Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Candy

So I got out of the problem of Halloween candy by not participating in Halloween. (Long story, we both grew up in families that didn't celebrate Halloween either, yadayadayada.) Anyway, We just go out for dinner somewhere to avoid all of the people demanding candy and taking our children to all of the people trying to scare them to death with their decorations before they give them candy.

I'm guessing not too many of you are up for joining me in that option since the national spending average for Halloween this year is over $4.6 billion.

If we did I would probably do what I do for birthday parties. I would let the children choose some favorites and then discard the rest and trade them for something else, maybe good chocolate or ice cream, or a toy. Here is a great idea that is similar but sounds way more fun.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Salad and Dressing Recipes

These dressings are easy to make ahead and refrigerate, they last up to two weeks. Any dressing with pure olive oil will have to be taken out a while before eating so it can warm up. Cold olive oil tends to go a bit solid.

These dressings have all been approved by my children who let me know they like them by licking their plates off once the salad has been eaten.

1 lime juiced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
fresh ground pepper

shake together before pouring.

In a variation on the one above, you can add one tsp liquid honey and some green herb style seasonings. This one does not do well when it’s cold because it gets clumpy.

Here’s another.

Juice of one half grapefruit
1/4 cup olive oil
small clove of crushed and chopped garlic
Fresh ground pepper
Pinch of salt

This tastes really good on avocadoes.

The first time I tried serving my children spinach this is what I made. (They ate it.)

Baby spinach leaves, washed and dried.
Pomegranate seeds
Apples cubed
Chopped almonds
Goat cheese-crumbled (mine already really liked goat cheese, ate it by the spoonful when I wasn’t looking, so this was safe for me to use. Use a milder flavored cheese that you will like.)

For a dressing I combined

1tbsp concentrated grape juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil

Once again, just make it pretty. My kids predictably ate all of the toppings first before the spinach, but with a little encouragement to try the spinach too, and some carefully assembled forkfuls on my part with a bit of everything on them, they ate their spinach in record time.

For spinach I find that a fruity sweet combo works best for children.

I have made a similar salad with peaches, dried cranberries, a 4 cheese Italian blend, on a bed of spinach. Annie’s Naturals raspberry vinaigrette is a good sweet dressing because it has only a little bit of honey in it as an extra sweetener and no harmful ingredients.

Any combination of the above works, apples raisins and walnuts. (Also works with cabbage and celery if you use a creamier sweet dressing like yogurt and honey or fruit juice. This is a variation of a Waldorf Salad.) You can add raw sunflower seeds, any kind of raw nut that you enjoy, or fruit. You can also substitute any dark green leaf for the spinach, or use a combination.

I find that men aren’t all that excited by these salads, they are too sweet for them. Women and children on the other hand really enjoy them. If you are at home with your kids, try making some of these for lunch.

Here is a savory spinach salad that I eat often for lunch.

Fresh baby spinach
1 hard boiled egg-sliced
mini tomatoes-halved
red or green pepper-chopped
raw sunflower seeds

Top with Annie’s Roasted Red Pepper dressing or a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and fresh ground pepper with a pinch of salt.

More to come later, but I have to go and feed my kids a snack now.

I posted my Bean Dip Recipe below also.

Bean Dip Recipe

I've been asked to share this so here it is. This recipe is so simple I’m almost embarrassed to share it but I suppose that is the beauty of it also.

1 can low fat vegetarian refried beans
1/2 lime-squeezed
5-6 drops hotsauce (Trader Jalapeno Hot Pepper Sauce is nice, but whatever you like.)
2 drops essential oregano oil, (the edible kind in olive oil) or 1 tsp oregano powder.

In a sauce pan, combine beans, juice from the lime the hot sauce and oregano together on low heat until warm and smooth. (This is what I usually do with canned beans for burritos etc. I just like the taste.) In a shallow dish with one inch sides, spread beans evenly across the dish and refrigerate.

Once cool remove from fridge and add one layer of salsa, a not runny kind, I prefer the fresh to the stuff in a jar but it doesn’t make that big a difference.

Once the salsa is spread carefully add a layer of low fat sour cream, it helps to stir the cream before attempting to spread it.

Fine chop one green onion, cut one small seeded tomato into cubes.

Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese, onion and tomato across the top of the dip and refrigerate until it’s time to serve. Serve with baked tortilla chip, for variety try the purple corn instead of white.

WARNING: do not make this if you won’t have help eating it, because it’s easy to eat in one sitting by yourself. (What, I’m just speculating. Really you could do this if you’re not careful, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.) If you’re watching calories or portion sizes at all the combination of the sour cream, the cheese and the chips leads to a lot of fat if you eat the whole thing.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Simple ways to make healthy changes.

