3 Efficient Ways To Add Some ‘Green’ To Your Cleaning Routine

These days, more and more of us are slowly but surely changing our day-to-day routines to adapt to the needs of our beautiful Mother Earth. But despite all the progress we’ve made, many people are still wary about ditching their chemical-filled cleaning products for more environmentally-friendly alternatives. However, the truth is, there are countless ways to clean using natural substitutes that are just as effective as traditional, store-bought solutions. Even better, these tips can also save you money.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to add some ‘green’ into your cleaning routine.

Floors:
Hardwood floors are one of the most popular types of flooring. So popular, in fact, that data from the National Association of REALTORS found that 54% of home buyers are willing to pay more for a home with hardwood flooring. And while most people choose artificially lemon-scented polishes, you may be surprised to learn that you can make your hardwood floors shine like never before using nothing more than tea bags. Just boil some water and add two tea bags, letting them steep for a few minutes. Get a soft cloth damp with the tea and wash away. Soon enough, your floors will look like new!

Windows:
It’s true that flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours. But instead of using harsh, ammonia-based cleaning agents, consider using a mixture of vinegar and warm water to get your windows and other glass surfaces sparkling clean.

In fact, vinegar has a number of viable uses in the green cleaning realm. Baking soda and vinegar isn’t just for home science projects; this mixture can also be sprayed on almost any bathroom tile, making it easier than ever to wipe away dirt and grime. Bathroom surfaces should also be disinfected with rubbing alcohol at least once a month to prevent excessive bacteria buildup. The average child catches between six and 10 colds a year, so it’s easy to see why parents are reluctant to give up their chemical cleaners. Even so, you can keep household surfaces disinfected without resorting to toxic chemicals.

Laundry:
Laundry is one aspect of keeping clean that traditionally uses harsh chemicals. If you’re seeing the word “fragrance” listed as an ingredient in detergent, fabric softener, or even air freshener, be aware that it’s basically code for harsh chemicals (magical smelling harsh chemicals, to be fair). Luckily, baking soda makes an effective and safer option for laundering and air-freshening. To make DIY laundry detergent, Natural Living Ideas recommends dissolving one cup of baking soda and one third cups of salt into two cups of warm water, pouring it into a gallon container, adding one cup of liquid Castile soap, and filling the rest of the container with water. One quarter of a cup is enough for one full load.

It’s also important to note that some products labeled with ‘fragrance’ can affect fertility rates in women. One in eight couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy as it is. Ovia Health says, “Chemicals called phthalates, used in various products to make smells last longer, are often found in the synthetic fragrances of common laundry detergents. These products can disrupt important hormones that cause ovulation, so try more natural brands instead. Other chemicals found in laundry detergents can lead to reduced sperm count — stick to vegetable-based products to minimize chemical presence.”

Ultimately, cleaning green is more than just substituting products for other products. It’s all about staying vigilant, being aware of which ingredients can be dangerous, and thinking critically to come to a more eco-friendly solution.

Families That Garden Together Stay Together (And Learn Healthy Habits While Doing It)

In the U.S., physicians and families alike are making efforts to fight the obesity epidemic, but an increasing reliance on technology, our national love of junk food, and lack of physical activity makes it a bit of an uphill battle. The typical American dieter makes four weight loss attempts every year, but placing severe limits on caloric intake is only a short term solution. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 75% of Americans aren’t eating their daily recommended doses of fruits and vegetables.

Whether family members need to lose the winter weight or simply want to live a healthier lifestyle and enjoy more time together, many experts are proposing a tactic that might surprise you: starting a family garden.

Statistics show that pre-teens and teens spend an average of six to nine hours per day looking at TV, computer, phone, and gadget screens. Those activities lend themselves to a sedentary lifestyle for kids and adults alike. But other promising data shows that families with kids are gardening far more now than they were just a decade ago. From 2008 to 2013, the National Gardening Association found that gardening activities among families with children increased by 25%. And in the spring of 2014, the number of people who gardened within the past 12 months amounted to 113.5 million.

