May 11, 2012
Everyone's talking about it, so why don't we? What do you think of Time's new cover? Are you an extended breastfeeder? What does this image say to you?
Everyone's talking about it, so why don't we? What do you think of Time's new cover? Are you an extended breastfeeder? What does this image say to you?
Having recently moved, my new neighborhood supermarket is Safeway in addition to a small, great local produce stand. I find myself accomplishing my supermarketing tasks very, very slowly. Not only do I try to enjoy the time without kids (when I am able to escape to market without them), but I am stuck on the labels. I look carefully.
Granola bars: the 70% organic CLIF bars run over a buck a pop but a box of the Quaker Oat bars ("now made without high fructose corn syrup" the box boasts!) will give you 8 for $2, if on sale. The economics are compelling. The kid CLIF bars usually run about $0.75 each, still significantly more than the ones I usually consider "candy bars" more than anything. I struggle. Do I have time this week to make my own (this one being the favored recipe so far)? The wrappers. I think about the wrappers. Can we make an art project out of the wrappers? Make a reusable shopping bags for holiday gifts?
Cereal: this is a treat in our household. The poor children beg for it. I sometimes look past the high fructose corn syrup (why do Rice Krispies need HCFS as a sweetener?) and reason that the iron-enrichment is worth it. Why not? On special, we could get two boxes for a few dollars, compared to the one box of my preferred brand of "natural" cereal. What are your preferred O's? Does it break the bank?
Lunch Meat: Oscar Mayer was on sale. And, as I was humming "my baloney has a first name, is O-S-C-A-R....", I was thumbing the list of ingredients: ham, water, sugar...... sodium nitrite. Is sodium nitrite bad? Well, it could be. But, it also does good in preventing botulism. To be sure, though, the meat processing industry have indeed found ways to make us lunch meat that do not include sodium nitrite. I've seen it at the store "No Nitrites", but it's just a bit too expensive.
Then, the bread: we have had long conversations about our decision-making process on the bread. We look for lower sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, more whole grains, no enriched processed white flour (but wonder bread can be so good!). We look for loaves under $5, please! Under $2! There are so many things to consider.
Between choosing these four items and whether or not I buy them, I could easily spend 45 minutes. It is a balance, and we all have our own ways that we juggle the cost, the convenience, and the health impacts. What frustrates me to no end is how much I feel bombarded to buy the cheaper varieties, which often end up being the less healthy options. How easy it is, though: cereal for breakfast, meat sandwich for lunch, granola bar for snack. That's half of the day's meals, taken care of with just a few dollars and a few boxes. It's not a decision I feel good about. To eat out of stuff that has been previously wrapped no longer feels right to me. That's just me.
When I go to the market, I wonder: why is it so hard to buy whole fresh foods? Why do many factors push us to buy the convenient food, the cheaper food? How can I continue to afford the whole food if it is priced higher than the processed food? All of these things, I wonder, in my love/hate relationship with granola bars, cereal, lunch meat and bread. It's a luxury to be armed with all the information we have, to have the time to ponder these questions, but I know I'm not the only one thinking about these things.
I know I’ve written about my sweet tooth before, and it’s still true: I love sweets! But as many of you know, too much of a good thing is not so good. As parents, we are not only tasked with getting our own diets right, but getting the diets of our little ones right, too. That AND teaching them good skills about diet choices. It’s an uphill battle all the way. Given the choice, I know my boys would have sugary meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner! But someone just rained on my sugar-high happy parade, and that someone is named Dr Robert Lustig.
Dr Lustig has collected a mass of evidence that says not only is too much sugar not a good thing, it’s more than likely toxic. As in: containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation (according to Merriam Webster). You’ve heard many people talk about the obesity epidemic, and how type II diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent over the last half a century. Dr Lustig steps this up a notch by using his pediatric and endocrinology background to make a case that sugar (or more specifically, fructose) is not only guilty of causing obesity and diabetes, but that it also can be blamed for the increase in heart disease, hypertension and potentially cancer. If you have a minute or 90 to spare, you can listen to his talk about the matter on youtube. That might make you think twice about the extra cookie after lunch, right?
