What Does it Mean to Practice “Green” Parenting?

The following guest post was written by Katie Fox and originally appeared in September 2010.

As parents, I’m sure it has hardly escaped your attention that “green living” is the buzzword everywhere these days, including our parenting choices.  If you start researching what green parenting actually entails, it’s easy to experience information overload; there are as many options and resources as there are opinions.

Yet I do believe that this is an important topic, so today I just want to look at some of the most basic ways that I practice green parenting.  Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to take just one step further in preserving and caring for the earth, as you care for your children.

Cloth Diapers

After I found out I was expecting my daughter, I knew right away that I wanted to use cloth diapers. Cloth is so much better for the environment than disposable diapers that go straight into the landfills after a single use. Cloth is also much more affordable than disposables, and much better for your baby’s sensitive skin – disposable contain toxins that contribute to rash and other problems.

For more details, check out these posts:

3 Great Reasons to Choose Cloth Diapers
4 Cloth Diapering Options Defined
How to Make and Use Cloth Wipes
Cloth Diapering 101 at Simple Mom, complete with a video tutorial

Photo by Lori Ann

Homemade Baby Food & Non-Toxic Feeding Choices

When my daughter was ready to start eating solid foods, we made most of her food ourselves, rather than buying it pre-made at the store.  Not only does this cut back on waste in packaging, it’s a frugal choice. Most importantly, it’s the healthiest choice for baby.

I wonder sometimes if this is the reason that my daughter is such an enthusiastic, adventurous eater; after all, anyone who’s ever tasted the jarred stuff will tell you it’s not very appetizing.  If we don’t like it, why do we expect our kiddos to like it? Serving your baby real food right from the beginning will help them develop their taste for real food. Find lots of resources at NurtureBaby.com.

Try to serve your baby organic food as much as possible; his or her little system can’t handle the toxins in pesticides as well as adult systems can, and non-organic meats & dairy products come from animals that were given growth hormones and antibiotics. This may contribute to early-onset puberty and antibiotic resistance in your babe.

Photo by Nurture Baby

Along those same lines, I made sure we bought a BPA-free sippy cup for my daughter. We chose the Foogo Stainless Steel Sippy Cup, because we prefer to avoid all plastic as much as possible.  If you’re using bottles, sippy cups, or reusable water bottles for your child, make sure to look for “BPA-Free” on the label, and choose glass or stainless steel when you can.

For more details, check out these posts:

The Benefits of Homemade Baby Food and 6 Steps for Easy Batch Cooking
• Homemade Baby Food 101 For the Modern Mom – Part I and Part II
BPA: What It Is, Where It Is, What To Do

Natural & Safe Personal Care Products

Green parenting is not just about the environment; your family’s best interests are at heart, as well. Choosing natural and safe personal care products, such as shampoos, lotions, and creams, will help ensure that your child’s exposure to unnecessary chemicals is as low as possible.

We really like the brand California Baby. Their products are non-toxic and – bonus! – many of them can be found at Target.

For an introduction on choosing safer personal care products, check out this post.

Get Outside, Grow, and Play

As kiddos grow, so do their opportunities to explore their world, experience the richness that life on Planet Earth has to offer, and care for our world – and its citizens, as well. Here are just a few last ideas and resources for green parenting.

• Gardening: Gardening with your children is one of the best ways to get outside into nature together, teach them where veggies and fruits come from, and feed them healthy, organic, home-grown, fresh food. Wow – what more could you ask for, really? We’ve been gardening for a few years now, but this summer was the first year my daughter could really understand what was going on. She was enthralled – and helpful! Even if all you have is a balcony patio, get a pot and grow something.

Photo by Samuel Mann

Check out the Gardening 101 series on SimpleOrganic.net for info on how to get started.

• Play & Get Dirty: Kiddos need time outside to play, play, play, and then play some more. I will readily admit that sometimes, this is difficult for me. I have lots of excuses: it’s hot; I have other errands to run or things I need to do; I’m bored… We parents tend to whip out our iPhone instead of engaging with our kids and helping them to play. Sometimes, they don’t need our help – but more often than not, they really do. Take your children outside a lot. Engage with them. And let them get really, really dirty. It washes off.

• Buy Them (Mostly) Used Clothes: It’s a great way to recycle, save some money, and hey – they’re just going to get really dirty, anyway, right? (see above)

• Teach Your Children Well: One of my daughter’s chores, at age three, is to take out the recycling. I help her, because she needs help, but she loves to do it. She’s already learning what can be recycled and what can’t. She understands that she needs to turn off the water when we’re brushing her teeth because it saves water, and we’re working on turning off the lights when we leave a room. Basic things – but you have to start somewhere!

Model a life that values stewardship and resourcefulness, and then pass it on.