This involvement has a huge impact in multiple areas. Scientific studies have proven that when children are involved in gardening, their fruit and vegetable intake — not surprisingly — increases. Taking part in the process allows them to enjoy the literal fruits (and veggies) of their labor and feel more connected to the produce they come across outside the home. Plus, preparing and eating nutrient-rich meals together as a family can develop a foundation of lifelong healthy eating habits and weight maintenance.

Gardening can even improve academic achievement. Multiple studies cited in the Review of Educational Research found that children who garden at school had a higher affinity for science. Another Chicago-based study found that just being near green spaces — in this case, seeing them from apartment windows — can help improve children’s self-discipline in educational settings. Even when gardening at home, the lessons learned there can translate into multiple educational areas. Parents can easily interweave nutrition lessons as you plant the backyard garden.

Plus, spending time in nature has been proven to produce calming effects in both children and adults. Parents of children with ADD and ADHD reported that “green activities” have a consistently positive effect on their kids’ symptoms. Children who don’t have these conditions can use gardening and other outdoor activities to work off excess energy, develop stronger immune systems, and just recharge.

For families that don’t have a large outdoor space to devote to gardening, other outdoor family activities can be a good substitute. Taking nature walks or biking trips can allow for both physical activity and appreciation of nature. Since 36 million Americans ages seven and up rode a bike at least six times in 2015, it’s a popular alternative or supplement to digging in the dirt.

But in many ways, gardening has those other activities beat. Not only is it physical and rewarding work that can promote better nutrition, but it’s a great way for children to feel connected to the world around them and engage all their senses. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch are all involved in gardening. And by allowing kids to have a direct effect on how their garden grows — by picking out seeds, planting and watering them, and helping to harvest and prepare them — that will set the stage for a balanced lifestyle that values both hard work and healthy food.

Although many children recognize produce at the supermarket, that’s often not enough to convince them to try (and stick with) these healthy foods. Gardening at home or school makes kids much more likely to consume fruits and vegetables. More than 30% of schools in the U.S. now have gardens (a 12% increase from 2006), but whether kids garden at school, in a community garden, or right in their own backyard, they’re bound to live healthier lives — and their parents will too!

How to Save Money on Your Air Conditioning Bill Without Even Trying

Now that we’re in the full fledged dog days of summer, chances are that most of us are relying on our air conditioners to keep our home nice and cool. But sometimes cranking the thermostat down can cause our energy bills to skyrocket, not to mention that it isn’t eco-friendly!

So how do you keep the energy bills down and the planet happy, all while keeping your family pleasantly cool? It’s not all that hard, it just requires some creativity and dedication. Here are some air conditioning hacks that will make your wallet smile this summer.

Replace if your AC is more than 15 years old

Technology changes all the time, and HVAC systems are no different. Having an updated machine will lead to major energy savings because the units on the market nowadays work hard to be energy efficient. Plus, older machines have to work harder to do the same job, and their repairs can be costly. On top of that, older machines are often clogged with dust and other allergens. As a rule of thumb, consider HVAC replacement if your air conditioner is more than 15-years-old.

Install a programmable thermostat

There’s no reason that you should be paying to cool the home when no one is there, right? Investing in a programmable thermostat is the best thing you can do when it comes to regulating your energy costs. You’ll be able to choose exactly what times of day it turns on, to what temperature, and when it needs to turn off. By optimizing when it turns on, your machine will be able to work more efficiently, which spells out cost savings for you.

If you can’t afford a programmable thermostat right now, just follow this trick: simply turn up the thermostat at least 10 degrees right before you leave the home. Doing so will ensure the unit doesn’t automatically turn on when you’re gone.

Change your air filters

According to EnergyStar, most HVAC system filters need to be changed every one to three months. But even still, you should aim to change your filter once every month so the air in your home can be as clean as can be. A simple trick to remember is to write the date you replaced it on the filter itself in pencil. Check it periodically, and once you can’t read the date anymore, it is time for a new filter.

