Monthly Archives: April 2010

Should Happy Meal Toys Be Banned?

I’m not a big fan of the toys that come in children’s meals at fast food restaurants. Actually, I’m not a huge fan of fast food restaurants in general or rather, the really unhealthy food most of them serve. But I don’t think the ban of toys included with Happy Meals and other kids meals that Santa Clara county is enacting is the answer.

I just don’t think making them drop the toys is the answer to the obesity issue that they’re focusing on.

I understand that they will allow restaurants whose kids meals meet certain nutritional guideline to continue to offer the kids toys. Fine, whatever. I’d be much surprised if that changed the menus.

You see, I don’t think the toys are enough of the attraction. This is something I’ve discussed with my daughter, who is about to turn 8.

She tells me that the play areas are an even bigger part of the attraction for her. We talk pretty often about health, eating right and being active, so she knows that fast food isn’t good for her. But those play areas!

I can’t say I blame her for loving them. Many times I’ve wished I could fit in them comfortably. What kid doesn’t love climbing around?

Aside from my rather quiet son, that is.

Of course, no one is going to suggest that they can’t have play areas unless their food is healthy. No one wants to make things even worse by saying that if you want to eat unhealthy food then you can’t be active at the restaurant because play areas aren’t allowed there. That’s just silly.

I do understand that other kids do go just because they want the latest cool toy that is included with their Happy Meal. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are great for getting in toys that kids will want for at least 5 minutes after they actually receive them. But I think it’s important to remember that the toys aren’t the only draw.

Besides, fast food places aren’t the only ones serving junk to kids. I found this link to a Cupertino School District lunch menu for April. Looks rather problematic to me. Now who’s promoting unhealthy eating habits?

Parents Need to Step Up

But the simple truth of the matter is that kids can’t get fast food when they’re young without the help of parents. Parents who are often in a rush and just want something quick and easy for lunch or dinner when they take the kids for fast food.

The first thing to do is focus on healthy eating at home. Think about the snacks you provide. Think about what you cook and how often you eat out. These are things you have control over.

I don’t have a problem with eating unhealthy food some of the time. It’s when it’s a constant thing that it becomes a problem. You don’t have to go to a fast food restaurant just because the kids start begging for it.

Schools try to teach kids about healthy eating to a limited degree, but then they mess it up with menus like the one I linked to above. They’re stuck too, with tight budgets for food and the only cheap enough stuff isn’t that good for you.

That’s why parents need to take the time to learn these things themselves. The schools aren’t going to teach enough about healthy eating. You can.

You can start a garden with your kids. Have them help prepare meals. Take them grocery shopping and focus on the fresh foods, not the convenience foods. Find healthy recipes online.

Just work with them on really thinking about their food and what goes into making it healthy.

And don’t forget to send them outside to play every day possible. Food is not the only cause of weight problems.

Don’t Focus on Obesity

My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who is really aware of the social pressures to not be obese. I’m working hard on teaching her and my son that it’s not about your weight, it’s about healthy habits. I’ve talked to her about people we know who are probably considered obese, but who are probably in better shape than others who are thinner.

It’s hard to give kids a realistic view of weight, healthy eating and fitness when society focuses so much just on obesity. And while obesity is certainly a problem, you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they eat healthy foods and exercise, but happen to have a metabolism that is just at a particular weight.

You can’t tell by looking if someone who is skinny really eats well and exercises or just has one of those really fun metabolisms.

I’d rather teach good habits than teach my kids to obsess over numbers on a scale. It’s hard, when the rest of the world tells them otherwise, but I think that’s a better lesson.

But What About the Toys?

I said it at the start, I’m not so much a fan of the toys. How many kids play with them much at all the next day? I know mine don’t.

My mother decorated her Christmas tree last year with Happy Meal toys she got from her various grandchildren. Probably the best use I’ve seen for them.

But wow, all that plastic!

I don’t favor making laws getting rid of them, whether the reason is environmental or to discourage kids from wanting unhealthy kids meals. I cringe to say that, but it’s true. I don’t think legislating the problem away is a real fix.

Cheap plastic toys, no matter the source, are going to be with a for a while. And while they may attract kids to unhealthy food, it’s up to the parents to say no. I can handle that.

If you want to do your part, convince your kids to reject the toys even if they do get a Happy Meal. Difficult, but they might surprise you sometimes. This is something you can do on your own.

