Giving kids the gift of experiences, not just stuff

Something I’ve been hearing more and more about over the past few years is that people — specifically parents — are asking friends and relatives to refrain from buying things for their children for the holidays or birthdays, but instead they are asking for experiences. This can mean something like passes to the local zoo, museum, or aquarium; dance, karate or gymnastic classes; piano or art lessons; a family pass to the recreation center; tickets to a play, concert or movie: or pretty much anything else you can dream up. The point is to give the children experiences rather than just stuff.

I like this idea a lot, especially because my children already have a lot of “stuff.” Experiences can be so much more valuable, yet setting aside the money for classes, lessons, etc. is often overlooked in the family budget. Not only are the experiences fun for your kids, but they are usually just as enjoyable for you as parents too. Just look at the expression on the little boy’s face in the picture above! I love watching my kids experiencing something new, magical or just plain fun. The amazement on their faces is priceless. In fact, we are going to see The Nutcracker this weekend and, although Ava has already been a few times, this will be Julian’s first time and I know both of their faces are just going to light up during the show. :)

I’m not saying that “stuff” can’t be memorable too. I’m sure we can all recall a particular toy from our childhood that we wanted more than anything and once we got it, we were the happiest kid on the planet. ;) I’m just saying if you are feeling overwhelmed by the clutter and amount of stuff your kids already have, asking for the gift of an experience might be something to consider and something you won’t likely regret.

While we’re on the subject of clutter-free gifts, you can give your friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green like Planting a Tree (you could even plant your own Christmas tree like Lisa from Condo Blues is going to do!) and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too!

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Think Before You Buy

I recently mentioned my frustration at the toy advertisements arriving in the mail just in time for the holidays. You’d think with all the buzz about living eco-friendly and green, the big toy makers might catch on and stop making single function, zero imagination toys. But no. The Target catalog is lined with page after page of toys that do just one thing, are made of plastic and generally need batteries. There’s a mysterious absence of toys that encourage creativity.


Dance Star Mickey – He walks, talks and dances (and entertains your kid for about 5 minutes before he’s tossed into a corner)

Why sell toys that kids can use for several different purposes when you can sell one that does X, one that does Y and one that does Z? The more focused the toy, the more toys they can sell and the more money they can make! Nevermind that simple toys are better for children. They can’t be mass produced and where’s the money in that? And who cares about all of the trash the toys that are played with for a week or two until they break or kids tire of them produce?!

I’m not saying “down with all plastic toys.” All I ask is before you shop for toys or presents in general this holiday season, think before you buy. That’s all. Vote with your dollars.

Another way to make a difference this holiday season is by participating in Give The Gift of Green through One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. There are several cute e-cards with various Acts of Green on them that you send to your friends on Facebook. I just sent one to Lisa from Retro Housewife Goes Green pledging to turn off my computer when I’m not using it. The card adds, “That’s only 14 minutes per day, but it’s a start.” Ain’t that the truth?! It takes just a minute and helps spread the green message. It’s fun, easy and for a good cause. :)

If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green.

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

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Americans STILL Aren’t Eating Their Veggies

Last month, The New York Times reported that despite 20 years of “public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)

These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000.

The government recommends four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (which equals nine servings) for people who eat 2,000 calories a day.

People know that vegetables are good for them and can improve health, but they are also seen as a lot of work and have a much quicker “expiration date” than processed foods. Even if you buy veggies with the best of intentions, if you don’t consume them fast enough, they are doomed to rot in your refrigerator. I think this is something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by White Wave Foods indicates that almost half of us leave our fruit in the refrigerator until it rots. I can only assume that even more vegetables suffer a similar fate.

At Mother Nature Network, Katherine Butler asks, “what is the price of not eating vegetables?”

Mostly, it means that Americans are lacking in vital nutrients. Antioxidants and fiber fill vegetables, as well as key nutrients such as potassium, beta-carotene, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Fiber can reduce cholesterol; potassium, found in foods like spinach, helps blood pressure. Vitamin C helps gums and teeth, while vitamin E fights against premature aging.

Apparently, orange veggies are something we should be focusing on too. According to The Ohio State University Extension blog:

Orange vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes contain nutrients and phytonutrients found in no other group of vegetables. That’s why experts recommend we eat at least 2 cups a week of orange vegetables. How many do you eat? If you’re not eating enough, now is the perfect time of year to start!  All types of winter squash — acorn, butternut, hubbard, etc. are in season and cheap.  Pumpkins and canned pumpkins are stocking the shelves. Carrots and sweet potatoes are found commonly throughout the year.

