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Latest Posts: Healthy Eating

November 20, 2009

Mommy’s Little Helper

We cook three-ish meals a day, 365 days a year. Almost. When we’re not, we’re eating with grandparents, other family, and friends – in other words, someone else is home cooking. Infrequently, we eat out. There are a (small) handful of restaurants near us serving organic options, some of these are pricier than others. But, as New Yorkers, we do love pizza. There’s pretty much a pizza place on every corner, offering cheap slices for the hungry. Perfect kid food, except the hormones and antibiotics in the cheese, the sugar in the tomato sauce, and so on. Still, we indulge. We always make sure to only eat plain. If we eat toppings, we choose vegetables, but never meat. I can make an exception for a slice, but not for conventional meat. Yes, I can (and do) make my own. But that’s sort of not the point. It’s our rare treat. I consider it our birthright (like my daughter, I was born and bred here). Especially on Friday nights — after a long week, what’s better than gathering with friends – hers and mine – for pizza parties?

A month or so ago, there was a rumor floating around the neighborhood that an organic pizza place was about to open shop. My ears perked right up. The crust was going to be whole wheat! There was going to be wine made with organically grown grapes for parents to sip as the tots gobbled it up! It sounded too good to be true! And then it didn’t open for a while. So I thought it would never happen. But: hope prevails. I walked past it tonight and apparently it is opening tomorrow. I can’t wait to have a slice without giving its ingredients another thought. It’s called Slice.

What’s your family indulgence? Have you found a more organic version?

November 15, 2009

Got Juice?

We’re not big on juice in our household. I guess we might be if we had a juicer, which we’re currently considering getting into, but the store bought stuff is too filled with sugar and water for the most part. Mainly we drink (filtered tap) water. And sometimes milk. Every once in a while there’s some local apple cider, too. What could be better on a cold day heated up with a cinnamon stick for extra flavor?

So, given our approach to juice, I was interested to read two articles lately that made me glad we do what we do. First up was on Mother News Network. Turns out that sugars aren’t the only things lurking in juice, but fragrance, too. We’re also not big on fragrance in our household; synthetic fragrance tends to contain hormone disrupters, which aren’t anything I want around a growing child. If you’ve ever wondered how all cartons of the same brand of orange juice can taste and smell exactly the same, click here for the full story.

Next up, a thought provoking article from the Los Angeles Times on juice’s role in the childhood obesity epidemic, and questioning the need for juice at all. From the article: “That virtuous glass of juice is feeling the squeeze as doctors, scientists and public health authorities step up their efforts to reduce the nation’s girth.” Worth a read.

Giving up daily juice has some positive environmental repercussions, too. Conventional (i.e. not organic) orchards and groves are heavily sprayed. Pesticides have a serious carbon footprint. The production and shipping or trucking isn’t always the most lightly treading operation, either. For the special times when you still want to sip, juice your own locally grown organic or sustainably grown (i.e. no or low spray)  fruits, or buy local juice from farmers’ markets near you. In the meantime, eat fruit and drink water.

November 1, 2009

Post Halloween Negotiations

Phew. We survived Halloween! Did you?

How did something I remember so fondly as a child turn into such living hell for me as a parent? I’m exaggerating but still. I just want to focus on the fun costumes and fantasy and instead I’m dealing with candy overload and negotiations. Let me say for the record that my issue here is not even with my kid. Yes, she likes sweets, and the idea of candy. But she’s not even four. She’s thrilled that she gets to play dress up and go outside, to be spooked at a haunted house (a current personal favorite) But everyone else seems to want to make it only about sweets.

(Special thanks to a close friend who set up a non sweet-centric party that was over-the-top fabulous! Pin the witch on the broomstick, pumpkin decorating, and the best spooky room for small kids ever. Blindfolded, they touched eyeballs (lovingly peeled lychees), jellyfish (jello), worms (noodles), and more all to the soundtrack of a creaky door.)

This morning we walked together to the farmers’ market, as we do every Saturday. It was crazy. Every single store in the neighborhood had one of their employees outside (it was warm out) handing candy to kids who weren’t even asking for it and/or trick or treating. One vastly underdressed woman actually shoved a lollipop into the small hand that was happily clasped in mine. And I saw similar treatment with younger kids. Does a sleeping two-year-old in a stroller really need to have chocolate put on top of his blanket? Here I’m not exaggerating. Seriously strange behavior.

