Baby Bento Box Recommendation

Let me get this out of the way: I am going to recommend a plastic product! Egads! I searched high and low for a non-plastic bento box for my daughter, but I ended up with this Sassy baby bento box, which is BPA-free. For the last year or so, I’ve been packing her lunches for daycare in these little containers:

Colors may vary

I love it! Here’s why. Before I broke down and bought this, I was packing her lunch in various containers, which was unwieldy. The main reason I like it is because it makes creating her meals easier. Something about having three little containers helps me focus on food options. I might put apple slices in the big compartment, cheese cubes in one of the small ones, and crackers in the other one. Or half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the large container and small carrot sticks in one small container, raisins in the other.

Downsides: The spoon is flat and useless, so I don’t use it. Some reviewers on Amazon complained that the containers are leaky if you put pureed foods in them. I have never put leaky things in the box, so this isn’t an issue for me.

The box is perfect for a small child with a minimal appetite. My daughter rarely finishes everything in her lunch, but an older or bigger child would probably want a more substantial lunch box. But I highly recommend the Sassy bento box for the preschool set!

Shift Your Habit: A great Earth Day read!

As a thrifty, green soul, Shift Your Habit by Elizabeth Rogers seems written just for me. How do I love it? Let me count the ways:

1. It’s infinitely practical. The tips are focused on tiny lifestyle changes that save money and the environment. Each shift is listed along with cost savings, extra positives, and planetary benefits.
2. It’s road tested. Elizabeth Rogers, who also coauthored “the green book” asked dozens of families from across the nation to participate in the shifts. Some were excited about going green, and some just wanted to save money. Everyone benefited from the changes and those stories are featured throughout the book.
3. It’s just a list. For those of us functioning on limited sleep and less time, the book really is just a bulleted list with subtitles. It’s easy to get something out of it just by reading for five minutes.
4. It includes baby. Of course, as authors of The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, we absolutely believe that going green with baby should save you money. Rogers writes about the positives of cloth diapering, making homemade baby food and much more. If you want a brief intro about how to go green with baby, this is a great place to start.
5. It inspires me. We all suffer green fatigue when we take on too much, too soon. This book focuses on so many small, easy changes that suddenly saving money and the planet seems rather simple. It’s a great place to start reducing your impact or to find simple ways to go a bit further.

Here’s a sample tip from the book:

  • The SHIFT: Buy motion-sensor outdoor security or porch lighting instead of non-sensor lighting that runs throughout the night.
  • Save $$: Up to $160 on electricity bills per year.
  • Save the Planet: Conserve 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
  • Good for You: Deters trespassers!

Doesn’t that sound easy!  And that’s the format that most of the book takes––although it’s also sprinkled with intermittent stories of volunteer “shifting” families.  A great and incredibly easy read!

If money is feeling a bit tight, we recommend requesting this little gem at your local library and putting a reserve on it so that you’ll be the first one to check it out. (You can do the same with our book too!) Have you read Shift Your Habit or heard of it? It’s a one to add to your reading list!

Why Making Baby Food in the Blender is a Bad, Bad Idea

Constrained by a dearth of kitchen cabinets, Joy has never owned a food processor. How, then, did she manage to blend up her own baby food? Did she smash yams with her bare hands, pulverize zucchini with a potato masher, or run over a bag of ripe bananas with her bicycle? No. She used her blender.
kitchenaid 5-speed blender
The Kitchenaid 5-speed Blender

Now, when Joy told me this, I had to laugh: this was the only kitchen gadget—and I confess to owning many, many kitchen gadgets—that I didn’t get much use of when making baby food. Blenders are more suited to blending liquid concoctions than pureeing fruits and veggies. You’ll find yourself adding a lot of water and making good use of a spatula when you make baby food in a blender. Because of this, we (well, I) recommend using a food processor or a food mill for your baby food making adventures.

If you do have a blender or want to buy a blender, it does have a place in the baby food kitchen. Once your little one learns to drink from a straw, you can pack fruits, vegetables, and “extras” such as brown rice protein powder into smoothies and popsicles. (Here’s my recipe for spinach-strawberry popsicles. Here are Joy’s popsicle recipes, including a delicious tofu-chocolate one.  And don’t forget another great blender recipe: Yumm sauce, the sauce that gets your kids to beg for beans, rice, and vegetables.)

So what blender is best? I recommend a glass blender with a wide base (click on that link for several affordable options). Cheap plastic blenders tend to change shape over time, and depending on the type of plastic used, it can leach chemicals into your food. A wide base makes the blender much easier to clean. I have the KitchenAid KSB5 5-Speed Blender, which costs $150. I bought mine over ten years ago, and I have been very happy with it.