I’m not sure there’s a solution for getting adult Americans to consume more vegetables. They know they are healthy, but they still don’t eat them. Even with convenient options like prepackaged servings of broccoli and bagged salads available, they aren’t biting (pun intended). Until Americans make eating vegetables a priority, it’s not going to happen. After all, you can’t force feed them. Maybe we could hide vegetables in french fries? Hmm. Probably not. Although that is a technique some people use to get children to eat their veggies (remember Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious?), though not everyone agrees with it.

Organic Authority points out the important of fruits and vegetables for children. “A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers—all of which currently contribute to healthcare costs in the United States,” says William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

Lisa Johnson mentions that some high schools have added baby carrot vending machines next to the typical junk food machines and wonders if the packaging (designed to look similar to a potato chip bag) will entice kids to buy them. Lisa says, “I have to say I think it’s a good idea. It might seem a little condescending to some but we are visual creatures and we react positively to colorful items that grab our attention while glossing over the ho-hum stuff. Shouldn’t we just capitalize on human nature to achieve a greater good?”

The Huffington Post reports “The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced what it called a major new initiative, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids’ use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.” Some schools are employing psychology tricks in hopes of getting teens to make healthier lunch choices in the cafeteria. Cornell researches have dubbed these little tricks a success: “Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.”

Perhaps the veggie avoidance can be traced back to infancy. I wrote in 2007 about a study that showed breast-fed babies are more likely to like fruits and vegetables (if their mother ate them while breastfeeding) than their formula-fed counterparts.

Senior author of the study Julie A. Mennella, PhD said, “The best predictor of how much fruits and vegetables children eat is whether they like the tastes of these foods. If we can get babies to learn to like these tastes, we can get them off to an early start of healthy eating. … It’s a beautiful system. Flavors from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. So, a baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”

However, regardless of whether your baby is breast-fed or formula fed, the article points out the importance of offering your baby “plenty of opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables as s/he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods.”

What’s the answer to get Americans to eat their veggies? I vote for focusing on the children. Perhaps if Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution continues, not only will children start eating healthier, but their new habits may rub off on their parents too.

Photo via Masahiro Ihara on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Green Your Halloween with National Costume Swap Day – Oct. 9

I have fond memories from Halloween when I was a kid. My crafty mom made a point of sewing costumes for me and my siblings, often creating a theme for all three of us. One year we were Princess Lea, Darth Vader and an Ewok. Another year my brother was Superman and I was Batgirl. Our little sis was a clown. Not exactly sure how that tied in to our super hero theme. Oh yeah, it was a costume my mom made years prior that both me and my brother had outgrown. ;) I’m not giving you grief for reusing costumes, Mom. Really, I’m not. :) I actually love it and would totally do it myself! Actually, I am this year. ;)

As a kid, I loved having costumes that were unique and now that I’m older I appreciate even more that they were made with love and care and have lasted through the years. My kids might be able to enjoy wearing them too!

These days, as Halloween-themed stores pop up across the city in buildings that usually lie vacant, you can buy just about any disposable costume imaginable. But instead of shelling out the cash for something you or your child is likely to wear for one night, why not participate in a costume swap? National Costume Swap Day — “a country-wide event encouraging local kids and families to trade Halloween get-ups instead of buying new ones to reduce waste” — takes place this year on Saturday, Oct. 9. The event is being promoted by KIWI Magazine, Green Halloween and Swap.com.

According to Green Halloween, if just half of the children who celebrate Halloween swapped costumes instead of choosing new ones, annual landfill waste would be reduced by 6,250 tons, which is equivalent to the weight of 2,500 midsize cars!

To find a swap near you, register a swap or get information about how to host a swap, visit Green Halloween’s Costume Swap page.

Kellie Brown, who organized the online Colorado Costume Swap, said, “While many are trying to cut costs and pick up a second hand costume, others just want to avoid making new purchases. Motivation aside, gently used costumes are the way to go for a green Halloween.”

On Inhabitots, Julie Knapp points out the benefits of costume swaps.

Swapping costumes means that fewer costumes need to be produced by manufacturers each year. In turn, fewer resources are needed to make those costumes, less packaging is required, fewer costumes need to be transported from other countries or to your local store, and less waste will be produced since many consumers trash their Halloween costumes once the fun is over.

