popular

Alison Mountford from Ends and Stems Shares Her Meal Planning Tips

Plus, a 25% Discount for Because Health Readers!

Have you ever had an ingredient go bad because you didn't know what to cook with it? Or end up making so much pasta that your meal for one could now serve fifty? We've all been there. After spending years in the food industry, Alison Mountford saw firsthand how much perfectly good food gets thrown out during meal preparation. This lead her to create Ends and Stems, a meal planning service that curates recipes and shopping lists to make mealtime easier for you while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Read on for a Q&A with the founder.

PS: Because Health readers can receive 25% off a monthly or annual subscription using the code Because

BH: Why is food waste an important issue for you?

AM: I've been a professional chef for 15 years. My first business was a meal delivery and catering service. As the owner of a small food establishment, it was just good business sense to use everything up and not waste edible food. I sold that business in 2015, but I wasn't sure what my next step was, honestly I was a little bit lost. Right around that time, the NRDC released it's landmark report measuring how much food is wasted in America, much of it in our own homes, and detailed the dramatic effect this waste has on the planet.

Everything clicked for me when I read this. My entire cooking career had been dedicated to helping busy people and families reduce stress around dinner time and encourage them to cook more, eat better, and shop better. And for my entire life, I have been an outdoors person. Following the health of our planet and taking action to improve it has always been a core value and it was only strengthened by the birth of my daughter, also in 2015. Reducing food waste at home is something small that we can all do everyday and it can add up to something big. Often, I feel helpless at some of the major issues our country and planet are facing, but helping busy people reduce food waste doesn't cost them time or money - it saves both - and that makes it super fun to educate about and promote.



BH: What inspired you to start a meal planning business?

AM: Once I knew that as a chef I had to talk about cooking to reduce food waste, I needed a business model. I had been in business long enough to know that creating an idea in my own head, alone at my desk was not a recipe for success. So, I took the internet and starting interviewing people. I used a free survey tool and put out a questionnaire. Within 48 hours, I had just shy of 1000 responses! I asked people if they cared about climate change (yes), food waste (also yes), and how they were struggling at dinner time. 83% of those surveyed named "Deciding what to buy and cook" as a top concern! I expected the answer would be grocery shopping or actually doing the cooking, but it turns out that the emotional labor of choosing a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients was driving people nuts.

From there, I refined the idea to include impact reporting and tested ways to change the convention of recipe writing so that the meals are faster, easier, and use everything up.



BH: Is food waste an issue that you see other professional chefs embracing? Can you tell us more about food waste in the food service industry?

AM: Yes, I feel very excited about the role of chefs in food waste and the greater movement to combat climate change.

In my experience, chefs are the least likely group of people to let food go to waste. In the breakdown of where food is wasted, restaurants rank high, but do you know more specifically where the food is wasted? On the consumer side. Any thriving restaurant manages food cost tightly, meaning there's not that much food wasted in preparation. Diners however, are conditioned to look for large portions, free bread/chips, we over order, and we don't follow through to take home and eat leftovers.

Chefs also have the advantage of knowing how to use a product in multiple ways and can minimize waste and reinvent leftovers.

I was recently at a conference with some of the best chefs in the world and the focus of the entire day was how chefs can use our position and influence to reduce food waste and act on multiple other initiatives to combat climate change - reduce plastic waste, support bee habits, reject monocropping, buy from farms doing carbon capture, reduce portion sizes, educate diners, and so many others.


BH: What are your top 3 tips for people who want to start meal planning but have never done it before?

AM: 1) Get in the habit of writing ideas down when they pop in your head. Thinking of dinner ideas on demand feels akin to writers block. I know I had some ideas...why can't I remember them? For me, this means keeping a running list on my phone or emailing recipes to myself when I see them. When it comes time to choosing a few recipes for the week, I have some help getting the ideas flowing.

2) Ask family members for input. This helps kids especially, buy into meal time and complain less. My 4 year old will ask for a specific fruit or vegetable, burritos, or noodles. I can factor these into the plan and she feels accounted for.

3) Be realistic about your week and willingness to commit. When I polled those thousand families, most were willing to cook just 2-3 times per week. Don't write a meal plan for 5 nights on your first attempt. Start small with just 2 recipes. Perhaps, choose one meal that you know will make excellent leftovers and double it. On super busy nights, plan for takeout or leftovers! My family always orders in on Wednesdays because my husband works later and brings the kids home later. We simply aren't starting from scratch that night of the week.



BH: What are some ways that people can make cooking fun?