Do you use a blender for making baby food? I promise not to chastise you for it. Come back for my reviews of immersion blenders!

Using a Blender to Make Baby Food

blended baby foodRebecca likes to cruelly taunt me about the use of my blender for making homemade baby food. Honestly, I could care less. I proudly stand behind my little Osterizer and its amazing ability to whip up heaps of sweet potatoes, baby spinach, and pureed pears. (By the way, Rebecca and I are playing up the blender drama just for show. Our nearly twenty year friendship hasn’t been damaged by this small appliance duel.)

Due to limited storage in my kitchen, I have to limit my gadgets. Nothing earns the right to live in my cupboards unless it can prove that it has many functions on a regular basis. My blender is a standby for summer smoothies, popsicles, and, of course, baby food. I simply steam or boil the food, dump it in, and add some of the liquid used to cook it. Then I whirl it up and dump it in ice cube trays for storage. When it’s frozen, the cubes go into labeled freezer bags where they wait to be microwaved for dinner. If you’re looking for some elegant and healthy recipes, along with cloth diapering tips and heaps of ways to save money on raising baby, check out our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide.

Do I find the blender difficult to use? Hardly! I will say that when I’m making a big batch I occasionally have to turn the blender off and stir the contents a bit with a wooden spoon before I start pureeing again. I can’t really say that it’s any hardship…  And, to validate my choice of appliance, there is actually a book entitled Blender Baby Food!”  I haven’t read it and can’t comment on whether it’s worth a purchase, but it certainly goes to show that I’m not the only one putting my Osterizer to good use!

Do you use a blender for baby food? What is your appliance of choice? Let’s get this debate going!

Making Your Own Baby Food with a Food Mill

If you don’t already own a food mill, don’t necessarily rush out and buy one. In The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, we warn against buying something that you’ll use just a few short months—and really, babies graduate from pureed mush to bite-sized chunks relatively quickly. However, if you think you might get some use out of a food mill once your baby food days are over, then now is the time to get one. It’s one of the best tools for baby food cookery you can find. Why? A food mill saves a lot of work. No peeling and seeding—just steam some apples or sweet potatoes or green beans and run them through the mill. All the seeds, peels, and stringy bits get filtered right out–and it doesn’t even need any electricity to work!
rsvp international rotary food mill
RSVP International food mill

What else can you use a food mill for? I needed one to make gnocchi several years ago. The recipe warned that any other contraption would render the potato dough gluey and unworkable. Now I use it all summer to make gazpacho. (Here’s a recipe from the Gluten-Free Gourmand. Notice I plug the food mill throughout the comments!) No need to seed and peel those tomatoes and cucumbers—just feed them through the mill and they come out silky smooth. Ever try to press berries through a strainer with a spatula to make a coulis? I use a food mill for this task now.
cuisipro deluxe food mill
Cuisipro Deluxe food mill

I have something similar to this RSVP International Veg-3 Rotary food mill—though I remember paying just $12 instead of $25 for it! (Mine is a Moulinex, which I did not find online.) If you’d prefer a stainless steel device, try the Oxo Good Grips food mill ($44.99) or the RSVP Endurance Stainless Steel food mill for $34.95. There’s also the Cuisipro Deluxe food mill for $104.95, but I’m not sure what makes it so much more expensive than the other brands.

Some parents buy a mini food mill for making baby food on the go. Theoretically you could take it with you to restaurants and blend up what you’re having for baby. I think this would be a waste of money; you already know how I feel about limited-use baby gear. Of course, I’m really not one to talk considering the number of gizmos that reside in my kitchen.

Making Your Own Baby Food with a Food Processor

You’ll be happy to know that pulverizing steamed vegetables is an easy culinary skill to master, whether you use a fork, food mill, or your own mouth (as one reader suggested). We went over the various tools in this vintage post, and we still recommend making your own baby food if you want to save money. In The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, we show you just how much you can save by cutting back on jarred foods.
cuisinart food processor

Kara over at Just Simply Live was kind enough to review our book. She loved the whole thing but walked away wishing we’d reviewed some food processors. Great idea! We didn’t do it in the book for a reason: We didn’t want new parents to feel like they had to rush out and buy something before they could make their pureed delights. Now, what I’m about to say may be shocking, but I’ll go ahead and say it: Joy does not even own a food processor! That’s right. Yet she managed to make a lot of her own baby food in something she did own—a blender. A blender is the worst appliance for this task, in my opinion, but that’s a topic for a future post.

