn’t seem to be ready for using the potty, we’d take a break and come back to it another time.

I remember having a success or two with Ava and the potty at a young age and I thought, “Yes! This is it!” But then she didn’t do it again so I figured it wasn’t the opportune time for her and we tried again in a few months.

Julian, who turned 3 in November, has been going through the motions of potty learning for over a year now. When naked and at home, he would use the potty or toilet about 90% of the time. It wasn’t until just the past couple months though that he would start asking to go potty while we were out of the house (and this was while wearing a diaper or a pull-up). Now he is using the toilet consistently when he is awake. If he’s napping or asleep at night, that’s not always the case and he wears a diaper or pull-up during those times. I’m not in the hurry to get him night “trained,” but trust that it will happen when he’s ready.

In Annie’s post about potty learning, she references a potty training readiness quiz by author Elizabeth Pantley, which is a great place to start if you are contemplating potty learning. Ask Dr Sears also has a wealth of toilet training information – from tips to know before you start to helping the child who won’t go to traveling while training.

Going commando
I have to admit that Julian isn’t in underwear full time during the day yet. He still either wears a pull-up or, if at home and is not half naked, goes commando under his pants. I think we are getting to the point where he could wear underwear regularly and be fine, but it’s just recently that we’ve gotten to that point. It seems like if he has pants on but no underwear, he is more easily able to feel when he has to pee.

With regard to poop
Once I noticed my kids’ pooping cues – both either went into a corner or behind a couch, it was easy to transition from pooping in a diaper to pooping on the potty. Thankfully neither of them had any poop resistance (where kids refuse to poop unless in a diaper), but I know that is common for many kids. Annie wrote a bit about how they overcame poop resistance with her son.

Potty learning at night
When the kiddo starts consistently waking up in the morning dry (i.e. you check their diaper as soon as they wake up and encourage using the potty), that’s a good indication they are ready to go all night in underwear.

It took a while of Ava waking up dry before I felt ready to take the plunge and let her go overnight without a diaper, but she was obviously ready and did well with it.

Techniques other parents swear by

The reward method
We never tried the reward method (yet?), but I know others who have had success with offering an M&M or something similar for each successful trip to the potty.

EcoMeg is currently using the M&M system for potty training her son.

Much More Than a Mom has also been using the reward system (chocolate chips or stickers) to help with potty learning her son.

Elimination communication
Hilary Stamper wrote an informative post explaining how elimination communication (EC) – the process of observing one’s baby’s signs and signals and providing cue sounds and elimination-place associations – worked for her and her baby.

Hobo Mama also has a great post chock full of information about using elimination communication with tips from her experience with her child, but also many links to other sites about EC.

Related links:
Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 wrote Potty Training the Easy Way. She describes her method as somewhere between Potty Training and Elimination Communication. “The ‘easy way’ in my mind does not mean the fastest way or the least messy way. It’s an investment of time that respectfully helps my child learn to use the toilet.”

Previously mentioned, but very informative is Dr. Sears section on toilet training.

How did you go about toilet learning/training with your kiddo(s)? If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear ’em.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Where do your kids’ toys go to die? Children, consumerism, toys and trash

A few weeks ago I overheard a woman say (online) that she cleaned her basement and subsequently “threw out 10 bags of broken, crap toys!” The comments that followed applauded her efforts. I’m not sure if they were happy that she cleaned the basement or that she discarded numerous toys, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened that so many “broken, crap toys” were on their way to the landfill.

I can’t say I’ve never thrown out a broken toy myself, but generally speaking I try to make an effort to acquire toys that are the antithesis of “crap” and, thus will stand the test of time and, once they’ve lived out their time with us, can be given away to someone else (or saved for my kid’s kids…someday). Of course some less than stellar toys inevitably make their way into our house, but 10 bags of junked toys seems like a lot to me.

It had me wondering, is this scenario the norm or the exception? What do you think?

According to Earth911, “Recent studies show nearly every household purchases at least one toy a year (often more), and toy sales in the U.S. in 2007 totaled to $20.5 billion.” How many of those toys make their way into the landfills?

I have to admit that I feel guilty every time I throw a broken anything into the trash. I know that throwing something away doesn’t really make it go away. There is no “away.” It just means that it’s going to sit in a landfill or in an ocean somewhere for years and years and years. That bothers me, which is why I try to avoid it. (If you haven’t yet watch The Story of Stuff, I highly recommend it.) This is also why this weekend I was trying to Freecycle a bunch of stuff that we’re no longer using.

I wrote a bit about my process for getting rid of stuff in the post “Decluttering your house, the green way.”

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

* Do I really need this?
* Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
* Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
* What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

Good toys vs. Junk toys

Jennifer Lance wrote Green Family Values: No More Junk Toys! and offers some tips on how to tell a good toy from a junk toy:

How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:

  1. Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
  2. Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
  3. Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
  4. Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?

So what do you do with the old toys?

Earth911 has some tips for recycling toys including:

  • passing them on to other family members
  • donating them
  • repairing broken toys
  • or selling them.

They also list the benefits of recycling toys.

Think before you buy

I think the best advice though is to think before you buy. I know not every single toy purchase can be a thoughtful/practical one, but if you can change that so the percentage of thoughtful purchases is increased by 25%, 50%, 75% or more, think of how much crap that will keep out of the landfills. Also, you might want to consider the carbon footprint and the safety of the toy. How far did it have to travel to get to your toy store? If you live in the United States, could you buy an American-made alternative instead? There have been a lot of recalls of toys in the past several years. When you buy well-made, quality toys, you reduce the risk of a recall.

Children and consumerism

Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste in her post A Plastic Frisbee for the Landfill wrote:

I have to say, this is something that concerns me about 21st century life – the massive volume of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ toys that our children are growing up with. They last a few days at best and then become ‘rubbish’. Our children are bought up to look for the next fix and move on to the next thing, like good little consumers. I wonder how we can ever solve the landfill issue until we pull back from so much mindless consumerism. We try and stay away from it as much as we can, but we can’t live in a vacuum or turn our child into the village freak.

I agree. I don’t want my children to be turned into mindless consumers, which is why I support the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, but I also realize they cannot live in a vacuum and I don’t want them to be ostracized by their peers.

So, what’s the solution?

Think before you buy, have a plan in mind for what to do with a toy when your child is done with it, and remember: everything in moderation.

One of my favorite Native American proverbs is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Yes, a cheap plastic toy might make your child happy for a few minutes or weeks, but how happy will it make them in 20 years when their generation is responsible for cleaning up the mess that resulted from all of those cheap plastic toys?

Related links:
Second Chance Toys: Rescuing and Recycling Plastic Toys for Needy Children
Tips for Choosing Eco-friendly Toys
Simple toys are better for children
Toys from Trash

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