Earth Day has always been one of my favorites to celebrate. I remember being young and spending Earth Day moments with my family. Planting seeds and excitedly waiting for them to sprout was my favorite activity! There were other years when we donned rubber gloves to pick up trash in the park or around our neighborhood, or when we decorated paper grocery store bags with drawings that encouraged people to, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle!”
As an adult, I try to make active choices in my daily life to reduce my ecological footprint (the impact I make on the environment by the demands I make on nature’s resources). Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to revisit these choices and make some extra commitments! I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas today and encourage you, as an individual or as a family, to choose your own commitment to our planet.
Eco-friendly Household Changes
Carry reusable shopping bags.
Purchase items in bulk to limit plastic packaging.
Set shower timers.
Switch to energy efficient light bulbs.
Get cozy with your recycling guidelines, and recycle everything you can!
Consider composting instead of throwing out plant matter.
Plant your own garden.
Shop as locally as possible, including from small businesses and farms.
Wait until clothing and personal items wear out or break before purchasing new ones. Consider swapping clothes with friends instead, or purchasing from thrift or consignment shops.
Switch newspapers, magazine subscriptions, and bills to digital versions.
Reduce waste by choosing reusable products over disposable, including water bottles, coffee cups, straws, plates, napkins, towels, silverware, etc.
Reduce your consumption of animal products, especially those that do not come from local farms.
Fun activities for Earth Day – or any day!
Go for a nature walk. Find a new park or trail to explore.
Start seeds in your house, plan your garden, or plant outside (weather permitting).
I’m just here to bust up some myths that often come up when it comes to “healthy” or plant-based eating! Below you will also find my favorite vegan weightlifter, my guide to plant-based grocery shopping, 30-minute recipes, and photos of my favorite go-to meals.
Mʏᴛʜ #1: 𝑪𝒂𝒓𝒃𝒔 𝒎𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒈𝒂𝒊𝒏 𝒘𝒆𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕. Hi, so, I eat a high-carb diet. That’s right: HIGH, as in, 50-70% of my daily calorie intake. You may have heard me talk about carbs before, but I will say it again: Not all carbs are created equal!! Carbs and bread are not synonyms. Carbohydrates that come from fruits and vegetables, and carbohydrates from whole grains and beans, are essential parts of your diet. They give your body energy and come packaged with a plethora of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants).
Weight gain is (almost) always an imbalance between calories you take in and calories you burn. We tend to underestimate the amount we consume, and overestimate what we burn. Refined grains, like white pasta or cookies, tend to be “empty” calories that your body either burns up like sugar, or does not burn and stores as fat. This can leave you feeling still hungry, lacking nutrients, gaining weight, feeling uncomfortable… and this is where carbs get a bad wrap! Instead, choose whole grains over refined ones, and shoot to keep that carb:fiber ratio below 10:1.
Mʏᴛʜ #2: 𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝒄𝒂𝒏’𝒕 𝒈𝒆𝒕 𝒆𝒏𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒕𝒆𝒊𝒏 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒕 meat. Our culture has a huge hype around protein. We buy the powders, look for “high protein” labels, and choose proteins as the center of a meal. In reality, protein needs depend on individual factors such as weight, activity level, and weight loss/fitness goals. It is extremely rare to be protein deficient in the United States, no matter what diet you consume! All plant foods have protein, in varying amounts and with varying amino acids, so consuming a variety of them throughout the day will give you all of the building blocks your body needs. Beans, nuts, and seeds are of course big sources of protein on a plant-based diet, but whole grains are also great sources. Vegetables such as broccoli and peas are high in protein, too. If you don’t believe that you can build muscle mass eating only or mainly plants, talk to an elephant or a gorilla…
Mʏᴛʜ #3: 𝑰𝒕’𝒔 𝒆𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒏𝒔𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒆𝒂𝒕 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒍𝒕𝒉𝒚 𝒇𝒐𝒐𝒅. Supplements are expensive. Marketed health foods are expensive. Vegan junk food is expensive. When you compare a package of regular sausage to a package of vegan sausage, you will see the price increase. 𝐵𝑢𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑠𝑒 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑤ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑒 𝑓𝑜𝑜𝑑𝑠. You can still eat them as a fun or special item, just like you would splurge on your other favorite foods, but those products aren’t going to be the basis of your balanced diet. When you eat food in it’s whole form, it is substantially cheaper! It costs me about $6-7 to feed myself each day at home, and as my mom would say, I’m a good eater.
