News headlines let parents know that Mother Earth has some concerning problems. There’s depletion of the ozone layer, toxins such as metals or phthalates polluting our water, drought, overstuffed landfills and acid rain, to name a few.

Want to make a difference in 2016, but not sure how? It’s true that small actions when combined together can make a big difference towards protecting our planet. Join together with your kids and you’re on your way!

andrea at work 4

We turned to Southern California’s Dr. Andrea Neal, a mom of two who has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics and lipid biochemistry. She also has a Ph.D. Swedish Agricultural University where she studied the effects of toxins on our soil. After going on an expedition for oceanographic explorer and environmentalist, Jean-Michel Cousteau, in which she explored 8,000 miles of pristine ocean; studying the devastating marine pollution, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch off the coast of California and the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power meltdown, she founded Hope2o, a company that enables consumers to test their tap and filter water for harmful toxins.

Here are 5 simple solutions for protecting Planet Earth together with your kids:

1. Do your best with the resources you have. Neal suggests simple, healthy approaches to “going green” that work for you and your family. Her family does not drink from plastic (plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, a whopping 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. They eat local and organic when they can. And, she confesses, they have more reusable bags than anyone on the planet.

2. Support an environmental cause. Neal’s cause is anything that has to do with water. “I have been to the middle of the ocean and have seen our trash floating there,” she says. “This makes me a huge advocate for environmental solutions.” She supports many eco-conscious organizations, including Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society for which she is an advisor; Mission Blue, led by famed National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia A. Earle; Blue Frontier Campaign, which inspired Neal’s Operation Water Legacy program (OWL), an initiative to chemically map the New Jersey water system; and Blue Marble Project, a program that links mental and physical health with a connection to water. She suggests finding a project that speaks to your heart.

3. Play outdoors! Nature is healthy for us both physically and mentally. Neal’s family enjoys hiking, camping as a family and they all play soccer. She and her husband surf, dive, and snorkel. “We don’t get in the water as much right now with a small baby, but I am very much looking forward to some board time with him,” she says. “As Jacque Yves Cousteau used to say, ‘you protect what you love.”

4. Develop critical thinking skills. Find accurate information and put your energy and time into real solutions to the specific problem that bothers you and real causes. “You can’t protect what you don’t understand,” says Neal, again paraphrasing Cousteau. “With so much information on the Web, it is hard to sort out what is real and what isn’t.” Share what you learn with your children and involve them with all of your decisions and efforts. Help them learn to easily articulate why your family makes eco-friendly choices.

5. Commit to your kids’ future. Neal says it is going to take a global effort to try to change the current path we are on. “I hope that my efforts help secure clean water and a clean environment for my children,” says Neal. “With the rate of population growth, our ability to support everyone with the resources we have is diminishing quickly.”

*Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak on FreeDigitalPhotos.*

Americans’ snacking is on the rise, with snacks making up about half of all eating occasions, according to a recent report from the Hartman Group. The good news is that snacking can be part of a healthy eating plan, as snacks can provide energy between meals and supply essential nutrients.

Nutrient-dense California avocados, which are only in season from spring to fall, are delicious, good for you and can be an excellent ingredient in just about any snack. The fruit is a naturally nutritious super-food, and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, along with “good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, to one’s diet. Additionally, avocados add a creamy and delicious flavor to snacks or mini-meals without adding sodium or cholesterol.

Registered Dietitian Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE, loves incorporating California avocados into meals and snacks for their nutritional benefits. She has partnered with the California Avocado Commission to create some easy snack recipes featuring the fruit.

“Every year, I look forward to California avocado season, because they lend themselves to so many different preparations—especially when it comes to snacks,” says Ferraro.

She’s come up with some easy snack recipes featuring the fruit. Each recipe has less than 100 calories per serving and can be great for on-the-go snacking.

For other recipes that feature fresh California avocados, including additional snacking recipes developed by Katie Ferraro, visit the California Avocado Commission website at


California Avocado Cucumber Cups


1 English cucumber
½ ripe, fresh California avocado, halved, seeded, peeled and diced
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. diced cilantro
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. salt


1. Chop off ends of cucumber and discard. Cut cucumber into 12 equal-sized round slices (approximately 1” width slices). Using a melon baller, scoop out center of cucumber slices, leaving enough cucumber on the bottom for the base. Set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, mash avocado and add bell pepper, lime juice, cilantro, cumin and salt. Stir to combine.

