put your money where your mouth is

I was at Costco this morning and wowzers what a selection of packaged convenience foods! I wondered to myself if it really costs more to buy healthy snacks vs. packaged snacks? Not really. Costco’s Banana Chocolate Chip Loaves (individually wrapped, single-serving snacks in a box) cost 35 cents each, while the kiwis worked out to 32 cents per fruit. Granted, more often than not, chips, pretzels or candy do cost more than, say, organic yogurt or raw nuts. But for me it’s not a tough decision where to put my money, and I’m not the money-spending type. In fact, I don’t like spending money. Ask my closet. My wardrobe is so sparse that I have a friend who constantly gives me her old clothes when she’s done with them. I think she feels sorry for me because I don’t generally buy new clothes until mine have holes in embarrassing places.

But I will spend more on food because to me, what goes into our bodies is infinitely more important that what goes onto our bodies. This means buying less packaged food with ingredients that you either can’t pronounce or never heard of. It means buying more produce and putting a bit more effort into planning kids lunches and family dinner. This might not be what you want to hear, but this might be what you need to do, if you want to help your kids develop healthy eating habits when they’re young.

In 2009 Americans spent about 13% of their income on food, compared to almost 30% in the 1950s. It could be time to switch from spending less and eating more, to spending more and eating less. And not just that: spend more on fruits and vegetables! It amazes me that my modern-day fridge has such a teeny little space for produce. If you open my fridge now, you’ll see that the fruits and veggies have taken over. They will not, under any circumstances, remain confined to their puny little “designated drawers” down below. (regrettably, they don’t seem to realize that when they spill out of their designated drawers some of them tend to get frozen because the fridge wasn’t built for cilantro to go on the top shelf). Even our fridges were built to allow a certain percentage of produce and the rest other stuff. What is this “other stuff”, I wonder? And why aren’t more people complaining that fridges don’t have enough room for produce?

Fresh produce sometimes costs more than convenience snacks. As do whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, wild and brown rice, steel cut oats, etc. But you get what you pay for. Spending more on quality wholesome foods might cost more, but you only have one body. It makes sense to me that taking care of this body should be a priority. There’s no sense in spending so much on stuff and activities if you’re not healthy enough to enjoy them. But do your research because there are many ways to save money while maintaining a healthy diet (like eat less meat, buy in bulk and on sale, etc.). Check out the article Nutrition Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive from the USDA.

It’s OK to tell your daughter “no, I will not buy you another pair of leggings, I prefer to spend our family’s income on feeding our bodies so that they work properly”. Healthy food gives our bodies so much more than the physical appeal that leggings offer (which may be questionable in itself, but that’s another topic entirely). It’s useful to ask yourself before making a purchase if you really need this item or if you’re getting it because everyone else has it.

If this has been your family motto since day one then stop reading now. Actually don’t since there’s only one line left. But if you want to start changing, accept that it will be hard to buy less “stuff”. At least at first. But people can adjust to almost anything. Even, gasp, not having an iPhone 5.

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how to spend more

IMG_2806Time and money, that is. At what cost are we spending less money on our food? And at what cost are we spending less time eating? It’s easier than ever to eat just about anywhere; the justification being that it saves time. The next thing you know they’ll be making meals in a can. Oh wait. They already do that. Well, I’m still waiting for bathrooms to get coffee makers.

Why do we eat so quickly? Why do we rush through meals or buy convenience foods that can be eaten in the car? I believe Michael Pollan said it best in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Perhaps the reason you eat food this quickly is because it doesn’t bear savoring. The more you concentrate on how it tastes, the less like anything it tastes….And so it goes, bite after bite, until you feel not satisfied exactly, but simply, regrettably full.”

The headlines are everywhere: “dinner in 15 minutes”, “quick fix breakfasts”. Yes, we’re busy, but we will always be so. Someone asked me once how I have time to exercise and I replied how do you have time to sleep? We make time for what’s important. Watching a 3-year-old peel a carrot is only agonizing if you’ve decided that dinner needs to be ready in 15 minutes. If starting to make dinner 10 minutes earlier means that you can teach your kids how to peel vegetables or crack eggs then find 10 minutes from something less important (like TV watching, email checking, facebook stalking, sock darning).

Approach cooking with excitement and look at it as an investment in your family’s health. Allow extra time for meal prep. Even plan your day around cooking dinner, instead of forgetting about it until 4:30 (which I still do occasionally. Really. How does one forget about something that happens every single day of one’s life??). The point is to care more about how and what you eat, which will result in more time spent preparing food and eating it. This might be just once a week for now, but I urge you to try it.

