Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My most favorite food product!

Here is another organic food favorite I have to share with you. This one is pretty popular and widely sold in grocery stores so you have probably seen, tried, and already eaten this. But since this is the most consumed (aside from milk) organic food item in our house, I have to add my own raves. It is:

Stonyfield Organic Yogurt

Aside from it being healthy and organic, I love this product for many reasons. 
~ It is delicious; especially my personal favorite, low-fat strawberry. Seriously, you have to try it. It tastes so good, I can never go back to eating that other kind (you know, the one that starts with "Yo" and ends with "plait").
~ It costs around $3.59 for a large, 32oz container, which is the most economic choice. It also comes in 6oz cups, 4-pack small cups for babies and toddlers, and squeezable sticks. They really have a large variety of yogurts (and other dairy products but I haven't tried all of them yet). 
~ If you go to their website and register, you can print off TONS of 0.50 off coupons. Which means if you shop at Kroger (or other stores that double coupons), you can get $1 off!
~ There are codes on the lids which you can put in under the "Stonyfield rewards" section of their website:
These points can be redeemed for all kinds of free things. I have gotten free yogurt, milk, cereal, granola bars, and magazine subscriptions. I am a fan of free things. :-)
~ This is a pretty neat company also. They are very pro-health and knowing what is in your food, anti-GMO food, and work with family farms. Their website always makes me kinda want a cow (yes, I want chickens AND a cow).

There are also many ways I use yogurt! These are my favs:
~ My girls love a bowl of yogurt for a snack, sometimes by itself or with fruit, crackers, or pretzels. 
~ In the summer time, I fill popsicle molds with 1 or 2 different flavors of yogurt and freeze them. My kids think they are the BEST popsicle treats ever! It is a healthier and cheaper option than store bought popsicles, not to mention very quick and easy.
~ I substitute yogurt for part of the milk portion called for in recipes of things like pancakes, waffles, muffins, and even biscuits. Plain yogurt and milk is a great substitute for buttermilk. 
~ It makes for really yummy smoothies. I blend up 1 banana, a couple scoops of any flavor yogurt (plain is good to keep the sugar level down), about 3/4 cup orange juice, and then about 1-2 cups of frozen fruit. This is also a favorite treat for my kids and is often a special dessert treat after dinner. 

The one negative I have to say for the low-fat flavored yogurts like strawberry or French vanilla, is the sugar content. The strawberry has 34 grams of sugar and vanilla has 28 grams but this is because they use real sugar and not artificial sweeteners. However, this is for a 1 cup serving portion, which my kids usually don't eat that much in one sitting. Also, I will mix half plain and half flavored in their snack bowls which decreases the sugar amount and they don't even notice.

There are soooo many health benefits to yogurt! Hope you and your family like to eat it and will try this organic version if you haven't done so already!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A good egg

If you thought choosing a healthy juice was tough, have you been down the egg aisle? There are so many varieties that eggs come in: white, brown, cage free, organic, free range, grain fed, vegetarian fed, extra omega 3, green eggs & ham (sorry, these are only available at Dr. Seuss' grocery store).

What is the healthiest & safest type to eat?!

First of all, let me clarify that a whole, real, out-of-the-shell egg is very healthy. Eggs are full of vitamins, proteins, and antioxidants. They do have cholesterol in them, however, the ones with higher amounts of omega 3's reportedly have lesser amounts of cholesterol. As always though, moderation and common sense are key. Finding a reputable, informative source on eggs and chickens turned out to be more difficult than boiling the perfect hard boiled egg (confession: I am completely lacking in this cooking skill). So that is why there is not my usual collection of links in this post; this is a summary of the wide variety of articles I came across. You may want to visit Mr. Google if there is a particular type of egg you want to know more about.

Color: Brown or white eggs just mean they come from white or red chickens; there is no nutritional difference. Even though "brown" foods are usually the better choice - brown rice, wheat bread, wheat pasta, chocolate (I said "better" not "healthier" ;) - this is not the case with eggs!

Standard: Your regular, plain eggs are just that; nothing extra or special to them. From what I have gathered, these chickens are in very tight quarters with less than a square foot of space per chicken. Unless they are caged, (see below section on cage-free and link to Eggland's Best) this is concerning because the closely packed chickens are more likely to catch illnesses and diseases. 

Cage Free & Free Range: While these labels are regulated for chicken, it is not regulated by the FDA for eggs. So the terms can mean that there is an open door in the chicken coop for the chickens to go outside only if they can get to the door. Some companies do specify what type of environment the chickens are in (such as Kroger's Simple Truth brand or Eggland's Best cage free varieties) so you have to read the packaging if this is an important egg quality to you. Eggland's Best also has some good information on their site with more about caged vs. cage free. It was interesting to read.