Or, will it? I have heard lots of friends and mamas talk about going “sugar free”. They say the first few days are the hardest, and then they feel much better afterwards. But what’s in the ever after? Still consuming agave syrup and honey and maple syrup? Those all contain high levels of fructose, which is the evil half of sugar, Lustig posits. So how do you deal with cravings for sweet? As Dr Lustig says “when God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote.” Using sugar cane as an example (It’s a Stick!), sugar comes with fiber. Beets? Apples? Carrots? Full of lovely sweetness AND fiber. So he says eat the whole fruit... and then you get the micronutrients, too. Sounds great, in theory. But what about when the holidays roll around? Easter? Halloween? How do you pass up the opportunity of a yummy cookie from Grand Central? Is going “off sugar” really possible? For me, I think I couldn’t do it. For now, I will stick to my policy of moderation. So maybe dessert isn’t canceled after all. But maybe it will be less frequent...
With Hood to Coast now fading into a memory, we are looking forward to the start of school next year. We're trying to enjoy these last moments of summer vacation. No summer camps this week, only organizing school supplies and cooler weather clothing. We're trying on backpacks and making sure our lunch totes fit into the backpacks. And, we are talking about lunches.
As I was reading about Portland Public School's new nutrition plan, I needed to organize my thoughts and cupboards around the lunches that await us. I asked my first-grader to make a list of her favorite lunch items (we pack lunch almost every day), and I reminded her that she needed to have a protein, a fruit, and a veggie with every meal. I typically stay away from packing snacks or granola bars, fearing that those would be the only items eaten when it came to lunch. I am checking out the archives for suggestions on what's for lunch, here and here, but why not restart the conversation anew? Come next week, what are you packing in the kids' lunchboxes?
Interested in learning more about bringing healthful food to our schools? See how you can support local and larger-scale efforts through the Ecotrust Farm to School work.
I've been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (along with a lot of you, I know) and I can't tell if my blood is boiling hotter than my tears are stinging, or vice versa. During the third episode last Friday, I was in need of a good noseblow by the end. I think it was the stunning failure of Oliver to inspire anything like interest in real food in the kids in episode two that hurt the most, and it was the chicken nugget bit that had people talking. I wrote about it: "When he showed children how chicken nuggets are made -- grinding up the least desirable parts of a bird, gloppily straining out the bones, and adding flavorings and fillers -- he expected them to refuse to eat them. Instead, after having cried 'ewww!' and 'gross!' they each asked for a patty, answering his bewilderment with: 'We're hungry!' ...
"Though part of Oliver's stunt was pure fiction -- 'Thankfully, chicken nuggets in this country are not made this way,' he clarified before heading off to cleave a carcass into pieces -- it's part of a wider movement that's calling out processed fake food by name and calling for it to be eliminated from children's diets." What surprised me was how many of the people I know (and plenty I don't) started talking about how chicken nuggets were now off their family's menu.
There's a lot not to like in Oliver's show. There are the cafeteria workers, who grumble and complain when Oliver dares to bring real chicken and potatoes in need of a peeler into the kitchen, where the comfort food comes in a box and needs only to be heated up. There are the rules that say Oliver's many-vegetable pasta "isn't a cup and a fourth" of vegetables (he has to serve fries with his healthy fare to make it up) and that every meal needs to have "two breads" even if those breads are both halves of an extremely processed, nutrition-bereft pizza crust and that schools need to have "two kinds of milk" which often means milk that's been colored pink and sugar-added. There is all that sugar, so much sugar that Oliver himself has been making special note of it. In that post on Moms Rising, he writes, "Ask a pediatrician (or a teacher for that matter) to identify the biggest enemy of child’s health and they will answer,” sugar”. You put beautiful little kids in school, 180 days of the year, from four to 18 and nearly every choice offered to them is some version of junk food."
And there's the grocery store, where the aisles are packed with sugary treats disguised as healthy food. There's the "Froot Loops" and the happy-dippy commercials stacked five solid in our kids' favorite TV shows, the ones that say cheerfully, "part of this good breakfast!" (I tell Everett, overhearing one, "you know, that's not really a good breakfast..." "I KNOW, mom," he replies.) There is the yogurt (even the organic stuff), whose makers feel it necessary to pack it with so much sugar that one eight-ounce serving is as much sugar as the AHA recommends kids have in a day. There are the "fruit snacks," the lemonade which has no lemon juice, the trail mix with so many ingredients I have to look twice to see if there are really raisins and peanuts.
There are our kids, who eat a bunch of candy on Easter or when a well-meaning aunt or uncle stops by, or we ourselves let them go crazy at Starbucks' pastry counter, and then proceed to act horribly, fighting over Froot Loops and Skittles and Petite Vanilla Bean Scones until we cover our ears with our hands and scream, "no more candy, EVER!" (Is that just me?)