Here’s the thing. I know too much about candy. I don’t really want my kid eating genetically modified beet sugar, especially when she isn’t even clamoring for it. That said, I’m more than happy for her to mark a special day with maple sugar candy from the farmers’ market, organic lollipops, cookies from our favorite organic bakery, Fair Trade organic dark chocolate and more. So I made a deal with her several days ago, back when her school had her baking orange pumpkin cookies and eating them before lunch (don’t get me started), and everyone around her kept talking about trick or treating. She could taste some things, fine. But for every piece of candy she was given on Halloween that I didn’t like, I would swap her one of the treats I just mentioned that I don’t mind her eating, and that she loves. She could have two things on Halloween, and one every day after for five days. She agreed. Her dad says the sign of a good compromise is that fine line when no one is happy. I certainly was eating more crap than that for more than five days post Halloween as a kid. But only when I was a lot older than three.

Rant over. Until next year.

October 24, 2009

Pollan For Kids

Michael Pollan’s many books aren’t kid or family specific, but should certainly be read — if you ask me, and you kind of did by reading this — by all people charged with feeding kids (parents, educators), and all kids old enough to understand the concepts. Now he’s come out with a kid-specific book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. It’s billed as a young adult book, but I’ve heard more than a few interested adult eaters say they like it because it is an edited down, shorter version of his “adult” writings, easier to grasp and comprehend. At the very least it’s a great family discussion starter, and not just because it is full of visuals including charts, graphs, and photos. If you don’t have time to read it, or want to hear his kid-specific thoughts, listen to him talk about the new book on WNYC, New York Public Radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show. No time to listen, even? Here are a few choice quotes:

“It needs to be cooked in the schools … As soon as you microwave food, you’re gonna be feeding processed food and processed food, invariably, has high levels of salt, sugar and fat. So I think it has got to be cooked food. It can be all different kinds of things. There is nothing wrong with giving them meat or a hamburger, some things like that, that’s real food. But it has to be really cooked, and obviously, more fresh fruits and vegetables. If we could give our schools another dollar per student per day, those schools can buy food from local farmers, give a tremendous boost to the local food economy and rural economy, and help with the kids’ health.”

And: “We also need to give them a little more time to eat … Look, if you’re giving kids chicken nuggets, tater tots and ten minutes to eat it in, you are basically saying, ‘Here’s how to be a fast food consumer.’ Kids need to sit down at a table with other kids, have a conversation, realize that food is about communion, it’s not just about fueling up, and it’s a really important life skill and daily ritual … I also think we need to do recess before lunch. Because it’s very hard to get kids to sit down if they’re gonna get out to the playground after.”

Food for thought.

October 18, 2009

Raising Conscious Carnivores

I was interested to read in The New York Times Magazine’s all-food issue that the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, a vegetarian, is also raising his kids vegetarian.

One of the (many) reasons, he says, is that 99 percent of the animals eaten in this country are produced on factory farms. I also refuse to eat that 99 percent, but I do eat – and share with my family – the other 1 percent. Where I live, it feels like a lot more than 1 percent. I wonder if that statistic needs to be adjusted to take into account the growing-in-number small (usually family) farms dedicated to raising real, pure meat in a relatively humane fashion (considering that they’re still going to be eaten). Safran Foer says these alternatives are “difficult for even an educated eater to find.” This may be true when looking for good, pure meat in some parts of the country, but it categorically isn’t true in Brooklyn, where (I hear) he lives. I know many places to get the best stuff in Brooklyn.

Helping eaters – educated or not – find this kind of meat (and produce) is exactly what my upcoming book, The Conscious Kitchen, is about. It doesn’t come out until March. Until then, eat vegetarian when eating out (unless you know the chef and where they source their meat) and source your own pure stuff to eat at home by shopping farmers’ markets, educating yourself on questions to ask butchers, and look for local grass-fed and pastured animals. Take it a step further by visiting the farms where your animals are being raised. A few good resources:

EatWild.com
LocalHarvest.org
Fleishers.com

The pure stuff can be expensive but we don’t eat much of it. And the alternative – for us – is no meat at all.

