Friday, December 31, 2010

A new year is upon us!

I'm not a fan of the new year resolution ritual but this year instead of completely turning my back on it, I've decided to utilize the energy it creates to renew some commitments and outline new goals. Why this year and not in years past? Honestly, I need some extra help right now. Finding motivation has become increasingly tougher. Mustering up energy for anything beyond what it takes to take care of two little boys is nearly impossible for me. I need a serious kick in the pants.

One of the goals on the (now very long) list is to make one new recipe a week. Getting in a food rut is certainly easy. And that's where I am - in a rut. I look forward to finding more resources for healthy cooking and sharing them, medium food style, here. Introducing new dishes to my kids is always an adventure and always makes the hubby happy.

Speaking of new resources, I recently stumbled upon Gina's Skinny Recipes at Skinnytaste.com. I think Gina's site is a perfect one to share in anticipation of the new year and the resolutions it brings. I appreciate that she includes Weight Watchers information in relation to her recipes. Being a fan of the Weight Watchers strategy, I'm loving it. But even if you're not familiar with Weight Watchers or not a fan, her recipes are healthy and there's something for everyone.

Here's to a wonderful start to a new year. I hope you'll stop by Medium Food Mama often... I truly love the company! And more importantly, I hope 2011 brings you and yours good health and peace. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very happy holiday and New Year. I will be back in action in January. See you next year!

Friday, November 19, 2010

49¢ more?

Okay, first, I must confess: I drove through. A drive-thru. Yes, a fast food drive-thru. But I guess that's why I went with Medium Food Mama and not Slow Food Mama. I still struggle with being totally organized and not finding myself in a pinch when out with the boys. Today was one of those days.

On our way to Whole Foods (from Target), my littlest baby fell asleep. After being so fussy that I almost had to abandon our cart mid shopping, I wasn't about to wake him. And my three year old wasn't about to forget about lunch, sleeping brother or not. After offering all that I had on me (a Grammy Sammy and Fiddlesticks), it was off to Burger King for mac and cheese. Getting mac and cheese is via the Kid's Meal. The menu gives you options on a beverage. They offer both plain milk and chocolate as well as juice and soda. All the meals come with fries. But wait, I don't want fries. As I ask for an alternative, I see "Apple Fries" on the menu with a clear note underneath: 49¢ more. At almost the exact time, the cashier tells me I can get apple fries but it will be "extra." I said no problem, give me the apple fries.

While waiting for the quintessential handing of food through a window, I couldn't stop being bothered by having to pay more for apples. It's one of the main problems I have with our food system. Make even the simplest, healthier swap more expensive. I worked in a restaurant for over eight years and, at the time, customers could have fruit, cottage cheese or even a salad in place of fries - at no extra cost. With the unwavering support (income) that fast food chains have from the masses, I'm certain the extra money is just gravy. And I would venture to say at a restaurant, especially a small family-owned one, the extra money would not be just gravy but rather contribute to keeping the doors open.

This post isn't about whining over 49¢, although I am doing so and a few cents can make a difference. It is more about the WHY. All charging "extra" for a healthier swap does is continue to perpetuate the current problem with making good food harder to obtain and bad food easier to obtain. Maybe I should start a petition or something specifically targeted at fast food restaurants and not charging more for healthy food or at least the extra charge for apples. I guess if San Francisco was able to pass a ban on toys associated with meals that are poor in nutrition (a.k.a. Happy Meals), then maybe I could generate some action on this subject. It's a thought.

In conclusion, I need to get more organized as to avoid having to deal with fast food choices and annoyances. You know, bring my own apples, cheese, sandwiches, etc. It's always my intent but as I said earlier, I still struggle.

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Halloween candy to be found... Is that a bad thing?

Even though I'm a little sad to see October go, I am welcoming November with open arms (and an empty candy jar)... Okay, I don't have an actual candy jar but you know what I mean. We did get the boys dressed up and we even went to a Halloween party. There was some treats at the party but they we're small and the only one Gavin was really interested in was the pumpkin shaped cookie. I must spend a moment on the cookie. They had two or three tables set up for the kids to decorate their cookie. Each child got a paper plate with a cookie, a small container of frosting, a small container of candies and a plastic knife. Gav had a lot of fun spreading the frosting then decorating the cookie with the little candies. I love stuff like this. It's creative and it gives the kids the feeling of making their own treat. So much better than a handful of packaged candy. After the party, we went home. The boys had a nice time, my husband and I had a nice time and this morning, none of us feel like anything is missing. As much as I LOVE a Reese's pumpkin or any shape of Reese's for that matter, it's nice not to have a bag of junk around to contend with.

I know to some it may sound like a terrible thing - no Halloween candy to pick at throughout the week? But I think it's great. Treats taste better when there's some effort put into them. From measuring and mixing it all yourself to the cookie Gav decorated last night, it all adds so much to the pleasure of eating a treat. In regards to budget, it really doesn't apply in this instance. Bags of Halloween candy are pretty cheap and the bulk of what you end up with is free so homemade goodies are bound to cost more but in the long run are a better choice. Remember though - everything in moderation. Have Halloween candy in the house? Have a little. Then throw it out. :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sneaky Chef to the rescue

We're still trying to rebound from the poor eating habits while at the hospital. Insisting on "real" food has been tough. The main reason is my concern for my son's health. Which in itself makes this weirder. Real food is best for his health but him continuing to eat is equally important. So if it's boxed mac and cheese for every meal with only a fresh strawberry and a cup of yogurt thrown in during the day, I'm just grateful he's eating.

In my core though, there is the need to make good food even out of a box of mac and cheese or a plain cheese pizza. Starting with the best of the processed choices is the first step. For instance, Trader Joe's makes a decent box of mac and cheese and so does Annie's. Next is making it with quality dairy. Then adding vegetables and/or protein. But if your child is anything like mine (the three year old anyway), adding veggies or protein he can see won't fly. And that's why I am thankful for the The Sneaky Chef.

I purchased the Sneaky Chef book a couple of years ago. I believe the purchase was made as a result of my first son's lack of desire for variety in his diet. As I was fretting a bit the other night about the abundance of mac and cheese my kid has been eating, I remembered the book. I quickly pulled it off the shelf and became reacquainted with it. The make-ahead puree recipes are genius. And they work. The orange puree is so subtle it goes undetected even in my son's beloved mac and cheese.

If you have trouble getting your kids to eat veggies or other nutritious items as is, I highly recommend giving the Sneaky Chef book a try. It has made it easier to deal with my son's current food rut and makes the food my toddler is eating even more nutritious. Can't go wrong with that! And in honor of the box and the Sneaky Chef, here is the Orange Puree recipe:

Orange Puree
1 medium sweet potato or yam, rough chopped
3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
3-4 tablespoons water

In a medium pot, cover carrots and sweet potatoes with cold water and boil for about 20 minutes until yams, and especially carrots are very tender. If the carrots aren't thoroughly cooked, they'll leave telltale little nuggets of vegetables, which will reveal their presence (a gigantic no-no for the sneaky chef).

Drain yams and carrots and put them in the food processor with two tablespoons of water. Puree on high until smooth; no chunks should remain. Stop occasionally to push the contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, add the rest of the water to make a smooth puree, but the less water the better.

This makes about two cups of puree. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze 1/4 cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers.

To add to boxed mac and cheese: Prepare according to directions on package. Add 2-4 tablespoons orange puree into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended. Note: Adding a 1/4 cup of grated cheese into the sauce will help mask the carrots a bit more if your little one detects them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hospital food

After 16 days, my son was released from the hospital. This journey started at the end of September, the 25th to be exact. And not too far into it did nutrition get pushed aside. Taking care of my son while he was battling a constant fever and taking care of his little brother at the same time did nothing for our meal planning. Not to mention my son that was sick refused to eat for seven days and that was before being admitted to the hospital (hence mama taking him to the ER).

