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How to build a compost bin for redworms (Go Green)

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This. Is my favorite book. There are many reasons why, but suffice to say, it’s an innovative approach to sustainable living in extreme urban environments. It’s one of the first books on sustainable living and urban homesteading that I ever read, and after reading dozens of others, it remains the champion. I strongly recommend it, and it is often available through library loan, though I encourage you to purchase it as a manual for the home. It’s available on Kindle!

This project that I’m about to introduce to you actually comes from this book. It is a worm bin for redworms, which make compost. Previously, I was hungry for the space that I needed to have such a large indoor composter. Our family requires one this size because there are three of us, and since we’re vegan, we have a lot of plant based kitchen scraps. If you are not plant based, you might find yourself with fewer scraps to put in a compost, since compost cannot have animal products. If you have outdoor space, you might find an outdoor compost a better option. We have limited outdoor space, and we do not have a considerate place to put our compost, so this was the best option for us.

If you are experimenting with minimalism, you might have a few spare totes kicking around. Simply take two of them with their lids for this project. You’ll also need some newspaper or brown paper, a handful of kitchen scraps, a drill with a 1/4in and 1/16in bit, a bit of soil, a bit of water, and something to prop your bin up.

And worms. Don’t forget the worms. Have this project ready before you get your worms because when the worms arrive, they’ll need tlc and immediate care. I ordered my worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. The product has excellent reviews and I was very pleased with it. The book recommends that you get 1000 redworms for this project, which are on sale right now!

This project is also messy. You’ll also want heavily tinted or solid bins because worms hate light and get hot easily. These bins aren’t for outside- worms get too hot and they get too cold. Stick this in your house or your basement.

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Begin by drilling 20 holes each in the bottom of each bin using your 1/4in bit. Let the drill do the work- if you push the drill too hard, you’ll crack the plastic.

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Then, using the 1/16in drill bit, drill as many holes as you see fit along the bottom edge and top edge of each bin, and in ONE of the lids (not the other). These are oxygen holes, so go wild.

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One bin is for your worms. The other bin is for when you want to collect your compost, so you can now nest the two bins.

Inside one bin (since it’s inside the other), put about 4in of moist shredded newspaper and brown paper. If you have a heavy hand, use a squirt bottle. It should be damp but not wet. If there’s dripping water anywhere, ITS TOO WET. Worms don’t swim. And dead worms die too.

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Now that you’ve got your paper in, add a handful of veg/fruit scraps and bury it in one corner.

Place your lid with holes on.

Place your bin over the lid with no holes. Prop the bin up over it using bricks- I used plant pot feet that you can get at the lawn and garden store. This is a drip pan in case your compost oozes (ew).

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Feed your worms as often as food disappears (it should be about a handful a week until they start breeding). Don’t put too much food because it will rot waiting for them to eat it.

When the worms arrive, dig them a bit in your paper and dump them in. Then cover them up and place the lid back. Worms don’t like light, so you can leave the light on for a day if you want them to bury in good and get comfy.

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If you notice worms escaping, they’re either too wet or hungry.

When it is time to collect your compost (3-4mos), simply fill the outside (second) bin with 4in of moist shredded papers and a handful of food and place it OVER (inside) the bin where your worms are. When they run out of food in their existing bin, they will crawl through the bottom holes of the new bin to get to the new food. Then, the first (outside) bin can be removed and emptied, and placed back underneath (outside) the new bin.

For more on troubleshooting your worm bin, check out this book, happy composting!

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HOW to be microwave free (Go Green)

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Do you love your microwave as much as me? OOOO how I love my microwave. I like to cook ahead on days I feel motivated and then go days without cooking so I can craft and garden as I please and not worry about coming home a little too close to dinner and eating jelly beans like a famished child.

But as I mentioned in this post, we’re not all entirely sure if microwaves are safe or healthy. It’s true that wifi and the new smart meters give off more electromagnetic radiation than microwaves, but my take on the matter is that I have CONTROL over my microwave, and lessening my toxic burden is a good goal to have.

A lot of “science” indicates that microwaves are completely safe. I’m ok with that. But once upon a time, people used “science” to advocate smoking for weight loss. I rest my point.