Mʏᴛʜ #4: 𝑯𝒆𝒂𝒍𝒕𝒉𝒚 𝒇𝒐𝒐𝒅 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒐𝒐 𝒍𝒐𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐 𝒄𝒐𝒐𝒌. It may be that some meals are second nature for you to cook, or that you can do other things while you are making your favorite recipes, so it doesn’t feel like “work.” Learning new things can take a little time, and learning new recipes is no different. When you get to it, though, the funny part is that most whole foods need minimal cooking. Letting rice steam is the longest part of any meal I cook!
In addition, I am a big advocate for meal prepping or batch cooking. Taking a little time on one day to bake oatmeal for breakfasts, make a chickpea salad for lunches, and cut up vegetables for snacks makes every other day a grab-and-go scenario. When I take the time to cook a more complex dinner, I make sure there is enough for more than one meal, either later that week or to be frozen.
Thoughts from an Elementary Teacher, Holistic Nutritionist, and product of a homeschooled education…
This is my 10th year of teaching. I’m still not exactly sure where the 2010s went, but here we are… And I never expected that in my 10th year of teaching, I would wake up each morning, pour my coffee, and swallow the reality that I won’t be seeing my students again today.
I put the smile back on my face like a reset button each day, and I continue learning how to best teach and support from behind my computer. Our new “normal” is getting a little easier, I suppose. I’m falling into a routine here, taking comfort that my students are safe and healthy. I miss them, though, and I think of students elsewhere that are not so safe or healthy… and I pray for them.
I know that the new “normal” in your homes is an unbelievable challenge, too, for so many reasons that you don’t need me to tell you! These challenges are valid. I want to simply offer you my thoughts, as an educator and health professional (as well as someone who spent seven years of her own life homeschooled!), for keeping your kids healthy and your days running a little smoother!
10 Tips for Healthy & Happy “Homeschooling”:
1. Create a schedule that works for you. Your schedule doesn’t need to look like the one at your sister’s or neighbor’s house. It doesn’t have to follow what would happen at school. It doesn’t need to be the same for each child in your house. It might be different on different days of the week. That being said, having schedules in place keeps it from feeling too much like a vacation. There’s still a lot of learning to be done!
Kids crave the routine. If I forget to go over the daily schedule in the classroom, I can’t tell you how many, “When is…?” questions I get! Think in blocks of time, sectioning off time for both academic work (packets or computer assignments) and hands-on learning (art projects, cooking, experiments, building, etc). Don’t forget time for snacks and brain breaks. If your child is old enough, consider having him or her help decide what a day of home learning could look like. Put the daily schedule somewhere where it can be easily followed.
2. Keep a consistent sleep schedule, too. There is plenty of research to support that going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is just as important as the amount of sleep you are getting. Staying up late and sleeping in can be fun for your little ones, but it is going to quickly impact their mood and their learning. If the schedule gets shifted an hour or two later right now, great, but stick to whatever times those are!
3. Get outside & get moving! It is recommended by the CDC that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity each day, and that they should include muscle and bone strength in a activity at least 3 days a week. Exercise doesn’t have to be all at once. Schedule in breaks throughout the day. Go for walks or jogs, play games in the yard, jump rope, play sports, put on dance and workout videos, have family fitness competitions… Just keep moving!
4. Encourage healthy snacking. I’ve seen the picture below going around Facebook this week. In the morning, the parent adds the snacks, and when they are gone, they are gone! This limits the endless asking or mindless eating, and teaches kids portion and pacing. I LOVE THIS (and should probably start doing it for myself…)
All I would add is to make sure you are offering healthy options: fresh fruit, containers of raw veggies, portioned containers of nuts or trail mix, whole grain crackers, peanut butter, granola bars, etc. Sugary snacks or things with a lot of additives definitely impact behavior and learning.