Part of being in the hospital is ordering meals, usually a full day at a time. The pediatric ward of the first hospital we were at actually provided a menu/meal for both child and parent. At first, I thought I'd skip ordering for myself but on the advice of the nurses, I ordered. That turned out to be sound advice. It's not so easy to get out of the room much less get out of the building when your child is sick and confined to a hospital bed. Even when the opportunity arose such as when my husband came to visit or when my mom came to stay, I wouldn't always step out. I felt the need most of the time to stay with my boy. So having a tray delivered for both of us was the way to go.

At the second hospital, our area's Children's Hospital, things were different. A meal was only provided for the child. It was also different in other ways such as the bathroom inside the (shared) room was strictly for patient use and there was no water or coffee offered to the adults. If I had to use the restroom, even at 1:30 in the morning, I'd have to walk to the other side of the ward. And if I wanted (needed) coffee, it meant a trip to the cafeteria on floor 2. We were on floor 5. Luckily for me, my mom flew in just 3 days after my son was hospitalized so she would fetch us our coffee and food most days.

In regards to the menu, both hospitals had decent choices. I was pleasantly surprised to see words like "local" and "organic" on the menu at hospital one. Also, in the cafeteria there was an even a bigger array of healthy options such as gourmet sandwiches, many made with whole grains and lots of veggies, and a salad bar.  Of course, this is not to say there wasn't an abundance of not so healthy treats such as cookies, candy and pie. Hospital two also had lots of healthy options on the children's menu. And although there wasn't any organic or local options touted, each meal was delivered with a breakdown of nutritional information. The cafeteria at hospital number two served up a few healthy choices like a garden burger on whole wheat bun and made-to-order sandwiches as well as a salad bar (oddly located at the back of the cafeteria away from the rest of the food and the registers) but the most prominent offerings were prepackaged junk food, fried food and soda. Both children's menus also offered lots of not so healthy kid favorites like traditionally prepared chicken strips, french fries, mac & cheese, etc. But you know what? It makes sense. At one point I was so desperate to get my kid to eat, I bought some M&M's and set the package on the foot of the bed where he was sure to see it. He ignored it for an entire day. I couldn't believe it. Did the lack of candy in his everyday diet make it unappealing or was it the stubborn lack of appetite he'd been battling? I wanted to take the credit but it was the lack of appetite. The next morning, after being awake for only a few minutes, he asked for the candy. I was thrilled to hand it to him - for breakfast no less! He ate it and that was that.

From that point forward my son's appetite increased but seemingly only for more junk. Cookies were a big one. I also broke down (the same day I bought the candy) and purchased the pudding cups that don't require refrigeration... ugh! But seriously, it became a matter of survival in my mind. I even expressed my concern (guilt) with the doctors. They agreed I was doing the right thing. He needed to eat, period. As he started to feel better, he'd surely go back to his usual diet. And now being home for a five or so days, he has. Instead of a cookie, he eats a cheese stick. Instead of polyester pudding, he eats a yogurt. Our treats are getting back to occasional and more in line with my medium food mama philosophy.

My son's illness, the hospital stay and subsequent recovery has not only reminded me of how fragile life is but how appropriate the "everything in moderation" motto is. I do my best to reduce processed foods, make as much from scratch as I can and make educated choices upon buying our food but when you're in a position of little to no choice and/or desperate to get your baby to eat, you shouldn't fret. I continued to do my best but if it was cookies and chocolate milk he wanted, that's what he got. And, by extension, if it was cookies and coffee I wanted then that's what I had. Okay, not the same at all. I could have made better choices for myself but a few weeks of up and down eating for stressed out mom is forgivable right?

On a non-food related note for those interested, my son had severe pneumonia and an Empyema, a complication of pneumonia. Click here for a great explanation of Empyema. My son had the catheter procedure first and chest tube and video-assisted minimal access surgery second. Although, some consider Empyema rare, our Children's hospital sees 2 to 3 cases a month. It doesn't happen all the time (about 20%) but it's a reminder that a common cold or flu can lead to a much more serious situation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Please excuse my absence

I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know that I have not abandoned my blog but I am unable to contribute right now. Just over two weeks ago my son became ill and all my time and energy has been with him. We're still in the hospital and I don't know when we'll get to go home yet. My son has been through a lot the past two weeks and half of it has been spent in the hospital. He has had two surgeries and currently has a chest tube. With that said, he is on the mend, thankfully. Once we're home and things get settled, I'll be posting again. Thank you for understanding and I hope you'll keep visiting Medium Food Mama.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The basket

While waiting for coffee at Starbucks with my son, we entertained ourselves by checking out the basket of "goodies" in front of the espresso counter. It's nice to see baskets (kid height) filled with healthy looking snacks. Gavin and I had fun identifying each snack. It was a great opportunity to get "ooohs and ahhhs" about dried fruit and raw granola snacks from the kiddo.

Of course I was instantly inspired to research the offerings. I jotted down the items and here's what I came up with:

Two Moms in the Raw: These granola mixes are made with no added oils or added sugar. The story behind this product is one of a mom that was inspired to create satisfying on-the-go snacks that fit into her raw food lifestyle. So she experimented and came up with a line of granolas and crackers. Blueberry Granola ingredients: Millet, buckwheat, coconut, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, almonds, pepitas, apples, agave, cinnamon, sea salt and blueberries.

Annie’s Snacks: These are alternatives to traditional snacks like Chex Mix or Cheez-It crackers. They are decent and better than mentioned brands for sure. Check out the ingredient lists for two similar snacks. The second one leaves me speechless. Even if you cut out the redundancy of the ingredients for the Cheez-It mix, the list still contains way too many things.

Annie's (cheddar snack mix): Organic wheat flour, organic expeller pressed vegetable oil (sunflower, canola and/or safflower), salt, Organic Valley ® Organic Cheddar Cheese (organic pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, non-animal enzymes), organic evaporated cane juice, organic barley malt, organic butter, yeast extract, organic whey, yeast, annatto and paprika extract for natural color, natural flavor, baking soda, organic paprika, organic onion, organic garlic, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium phosphate, organic celery seed.  

Sunshine (Cheez-It snack mix): CHEESE CRACKERS (Enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], soybean and palm oil with TBHQ for freshness, skim milk cheese [skim milk, whey protein, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, annatto extract for color], white cheddar cheese [milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], salt, whey, maltodextrin, leavening [baking soda, yeast], monosodium glutamate, whey protein concentrate, butter [cream, salt], natural and artificial flavor, paprika, paprika oleoresin, turmeric for color, lactic acid, calcium lactate, disodium phosphate, citric acid, soy lecithin), PRETZEL STICKS (Enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], salt, vegetable oil [corn, canola, and/or soybean oil], corn syrup, yeast, baking soda), CHEESE CURLS (degerminated yellow corn meal, vegetable oil [corn, canola, and/or soybean oil], whey, salt, maltodextrin, cheddar cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese culture culture, salt, enzymes], monosodium glutamate, torula yeast, disodium phosphate, sour cream [cream, nonfat milk, cultures], autolyzed yeast extract, yellow #6, sunflower oil, natural and artificial flavors, yellow #5, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, butter, oil), BREAD SLICES (Enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], vegetable oil [corn, canola, and/or soybean oil], salt, whey, nonfat milk, corn syrup, yeast, citric acid), soybean oil with TBHQ for freshness, contains two percent less of cheddar cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture culture, salt, enzymes), salt, whey, butter (cream, salt), buttermilk powder, onion, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, nonfat dry milk, disodium phosphate, garlic, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sunflower oil, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, yeast, soy lecithin, yellow #5, yellow #6.

What's TBHQ? What's torula yeast? And...? You get my point. Moving on.

FoodShouldTasteGood: As far as chips go, these are a decent choice. Sweet Potato chips ingredients: Stone ground corn, high oleic sunflower oil and/or safflower oil, sweet potato, corn bran, evaporated cane juice, sea salt.

Pete Lescoe, Founder of Food Should Taste Good, Inc. makes this statement on the company web site: "I love food.  I’ve been working in restaurants and grocery stores my whole life, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that food tastes best when it’s made with real ingredients.  That’s why I started my own company, dedicated to making wholesome, healthy snacks.  As for the name, Food Should Taste Good, it kind of wrote itself."

