One thing everyone is doing during the pandemic is cooking a lot more at home. In uncertain times, we have to make our money go further than ever before, especially when it comes to food and cooking.That's why we've been eating more canned and frozen food recently, all while trying to use up as many pantry staples as possible.

But how do you maintain good health practices while saving money? It seems like a lot of ways to improve your health through your food and diet involve purchasing an expensive appliance or spending more on fancy groceries. That's why we're highlighting three things you can do in the kitchen that are good for your health but that are totally and completely free! Each tip is easy to implement, will benefit your health now, and helps prevent future diseases. Try one out this week!



Tip 1: Save pasta jars. Store bought pasta sauce can save a lot of prep time before dinner. The next time you're craving pasta, make sure to save the glass jar the sauce comes in! Glass pasta sauce jars are big and sturdy, which makes it great for storing pantry items like nuts and beans, leftovers, or soups and broths. These glass jars make it easy to switch from plastic food storage containers because you don't even have to buy anything extra. Plastic additives like BPA and phthalates can cause some serious negative health impacts like breast cancer, reduced sperm production, infertility, heart disease, early onset of puberty in girls, diabetes, and obesity (1), so we really don't want it anywhere near our food. A glass pasta sauce jar is a great free food storage container that is better for your health.

Tip 2: Use the back burner on your stove, especially for high heat cooking. Stoves with gas burners have a tendency to release ultrafine particles and nitrogen dioxide into the air (2,3). Even electric ranges can release ultrafine particles, although at much smaller amounts. A typical range hood can suck up smoke and other particulate matter much easier from the back burners vs the front ones, meaning that your indoor air quality won't take such a big hit every time you cook (2). If you have younger kids, using the back burners whenever possible is also the best choice when it comes to preventing accidents. That's why we recommend always using the back burner and turning on the range hood when you cook! A range hood can decrease the amount of particulate matter and NO2 by up to 90%, but if you don't have one, just opening a window or turning on a fan is the best for healthy indoor air quality.

Tip 3: Heat frozen food out of plastic packaging. Frozen food is awesome for those nights when you simply can't be bothered to cook. We've all been there! But most frozen food comes in plastic packaging, with instructions that tell you to heat the food in the plastic trays and sometimes even with the plastic cover. We know that microwaving plastic can cause harmful chemicals to leach into food (4). And even relatively safer plastics (including BPA-free plastics) have been shown to release hormone disrupting chemicals when heated (5). Plus, a lot of frozen food seems to come in black plastic, which is extra harmful. So an easy solution is to transfer the food into an oven or microwave-safe bowl or plate and then heat it up! For the microwave, glass or ceramic are the best options and for the oven you can use stainless steel, glass, or ceramic. A parchment paper lined aluminum baking tray is also a great option.

Along with these tips, don't forget to store vegetables and fruits properly. Keeping fruit and veg fresh for as long as possible is one way to save money and have a healthy diet during these times.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2967230/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S036013231730255X
  3. https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2018/03/06/use-your-range-hood-for-a-healthier-home-advises-indoor-air-quality-researcher/
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12028
  5. Yang, Chun Z., et al. "Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 989-996.
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Easy and Free Ways to Improve Your Health at Home

Who says staying healthy has to be expensive?!

The COVID-19 shelter in place has been tough for our emotions and our budget. With layoffs and furloughs, we've had to make our money go further than ever before. But how do you keep good environmental health practices when money is tight? It seems like a lot of ways to improve health around the home include purchasing something new. That's why we're highlighting three things you can do that are good for your health but that are totally free! Each tip is easy to implement, will benefit your health now, and helps prevent future diseases. Try some out today!



Tip 1: Open your windows. Letting in fresh air can do wonders for your health! Surprisingly, indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality (1). And since we're spending so much time indoors, the quality of our air matters more than ever! There are many everyday items in the home that can negatively impact your indoor air quality. Home furnishings, personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners can all give off harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Stovetops and kitchen appliances can give off particulate matter (PM) as well as VOCs while they're in use (1). VOCs and PM can cause headaches, trigger asthma, and even cause cancer after long-term exposure (2). Opening your windows can help circulate air and help remove any harmful pollutants from your indoor air.