5. Limit screen time. Expert organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association, agree that school-aged children should have a limit of 2 hours per day of screen time. *Insert panicked gasps here.* I know that seems nearly impossible these days, especially when you have work to do from home too, right?!
Consider ways to cut back: Don’t allow screens in the morning before breakfast, academic work, etc. Set timers, and when they go off, everyone put their devices down and get up and move for 10 minutes! Make books, drawing supplies, building materials, and board games just as accessible as devices. Playing kid-friendly music in the house, or asking Alexa to play a game or tell a joke, can increase screenless mental stimulation. Oh, and no phones or tablets during meal times! (That means parents, too – after you get that great shot of your home-cooked dinner, of course.)
6. Cook something together! Math, science, reading, teamwork, art, nutrition, and fun, all rolled into one! Kids are more inclined to eat healthy meals that they have helped prepare and have ownership over. They consume more vegetables when they have handled them and they seem “safe.” There are actually research studies that show that giving healthy foods a fun name, like “Sarah’s Silly Salads!” or “Olaf’s Oatmeal,” make kids eat more of them, too!
7. Handwashing, etc… Try my favorite classroom game: Stamp their hands with an ink stamp (a smiley face with washable marker works, too). Any time they wash their hands, they should wash long enough and well enough that the stamp comes off! Kids hear what is being said around them and on the news. Take this opportunity to practice not only hand washing but good hygiene, proper coughing, etc. Watch the video below for more about how germs spread!
8. Socialize, even from a distance. Your kids miss their friends (and obviously their teachers, like yours truly). Adults turn to social media. Where can kids turn? Some ideas: Connect with parents and set your kids up Facebook’s Kids Messanger. Set up virtual playdates through FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom! If you live in a neighborhood, go for walks and chat with neighbors from the sidewalk. Go for a drive and chat from the driveway. Take pictures and send them to friends and classmates.
TALK with you kids about their opinions on topics, ask them to list their favorite things (movies, colors, ice cream flavors, superheros), discuss books they are reading, or what their favorite YouTuber is up to… That’s what they’d be telling me all day long, so now they need to tell you.
9. Find a way to serve others. Do you have elderly family members, neighbors, or community members that could use a card, letter, or picture in the mail? Is there a cause your family is passionate about that you can “earn” change toward? Are there old clothes or toys that could be cleaned out and donated? Could food or groceries be delivered to someone who can’t get out? Could you make a picture or poster to hang on your door or window, offering encouragement to others? Is there something you can do to thank your mail deliver or garbage collectors?
(Hint: The answer to all of these is yes.)
10. Encourage Growth Mindset. Growth Mindset is the belief that you have the ability to improve your intelligence through effort and the use of good strategies. It is different from a Fixed Mindset, which can cause someone to think things like, “This is just too hard, I’ll never be able to do it!” Encourage your kids to build a Growth Mindset by using phrases like the ones on this poster.
I know that these days are challenging.
Life is hard. But as my class always says,
You can do hard things.
You are tough and capable (even when it doesn’t feel like it sometimes) of raising kids who are healthy and happy and LOVED.
Teachers miss your kids, and they want to support you. Let them know what you need.
Let me know what you need, too. They say, “It takes a village”… Well I say, it takes a WORLD.
❤️ Stephanie / Ms. Genco
What do you think? Do any of these changes inspire you? I’d love to hear from you!
This is the easiest recipe you could ask for, yet packed with flavor, color, and nutrients. It satisfied those taco cravings for sure!
Not only are black beans packed with protein and fiber, but in a comprehensive analysis of diet and cancer done by the American Institute for Cancer Research in 2007, it was concluded that we should eat whole grains and/or legumes with every meal. In the @Blue Zones (the regions around the world where populations live the longest, with the lowest chronic disease rates), an average of a cup of beans/legumes is consumed each day. Why not start boosting your health and disease prevention with some delicious Mexican food?!