A food processor is your greatest ally in the art of whirring mushy food into even mushier food. Why? Unlike a blender, you don’t have to add water to blend everything up. You’ll also get a smoother consistency more quickly than you would with other tools. You can also use it to blend dry goods; for example, I blended rolled oats into a powder so I could make my own baby cereal. I never bought boxes of rice or oat cereal, which can cost $5 a pound or more. The best thing about the food processor, though, is that it does much, much more than make baby food. It kneads, it mixes, it slices, it dices, it grates—it does everything but babysit.

So what food processors do I recommend? I have the Cuisinart DLC-10S Pro Classic 7-Cup Food Processor, which costs just under $100. It comes with everything you see in the photo. I use almost all of the attachments regularly, though it’s been years since I’ve needed to make baby food with it. The Cuisinart Prep Plus costs $133 and offers a larger (9 cup) capacity. Or, if you don’t think you’ll use it for much other than small projects, you could get the Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus for just $32.99.

Kitchenaid food processors may appeal to you if you do a lot of cooking and want special features, a variety of bowl sizes (from 3-12 cups) to choose from, and a lot of color options. The KitchenAid 7-cup food processor costs just under $100 and appears to be the equivalent of my Cuisinart.

Have you used a food processor to make your own baby food? Stay tuned for reviews of food mills, immersion blenders, and more!

Naturepedic Organic Crib Mattress Giveaway

no compromise organic cotton classicWe’re ending our series of giveaways with a bang!  You could win a Naturepedic No-Compromise Organic Cotton crib mattress in this week’s giveaway.  That’s a $359 value!  You’ll also get a copy of our new book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide: Down-to-Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet.  (Although it’s far less expensive, we think you’ll find it just as helpful.)

Since most mainstream crib mattresses contain vinyl and polyurethane foam which off-gas some nasty chemicals, buying organic is a comforting option.  Naturepedic’s No Compromise Organic Cotton crib mattress has a waterproof surface and is certified to meet GREENGUARD’s high standards for child safety.  The mattress also happens to be hypoallergenic and  is covered with a non-toxic fire protection system. How reassuring to lay your sleeping babe down on this gem and know that she’s safe and comfortable!

This is our very last in the series of large giveaways, and we hope that you are our winner.  See below to find out all the ways you can enter!

Nine Ways to Enter the Giveaway

How do you enter?  Guess what?  You can enter more than once! Each way listed below gets you one entry.  All comments have to be posted BEFORE Tuesday the 18th of April to win.

Remember, leave a separate comment on this post for each entry you want.  If applicable, please leave the link to your Facebook/Twitter/Blog in the comment you leave here.

  1. Leave us a comment on this post.
  2. Visit Naturepedic’s web site and then post a comment telling us what caught your eye!
  3. Email a friend about this giveaway.
  4. Join our Facebook fan club
  5. Link to this giveaway post on Facebook or Twitter–tell all your friends to stop by!
  6. Link to this post on your blog!
  7. Add The Eco-nomical Baby Guide to your “to read” shelf on Goodreads
  8. Go read our post on Five Ways to Score a Free Copy of  The Eco-nomical Baby Guide and leave a comment there if you’d like to review our book on your blog.  (Make sure to read the post for more details!) Leave a comment here as well to make sure we can keep track of your entries.
  9. Does your library have copies of the Eco-nomical Baby Guide? If not, request a purchase! (Then come back and post your comment to let us know!)

***The contest ends on Monday, April 19th, 2010***

Winner will be randomly selected.

We will notify the winner via email and will get you in touch with these companies who will ship your products directly to you. Please Note: This contest is open only to U.S. readers.

Have fun everyone!

The Best Eco-friendly Dishwasher Detergent: Biokleen!

Okay, to be honest I haven’t tried that many dishwasher detergents. The reality is, I didn’t have a chance: the very first detergent I tried after getting a dishwasher two months ago worked miracles! My mom recommended Biokleen dish powder to me after  trying a few different brands with little success. She actually thought she had a subpar dishwasher because her dishes came out caked in food particles. Once she started using Biokleen, however, her dishes emerged shiny and clean.
biokleen automatic dish powder

With that promising testimony, I bought the canister of Biokleen. It seems expensive at $11.99 for 32 oz., but you use just one tablespoon per load, and one canister promises 64 loads. (So that’s $.187/load.) I wish it came in a cardboard box instead of a plastic canister, but I’m guessing that one canister will last over half a year. I’ve been using it for over two months now, and my dishes are spotless.

