Monday, March 14, 2011

Family Advice - Nutrition: Going Organic & All-Natural, Make Small Changes!

I recently visited my friend Sara who is UBER healthy.  She makes every effort to eat organic, well-balanced meals, and she shops "local" as often as possible.  Every time I see her, I roll my eyes at her obsession with food (she eats figs dipped in almond butter for breakfast!)  But once I get home, and process (ie weed out) her suggestions, I always take a few of them to heart.

I am an "everything in moderation" mom.  I try my hardest not to buy anything with hydrogenated oil (a chemically processed fat source) or high fructose corn syrup (a hidden form of sugar derived from corn, found in MANY products).  I buy organic for some things, and I limit my son's intake of sugar.  But I also realize that he will always get that sucker open from the hairdresser before I can stop him.  And if he goes to a birthday party and has grocery store birthday cake, that's OK, because it has to be.  I certainly can't tell him he can't eat cake with his friends.  And other parents might snub me if I brought a healthy alternative for him!  

I decided that I would share a few things I have learned from Sara, as well as what I have learned after reading up on " going organic," plus suggest small things you can do to better your family's daily nutrition.  And I'll conclude with my grocery store adventures.  I go to 3-4 different stores a week!

First, are you overwhelmed by the thought of "going organic?"  I still fret at the price of organic produce!  Never fear, it is better (for your sanity) to do it gradually anyway.  Here are the top suggestions on what to buy organic next time you are at Whole Paycheck... I mean Whole Foods.  Google any of the things listed below for a more detailed explanation.

1. These fruits and veggies are believed to have the highest level of pesticides - apples, grapes, pears, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, cherries, spinach, celery, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and leafy greens.
2. Raisins, Ketchup & Peanut Butter - raisins should be thought of as just like grapes, organic ketchup has much higher levels of antioxidants and the peanut starts as a flower which can often have mold on it, which is treated with a fungiside.
3. Milk - most adults drink small servings of milk, but families are switching to organic because they worry about their kids having future effects from the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry.
4. Meat - after watching Food, Inc. (LOVED it, please watch it!) I now buy only grass-fed, hormone free beef and air-chilled, hormone free chicken.
5. Coffee - many of our coffee beans are produced in countries that have not yet begun to regulate use of pesticides.

What about "all-natural?"  This is the first thing I did alter once my son was born.  I buy Annie's Cheddar Bunnies instead of Goldfish, for example.  Read labels!  Stay away from anything with hydrogenated oil or corn byproducts.  Unfortunately, there are a ton of different names for corn byproducts.  The two most common I have seen are high fructose corn syrup which is a sweetener and xanthan gum which keeps a product's ingredients from separating (like salad dressing.)  Others include corn syrup, cornstarch, glucose and dextrose.  Why do you need HFCS in Heinz ketchup?  Surely when Heinz was invented in 1876, it was "all-natural."  Have you noticed the NEW product, called "Simply Heinz?"  It is Heinz ketchup without HFCS.  Manufacturers ARE listening to us! 

Another thing to keep in your back pocket is “fresh is always better.”  Cut up an apple for a snack rather than a fruit roll-up.  Put out organic mini carrots with “dipping sauce” which can be homemade hummus or quick and easy “ranch.”  (see very bottom of this article for EASY hummus recipe.)

And finally, what are some easy things you can do in your kitchen to cook and bake healthier?

1. Use olive oil - if a recipe calls for butter or vegetable oil, use olive oil instead
2. Use coconut oil - this is a great substitute for butter.  Whether in baking, on toast, or added to your oatmeal, coconut oil is a "god fat."  It comes in a jar, hard as a rock, so skim some off with a spoon and microwave to liquid form, then measure.
3. Use honey - cut the sugar in your cookie recipe in half and use sugar.  OR, if you are Sara, take out the sugar completely and use only honey.
4. Eat almond butter over peanut butter - almonds are a much better fat source than peanuts.  If you can't give up your PB, make sure you buy all-natural or organic.  The Reduced Fat PB has high-fructose corn syrup and the peanut flowers were probably treated with pesticides.
5. Find great web sites with easy, kid-friendly, healthy meals like, my personal favorite!

You want to live as long as possible.  You want to instill good eating habits in your kids.  And raising good, healthy children is your most important job in life.  So if it takes a little longer to find healthy recipes, or if it costs a little extra money to eat organic or all-natural foods, do it.  Or start to do it.

And if want to keep reading, listed below are the grocery stores I shop at and some of the healthy items I buy (as cheap as possible!)  The last two are local to Omaha, my current hometown.

Trader Joe’s – I get a lot of my son's treats there (I think it is important for him to not feel deprived at home and therefore want to binge on treats at a friend’s house.)  We get the all-natural vanilla cookies there and the all-natural graham crackers.  I also like their Mac-N-Cheese (more flavorful than the Annie’s that he used to eat.  And CHEAPER.)  I also get the chicken nuggets and tilapia fish nuggets there.  He LOVES all the typical kid food, so I try and do it in moderation and buy healthy brands.  My husband and I love the hummus and kettle corn from Trader Joe’s.  And the Irish steel cut oats are sooo cheap.  I do read labels at Trader Joe's, after seeing that their salad dressing contained Xanthan gum.

Whole Foods – this is sooo pricey!  But I love the fresh meats and chickens, plus I get the organic hot dogs there with whole wheat buns.  And I am personally obsessed with their chicken salad but that is exorbitant, so that is once in a while.  I get the 365 Peanut Butter and 365 Raisins there too.  Some things ARE cheaper there like quinoa, raw nuts and organic yogurt.

Target – I think the only thing we get there is the Annies Natural Cheddar Bunnies (a substitute for Goldfish.)

Wal-Mart – believe it or not!!  They have GREAT prices on organic cereals, yogurts (Yo Baby for example) and the Elmo cookies are super cheap (in baby aisle.)  I also get our jam there (it is the 100% fruit kind by Polaner.)  I also get 100% Maple Syrup there.  They also have Amy’s Frozen foods (veggie lasagna is good.)
Hy-Vee – I get my son's apple juice there.  Hy-Vee is the only place that has a large-sized jug of “Not from Concentrate” AJ.  It is made by Musselman’s.  Even Whole Foods 365 is from concentrate.  I also like a few of the products in the Health Market by Amy’s and Annie’s.  We also love the Indian Curry Sauce (Patak’s is the brand.)  We get the Smart Chicken there and the white turkey made by Honeysuckle.  After watching Food, Inc. (which I was surprised that I LOVED) I have become crazy about what meats/chicken/fish to buy.  
Wohlner’s – this is in Aksarben and is family owned.  We love their bread, bagels and AMAZING frozen pitas.  But I get all our lunch meat there because there are no nitrates in the brand that they carry (Boar’s Head.)  Broadmoor in Countryside also has Boar’s Head, but it is more $$.  Wohlner’s also has fish flown in every day.
Easy Hummus:
Combine the following in a blender or food processor-
chick peas/garbonzo beans (1 can, rinsed and drained)
tahini (2 tbsp)
EVOO (3 tbsp)
garlic (2-3 cloves)
lemon juice from half a lemon