Then there are pictures like this:

Yikes. Ok ok, so Mercola and everyone under the sun is suspicious of micros, but if you’re like me, you just give the FDA a big ole hug and pretend you’re friends just long enough to justify your avid micro use….until you realize that microwaves are toxic crap for a whole other reason.

E-waste.

E-waste, or electronic waste, if what happens to your electronic stuff when it dies. We KNOW that undoubtedly, your microwave was made of toxic crap, that undoubtedly, polluted the environment from it’s production and packaging (plastic too…*shudder*)…but when your microwave dies, old people and children in third world countries pick it apart for precious materials.

Hi, I don’t want to be a part of this.

I’m going to confess- I have not *completely* ditched my micro. I’m working on my transition. But I thought I would share my meager tips on how I’m accomplishing that goal.

Step 1– Learn to eat things cold. I LOVE cold salads- not just green salads, but Happy Herbivore’s assorted mock tuna, mock egg, and mock potato salad. This pasta salad is my favorite too. I’ve always liked cold baked beans on hot summer days, but lately I’ve been enjoying cold rice. DH LOVES raw artichoke, but I prefer mine steamed with balsamic vinaigrette.

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Step 2– Boil/cook things stove top. I shudder at the idea that people cook things like potatoes, squash, and eggs in the microwave. I used to microwave my tea water, but now I boil it. A few small sized pans really do the trick.

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Step 3– Invest in a double boiler. I use this to make my eczema cream (which is edible, but if you make things that aren’t, use a separate one), but I also use it to re-heat things that cannot have water added to them. Soup and beans can be heated stovetop in sauce pans, but double boilers would be good to reheat things like tofu scramble, stuffed peppers, mac and cheese, etc.

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Step 4– Learn how to use a carafe or thermos in the home. When you boil tea water or make hot coffee, put it in an insulated container so it’s hot when you want more. This is a vintage glass-lined thermos, and it keeps morning coffee hot until dinner time.

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Step 5– Get a convection toaster oven. I use this oven to bake in hot weather by sticking it outside with a grounded extension cord, and I use it to bake to conserve energy since it uses less energy than an oven. But these beauties are EXCELLENT for reheating food. In fact, one of my favorite things to make in my toaster oven is reheated (toasted) leftover muffins! Most convection ovens even have a “reheat” setting. When reheating food in a toaster oven, it’s good to put it in a casserole dish with a lid. Pyrex makes some awesome dishes for this. Not to mention that toaster oven reheated pizza is second to none! (unless you like it cold!)

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I’m really interested in others’ tips and tricks to going micro free, so please feel free to leave tips in the comments below! Thanks for your help!

Go Green pt.5: Think about plastic (a plastic escape plan)

crap products

I’ve written this post every day since Friday. I feel really torn. “Is this too big of a step?” I asked myself. “Is this too hard?” Not only is this a complicated and loaded subject, but it is one of the most multifaceted and pervasive. So this weeks’ green challenge can be either one of three choices, or the first choice and then the second and third choice. It’s completely up to you.

The first is to seek out an alternative to buy for the next thing you want or need that is plastic. An example of this would be to go buy wooden hangers instead of plastic ones.

The second step or option is to purge an entire room (and then your house?) of everything you don’t need or want that is plastic.

And the third option or step is to choose a room (and then your entire house?) and replace as many things as you can that you need and use, with plastic free alternatives.

Before I go any further, please do your best to recycle or donate anything you get rid of. If you are deeply conflicted about someone using your plastic Tupperware and getting sick from it, then you can recycle it πŸ™‚

Back in 2008, I did something really radical and I got rid of everything plastic in my kitchen. I mean EVERYTHING. Six years ago, this was considered really paranoid and strange. I should clarify that I DONATED everything, but took the radical activism even further and REFUSED TO BUY REPLACEMENTS. Why? Because I only had four stove burners and two hands, and how much kitchen stuff do I really need? You’re going to see how quickly the idea of minimalism folds into this plastic escape plan…

But I digress.