Do you practice green parenting? What else can you add to this list?

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  1. i love that you have buying used clothes on this list! people think being green means buying spendy organic everything, when often it means buying LESS and used.

    i’d add breastfeeding to the list–feeding babies the no-packaging goodness they were made to thrive on.
    {so much shouting, so much laughter}´s latest post: tune my heart to sing thy grace

  2. I agree, add breastfeeding to the list. No BPA ladden bottles and no manufacturing facility required! Growing a few food items is one we want to tackle next spring! My children DO help me recycle. We don’t buy used clothes, though. All I had were hand-me-downs as a child (some that were my brother’s clothes even though I was a girl.) Now that i can shop for cute clothes, I’m really enjoying it :).

  3. In addition to all of the above, I’d like to add a few other little things that we do.
    First, our children are now 7 and 8. From the very beginning, we have been teaching them to think before you throw anything away. What else could it be used for? Could they make a project with it? Could they give it to a needy child, etc? Also, my kids are very crafty and love to draw and color constantly. We save paper in all forms and sizes – everything becomes scrap paper that we put in a pile that they can pull from at any time. This saves money on paper in the store and each piece is used several times before we recycle it.
    I also second the breastfeeding comment. Not only do you foster an intense bond with your baby that lasts a lifetime, you save a ton of money, save energy used to produce formula and also forego all that nasty packaging. Plus, you’ll build immunity in your child that will save on doctor visits later as well as save all the energy and paper those visits create!
    Another little thing is we kept some of their old baby clothes for doll clothes and we hand everything else down to other families.
    We also use cloth napkins at dinner and I put cloth napkins in their lunches for school. They know to bring them back home and they like to use them as little placemats for their lunches.
    It amazes me how thinking green and doing these things just become a habit very shortly. We don’t even think twice about these things anymore, it’s just natural.

  4. Great post! Sadly we weren’t able to cloth diaper as not only have we moved home 3 times in my sons life, including a move abroad and several stays in temporary housing, we do not have our own washer/dryer! This is the place we’ve lived longest and we share a washer with 5 other families! I really want to do it with my next one, hopefully home life will be a little more stable and we’ll have our own washer!

    I do totally identify with feeding homemade foods though, it never really even occured to me to buy baby food in jars for my son when it was just so easy to puree some fruits and veggies. He’s also quite an adventurous eater now he’s almost three. At 3 he also knows how to sort our recycling and put things in the correct bins, it’s the law to recycle where we live in Germany but we will continue wherever we happen to move to next!
    Satakieli´s latest post: Blueberry and Peach Jam Scones

  5. I was raised without thinking about the whole cycle of merchandise, food, transport, clothes. Now I know there is no ¨away¨ when we throw something out. (or use chemicals on our food or in our homes- it all ends up somewhere) Thanks for the encouragement to live more consciously.
    Kimberly´s latest post: Know it all…

  6. Great list. I was inspired by what you said to work harder towards making all of my own baby food. I just used organic prepared with my first two but I will have to read up and get ready for the next one.
    Scarlet´s latest post: Cugolino Wooden Marble Run From Oh! Toys Encourages Creativity and Building Skills

  7. It’s so easy to make your own baby food! With my first, I made it up in batches on Sundays and frozen it in portions in ice cube trays and then put the cubes in plastic bags for her when I went to work part-time.

    With my second, I didn’t prepare it in batches because I was home full time. So when she was ready to eat food (she was breastfed exclusively), I would take aside small portions of whatever we were eating for dinner and I would just mash it up while it was hot for her and let it cool. I had a mini food processor that made this super easy. At 8 months, she was eating freshly prepared chicken pureed with avocado (a favorite!), mashed up spaghetti, broccoli, you name it. She was eating what we ate and it was so easy!

  8. Fantastic post! We started cloth diapering, making homemade baby food and eating more organic this year. They really were simple changes that we implemented one at a time and now they are a normal part of our life. After my last pregnancy I also implemented a lot if green cleaning. I used spray bottles we already had and used a lot vinegar and baking soda instead of toxic cleaners. Healthier for me and my kids to use and major cost savings and less shopping hassle! Love it!

  9. I would add green toys to the list as well. That doesn’t just mean buying plastic- and battery-free toys, but also limiting how many toys you buy in general. Instead of buying kids’ plastic cooking toys, give your child some of your old pots and pans to play with. Save things like cereal boxes and plastic berry containers and let your child build huge structures with them. Make your own play dough and finger paints. And when you do buy toys, choose well-made toys constructed out of wood, cotton or recycled & BPA-free plastic.

  10. Great post, Katie!

    I did disposable diapers with my first baby, but switched to cloth for my second. He’s six months old now and we use cloth pretty much exclusively unless we’re traveling for a few days or more. I love, love them and with all the great options these days, they are not much more work than the disposables. Plus, they are so much better for the environment, not to mention, they make your little one’s bottom look so cute!