Organic: These chickens are fed only USDA organic certified feed and it has to follow all of the regulations set forth. Most of the articles I have come across state that there is no nutritional difference in these eggs but is the more environmentally friendly option. I found it interesting that it was mentioned several places about there not being any evidence of pesticides and such crossing into eggs (or there being any harm in this...supposedly) but that chickens fed the high omega 3 content produced eggs with high levels of this good nutrient. How do pesticides and preservatives not cross into eggs but omega 3's are able to? Not sure about that but I am no eggspert. 

Grain & Vegetarian Fed: I think this type of egg can fall into the same "health myth" as brown eggs. It sounds like it would be healthier, right? The problem is, chickens are omnivores and eat vegetables, grains, and meat. They really shouldn't be vegetarians because that is not how chickens were made. Also, these chickens are fed a lot of soy feeds and soy is a very common GMO food.

High in Omega 3: I mentioned this a little above but these chickens are fed a diet high in this important nutrient and it boosts this component of the eggs. These eggs are the most nutrient dense. I am thinking about switching to this type for our family as the most cost saving and healthy option. We might splurge on organic or the next type of egg occasionally though.  

Pasture raised: This would be my personal first choice of eggs. These chickens are allowed to roam around on a farm or field environment and fed healthy chicken diets. I picture these chickens being like the ones from Babe or the scene in Cinderella where she is out singing and happy little chickens come running to her. Happy chickens must lay happy eggs, right? Actually, I did read  that these did have the best nutritional content. Unfortunately, these are not always the most readily available or cheapest (our farmer's market sold them for about $3.50-$4/dozen during the summer).

That concludes the egg carton vocabulary lesson! 
Now, anyone want to go into farming with me to raise some egg laying chickens?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Just for fun: scrap paper artwork

This has nothing to do with all natural or organic food. There is nothing about pesticides or preservatives either. But this was fun {and cheap} so I thought I'd share.

I wanted something new to put over our fireplace. But I have really expensive Pottery Barn~Land of Nod~Restoration Hardware kind of expensive so finding something I would like AND could afford was highly unlikely. So I used some things I had around and came up with this:

I think I like how it turned out ~ very clean & simple:

 Although, I kinda think it needs a pretty wooden frame but that defeats the whole cheap artwork plan. It was super easy and cheap to make. Here is what you need:
~ Canvas {this one is 16x20, purchased in a package of two from Michael's on sale and with a 40% off coupon. I think it ended up being around $2 for each canvas}
~ Mod Podge
~ Paper {such as scrapbook or wrapping paper, pretty paper bags or note cards, old book pages, etc}
~ Pencil, scissors, pattern, and printed words, name or verse

I didn't take pictures as I made it because it was one of those make-it-up-as-you-go projects and I wasn't so sure how it would turn out. Basically, I just decided my design and cut bits of paper out to make the branches, then the leaves, and then the little birds. I had seen something on Pinterest with this shape bird and thought it was cute. 

Once I had laid out the cut-outs how I wanted, I secured all the pieces to the canvas with a dab of mod podge to the backs using a small paint brush.

The letters were the most time consuming. I typed up the verse in a font I liked and printed this out on a sheet of paper. 

 I followed this tutorial (scroll down towards the end of the page to get to the tracing part) to trace the letters. So the back of my sheet of paper looked like this from the pencil rubbings: 

I ended up using a pencil for the letters and to make the beaks & eyes for the birds. I liked that look but a colored pen to fill in the letters would be pretty too if you want it colorful. 
The last step is to "paint" the entire canvas over with the mod podge. It makes it shiny and seals all the paper down.

I am thinking about making some more of these canvas pictures for each of my kid's names and maybe something with old book pages. There are so many variations you could do. Technically, this could have something to do with organic living I guess...if you save money by making your own artwork, you can buy more healthy food? Okay, maybe that's a bit stretching the connection...

Stay tuned next week...I think we'll talk about chickens ~ the ones that lay eggs, not the fried and crispy kind :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sodium Nitrate

What is Sodium Nitrate? Also known as Sodium Nitrite, it is a preservative used in meat and is poisonous.

What is it used in? It is used in all types of processed meats: hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage, pepperoni and bacon, for instance. Just for fun, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found some other uses: "Sodium nitrate may be used as a constituent of fertilizers, pyrotechnics and smoke bombs, glass and pottery enamels, as a food preservative and a solid rocket propellant." I guess if you get tired of ham sandwiches, the sodium nitrate laden meat can be used to make explosives? Fabulous.