KIND Bars: You can pretty much see everything these are made of just by looking at the bar. I like that and after reading about the company behind the bar, I like them even more! Read about them here. Fruit & Nut Delight ingredients: Mixed nuts, dried nuts, honey, chicory fiber, Non GMO Glucose, puffed rice, flax seeds, soy lecithin.

Lucy’s Cookies: Lucy's cookies are gluten free and made without milk, eggs, peanuts or tree nuts. Dr. Lucy is a mom to a child with food allergies; Her inspiration for developing an alternative cookie. Oatmeal cookie ingredients: Dr. Lucy’s Flour Blend (gluten-free oat, garbanzo, potato starch, tapioca, sorghum and fava flours), evaporated cane juice*, gluten-free rolled oats, soy milk*, brown sugar*, soybean oil*, palm fruit oil*, canola oil*, olive oil*, filtered water, flavoring and citric acid from corn, crushed soy beans*, soy lecithin*, non-dairy lactic acid, beta carotene, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract*, salt, xanthan gum, calcium carbonate, annatto extract color, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, methylcellulose. *Indicates organic.

Peeled Snacks: Dried fruit, can't really go wrong with that. Apple-2-the-core ingredients: Organic apples. Nothing added. (They also have fruit & nut mixes but we only saw the dried fruit varieties.)

Peter Rabbit Organics: Made from pure, organic fruit in convenient BPA-free pouches with no added sugar or preservatives. Apple and Grape ingredients: Organic apple 86%, organic grape juice concentrate 13.9%, organic lemon juice concentrate.

Sahale Snacks: Snacks made with whole ingredients. Cashews with pomegranate & vanilla ingredients: Cashews, organic evaporated cane juice, dried apples (unsulfured apples, sugar, natural pomegranate flavor, citric acid, fruit & vegetable juice (for color)), organic tapioca syrup, brown sugar, natural vanilla extract, sea salt, dried pomegranate, pomegranate juice concentrate, dried peel, pure ground vanilla beans.

Stretch Island Fruit Company: These are my favorite fruit leathers. Each is equal to half a serving of fruit. Abundant Apricot ingredients: Apple puree concentrate, apricot puree concentrate, pear puree concentrate, lemon juice concentrate. 

And for fun here's the ingredients of a Strawberry Fruit Roll-up: Pears from concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, citric acid, sodium citrate, acetylated mono and diglycerides, pectin, malic acid, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), natural flavor, color (yellow 5&6, red 40, blue 1).

Yikes!

I'd say Starbucks is truly taking the time to pick quality items from good companies with similar philosophies. Some of these snacks are exclusive to Starbucks (sizes and flavors). I do my best not to buy individually packaged snacks but every once in a while the need arises and I can feel good about letting the family enjoy these. Snacks from the basket are all reasonably priced, starting at .75¢.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A cookbook to consider

While reading my facebook news feed this morning, I read this link from Slow Food USA's page about “The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living” by Mark Bittman. I'm certain it will be my next purchase.

The title speaks to me. Because really, food does matter. I know I sound like a broken record but too many people, too often don't realize this. If it mattered to more of us, fast food places would see a drop in sales and doctors would see less diet related health issues. I know firsthand how time consuming, costly (in some cases) and confusing eating well can be but that's exactly why I started this blog. To learn and share how to make eating good food everyday achievable and why it's important. Whether it's in big strides or baby steps, making good food a priority is within reach. And doing it Medium Food style is even easier!

Without having the book in hand yet (buying it through Amazon for $23.10 asap), I know it will deliver. 500 recipes? I. Can't. Wait.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Corn Sugar?

Oh the notorious High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). If you watch TV you've likely seen the ad campaigns for HFCS. Pretty smart ads. Kind of creepy too for some reason, at least I think so. Why is HFCS bad again? Because truly sugar is sugar and everything in moderation, right? Yes, true. But not all sugars are equal. And in the case of HFCS, it is a highly processed sweetener made from corn. And just because it's made from corn does not make it "natural" as the Corn Refiners Association would like to make it appear.

To be fair, white sugar is also highly processed. HFCS comes from corn that's been milled, made into a syrup then adjusted with added enzymes. Sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. The plants are crushed to exude their sweet juices, and the juice is allowed to crystallize into a loose crumble. This crumble can be sold as-is, but it is usually washed, allowed to crystallize, and then sold or refined as needed. In the case of white sugar, multiple washings are used, with some sugar refineries even bleaching the sugar to get it as white as possible.

I've done a couple of posts on sugar and HFCS respectively. But I'm revisiting the subject because of a recent petition from the Corn Refiners Association to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup to Corn Sugar. Information and campaigns against HFCS over the years has actually worked and now the association needs to do something to gain the sweetener some acceptance again.

Medium food is definitely synonymous with the "everything in moderation" motto. But it's also an approach to food that requires research and always opting for the best food (within budget) based on that research. I always look for minimally processed items and more importantly, focus on the nutritional impact of the food. Bread, crackers or soup with added sugar in it, HFCS or white sugar, is unnecessary to me. We're getting enough sugar in items that are intentionally sweet, I don't need to serve up more on my son's turkey sandwich.

I skip HFCS all together. I guess you can say the information against it over the years has worked and I just don't want it. The petition to change the name simply reinforces the need to be an educated consumer. Understanding the ingredients lists will arm you with the ability to see through innocent and natural sounding ingredients such as the proposed "corn sugar." If it walks like a... and quacks like a... it's a... - you get it. Let's just stay smart. And let's keep finding the time and energy (that some days we just don't have) to THINK before we buy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The importance of being healthy

Two years ago today I lost one of my best friends. Her name was Lisa and she was truly an amazing person. She embraced life no matter what it threw at her. Even when it threw a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer her way, she "rolled with the punches."

Lisa was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer in 2007, shortly after I had my first baby and right as she turned 40. I will never forget the day she told me. I had made a stop at my mother-in-laws to change and feed Gav, only a handful of weeks old. My cell rang and I was happy to see "Le" pop up on the caller ID. I always enjoyed Le's calls, we could talk for hours. But that day, it was different. Le told me the tests had confirmed it was breast cancer. As the tears started flowing down my face, she said not to worry, it was all going to be okay, she was going to be fine. Le had a knack for turning negatives into positives. It was natural for her and convincing to everyone around her. Being more of a "glass half empty" person, I needed Le in my life. She would always see it half full. Even with breast cancer.

When Le and I met, I was just seeing the light at the end of a very long Post-traumatic Stress Disorder tunnel. In 2001, my husband was diagnosed with stage four non-hodgkins lymphoma. We spent our first wedding anniversary getting his first round of chemotherapy. It was the heaviest thing I'd ever faced. I held up better than I thought I would. We got through each test, each scan, each doctor's appointment, each up and each down - somehow. But a couple of years after cancer, when the doctors told us we could get on with our lives - I lost it. I was overwhelmed with the thought of the cancer coming back, the infertility issues we now faced and the hundreds of other emotions almost losing my husband brought. It sucked.

By the time Le came into my life I could talk about what had happened with perspective. I could also laugh again. Oh and how she could make me laugh! The thing I attribute to my healing the most (next to therapy) is running. I started running to distract myself from obsessing about illness and infertility. To help me NOT think. What it actually did was help me gain perspective, think about the lighter things in life and it made me lighter! I lost 25 pounds. Losing weight always puts a smile on a girl's face. Running, eating well and laughing helped turn myself around (forward), which led to a closer marriage, which led to a baby. A "miracle" baby as Le referred to him.