Plastic…is toxic $hit. Why? Because its made of highly toxic chemicals that cause cancer and infertility. If you don’t believe me, there’s endless amounts of info on the internet. It pollutes the planet during production, poisons us when we use it, and then kills animals who eat it. As it degrades, it leaks those toxic pollutants back into the water and soil, and it takes millions of years to break down.

One thing you might NOT have thought of is all the things that contain plastic. Tupperware is a no brainer- but did you know that plastic is in your shampoo, your sneakers, lining tin cans, your clothing, packaging ALL of your food, and even what your PIPES are made of? It’s everywhere, and that should terrify you. Because it’s toxic.

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Yes, those are BPA free plastic lids, but they’re a great alternative for airtight storage that can be uncovered and reheated in the toaster oven

So where do you begin? Stop shopping. Ok ok, stop shopping the same way you used too- try alternative markets and thrift shops. My favorite place to shop is lifewithoutplastic.com, but alternatives to things can be found in the least likely places- even The Walmart. I hate The Walmart. I’ll go without before giving my money to a company that treats it’s employees the way it does.

This blogger is a plastic free activist, who has a LOT of great ideas, and wrote an amazing book that I highly recommend.

At first it’s kind of hard- I’ll admit that I’m still using plastic bottled shampoo because none of the natural, plastic-free alternatives have worked for my extremely long and fine porous hair. But I make my own toothpaste, my own laundry soap and dish soap, many of my own gifts, and I buy in bulk. I’ve made a list by room or things that can be replaced with plastic free alternatives.

Here is the basic hierarchy:

1. Determine if you actually need it (re: can it be fixed?)

2. DIY (do it yourself)

3. Buy or barter used

4. Buy sustainable, minimal packaging, plastic free or near plastic free

5. Buy from recycled plastic

6. Buy from plastic that can be recycled

 

Here are ideas-

Bathroom: (see this post here for an extensive list, including shampoo, soap, razors, toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash, floss, toothbrushes, brushes, feminine hygiene, and more)

natural products

Laundry room:

Laundry soap: DIY or use soap nuts

Fabric softener: Use wool laundry balls or put 1/2c vinegar in your rinse cycle

Whitening: Use peroxide or extra washing powder

Stains: Peroxide or soaking

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Livingroom:

Viewing: Rent DVD’s or get Netflix, get music digitally

Appliances (vacuum etc.): Buy used or repair broken ones

Furniture: Buy used and not prefab., bamboo, pine, etc.

Carpets: Buy natural fiber or used, rag rugs, etc.

Textiles (curtains, etc.): Buy organic or natural fiber, diy from natural fibers, or get used

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Bedroom/personal:

Clothes: Buy natural fibers instead of nylon, poly fabrics, and fleece (yes, your clothes are plastic), or buy used (I LOVE consignment shops), or diy/upcycle

Books: Buy used or on kindle, or borrow from the library

Shoes: Buy hemp or latex shoes and flip flops, Tom’s, and other sustainable brands

Appliances: Go for vintage like old metal fans, old metal alarm clocks, etc.

Furniture: Look for cedar chests, local pine furniture, bamboo, or used

Bedding: Vintage quilts and DIY quilts are GORGEOUS! (but in case you don’t know how and can’t find any, check Etsy or look for natural fibers)

Mattress: Natural latex mattresses don’t off-gas, and I can’t recommend used here because of bed bugs and mattresses degrade

Pillows: buckwheat (not wheat- it’s gluten free) hull pillows are amazing and highly recommended, but I’ve heard of upcyclers making their own with rag stuffing (it’s cruelty free)

Hangers: Buy metal or wooden, hang less

IMG_7276 Kitchen:

Appliances: If you can (re: if you’re not gluten free or have food allergies), buying used is best, but this area is hard for finding non-plastic appliances (most percolators are mostly plastic free)

Most pots and pans are not plastic

Storage: Use mason jars, Lunch Bots stainless steel, Pyrex with BPA lids, Weck jars, Crate and Barrel jars with rubber seals, etc.