Cool Mom Picks asks, Halloween costume swaps – Frugal or just plain smart? Personally, I vote for both. CMP points out that even if there isn’t a costume swap in your ‘hood, you have options to participate online instead.

CMP favoritethredUP has even developed a way to participate in this swap online: Put together a box of outgrown clothes to swap and include a Halloween costume in that box. Label it as a “Halloween Box” and then offer it to their members. Then, search their database for a costume for your child.

Over at Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife, Storm points out this swap doesn’t have to be just for people who celebrate Halloween. “Even if you don’t celebrate Halloween, it’s a great chance to fill up your child(ren)’s dress-up box, or to get costumes for plays and Church functions.”

Whatever your motivation is — being frugal and saving some green, wanting to keep stuff out of the landfills and being green, or just wanting to stock up on dress-up clothes for the kids — this costume swap is a great option. Visit Green Halloween’s Costume Swap for more information. Happy swapping!

Related posts:

Photo via Crunchy Domestic Goddess. (Yep, that’s me up there! Batgirl to the rescue!)

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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BPA Exposure ‘Much Higher’ Than Believed & Proposed BPA Ban

Bisphenol-A or BPA — a chemical used primarily to make plastics — has been under scrutiny in the United States since 2008 when its safety was called into question. Most recently, a study published Sept. 20 in the online NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives “suggests exposure to BPA is actually much greater than previously thought and its authors urge the federal government to act quickly to regulate the chemical that is found in baby bottles, food-storage containers and many household products.”

One of the researchers, Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a news release that the study “provides convincing evidence” that BPA is dangerous and that “further evidence of human harm should not be required for regulatory action to reduce human exposure to BPA.”

According to a New York Times article, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “it is OK for humans to take in up to 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight each day. The new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that we are exposed to at least eight times that amount every day.”

In August, Canada placed BPA on a toxic-substance list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The country first banned BPA-containing plastic baby bottles in 2008, “but the new move will see BPA removed from all products on store shelves. As a result, Canada will become the first country in the world to declare BPA as a toxic substance.”

Five states in the USA – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, New York and Oregon – have limits on BPA, particularly in children’s products, but California state legislature recently failed to pass a bill that would have eliminated BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula cans.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) believes BPA should be legislated on a national level and wants to amend the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act currently under consideration in the Senate to ban BPA from children’s food and beverage containers. However, Republicans and industry representatives are pushing back, saying that research hasn’t conclusively proven that the chemical is harmful. Sen. Feinstein said, “In America today, millions of infants and children are needlessly exposed to BPA. This is unacceptable. If this isn’t a good enough reason to offer an amendment, I don’t know what is.”

What is BPA and Why Should You Care?

Bisphenol-A is “a synthetic estrogen used to harden polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin.” It is found in many plastic containers as well as in the lining of canned goods. According to the Environmental Working Group:

Over 200 studies have linked BPA to health effects such as reproductive disorders, prostate and breast cancer, birth defects, low sperm count, early puberty and effects on brain development and behavior. BPA leaches from containers like sippy cups, baby bottles, baby food and infant formula canisters into the food and drink inside where it is then ingested by babies and children. The CDC found BPA in 93 percent of all Americans. Just last year EWG research revealed BPA in umbilical cord blood of newborns, which demonstrates that babies are exposed to this toxic chemical before they are born.

The Environmental Working Group has some tips to avoid exposure to BPA. Raise Healthy Eaters also has a post about How to Become a BPA-Free Family. Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a registered dietician, recommends things such as:

  • Switching from plastic food storage containers to glass
  • Reducing your canned goods use
  • Using stainless steel water bottles and more.

Take Action:

If you’d like to urge your Senators to support the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and Senator Feinstein’s amendment to ban BPA in baby bottles and other children’s products, you may send them an email.

Related Posts:

Photo via nerissa’s ring on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Booby Traps Set Up Breastfeeding Moms for Failure

Many mothers start out with the best of intentions when it comes to breastfeeding. Health experts agree that “breast is best” and the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. Yet while a lot of people give lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. In fact, our society offers very little support to breastfeeding moms and often sabotages breastfeeding altogether.