Seal windows

That precious cold air can be escaping from your home through tiny cracks around your windows and doors. Don’t pay to cool the outdoors! At the beginning of every season, caulk the windows and doors in your home to ensure nothing is leaking out. Remember, even simple changes like this can add up to major energy savings over time.

Close your blinds and keep the sun away from the unit

The idea behind this is simple: the cooler your home, the less you’ll have to use your unit. Keeping the sun off the unit itself will also prevent it from turning on automatically, and shutting the blinds and curtains will keep your home as cool as possible naturally. Closing your blinds is especially important for when you’re going to be gone from your home for a while, like going to work heading on that summer vacation.

These five simple air conditioning hacks will change how you cool your home, and your wallet will thank you! So go try these tips and tricks out today, and let us know how much you save.

6 Reasons Why You Should Start Harvesting Rainwater

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.
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With climate change wreaking all kinds of havoc on the environment and drought occurring more often nowadays, more people are starting to realize how crucial water really is to the sustainability of life on this planet. Many try to dig out the earth to harvest ground water, but there’s another free source that people are also starting to take advantage of: rainwater.

If you’ve just heard of rainwater harvesting and are wondering whether it really is a feasible and practical solution to your water consumption problems, here are some of its benefits that just might convince you:

#1: It reduces your utility bills
Collecting rainwater greatly decreases your dependence on your water company. It lowers your consumption and thus your utility bills. Imagine the amount of savings you could get every month when you start making this a habit. It also helps you cut down on your energy bill in an indirect way as it reduces the amount of energy needed to pump and treat water.

#2: It is cheap and easy
Many people have dug wells into the ground to get regular water supply. While you can certainly opt to do this, another thing you can do that is way easier on your budget and efforts is to harvest rainwater. While digging a well takes several weeks to complete and lots of money, with rainwater harvesting, all you need is a quality container from Rain Water Tanks Direct.

#3: It’s beneficial to your plants
Gray water (another term for rainwater) is more beneficial to your plants than your municipal supply. This is because the water in your pipes is full of chemicals and has gone through several stages of filtration to make it fit for human consumption. But this result is not always better for plants. Rainwater per se is one of the purest and softest kind of water there is, and thus, they’re more nourishing for your plants.

#4: It’s another source of drinking water
If you have a large family and you’re spending a lot of money on buying bottled water every week, this option helps you save. You’ll just need to invest one-time in a water filtration system and then you and your family will have free drinking water from now on.

#5: It reduces the possibility for flooding
If you live in an area where there is constant flooding, harvesting rainwater can help prevent this from happening. It prevents the ground on your property from being overly saturated with rainwater and ensures that your gutters are flowing properly.

#6: You’ll have your own backup supply
There may be times when the water company has to do maintenance work on some of their pipes, and when this happens, a shut-down almost always happens. You will be one of the lucky few who won’t be affected with this shut-down as you’ll have your own backup water supply.

The rainwater harvesting movement is a practice that is starting to gain more traction over time. Other people have gained a lot of advantages from this practice. It’s about time you enjoy them too.

Blow the BBQ Competition Out of the Water With These Organic Memphis-Style Ribs

Summer is a season filled with pool parties, beach days, and most importantly, backyard barbecues. There’s something special about gathering friends and family in your own backyard and preparing a meaty smorgasbord for all. And if there’s one thing America knows about barbecue, it’s that you better have ribs at the picnic table.

You may have a favorite way to cook and eat barbecue ribs, but in this recipe you’ll be learning something a little bit different. As you may or may not know, there are four major regional styles of barbecue in America: Kansas City, Texas, Memphis, and Carolina-style.