It’s Friday, I have so many things to write about that I can’t decide where to begin and I don’t have a lot of time. I’m going to reply to some of the things mentioned in my comments. (Please comment, it gives me an idea of what those reading would like to see on this site, and then I can be more helpful.)

Smoov tells me she needs more time and more make ahead recipes. Since I’m all about trying to make changing eating habits simple, I’ll try and give this a go.

First of all, have you seen this yet? Really go and look, I’ll wait. You need to see it. Did you see what was on the bottom? Water, that’s right, we are 90% water, and we need a lot of it to stay healthy. I’ve read some fascinating literature that speculates that many of our chronic degenerative diseases in North America may simply be the result of chronic dehydration and could be corrected if we drank enough water. When you consider all of the diuretics that we routinely consume in our culture, in coffee, tea, soft drinks, we are not only failing to hydrate ourselves when we drink mostly these kinds of beverages instead of water, we are actually adding to our level of dehydration. Even mild dehydration, loss of 1-2% body water can cause us to have poorer concentration, headaches, and be more irritable. It may also keep us from shedding unwanted fat cells according to one doctor.

So the first change we can all make, which is really simple and not time consuming at all, is to drink enough water. I have a very large, half-gallon, water bottle that I keep filled. I have a purifier on my tap so that it tastes better. Because I am pregnant my minimum requirement for water is 2 of these a day. I find it easiest to keep track of how much water I am drinking if I take this with me and make sure that I empty it twice daily. Another way to do it is to keep a pitcher in the fridge or on the counter and make sure you have drunk all of the water in it by the end of the day. Most people work, so taking the water bottle with you is the simplest I would think, or keeping a large bottle filled in your office and pouring glasses from it throughout the day. Make it your goal to empty that bottle or pitcher before you go to bed every day. The way to calculate your minimum water requirement is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 100lbs, you need 50 ounces of water each day. Every cup of coffee you drink or other diuretic beverage you need to add that much more water to you daily intake to replace what is lost. My kids each have their own water bottle, sport top to avoid spills, and they drink from them through out the day. When they complain that they are thirsty, I give them water. I try to get fun looking bottles so that they think it’s fun to drink from them.

A lot of what we need to do in order to follow the rest of the pyramid takes place at the grocery store.

The second level of the pyramid is fruits and vegetables. This is the kind of change that doesn’t take all that much time after you leave the grocery store. When you go shopping, make it a point to get enough produce to make at least 3 salads. Most of us go shopping at least twice a week so this is a good number because it keeps things from going bad. If you are in a real hurry you can get salads in a bag. Don’t get the white lettuce and cabbage mix; get something dark green, romaine, spinach (wash it before you use it and you’ll be fine) even Albertson’s has organic spring green salad mixes available. Get a good dressing or two. I really like the Annie’s Naturals, and they have lot’s of interesting flavors to choose from. If you want to save money and not buy convenience, just plan time when you come home from shopping to pre-wash and precut all of your vegetables, for the next three days. When dinnertime comes you can grab all of these things and throw them into a bowl and there you have salad.

A trick that has worked for us is to serve the salad as a first course. When my children are hungry they will eat vegetables, big plates full of spinach, and not complain about it. This works for me too. If I eat a plate full of salad first, when I still have room for food, I eat less of the main course, whatever it is, and I eat much more of what I ought to be eating that way.

One other thing that I have found helpful is to put out snacks when I start to prepare a meal. The time of day when I’m most likely to just grab things and put them in my mouth without thinking about it is if I am frantically preparing dinner. This is also the time of day when my children will attach themselves to my knees and cry and scream and get in the way and make us all frustrated. I keep a bag of organic baby cut carrots in the fridge at all times. I also keep broccoli and red peppers because those are the things my kids love to eat. I will start dinner prep by putting a bowl of vegetables on the table; I don’t need dip anymore because they don’t ask for it. This way they will snack on vegetables, which I don’t mind them filling up with before dinner, and I will do the same because it’s convenient, and we are getting even more of what we should be eating. Also, they disengage from my legs and I can be more efficient. I also keep dry roasted soy nuts on hand for snacking on throughout the day, or raw pumpkin seeds, or nuts. These are all full of healthy oils and nutrients and keep us going in between meals.

The one other level of that food pyramid is also something that you can take care of while shopping. Make a choice to purchase whole grain versions of your usual dinner starches, pasta, rice, bread, even yams instead of white potatoes, etc. and then when you go to make dinner, you have already done the main work of making that part of it healthier.

When you shop for meat, make it a point to purchase lean cuts of meat. Go for fish, chicken breast, lean ground beef, etc. This saves you needing to take the time to trim them when you are at home and preparing them.

Choose low fat dairy options also, milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese. (Okay, I never buy low fat cheese, I just eat it in moderation because it really doesn’t taste all that good otherwise, but if you find yourself eating a lot of it a day go for low fat, or change your snacks to fruit, vegetables, and seeds.)

If you need to snack through out the day or your children do, purchase fruits and vegetables that lend themselves to snacking; apples, oranges, bananas, pears, broccoli, celery, carrots, cucumbers, mini tomatoes, etc.

While I know that I haven’t answered the “What do I make for dinner?” question, making these few changes while you shop and prepare food and snack you can improve your diet a lot. Adding what is good for you is usually a much easier beginning point than taking away what is bad.

Next week I will talk about dinner ideas and share some recipes.

Happy weekend.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Junk Free Parties-It can be done

Okay, I promise not to say any more about the Boy’s birthday party after this. But we did manage to hold a party for a 5 year old without feeding every one a bunch of junk; we do every year. The cake is a given source of sugar, we expect that, and we make it ourselves and make it REALLY good. (On the Boy’s third birthday I made a very healthy honey cake with cream cheese icing in the shape of a 3D train. No I didn’t sleep that night. The recipe is in Super Baby Food.) By his 4th he wanted a big boy chocolate cake, so I gave way to sugar in the cake, but that doesn’t mean it has to be every where else. We also served drinks with sugar in them this time. That was it.

For his birthday food the Boy wanted chicken noodle soup. I know I was surprised too. He first wanted us to all go to a Vietnamese restaurant for Pho (Soup) he likes the rare flank steak one, but I had to veto that idea because um, I’m not made of money, and between the children and their attending families and my husband’s 7 other siblings, I was feeding a lot of people. (Yes, a 5 year old can like exotic foods; you just have to give them many chances to try them, the presence of rice noodles helps. The Boy is a very picky eater, but he will try new things because they come at him all of the time.)

Anyway, birthday menu was homemade chicken noodle soup, which was very simple to make. Last week I put a big chicken in my big crock-pot with an onion and several garlic cloves and bay leaves. I let it sit on low for two days, drained the broth, pulled the meat off of the chicken, and threw it in the freezer. On party day all I had to add was some seasoning and noodles, and I was done. I made a very large tray of vegetables; broccoli, baby carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, and a dip that was half Brianna’s Asiago Caesar Dressing and half plain yogurt. You can also just use yogurt and add seasonings like spike, onion powder, pepper, Mrs. Dash, chili flakes; you get the idea. I was in a hurry, and Brianna’s is a pretty decent line of dressings, first ingredient Canola oil, but better than most. (Canola oil is high in DHA a type of fat that our brains need, especially children.) I also love Annie’s Naturals, I keep a few in the fridge for when I’m too lazy to make my own.

To go with the veggie tray, I put out a plate of many different kinds of crackers, yes I got to Trader Joe’s this weekend, with a big pepper jack cheese ball in the middle. The kids and grown-ups went to town. I have noticed that children will eat what you give them as long as it looks pretty, and they’re not convinced that they can get something better if they hold out long enough. I didn’t have any chips or candy or Cheetos or any other kind of junk, and so they ate the broccoli and the pepper jack cheese ball, because it was cheese, in a ball, it was pretty; they didn’t even notice or care that it was spicy.

The party bags didn’t have food in them. I’m always a bit peeved by the parents who hand out a big bag of candy to send my kids home with after a party full of chips and soda and cake. (I don’t usually say anything though, I just take the bags, tell the kids that they can have it after the next meal for dessert, and I let them choose one or two things and then toss the rest when they’re not looking, so far it’s worked.) I know it’s cheaper, I know that you can get a big bag of candy for a dollar and divvy it up, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I got one package of hot wheels cars each, and bagged it so it looked cool, it probably cost me $5 more than bags of candy would have and those cars last for years and I didn’t send anyone’s child home in a sugar frenzy, or coma.

So there you have it, a junk free children’s party that everyone enjoyed.

Some other things that have worked in previous years are to make a big batch of pizza dough and let everyone make their own pizzas, including stretching the crust. Except for preparing the dough and toppings, it’s a pretty easy party, because everyone else does the work and has fun. Other party food ideas include fruit salad, hummus and whole-wheat pita chips, or as a veggie dip. I have 5-layer bean dip recipe that I love, so I make it a lot and serve it with baked corn chips, little kids love apple slices with peanut butter to dip in, or ants on a log. A bowl of raw nuts and seeds will be eaten if put within reach of kids; make sure no one has allergies first.

These are just a few of the myriad of healthier alternatives for party food that are out there so next time you hold a party and you walk down that snack aisle at the grocery store wondering what you can feed people that is real food, leave that aisle and go over to produce instead to start with, and work from there. Happy eating.

Also at Target

We have been in party mode around here the last few days, and my husband just found another item that may be worth mentioning. Archer Farms Natural Italian Soda. There are several flavors and they really aren't chemical laden drinks. I wouldn't drink these every day or even every month, but for a party drink on special occasions, I did drink this, and it was tasty. There are 33 grams of sugar per serving, only 8 ounces, so it's not any less than regular soda, so I wouldn't recomend having more than a small glass, but that's me. It only has carbonated water, sugar, natural flavours and ascorbic acid.

I often forget to think about party drinks because I'm such a hard core water drinker, so this was a last minute purchase to cover my goof. If you are not me and planning ahead, I have some much healthier suggestions that we have done in the past. Martinelli's juices are just carbonated juice, no sugar is added. You can do this at home by purchasing real juice and simply adding soda water to it in a punch bowl. My husband likes to make lime soda at home.

Squeeze several limes until you have a fair amount of juice.
Add organic cane sugar until it's sweet enough for you. (This takes a lot of sugar, a sweeter fruit would require less.)

Mix one part juice and sugar mixture with 3/4 parts carbonated water.

Every one will be impressed and it's simple and tasty.

These are all things that we reserve for special occasions, parties, entertaining, as alternatives to conventional soda. We by no means drink this stuff on any sort of regular basis. The next time we break out the sugar drinks will be in two months or so when the Girl turns three, if I forget to buy Martinelli's or real juice, which I would prefer.

Coming soon. I'm looking for my home made whole wheat tortilla recipe. I'll post it when I find it.

Monday, October 23, 2006


I have begun a book list over in the sidebar of books I really liked or still use. I'll add to it as I find the time and think of more. If you have small children check out Super Baby Food. My youngest is 3, if you don't count the soon to be newborn, and I still use all of the recipes in that book. It is comprehensive with everything from how to make your own yogurt, whole grain bread, baby food, crackers, to fun party ideas for toddlers. The binding on mine is cracking and I recently lent it to a friend who kept it longer than a week and almost went nuts because my children wanted pancakes and muffins, and our favorite recipes are in that book. She bought her own copy and gave that one back to me, and I could breath.

I just got a comment recommending "Sugar Free Toddlers" by Susan Watson. I've never read it, but intend to check it out, I mention it in case you want to also.

I found it at Target!!!

TLC crackers that is, the Kashi brand. I would never have imagined that Target would carry a line of crackers that are made entirely of wholesome and edible ingredients, one that is a family favorite. I don't know if this siting is a nationwide phenomenon or not since Kashi is a California based company, but it would be worth it to look if you like crackers, or your kids do, and you want a nutritious substitute for what they are eating now.

I'm very excited because that makes one more grocery item that I no longer have to get in the car and drive somewhere to purchase. I can walk to Target. (My California suburb neighbors think I'm nuts to walk those 4 long blocks to the store when I could get in my gas guzzling SUV and drive there in about the same amount of time.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Philosophy of Eating

As I sit and type the Genius Husband and the Boy are making a Death By Chocolate big boy chocolate cake; for the Boy is turning five tomorrow. It smells amazing. This recipe only has 4 Tbsp of flour in it. The rest is eggs and melted dark chocolate, and sugar and cocoa and butter and sour cream. The Genius Husband, who is a phenomenal cook when he finds the time, intends to make several layers of chocolate ganach to put between the cake layers, in different flavors. Why am I telling you this? Well, maybe I just want to make you all jealous, but the truth is you may have the impression that I don’t indulge. While I usually avoid junk food, as in food that isn’t really food, I often enjoy tasty things that some of you may lump together with junk food, like birthday cake.

I grew up a fairly indiscriminate eater. I had my picky moments as a child, but as I approached adulthood I could pretty much choke down anything, irregardless of flavor and texture and I thought that it’s just food and I’m hungry, so I would eat it without thinking much about it. I love reading, I would usually take the precious minutes of lunch at school to catch up on whatever I was reading while I ate my lunch, without tasting it. In university I would eat to deal with boredom and stay awake while studying, and I developed a close relationship with the Pizza Hut Express up the stairs from my practice room. Forgetting everything my dear mother had taught me and abandoning the healthful elements of her cooking expertise, I reasoned that pizza covers all of the food groups, who cares if it’s swimming in grease and nitrates, and I also ate a lot of pasta with cheese. You know where this is going don’t you? I saw a picture of myself in the middle of second year and thought, “Who is that girl, can that really be me? I don’t look like that do I?” I packed it on as I had never done before. (I still have a big soft spot for pizza, sigh. When I was a child my mom would make it at home from scratch, which is a much healthier alternative. Well, I now know that if you soak up all of the grease on top of a slice with a paper towel before you eat it, you can get rid of up to 200 calories per slice. And I make it point to find gourmet pizza places with whole wheat crust options when I do indulge.)

My best friend went to France the year after high school, when she came home she brought French chocolate with her, and French wine, and some recipes that were divine. She was generous with the chocolate that summer, and those little squares were exquisite. Candy and chocolate as a child growing up had always been cheap, inexpensive, and on sale, and I would eat it all, slowly to make it last, because we didn’t get it that often. This was real chocolate. My first taste of a candy bar after her chocolate tasted like wax, not like chocolate. A little part of my brain started to tangle with the question of why that was, and what sort of implications that might have regarding my eating habits. I then started to realize that my extreme mood swings and depressive tendencies seemed to be linked to my diet. (I would feel fine, eat a chocolate egg on an empty stomach while talking on the phone, and find myself lying on the carpet sobbing out of a deep well of sadness that came out of nowhere. Which I thought might be a little bit extreme.) I was finally diagnosed as hypoglycemic and started to learn how to balance my eating to stabilize my blood sugar. It would be many years before this would all come together into the mostly coherent philosophy that I now share with you.

Basically, I won’t eat something unless it’s worth eating. I can only consume so many calories per day without gaining weight. I’m only hungry every so often, and I can only handle so much sugar without going crazy. Now before I put something in my mouth, I ask if it’s worth it, really truly worth it. Is it worth to eat those potato chips, is it worth it to eat those crackers, does that birthday cake really deserve my attention. In essence I’ve become an extremely picky eater, in a good way. For example, yesterday I attended a little boy’s birthday party. First of all it was a morning party, no meal was served, and there was a gigantic sheet cake. Now, to eat the cake breaks several of my personal eating rules, like eating desserts with meals because it changes the way they are digested and the affect they have on my brain, but I considered it anyway because that’s not always a strong motivation for me, though it should be. I accepted a slice, and took a bite, and here is the moment that I am still trying my hardest to remember when it comes to eating, I paid attention to how it tasted, was it good enough to eat a second bite? Some of you may really like white slab cakes with the pudding filling and super sweet colored icing, I don’t. Not really. In the past I would have eaten the whole piece, but I wouldn’t have been satisfied, my brain chemistry would be out of whack for nothing, I would have started craving more sweets, and I’d be at least 200 calories fatter, all for a relatively bland, unexciting, and tasteless piece of birthday cake. Tomorrow I fully intend to eat a small slice of that chocolate cake; it is too rich for anyone to eat a large slice of. I will eat it slowly, after I eat dinner, I will pay attention to each bite, I will savor it. I will fully enjoy every moment of that chocolate cake, and when I am finished, I won’t want anything else, not that I intend to have anything else available.

I am the same with chocolate, with ice cream, with candy, which I just won’t eat anymore because I haven’t found any that is worth it, with cookies, and with breakfast lunch and supper. I later ran into a phrase that some of you might be familiar with, Mindful Eating.

Do you read when you eat? I still do sometimes, though I’m trying to break the habit. Do you eat while watching TV? Do you eat while driving? Do you eat standing up? This is called mindless eating, and most Americans do it. When we eat like this, we tend to overeat, because we are not paying attention to what we are eating, or how much. Have you ever put a lot of time into making yourself something good, some kind of treat, and then sat down to eat it in front of the television, or a book, or your computer? Did you taste it? Did you enjoy it? Did you even notice what was going into your mouth?

When you make an event of eating, when you go to the trouble of preparing something tasty and healthful and then sit down to eat it and the main event is the food, you become a more mindful eater. You eat more slowly, you chew more, you eat less, that is, if you remember to taste those first few bites and not rush through them. I often catch myself, after cooking, getting everything on the table, cutting up food for my children, and jumping up and down a few more times for forgotten items before I eat, frenetically shoveling food into my mouth at the same mad pace as I have been doing everything else. I’ll be halfway through my plate before I stop and think, “Slow down, taste it, you aren’t in a hurry right now.” It’s a little bit lame, but I used to not think of it until I went for seconds to get another taste of whatever I had just mindlessly devoured on my plate. I'm improving. The act of sitting and experiencing food is one of the reasons why family mealtimes are so important to me, and I think contribute to making healthier eaters of our children. This is also why I no longer put my extremely slow and picky eater son in front of a show while he’s eating so that it will distract him from examining every single piece of food before it enters his mouth and he might finish eating today, please. I realized that I don’t want him to become a mindless eater, and knowing that I will be sitting at the table with him for a long time at dinner helps me to slow down as well, though I’m almost always up and loading the dishwasher before he’s finished eating.

When our children get a treat, it’s a real treat. We give them real chocolate; minimum 75% cocoa mass usually single origin organic, I like the beans from Ecuador the best. (Like I said; if you are going to indulge, make it worth it.) You can get the bars at Trader Joe’s, and World Market on occasion. Right now I’m feeding them Double Rainbow Vanilla ice cream. It has only cream, milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla bean in it, and it is the richest, creamiest ice cream. I used to like the original Breyer’s before they started making it “creamier” by adding things that aren’t food to it. It’s still pretty good if you can find the original recipe flavors, and also only has things like cream and eggs and sugar, but it’s a much lighter ice cream, and now it tastes likes I’m eating air, so it’s not worth it, I have to eat too much to be satisfied. We give them small amounts of really tasty stuff, often in the play Ikea dishes so it looks like a full portion. They have never had a regular candy bar, they have had hard candy on a few occasions, but I am hoping that they will learn to be discriminate indulgers as well as I teach them what real tastes like. They also know that sweets are eaten with meals, and not at other times because they need protein to help them to not feel bad after they have eaten them. For the same reason they don’t usually get them after breakfast or lunch because it keeps them from being as alert and cheerful through out the day when they need to be for school, playing together, mommy’s sanity, so it usually happens after dinner, before bed.

The other thing I consider aside from indulgences is the nutrient density of my food. By the same reasoning that I can only eat so much per day, I want to make sure that my body gets what it needs to stay healthy out of the foods I’m eating. If I’m going to eat salad, I’m not going to eat iceberg lettuce, which is mainly water and fiber, I’m going to eat something dark green because it contains much more nutrients. (WITH PRODUCE, THE DARKER THE COLOR, THE GREATER THE AMOUNT OF NUTRIENTS.) If I were going to eat rice, I’d prefer it to be brown rice, because there are more nutrients in it, whole grain pasta and bread instead of white, water or tea instead of soda, etc. This is especially important when feeding little ones because they don’t eat as much. There isn’t room in their diets for empty foods that just fill their tummies without giving them something they need. When I bake cookies, I substitute ground almonds for half of the flour in a rolled cookie recipe, because almonds have more that is good for them than whole-wheat flour. I’ve just upped the calcium protein and healthy essential oil content by 50% by doing that. By avoiding the use of lard and artificial sweeteners, I’ve improved those cookies several more notches, and when my children sit down to drink them with a glass of milk, usually soy or almond, and a piece of fruit, they are getting a snack that they will enjoy, and they are getting nutrients that are essential to their growing bodies. (Credit for the almond idea goes to my friend and former neighbor Queenie, who was a nutritionist before she became a mommy. I learned many things from her that year that we shared a house.)

There are several other very well informed and smart people out there who have written on this subject. I have been reading through French Women Don’t Get Fat recently, because I've been trying to pin down the things about lifestyles and habits that make healthier people for my own benefit. She goes into great detail on the subject of how paying attention to your food and enjoying it leads to healthier bodies and attitudes, and she has several tips on how to do that, as well as a simple weight loss plan for those who are trying to lose. For more on how diet affects children’s brains, eating foods in combinations and glycemic index, subjects I intend to tackle at some future point here, go to Dr. Sears for some great articles. Finally here is an article and book/website about the research behind mindless eating. Mel over at Amazing Shrinking Mom found this first, I’m just following her links.

And with that I say goodnight, I have a kitchen full of chocolate to clean up. Apparently it's my job since the boys did the cooking.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Where to Start

Daisy gave me a great idea for a first post. In her comment over at my other blog, where I talk about starting this one, she said,

“I don't have a title for your new blog, but I'll read it when you start it! I have to gradually make changes in my family's eating habits or they won't buy into the concept.”

So this is where we will begin, by answering the question of where to start and how to make those little changes that add up to one big change. Taste is something that it takes time to develop, little changes over time are not noticeable, but eventually when you try something “fake” again, as opposed to something “real” you will taste what I’m talking about.

Let’s look first at those things that are probably already in your cupboard.