3. Place avocado mixture in a small, sandwich-sized plastic bag. Snip off one bottom corner of bag and squeeze avocado mixture into hollowed-out cucumber slices.

Serves 2.



Power Hour Pick-Me-Up Smoothie


¼ ripe, fresh California avocado, seeded, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
½ cup frozen mango cubes
⅓ cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 cup water
1 cup ice cubes


1. Combine all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.

2. Serve immediately.

*Article and images courtesy of NAPS.*

Serves 2.

Wash Your Grocery Totes To Minimize Health Risks

Nearly everyone has a reusable grocery tote, but only 15 percent of Americans regularly clean their eco-friendly bags—and that could create a breeding zone for harmful bacteria. According to the Home Food Safety program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and ConAgra Foods, it’s a smart idea to clean totes on a regular basis.

“Using unwashed grocery totes can cause cross-contamination when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce,” says registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Ruth Frechman.

“Food poisoning affects 48 million Americans a year, but it can be prevented with practical steps, such as cleaning grocery totes and separating raw meats from ready-to-eat foods when shopping, cooking, serving and storing foods,” she added.

Frechman says to make sure all bacteria are eliminated by frequently washing your grocery tote, either in the washing machine or by hand with hot, soapy water; cleaning all areas where you place your totes, such as the kitchen counter; storing totes in a clean, dry location; and avoiding leaving totes in the trunk of a vehicle.
“In the store, wrap meat, poultry and fish in plastic bags before placing in the tote and use two different totes for raw meats and ready-to-eat foods,” says Frechman.

She also stresses it is a smart idea to use two cutting boards at home: one strictly to cut raw meat, poultry and seafood; the other for ready-to-eat foods, like breads and vegetables.

“Keep cutting boards separate, and wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use or place in the dishwasher,” she says. “Discard any old cutting boards that have cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars.”
Cross-contamination also happens in your refrigerator when you place raw meats on the top shelf and juices drip onto produce, says Frechman. “An easy solution is placing raw meats, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf and keeping washed produce in clean storage containers instead of original packaging.”

Visit for additional safety tips on how to avoid cross-contamination and food poisoning, and contact a registered dietitian for more help by visiting

*Article courtesy of NAPS. Image courtesy of Repax Bags.*

When you’ve lived in the same place for years it can be great to occasionally give your home a bit of a refresh. Decorating can be hard work and expensive, so a good way to keep your home interesting without spending lots of money is to make your own decorations. Sourcing your decorations from your own garden is a really eco-friendly way to update your home as you dramatically cut down on the emissions that come from manufacturing plants and transportation. Here is a guide to how you can use items from your garden to decorate your home.

Using Items From Your Garden to Decorate Your Home

By Vanessa Barlow


During fall you can easily find lots of beautiful red, brown and orange leaves. These leaves make excellent decorations for your home and will give it a really cozy feel. You can create a garland by stringing together lots of different leaves. Large leaves such as maple or oak work particularly well for this as it is easy to thread them together without the leaves falling apart. These garlands can then be hung around a fireplace or staircase.

Rather than creating a flower arrangement you can instead use branches from your garden. Find a number of small branches with interesting shapes and display them in a big vase. To add a bit of colour you could spray the branches; red, gold and silver work particularly well for this type of display.


In winter nothing really beats holly. Collect holly from your garden and use green wire to attach the holly to your stairs, fireplace, or shelves. Holly is very prickly so only attempt this if you’re wearing a good pair of gardening gloves. You can also use holly to create beautiful centrepieces. Put a large candle (preferably red or green) in the centre of a plate and then use the wire to wrap the holly around the candle and attach it to the plate. For fire safety, make sure no holly leaves or berries are too close to the candle flame.

Vanessa Barlow works for Artscape Garden Design in Surrey and likes to bring a touch of the garden indoors whenever possible.