Plastic wrap: Bees wraps or other beeswax wraps, tin-foil, parchment

Home Lunches: Tiffins, planet box, lunch bots, or reusable sandwich bags

Water bottles: stainless steel, glass, mason jars, ecojarz lids

Straws: Glass or paper

Spices: Buy in bulk and refill your jars or buy Frontier brand in glass jars (including vanilla)

Cereal/granola/beans/rice/flour/sugar/etc: Buy in bulk

Tea: Buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging

Other: DIY baked goods, including waffles and bread

Dishes: Use ceramic or glass, and for children, I get metal camping dishes

Go to the farmer’s market where berries are in berry boxes, cheese and tofu are sold without packaging, and produce is sold individually and without stickers

These are great for sending people home leftovers too!

These washed out containers are great for sending people home with leftovers too!

Other clever ideas:
Instead of buying new furniture, consider transforming waste-stream furniture. Our tv stand/entertainment center is a transformed dresser.

Instead of buying plastic storage containers to organize cupboards and closets, use clemetine boxes or cardboard/shoe boxes covered in cloth or paper.

Learn basic hand-stitching and use felt to make things you need- I’ve made a glasses case and an ipod cover out of ecofelt (it’s made from recycled plastic). Felt things can make great toys too.

Fall in love with baskets- they are awesome for organization and thrift shops usually have an abundance of them for cheap.

Join Freecycle- its a great way to pass on items you don’t need and to score things you do.

A lot of dry goods from healthfood stores are coming in plastic re-sealable bags- wash them out and reuse them for times when mason jars and stainless steel containers would be too bulky or heavy (like stashing sliced fruit in your purse/bag). I also like to use things like plastic flour bags to put my produce in at the store to replace the plastic bags they offer- this is a good idea if you don’t know how to sew your own mesh produce bags.

Join pinterest. You’ll catch the DIY bug soon enough….

Attend workshops and read a lot- I’ve learned all of the skills I have written about here simply by READING and OBSERVING!

The ipod cover I made

The ipod cover I made

Going Green pt.4: Learn how to prepare dry beans

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Beans, beans, the magical fruit…

Someone once asked me how I eat beans every day and don’t have gas. The answer is simple- I don’t eat canned beans. If you don’t know why canned beans give you gas, let me explain. Beans have a protective outer layer that protects it as a plant from pests, and they are high in fiber. When beans are canned, they are simply cooked on high, under pressure, for an extensive period of time. Additionally, canned beans are in an aluminum can that is coated with BPA. Aluminum is a neurotoxin, and BPA is an endocrine disruptor.

No, no, I soak my beans and cook them myself, but few people really know how to do this, or think it’s time consuming. This post is about how to do that!

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Did you know that dry beans are $1/lb? That’s the cost of one can premade. Depending on the bean, a pound of dry beans can yield 3-6 glass pint jars. Since cooking a pound of beans yields this much, you can either make a big batch of beans as a meal (think baked beans), put them in the refrigerator (if you think you’ll use them in a weeks time), or put them in freezer safe storage like mason jars (don’t forget to leave a bit of head space). To stack mason jars in your freezer, you can use clementine boxes.

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Beans are high in fiber, protein, folate, iron, b-vitamins, calcium, and much more. They are one of the healthiest alternatives to meat and a world-wide staple. It is far healthier for all vegans and vegetarians to consume beans instead of fake meats.

Think you don’t like beans?

Yes you do. You probably don’t like the tin-like gross canned beans. And you probably eat beans in more things than you realize. You undoubtedly like hummus, chili, baked beans, tacos, minestrone soup (or this Moroccan soup), Dominican beans and rice, black bean burgers…and much more. If you haven’t tried any of these recipes, I can’t recommend them more! (I recently discovered a cold dish called Cowboy salad that I LOVE! I also enjoy three-bean salads in the summer- a quick Google search will lend a thousand recipes of each). I even put chickpeas in my spaghetti!

So you’ve gone to the store and you get some beans. It’s ok if you don’t know which beans to choose. For soups, you’ll want chickpeas for ethnic soups, white beans for Italian soups, and kidney beans for meaty soups. For chili you’ll want black beans and/or kidney beans. Hummus is made from chickpeas and tahini. Tacos go well with black beans or chickpeas, and beans and rice usually use any kind of bean besides chickpeas. The rest is self-explanatory. I do NOT recommend that your first bean project be with chickpeas, and I’ll explain why later. (chickpeas=garbanzo beans)

If you have food allergies or Celiac disease, check to make sure your beans are not cross-contaminated by checking the label.