I know the commercials can make this difficult. Kids see the current toy offerings on television and sometimes that inspires them to beg for a trip to Mcdonalds for that toy.

Don’t just say no. Take a moment and discuss why you’re saying no. Point out the many other toys they have if that helps with your kids.

Or just say no, not today. You’re the parent and you can do that.

Is Being Eco Friendly Just Too Much Effort?

How do you think of being eco friendly. Is it something that’s just a part of your day or is it something that takes a lot of work? How you view it is probably a big part of whether or not you’re succeeding at being green.

It’s Too Much Work!

Work. Effort. Time consuming. Expensive. Inconvenient.

Those are some of the ways many people see being eco friendly. It’s no wonder people don’t want to concern themselves about the environment when that’s how they see the steps required.

And it’s true of some eco friendly things you can do. Having your own organic garden takes work and is time consuming. Organic and local produce can be expensive and inconvenient. Putting in solar panels is expensive at the start. Reusing things instead of throwing them away is time consuming and may be inconvenient.

Thank goodness not everything that’s eco friendly is really hard to do.

Some things take just a small step and they become easy. Switch your incandescent bulbs for CFLs and you’re saving energy with no extra effort. If you find the bulbs discounted by your local power company they aren’t even particularly expensive.

If your recyclables all go into one bin, having a recycle bin next to your trash cans is easy. It’s a small inconvenience having to empty two cans instead of one, but it’s overall not that hard to manage.

Turning out the lights as you leave a room is easy once you build the habit.

Organizing your errands so that you drive less actually saves you time. It also saves gas, which means you spend less money.

Adjusting the thermostat is easy and saves money. An extra sweater in winter or dressing a little cooler in summer while letting your body adjust to warmer temperatures is surprisingly easy.

Some efforts can become a pleasure. If you like being outdoors or just want to be a bit more active, that garden can provide that while producing wonderful vegetables for you that are far superior to what you can buy at the store. It’s not heavy exercise once you’re done with the digging, but it’s getting you off the couch and into the fresh air.

Isn’t that what parents are always trying to get kids to do? It’s still good advice.

Take Small Steps

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, just pick one simple green step to start yourself off. Small changes are easier to make than big ones. When you’re comfortable, add another, then another.

There’s not much in life that comes with no effort at all. That’s true even of your bad habits. Put in a little more effort and build better ones.

Meatless “Shepherd’s” Pie

For our Earth Day dinner last night, I made a recipe called Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Well, approximately. I didn’t have all the ingredients. No Vegemite or similar, and we were out of carrots. But I came pretty close.

Cooked the lentils and barley in veggie broth for about an hour all together. Threw in some garlic and a variety of spices. Sauteed some chayote squash and asparagus, and added them when the barley was close to done. Added in some frozen green beans. Thickened the remaining liquid with a flour and water mixture.

Topped with mashed potatoes and some mozzarella, then threw the thing in the oven for long enough to melt the cheese.

In other words, I didn’t follow the recipe very precisely. I took the idea and ran with it. That’s pretty much how I cook.

I did most of the cooking in my cast iron skillet. I love that thing. No transferring a hot mess into a casserole dish to cook in the oven, and it really saves on cleanup.

A Hit?

Finally, a new vegetarian recipe that went over well with my family. My oldest daughter in particular loved it. It took my husband nearly two hours before he said “you know, you could just add the lentils to regular shepherd’s pie.”

I was wondering how long it would take him to get to the “just add meat” stage.

That’s longer than usual, though. And he agrees with my point that it is a good meal on its own and really useful for saving money or just not having to worry about whether or not there’s any meat defrosted.

One step at a time. One step at a time. I’m just glad to have a new, highly acceptable vegetarian meal to rotate in.

The Trouble with Earth Day

Earth Day is a great concept. Encourage people to take better care of our planet. Make them more aware of what we’re doing to our environment and how to help make things better.

But this is the real world. And that means corporations loooove Earth Day. What better chance for them to show that they’re wonderful, delightful, responsible corporate citizens who care about the things that we care about?

No matter what they really do.

I’ve been having a lot of fun going around reading various Earth Day posts, and I see that I am far from the only one frustrated with this. No surprise there. I rather liked this video:

I picked that one up over at It’s Getting Hot in Here.

Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play is frustrated with Lockheed Martin recommending green books for kids, and I have to agree with her point, even if some commenters bring up points on where the company makes some green efforts. I find it particularly scary that the study she mentions where they’re paying people to drink water contaminated with perchlorate every day for six months is happening not that far from me. Ewww!

Sometimes I Just Have to Laugh

Not all posts remind me of how much greenwashing goes on. Sometimes they make me laugh because what they want me to do is almost impossible for me.

Take this post on Mother Nature Network about Disney’s hat offer to celebrate the release of their movie, Oceans. All you have to do is six plastic bottles or aluminum cans to your local Disney store on April 22 and you’ll get a free hat made from recycled bottles.

Do you have any idea how long it would take me to save that many plastic bottles or aluminum cans??? I mean, if they take milk jugs I could manage it in a few weeks, I haven’t entirely eliminated plastic from my life, but I don’t buy drinks in small containers if I can help it.

What Can You Do?

If this frustrates you like it does me, just keep trying to be green and encouraging others to do so as well. Don’t let the greenwashers fool you. Speak out when you see greenwashing in action.

Most of us won’t manage to live a perfectly green life, even on Earth Day. But we can keep trying to do better.

What Small Green Steps Have You Taken? Ready for More?

A few months ago I joined the One Small Change challenge. Today being Earth Day, I thought I would share how things went and where to go from here. Plus I’ll share some Earth Day tips from around the web.

How Did One Small Change Go?

My ability to stick with my changes for One Small Change were pretty varied. Getting to the co-op for fresh, mostly local and/or organic produce has been difficult to say the least. Saturday mornings just have not been the right time for that to be easy for me. But I’m determined to keep doing it when the schedule works out. I love the variety available.

Washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar is actually working pretty well now. I’ve used shampoo every here and there, but it’s maybe every 3 weeks. My hair seems to be adjusting pretty well. So far no complaints from family members. The baking soda and vinegar do a very nice job of keeping my hair clean.

Eating at least one vegetarian meal a week has been very challenging. The month I chose to do it in had a lot of disruptions to my routine, which meant more meals were put together as fast as possible, too little spare time to find new recipes. But once again, I mean to stick to this.

I didn’t even come up with a new resolution for this month. Those schedule disruptions continued in too far. Things are easing up now.

Each of these changes sounded pretty easy, but it’s amazing how hard it is in real life. The ones dealing with food require pretty serious changes in my routine. The hair care routine isn’t really much different from washing my hair more conventionally, so it has been easier to do.

From here, of course, I’ll just keep trying to live as eco friendly a life as I can manage. How easy that will be I just don’t know. But this is Earth Day, and that means people have spent all week posting suggestions.

More Ways to Go Green – Earth Day Blog Posts from Around the Web

Green and Clean Mom offers 10 Ways to Make Earth Day Everyday with tips such as spending less money, using post consumer recycled toilet paper and eating local.

Mother Nature Network of course has plenty of posts on the topic of Earth Day, but I like the reminder to do things, not just attend local Earth Day celebrations. I especially like the reminder to not eat meat for the Day. The guerrilla gardening tip is fun too. My husband loves making seed bombs. And don’t forget the great reminder to let your representatives know you care about our planet!

Mashable isn’t a site focused on green topics, but they get into the act with

5 More Ways to Go Green for Earth Day. I rather think kids will enjoy their link to Green My Parents. Could be a good tool for helping your kids learn about the very real financial and environmental costs of your lifestyle.

Blisstree shares 10 places to volunteer during Earth Week, and they share links to or just in case none of the opportunities they list are near you.

Read, Read, Read!

Books are wonderful for learning more about what you and others can do for the environment. If you know you’ll only read the book once, try to get it from your local library. If you’re like me and reread just about everything, your own copy isn’t that bad a deal. If you already own a Kindle or other ebook reader, buying an electronic copy is not a bad way to go either.

Here are some books to consider. I haven’t read all of them, but they look promising, whether by being good for the environment or being good for your family.

I have to start out with two of my favorites, Free-Range Kids and Last Child in the Woods. They aren’t specifically about the environment, but how else are we to get kids to care about the environment if they don’t experience it? That includes giving them the freedom so many of us had as kids.

More titles to consider:

Girls Gone Green
Green Guide Families: The Complete Reference for Eco-Friendly Parents
The Omnivore’s Dilemma and/or The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids
Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It
Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells—Our Ride to the Renewable Future
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet
Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution