At my daughter’s one-year appointment, my pediatrician recommended that we increase her weight gain by giving her Pediasure instead of milk. Considering this same doctor had once suggested feeding our baby Bugles, Pringles, and Lorna Doone cookies just to help her pack on the pounds, my first reaction was very resistant. After all, I wouldn’t eat those foods—did I really want to start a junk food addiction in my young child?
I went to the store to check it out, and found that the first three ingredients of Pediasure are water, sugar, and maltodextrin. So what is maltodextrin, anyway? It’s a common food additive that can be produced from starch—Pediasure derives theirs from corn. I’d been careful to feed my baby nothing but organic fruits, grains, and vegetables during her entire first year—it felt like all that care about avoiding unnatural foods would go out the window as soon as she chugged her first bottle of sugary, chocolaty, maltodextriny Pediasure.
I wanted my baby to eat organic foods not just for health reasons—I wanted to support organic farms and dairies. Buying Pediasure would not meet that goal, and each drink came in a separate plastic bottle. I was sure Audrey would drink five sips and the rest would need to go down the drain. All this hypothetical waste was driving me nuts.
So how could I fatten my baby naturally? In the end, I defied doctor’s orders and made sure to fortify her foods with more calories, vitamins, and fat. My daughter ate almost anything as long as it was mixed with oatmeal. I ground organic oats in the food processor and made her a concoction out of it. Then I mixed in a frozen cube of pureed beans, vegetables, or fruit. I began adding more and more ingredients until one little dish contained well over 300 calories.
How I Fortified My Daughter’s Food:
We met with a dietician who applauded my efforts in fattening our baby up the natural way. Another tip she offered was to add a couple tablespoons of cream to her milk, which we also tried for several weeks. Eventually, she fattened up and the doctor declared that she was happy with Audrey’s weight gain. It’s been months since she’s eaten a delectable bowl of oats, kale, olive oil, almond meal, rice protein, and flax seeds. Hey, at least it wasn’t maltodextrin!
There are some mothers who are up-to-date on all the latest recommendations in pregnancy and child development. These women avoid caffeine and soft cheeses during pregnancy and compliment their child in five different languages when he reaches a new milestone (five months ahead of his peers, no doubt). On the opposite end of the spectrum, we find the parents who, through lack of education and resources, remain ignorant of all the expert opinions in child-minding.
And then there are the parents like me. Parents who know all about the baby rules and regulations touted by medical and safety authorities and blatantly disregard them! Why do I do it? I guess I’m just a renegade, a rebel, a rule-breaker in general. Or . . . maybe I am just lazy. Or . . . I am doing it to save the world! Here are just some of the rules I break out of eco-consciousness:
I don’t use paper towels. Okay, there is no rule about using paper towels, but many parents believe paper towels are necessary for wiping up spills and dirty faces. I just use washcloths.
I let baby eat off the floor. The five second rule is in full effect at our house. I hate wasting food more than I value perfectly sanitary eating conditions. A recent study by Clemson University validates my earth-friendly practice, proving that food eaten within five seconds after contact with the floor is safer than food that has been lying on the floor for a long, long time. Good to know. The Grinder, a food media blog, writes about it here.
I wash baby’s laundry with our laundry. I had heard about washing our daughter’s clothes in a separate load. Never did it. I would have to buy a lot of clothes to make up a full load, and tossing just two pairs of pants and three onesies in the wash is not a sustainable practice (for me or the environment). I even found a hospital to back me up on this one.
I let her sleep in a used crib. How many times have you heard that a baby should never, ever, ever sleep in a used crib? I just followed the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics and my baby has been snoozing peacefully in her secondhand crib for over a year and a half now with no ill effects.
I don’t sterilize anything. This rule may have been revised now that more people are concerned about the toxins leaching from plastic, especially when plastic is heated. However, there are still those who practice vigilant sterilization of every surface the baby may come in contact with: bottles, toys, floors, walls, etc. I belong more to the “germs are good for the baby; they’ll help build her immune system” school of thought.
I don’t turn the heat up. Before the baby was born, we set the thermostat at 62 degrees during the day and turned it off at night. After layering on multiple sweaters, hats, scarves, and gloves, it was perfectly comfortable. Imagine my shock upon hearing babies need the thermostat cranked up to 74 degrees. We didn’t do it. Instead, we turned the thermostat to 64 (the decadence!) during the day and 59 at night. We keep a small heater in her room since it’s dangerous to pile blankets on top of a baby, and we save energy by not heating the entire house. Our daughter always feels perfectly warm and toasty.
I don’t give the baby daily baths. Again, this is not exactly a rule. In fact, many pediatricians recommend bathing babies less frequently to avoid skin irritations from too much warm water. Bathing my baby just once a week (whether she needs it or not) saves at least 120 gallons of water a week, or 6,240 gallons a year!
So why break the rules? I figure all this reckless rule-breaking is better for my budget, my sanity, the Earth, and my baby. Most of the children on the planet don’t live by these conventions and are perfectly happy without paper towels and separately-washed laundry. My daughter will still have a wonderful childhood—the beefed-up immune system and environmental rebelliousness will just be bonuses.
Ever since I was brainwashed by Woodsy Owl and the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” campaign of the ‘70s, I’ve always been a bit of an environmentalist. Most of the time my green values have dovetailed rather nicely with my tightwad spirit. But for some reason gift shopping has remained beyond my environmental considerations.
Although I get a weird adrenaline rush mining for thrift store treasures, we don’t always have the time to shop secondhand. Plus, I sometimes worry that the gift recipient won’t share my zeal for used goods. In the past, I’ve waited for sales, bought off-season, and just generally bided my time until the right deal came up.
This year is different now that I have a baby to shop for, too. As if my recently heightened green consciousness wasn’t enough, concerns about toys coming from China have pushed me to look for new options. Instead of feeling vaguely guilty about purchasing most gifts at big box stores, I’ve taken some fledgling steps toward becoming a more ethical consumer—and gift giver.
Buy local: I would love to buy every item I own in a small, local shop but in truth, it sounds way too ambitious to schlep through all of them with my active 15-month-old. My solution–websites and phone calls to scout out options before we ever leave home. Three of my favorite local spots for thoughtful gifts here in Eugene, Oregon are Down to Earth, Elephants Trunk Toy Company, and Eugene Toy and Hobby.
Check online: Rosie Hippos toy company describes themselves as “a small family business in a young forest of cedar trees and ferns.” If that isn’t enough to motivate my inner environmentalist, their huge selection of beautiful hand crafted natural toys did the trick. For older children, Hearthsong Toy Company offers “Toys you’ll feel good about giving.” When I saw their craft kits, games and unique toys, I had to agree. Heirloom toys cost far more than I’m used to paying, but it is in an investment in a toy that may outlast my life.
Make a gift—even if it’s just a small one: For the last seven years my husband and I have made some attractive and some downright pathetic ornaments for each other every Christmas. One year he crafted an ornament that was supposed to resemble the avocado—my most beloved food. Instead it looks rather like fake vomit dangling from a silver cord. Still, it endears him to me every year. Rebecca once crafted ornaments for her nieces and nephews by felting wool from an old sweater into ornaments—green and homemade!
Give an experience: In the long run, memories are the only thing with a lifetime guarantee. Taking a child to the zoo or giving free tickets to an outdoor concert widens their world without planetary consequences. If any one of my family members gave me free babysitting or a coupon redeemable for dinner delivered to the front door I would weep with gratitude. (Am I giving blatant hints for gift ideas…Yes!)
Other ideas? How do you manage to balance your values, your budget, and multiple birthday parties? Send us your ideas on greener giving and they just might get posted to our site. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.I’m still far short of perfect when it comes to living my green values. Convenience definitely comes into play, and there are items I buy in big box stores. The difference now is that price isn’t the only concern. If I can think about making better choices, even part of the time, then I’m moving in the right direction.
What would Christmas morning be without festive wrapping paper and fancy bows? (“It’s about peace and love and the birth of our Savior!” you answer.) Okay, but stick with me here. I’m talking about every kid’s much-awaited vision of Christmas morning. Will my daughter grow up deprived if I deny her the tearing-up-the-gift-wrap experience that is every American child’s birthright? Oh, she’ll have Christmas gifts aplenty—but this year, I’ve devised some eco-friendly alternatives to disposable gift wrap. If I start this practice before she’s speaking in full sentences, it should be easy, and she’ll never know what she’s missing.
Joy’s mom was way ahead of the gift wrap revolution when she sewed a set of fabric gift bags in the early 1980s. Family names are ironed onto bags, some are just decorated with quilted fabric, and all of them have a fabric ribbon sewn into the seam for quick “wrapping.” They use them for all holidays and especially enjoy seeing the familiar ones year after year. Those bags have saved reams of wrapping paper, hundreds of dollars, and hours of time in their nearly thirty-year lifespan. Last year Joy’s favorite gift was a set of her own gift bags to be used for her family’s holidays for many seasons to come. If you would like to invest in bags that will last you for years, check out http://luckycrow.com. They have several beautiful fabrics and sell some of their designs in organic fabrics.
As for me, I didn’t have any special gift bags to use this year. Piles of used ribbon, fancy gift boxes, gift bags, fabric, and Christmas tins multiply down in the depths of my basement. I try not to hoard things. I even like to think of myself as somewhat of a minimalist. But somehow, it happens. “Maybe I’ll reuse them one day,” I think to myself. Well, that day has come! Just look at what I accomplished with my handy reusing skills:
Some of those presents are for my mom, stepfather, and sister. On Christmas day they will have the very enticing option of keeping their decorative tin, bag, or box or leaving it behind to be relegated to another year in my basement. If they choose the latter option, they may very well find another Christmas present inside it next year. Despite the beautiful presentation, I’m sure my daughter will still tear into her presents. Most likely she’ll be happier placing the boxes on her head than she will be with what is inside.