In all this craziness, I'm happy to see that more scrutiny is being placed on the harmful quality of junk food, poor quality meats, white bread and the abhorrent state of the "reimburseable meals" provided in our schools. It seems hopeful. It also seems crushing: how many cafeteria ladies will have to be convinced that kids might eat broccoli if we keep offering it to them? How many hard decisions will have to be made -- no chocolate milk, french fries once a week, a re-categorization of "food" in the food stamps even -- how will we pay for it?
Never one to shy away from an opportunity to hyperbolize food, I was enthralled with my neighbor Camellia's email today, asking me to try a recipe for raw, vegan "brownies," and write about them here in the context of life-changing food. What, she asked, are the simple, healthy, delicious recipes we couldn't feed our families without?
Immediately, I thought of my favorite shortbread cookies, made with measures of brown rice flour, whole wheat flour, and white flour; honey; and plenty of butter. They put me at peace despite the fat content; it's all whole "real" foods and it's giving us the sweet cookie fix we all crave with a hefty dose of whole grains and none of the processed sugar I've come to fear. I also love the "recipe" Truman and I devised; stir together plain hazelnut or sunflower butter, honey, and a few drops of vanilla, eat with a spoon (that was breakfast today). And of course, there are zinemama's zucchini carrot muffins, shared with us just yesterday (great way to use up frozen grated zucchini!).
As soon as I have 20 minutes to shell the walnuts (gathered, appropriately, from the enormous tree behind her house), I plan to try these out; she, like me, had been treating herself regular with pieces of chocolate bar and these -- with only the whole-foods sugar of the dates -- are a far less compromising luxury. And if you like these, also try the homemade "Lara Bar" recipes here and here. Please, share your recipes that delight both kid and parent alike with their delicious wholesomeness! Camellia's and my recipes are in the "more" portion of the post.
Spring is late this year, but everyone still has heavy, wide-eyed piles of one of the original, most thoroughly lowly, peasant foods: the cabbage. I can't believe it took me so long to discover the cabbage. I always treated the bulbous lady so badly, pushing her red fronds aside in college salad bars; eschewing the smarmy cups of coleslaw for her mushy cousin, potatoes and gravy; recoiling in horror from sauerkraut. I hate cabbage, I thought.
Oh me. You were so, so wrong. Or perhaps you were right; that cabbage wasn't loved, not the way my cabbage is now. The first farmer's market of the season I spent the better part of $10 on cabbage, and it's a good bet it will be all eaten within two weeks, and I haven't even made kim chi.
The first, best, most wonderful way to enjoy cabbage is a recipe I adapted from The Paley's Place Cookbook. Trust Vitaly Paley, with his Russian heritage and his local, seasonal mien, to deliver cabbage in its sweetest, truest form. I like savoy cabbage or red cabbage for this; the big heavy pale green heads don't turn as jammy, although sometimes I mix some green in with the red for a play of textures. Here is the recipe for honey-braised cabbage; it also calls for a little bacon fat (or olive oil), an onion and an apple, some vinegar and honey. I serve it with everything; with corned beef or sausages, spooned into lentil or potato soup, heaped into a bowl of pasta, mixed with leftover potatoes and grated beets and lots of fresh garlic for a surprisingly perky fried potato cake. It kind of disappears into soups, even as it adds sweetness, so it's great for kids (yes! mine have now eaten cabbage, and liked it!).
Today is the first day of the Portland Farmer's Market for the 2009 season, and chatting with other urbanMamas I discover that lots of you are expecting your first box of food from a CSA sometime in the next several weeks. And there are questions, mostly, what do I do with this? This weird knobby vegetable (if it's huge, it's celeriac; if it's tiny, it's a Jerusalem artichoke; both should be peeled and can be diced and used in soups or gratins); these four heads of cabbage (one for braising, one to chop and put in soups, two for kim chi, of course!); this enormous quantity of kale (rinse well, chop roughly, and put in a large cast iron or stainless steel pot, with several cloves of whacked garlic, a glug of oil or butter or bacon fat, and some salt, cook, stirring often, over medium heat until almost crispy, put in everything or serve alone).