How many times have you heard about a mom being told to cover up her nursing child on an airplane or at an amusement park or at a store or at a restaurant or even asked to leave or had the police called on her? How many times have you seen formula ads in parenting magazines and on television? How many times have you read a magazine article giving incorrect breastfeeding advice (or should I say formula advice) or heard of a well-intentioned pediatrician giving parenting advice that compromises the breastfeeding relationship? Has a can of unwanted infant formula ever mysteriously appeared at your doorstep?

The examples above all have one thing in common – they are Breastfeeding Booby Traps. Best For Babes (a non-profit that believes “ALL moms deserve to make an informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months 2 years, or not at all”) describes Breastfeeding Booby Traps asthe cultural and institutional barriers that prevent moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals.”

Some Booby Traps include:

  • sending moms home from the hospital with a “gift bag” of formula,
  • having family and/or friends who are uncomfortable with you nursing and ask when you are going to give the baby a bottle,
  • or having a pediatrician who is unable to answer your questions about breastfeeding.

This post is not to debate breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding. Parents have the right to decide how to feed their baby. But they also have the right to be presented with factual information and the right to not have their feeding decisions undermined. Best For Babes is working to help accomplish that.

Here are some more Booby Traps that have set the blogosphere abuzz.

Amber from Speak Her Truth wrote Marketing and Breastfeeding, Who Hasn’t Been Duped? and said she is not going “to join in on this back and forth bashing of breastfeeding vs formula feeding mothers.”

As long as we fight amongst ourselves on this one symptom we cannot unite against the disease. The disease of markets that profit solely on the belief that our bodies are not good enough, not good enough to be sexually attractive, not good enough to give birth and not good enough to nourish our babies afterwards. A simple statement that could bring down this entire empire of insecurity: “Not only are we good enough, we are better just the way we are.”

Maya from Musings of a Marfan Mom wrote about Babble’s partnership with Similac – in which Similac sponsors Babble’s Breastfeeding Guide – after first reading about it on PhD in Parenting. Maya said:

You might ask why I care whether a formula company sponsors a breastfeeding portion of a website. I care, because I want women to have a choice in how they feed their children. I care, because women aren’t being given proper information on nursing, which sabotages the attempts of women who want to breastfeed. I care because, believe it or not, formula advertising has been shown over and over again to have a negative effect on breastfeeding relationships. Formula advertising not only affects women’s choices in how to feed their children, whether they are conscious of it or not, but it results in drastically higher costs for families who choose to feed their children formula (who do you think ends up paying for the “free” samples given at the hospital and sent in the mail, as well as all those commercials and Internet ads?). That affects their choice as well.

Tumbling Boobs pointed out its not just parenting websites promoting Similac’s latest marketing ploy and included screen captures of a few medical providers that are actively promoting Similac’s feeding hotline to moms seeking breastfeeding help.

Annie from PhD in Parenting also pointed out that even WebMD’s breastfeeding guide is sponsored by Gerber (which is owned by Nestle). There are six Gerber ads on the page that is supposed to help mothers with breastfeeding! Annie, who said, “There has to be a way to stop this incredibly unethical and predatory infant formula marketing on websites pretending to offer breastfeeding support,” urges her readers to take action and lists a few ways to get involved.

Jem wrote a review of the book The Politics of Breastfeeding (which I will be adding to my must read list). She believes the book should be read not only by nursing moms, but by all women.

Reading the book frustrated me on so many levels. I’ve talked before about Nestle’s marketing practices before, but it goes beyond that. The origins of formula; unnecessary death of babies in both developed and ‘third world’ countries; the undermining of women because we’re “not good enough”/”not reliable enough” to maintain life; the supplementing with formula without permission from mums; the strange habit of separating babies from their mums in hospital, etc.

This book has changed the way I look at so many aspects of birth and infant care.

Taking a more light-hearted approach to the subject is Dou-la-la who’s humorous, but also disturbing post Breast is Best, Sponsored by Simfamil: Don Draper Explains It All For Us is sure to be enjoyed by many a Mad Men fan. Heck, I thought it was awesome and I’ve only watched about 15 minutes of Mad Men.

What is the solution? How do we stop undermining breastfeeding moms?
I think the best start is if formula companies would start following the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes. We all know formula exists. We all know where we can get some (even for free), if we so desire. The marketing and the deceit need to stop. If you are upset about the Babble/Similac partnership or the WebMD/Gerber/Nestle partnership, follow Annie’s lead and take action. Let the companies know you disagree with their choices and why and then spread the word.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

More Breastfeeding Booby Trap Posts:

Photo by benklocek via Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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