    I do have one question about the cloth diapers…can you recommend a safe, gentle, but effective cloth diaper detergent? Sometimes I have to wash the diapers several times to get the ammonia smell out and I have yet to find a good natural detergent that works well.

    I agree with {so much shouting, so much laughter}, Breastfeeding should definitely be added to the mix and you know I’m a huge proponant of homemade baby food. 🙂 Thank you for the link to NurtureBaby!

  11. I agree with the toys- we belong to a toy library. We keep the toys for two weeks and return them- so much better for everyone, especially puzzles and toys children outgrow quickly!
    Kimberly´s latest post: Five to one ratio

  12. Great overview post, Katie! Such great ideas here in the comments, too. 🙂

  13. I did many of these and also agree about adding breastfeeding.

    Many of these are not even necessary though. For instance, we never needed to make baby food. Our babies breastfed for an extended period and had the same healthy foods that we had at meal times (mashed and introduced slowly, of course).

    None of my kids had a need for sippy cups. They nursed or had water in jelly jars from a very young age. Using glass follows Montessori principles of providing children with real, natural items and we rarely had accidents. When we do have spills I always say it’s a sign the floor needed to be cleaned. 🙂

    Many of my friends use Elimination Communication with their babies and rarely need diapers at all, for another example (with four kids and a busy homeschool life that was not an option for us!).

    For personal care products, again we used very few of those in the early years. I washed my babies’ hair with plain water most of the time. When the kids have dry skin, we use something simple like coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature and melts to the touch). These things reduce chemical exposure even more and also save a lot of money.

    We practice a lot of other things on the list though, like gardening and buying used clothes. I agree most of all about playing and getting dirty. 🙂
    Alicia´s latest post: Harvest recipe- Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

  14. Interesting post. We also nearly always buy used clothing for the kids, we have 6 separate recycling bags in our kitchen area (the kids love recycling at the dump), they always have a ton of outdoor time (we live out in the woods), and we eat whole foods as much as possible.

    To add something new to this, my husband and I have found it important that our children grow up with a deep love of their country. We always visit national parks on vacations and family days whether it be to camp, hike, or simply stroll around the visitor center. Our children have gotten the chance to see what a beautiful country we have (we’ve done 2 cross country/ national parks trips).

    At each park the older ones participate in the park’s Junior Ranger programs where they learn about the history and natural beauty of the area. They promise to become good stewards of the land while taking the Jr. Ranger oath! As a result I hear them telling other children about what they’ve learned, and how important it is to care for the earth. When I see them internalizing what they’ve learned through so much outdoor education, I would say that is “green parenting” as well . 🙂
    Paige´s latest post: Wine Making Part I

  15. Personally for me, the most important part of “green” parenting is passing on a love and respect for nature.

  16. I’d like to buy recycled clothes but it’s inefficient when time is of the essence and worth its weight in gold. Can anyone reccommend a good site or place which has a range of used clothes in a range of sizes?
    James Anderson´s latest post: toddler beds

  17. Make sure the kiddies have gloves for gardening. Fertilizer as well as natural substances in the soil may be absorbed through the skin.

  18. Great post. I just wanted to add to the “Homemade Baby Food & Non-Toxic Feeding Choices” conversation, saying that in addition to making our own baby food, we did a great deal of baby-led weaning (http://www.babyledweaning.com/) with our now 17month old son. And the result, I think, has been a real appreciation – dare I say love- for natural whole foods. It was also a nice transition from breastfeeding. I stopped nursing around 12 mos, and by then our little guy was sitting at the table with my husband, eating what we were.
    TheActorsWife´s latest post: new working hours

  19. Some great points! I love that there are now so many parents thinking this way, it’s going to make such a difference when our kids don’t think twice about doing all the things that we had to change and relearn how to do.
    Avoiding chemicals is a huge one that I’ve taken on and still occasionally improve on. But don’t stop with chemicals that you can see. Reduce or eliminate (as best you can) the electromagnetic frequencies that are so harmful to developing bodies. Wi-fi, cordless phones, computers and gaming equipment, cell phones, smart meters, and basically any toy that doesn’t need a cord to operate but magically sends the message through the air.
    All past generations got by without these things, so can our kids!
    ~ joey ~´s latest post: {this moment}

  20. Tina Collins says:

    I have been trying to become a greener parent, and so I was excited when I came across a website that was advertising a Costume Swap for children’s costumes. My neighbor and I were excited by this and so we are organizing our first costume swap for the 2nd annual National Costume Swap. You can visit http://www.greenhalloween.org/CostumeSwap/ to find a swap in your area or to register one of your own.