Just a few blocks away from me in my city neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, urban homesteader and food educator Rachel Tayse Baillieul lives seasonally and sustainably. She raises backyard chickens, presses apples into cider, and makes homemade butter.

I don’t do any of those things, and probably never will. But I still find a lot of inspiration in her blog Hounds in the Kitchen because I’m always looking for ways to eat, cook, and live healthier–and just a little bit simpler. So I asked Rachel, mom to 5-year-old Lillian, to share five steps to healthier living that anyone can take. Here’s what she said:

1. Go for Glass

I store everything, from leftovers to road trip snacks to spices, in glass jars. They are immensely durable (my five year old takes them in her school lunch and hasn’t broken one yet!) and free of BPA, heavy metals, carcinogens, or other dangers lurking in plastic storage containers.

I use tiny quarter pint jars for cheese slices, pints and quarts for dry storage of beans, sugar, and flour, and half gallons for homemade jerky, tea and juice. With only two lid sizes, switching to glass jars eliminates the struggle of finding a matched set of plastic storage.

2. Eat Seasonally

When you eat what is grown locally and in season, it is healthier for you because ingredients do not need to be laden with preservative sprays and have more vitamins when ripened in the soil. The less distance produce travels, the less CO2 expelled into the environment. Eating seasonally is tastier because the ingredients are fresh and ripe. Farmer’s markets are my favorite sources for affordable, local, seasonal foodstuffs.

3. Buy Whole Vegetables

When you purchase vegetables with their tops and roots together, they last far longer in the refrigerator–up to three weeks. I make a big purchase at the farmer’s market or grocery and store head lettuce, beets with tops, and whole carrots in loosely tied plastic sacks in my crisper drawer. Yes, they take a little bit more trimming and preparation later, but reducing trips to the grocery saves gas and impulse spending, not to mention the pain of negotiating with children in the checkout line.

4. Adopt a No-Shoe Policy

The dirt tracked in by shoes doesn’t just add to your housekeeping work, it overwhelmingly contains heavy metals and toxins. At our front and back doors we have large washable doormats. We keep shoe bins next to the doors and have changed our habits to take shoes off as soon as we walk in, asking guests to do the same.

5. Grow Plants

Did you know that gardening improves the mental, spiritual, and emotional health of individuals? And that indoor plants clean the air? Every family can grow something in a sunny window, pot on the patio, or small section of an existing landscape.

My family focuses on growing edible plants indoors and out. Oregano, parsley, lavender and mint are very hardy perennials for outdoors. Lettuces, tomatoes, spinach, and peppers are easy to grow in containers. Indoors, we love our lemon and fig tree.

What are your family’s simple healthy habits?

Photo by Rachel Tayse Baillieul



by Sally on June 8, 2010

StrawberriesNitrates in hot dogs, BPA in cans, pesticides on produce. Anyone else notice how crappy the news has been about food lately? When I consider the stuff I grew up on, apparently I should feel lucky just to be alive: canned tuna by the case, countless non-organic apples and peaches I was too lazy to wash, canned fruit, processed meats, processed meats in a can (am I the only one who has fond memories of twisting open a new can of corned beef with that little metal key, sardine-style?).

All eaten, of course, without wearing sunscreen or a seatbelt.

I can’t turn back the hands of time and undo all those Steak-umm sandwiches that I ate. But (to paraphrase one of Oprah’s favorite inspirational phrases) “now that I know better, I can do better”. Now mind you, I don’t overhaul my family’s diet over every scary headline—and I’m way too frugal to turn my life savings over to Whole Foods (trust me, you don’t have to feed your kids $4-a-box organic cheddar bunny crackers to be a good mom). Yet I have made some small—but hopefully significant—tweaks in how and what we eat around here.

I bought a cow. Well, half of one, to be exact. I’m splitting said bovine with a friend, which means each of us needs to make room for roughly 80 pounds of grass-fed beef in our respective chest freezers. Two things influenced this purchase: A viewing of the jaw-dropping, gag-inducing movie “Food, Inc.” and hearing so much about the nutritional perks of grass-fed beef, namely less saturated fat and more healthy fats like omega-3s. We’re paying much less per pound since we’re buying in bulk, and I like that our beef is coming from a local farmer with a few cows, not a mega-cattle operation.

I’m stocking fewer canned foods. Now that the government has finally gotten around to warning us about BPA in cans, I realize I should’ve been seriously worried about this a looong time ago. BPA is a chemical used in the metal lining of cans and in some plastics (including, of course, baby bottles and sippy cups) and has been linked to developmental and reproductive problems in kids. I used to stock canned fruit (packed in juice) in the winter and didn’t think twice about buying something in a can (like pizza sauce) instead of a jarred version. Not anymore.

I’m choosing some organics. Heard of the Dirty Dozen? It’s a list of the fruits and vegetables with the highest residue of pesticides, compiled by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. They claim you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by 80 percent by buying the organic version of celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach/kale/collard greens, cherries, potatoes, imported grapes, and lettuce. My kids eat fruit constantly, and I know their little bodies are more vulnerable to big doses of pesticides. And while I’m not ready to shell out for all of these, I’m dipping my toe in the water. I buy organic apples, since Henry and Sam like to eat them unpeeled, and organic lettuce, because my husband and I eat big salads nearly every night at dinner.

I’m shopping more at the farmer’s market. I’m lucky to live a block away from our community’s weekly farmer’s market, which grows larger and livelier every year. This season I’m picking up more things, like free-range eggs from a local farm, homemade veggie burgers, and beautiful organic strawberries that my kids gobble up within minutes. Compared to the stuff at my grocery store, they are splurges—but if it means my family eats a cleaner, healthier diet and my kids learn to love the taste of fresh-picked produce, it’s well worth it (and all that cash I save from my rabid coupon-clipping obsession has to go somewhere).

Have you made any changes to the way you feed your family? I’d love to hear about them.

Photo by Pieter Musterd

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