Eating well is important. So is exercise and mental health. And although everyone, fit or not, is susceptible to illness or other ailments, being healthy gives us a "leg up" in the battle. And it's days like this I am especially reminded of the importance of health and why I make good food a priority for my kids. As well as how I need to apply it to my life consistently again. In the craziness that is my life, I often forget about my nutritional needs and skip out on exercise because "I have no time." But if I don't make time, I'll be ill-equipped to handle even the smallest of challenges let alone something bigger. So here's to Lisa and to making time to partake in the benefits of seeking out good food, fun and balance for my family. May you be inspired to do the same.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Making "less waste" lunches

Gav started preschool yesterday and even though it's only six hours a week with no need to pack a lunch I thought it would be a good time to practice creating healthy, fun and less waste lunches. Waste-free is a little too strong of a term for me right now (I may use plastic wrap or something else now and then that will need to be thrown in the garbage) so I'll stick with "less waste" for the time being.

I've found major inspiration from Melissa at Another Lunch. She makes beautiful and fun bento lunches. I suggest checking her blog out, it's fab. Along with inspiration though, I've now got a major bento bug and can't stop shopping for the perfect lunchboxes. I seriously can't stop... I've already bought a few that I've changed my mind on and continue to find more. I also have a trip to Japantown in SF in the near future planned which I know will result in even more purchases. All this in only a few weeks. I'm in trouble!

Pictured above is a bento-style lunch I made for Gav in honor of his first day at preschool. It was waiting in the fridge for him when we got home. He loved it, especially the car shaped piece of cheese. Oh and he seems to love opening the box. Unlatching the hinges and taking the lid off adds to the fun for him!

I'm new to creating bento lunches so I have a long way to go in the cute and creative categories but so far the boy is digging it. It's such a great medium for making healthy food look more beautiful than it already is and that's especially important for picky little eaters. Bento-style meals fit right into my medium food lifestyle - they're simple to prepare, considerate to the environment, give me a creative outlet and a neat way to showcase my mix of homemade snacks and healthy convenience items. I've also bought boxes for the hubby, baby and me. I'm officially bento crazy!

Medium food for thought: On average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school. (wastefreelunches.org)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Instant pudding

My son asked for some pudding this morning. I knew I had a couple boxes of instant pudding in the cabinet (Trader Joe's brand). As I reached for a box, I wondered what exactly is instant pudding? I hadn't given it much thought before. Pudding isn't something we eat often maybe that's why.

So what is instant pudding? Here's what's on the label(s):

Trader Joe's Chocolate Instant Pudding ingredients: Cane sugar, Modified corn starch, Cocoa powder, Bourbon Vanilla extract, Sodium Pyrophospate and Disodium phospate (for thickening) and Salt.

Jell-O Brand Chocolate Instant Pudding ingredients: Sugar, Food Starch Modified, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Disodium Phosphate, Contains less than 2% of Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Salt, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Mono and Diglycerides, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Color(s) Artificial, BHA used as a preservative.

As I often discover, big brands usually contain more ingredients and more junk. This is another example of that. And to add insult to injury, the junkier pudding costs more: $1.69 vs. 99¢.

Basically instant pudding has thickening agents that make it set quickly. I'm not sure why Jell-O Brand has to muck it up with all the other junk. Jell-O's instant pudding has a long history and was promoted as "busy day desserts" in the 1950's - its got my respect but not enough to eat it. When companies like Trader Joe's offer a cleaner product, there's no reason to buy the other.

With the exception of not being instant, making homemade pudding is suppose to be pretty easy. I admit that I haven't made it from scratch yet. I plan to give it a shot next time Gav requests it. I'll post on how it goes when I do. Meanwhile, I will share a recipe a friend shared with me for homemade instant pudding mix. I will be trying this as well. Although it's not instant in the way a box is (add cold milk, chill then eat) it's quick.

Homemade Chocolate Instant Pudding

3 cups Non-fat dry milk
2.5 cups Unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups Sugar
1 tsp Salt
3 cups Cornstarch

Store in an air-tight container until you're ready to use.

Directions: Add one half cup mix to two cups milk, mix in a saucepan over low heat, and heat and stir constantly until boiling. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When I try it, I plan to use whole cane sugar in place of the white sugar and arrowroot in place of cornstarch. Until then, I won't shy away from instant pudding in a box if I need it and don't suggest you do either but do buy one that doesn't have a bunch of unnecessary yucky ingredients.

Monday, August 30, 2010

These faces make it all worth it

I get stressed out. Way out. Some days the stress gets to me so intensely I feel like checking myself in to the mental ward - for the betterment of my family.

On these particularly stressful days, I often get the urge to not take the time to make my boys the healthiest snacks or the healthiest meals. Instead I feel like reaching for the nearest box of cereal bars or the microwavable mac & cheese. And you know what? Sometimes I do. I am the medium food mama and all. More importantly though, I'm human.

But with that said, watching my boys enjoy one of my homemade snacks as they did this morning, keeps me motivated even in the most stressful times. I know feeding them real food and teaching them the value of it will not only benefit their growing bodies but create a natural propensity for healthy eating. To this day I crave white flour quesadillas and caramel apples over whole meals and fresh fruit; proof that what you grow up on influences your palate - for life.

Yes, we all crave foods that are less than healthy once in a while but some of us more often than others. My husband for instance grew up with no soda and little to no packaged junk in the house, homemade school lunches and family dinners. He has always preferred healthy food. I thought he was kind of a square at first (15+ years ago) especially when he would give me a grossed out look while I nuked a can of Spaghettios for dinner. Oh and the worst was his lack of desire (need) for dessert. What do you mean NO dessert? OMG. This was especially hard in the early days as I didn't want him to think I was a pig or anything. No girl wants her boyfriend to think that. Am I right? The hubby's natural preference for good food and little desire for junk illustrates my point. So does my preference for the opposite.

Don't get me wrong, hubby likes ice cream, chocolate (thank God), pie and the occasional soda but it's very occasional and he prefers it if we make the pie and the soda is not a Pepsi but a Hansen's. That sort of thing. I enjoy eating this way too but it's not without hard work - daily. I still indulge in foods that comfort me more often than I should. My take on it is, they comfort me because that's what my mama fed me. I know it seems hard to believe but I'm convinced that if she had prepared fresh fruit salads as an after school snack, I'd find comfort in fruit salad to this day.

The smiles on my boys faces while they eat something I made and that's good for them, makes this mission so worth it. Also, the knowledge that what and how they eat now will stick with them for a lifetime is an incredible thing to get the honor to influence.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pasta

We love pasta; the hubby is Italian after all. We eat it at least twice a week. For years, we bought whatever kind of pasta was on sale. Then when whole wheat pasta started to gain popularity, we wanted to give it a shot. It was not our favorite. After a few tries, we found the best whole wheat pasta was the specialty brands and definitely not store brands or bargain brands. We would occasionally pick up a box of whole wheat pasta but continued to use traditional pasta regularly.

When Barilla introduced their Plus pasta, I think around 2005, it was the answer to my underdeveloped taste for whole wheat pasta. Barilla Plus tastes great, less harsh than whole wheat and made up of good things. It was a seamless transition from traditional pasta for both my husband and I and it's the pasta Gavin started with.

Uncertain of the time line, to my delight (with a touch of confusion), Barilla Whole Grain showed up on the shelves - right next to Plus. Okay, what's the better choice now? Time to compare.

Barilla Plus ingredients: Semolina, grain and legume flour blend, [grains and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, flaxseed, spelt, barley, oats), egg whites, oat fiber], durum flour, niacin, iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid.

Barilla Whole Grain ingredients: Whole durum wheat flour, semolina, durum wheat flour, oat fiber.

Plus is made with added vitamins, grains and legumes resulting in a multi-grain pasta high in protein and high in fiber with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. The Whole Grain pasta has a straightforward ingredient list which includes whole durum wheat flour resulting in a pasta higher in fiber than Plus with the added benefits of whole grain* and a good source of protein. But keep in mind the whole grain version is still only 50% whole grain not 100%.

As for taste, I/we like both. Plus is less "grainy" but that's not to say Whole Grain is too "grainy" if you know what I mean. They're both pleasant in hot dishes and cold dishes. Upon serving Whole Grain in place of Plus to my three year old, he didn't even bat an eye. Pretty impressive. Both pastas provide better nutrition than traditional pasta. Whether you choose Plus or Whole Grain, you can't go wrong. Or if you have a hard time choosing, like I often do, do what I do and buy both.

