Green Up Your Act

Your kitchen is a great place to start making small changes that have a big impact on your family's health.

You've seen that family puttering around town in their ultra-efficient hybrid car. Perhaps you went to their party and sampled the organic tofu-pomegranate salad. Plastic? Not in their house. You may have thought: "So healthy. So green. I'll try organic living after I get the applesauce off the car seat and finish the ten thousand other things I have to do." Ah, but your family can live greener with a few basic steps. It starts in the heart of your home: the kitchen.

  • Shop local. If you do only one thing to go green, start shopping at farmers' markets or ordering from an organic cooperative. You'll eliminate harmful pesticides and fertilizers from your family's diet. When your food is locally grown, you're not spending "food miles" — pollution emitted from flying or trucking it from far away. Another bonus is that the prices are as competitive — maybe even less expensive — than going to the grocery store. "Start with the things your family really loves," advises Trish Riley, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living. If they're mad for peaches, for instance, switch to organic varieties. You'll notice an improvement in flavor.
  • Tote reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are made from valuable petroleum resources, and they often end up in our oceans and wildlife habitats. And when suppliers cut down millions of trees to make billions of paper bags each year, that means fewer trees to help combat global climate change. Instead, use a canvas tote bag or check out the chic, eco-friendly collections at reusablebags.com.
  • Be picky about food storage. Riley recommends cooking only what you'll eat to save on wasted food that gets lost in the fridge's recesses. But with kids, leftovers are a reality. It might seem like a no-brainer to reach for the plastic tub with the snap-on lid, but watch out: Plastics — including plastic wrap — contain dangerous chemicals that become unstable when heated in a microwave or washed in a dishwasher and when they come in contact with hot food. To play it safe, use glass bowls or crockery instead.
  • Keep it clean. Traditional cleaning products are a source of toxins, but there's a safe alternative in your fridge. You'll be amazed at how well plain old baking soda scrubs away grease and stains. For wiping down counters and floors, Riley recommends hot water with natural essential oils, which are natural disinfectants (she likes lavender and grapefruit).

As you make these changes, do not assume your family will react poorly. Children are remarkably receptive, says Alice Waters, author of The Art of Simple Food. Even better, once you start on this path, you'll want to keep going greener in other areas of your life, and you won't be alone: "Because you think about this more deeply," says Waters, "you'll become connected with other people who can help you."

Raising Kids