AM: I think the single most important thing to do is cook when you have more time. That means, if you arrive home from work close to dinner time, prep your meals the day before or do most of it on Sundays. As a personal chef, I have prepared hundreds of thousands of meals 3-4 days before anyone will eat them. There's almost nothing that can't be stored overnight or longer and then reheated for dinner time. When you cook hangry (or with a hangry family nearby), it's never going to be fun.

My second tip to make cooking more fun is to rid yourself of any guilt stemming from a lack of variety. I see so many people, parents especially, lamenting that they don't cook enough variety and it's coming from comparing their own lives to an influencers feed on instagram. The real truth is that variety in foods is healthy, but you don't need to reinvent the wheel every night or week. Add variety when it truly feels fun but for busy weeknights, a simple home cooked meal is already a huge win, it does not have to be Pinterest worthy.

Family

Keep These Common Household Items Out of Reach From Teething Babies

And why we recommend always having a safe teether on hand

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. We recommend always having a safe teether on hand, whether you're at home or on the go. Even though common everyday items may look harmless, there can be unsafe substances that your little one can ingest if they're chewing on them.

Wondering what household items could be harmful to chew on? Here are some common items that you shouldn't let your little one chew on, even though it's so tempting to let them gnaw.

Keys

Keys are always in our purses or pockets and babies are fascinated with them. Sometimes they're the perfect distraction to avoiding a meltdown in the grocery story line. But it's actually not a good idea to let your little ones chew on keys or even play with them. The metals used to make keys vary greatly, but many brass keys can contain up to 2.5% lead (1,2). Even keys that don't look like brass might be plated in another metal, which can wear off over time. Not all keys contain lead, but it's impossible to know for sure which ones do and don't. So pick one of our safe teethers, including these Kleynimal Stainless Steel Keys, and make sure to pack it for your next grocery run.

Remote Controls

Remotes have colorful buttons and fit perfectly in little hands, so it's no wonder you always see babies chewing on the ends. But remotes contain batteries, which are not safe anywhere near your child's mouth. Additionally, household electronics like remotes contain flame retardants, which can come off into mouths and on hands. Try to limit contact with remotes and definitely don't let them become toys! We like to keep them out of reach on a shelf.

Cell Phones

It seems like all babies become obsessed with cell phones... probably because they see us constantly looking at them! But is it safe to let your baby chew or mouth your phone? Definitely not. Cell phones are covered in germs, including some pretty nasty pathogens like E. Coli (3). They also contain a lot of chemicals and substances, like batteries, heavy metals, flame retardants, and plasticizers, which are all toxic. Plus, if your baby is teething or has teeth, they could chip the phone and little pieces could come off that can be a choking hazard. Because of all these hazards, teething babies and cell phones are not a good match. But if your child is old enough to play games on your phone, wash their (and your!) hands after they use it, especially before snacks and meals.

Jewelry

Jewelry is sparkly, shiny, and colorful, which basically just screams "please put me in your mouth!" to babies. Unfortunately, metal jewelry can contain toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium while plastic jewelry can contain bisphenols or plasticizers. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin at any dose, and cadmium can cause kidney, bone, and lung damage. Brass is also a common component in jewelry, which can contain up to 3% lead. And just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's safer; jewelry at all sorts of price points have been found to contain these heavy metals. Research has found that the amount of heavy metals that get ingested while chewing or mouthing jewelry can be dangerous (4). Even jewelry that seems completely harmless, like Mardi Gras beads, has been found to contain toxic substances. So let jewelry be just something nice to look at and let kids chew on a set of silicone teething beads instead.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses come in all sorts of sizes and shapes nowadays, but most sunglasses are made of a polycarbonate plastic that contains BPA. While it may not be a big exposure risk for adults who wear them, letting your little one chew on them or suck the ends is not the best idea. BPA is a hormone disruptor and kids are especially vulnerable as they are in a sensitive growth period. Yet another reason to always pack a safe teether in your bag if your little one is an especially mouthy one!

References
  1. https://cchp.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra181/f/leadinkeysen011804.pdf
  2. Kondrashov, Vladislav, et al. "Assessment of lead exposure risk in locksmiths." International journal of environmental research and public health 2.1 (2005): 164-169.
  3. Pal, Shekhar, et al. "Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of nosocomial pathogens." Advanced biomedical research 4 (2015).
  4. Weidenhamer, Jeffrey D., et al. "Bioavailability of cadmium in inexpensive jewelry." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 1029-1033.
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Roundups

9 Non-Toxic Teethers

Your baby will love chewing on these safe materials!

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. Having a safe teether made of silicone or wood is your best bet for your baby's health. Check out our 9 favorite options that will give your little one some relief and will also make for some cute photos!


