Going Organic – Gradual Steps for Healthier Family Eating

Have you tried reading food ingredient labels lately? It can be like trying to read a foreign language. As parents, we strive to provide our children with a nutritious, balanced diet. However, as consumers we may unknowingly purchase a never ending list of products that that contain pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics, and other unwanted or even toxic chemicals. So lately, I read more labels and have found myself gradually purchasing more and more organic products. But where do we draw the line? Let’s face it…whether based on availability or sheer affordability, it’s a challenge to buy everything organic.

So that brings me to an old Earth Day episode of Oprah that aired recently. Among her featured guests was Sophie Uliano, author of the eco-conscious book “Gorgeously Green – 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life.” Sophie gave an excellent starting point for parents like me, who need some extra guidance on the whole organic movement.

Here are the common children’s food items Sophie recommends parents purchase organic whenever possible:

  • Baby Food.    Non-Organic Fruits and vegetables contain large amounts of pesticides and babies are extra vulnerable to pesticides. 
  • Animal Bi-products – Dairy, Meat, and Eggs.   Non-organic dairy, meat and egg products contain growth hormones and antibiotics given to animals. 
  • Apples, Grapes, Potatoes, Strawberries, Green Beans, Cucumber, Raisins, peaches, nectarines, pears, spinach, lettuce, bell peppers, and cherries.   These non-organic produce items have been found to contain the highest levels of pesticide residues. 
  • Peanut Butter.   Some non-organic peanut farms use fungicides or chemicals to treat mold. 
  • Rice (brown, white and wild).   Non-organic rice is grown in large amounts of pesticides. 
  • Corn, Wheat, Oats.   Non-organic corn, wheat and oat products contain organo phosphate pesticides and are found in many processed foods, like corn chips and popcorn that are common snacks for our children.

If you can’t buy organic produce, an important step you can also take to help reduce pesticide exposure from fruits and vegetables is to use a fruit and veggie cleaner. You can find them in your produce area at most grocery stores or use the easy to make recipe provided by Sophie Uliano.

Fruit/vegetable cleaner recipe:
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp baking soda
20 drops of grapefruit seed extract

Combine ingredients in bowl and transfer to spray bottle. Spray mixture onto produce and rinse after 5 minutes.

So while it is almost impossible to buy everything organic, there are certainly items we expose our children to more than others. Perhaps going organic on these products will be a good start to healthier food choices for our families. After all, every little change makes a big difference.

What are your thoughts on buying organic foods?

Should the Nanny Use the Family Vehicle or Her Own?

Families hiring a nanny have many things to consider, including whether or not their new nanny will use the family vehicle to transport their children or whether the nanny’s vehicle will be used. It’s important for families to discuss all driving-related issues with their nanny before offering a position. Below are the important issues to consider.

Nanny Driving Children

Reliability & Safety   There are certainly obvious benefits of allowing a nanny to use the family vehicle including that the family is able to control the reliability and safety of the vehicle. For example, the family can control whether the vehicle has adequate safety features and that it’s well-maintained. If the nanny’s vehicle will be used, inquire about the safety, maintenance and upkeep of her vehicle and also ask to view the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

Insurance    If a nanny will be live-in, then she is considered part of the household, and will definitely need to be added to the policy.  If she will be live-out, discuss your policy and how the nanny will be using the vehicle with your insurance company to see what they require.  Regardless, be sure to disclose the new driver to your insurance company BEFORE she drives the vehicle.

Also, keep in mind that if the nanny is under the age of 25 or does not have a clean driving record, your rates may increase as a result.  If so, consider adding the nanny as a driver ONLY on the vehicle she will be using to transport the children. Factor any rate increases into your cost of hiring the nanny.

Be sure to also discuss how costs will be handled if the nanny is involved in an accident in the family vehicle or if there are damages to the vehicle. For example, if the nanny is at fault for an accident or for damages to the family vehicle, will she be expected to cover insurance deductible costs.

If the nanny will be using her own vehicle to transport the children, be sure to verify that she is fully insured, and insist on seeing a copy of the policy and verifying it’s activeness.