October 9, 2009

Soup And A Good Book

It’s been a very busy week in our household, but we still managed to enjoy family meals. Planning ahead and making items that can easily become other items is key. We roasted a chicken Monday and ate it Monday night, ate some of the chicken over a salad Tuesday, and threw the carcass into a pot Wednesday with carrots, potatoes, and more to make soup. I’m no fan of cold weather but fall means soup, and soup means days worth of meals in one pot — very helpful. We ate it most of Thursday, too. With soup on the brain, I pressure cooked a pot of split pea soup to finish the week. It couldn’t have been easier or more delicious.

The one email I got over and over again this week in various versions included this link to a Time Magazine article on Dr. Alan Greene’s latest book, Feeding Baby Green. Greene, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, says that how a child learns to eat is a critical health issue, and that a child’s nutritional intelligence begins in utero (this is called food imprinting) and continues to grow — as a learned behavior — during childhood. Interesting stuff to read even if you — like me — already believe feeding your kid is one of the most crucial aspects of parenting. It’s why I had an organic pregnancy, and what lead me to co-write The Complete Organic Pregnancy.

Put up a pot of soup and read the article. Then buy the book.

October 2, 2009

Snack Time

I have snacks on the brain. My daughter is now in school 9 to 12 most days, which means she’s snacking on things I am not personally choosing. (Yes, I know how controlling that sounds. Occupational hazard.) And when she gets out of school she is hungry to the point of exhaustion. Somehow there’s a serious link between the good, fun overstimulation that is preschool and blood sugar drops. Other parent-friends have noticed this in their kids, too.

At home, I have the snack thing down. And it (almost) never involves packaged foods. Cheese, nut butters, nuts, fruit, dried fruit, half sandwiches, hydrating home made popsicles (just apple cider and water that I freeze, currently with pomegranate seeds for “decoration”), yogurt with wheat germ, air popped popcorn with our favorite organic butter and sea salt, beets, cinnamon toast, leftovers of all varieties, especially grains, and so much more. It’s basically a mini meal.

Most of the above doesn’t work at school. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what sort of snacks would work for my babe and all of her friends to help them have the energy to do what they need to be doing in and out of school: playing. It should come as no shocker that I’m on the school’s snack committee. Even though (most of) the parents and teachers are committed to good, organic snacks, in practice this isn’t simple. There are other things to consider: the school is nut and seed free, which means solid helpful standbys like nut butters are out. There are also boxes of crackers once bought in bulk that the school is interested in using up. Me, I’d prefer to feed these to pigeons in the local park as they contain all kinds of things I don’t want any of these kids eating – trans fats, maybe genetically modified ingredients, odd preservatives I can’t pronounce, and so on.

One thing I hadn’t considered is that the school snacks also need to be something that a wide range of kids will eat and will like eating. My daughter will pretty much eat anything so even though I have heard this mentioned at meetings, it didn’t hit home until the day some cheese was offered she didn’t like and refused to eat. When I went to pick her up, she was a mess. I had to stuff cashews in her mouth the whole way home just to keep her going! Like fuel into a (small, cute) car.

Luckily, fruit does well across the board. (Schools should make sure to serve organic fruit for anything on The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list.) Crackers do, too. We don’t actually eat crackers at home, so I don’t have a go-to brand. So I’ve been chatting with everyone I know to find a good organic version that is seed free, that kids will like, and that contains five or so ingredients, all of which I understand and pronounce. It’s no easy feat. On the days when I’m “helping parent” (it’s a co-op school), I’ll likely bring in an organic whole wheat baguette from a local bakery and slice it up. But this isn’t day-to-day practical for the teachers. I’m also thinking about oatmeal and other porridges that can be easily made on a hot plate and that, as my dad likes to say, stick to your ribs.

This is a work in progress, and I’m on the prowl for other good ideas so please share thoughts and suggestions in comments. And if you have the opportunity to weigh in on what your school is serving as snack – or any food your school is serving – do!

September 24, 2009

Good Grains

When looking to get whole grains into the whole family, don’t forget to think beyond brown bread or even brown rice. Both whole grain bread and brown rice are great, don’t get me wrong (especially if said bread doesn’t contain a mile-long ingredient including multiple sugars and preservatives). Try heading to your supermarket or local health food store and seeing what other kinds of grains they sell.