Today, we’re going to teach you how to make organic Memphis-style barbecue ribs right on your own grill! Let’s get started.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups organic ketchup
  • ¼ cup packed organic dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup organic cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. organic vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup organic steak sauce
  • ¼ cup organic Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp. organic yellow mustard
  • ½ tsp. organic cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp. organic onion powder
  • 1 tbsp. organic ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. organic salt
  • ½ tsp. organic ground celery seed
  • 1 tbsp. organic molasses
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons organic liquid smoke
  • 1 full rack of trimmed organic spare ribs
  • ½ cup organic apple juice
  • 1 cup damp wood chips

To Prep:

First, set your apple juice aside. You won’t need it until you place your ribs on the grill! Once that’s done, begin by trimming your ribs. Since you’ll be cooking them on the grill, you’ll want to trim off a bit of the excess fat. Keeping some of the fat on is a good idea and will help create nice, tender ribs, but too much could result in unnecessary grill fires. In addition, divide your damp wood chips in half and wrap each pile in tin foil, poking several holes in your bundles to let smoke escape. Your grill should be just hot enough to start the wood smoking.

For the Sauce:

This barbecue sauce recipe may be simple, but there’s no denying that it will be a hit with your family and friends. To begin, mince your garlic and make sure your brown sugar is free of any clumps. After that, place all of your ingredients, minus your vegetable oil, into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring your saucepan over to the stove and place it over low to medium heat, stirring until all of the ingredients are well-combined.

Bring your mixture to a low boil, stirring often. After it has reached a low boil, lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once your 25 minutes are up, remove your mixture from the heat and gradually stir in your vegetable oil. And voila! You’ve got some kickin’ barbecue sauce the whole family is sure to love. This recipe should yield approximately three cups of sauce.

For the Ribs:

Now that your ribs are trimmed and your sauce is ready, it’s time to fire up the grill. Place your wood chip bundles close enough to your burner that they start to emit smoke. Once those are smoking, it’s time to turn down the heat and place your ribs on the grill!

The key to great ribs is indirect heat. Ideally, your ribs should be placed between the two burners being used. Place your rack bone-side down on the grill and let the ribs cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Your grill should hold a steady temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit for this period of time. When you open the lid, your ribs should be browned on all sides. Once the 30 minutes is up, place some tin foil underneath your ribs.

Remember that apple juice we were saving? Now, pour it evenly over the ribs and wrap the tin foil around them, bringing the grill up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook with the lid closed at this temperature for about 30 minutes. After this, remove the tin foil, lower your grill temperature to approximately 265 degrees Fahrenheit, and let your ribs finish cooking for an additional five to 10 minutes.

To Finish:

You should open up your grill to a rack of beautiful, tender ribs. And now, it’s time to add your Memphis-style barbecue sauce! The key to excellent, saucy ribs is adding two coats of sauce and letting your ribs sit on the still-hot grill for about five minutes between coats. Of course, you should still have enough sauce leftover for dipping!

For a more in-depth grilling tutorial, consult the experts at The Spruce.

You Might be a Minimalist

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.
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Minimalism is becoming hugely popular, especially with today’s youth. But just what makes a minimalist a minimalist? There are a lot of things incorporated into minimalism and even if you don’t fit into all categories you might find that you’re a minimalist when it comes to money, your home or your environmental footprint. Whether you’re minimizing your impact in only one area of your life or multiple areas, you might be a minimalist if:

#1: You Hate to Spend Money
Whether you’re saving for that one special item over a long period of time or you simply hate buying more and more stuff, if you don’t like spending money and you feel a pang of guilt every time you oil that capitalist machine then you might be a minimalist. If you’re saving money by reusing what you already have, like old kitchen containers instead of buying more plastic wrap, sewing patches onto your favorite pair of blue jeans instead of hitting up your local stores, or simply buying used items instead of new whenever possible, then you’re minimizing your impact.

#2: You Live Clutter-Free
If you’ve taken a page out of the Japanese home style play book and you’ve simplified your home by decluttering and removing the heavy build-up of junk we Westerner’s seem to accumulate so quickly and easily then you might be a minimalist. The Japanese interior design aesthetic is heavily influenced by Buddhist/Shinto culture and the natural world. If you have incorporated bamboo mats, shoji screens to mark off different areas and uses for your rooms or have a miniature Zen garden on your tabletop then you might be a minimalist.