Mileage Reimbursement   Another benefit of the nanny using the family vehicle is it means the family provides gas for the vehicle and will not have to deal with reimbursing their nanny for mileage.  When a nanny does use her own vehicle on the job, be sure to reimburse her at the IRS mileage allowance rate. The 2010 IRS Vehicle Mileage reimbursement rate is $ 0.50 per mile. Families can track their nanny’s mileage with the GoNannies.com Nanny Vehicle Mileage Expense Report.

When will the vehicle be used    It’s important to discuss when a family vehicle will be allowed to be used, particularly if you have a live-in nanny. Decide whether the vehicle is only to be used for job related purposes, or if the nanny is allowed to use the vehicle for personal use, as well. If the family will allow the vehicle for personal use, discuss whether the usage will be offered as a job perk or whether any financial responsibilities will be required in return, such as fueling up after use.

Run a Drivers Record Check   Regardless of whether the family’s or the nanny’s vehicle is being used, families should be sure to include a thorough Driving Record Check in their screening process to verify their nanny has a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record.

Document the details    With all the items that need to be discussed related to using the family’s vehicle or nanny’s vehicle, including the details in a Nanny-Family Work Agreement can help insure that all information is agreed upon, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future.

Nanny Housekeepers – The Hybrid Nanny

It’s becoming increasingly popular to need more from a Nanny than just childcare. Although it’s common for a nanny to provide some light housekeeping, like tidying up and cleaning dishes after a meal or cleaning up after the children, when the housekeeping needs extend beyond cleaning up after themselves and the children or become more extensive and time consuming, it starts to become clear that a family needs to hire a Nanny Housekeeper.

It’s important for a family to be realistic and recognize there will be a little give and take when it comes to splitting a caregiver’s time between childcare and housekeeping. Since the caregiver’s priority is always the children, it’s important that a family doesn’t overload the person with more housekeeping duties than they may be realistically able to perform in order to provide quality childcare.

Finding a Nanny Housekeeper is becoming easier also. Since more and more caregivers are offering these combined services, there are more caregivers from which to choose.  We’ve found that many professional nannies may not be interested in the housekeeper portion of these positions. One recommendation we give to families searching for nannies willing to do EXTENSIVE housekeeping, is to seek out “Housekeepers/Maids” who also have childcare experience, as they may be more willing to take on childcare duties than a Nanny would be willing to take on extensive housekeeping duties.

To find the right balance between housekeeping and childcare, it’s important to look at your situation and your caregiver’s workload and schedule. For example, if your children are in school or napping for a significant portion of the day, then they can easily perform the extensive housekeeping duties during that down time, allowing them to focus on the children during childcare time. However, if the children are home all day, limit the housekeeping duties to light, manageable tasks such as laundry, vacuuming, making beds or changing bed linens, and loading and unloading the dishwasher, etc. as most can easily perform these duties while still providing quality care for the children.

In order to make a successful match when hiring a Nanny Housekeeper, it’s important to be extremely forthcoming and detailed about the position requirements and responsibilities from the start. Adding responsibilities after the Nanny Housekeeper has started is awkward, unfair and can cause resentment and a bad nanny-family match. To best communicate this information, families should create a Nanny Contract that thoroughly details all of the duties and responsibilities. The contract avoids any confusion and establishes a strong foundation based on communication.

Nanny Taxes 101

We receive a LOT of questions from families about household employer taxes. Am I considered an employer? Am I required to pay taxes for my caregiver? How much are they? These are all great questions! The general answers are that people who pay a nanny or other caregiver to perform duties in or around their home ARE considered household employers and are required to pay taxes for their employee(s) if you pay that person $1,700 (2010) or more in a calendar year.  

The great news is that by taking advantage of tax breaks such as Dependent Care Accounts/Flexible Spending Accounts and Child and Dependent Tax Breaks, families can often offset or even exceed their nanny tax payments. That means that by paying taxes legally, families can often actually save money!

Here are some resources and information related to household employer taxes that help shed some light on the benefits and requirements of paying taxes for household employees.