But let’s compare the cost of Biokleen to other brands. You can get a 12-pack of Seventh Generation Auto Dish packs for $51.21 on Amazon, and each pack will wash 15 loads. That comes to $.28 per load—and you have to buy in bulk! And how does the Biokleen compare to something like Cascade dishwasher detergent? It looks like even the bulk options on Amazon will run at least $.21 a load. So, while the small canister of Biokleen dish powder may seem really expensive at first, it’s actually more cost-effective than even conventional detergent! (We found the same thing when we reviewed laundry detergents.)

If you try this detergent and it doesn’t produce satisfactory results, this may be because your water reacts differently to it than mine. (I have soft water in Portland, by the way.) I’ve read that what works wonders for one person hardly works at all for others. Have you found an eco-friendly detergent that leaves your dishes sparkling? Let us know!

More information:

Post Partum Exhaustion and Coping with Less Sleep

I’m experiencing temporary insanity.  The  culprit is a twenty pound tyrant who has been hounding me for three straight nights.  Have I dealt constructively with the challenge?

sleepy momNot quite…

I’ve consumed approximately one pound of cookie dough and a third of a chocolate bar.  She’s been crying off and on for forty five minutes and I’m trying to block it out while typing this.  Despite diaper changes, temperature adjustments, teething tablets, soothing songs and her total lack of sleep over the past two days, she seems to be up for the challenge of a good wail for hours to come.

On top of that, my three year old didn’t nap today and was having constant meltdowns all afternoon that coincided perfectly with the baby’s hysteria.  Did they concoct this torture plan ahead of time?

No—the truth is it’s all my fault.  I wanted a dishwasher.  For the last two miserable nights we’ve been visiting my mother because our kitchen is being torn apart and remodeled.  My baby, who normally slumbers in her crib pretty well, reminds me at regular hourly intervals that she’s not happy with the transition. On top of that my three year old isn’t napping well, nor is he coping with being away from home.  Neither am I.

At times like these, when my very bones ache with exhaustion, I’m not so chipper about hanging out the laundry or blending up homemade baby food.  ( or EVER traveling ANYWHERE again!)  So—honestly, I have to say that for me sleep is an essential part of being a good parent and a greener parent.

Did you end up traveling anywhere with baby for spring break?  Did you experience the same nocturnal misery?  I sincerely hope you didn’t!

An Electric Egg Cooker Saves Water and Energy—Just in Time for Easter Egg Dyeing!

The perfect hard-boiled egg. I’ve baked croissants from scratch, concocted dozens of mouth-watering tarts and quiches, and made my own yogurt and ice cream without incident—but somehow the perfect boiled egg alluded me. If I wanted tender  whites and a delicate, bright yellow yolk without a greenish sulphur ring, then I could barely pry the shells off the eggs. But if I over cooked them (or just let them boil away unattended as many people do), the eggs ended up rubbery.
henrietta hen egg cooker
Henrietta Hen Electric Egg Cooker

I followed directions from Julia Child and Cook’s Illustrated. I used gallons of water and shocked the eggs in ice baths. I sat hunched over the stove and watched the pot because I knew one should never, ever let the water actually boil.

Finally, after all this angst, I bought an electric egg cooker.  This simple device delivers perfectly-cooked hard-boiled eggs and uses just a few tablespoons of water. It saves energy, too. Using the stovetop method I had to bring three quarts of water to a near-boil to cook just four eggs (because you should use an inch of water over the eggs to ensure proper cooking once you turn the water off and let them finish setting). The egg cooker takes just fifteen minutes or so to cook up to seven eggs at a time.
Kalorik egg cooker
Kalorik 7-egg cooker

If you eat hard-cooked eggs just once a year for Easter, you can probably just use the stovetop method. We use the egg cooker about once a week and eat the eggs for snacks and on salads. Our egg cooker also delivers soft-cooked and poached eggs, but I haven’t had the opportunity to test these features out. Best of all, the eggs are always perfectly cooked, and the shells come off easily.
west bend automatic egg cooker
West Bend Automatic Egg Cooker

I have this basic West Bend Automatic Egg Cooker ($29.61). This Kalorik 7-egg cooker is cute and costs  just under $25.00! The Henrietta Hen egg cooker costs just $19 from some sellers. I’m intrigued by this Nordic Ware microwave egg cooker. It costs just $8 and wouldn’t require you to buy another plug-in appliance! Hm . . . maybe I could get my hands on that microwave cooker in time for Easter egg dyeing season . . . because I really need yet another gadget!
nordic ware microwave egg cooker
Nordic Ware Microwave Egg Cooker