Learning how to eat slowly and spend a longer time cooking will teach children life skills far more important than football skills. Unless of course you’re raising a budding professional. In which case never mind; both skills are equally important (although my vote is still with learning to cook and eat because most people don’t remain professional football players into their 80s. But every 80-year-old’s gotta eat).

We tend to invest an abundance of time helping our kids with their homework and racing them off to different classes. But ask yourself where your priorities are and what is better long term? An adult who fondly remembers freezing their behind’s off at soccer practice? Or is it a greater service to our kids and to the world if we raise a generation of people who, as adults, love healthy food? Who know how to cook healthy foods from scratch? Who appreciate where food comes from and how different flavors and tastes work together? And who savor each and every bite?

Stop and smell the roses.

Tune in next week for tips on how to spend more money on groceries. No joke.

time to get dirty

gardeningDo you have a garden? Does it flourish and provide your family with an abundance of fresh produce every spring, summer and fall? Well good for you. Can’t say that I’ve had that experience, but this year I really am going to plant an elaborate garden. Or at least a garden. I can’t guarantee the elaborateness of it. We have a petite, rectangular spot in the backyard that has the potential to sprout many wholesome goodies, but I fear that my thumbs are not very green. They’re more pinky-orange, if you will. Last year, with similar intentions, we started slow. My kids and I dug up the roots of who-knows-what (actually, I know what. A lot of pretty things and yummy-looking things from the previous owners, but who cares! Now we can start fresh and plant what we want!).

The next step proved to be challenging. My only previous experience in planting anything ended tragically when I was pregnant with such terrible nausea and fatigue that I couldn’t even bring myself to walk across our [very large] yard and check on the stupid tomatoes. But I kept telling my son that they weren’t ready because I could see from the window that they were still orange, and that they needed to turn red before we could pick them. They stayed orange for a month. Low and behold I dragged myself across the yard, weeks later, to discover that the tomatoes were moldy and squishy and I almost vomited just looking at them up close. Of course, I almost vomit looking at anything up close when I’m in the first trimester of pregnancy. Turns out I had planted heirloom tomatoes.

Back to our petite, rectangular spot in the backyard. Now the dirt is root-free and I have no idea what to do with it, so we buy seeds for corn, peas, beets, carrots and radishes. Only to find that the area fits just 3 types of veggies. The kids choose radishes, peas and corn, and at that point I give them the bags and let them plop the seeds wherever they choose. We did end up with a few homegrown radishes (shocking, yes) as well as two ears of overripe corn. Have no idea what happened to the peas.

This year I plan to start earlier by digging up the old roots now (not in April), getting some books from the library for gardening-for-dummies, and having another go at our family garden. Join me on this adventure: Choose an area to dig up in preparation for spring and research with your kids which vegetables you want to grow. One of the benefits of kids owning their own garden (or at least a spot) is that whatever grows there will usually get eaten. Even mysterious vegetation that you didn’t plant.

ode to leeks

leeksIt’s hard to find local produce at this time of year, unless maybe if you live in California. Which I don’t. I was at the produce store looking at veggies grown in Mexico and then my gaze landed on a pile of crisp local leeks. I was a little overzealous because I bought enough leeks to feed a bus full of vegans. I didn’t feed the vegans, though. I just fed them to my family (the leeks, not the vegans). In any event, here is a recipe for a creamy, dairy-free leek dip.

When it’s your first time serving leeks to the little ones, or to the big ones for that matter, just remember the golden rule: remain indifferent if kids don’t like something. They don’t have to eat it, but they do have to try it. If your kids still refuse to try a bite, just stuff it down their throats anyway, like I did. No I didn’t do that. But I really really wanted to. Instead I just repeated for the 80th time, “you only need to try a spoonful, you might like it”. Turns out that we were late for taekwondo class because not only did my 5-year-old try it, but he then demanded more and proceeded to eat enormous blobs of leek dip. This is called irony.

Under no circumstances should parents mask the flavor of the leeks (or any vegetable they are cooking). Children should be exposed to different flavors and slowly learn to appreciate them. In other words: no adding ketchup or mustard just to coax a child to eat something. Who the heck puts ketchup on leeks anyway?

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Caramelized Leek Dip:

2 bunches of leeks, washed well (obviously) and sliced

3 stalks organic celery, sliced

freshly cracked pepper

1-2 t balsamic vinegar

 

Saute leeks and celery in olive oil for about 15 minutes

Remove from heat, stir in balsamic vinegar, pepper and chopped parsley

Use a hand blender and blend to desired consistency. The less adventurous the kids are, the more blending may be required. Once their palates grow accustomed to the flavor of leek, you can blend for a shorter period of time.

Eat alone or with anything (rice, potatoes, spread on toast)