Why is it not so great for you? Well, if the above section does not convince you that such an all-in-one food product couldn't possibly be good for you, here is what some research has found. The National Institutes of Health published an article last year showing the connection between processed meat (i.e. hot dogs, bacon, lunch meat) and colorectal cancers. There have been numerous studies showing the connection between consumption of red meat and this cancer but this study showed the connection specifically with the processed meats. There are a lot of research studies out there but this article summed of the gist of them well. I recall reading somewhere (can't remember where now!) about how there was an attempt to have Sodium Nitrate removed as a food preservative in 2005, but that a large group of meat lobbyist had it disbanded.

What to do? Thankfully, you don't have to give up bacon or summer hot dog roasts! There are several brands (non organic) that carry sodium nitrate/nitrite free bacon, lunch meat, and hotdogs. Of course, any organic meats will not have the preservative in them. Although we do not eat processed meats very often, the organic options are too expensive for our budget so these are the alternatives I have found for our family:

Hormel lunchmeat - the website & Sunday paper occasionally has coupons and Kroger will put on sale for around  $3/12 oz:

Oscar Mayer  also carries lunch meat, as well as bacon and hotdogs that are nitrate free. They can be expensive when not on sale (bacon & hotdogs run around 5.99/pack) but with sale and coupons, it is reasonable ($3-$4 or less) and I will get several to stock up in the freezer. 

Aidells brand carries sausages that are nitrate free and taste really good.

Companies produce what the consumer buys. Maybe one day people will become more knowledgeable about what is in their foods and stop buying these foods that cause diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. Or maybe the FDA will ban it completely. Highly unlikely but at least I can read labels and keep the explosive, fertilizing, pottery enamel substance out of my fridge!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Valentine's Day Treat

Since the Valentine's Day holiday is quickly approaching, I thought I would share my favorite {healthier} cookie recipe with a red & white twist to them.

Valentine Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups quick oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

I didn't want the cranberries and chips to be too chunky (I like food to have even proportions for each bite...I have issues) so I chopped them with my chopper before adding:

~Beat together butter and sugars until fluffy.
~Add eggs and vanilla, mix well.
~Combine next 5 ingredients and add to mixture, beating well.
~Stir in oats, then cranberries and chocolate chips. 
~Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. 
~Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes. Makes 4 to 5 dozen. 

Making cookies is fun for the kiddos too!

Any cookies that will not be eaten in the next 2 or 3 days, be sure to put in a container in the freezer. Whenever you need fresh cookies, fill up your cookie jar with the frozen ones (sometimes this also helps you to avoid eating the entire batch of cookies in one day....sometimes). 

Don't have time to do dozens of individual cookies? Press the dough into a greased 13 x 9 baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden brown. Then cut into bars once it has cooled. 

{Happy Valentine's Day!}

Friday, February 3, 2012

My juice conundrum

Lately, I have been trying to decide what is the "safest" juice to drink. We don't have much variety in the way of grocery stores here so I am pretty limited to what is available at the local Kroger. I have tried their brand of organic apple juice a few times but it costs almost $4 AND the apples aren't even from the U.S.! I had been getting the 100% juice varieties with no added sugar because we drink very little juice anyway (which I dilute with water as well). Juice really has no nutritional value when compared to actual fruit - it just tastes good :)

I like to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines on juice:
~ Not recommended under 6 months of age
~ 6 months-1 yr can give sparingly but has no nutritional benefits
~ Children ages 1-6 years old should have no more than 4-6oz a day (4oz is half a cup)
~ Children ages 7-18 years should be limited to 8-12oz per day

Over the past few months, there has been a lot in the news about arsenic in apple juice. Did you see the Dr. Oz show that was all about poison being in children's drinks? I had heard about the episode and what they had found. Then I read the report published by Consumer Reports where they had conducted their own study on several different types and brands of juice. They found some pretty concerning results as far as the levels of arsenic in juice - especially grape juice! As if that was concerning enough, I had started noticing the fine print on the bottles of juice. Some had, "Concentrate from fruit produced in Chile" or, my favorite, "Apples from China, Mexico, and/or USA." China? Isn't that the country that makes plastic kids toys with lead? There was another article on the web recently as well, about orange juice concentrate being stored in huge tanks for months and months and losing all of the flavor which requires the addition of flavor packs and on and on...

Bottom line is, none of it sounds very appealing, healthy, or safe! 

So I have been pondering what our family should do:
1} Only drink water, and milk for the kids - boring
2} Start an orchard and press my own juice - takes too long and I'm pretty sure orange trees don't grow in Virginia
3} Find out if China puts arsenic in their juice - don't care to converse with China and wouldn't really believe them if they said no anyway

In other words, I'm still undecided. But I think I will give this juice a try, even though it is a little expensive:

What is your favorite juice to give your family?