As for price, I've found the Whole Grain to be less than Plus. Both are commonly on sale and that's when I stock up. Whole Grain is $1.32 a box and Plus is $1.84 - $2.19, depending on pasta shape (sale prices). I believe the regular price is around $2 - $2.49.

Switching to a multi-grain or an almost whole grain pasta is simple, affordable and healthy. It will deliver extra nutrition and not drastically change the taste of your pasta dishes. My Italian husband and picky three year old both give it a thumbs up, and that's saying something!

*A whole grain is the plant's entire kernel: the protective fiber-rich bran coating, the starchy endosperm, and the nutrient-rich germ. The bran and germ appear to be largely responsible for whole grains' health benefits

Friday, August 27, 2010

The power of advertising

I love advertising and marketing, a sucker for them actually. Guess that makes sense being that I've made a career out of both since 1999. But even long before that I loved package design, ad layouts, funky fonts and good campaigns. I have a particular style of things I prefer of course, we all do, but an attractive and well done display or marketing message even outside my normal style and interests can reel me in - even inspire me.

I happen to love coffee. I brew a pot for me and the hubby every morning and often brew a small pot in the afternoon or make a trip to the coffee shop. I prefer Peet's Coffee but usually end up at Starbucks because it's in a more convenient location. I go back and forth about how I feel about Starbucks. I actually worked there for a brief time in 2005. Working there gave me a little more perspective on the company and ultimately, I'm okay with them. Yes, they were sorta trying to take over the world (maybe still trying), running quite a few smaller cafes out of business and can be terribly inconsistent with the quality of their espresso drinks (a crappy latte can really piss me off). I think the declining quality and consistency at the espresso bar is due to expanding their menu to include things like sandwiches, salads, smoothies, etc. AND the fact that they've created a customer base of picky MF's (excuse my language) that put the barista under so much scrutiny that the result is a half ass drink for the rest of us. Anyway... what was this post about?

Oh yeah, the power of advertising. Starbucks is a great example of powerful branding and convincing marketing. They have nice looking displays, filled with cool looking, reasonably priced products and attractive, perfectly placed signage that brings it all together and inserts a level of trust with the consumer. Especially the coffee and food, they are a cafe after all. I do a decent job of avoiding the pastry case but do occasionally indulge. My son and I actually go there as a treat sometimes for a drink and a piece of banana or pumpkin bread.


While on one of those special trips the other day, I noticed a new design on the bags (pictured at the beginning of this post). On the front, the first statement is "REAL FOOD." Certainly caught my attention so I continued to read. In short, it goes on to say they've removed artificial ingredients from their food and they reiterate their statement on the back of the bag correspondence style using a handwritten font. Did reading the message make me feel better about our snacks? It did actually. And that's the magic of good marketing.

Now is the banana bread any different from the one they were serving prior to the new bags or is it just a new bag? I don't know. Not yet anyway. It certainly looks the same and tastes the same as it did when I worked there in 2005. Have their items always had a fairly clean ingredient list and it's just being highlighted now? Or did their items have a bunch of crap in them and now they don't? I guess if I still worked there, I'd be able to answer these questions. One thing I do know now that I didn't want to and intentionally avoided is the banana bread packs 490 calories! Oh well, everything in moderation.

Clever messages and healthy looking packaging is one of those genius but often deceptive things we have to contend with. I will take the time to uncover the truth behind health statements on packaging and the companies behind them but a lot of people don't. If you've ever read Michael Pollan, you'd know it's likely the more health claims a package lists, the less healthy and more processed it actually is. I still look beyond the box regardless but it is something to be aware of. So next time you see that kraft color, natural looking packet of sugar, package of cookies or dairy with cows grazing in a pasture on the container - examine it, compare it and make the better choice, even if it's not the healthiest looking package.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Recipe: Chocolate Zucchini Bread


This bread came out perfect! Taste, texture and appearance. Yum.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread (adapted from One Ordinary Day)

Ingredients:
1 & 1/2 cups Shredded zucchini
1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/2 cup Whole wheat flour
1/2 cup High quality unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp Baking soda
1/4 tsp Baking powder
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp Ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Canola oil
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Packed brown sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla extract
3/4 cup Bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Peel and shred zucchini. In a large bowl combine oil, sugars and vanilla. Mix in eggs and shredded zucchini. In a separate bowl, sift together flours, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder. Slowly add the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Beat until combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Scrape batter into a greased (I use cooking spray) 9×5x3 loaf pan, and bake for 55 minutes, or until done. Let cool then enjoy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Whole cane sugar

After making a chocolate zucchini bread this morning (recipe to follow), I was inspired to research how I could make it just a little better (e.g. swap whole wheat flour for the white flour, swap something else for the white sugar, etc.) While researching, I found organic whole cane sugar. I actually found it by seeing it in a recipe which led me to a blog post on Simple Organic. This post is very informative, also providing how to substitute brown sugar and powdered sugar.

Sweeteners can get confusing. I actually use an organic "evaporated cane juice" sugar but it's still basically processed white sugar. I assumed it was a slightly better choice than let's say C&H brand sugar? But now that I've found organic whole cane sugar, I'm switching. This sugar is simply dehydrated organically-grown sugar cane. Its crystals remain rich in minerals, trace elements and vitamins. White sugar is highly processed including being cleaned with phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide and then filtered through bone char.

It's easy to be fooled by sweeteners. After reading the post on organic whole cane sugar, I learned that "raw" sugar isn't any better than white sugar either. So grabbing that packet of "sugar in the raw" over the white packet for my hubby's coffee all these years was of no benefit. Oh well. That leads me to the world of misleading packaging and advertising but that's another post.

In terms of price, this is yet again another item that's going to cost us more. But being that we don't use lots of sugar, it won't be hard to incorporate into our budget. I've been paying $2.99 for a 24 oz. package of organic sugar. The best price I found (online) for organic whole cane sugar is roughly $4.35 per 24 oz. package by purchasing it in a bulk pack of six. A six pack would likely last six months or more depending on the time of year and how much I'm baking. You could also split it with a friend, three packs each which would lower the initial spend.

I personally think this is worth the extra couple of dollars. To know me is to know that I am picky about what we spend extra money on so when I think it's worth it, you may too. I bake breads (banana, zucchini, etc.) regularly to replace packaged snacks so improving my recipes with ingredients such as organic whole cane sugar, 100% whole wheat flour and flax seeds is important. I'm serving these to my family on a regular basis, it needs to be full of good stuff.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Comfort of modern life

I think it's fair to say many of us go about our day without giving much thought to life before endless convenience. Partly because, depending on your age, the conveniences have always been there and partly because our lives are so busy.

I won't lie, modern conveniences really help me out and I do rely on many to keep me sane and my kids happy but not all conveniences are created equal. The 24 hour drive-thru on just about every other corner is a perfect example. Food produced for the fast food model is neither health conscious nor environmentally friendly. The biggest problem is how much we underestimate the impact. Whether it's denial or a lack of understanding of how the fast food system works, the masses continue to eat food ordered through a speaker and handed to them through a window.

I'm just going to come out and say it - fast food is not good food and we shouldn't eat it and more importantly, we should not give it to our children. As easy as I know it is to make a quick stop at the drive-thru on the way home, we shouldn't. I'm familiar with the hungry and tired toddler, screaming for food. It's a piercing, worthy of being used as a torture technique, out of control, gonna jump out a window sound, I know, I've been there. Putting an end to the screaming lunatic(s) in the backseat becomes your one and only concern. Okay and maybe fulfilling your now intense need for a McSundae (hello stress relief!) BUT take a deep breath and keep driving.

I'm also familiar with being so tired and broken that the last thing I feel like doing is making dinner. I think it's these occasions that I'm the most vulnerable to giving in to crappy food. But again, skip it! And hey, once upon a time, not too long ago, I stuffed items of the fast food variety down my throat once in a while (one handed, while driving - can we say heartburn?) so I'm not perfect and most definitely not writing from a soapbox. I am only suggesting we think twice before giving in to the fast food convenience for convenience sake.

