With the Spring Equinox upon us, making it a point to connect with the natural world is one of the best things we can do for our health and wellness. While people of all ages benefit from face time with the great outdoors (particularly city dwellers who see more concrete than green), children and young people are especially better off. While the average American spends 93% of their time indoors, an alienation with nature, “nature-deficit disorder,” as been associated with higher rates of physical and emotional illness and attention difficulties in children.
In contrast, research has found that even brief interactions with nature make us all healthier and more productive, and consistent access to even the smallest iterations of nature, like a patch of trees in an urban landscape, has a positive impact on a child’s development. When homework, television shows and video games call, finding an "excuse" to go outside can seem like a task, but a strong reason to stay is a real win. A picnic in the park or in your own backyard is a way to combine food and frolicking for an engaging, healthy activity for the whole family.
Here are some tips for planning an eco-friendly picnic that’ll help parents and children connect with nature and honor the environment.
Thanks to the internet and navigation technology, local discovery is easier than ever. Finding your way to a new scenic spot is a matter of using a smartphone app (National Wildlife Federation’s Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder™ app is a good one) or typing a search in your browser. But getting out in nature in order to appreciate the environment can be cancelled out by a long car ride out, which eats up resources (gas) and pollutes the air.
Pick a spot that allows explorers to drive less, walk, bike or take public transportation. You will benefit from exercise by walking or biking, and get to know more about your local habitat (parks, trails, and nature conserves).
The point of a picnic is to eat! When making the time to get outside in today’s schedule driven-world, putting together a spread from fast-food takeout or packaged meals can seem like the perfect shortcut. The single-use cutlery, plastic packaging and Styrofoam to-go containers, however, bring waste into the environment. Pack food, drink and utensils that will leave as little of a footprint as possible.
Instead of bottled, stay hydrated with a reusable container filled with filtered water or a bottle with a Brita filter built right in; when these expire, they are 100% recyclable. A zero-waste meal kit with reusable cutlery, flatware and napkins, and food brands with recyclable packaging, such as Entenmann’s Little Bites (recyclable through TerraCycle), reduce and allow for reuse of things you already have. Bringing your pet can also have low impact with Earthborn Holistic’s food and treat packaging. Homemade sandwiches and snacks made with produce and bread from local vendors support systems that keep the planet healthy.
Orange peels, peach pits, snack wrappers and milk bottles are all signs of a meal enjoyed, but they don't belong on the grass outside! In our haste to get back to the hustle and bustle of our lives, it’s easy in the rush to leave bits of waste behind. But every piece adds up to the litter that finds its way into waterways, in the bellies of animals and landfills where it releases greenhouse gases in the air.
Make sure to pick up after yourself (and others) and place your waste in the correct bin; Earth911 is a great resource for what is recyclable in your area and locations that accept your waste nearby. If your local park or nature reserve doesn’t have the proper recycling bins, bring your waste home and sort it there. The earth will thank you, and await your return.