Having a baby is a common time for us to reevaluate our lifestyles, shopping choices and well, pretty much everything. All of a sudden we want to make the best choices possible for this new little life we have in our hands including everything from quality of food we bring home, to brands we support to lessening our garbage output. I know what you’re thinking “I just had a BABY, how in the world am I going to LESSEN my garbage output?!”, but stay with me, it is possible, and in fact, deliberately eliminating extra packaging from your grocery list can actually simplify the process and actually make life easier. Below are some of our tried and true plastic-free shopping tips for parents.
Use reusable bags for produce, bulk and carry-out
The average American family brings home about 1,500 plastic bags each year with only 1 percent returned for recycling - this means the average family recycles just 15 plastic bags per year, the rest ends up in the landfill, oceans, roadsides etc (source). Since plastic bags don’t typically have much of a use past the trip from the grocery store to home, we can easily avoid filling up our cupboards and having to dispose of them by choosing not to bring any home at all. Using reusable bags for produce, bulk items and bringing your shopping home may take some planning, but is more than doable once you get the hang of it. If you have older children, asking them to help you get the grocery bags ready is a great way to get them involved and keep yourself organized at the same time. You can now find reusable produce bags in most grocery stores, health stores and online through Amazon or online shops like the Package Free Shop. Common household items like clean pillow cases can work really well too, or you can make your own like this DIY method from Wellness Mama.
Stick to the perimeter of the store
The center aisles of most stores are where you typically find pre-packaged, processed “easy” foods. By avoiding this section as much as possible, you will avoid much of the disposables you likely find in your trash can now. You may be surprised at what you can find outside of these aisles too. Things like cereals, breads, baking supplies, snacks and other goodies are often found in the bulk or bakery section totally package and plastic-free - especially if you bring your own bag.
Consider bulk more often, including loose veggies
As mentioned above, you can often find what you are looking for in the bulk section of your local grocery store. Taking a longer look at your produce section can also be quite eye opening once you realise just how many beautiful and natural fruits and vegetables have been wrapped up in plastic when you can actually find them loose and perfect just as they are close by. Items like pre-cut mushrooms, bags of lemons, cut celery etc are almost always unnecessary and can all be found on their own. If your little one is eating solids, you can consider making your own baby food and the produce section is the perfect place to start. I commonly grab an extra yam, squash, or broccoli on each of my shopping visits and as I make dinner, I’ll steam or bake up what I bought for the next day or 2 of meals for her. Boil up some lentil pasta for fibre, iron and protein, and you’re pretty much good to go! It may seem like a major leap if you’re used to purchasing pre-cut/pre-packaged fruit and veggies, but the nutritional value is usually much higher when prepping yourself and you’ll certainly notice the less frequent trips to take the garbage out.
Make a plan/list.
List making is crucial here, unless you’re okay with the unexpected and flying by the seat of your pants (said no mom ever….). When we’re talking about eliminating plastic from our grocery shopping, we are often talking about a completely different approach than we’re used to, and this requires a little bit of extra planning. This means you won’t be bringing any plastic shopping bags home with you, so you need to bring your own shopping bags, jars and containers and if you’ve never done this before, it can be far too easy to forget until you get the hang of it. Try keeping your shopping items together and close to your door at all times for easy grab-and-go.
My list looks something like this:
✔ produce/bulk bags
✔ bread bag
✔ shopping bags
✔ shopping list
✔ diaper bag
Have fun with it and try different things to see what works for you and your family. Sometimes I don’t use produce bags at all, and just buy my fruits and vegetables loose (I’ll be washing or peeling them anyway), and sometimes I buy just a few items that I can carry out in my arms, work with what you’ve got and enjoy the process.
Give yourself time
If you’ve just had a baby, the only thing you should be worrying about is healing and spending every precious moment with your new life. Hopefully that means you have a stash of nourishing food in the freezer and a supportive group of people you can lean on, there is no need to immediately begin changing the way you do things. Eliminating plastic and single-use items takes time and depending on where you live, may or may not even be totally possible. Each step you make is progress and even if you forget your bags one day and have to bring plastic home, so be it, the point is we are all trying and that every effort helps.
Happy (plastic-free) shopping xo