Taking a few minutes out (kids screaming or not) to pack some snacks for each child AND myself prior to leaving the house is the only way I was able to eliminate the need to stop for substandard eats. I find that bringing more than seems necessary is key, translation: more than one snack per child and not underestimating what I need for myself to get by. Adding a separate lunch bag to my already full arms isn't easy but I've managed to make it work even with carrying a baby, holding a three year old's hand, diaper bag on one shoulder, purse on the other, keys in hand, while walking down stairs. Yes, I'm a sweaty mess by the time we get to the car but that's what deodorant is for, getting my monies worth I suppose.

By the same token, having easy meals in the freezer or fridge for those nights that are sans energy will save you from resorting to (un)happy meals full of mystery meat and "natural flavor." I'm not the most organized person so some nights I struggle but a decently stocked pantry gets me out of trouble on those occasions. A 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, some olive oil and garlic make for a quick and easy red sauce. Add some whole grain boxed pasta and you have a great meal. Ideally, I dream of having homemade casseroles and other homemade whole meals in my freezer that I can just transfer to the oven or microwave. I'll get there.

Bottom line is good nutrition is important and so is the environment. Any steps we can take to eliminate eating low quality fast foods will make a difference.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Good dogs

Gavin is three and has yet to eat a hot dog. I don't prefer hot dogs and neither does my hubby so we don't typically buy them. This is not to say that a hot dog is not the subject of a craving a couple of times a year because it is and not surprisingly during Baseball and BBQ season.

At summer parties, when the grill is almost certain to be filled with hot dogs and hamburgers, we usually prepare by bringing our own meat. Not to offend our hosts but we are pretty serious about the meat we eat.

So, what's in a hot dog? Do we really want to know? Of course we do, we want to know what the heck we're eating right? Okay, here are common hot dog ingredients (from Wikipedia):

Meat by-products (or MSM) and fat
Flavorings, such as salt, garlic, and paprika
Preservatives (cure) - typically sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite

Additional info: In the US, if variety meats, cereal or soy fillers are used, the product name must be changed to "links" or the presence must be declared as a qualifier.

Pork and beef are the traditional meats used in hot dogs. Less expensive hot dogs are often made from chicken or turkey, using low cost mechanically separated poultry. Hot dogs often have high sodium, fat and nitrite content, ingredients linked to health problems. Changes in meat technology and dietary preferences have led manufacturers to use turkey, chicken, vegetarian meat substitutes, and to lower the salt content.

If a manufacturer produces two types of hot dogs, "wieners" tend to contain pork and are blander, while "franks" tend to be all beef and more strongly seasoned.

Please be sure to click on the links, and this one on Meat by-product. And if you've watched the movie Food, Inc., you'll already know a little something about meat by-product/fillers.

Yeah, so I'm pretty comfortable with our choice not to eat the everyday hot dogs at all and only eat high quality versions when the craving hits. Higher quality and organic hot dogs have been available for a long time and have improved over the years. In 2006, organic hot dog sales increased 21%. The demand for real meat hot dogs continue to rise and companies like Let's Be Frank have answered our good dog prayers.

Offering 100% grass-fed beef franks made with beef from local farms and turkey dogs made with turkey from Diestel Family Turkey Ranch, Let's Be Frank is doing it right. They also make a pork bratwurst and Italian sausage. At $7.50 a package (12 oz.), it's a splurge but if you're like us and only buy hot dogs every once in a while, the cost isn't an issue. Let's Be Frank is local to me but if they're not to you, I'm confident there are similar options in your area.

Throw one of these on a whole grain bun with whatever toppings you like and enjoy. It's a dog you can feel good about eating and giving to your little ones. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Fruit" snacks


Fruit snacks, a.k.a. gummies, are a favorite among the toddler+ crowd. They're sweet and have a fun texture, most kids want them, including mine. I didn't let Gav try gummies until he turned three (my anxiety about choking again) and, not surprisingly, he liked them.

I know that regardless of which brand, organic or not, gummies are not a nutritional snack. I consider them more of a candy. And although my goal is to opt for real foods and foods with a decent nutritional profile, a candy or another sugary processed treat every once in a while is simply unavoidable. Whether out and about or while at a friend's house, my kids are going to be exposed to and offered all sorts of junk food.

Medium food is about a little compromise. If the boys want gummies, I'll find the best ones and let them have some but it won't be a regular thing. My hope is that the real food and healthy snacks I prepare them 80% of the time is what they'll prefer and the occasional junk food indulgence will be enough not to feel deprived or different than everyone else. Funny how there's an element of peer pressure around food. Remember the kid with the sandwich on brown bread and a piece of fruit in his lunch box? He certainly never had to worry about anyone wanting to move in on his lunch.

In regards to the best gummies to buy, read the label. My finding is (once again), the organic versions are consistently made up of much better ingredients and don't contain things like Yellow #5 or Red #40. The least amount of fake stuff the better. Prices are a little higher for the organic ones but they do go on sale and become comparable. Price range: Organic $3.99 to $4.99; Non Organic $2.79 to $3.79.

Tasty Brand organic fruit snacks ingredients: Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Tapioca Syrup Solids, Organic White Grape Juice Concentrate, Pectin, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Color Added (Black Carrot Juice Concentrate, Turmeric, Annatto), Natural Flavors, Sodium Citrate, Organic Sunflower Oil, Carnauba Wax.

Kellogg's fruity snacks ingredients: Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Yellow #5, Red #40, Sodium Citrate, Blue #1.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"All Natural"

We so often see the claim "all natural" on food packaging. A few years back I contacted Snapple about their all natural claims and not surprisingly, they blew me off. The email said something like "Our ingredients meet the necessary requirements to be labeled all natural. If you're looking for something without sugar, we offer a Black & White tea." Hu? Um, okay. I wasn't looking for a sugar free beverage but one that was really all natural. Clearly they didn't have one.

I think we're all aware that claims on products are governed by a very loose set of standards and so much of it is not what it seems. It's our responsibility to look beyond what the box says and in the case of Ben & Jerry's, beyond the pint. I read the following article and was not surprised. However, I was surprised to find out they are owned by Unilever. I had no idea.

Ben & Jerry's making bogus 'all natural' claims, food watchdog says

It's not that I thought they were still the small company they started out as but I guess their marketing has done a great job maintaining that small company feel and I still sorta pictured Ben & Jerry making the ice cream. I know, impossible but still a nice thought.

Anyhow, the point to this post is "all natural" really doesn't mean "all natural." Things that are really all natural don't usually need to be labeled as such. There is so much competition in the food industry and I understand the pressure to make these seemingly harmless claims to make us feel better about buying the product but if they're not true, it's no longer harmless.

Also, regarding Ben & Jerry's specifically, we pay more for their specialty, "all natural" product. But why? If the ingredients are similar to those in a bargain ice cream, what are we paying for? Most definitely not higher quality ingredients but certainly the irresistible and unique flavors no one else offers us. Genius.

We do have other options though. Making our own is likely the most economical and certainly gives us the most control over ingredients or there are ice cream companies that are using quality ingredients, we just need to take a closer look. And remember, everything in moderation. Whether a pint of Ben & Jerry's or a bowl of homemade ice cream, it's all good - in moderation.

B&J Cake Batter ingredients: Cream, Skim Milk, Water, Liquid Sugar (Sugar, Water), Sugar, Wheat Flour, Coconut Oil, Egg Yolks, Soybean Oil, Butter (Cream, Salt), Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Chocolate Liquor, Natural Flavor, Salt, Guar Gum, Soy Lecithin, Turmeric (Color), Carrageenan

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ketchup

Ketchup is one of those items that most people don't think twice about. We just grab a bottle, likely the one on sale and go about our shopping. Ketchup is just ketchup, right? No, actually.