#4: You’re a Nomad
If you live at least part of a nomadic lifestyle, if you’re constantly traveling and live at least 3 months a year out of your backpack then you might just be a minimalist. Traveling light, often and for longer periods of time is becoming more and more common today. If you’re happiest when backpacking around the world, wearing the same clothes day after day, getting your entertainment from experiencing new places and cultures and that already-read-a-thousand-times book you keep in your back pocket then you’re probably a minimalist.

#5: You Live Green
If you’re concerned about the environment and want to do everything you can to reduce your environmental footprint by reducing waste, eating from your own garden, buying only what’s necessary and only spending on environmentally-friendly products then you might be a minimalist. Green minimalists often buy in bulk in reusable containers, shop for products that don’t harm the environment and are sold in biodegradable packaging. They shop only for environmentally sustainable products and often shop for second-hand items instead of new when possible. Green minimalists live sustainably to reduce their carbon footprint and waste.

Whether you’re a nomadic minimalist, a green minimalist, your decluttered home gives you peace of mind, you simply hate spending money or you fit into multiple minimalist categories, by living minimally you are reducing your impact and the world thanks you.

A Tale of Two Countries: Americans Are Enjoying Fast Food More Than Ever

Even in the age of organic-everything and green living, fast food is becoming more popular. A new study explains why some Americans are sticking with super-sized portions and greasy fries despite the abundance of natural food choices.

Healthy eating in the United States has been a growing source of contention for decades. Our glorious country has come to be known for larger-than-life portions, fried food, and lack of exercise.

As much as we don’t want to admit to eating the ice cream, burgers, and fries that our country has become famous for, it seems like we do it all the time. After all, 90% of U.S. homes regularly eat dessert and the typical American eats a burger 4.3 times per month.

So with this in mind, it is important to be conscious of the negative health effects that come with eating these foods. And, no, we’re not saying that it is a bad idea to have a burger and an ice cream cone once in a while! Rather, it is all about making healthy choices.

However, many households are losing the battle against junk food, and today fast food is becoming more popular with more Americans than ever before. According to a new survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Americans are changing their preferences on both where and what they eat — and not always for the better.

For the first time in the survey’s history, fast food restaurants were rated higher than sit down establishments when it comes to customer satisfaction. These restaurants, dubbed full service restaurants in the survey, saw a 3.7% decrease in overall satisfaction, dropping from 81 to 78. Fast food, on the other hand, stayed the same at 79 points (each scale is out of 100). The cheap prices at fast food restaurants is definitely a factor here, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite the stereotype, nutrition experts say that middle-class Americans are actually more likely to eat fast food than low-income Americans.

The ACSI’s managing director David VanAmburg explains to NBC that there are plenty of reasons why full service restaurants are suffering, including expensive prices, lack of variety, and lower grocery store prices, which encourage shoppers to cook more at home. He also mentions that even though prices are rising in restaurants, the service, meal, beverage selection, and overall experience doesn’t necessarily match the increased price.

Not only that, but fast food chains are stepping their game up and giving customers exactly what they want, while offering a different dynamic than what we have become accustomed to.

“The fast food category is not just about traditional burger chains anymore,” VanAmburg says. “It’s now about a number of newer, more dynamic, more diverse types of fast casual choices that really stress innovation and the quality of the food they’re serving. And the pricing is very competitive compared to full-service restaurants.”

The 5,000 consumers surveyed for the report chose Chick-fil-A as the winner in the fast food category. Papa John’s and Panera Bread tied for second place, Subway came in third, followed by Arby’s, Chiplote Mexican Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts, and KFC. All the fast food restaurants grew in customer satisfaction, while the sit downs lost points dramatically.

Cracker Barrel came out on top for the sit-down restaurants, followed by Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, and Chili’s in descending order.

With these trends in mind, VanAmburg explains that the American ideal of the traditional hamburger chain is changing. He explains, “We’ve seen burger chains languishing near the bottom of the ratings for a number of years now, but the gap is becoming greater between them and places like Panera Bread and even an alternative in the fast food category, like KFC.”

So while more Americans are concerned about eating healthy, the country clearly still deserves its reputation as a Fast Food Nation.

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