Monthly Archives: November 2011

Kids and Christmas – How Do You Keep the “Gimmes!” Away?

Christmas is a fun time to be a kid. You get to ask all kinds of people for things you want, and there’s a chance you might get them. It’s all pretty amazing. It also encourages kids to get really demanding about wanting more and more stuff. Is there any way to control this?

No way is perfect, of course, but you can cut things down some. Kids will be kids, and that means that even if you limit exposure to television commercials, there will be friends talking about the latest and greatest whatevers. Still, cutting down on media exposure is one of the best ways to limit how much stuff children ask for. Here are some more ideas.

Talk to Them Honestly

Discuss with your kids why they can’t have everything they want. You can cover financial reasons (who can afford all that?), environmental reasons (the waste, oh, the waste!) and even that sometimes it’s hard to buy something because too many people want it.

Go with whatever works for you. Children, especially as they get older, understand more than many adults think.

Remind Them of What’s Important to Your Family

We all want things, but there are values beyond things. Whether it’s the meaning of the holiday, thinking of those less fortunate or something else, remind your kids what lies beyond wishing for presents.

Discuss the Value of Patience

This one really helps if what your child wants is something you’re willing to get, but can’t do so yet. It doesn’t matter if it’s for financial reasons or because all the stores are sold out. Patience is something children need to learn.

Encourage Them to Give

Whether it’s the gifts they give to family or something your children give to charity, help them to remember that giving is as much a part of Christmas as receiving. Help your children start thinking of others, even if it’s just family members.

This can also include giving toys to a Toys for Tots drive or finding a place that gives you information about what a child or a family would like for Christmas. Another choice would be to look at international charities that provide live animals to poor families or otherwise do things to help communities in need. There are many opportunities to give both locally and around the world.

Sort Out Old Toys

Christmas is one of my favorite times to sort out old toys to give to charity. Kids know that new ones are coming, and there’s always some that just don’t get used anymore or maybe never really caught your child’s attention.

If your child is reluctant, you can do the sort yourself. I still suggest keeping your child involved in the process. One way is to divide the toys into two more or less equal piles. Let your child pick one to keep. Allow trades for truly wanted items, but you can put rules on it such as having to give up two items to get one back. Make sure you keep sets together.

Take the unwanted toys to a favorite charity together. You and your child can talk about what the charity will do with the toys and who will benefit.

If you really want to work the lesson more, you can encourage your child to give up some current favorite toys. Children can be amazingly generous given the chance. They may wince and whine, but they also may do it.

Black Friday Lines – and People Complain About Occupy Protesters

I’ve been hearing quite a bit about Black Friday lately. You can’t help it if you pay attention to just about any news source around here. People lined up days in advance, skipping their family’s Thanksgiving dinner just to get deals on whatever they’re after.

All I can think is about how much people complain about Occupy protesters sitting around too much. I’d sooner do that than spend days in line to buy something. At least they’re making a statement about a cause they believe in, hoping to make the world a little better, rather than spending days camping out to buy more things.

Admittedly, camping out for Black Friday is not without risk. You could get pepper sprayed by a fellow shopper apparently wanting to get ahead in line. You could get trampled by the crowds. Horror of horrors, you could miss out on whatever it was you’d hoped to buy. You just don’t know.

Personally, I can think of better uses for my time. Sales happen other times, and some patience can get you a really good deal with less trouble. I value my time too highly to trade days of my life for even a few hundred dollars saved.

Just think of what you could do with that time that others spent in Black Friday lines. I mentioned the various Occupy protests, but you certainly don’t have to join them. You can pick your own cause to support.

7 Ways to Have a More Eco Friendly Black Friday

Here comes one of the biggest shopping days of the year – Black Friday. It’s a time when many people go wild with their Christmas shopping, determined to get the best bargains, even if that means shopping all night at one of the many stores that plans to be open all night that night. If you don’t like the ridiculous overspending encouraged by Black Friday, why not rebel and find something to do that’s easier on the environment?

1. Participate in Buy Nothing Day

In North America, Buy Nothing Day is the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Black Friday. If you don’t approve of joining the crowds, show it, even if you plan to do Christmas shopping later. Just refuse to shop on Black Friday.

I love Buy Nothing Day because it means I can sit back and enjoy family at a time that’s a little quieter than Thanksgiving itself. Leftovers mean that meals are often easy to come by, and we’ve all done our holiday routine. Why hurry into the rush of the holiday season when you can ease yourself into it only as far as necessary? Take this day off.