If they have millet, amaranth, bulgur, quinoa, spelt, kasha, and the like, buy some (preferably organic/local). Take it home and read about how to prepare it. Then start serving when you would normally serve rice or cous cous or a side of pasta. These grains can even be used as hot breakfast cereals (millet works especially well for this). It depends on the grain, but some (especially quinoa and amaranth) also contain protein – bonus.

Play around with flavors and cooking time and see what you like. You might just wind up with a new extremely-good-for-the-whole-family favorite.

September 16, 2009

Some Resources

Whether you’re just starting to feed a kid (can be confusing!) or are five years in and seeking ideas (can be dull!), good resources can make all the difference. Here are a few I have relied on, or have been thinking about lately as they’ve recently been published.

*If you’re in first food and puree mode, Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron is a must read. It’s not the type of book with gorgeous pictures of organic baby food combos, it’s a nitty grittier, slightly obsessive explanation of how, when, and what to feed kids, with helpful information on introduction schedules and food allergies. I didn’t wind up following her plan entirely but the suggestions were a great road map.

*Real Food author Nina Planck came out with her second tome, Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods. Much like her first book, it’s a real eye opener and will certainly get you thinking outside the “normal” box, and questioning what parents and children are eating and why we’re eating it. Though Real Food isn’t specifically kid-related, it works just as well for me – great information on traditional fats, grass-fed beef, and more.

*Gastrokid the blog recently spawned The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-Food World. Bookmark the former and buy the latter. The approach is catchy and wonderful – two dads who love food and are good cooks, cook, share, and eat their food – “adult” full flavored dishes — with their kids. (Full disclosure: one of the dads, Hugh Garvey, is an editor at Bon Appetit and I’ve written for him over the years. I’ve also contributed a post to Gastrokid.) To get the full effect, surf over to the site, but suffice it to say that it’s an approach that makes so much sense. You are entirely in charge of what the kids eat until they’re old enough to be making their own decisions. So give them the good, real, flavorful stuff you eat and they’ll eat it, too. There are 72 good for everyone “simple yet sophisticated” recipes to help you on your way.

*The excellent organization Healthy Child Healthy World just launched an “Eat Healthy” initiative on their website, with recipes, shopping guides, and expert advice. From the site: “ In a world of processed foods and lean budgets, it can be difficult to make the right choices when it comes to food. Healthy Child wants to make sure that families see the importance of organic foods, non-GMO, and nutritionally balanced eating while encouraging healthy habits.” Check it out.

September 6, 2009

Grow Your Own Food

As obvious as it sounds, growing your own food teaches families – parents and kids alike – a tremendous amount about where food comes from, and, in turn, why it is crucial to maintain local sustainable farms in this Peak Oil moment. It’s a lesson that is entirely lost when you just head to the supermarket and put sterile shrink-wrapped items into a cart, and then into bags, then drive them home. Even the Obamas grow their own. Bonus: fresh produce tastes like nothing else.

I preface this thought with a sad but true full disclosure: I have no space to grow my own food. I don’t even have enough sun to maintain an indoor window box of herbs. As miserable as this makes me, I manage. Instead of growing, I make sure to take my daughter to places where food is grown – farms, including the farm we belong to via a very cool system called Community Supported Agriculture or CSA (more on that in an upcoming post ). We also harvest or pick food whenever we can – at farms, in orchards, in other people’s gardens. My mother grows herbs and tomatoes at her weekend house, so we spend a lot of time visiting those patches of goodness. But we also pick what others might ignore. For example, we harvest from her ignored (as a food source) apple and pear trees. They’re totally unsprayed and therefore very bug-filled, but we cut out the bad and eat the good – raw or baked. And have fun doing it. We’ve even started picking from a quince bush that has been trained into a hedge in her yard. It has always been here, but was never used as anything but decoration until last year when I decided that it, too, could be a local food learning tool. A surprisingly tasty one. And what’s more local than your own back yard?

Even this late in the game, depending on where you live, you can plant and grow food, with your children’s help. Using organic soil, fall gardens depend on what part of the country you live in but can often include beets, chard, kale and the like, and maybe even lettuce. Or just plant a window box of herbs if you have the room and the light. If you don’t, go to the farmers’ market and buy up as much nearing-end-of-season basil and tomatoes as you can and start making and freezing batches of sauce and pesto for the long months to come. You’ll be glad you did. I’m debating if I should post my mother’s unfathomably good pesto recipe here or not. Clamor for it enough in comments and I will.