Sustainability has become part of our language, and more and more people are adopting “green” lifestyles. And kids care, too: More than three-fourths of children today believe that issues such as climate change can be impacted by actions taken now. They know that learning about sustainable choices today can impact the world they live in tomorrow.
Living sustainably can mean many things: It may entail buying products that use fewer — or even no — chemicals. It may relate to ingredient transparency so parents can protect their families from harmful substances. It can also involve adopting practices that maximize our use of natural resources in order to preserve a healthy environment for generations to come.
Small Actions Lead to Large Impact
While more eco-savvy parents — and their kids — want to make sustainable choices, green products and services haven’t always been very available or affordable. As demand for them has grown, however, an increasing number of companies have begun to offer environmentally friendly solutions for home and personal use at reasonable prices.
Most of us aren’t in a position to radically change our lifestyles in order to fulfill our environmental good intentions. Fortunately, choosing just one area can be a good way to start. Because supermarket shopping is a weekly activity (at minimum, with growing kids!), by making small changes here, you can make a bigger long-term impact. Here are seven affordable, eco-conscious actions you can take every time you do the grocery shopping that will also teach your kids to continue the sustainability effort.
1. Select environmentally friendly products.
When you shop, look for brands that use green ingredients and manufacturing processes that aim to reduce the company’s environmental impact. That can mean anything from using less energy to conserving water, ensuring waste is properly disposed of, recycling, or avoiding harmful chemicals. Pointing these features out to your kids and explaining what these terms mean can give them the knowledge they need to help you look for products in the store and set a foundation for their own grocery-shopping mindset.
For instance, ECOS, an environmentally friendly cleaners company, ensures its products are biodegradable, packaged in recyclable containers, and sourced thoughtfully. Its parent company, Earth Friendly Products, has twice received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s coveted Safer Choice Partner of the Year award for its green practices. Another prime example is Clif Bar, which aims to “think like a tree” and reduce its environmental footprint with every step it takes. Its food products are made with organic ingredients and packed in eco-friendly packaging.
2. Bring reusable shopping bags.
Some states, counties, and cities have laws that either ban disposable grocery bags or impose a fee on them. This means that you need to bring your own reusable bags when shopping or pay for the disposable bags the supermarkets offer.
To avoid the extra cost and do what’s right for Mother Earth, bring reusable bags with you when you shop. Many stores sell their own reusable shopping bags, or you can buy them online from sites like Amazon. There are even insulated bags that will help keep hot and cold items at the right temperature during the journey home. Be sure to keep some reusable bags in your car so you’re always prepared to bag up your groceries the environmentally sound way.
If you do occasionally forget your reusable shopping bags and have to use the store’s plastic ones, be sure to return them to the store. (Collecting and storing these bags is also an easy chore to have younger kids help with.) Most grocery retailers now have a bin where you can turn plastic bags in for recycling.
3. Shop local.
While some grocery chains are starting to emphasize local fruits and vegetables, in many cases, you may not know where your store sourced its produce or whether its growers applied sustainable practices. Patronize local producers by shopping at area farmers’ markets or visiting farms where you can pick your own produce. Many farmers are adopting sustainable practices and delivering more organic produce and other products — and they can tell your kids about it in person, which can have a greater impact from someone who’s been there, done that.
In addition to helping you be more environmentally responsible, selecting local, organically grown produce, meat, dairy products, and other items (e.g., honey) will yield food that has more nutritional value and no pesticides. So your food will taste even better — and your kids will be more likely to finish what’s on their plate!
4. Plan menus around seasonal produce.
When you select in-season fruits and vegetables, it generally means that the food didn’t have to travel far to get to the grocery store. Out-of-season items typically come from far-off places in the world, and those shipments greatly contribute to fossil fuel use. Therefore, if you avoid buying those items and stick instead to what’s available during your area’s growing seasons, you can reduce your carbon footprint. It’s also a smart way to incorporate new foods into your kids’ diets, particularly fruits and vegetables.
The other benefit to making this choice is that it costs less to buy food in season. It may even inspire you to eat healthier — it costs $1.50 more per day to eat a healthy diet, which is one reason many families don’t or can’t.
5. Avoid anything with excessive packaging.
Individually shrink-wrapped potatoes? Bananas on a plastic foam tray covered in cellophane? Packaging overkill creates a lot of environmental issues. Not only are resources consumed in the making of the packaging, but most of it’s also destined for the trash. The best-case scenario is that the packaging material is recyclable so you can at least opt to do that. Most of the time, though, it’s a lot of unrecyclable plastic wrapping and sleeves — and kids’ snacks and lunchtime foods are notorious for being individually wrapped for easy packing.
Look for products in the grocery store that have minimal packaging. Even better, go for bulk buys rather than individually wrapped items. Some supermarkets have bulk food aisles that make it easy to buy whatever quantity you need with a minimal amount of packaging. If you need to make these easier to pack for school lunches, invest in some reusable plastic containers.
6. Stay away from processed foods.
Many of those excessively packaged products are also heavily processed, which you likewise want to avoid. These products tend to be unhealthy and may contain genetically modified foods or additives that are bad for you, your kids, and the environment. Such food products undergo a long manufacturing process that magnifies their carbon footprint.
For all these reasons, it’s better to focus on whole foods. You can typically find them on the perimeter of the grocery store, where retailers place fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy. This also provides an opportunity to teach your kids to shop grocery stores from the outside in, saving the junk food items for last — when the cart’s full. Making these whole food choices offers a way to sustain your own health as well as that of the planet.
7. Streamline your grocery list to reduce food waste.
Finally, no food can be considered environmentally friendly if it just ends up in the trash. The Motley Fool reports that U.S. consumers throw away an estimated 80 billion pounds of food each year, which obviously doesn’t help efforts to conserve natural resources. According to American Chemistry Council survey research, “we’re throwing away almost 16 percent of the food we buy — and that’s not a number to be proud of.”
Help reduce this waste by carefully planning your meals, making use of leftovers, and simply buying less. Also, find ways to make meals that can be frozen and used at a later date for greater convenience — this can also be a huge help on nights when your kids have soccer, softball, and piano. Creating a month’s worth of meals can help you better plan — and use up — what you buy at the store.
Just by changing your grocery store habits, you and your kids can do your part to reduce waste, conserve natural resources, minimize pollution, and shrink your carbon footprint. When you take your kids with you to do the shopping, tell them what you’re doing and why. That will help them grow up with a sustainability mindset that will be hard to shake.