2. Make homemade gifts.

If you’re into crafts, cooking and so forth, why not start work on your homemade gifts? I’m making a beautiful hair stick pair for my oldest daughter… good thing she doesn’t read my websites, I can say things like that. She has wanted one for ages. Might have to hand it over a bit before the holiday so she can wear it for Christmas.

3. Go shopping at thrift and resale stores.

Rather than buy new, see what you can find used to give as Christmas gifts. You may be able to find some gifts that are quite affordable used, but would be prohibitively expensive if bought new. Know your audience and go for it.

You may also be able to find great used items on sites such as eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle and so forth.

4. Buy warm clothes and bedding.

Want to save a little on your heating bills this winter? Seek out deals on warmer clothes and blankets for your bed. The warmer you dress, the less you have to heat your house to keep comfortable. Same goes for your bed when you go to sleep at night.

5. Go hiking.

Why stay indoors when you can get outside. Whether or not you can reasonably go hiking depends, of course, on your local weather, but if it’s just a matter of bundling up you may still be able to have some fun out there. Keep it safe and respect local conditions, of course.

6. Volunteer.

Have a cause you’d like to support? Get out and help it rather than go shopping. You could also join one of the Occupy groups if that’s an interest of yours, just for the day or longer if you like. Just do something that is your way of trying to make this world a little better.

7. Seek out eco friendly products – cautiously.

If you really need to get out into the sales, look for the eco friendly options out there. That may include a lot of online shopping, which allows you to avoid the crowds, plus you don’t have to drive anywhere.

It also means you can more easily seek out eco friendly products. Do be careful, as there’s so little regulation of green claims. See if there are any great deals on eco friendly products. Remember to include toys for the kids in your search. Places to shop include (I don’t know who all will be having Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales):

Greenbatteries Store
Ethical Ocean
Earth Divas
Gifts With Humanity
Amazon Green

21 Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste

We all waste some food – there’s only so much to be done for it. But that doesn’t mean you should assume all your food waste is necessary. Here are some ways you can cut down on the food you and your family wastes.

No matter which step you use, make sure you use safe food handling procedures and that leftovers haven’t been sitting around too long before you use them. Doesn’t do you any good to get sick off trying to cut back on waste.

1. Eat leftovers for lunch.

Rather than put all your leftovers from dinner into a single container, separate them out into lunch portions. These can be reheated and eaten the next day or put into the freezer for later use. If you use microwavable containers, they’re easy food on the go for people who have access to a microwave at lunchtime (hear that, dear husband?).

2. Use leftovers in other meals.

Some leftovers do well mixed into later meals. Meats can be added to stir fries, for example, or you can mix up last night’s vegetables with new ones cooked for tonight’s dinner.

3. Save vegetable scraps for broth.

I keep a bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer. Once there’s enough, they can be tossed into some water and made into vegetable broth, and from there into some wonderful soups. You can use the trimmings from many kinds of vegetables, such as carrots, onions, zucchini, bell peppers, celery and so forth. If the vegetable works well cooked, it may go well in your broth.

This also works well if you realize you aren’t going to finish a vegetable before it spoils. Freeze them while they’re still good.

4. Frozen vegetables.

You don’t necessarily have to save vegetables for broth – you can blanch them and freeze them for later use, rather like the frozen vegetables you can buy at the grocery store.

5. Serve the broccoli stalk, not just florets.

Broccoli stalks are actually my oldest daughter’s favorite part. She’s be furious if I tossed those. We cook them just the same as the florets.

6. Dry or can excess tomatoes.

Did you buy too many tomatoes or did your tomato plants go wild this year? Don’t stress out about how to use them all fresh – you can dry or can them for long term storage.

There are many ways you can can your tomatoes. You can leave them whole, slice them or make them into sauce. Think about how you’d like to use them, and make sure you use safe canning procedures as you work.

Tomatoes can also be dried. Sun dried tomatoes are a favorite of mine, but you can also use a dehydrator if you’d like things to go a little faster. Pay attention to food safety and know how long the method you use preserves your food.

7. Make bread.

Some vegetables make very good breads. Zucchini bread and pumpkin bread are classics, but you can find recipes for breads using other vegetables.

8. Dried fruit.

I love my dehydrator. I don’t use it as much as I should, but we’ve made some wonderful dried fruits with it. Kids love dehydrated fruits as a snack.

You can also look up recipes to puree fruit and make it into fruit leather that is far superior to the stuff they sell in stores.

9. Frozen fruit.

Fruit can also be chopped up and frozen for later use. Frozen fruit tastes great in the summer, and it’s also a quick addition to fruit smoothies.

