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).


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. (

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.