Tip 2: Leave shoes at the door. Wearing outdoor shoes around the house may seem innocent enough, but shoes can actually track residue around your house. Scientists have found that a big source of lead and pesticide residues in the home come from wearing shoes indoors. These harmful chemicals and other gross debris can later end up in household dust, which you or your kids can accidentally ingest (3). Yuck! Taking off your shoes before you walk around indoors is an easy way to limit your exposure to harmful materials.

Tip 3: Turn off lights when you go to sleep. You may be thinking "of course I turn the lights off when I go to sleep!", but we're talking about all lights! Even those tiny lights on your electronics. Any source of light, big or small, can impact the quality of your sleep, which impacts your health. Exposure to artificial light at night can suppress melatonin secretion, make it harder to fall asleep, and disturb your circadian rhythm. There is even research showing that prolonged nighttime exposure may contribute to breast cancer risk, and negatively impact psychological, cardiovascular, and metabolic function (4). Try turning off all electronics in your room, including power strips, before you get into bed. If you can't turn them off, you can use some black electrical or duct tape to cover the light.

  1. https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality
  2. https://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/voc/
  3. U.S. EPA. Update for Chapter 5 of the Exposure Factors Handbook: Soil and Dust Ingestion. US EPA Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-17/384F, 2017
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/07420528.2015.1073158
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It seems like everyone is staying home these days. Whether it's because of a mandatory order or out of an abundance of precaution, people are staying close to home and limiting travel. Social distancing is incredibly important to stop the spread of COVID-19, but staying at home means we suddenly have a lot more time on our hands. But that doesn't mean we have to be bored! There's still plenty to keep us busy as we shelter in place or practice social distancing. We've thought of some easy, outdoor-oriented activities you can do while on a walk or while getting some fresh air with your kids.

Activities for Adults

  • Do an outdoor guided meditation. These are difficult times and anxiety might be higher than normal. Meditation is proven to help lower stress and anxiety, as is going outdoors. Why not combine the two? There are a lot of free guided meditation online or on Youtube. We recommend going on a short walk, then finding somewhere to sit and meditate. Walking meditations are also a great way to stretch your legs while practicing mindfulness.
  • This is a great time to try a new hobby! Why not take up gardening? Gardening can help lower stress and anxiety, burn calories, and help you get outside more. Plus, you can also grow your own food! A meal just tastes better when the produce comes from your own backyard, right? Before you pick up your trowel, check out our guides on soil, composting, and growing veggies indoors (in case you're an apartment dweller).
  • Take a sketchbook with you on your next walk and sketch five things that make you happy. This could be a beautiful flower, a cute dog, or even just the sunny sky! This is a great way to keep you present during your walk and a way to focus on the positive.

Activities for Kids

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood or visit an open space or park for a hike and bring a pouch to collect natural objects such as flowers, rocks, leaves, sticks, and pinecones. It's a great way to have kids notice what's around them and to appreciate the beauty in what may seem like everyday objects. Then when you get home, have the kids organize the objects into alphabet letters or numbers and glue them to form nature collages. If you have older kids, use these objects to illustrate a scene from a favorite book or to make nature art.
  • We're definitely on board with getting outside for a bit of exercise, but kids sometimes it takes a bit of work to keep kids interested. Another idea for a hike or walk outside is to give your kids a camera (or your phone) and have them take pictures of things that they think are interesting or beautiful. Could be a flower, unusual shaped tree, colorful mailbox, or anything else they see. When you get home, print the pictures and have the kids make a collage. If you have older kids, have them write a story with the collage as an inspiration.
  • Another way to keep an outdoor walk interesting for kids is to bring a notebook and have them draw a map of your walk as you go. Make sure to note landmarks, unique natural features, or streets in your neighborhood. For older kids, this activity can become more challenging by having them note distance, elevation, and cardinal directions.



It seems like everyone is staying home these days. Whether it's because of a mandatory order or out of an abundance of precaution, people are staying close to home and limiting travel. Social distancing is incredibly important to stop the spread of COVID-19, but staying at home means we suddenly have a lot more time on our hands. That's why we compiled a list of our favorite environment-related tv shows and books! Half of the recommendations for kids, so everyone in the household can continue to learn about the environment!