9 Non-Toxic Teethers

a) Bonbino Teething Rings

b) Itzy Ritzy Cactus Teether

c) Loulou lollipop Llama Teether

d) Chewbeads Elephant Teether

e) Caaocho Sola the Goat

f) Bumkins Gameboy Teether

g) Maple Landmark Ring Teether

h) Oli and Carol Kendall the Kale

i) Kleynimals Toy Keys

Keep Reading
Home

Non-Toxic Candle Roundup

They smell even better than they look! Plus no harmful chemicals

Trying to set the perfect mood for Valentine's Day? We've got you covered! Our candle roundup is a great guide to finding the perfect candle. Most candles contain paraffin wax, which is made from petroleum and use fragrance oil. And fragrance can contain a ton of harmful chemicals. Our candles only use natural wax like soy or beeswax, and only contain essential oils! Plus they all smell amazing!



a) Aira Soy Candles
b) Lulu Candles Natura 100% Organic Soy Vegan Wax Candle
c) Big Dipper Beeswax Aromatherapy candle
d) Milk + Honey essential oil candle
e) Pure Plant Home glass candle
f) Edens Garden essential oil candles

Wondering why you need a non-toxic candle? Candles release compounds known as volatile organic compounds whether they are lit or not (1). VOCs can have both short and long term adverse health effects and there are consistently higher concentrations of VOCs indoors than outdoors. The majority of the VOCs released from candles is because they doesn't burn cleanly, which releases acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, phenol, benzene, and toluene, many of which are carcinogenic (3). Phenols (one of the words in that list if you jumped to the end of the sentence when you started seeing a bunch of scary words) are the fragrance chemicals that make candles smell like brown sugar, wild mango, and clean laundry. It makes sense that it would take some pretty weird chemicals to bottle up the smell of a tropical island in a single candle, right?

It's definitely healthier and safer to go with candles scented with essential oils to avoid some of these nasty VOCs. A few of the other VOCs released can cause changes to our DNA (and in some cases, bad changes!). Of all of the VOCs released, formaldehyde and acrolein are the other two biggest worries because they are released in the highest concentrations. Formaldehyde itself can cause cancer (4) while acrolein, which is used to make weapons in high concentrations, can kill you if you breathe in too much of it - Yikes (5). I don't know about you, but those are some things I definitely don't want to invite to my relaxing spa night!

Candles are also traditionally and most commonly made of paraffin, which is obtained from petroleum or shale. We recommend candles made from beeswax or soy because they come from natural sources. Some candles wicks may contain lead, so always make sure to look for a "lead-free" wick made from cotton.


References

1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389414010243

2. http://candles.org/elements-of-a-candle/wax/

3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231010010502

4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=39

5. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp124-c1-b.pdf


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.







First off, nice! We are super excited for you!

Now that the relationship is serious, have you started thinking a little bit more about what your life might be like together in the future? Maybe you are at the point where you are leaving a toothbrush at the other's place, or maybe it's a little more serious - like talking about moving in together. No matter how serious "serious" is for you, we've got a suggestion for making that step of the relationship a little healthier.

Keep Reading
Roundups

Non-Toxic Safe Sex Brands

Safe sex is good, non-toxic safe sex is better

Updated for 2020!

We are always talking about being careful about what we put on our bodies, but what about things we put in them? Choosing safe condoms and lube, which directly touch one of the most absorbent and sensitive parts of your body is critical.

Keep Reading
Life

PFAS Free Winter Jackets

Stay warm without the harmful chemicals

A lot of weather-proof jackets contain harmful chemicals like PFAS or PFOA. That's why we found the best PFAS-free winter jackets for your next trip to the mountains ! These jackets will keep you nice and warm without the use of those pesky forever chemicals. And since snow season is winding down (for some.. ) there are a ton of sales on right now! You can grab a new jacket for this winter or one for next year! ⁠ ⁠

a) Picture Organic Clothing Week End Jacket
b) Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket
c) Nau Clothing Reykjavik Insulated Jacket
d) Jack Wolfskin Powder Mountain Jacket⁠

Life

PFAS Free Ski Wax

What to know before your next trip to the mountains!

If you're heading up to the slopes this week , you might want to double check what your ski wax is made from. Ski wax is a necessity to enjoy the sport but it turns out, most wax contains a ton of fluorinated chemicals like PFAS and PFOA . Fluorinated wax may make your skis glide a little easier, but it's super bad for the environment (and you!). That's why we've found some brands that made fluoro-free ski wax. ⁠ ⁠

a) Rex G21 Graphite Spray⁠
b) Toko Non Fluoro Glidewax
c) North by Swix Speed Brick Universal Wax
d) mountainFLOW Quick Wax ⁠
e) Swix F4 Universal Easy Glide Wax
f) Ulla Glide Wax

Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL