Category Archives: Eco Friendly Home

How To Get Home Cooked Meals On The Table More Easily

How To Get Home Cooked Meals On The Table More Easily

Home cooked meals are generally healthier and cheaper for your family than eating out or making convenience foods. But they take time, and all too often parents struggle with finding the time to prepare a home cooked meal. It doesn’t have to be all that hard, however. Take a little extra time when it’s convenient for you, and you can cut down on the time it takes to make healthier meals for your family.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is one of the most important tools you have in cooking at home more often in less time. Planning ahead allows you to know what you’re cooking for each meal, what ingredients you need, how much time you need to make it, and so forth. It saves you from debating each day what to make, or wondering what to buy at the store. You’ll know what you need.

Planning is best done with current grocery store specials and seasonal produce in mind, especially if you get produce from a CSA or other arrangement where you have little control over what veggies you’ll have. Don’t plan on having something you aren’t sure you will have the ingredients for – that’s an easy way to get desperate enough to resort to convenience foods or a meal out.

Chop Early

Many ingredients can be chopped days before you need them. If you’re as lucky as I am and have kids who love to snack on vegetables, having chopped vegetables also means you have healthy snacks ready for them. If you’re planning a stir fry or other meal with chopped meat, that’s another easy item to cut up in advance.

Cook Early

You can even cook some things early, so long as they reheat well. I don’t like to precook vegetables; it’s too easy to turn them into mush with repeated heating. When you precook vegetables, make sure they taste good to you after being reheated. Fortunately, many taste good raw or can easily be prepared along with your main dish. Lots of vegetables are wonderful roasted, for example, and may do well in the oven at the same time as the main dish.

Beans, on the other hand, are easy to prepare in advance. I like black beans, and usually have a bag of cooked ones in the freezer. I make a large batch, then freeze them in ice cube trays, moving them into a bag after they’re frozen. The cubes make it easy to get just the right amount of beans into my recipe.

You can also cook meats early. Once again, be careful about reheating, as meats are easy to dry out.

Use Your Crockpot

When days are rushed, I love my crockpot. It’s pretty good other times too, but it’s an absolute delight on those days when I otherwise wouldn’t have time available to make a home cooked meal.

It takes time to find really good crockpot recipes. Bad crockpot recipes take away all the flavor of otherwise good ingredients. I don’t recommend cooking vegetables in the crockpot all day – they’ll be soggy and flavorless. Add veggies later in the day if you can.

Think Raw

Not all foods have to be cooked just because they’re a part of a meal. I often let my kids pick which raw vegetables they want with their dinners. It ensures their enthusiasm, as they all love a variety of raw veggies. My youngest, for example, is utterly obsessed with bell peppers, no matter the color. But sometimes she’d rather just eat a carrot or some snap peas.

There are plenty of books out there to help you make quick homemade meals. Having good recipes is a big part of making homemade meals quickly. Here are some that look promising:

The Elliott Homestead: From Scratch: Traditional, whole-foods dishes for easy, everyday meals
Operation Dinner: How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals
Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners
The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner: Easy Family Meals for Every Day of the Week

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9 Ways to Reduce Waste Around the House

9 Ways to Reduce Waste Around the House

Inside your home is the place where you usually have the most control over the waste you and your family generates. After all, you and your family do the shopping for most of what goes in there throughout the years. If you want to cut down on the waste you’re generating, home is the place to do it. Here are 9 tips to help you reduce waste around your home.

1. Buy less.

So obvious, yet so difficult at times. The less stuff you buy, the less waste you’ll generate.

2.Buy used.

Not everything has to be bought new. There are so many things you can quite reasonably buy used, and that means less waste. Not only does it mean that fewer resources are consumed to make new products, used products often have far less packaging, depending on the source. Certainly items from thrift stores have very little packaging on the whole, however refurbished items may be packaged more or less like new ones. Still, refurbished items are less wasteful than new.

And of course, don’t forget handmedowns. This has saved me a ton of money in children’s clothes, as my sisters and I pass clothing down from child to child to child.

3. Go reusable.

There are so many things you can buy in reusable forms rather than disposable. Grocery bags. Water bottles. Batteries. Any time you need to buy something disposable, think about whether the reusable version might do as well or better.

4. Buy bulk.

When reasonable, buy things in bulk rather than in smaller packages. Some grocery stores have bulk bins, which can make it very easy to buy certain types of food in larger quantities.

Other items can be bought in bulk too. If your family tends to go through something regularly, take a look at how you can buy and store larger quantities. That way you won’t have to go out to buy them as often.

5. Cut down on food waste.

Pay attention to the foods you have on hand, and use up as much as possible before it spoils. In many families, leftovers are a major source of food waste, but there are ways to limit it. You can freeze leftovers into quick meals, for example, so that they last longer and may even be portable for those who work outside the home to bring to work for lunch.

6. Get off mailing lists.

Odds are good that you get a lot of mail you simply are not interested in. You can cut back on this by opting out of many mailing lists. The Direct Marketing Association provides this service for a fee. You can contact companies about catalogs you receive but do not want and get off their lists. You can also contact the credit reporting bureaus and request through each of them that you want off their mailing lists.

It takes some time for your name to get off all the lists. They aren’t updated every month, but over the course of a few months, the junk mail should decrease.

7. Compost.

Composting not only helps you decrease your waste, but gives you something beneficial for your garden. Outdoor compost bins or piles are the traditional ways to go, but there are ways you can compost indoors too.

8. Donate or sell old items.

Many things that you’re done using are still perfectly good for someone else. We recently replaced our old couch, for example, and after getting no interest in anyone buying it, we donated it to charity. Charities can be pretty picky about what they’ll accept, as they mostly want to be able to sell what they pick up from you.

Garage sales are another great way to go. You can sell off old clothes, toys or whatever else you have around the house you want to get rid of, and make a little money while doing so.

9. Recycle.

There may be a lot of things you can recycle, paper, plastic, glass bottles, aluminum cans, etc., depending on the programs available in your area. The recycling company in our area, for example, accepts all numbered plastics, but in other areas only plastics numbered 1 or 2 will be accepted. Plastic shopping bags can be recycled at many grocery stores, for those times you didn’t have a reusable bag on hand.

Old appliances can often be recycled too. Check for programs in your area.

How Can You Control Indoor Air Pollution In Your Home?

How Can You Control Indoor Air Pollution In Your Home?

Indoor air pollution has long been considered a problem by some people; completely disregarded by others. Many try to control the smells in their home with various air fresheners, but the chemicals used in these can cause reactions in some people, and may not necessarily actually clean the air. It’s better to look at other ways to control indoor air pollution in your home.

What Causes Home Indoor Air Pollution?

Air pollution inside your home comes from many sources. There can be VOCs from a wide variety of sources, allergens from pets, plants or insects, and much more. You can learn more about indoor air pollutants from Indoor Air Pollution: A Public Health Perspective (pdf). It’s a bit of an old report (1983), but I would still consider it relevant. It’s not like the sources of pollutants has changed that much.

What Can You Do About Indoor Air Pollution?

The first thing to do about indoor air pollution is to minimize it in the first place. Use the least toxic options when possible in your home, especially when cleaning. That’s why I love cleaning with baking soda and vinegar; I trust those to be safe. Many common cleaners used in the home are fairly toxic on their own, and may have added scents to make their use more pleasant, even though those scents may themselves be unhealthy.

You can have less carpeting in your home too. Carpets hold a lot of dirt, dust, pollen, mold spores and so forth. There can also be issues with the materials the carpet is made of as well as how it is installed and the padding used.

Avoiding products with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is important as well. There are now paints available with low or no VOCs, but other times they may be more difficult to avoid. Water based products are generally lower in VOCs than oil based products.

Any gas powered appliances, such as your stove/oven, furnace, hot water heater or clothes dryer can contribute to indoor air pollution. They may emit carbon monoxide, for example. You should have a carbon monoxide alarm in your home; in fact California now requires them (pdf) in any home with an attached garage or any fossil fuel source.

Your next step is to deal with the air pollution already in your home. Opening your windows can help to blow pollutants out, although you may get some more dust, pollen and such coming from outdoors, depending on the conditions outside. Still, your air will smell much better and the air outside is often cleaner than what’s inside.

Houseplants can also improve your indoor air quality. Some types, such as aloe vera (which is useful other ways too), spider plant and peace lilies are particularly suited to removing air pollutants. You can see more good choices at 15 houseplants for improving indoor air quality. Certain orchids can clean air as well, and they’re a favorite of mine.

However, it should be noted that houseplants may not remove a lot of pollution, and may encourage the growth of microorganisms if they’re overwatered. I still consider them worth it. They’re pretty!

You can also buy electric air purifiers. Make sure you pick the most effective one for your budget and situation – they can be bought for individual rooms or the entire home. carries all kinds of room air purifiers.

10 Eco Friendly Home Tips for Autumn

10 Eco Friendly Home Tips for Autumn

Autumn has just begun. Things here have cooled down just a little bit, perhaps most noticeable at night, not so much during the day. It’s time to think about what you need for cooler, perhaps even seriously cold weather, depending on where you live. Here are a few eco friendly home tips to get you going this autumn.

1. Heat your body, not your house.

When possible, focus on keeping your body warm, not the entire house. Wear warm clothes and use blankets to keep warm, rather than heat your house overmuch. This allows you to set your thermostat to a cooler temperature, and therefore use less power to heat your home. It also makes getting outside more comfortable, as you aren’t going from a significantly heated home to whatever temperature is outside.

Of course, in many places some heating of your home is necessary. Don’t freeze yourself or your family. Just think about what temperature range you can stand if you dress more warmly. A setting of 68 degrees on your thermostat is quite reasonable in many homes.

2. Maintain your furnace.

Just because you want to minimize its use doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain your furnace. Make sure it’s in good condition, with dust cleaned out so that it runs efficiently and safely. Check your filters too – they should be replaced regularly.

3. Take advantage of natural heating.

During much of fall, the sun’s rays are still strong enough that you can open your curtains or blinds on the sunny side of the house and bring in some warmth. On really cold days you may be better off blocking your windows, but if you can feel the sun’s warmth coming in, let it in.