Books

Adults



The Overstory by Richard Powers: Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, this novel follows nine characters from drastically different walks of life and highlights their own unique relationship with trees. The Overstory tells a tale of activism, environmentalism, and resilience.


Horizon by Barry Lopez: Travel the globe with Lopez as he observes the natural world around him. With a quiet disposition and keen eye he listens to stories of researchers and locals, piecing together an understanding of human's complex connections to nature.


The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac: Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, who led negotiations for the United Nations during the 2015 Paris Agreement, discusses two scenarios: a world that meets the Paris climate targets, and a world that does not. The Future We Choose discusses how we can all tackle the climate crisis with determination and optimism.

Kids


Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers, illustrator of the bestseller The Day the Crayons Quit. This is a beautifully illustrated and heart warming book that serves as a tour through the Earth. With curiosity inducing pages on the land, sea, sky, our bodies, and animals, this book is a great jumping off point for even more in depth learning and exploration. The book's central message of being kind and taking care of the Earth is one that we full heartedly endorse, especially during uncertain times.


The Amazing Life Cycle of Butterflies by Kay Barnham. From caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, this book teaches kids scientific facts about butterflies through engaging and bold illustrations. Even parents might learn a thing or two about butterflies. There are also notes for parents and teachers at the end with activity and art suggestions to encourage further exploration and learning.



The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston. This is a great book for teenagers about Owen Thorskard, a budding dragonslayer who lives in rural Canada. Dragons in this world are attracted to carbon emissions, so the book does encourage readers to question our fossil-fuel based society. But most importantly, for young readers, it's an exciting story about Owen and his friend Siobhan and their quest to save the world.


TV Shows

Adults



Planet Earth II: An unprecedented look at our natural world with stunning visuals. This series gives us a look into the animal kingdom from the viewpoint of the animals themselves. It's basically earth eye-candy and features an array of gorgeous shots from 40 different countries. Visit islands, deserts, and even city streets to see how animals survive and thrive on an ever-changing planet.


Nature: This PBS docu-series covers a wide array of environmental topics, from white giraffes in Kenya to humpback whales in Northern California. Many episodes are available for free on your local PBS station.



Our Planet: While this series is packed with gorgeous shots of rarely-seen animal species, Our Planet also looks at the impact climate change is having throughout the world. Each episode is a somber reminder of how human behavior has far-reaching consequences.Kids

Kids



Tumble Leaf- Fig is a curious fox that goes on adventures to learn about how things work in the world and how to solve problems. Parents will love the applied science and your kids will love the colorful and cute animation. The pace of the show isn't too fast so there's plenty of time for kids to absorb what they are learning, but the show is so fun and quirky that they won't even realize that they are learning! The friendships that Fig has with his friends are also very endearing and teach some valuable lessons. This is definitely a must see show for preschoolers and younger elementary school kids.


Ask the Storybots- These five funny creatures answer a kid's question in each episode, such as "How Do Flowers Grow?" or Why Do We Have to Recycle? Facts are cleverly explained, along with explorations on letters, numbers, and colors. The creators consult subject experts and educators when creating each episode, but songs, animated characters, and guest celebrities make each show super engaging. If you don't know it already, this will be a hit with your preschool and elementary school aged kids.



WildKratts- Real-life brothers and zoologists Chris and Martin Kratt introduce kids to wild animals and teach them about animal behavior and habitats. Each episode focuses on a different wild animal that the Kratt brothers are going to go help. The show keeps it exciting by taking an inquisitive approach and with entertaining storylines. The Kratt brothers also show their love and respect for the natural world and science and inspire kids to do the same. This is a great show for elementary school aged kids.



Continent 7: Antarctica- This is a six-episode series that follows scientists as they live and work on Antarctica. From flying planes in extreme cold weather to climate change, this series will definitely keep older kids interested while also being educational. With beautiful imagery and drama that emerges from being in such a harsh environment, it's a great show to learn about how science is done and about an important ecosystem. Adults will also learn a lot and enjoy this as well!

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