Most big brand and private label ketchup contain corn syrup. This ingredient is in so many products - too many. I don't find it necessary. Of course I'm not an expert but logic says if there are like products made without it then it can't be necessary. Also, I have to wonder why the big brands use it and why the more "natural" brands don't.

Now in regards to price, it varies. Annie's Naturals is around $4 compared to Heinz at under $3. But there are other options that fall within a reasonable price for ketchup. Whole Foods sells a great choice for under $3. I'm certain natural food stores in other areas also have options.

Next time you're in need of ketchup, spend a little time reading the labels and comparing the choices. You'll see some differences and be able to make the choice that's best for your family (and your budget of course!)

Heinz ketchup ingredients: Tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, and natural flavors.

Annie's Naturals ketchup ingredients: Water, tomato paste, sugar, distilled white vinegar, sea salt, onion powder, allspice, clove powder.

Medium Food Mama finding: Did you know Annie's Homegrown and Annie's Naturals are sister companies and marketed separately? At first glance, it seems Annie's Homegrown is the more "commercial" brand and offers lots of packaged items. Annie's Naturals is more salad dressings and condiments - pretty much how the company started.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Recipe: Miscellaneous Pasta

Last night I found myself without a firm dinner plan. So I improvised and the result was pretty darn good. We had some leftover rotisserie chicken from the night before, it was a perfect addition to the sauce.

Miscellaneous Pasta

2 tablespoons Olive oil
1/2 cup Onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup Carrots, finely chopped
1/2 cup Celery, finely chopped
1 can Whole peeled tomatoes (28 oz.)
Salt
1 to 2 cups leftover chicken
Box of whole grain rotini pasta (I used Barilla)

In a large sauce pan saute onions, carrots and celery in olive oil until soft, about five minutes. Meanwhile throw tomatoes (and juice) in blender to puree. Add tomatoes to pan. Stir and salt to taste. Let simmer 30 minutes on medium low heat. Stir in leftover chicken. Lower heat to simmer.

Cook pasta per package directions, drain and add to tomato sauce. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and serve with french bread. A salad would make a great starter but I didn't have any lettuce!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Flavored water

I had a hard time sleeping last night because of something I read about. It was an article published almost two months ago that I didn't stumble upon until yesterday. It was about high levels of lead found in a long list of food and drinks for children. The most irritating part, besides the lead of course, is some of the brands implicated. Brands such as Earth's Best Organic, 365 Organic and Trader Joe's Organic. I pay more for the organic versions of juice because I want the best for my son. I know organic doesn't always mean better (i.e. processed foods, etc.) but I think it's normal to have a certain expectation with the organic label when it comes to fruits, vegetables and food that is made specifically for our little ones.

I owe my restless night specifically to Trader Joe's and their Organic Apple Juice. I have been giving Gavin this apple juice since he turned one. That's roughly two and a half years. Yeah, I know, juice isn't the best thing to give kids on a regular basis... we have always put half water half juice but he has it practically everyday. To think that I've been happily handing over a sippy cup of lead laced apple juice to my son for over two years makes me a little sick and has me considering a doctor's appointment to have his lead levels checked.

This serves as a reality check for me. First, less juice for Gavin. Second, I will not feel bad about researching and researching and researching some more the food and drink we give to our kids. Because honestly, some people look at me like I'm crazy sometimes because I won't let my kids have a Happy Meal, a Ball Park frank (or any other who knows what filled casing), a can of Spaghetti-O's, or non-organic and/or non-local produce. Peer pressure among parents is fierce and comparable to high school peer pressure - seriously. And finally, my passion to seek out and share alternatives to common items to help all of us not feel so darn helpless has been reinforced tenfold.

Now on to a related recent find. I love Jamie Oliver. My husband and I have watched him since The Naked Chef days. I'm a follower of his Food Revolution movement and recommend checking it out if you haven't already. I also follow his tweets (@jamie_oliver) and that's how I was turned on to his flavored water recipes.

I think flavored water is a great alternative to juice. I particularly like the orange and berry suggestions. I think Gavin will dig it. I pay between $3.49 and $3.99 for a gallon of juice (no extra charge for the lead). We have a Brita water pitcher and the fruit we'll need to buy weekly is likely going to be the same cost of juice. Both my husband and I have wanted to cut back on Gavin's juice consumption for a while now so I guess stumbling upon the article on lead was the push we needed to make the change.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reflecting with chorizo


Today is my birthday. I woke up feeling loved. How could I not being sandwiched between my boys and being handed a cup of coffee in bed by the hubby? Of course, birthdays aren't what they once were. You know the "It's my birthday, I'm gonna do whatever I want all day then go out for drinks and fun with my friends all night" kinda thing? It's become more like this:

Hubby: Good morning, happy birthday honey. Love you.
Me: Thanks honey.
Hubby: I still need a sandwich for lunch... I'd love some avocado on it. (Walks into bathroom to take shower)
Gavin: (After being reminded sweetly by daddy and ushered out of the bathroom) Happy birthday mommy!
Me: Awwww, thank you baby.
Gavin: I think you should get a puppy for your birthday.
Me: Oh really? I'm not sure the cats would appreciate that but it's a great suggestion.
Gavin: Mommy, I want cookies.
Me: Okay sweetie, I'll see what I can do (as I unhinge my right side from my sleeping baby and head to the kitchen to make that sandwich.)

Although birthdays are no longer any different from any other day, I wouldn't change it for the world. I have a beautiful family - a gift I always wished and hoped for.

Feeling a bit nostalgic even amongst the ordinary tasks, I whipped up some scrambled eggs and chorizo! It just so happened we picked up a package of turkey chorizo over the weekend. Growing up with a Mexican mama, chorizo and eggs was a very common breakfast. I can still smell it... the aroma coming into the living room while laying on the floor in front of the TV. I can recall the smell of all of my mom's signature meals, they were that good. Of course, the chorizo and eggs of my childhood was certainly not turkey chorizo nor local eggs. It was pork, from well, who knows where and eggs from Lucky's. Lady Lee brand, I think?

So how did my breakfast compare to my mom's? Minus being made by my mom (makes everything taste better) it was a darn good meal. The turkey chorizo was made by Diestel, a family turkey ranch in Sonora, CA. It was very flavorful and nailed the spices and look of traditional chorizo. If you like chorizo, I highly recommend trying this. It is lower in fat than traditional sausage and is made by a farm you can feel great about. Price: $3.99

Ingredients: Ground turkey, spices, wine vinegar, sea salt, granulated garlic and onion powder.

What dishes did you love as a kid? Have you recreated it and/or made a healthier version? I'd love to know!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Homemade Uncrustables

Everybody, at least people with young children or people that love PB&J sandwiches, knows what an Uncrustable is. I discovered them when my first niece hit the PB&J age. At first glance (eight or so years ago), I thought "how clever." And being a recovering calorie counter (calories over nutrition that is), I started buying them for myself. Super convenient 210 calorie snack. I never thought twice about what was in them until Gav started to dig PB&J sandwiches. Here's what's in the Smucker's Uncrustables (Strawberry):

BREAD: Unbleached whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, yeast, dough conditioners (distilled monoglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, enzymes [with amylase, lipase, ascorbic acid, calcium peroxide, azodicarbonamide, wheat starch]). PEANUT BUTTER: Peanuts, dextrose, sugar, contains 2% or less of: partially and fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (soybean and/or cottonseed and/or rapeseed), salt, molasses, mono and giglycerides (palm and/or soybean oils). STRAWBERRY JAM: Strawberries, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, contains 2% or less of: pectin, citric acid, potassium sorbate (preservative).

Highly processed junk. As convenient as they are, I'd rather Gavin (and eventually Logan) not eat them. That's not to say I don't think the little circles of PB&J aren't adorable, because I do, so I decided to make my own.


(the stage. yes, that's a wine glass)


(the filling)


(cutting out the shape)


(the cute little PB&J)

I was pretty impressed but did run into a few issues. First, I realized a tablespoon of peanut butter and a tablespoon of jam was too much. The perfect amount ended up being a 1/2 tablespoon of each. Next, getting it out of my makeshift cutter (aka wine glass) was a little less than easy. Finally, upon flipping it over, the bread was torn in a few spots. So I decided to break out the rolling pin and flatten the bread slices first.