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Once you bring your beans home, put them in a large bowl, and rinse them a few times (you can also use a strainer). Then fill the bowl so that it has at least a 1:3 ratio of beans to water. I recommend that you fill the bowl as much as you can without spilling it. Chickpeas are very different. They are hard and take a lot of water. You will need a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio of water for chickpeas. They will also have to be soaked for a FULL 36 hours.

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Place the bowl in a warm place. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of plain yogurt (I use homemade plain soy yogurt). Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and leave it there 24-36 hours. I know what you’re thinking…won’t it rot?

No. It won’t rot. It won’t sour. You will not get food poisoning. The bacteria in the yogurt is going to break down your beans so that they don’t make you so sick and gassy when you eat them, and so you can absorb all of their nutrients. It’s one of the few things that wack-job Sally Fallon got right in her stupid book. Additionally, they must be covered and not open so that air debris and germs don’t get in and disturb the healthy bacteria that is partially digesting your food for you.

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Sally Fallon also failed to mention that you don’t have to be so paranoid about soaking, because one of those things in beans is called phytic acid, which we need to prevent disease, and it is often mostly cooked out of food, but folks with digestive disorders benefit from soaking, sprouting and fermenting. I am one of those people.

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I digress. After 24-36hrs, put your beans in a strainer and rinse them. Then put them in your crockpot or pot of choice, and either season them into a dish, or boil them until they’re soft. From there you can eat them or store them. In a pot stovetop, beans can take about 25-45 minutes, depending on the bean. It’s helpful to cook them in a large pot on medium high with the lid on. Beans foam when they cook, but it’s not a big deal. Chickpeas take FOREVER to cook- I mean an hour to three hours, depending on how many you’re cooking. How do you know when the beans are done? I use the “smoosh test”- I smoosh them with a spoon. If they’re mooshy like the ones I buy at the store in a can, they’re done.

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This is my new favorite dish! It’s a carrot-ginger potato bowl with chickpeas and chard.Β  Link here!

Going Green pt.3- Fall in Love with Castile

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What a funny looking bottle, filled with propaganda haha. But alas, this is my beloved Dr. Bronner’s.

I think that a lot of people don’t know what to do with liquid castile soap, let alone know what it is. It’s liquid soap concentrate. It’s made from olive oil. This brand is organic, ethically sourced, vegan, and cruelty free…and maybe a *little* pricey. There are other brands, but I cannot recommend them.

This is considered a household staple and a base ingredient to natural living. It is greywater safe- meaning, you can dump it on the ground without causing pollution, or bathe with it in open water. It’s a LOT of work to make it yourself (unless you care to melt some castile bar soap), so it’s easier to buy. This isn’t an issue, however, because the bottle is made of recycled materials, and can be recycled. This company also makes a variety of products, including bar soap. I’ve mentioned that I used the bar soap in my homemade laundry soap recipe.

It’s also non-toxic, free of all the nasties that are considered carcinogens, air pollutants, dyes, and endocrine disruptors. You can get it in a variety of scents or unscented, and can use it on your baby. I appreciate that the scents are from essential oils and not synthetic perfumes. My favorite is lavender.

Aside from these factors, it’s the USES that make this soap so valuable. Taken directly from the site, here are some uses and ratios that this soap can be used for:

Body wash- use a few drops of concentrate

Shampoo- 1/2T worked in hair or diluted with 1/2c water

Bubble bath (they SAY it doesn’t bubble, but it does)- I just squirt some in

Shaving- a few drops from concentrate

Dish Soap- mix 1:10 with water

Mopping- 1/2c to 3gal water

Cleaning the bathroom- 1:4 with water and 1/4t tea tree oil

Laundry- 1/3-1/2c per load and 1/2c vinegar to rinse cycle (for fabric softener)

Household pests- 1/4 tea tree oil soap in a quart of water

Washing pets- use concentrate

Veggie wash- a dash in a pan of water

All of these and more can be found here at the Dr. Bronner’s site and blog.

You’ll also hear about this soap from No Impact Man, who is a man who tried to lower his footprint as much as possible for a year (his documentary is on Netflix and its AWESOME). He expressed his value of this soap because it replaced a lot of bottles and waste that were created by buying all of the above products (laundry soap, dishwashing soap, bathroom cleaner, etc.).

So there you have it. I’m a Dr. Bronner’s cheerleader πŸ™‚

 

Go Green pt.2: Green your snacking

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I speak from personal experience when I say that when making my transition to organic living and then veganism, my first inclination was to try all the snacks and fun things. It’s a common misconception that just because something is organic or vegan, it is healthy, which is not true at all. In fact, many organic and vegan foods contain just as much sugar, oil, and sodium as their commercial counterparts. Additionally, they contain just as much packaging, and can be made or processed in places like China, which is infamous for their lack of scruples in the food industry.

I think that people buy a lot of prepacked snacks because they think that it’s a lot of work to make their own, or not worth the health benefits. The challenge this week is to re-evaluate your snacking purchases and habits and to intentionally replace them with higher nutrient food with minimal to no packaging.

Here are a list of products you *might* be buying: fruit snacks, granola bars, granola, yogurt, popcorn, pretzels, chips, crackers, candy, kale chips, pre-made pizza, ice cream, soda/juice/juice boxes, freeze dried/dehydrated fruit, etc.

Since the first step in the cycle is to reduce, first and foremost, it might be prudent to find a local store that has a bulk section (or who buys in bulk and packages up the food in smaller bags). There you will find nuts, raisins, other dried fruits, bulk popcorn (for air popping or popping stovetop), granola, and even some “snack mixes”. Some stores allow you to bring your own containers, while others can provide you with brown paper bags that can be recycled or reused.

Also consider that foods like granola bars and fruit snacks are candy. Their nutrient content is not worth the sugar content. The same goes for soda and juice or juice boxes.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I don’t bother making pretzels or crackers because they can be purchased made of real ingredients by Mary’s Gone, and the cost to make them is greater than the cost to buy them. However. We do not buy chips. They are a treat that is like ice cream- only for some occasions.

Once you have whittled down your snacking habits to what is actually WORTH eating between meals, you might have something that looks like this:

IMG_7223Air popped popcorn and whole grain muffins

Apple muffins

Pumpkin muffins (Happy Herbivore’s Maple muffins are even easier, sub gf all purpose flour)

Strawberry muffins

Happy Herbivore’s Blueberry Oatmeal muffins (sub gf all purpose flour)

IMG_6505Homemade yogurt (with fruit and/or agave)

Don’t have a yogurt maker? Not a problem. Here’s how to make it in bed.

IMG_7221Homemade granola bars- these take 5min to throw together

Happy Herbivore’s recipe here

IMG_7226Home brewed teas, coffee, (both which can be bought in bulk) and lemon water (with a shoot of agave?)

IMG_7225Real fruit snacks aka fruit- bananas, oranges, apples, plums, pears, etc. have their own packaging

IMG_7091Kale chips and other dehydrator goodies (like cranberries!)

cranberries driedWant to dry your own? No sweat! Link here

IMG_6081Homemade pops (these are amazing if you just put yogurt and fruit in a food processor to freeze in molds)

IMG_7224These are silicone pop molds

pumpkin smoothieSmoothies (this one is to go!)

I took this recipe and added 4oz of yogurt to make it taste like pumpkin cheesecake.

granolaIf you’re feeling motivated and can’t eat from bulk bins because of gluten, you can DIY granola. All I did was soak some oats with some homemade yogurt and water, rinsed it the next day, added nuts and seeds with a little agave and a few dashes of cinnamon, and put it in the dehydrator.

pieOther home baked goods can be fun, like pie, cookies, or cupcakes. If they need to be portable, there are numerous solutions, including mason jars, cloth sacks, and stainless steel tins. These are the sort of thing that make a good weekend family project.

pizzaTHESE are made on home-baked english muffins, but these tiny pizzas can be made from grocery store ingredients, which will make them healthier and will still have a higher yield for less packaging (and can be popped in the toaster oven!)