4. Check your chimney.

If you have and use your chimney, get it checked now before the temptation to have a nice hot fire in the evening gets too strong. Debris in your chimney can catch fire if it’s not cleaned out.

5. Block drafts.

Those little places where a draft can sneak in can be very problematic on cold days. Repair or replace old weather stripping and find ways to block drafts coming in under doors. You can roll up a towel or small blanket to block drafts if necessary.

6. Check rain gutters on your house.

Rain gutters can get clogged up with all kinds of things through the year. Autumn is a great time to clean them out, especially if any of your trees tend to dump leaves in your rain gutters in the fall. Nicely functioning rain gutters are a big help in making the rain that falls onto your house go where you want it to.

7. Consider installing rain barrels.

While they aren’t allowed in all areas, rain barrels are a great way to catch and use some of the rain that falls on your home. Just make sure you have plans for if the rain barrel overflows, as it’s hard to have enough space to store all the water that falls during some storms.

8. Air out your home on warmer days.

When the weather is nice, remember to open the windows and air out your home. It’s a really eco friendly way to freshen indoor air and brighten your home for the day.

9. Enjoy indoor plants.

If you don’t already have indoor plants, get some. They add some nice color to your home during the cooler months and help clean the air inside your home. You can even grow some herbs indoors so you always have some fresh ones when you cook.

10. Clean out the clutter.

Cleaning out the clutter is good to do any time of year, so why not do it now? Take a look around and find all the stuff you don’t really need, and donate it to a good cause.

These are just a few ideas, and I’d love to hear what you and your family do to have a more eco friendly autumn. Please share your ideas in the comments.

How to Be Green

How to be green

Being green seems like a big deal to many people… too hard, requires giving up too much, just in general an awful thing. It doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of things you can do to be green, big and small. Just how far you commit is up to you. Here are some ideas that may help you learn how to be green.

Rethink Your Food

Not every eco friendly family goes vegan or even vegetarian. You can improve your food in other ways if that’s what you’d like. There are healthier and more eco friendly ways to buy meat than buying factory farmed meats, for example. You can also pay attention to the sources of your produce, going for organic at least on some of your foods, if not elsewhere.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is cut way back on processed foods. Eat more foods that you’ve cooked yourself, so you can avoid high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and so forth. They’ll generally be better for you, especially if you cut back on sugary foods.

Simplify the Easy Stuff

A big part of being green is simplifying. Cut back on the stuff you buy, and you’re doing better by the environment.

You don’t have to simplify everything. Look at what you can do easily first, and what will work for you. Not everyone can take mass transit of whatever sort to work, for example. Your family may need two vehicles. Don’t feel bad that you can’t cut back in some areas. Look at where you can.

Lightbulbs, for example. CFLs are more efficient than traditional lightbulbs, and will save you money in the long run. You could also switch from paper napkins and towels to cloth. The difference in laundry is pretty small, in my experience, but the difference in waste is clear.

Buy a Houseplant

Houseplants are wonderful for your indoor air quality, plus they look nice. Pick something that grows well indoors and find a place where you’ll remember to take care of it. I love my orchids.

Plant a Garden

Vegetable garden, flower garden, doesn’t matter. Vegetable gardens are wonderful because you have control over the pesticides and fertilizers you expose them to. Flower gardens can be great for the bees in your area. I particularly like wildflowers for that.

Rethink Your Lawn

A big, green lawn is appealing to most people, but it’s also hugely wasteful in many ways. Lawns use up a lot of water, and have to be mowed regularly. For most people, mowing involves either gas or electricity, but you can consider a simple push reel mower. You can also reconsider the fertilizers and weed control you use on your lawn. Runoff from lawns can be an issue downstream.

But a lawn isn’t your only option for an attractive yard. You can xeriscape, often quite attractively. You can replace parts or all of your lawn with other plants that require less care. You can add a tree to your yard, which can increase the shade in your yard so it may need less water, and if it’s close enough to your house, may help keep it cooler in summer too.


If you can spare the space, composting is a wonderful way to limit the food waste you throw in the trash. From the traditional compost bin to bokashi composting, there are options to go in many different spaces and situations. Best of all, compost goes wonderfully with your garden.

Rethink Your Cleaning Supplies

There are all kinds of chemicals you may be using to clean your home. Many of them can be changed for more eco friendly options. You can buy green cleaners at the store (beware of greenwashing – not all are what they seem!) or learn to use simple ingredients such as vinegar and baking soda for different cleaning jobs.

Look For Secondhand Items

There are all kinds of ways to find secondhand items. Thrift stores, garage sales, family, Freecycle, Craigslist… the list goes on. Some of it will be in great condition still, and you’ll save money. The selection can be rather random, of course.

Family is great if you have kids of the right age. My sisters and I have handed down clothes from child to child for years, and I can’t begin to figure out how much that has saved us.

Do It Your Way

None of these are absolute musts to live a greener lifestyle. You may find other changes easier to make than these. Just keep the general concepts of making your life simpler and using fewer resources when you can in mind, and that’s a start.