(what a big difference)


(the final product)

Even though my "uncrustables" don't have the cute little crimp pattern on the edge, they deliver in taste and nutrition. LaLa's Portable PB&J ingredients:

BREAD: Stone ground whole wheat flour, filtered water, honey, cracked wheat, sea salt, fresh yeast, whey (milk protein). PEANUT BUTTER: Dry roasted peanuts, salt. ORGANIC REDUCED SUGAR APRICOT PRESERVES: Organic apricots, organic sugar, water, fruit pectin, citric acid, calcium chloride.

I put each one in a small freezer bag and stacked them in the freezer. Give them 30 minutes on the counter (in the bag) and they're ready to eat.

Overall, these are a cinch to make and fun too. I'll definitely be making more. I'll also pick up a large cookie cutter to make that part a little easier. :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bread, again.

While shopping this evening with my oldest son Gavin, I discovered a new bread option. Call me obsessed -- it's okay, because I am. In line with my mission to feed my family the best food our money can buy, I'm constantly reading labels, researching brands, ingredients and prices. I love it when it results in a find that has an acceptable ingredients list and a price point that fits into our budget.

Trader Joe's Harvest Whole Wheat ingredients: Stone ground whole wheat flour, filtered water, honey, cracked wheat, sea salt, fresh yeast, whey (milk protein).

Seven ingredients, not bad at all. Our favorite bread (that we can't afford to buy on a regular basis) has five ingredients. The cracked wheat and whey are the two additional ingredients. I'll be using this loaf to make a bunch of french toast to freeze (Gavin's favorite) but will pick up another (they only had one left) next week to use for hubby's sandwiches. Price: $2.49.

I know not every area has a Trader Joe's but there's likely a smaller type market you can check out for items like the Harvest Whole Wheat bread.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Understanding grains

I wanted to share a very informative post I read this morning from a blog I like a lot, The Food Illusion. Lisa covers grains perfectly. It's a must read!

Link to post:
Understanding grains (corn, wheat, multi-grain, etc.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happy Baby


With a 10 month old, handy and age appropriate snacks are a must. This medium food mama will definitely not be making her own puffs or freeze dried yogurt snacks. But I'll buy the best I can find and afford.

My first son didn't get the pleasure of these sorts of snacks due entirely to my anxiety about choking. Sorry Gav! So a few months back was my first time doing extensive research on convenience snacks for baby.

After looking at my choices at the stores in my area, I landed on Happy Baby. Gerber has an organic line but only their baby food, not their snacks. I was never a big fan of Gerber anyhow but Earth's Best Organic, the brand I am a fan of, didn't offer snack items like puffs just teething biscuits. Although, Happy Baby was really my only choice in regards to puffs specifically, they're good stuff. They contain good ingredients and the price is right. I've found Happy Baby products at Target, Whole Foods and Babies R Us. Price: $2.99.

Happy Baby ingredients: Organic rice, organic whole oats, organic wheat, organic apple juice concentrate, organic whole grain brown rice, organic wheat starch, organic spinach, organic collard greens, organic kale.

Gerber ingredients: Rice flour, whole grain oat flour, wheat starch, wheat flour, sugar, apple powder, tri- and dicalcium phosphate, mixed tocopherols(for freshness), natural flavor, zinc sulfate, alpha tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), electrolytic iron, soy lecithin, cinnamon, red cabbage extract color, purple carrot extract color.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bread in a pinch

Today the boys and I made a stop at Target for a couple of things. Walking past the bread aisle I remembered we were out of bread, hubby went to work without his sandwich today. Bread is an item I've talked about before (in my Priorities post). We have a favorite from Great Harvest but simply can't afford to buy it on a regular basis.

If you have a Target that sells groceries, it likely has a pretty overwhelming bread section. I spent a while looking at the choices and landed on Nature's Pride 100% Whole Wheat. There's a lot of nutrition claims on the bag but it was the best one I came across. It was $2.79.

After doing my research, I found Nature's Pride is made by Interstate Bakeries Corporation, most known for Wonder Bread. I remember Wonder Bread, a staple in my house growing up. And yes, the white kind. I appreciate the strategy behind the Nature's Pride branch of the company but at the end of the day, I feel better about buying from other, less large bakeries and bread with less ingredients. In a pinch though, this is what I bought.

Nature's Pride ingredients: Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, brown sugar, yeast, contains 2% or less of: wheat bran, soybean oil, cultured wheat flour, salt, molasses, sugar, honey, raisin juice concentrate, vinegar, cultured corn solids, yeast extract, soy lecithin, soy flour, whey.

Great Harvest ingredients: Fresh-ground whole-wheat flour, filtered water, fresh yeast, salt, honey.

Wonder Wheat ingredients: Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).

Clear why we aspire to afford bread from Great Harvest, huh? Every time I write out ingredients lists, it reminds me why I strive to reduce highly processed foods from my family's diet. Making it ourselves would be the ultimate... I look forward to comparing the cost of making it vs. buying Great Harvest. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coffee

To know me is to know I love coffee. So does my husband. And for that reason, I'm doing a post on coffee. Coffee is an item that varies in price quite a bit. Excluding the rarer coffees, the typical range is $3.99 to $14.99.

I'm a little picky about coffee but also concerned about price. My husband recently picked up a bag of coffee while at Whole Foods, Allegro French Roast and I must admit, it was a very delicious brew. I found myself craving it but it just isn't something we can buy weekly because at $11.99 a bag, it's about five bucks more than we budget for. What we usually buy is a can of Trader Joe's Whole Bean Sumatra or French Roast for $4.99. Sometimes, completely out of convenience, we buy a bag of Starbucks from Target. That usually costs $6.99 (on sale). And in a moment of weakness a few weeks back, I bought the Giada De Laurentiis branded coffee for $6.49. Bad choice. It lacked body and flavor, no matter how strong I tried to make it. I can only assume it's made by the company that makes Target's Market Pantry coffee? Haven't been able to confirm the source.

Trader Joe's also offers a ground french roast for $3.99. It was good the first time I bought it but after buying/brewing it two weeks in a row, it wasn't doing it for me. The fact is the coffee we love like Allegro or Peet's are items we can't buy regularly. Luckily, with the whole bean varieties at Trader Joe's we don't have to sacrifice taste for affordability.

Where do you buy your coffee? Any suggestions on affordable options?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oatmeal

My son loves oatmeal, we all love oatmeal actually. I know instant oatmeal has a bad rap but I still have some in the cabinet. Along side the longer cooking oats actually. I never thought about differences like instant oatmeal being pre-cooked versus old-fashioned oats not being cooked (although that isn't exactly true) but rather the higher sugar and sodium content and other miscellaneous additives the little packets contained.

The reality is, instant oatmeal is an okay choice. It's a good "medium food" to have around. But there is one caveat: Read the ingredients. This is my rule with any packaged food. The best choice for instant oatmeal is plain or regular. It is nutritionally similar to old-fashioned oats. Although, I do buy Cinnamon Spice for my son and while I typically eat the longer cooking oats, I add a tablespoon of brown sugar, a tablespoon of walnuts or pecans and blueberries or bananas. So with this in mind, how do the stats compare? Well in regards to sugar, the flavored instant has 13 grams per serving and the bowl I make has 12 grams. But unless I'm pressed for time, I'd still opt for stove top oatmeal.

Controlling what's in our food whenever possible is always my goal even in my medium food life. Instant oatmeal is fine but oatmeal is one of those foods that is fairly easy to make yourself. As always, I do my best. Some mornings I can be seen serving up a bowl of instant to the family but more often the little packets stay in the cabinet.

Country Choice Organic Old Fashioned Oats ingredients: Organic whole grain rolled oats.

Trader Joe's Organic Cinnamon Spice Instant Oatmeal: Organic rolled oats, organic dehydrated cane juice solids, organic cinnamon, organic spices, sea salt.