𝐈𝐧𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬: 1 can black beans, rinsed & drained 1/2 cup salsa 2 green onions, diced 1 tomato, diced romane lettuce fresh cilantro, rough chopped cumin salt & pepper lime 1/4 avocado (optional) OR 1/2 tbsp olive oil (optional)
𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐩𝐞: 1. Combine black beans, salsa, and green onions and a frying pan over medium heat and simmer. No oil! 2. Season additionally as you wish – I use a generous sprinkle of cumin comma a little bit of course sea salt, and black pepper. 3. While it simmers, wash your lettuce & cilantro, dice your tomato, slice your lime… 4. Load your lettuce cups! About 1/2 of the mixture fills four cups (recipe serves 2). Top with tomato, cilantro, and lime juice. Add avocado or a small drizzle of olive oil for healthy fats & vitamin absorption!
*I knew I was having avocado in a dessert smoothie after dinner, so my dinner/photo omitted the fats!*
You are so busy. We are all so, so busy. Sometimes eating literally feels like life or death as you head from school to work, from work to second work, from work to kids’ activities… and all the things in between! I get it, trust me. With teaching full time, counseling part time, being a landlord, volunteering at my church, trying to work out, and attempting a social life, I am ALWAYS on the go. A few thoughts on how to make healthy options throughout the week a little easier…
• 𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐝 𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐩: I can’t emphasize this enough. For me it is Sundays, because that is when I am home and free(ish), but it could be anywhere in your week that you can carve out a couple of hours. I know this is challenging sometimes, but good things are always challenging, and I promise it will be worth it as your week goes on.
• 𝐔𝐬𝐞 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐜𝐮𝐭𝐬: Guess what – frozen vegetables, pre-cut vegetables, pre-washed vegetables – still vegetables! Canned beans are ready to eat. Salad kits come pre-mixed with all the veggies. Fruit comes cut up. Carry out sections like at Wegmans usually have steamed vegetables ready to go. Utilize what works for your family.
• 𝐁𝐚𝐭𝐜𝐡 𝐂𝐨𝐨𝐤: When you food prep or batch cook, think big picture – instead of making potatoes for a meal, make the whole bag. Roast two heads of broccoli instead of one. Instead of making two tacos for dinner, make a dozen and stick them in the fridge or freezer. If you don’t mind eating oatmeal for breakfast, make them all in the fridge at once or bake it and cut it into pieces. A few extra minutes up front saves a massive amount of time during the week and make sure you don’t make other poor choices.
• 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐬: Get ones that you like in the sizes you need, especially for lunches and snacks. They don’t need to be expensive or fancy. For example, I have 1/4 cup plastic ones from the dollar store. When I buy a bag of almonds, I immediately fill a bunch of them and ta-da, pre-protioned, grab-and-go snacks.
• 𝐆𝐫𝐚𝐛𝐛𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞𝐬: Fruit comes in it’s own handy, transportable package. Utilize it! You can bake oatmeal or granola bars at home with very few ingredients and low cost. You can pre-portion nut butter or hummus into small containers to take with vegetables or whole grain crackers.
• 𝐌𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐇𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐡𝐲 𝐒𝐰𝐚𝐩𝐬: Whole grain pasta instead of white. Brown rice instead of white. Beans instead of beef. Sweet potatoes instead of white (sometimes). You can also find replacement items for less-than-healthy choices. Right now, next to the berries and vegetables, my freezer has Trader Joe’s burritos, cauliflower gnocchi, Aldi’s cauliflower rice, and hash brown potatoes. There are healthy versions of your favorite easy foods – do your research, read labels, and ask questions!
• 𝐅𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐝: Avoid processed meats and cheeses, and deep fried things. Salads are on most menus – just watch the dressing portions. Wheat rolls or shells are usually available. Subway really is a good option! That’s my go-to in a pinch. I have also been known to order a vegetarian burrito on wheat with guacamole from Mighty Taco… 😉🌮 You can usually find healthy options at Mexican or Asian places if you focus on vegetables, brown rice, and beans!
Is any of this helpful? Are there certain bullet points you would like to know more about? Please comment and ask away! 💚