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Time to reinvest in the school-lunch program

At private schools across the country, good cafeteria food is becoming as de rigueur as French classes taught by native speakers, Associated Press reports. Schoolyard vegetable gardens bloom, tended by future Ivy Leaguers under the watch of "sustainability coordinators." In the kitchen, trained cooks transform that bounty into food worthy of enjoying, not merely enduring. Unfortunately, in public schools, things remain rather grim. Debt, warmed over. Photo: whitehouse.gov Sure, there are wonderful groundswells of change, such as Ann Cooper's transformation of lunches in the Berkeley public-school system, helped along by a grant from the Chez Panisse Foundation. But these exceptions …

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The road to disodium inosinate is paved with good intentions

Mea culpa. That's the only way I can honestly write anything about getting older kids to eat healthy foods. Because I've been a sucker for the look my 11-year-old gets on her face if I plop down a bowl of nuclear-orange SpongeBob mac-and-cheese in front of her. Sheer joy: that's the only way to describe it. Ditto for the times she eats (can I admit this?) Cookie Crisp cereal, high-fructose corn syrup laced yogurt, and the occasional bag of Doritos -- chips that look toxic enough to qualify as their own Superfund sites. Open mouth, insert junk food. Photo: iStockphoto …

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New electric bike spiffy but spendy

The Pi electric bicycle from Electrobike is engineered with cradle-to-cradle design, assembled in California almost entirely from local components, can go 25 miles in motor-only mode before being plugged in, has a recyclable battery, and produces zero emissions, natch. Intrigued? It can soon be yours for a mere $7,500!

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Umbra on kids’ birthday parties

Dear Umbra, I have a wonderful daughter who is just about to turn 5. She is currently the only grandchild and niece to our families, and therefore has everything she needs (still less than many kids we know, but plenty). Therein lies my dilemma: I don't want the plastic detritus and clutter that come along with your traditional American birthday party, but the party itself I love. In years past, I have ducked this issue by suggesting parents adopt wildlife from Defenders of Wildlife (we did a fairy-tale party one year, and they adopted "Big, Bad" wolves, for instance). This …

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An illustration and explanation of today’s tainted toys

Seems you can't turn around these days without hearing about some trusted toy being yanked from the shelves. (Dora, we hardly knew ya!) If you want to keep on top of the latest recalls, check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission database or BabyCenter's product recall finder. Meanwhile, we offer a graphic cheat sheet below, followed by explanations of some familiar characters' risky business. Saucepan and wooden spoon, anyone? All of these toys have been recalled. To find out why, see below. Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh Rubber Ducky, You're Not the One: Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores removed about 6,000 …

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Where to turn when you’re sick of disposable doodads

Block to basics. Photo: iStockphoto Keeping up with Ken and Barbie got you down? Check out these companies invested in making eco-friendlier playthings for your little ones. (And read about one mother's no-crap crusade.) Dwelling These soft, handmade toys are created by a women's knitting collective in Kenya, under the guidance of a nonprofit that helps connect artisans to international markets. All of the items are made with natural wool and colored with vegetable-based dyes, including this zebra hand puppet ($18) and these knit penguins (starting at $18). Where to buy: Branch HaPe HaPe is a Swiss toy company with …

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Can a crusade against crap toys ever succeed?

Is it just me, or is anyone else sick of fairies? Because personally I am sick to hell of wee folk and their tiresome fantasy ilk -- unicorns with rainbow horns, mermaids with cotton-candy hair, and tarty princesses. Oh, I'm especially sick of the princesses. Is there some unwritten law that princesses have to dress like down-market 1980s bridesmaids? Can't today's little girls take their cue from Camilla Bowles in her classic tweeds? Illustration: Keri Rosebraugh I know I sound grumpy, but the current fantasy-toy craze is making my job as an eco-mom more challenging. Try finding a poofy ball …

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Getting kids unwired

Well, it's Week Two here at Brood Awakenings, and we're shifting our focus from babies to big kids. I'll start by elevating this question from last week that got a bit lost in the comments section: I'd love to hear tips about how to keep kids unwired. Don't get me wrong, I love me some techonology (hence the blogging), but kids spend so much time playing gameboy, on the computer, listening to iPods, etc. I think a lot of it isn't because it's more fun, it's because everyone else is doing it. "But mom, Jenny's mom lets her listen to …

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An interview with green pediatrician Alan Greene

If you were to give a check-up to Alan Greene, eco-pediatrician extraordinaire, you just might diagnose him with ASHD -- Attention Surplus Hyperproductivity Disorder. It isn't a real disorder, of course. But whatever Greene's got -- whatever blend of vim and vision allows him to stay at the cutting edge of environmentalism and e-medicine while also writing books, doctoring, and being a 100-percent-organic-food-eating father of four -- well, it's something that's helped the world get better. Dr. Alan Greene. Consider: In 1995, Greene and his wife Cheryl sat down at their kitchen table in San Mateo, Calif., and launched the …

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Umbra on green laundry detergents

Dear Umbra, What are the "green" high-efficiency detergents for washers? Thanks,Marilyn Dearest Marilyn, A perfect question for parenting fortnight. Children have such tiny clothing that you wouldn't think it would add up to an increase in laundry volume. Until you saw the proof. Too bad keeping them naked (cuuuute!) and periodically hosing them off is only feasible in warm weather. Pin your hopes on NPE-free. Photo: iStockphoto A greener detergent will omit certain cleaning and odorizing agents, whether it is high-efficiency or regular old detergent. High-efficiency washing machines use less water, so regular old detergents (ROD) don't clean as well, …

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