But let me start over. I am here to help you with your quest to cook more vegetables (and the occasional fruit) and figure out what to do with what seems like way too much of something. Also, it would be good if your children ate some, too. Each week (or thereabouts) when I come home from the market I'll write a post about something that's in season and link to some recipes I love, and present a few for you. If you've just received a CSA box or a gardening neighbor's gift, or harvested a bumper crop, of some particular vegetable, leave a comment and I'll try to come up with some great (and easy) ideas. And hopefully I'll have a few sentences of gardening too.
This week, I'm getting a second round of peas planted outside, and a few kinds of onion seed; a bed of lettuce; and hopefully some carrots and potatoes, too. I'll start tomatoes, jalapenos, celery and artichokes inside -- this year I've promised myself I'll use a flourescent light to help them germinate, we'll see if it works out! What are you planting, harvesting, buying, and eating this week? I need to make some of the aforementioned kim chi, so I'll be picking up an extra cabbage or two at the farmer's market, a jar of jalapenos, some carrots, and some collard raab. I love that stuff.
The hour is hovering bedtime, and it's already been a long day. I can't wait for the kids to slumber, so I can get a little down time of my own. In the mayhem of it all - dinner, bath, reading, and music - they always seem to ask, "Mama, can I have a snack?" right after I ask them to brush their teeth.
Growing up, every meal experience was an opportunity to bond and share quality time, snacks included. I had a "midnight" snack at 9pm almost every night with my brothers and parents. Chat and munch, chat and munch. Sometimes, we had more conversation over snack than we did over dinner. We have been big fruit & cheese lovers, so maybe we shared fruit or a slice of cheese and crackers. And, a drink. Formerly milk or water, now I may have some wine with my snack of berries.
To this day, I am a *horrible* nighttime snacker. I think my midline is starting to tell me to reconsider my ways. Nostalgia or hunger, I often give into the requests for the 7pm snack. Milk and a cookie, fine. Water and some pita chips, ok. A bowl of cereal, sure. I know, I know - it's horrible.
I can't be the only snacking culprit out there. Am I dooming my kids for bad habits for years to come? Like I am now a culprit of snacking? I swear it's all the running and biking around makes me so ravenous at the 9pm hour!
I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, exactly, but I do want to make 2009 a year of healthier eating in our family. Does anyone have either websites or resources to recommend re: healthy kid/family eating, or specific suggestions of healthy snack favorites? Our kids are in the 6-8 year old range.
[Photo courtesy cafemama.com]
The American Heart Association recommends, among other things, that children eat...
a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages 1 and 3, to 2 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.
In our household, that's a whole lotta veggie. We're curious to know: how much in fruit & vegetables do your kids really consume?
Need help getting fruits veggies into their food? Check out some great suggestions and offer more up here.
Monique Dupre was, as everyone seems to agree, not what we expected. She's too lovely, too pulled-together, too funny, too American. (For the record, she is married to a Frenchman, grew up near Astoria, and now lives in Vancouver, Wash.) I half-expect her to start her insanely popular 'Sustainable Living on a Budget' workshop with a little ledger for us to add up our errant spending and lots of judgment, but that's entirely not what she does.
She starts by saying that she just wants to inspire us, reminds us that inspire means "in the spirit," and that we don't have to do everything, just start where we are. And begins to talk about where she is.
It's at once devilishly inspiring (I will admit to having called Comcast to cut off my cable the next day, and removed the TV from the living room, although it was only minorly influenced by Monique) and crushingly overwhelming. Monique, through lots of hard work, much ability to be present and inquisitive, and the oh-so-useful French husband questioning all that is America, has created a life that is truly my dream. She gets all her food locally and organically, creating healthy and whole-foods-y meals for each and every bite her family eats. She leaves her home each morning with a clean kitchen and a small pile of laundry. Her children want nothing for Christmas because they have everything they need. Her eldest daughter can recognize fennel plants when they're an inch tall. She loves fennel!
Halloween can be so much fun for kids, but dealing with the aftermath can be a headache. Kecia wants to know how you handle the Halloween sugar overload?
I would love advice and suggestions regarding Halloween candy. My son is three years old and we love the idea of dressing up and trick-or-treating. I’m actually fine with my son having a piece of candy (or two). I don’t want a bucket full of candy sitting around our house for weeks. I don’t want him eating a piece (or two) of candy day after day. Last year, I explained that when Halloween is over his candy goes away. It worked well, but he was only 2 ½. What do you do? Is there actually a place that we can bring his candy (college campus, meals-on-wheels, etc.)? Please share your suggestions.