With summer and the end of the school year in sight, it’s time to think about resetting the kids.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that children between 8 and 18 spend close to 8 hours a day in front of a screen – TV, computer or phone. That doesn’t include school, and that adds up to an awful lot of sitting around.
Time to get outdoors. It’s hiking season, birding season, cookout season, garden season, camping season. In summer it’s fun to try to do everything you can outdoors.
You don’t have to go far to get a change of pace. Eating meals out on the lawn or taking an early morning walk around the neighborhood can feel like a vacation, and it opens young eyes to the natural world all around us.
Camping is a good way to get a break from the routine – and the screens – and there are plenty of beautiful camping spots nearby. You can practice in the backyard, work your way to a nearby state park (Moreau Lake, Thompson’s Lake, Schodack Island and Cherry Plain are among those that offer camping) or move onto longer trips further afield.
A camping trip is a great way to extend family time outdoors, and eating outdoors is a great bonus.
Camp meals take some planning. Because you’ve got to carry in – and carry out – everything you’ll need, planning a low-waste camping trip takes extra planning. Think reusables and you’ll save money and avoid creating excessive trash.
Start with reusable camping dishes – plates, flatwear, cups. You can go to a camp store and buy official (and expensive) camping gear. Or you can just buy cheap dishes, mugs, forks and spoons at a thrift store. It makes much more sense to pick up a few 10-cent metal forks that you can use over and over than pay for plastic flatwear and throw it away.
Bring natural, biodegradable soap to wash your dishes, and if you’re staying a few days, a tub to wash them in. The tub can double as a carrier for food and dishes.
And think beyond single-serve food packets. Instead of individual pack of instant oatmeal, bring a single container of oatmeal, or pack enough for the family for the weekend in one resealable plastic bag. You can add sugar, salt, cinnamon or whatever eIse you like in your oatmeal before you leave home.
Don’t bring those instant cups of soup that come in a Styrofoam cup inside a cardboard box in a cellophane wrapper. If your family must have instant soup cups, at least leave the packaging at home and pour the contents into a reusable mug with a lid. You can pour hot water into that for your soup, then use the cup the next morning for your oatmeal.
Or you can make your own instant soups, family size, with a single package of thin rice noodles (check the Asian food aisle in your market). Bring along a small container of miso or bullion and some dried vegetables or thinly sliced fresh vegetables. Hot water turns the whole thing into soup. The trick is to plan meals and leave as much packaging home as possible. If you want to have a hearty dinner the first night, plan and prep a stew and freeze it in freezer bags or reusable tubs before you leave. That frozen dinner will keep your food fresh as you travel, and be ready to heat on your campfire and stove.
You are going to have some trash when you camp, and it’s not always practical to carry your food in glass jars or containers. So you may opt for zip or resealable plastic bags. The kind marked for freezer are heavier duty than those marked for storage.
And you’ll need to bring some bags for trash, and something to store your food in to keep animals from getting into it. Check your campground or region’s rules – some places require you to use bear-proof canisters, some places warn you to hang food off the ground, or keep in in your car or a sealed cooler.
When you’re done eating, it’s time to concentrate on nature – hiking, swimming, boating, taking time to look at the birds and enjoy the trees and stars. Those computer screens will still be waiting when you get back home.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday on the Gazette’s Environment page. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.