10. Fruit bread.

Fruits go well into bread. I freeze bananas and defrost them when I want to make banana bread, but there are other bread possibilities out there.

11. Fruit salad.

There’s something about fruit salad that gets kids interested. You don’t have to add whipped cream for a fruit salad to interest them either.

12. Save those bones.

If you buy meat with bones, save the bones for soups. Homemade soups are really wonderful when the weather turns cold. I make a lovely chicken soup from scratch that is my oldest daughter’s favorite school lunch.

13. Make sandwiches.

Leftover meats can make great sandwiches. Mix them up with other ingredients and go at it.

14. Make burritos, tacos, fajitas, etc.

A bit of extra meat can be chopped up to make great fixings for burritos, tacos and so forth. Simmer it in an appropriate sauce to get the right flavor.

15. Pizza!

Surely your kids love pizza. Use leftover meats as one of the toppings.

16. Freeze milk.

Going on vacation but there’s a lot of milk in the fridge. You can give it to a neighbor or put it in your freezer. Make sure there’s room for the milk to expand a little as it freezes, but otherwise it should be just fine when you get back. I also freeze milk in cubes so that my kids can drink milk at school rather than juice.

You can also freeze cheese but be warned that it usually crumbles more easily afterward. It should taste fine, just be a little more crumbly, which can make it a bit more difficult to slice.

17. Stir cheese into dinner.

That little bit of cheese you have may go great with a variety of recipes. Think about what flavors your cheese will go with, whether it’s an addition to the main course or a topping for some vegetables.

18. Make bread crumbs or croutons.

Bread that’s getting a little stale can be made into bread crumbs or croutons. Make sure it isn’t going bad, just a little stale. Dry the bread at low heat in the oven. An easy way to do this is to toss it in a cooling oven after making dinner. You can easily turn it into crumbs with your blender once it has dried.

Bread crumbs go great in meat loaf and other recipes.

Croutons are made by chopping the bread into cubes, then tossing it with some olive oil and seasonings, then drying them in the oven.

19. Add to soup.

Crumble the bread into soup to thicken it.

20. Freeze excess bread, pancakes, etc.

Got more bread, pancakes or whatever than you can eat? Freeze the extra. It will still be good to use later. I especially do this when I make waffles. I’d rather make a bunch occasionally and have easily reheated extras than to make a small bunch.

21. Compost

If the food is safe for your compost pile and won’t attract pests, compost anything you can’t use. Composting meat, dairy and cooked foods is usually not recommended because while they will break down, they also attract rodents and tend to smell bad as they compost. Worms also may not touch the meat, so it will break down much more slowly. Some recommend running meat and dairy through the blender first if you want to compost them.

Ever Get Comments About Your Child’s School Lunches?

My kids bring lunch to school pretty much every day. I’m good at making their lunches on a small budget, and it allows me to include fresh vegetable and healthier ingredients in their lunches. What amazes me are that the kids get comments on their lunches, not too much from the other kids, but from the adults around them at the school.

My oldest says that her lunches fascinate one of the yard duties. My daughter often takes leftovers from the night before, plus a carrot or other fresh vegetable. It doesn’t often much resemble what other kids bring, from the little I’ve seen. No bag of chips, no juice box. It’s not always perfectly healthy or balanced, but it averages pretty good. My daughter eagerly awaits the next batch of homemade chicken soup so she can start bringing it to school, as it’s a favorite.

My son doesn’t get nearly so many comments, mostly because he’s in a big peanut butter and jelly phase. That’s all he ever wants for lunch. It’s cheap, and I’m glad of the protein in the peanut butter, but it’s not my favorite lunch for him overall. But when you pack school lunches, you want to be sure that the food will be eaten, and that’s what works right now. I hope it changes soon.

The key to a good packed school lunch is to make one that your kids will eat and not overmuch miss the junk that their friends will probably bring along. It pays to listen to what your kids want. Provide favored healthy foods, and they aren’t as likely to trade them away.

I don’t do all the packing for my kids’ lunches, and I think that’s a part of what helps. I pack the main dish, they pick sides and snacks from what we’ve agreed is allowed. This keeps it healthy yet it was their decision in part, rather than entirely my own.

Certainly they sometimes miss the foods they see other kids bringing, but not too badly so far. They know chips and such as an occasional treat, not a daily food. I’m hoping this will help with lifelong eating habits, although one can never be certain of that. Still, this is the time to try.

It’s really a lot of fun packing school lunches that are healthy enough to get positive and intrigued comments from others. It’s a little way for my kids to stand out in a positive way.