Peanut butter

Make no mistake these things are not all created equal. If you have been purchasing a brand that gets a lot of TV commercial time, the odds are that it’s not actually good for you. I could venture a lot of guesses as to why, but the main one would be that they started needing to advertise in the first place in order to convince people to purchase an inferior product. Let’s look first at your peanut butter, go ahead and get the jar, I’ll wait. Look at the side and read the ingredients list. It should say roasted peanuts, and salt, if you like it salted. Oh wait, does yours have more in it? By chance does it say icing sugar? What about hydrogenated oils, does it have that? Do you remember that moment when you stood at the store doing a price comparison between say Kraft or Skippy and that weird looking organic, or not main brand jar that cost about $2 more? Do you remember thinking that the one you were holding was cheaper, and it was the one that you’re kids liked? Maybe you didn’t even stand and think about it. You are not getting more for your money when your peanut butter is full of icing sugar and packed with lard, (Hydrogenated oil). You are being ripped off, and you have been misled into feeding yourself and your family something terribly unhealthy.

Did you ever wonder how it could be possible that THE AVERAGE AMERICAN CHILD CONSUMES ALMOST 10LBS OF SUGAR EACH WEEK?!!!! This is how it happens; it’s hidden in almost every food you find on the shelf. The next time you go to the store look for a peanut butter that only has peanuts in it, and salt. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, (You can go to here to find out.) they are your best bet to find healthful versions of almost all of those items on my list and it won’t break the bank. If you are not lucky enough to be close to a TJ’s here are a few brands that I like if you can find them. Vons used to sell a store brand peanut butter that was really just peanuts. Adam’s peanut butter is also good. At local health food stores you can sometimes find the little machines that make fresh peanut butter as you watch. This was a highlight of shopping trips for me when I was young, and a good way to get your children excited about eating real peanut butter that isn’t sweetened. It’s a good idea to get organic if you can find it, because peanuts are one of those things that have a lot of pesticides left on them by the time they get to you. One more tip. If your peanut butter has separated and the oil is sitting on top, as often happens in real nut butters, you have two choices. If you are trying to eat low fat and watch your calories, pour it out into your sink, or a jar to keep for cooking, and Viola, you have low fat peanut butter. Simple isn’t it? If you intend to mix the oil back in, which makes it easier to spread, sometimes I pour out half the oil and keep the rest, turn the jar upside down for a while in your cupboard, the oil will try to rise to the top/bottom and it will be easier to stir when you do. Nut butters should be kept in the fridge after opening, and it won’t separate again once it’s cool.

Next let’s look at jam. It should have more fruit than sugar, which should go without saying, but just in case…. I prefer the sugar free fruit sweetened jams, they are lower calorie and glycemic index (I’ll talk about that later), and a little bit healthier, though jam really is jam. The jam in my cupboard right now has 8 grams of sugar per tbsp. Always check the serving size to see if it’s what you will actually use in one sandwich or if you will use several servings in one sandwich. Manufacturers like to fudge on labels by reducing the serving size so it doesn’t look as bad.

Bread. Here we have a problem. Go to TJ’s if you can, or an Artisan bakery that cooks with whole grains. You must ask them what kind of flour they use because they won’t tell you otherwise. At TJ’s they have many wonderful selections. It you are not ready to deal with the squirrelly texture of sprouted grain yet, they have a lovely TJ’s brand seven-grain bread that tastes like white bread, is nice and soft and makes great sandwiches. It also says French village on the label. Then there are whole wheat and whole grain breads, in the grocery store most of these will have corn syrup in them, which is ten times worse than sugar, and many will have nasty hydrogenated oils in them as well. (I will write a whole post on oils one day, with research links, but for now, it’s indigestible and may contribute to cancer and degenerative diseases.) In fact, I dare you to go to the super market and find me a loaf of whole wheat bread that doesn’t have corn syrup or hydrogenated oil in it, we’ll ignore preservatives for now. Some Vons stores carry Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain bread, which is very good for you but is an acquired taste for the newbies, so that one doesn’t count. If you find one leave a comment and I’ll give you a prize, of my choosing, I’ll try to think of something cool.

Okay, moving on. Tortillas. Corn tortillas are easy, usually fine. Give or take a preservative or two, these are a pretty safe bet. Flour tortillas are more difficult, again, go and explore TJ’s if you can. (Here in Southern CA we also have a plethora of amazing tortillarias where you can buy them fresh made, but that’s probably not an option for many of you.) Almost all main brands of flour tortillas have hydrogenated oils and preservatives in them, so they can sit on the shelf in your store for so long without going bad, and so they don’t stick together. Too bad this renders them inedible. Most of these brands will make a whole wheat version too, which will have the bad stuff in them as well, but the whole grain option at least provides some nutrient value. (I will talk about whole grains soon as well, right now I just want to help you the next time you go grocery shopping.) Opt for these if that’s your only choice, it will at least begin to put you and your family's taste buds on a healthier path.

So we have only covered 4 items so far. I will motor through and explain in later posts.

Pasta. Try the whole grain versions on the shelf. To ease into it gradually, mix half white and half wholegrain for a while to get used to the texture. But they’re noodles, cover them with enough sauce most kids, and grown-ups, won’t notice.

Crackers. I’m sorry but every cracker on the store shelf has hydrogenated oil in it somewhere if you read the label. Notable exceptions include the Kashi Brand TLC crackers, Akmak whole-wheat crackers, most rice crackers and rice cakes, some brands of stoned wheat thins, Ryvita, Wasa, the ever present goldfish crackers from Pepperidge farms, and a couple more that are escaping memory. The trick is to label read and find out for yourselves what’s in them. Again TJ’s has a great cracker section, as will your local health food store, maybe, if it’s large enough, but I guarantee TJ’s will be cheaper. (I really hope I at least get a coupon or something from them for all of this.)

Cereal. Um, kind of a no brainer in some respects, cocoa puffs versus cheerios or cornflakes, duh!!! You will be surprised however to discover that almost all cereal has some amount of sugar in it, even cheerios and cornflakes. What we are aiming for is less rather than more. Read the label for sugar grams and fiber grams, as well as whole grain vs. whatever else. You want the amount of sugar to be low, and the fiber to be high, and made with whole grains. The more fiber in a cereal the more satisfying it is, the less you will need to eat, and the less of a hit your insulin levels will take digesting it, which will be good for your concentration and your appetite. (Oh yeah, that’s another post.) Puffed wheat and rice cereals are a good bet. Again, Kashi is a good choice, heritage oh’s, TJ’s oh’s, granola though sweetened is high in fiber and if it has nuts there is also protein. I’ll tell you how to make your own soon, I promise, or you can look up recipes for yourself, add low fat to your google search and you’ll find something healthy I promise. Porridge is a very safe bet. I love the Bob's Red Mill line of products and it doesn't take long to prepare, favorites here are the 7-grain porridge, that 8 grain wheat free porridge, the 10-grain porridge, you get the idea, What I love about these is that they sneak so many things into these porridges, like lentils and soy and flax and millet, all high in protein and nutrients and when you make it and serve it with frozen berries, or raisins, and cinnamon and milk, we like real maple syrup or molasses around here for sweeteners, my kids turn summersaults and thank me for giving them such a "treat" for breakfast. There are also oats, old-fashioned rolled, quick oats, steel cut/Irish oats, any brand that isn't premixed with flavoring or sweeteners will do.

Juice. Only real juice folks not colored and sweetened water. I don’t care how much Vitamin C the commercials say Sunny D has, or how happy the kids in the commercial look, it is not juice, it is not food, it’s vitamin fortified Kool-aid. Don’t even ask me about Kool-aid. NO!!! If there is anything on the label besides fruit juice, fresh or from concentrate, don’t take it home. It’s a waste of your money. I personally prefer to drink water, it’s low calorie, and your body needs a lot of it to work well. My kids get one drink of juice a day, if that. Stick to real fruit, it has fiber and nutrients that haven’t been cooked out of it in the pasteurizing process, and is just better for you. (Yeah, did you know that 80% of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables are lost when they are cooked? What do you think heat pasteurizing does to all of those fruit nutrients?)

Rice. Brown is better than white. All of the nutrients are in the bran, which is removed to make white rice. If you eat a lot of rice and don’t have a rice cooker, buy one, they are $20 at Target right now, they make cooking brown rice a snap. If not follow the stovetop cooking directions, though I find they always tell you to add too much water. Maybe everyone else likes their brown rice mushy, I don’t know. If it’s too mushy the first time, try taking out about 1/2 cup of water per cup of rice.

This is the easiest way I can think of to begin changing eating habits, and take little steps toward better eating. You can eat many of the same foods, and use the same recipes, but if you change the ingredients to more healthful ones it will make a difference.

One other thing I recomend as you begin on this food adventure is to try new things. Do you see a fruit that you have never had before in the produce section? Buy one; they often have little labels to help you know if it’s ripe and how to eat it. Take it home, cut it up and everyone taste. Do the same with vegetables, if you don’t know how to prepare something, type it in Google and see what comes up; there are hundreds of recipes on the Internet, as well as free information. Make trying new things an adventure, try to eat your produce raw, and have fun eating “real” food.
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