If there is one thing I've learned in these 36 years of my life, it's that going back to the basics is always a good idea. Technology, customs and lifestyles change so quickly and move so fast, that one day you sort of wake up and become aware of how far you've come from ideals that you once valued.
This is how I feel about what's going on with the state of food in our country. When I became a mom, I did what many moms do. We protect our little cub. We go into hyper-protective mode and make sure all the crib bedding, clothing, furniture, car seats and strollers are the safest they can be. We feel the immense responsiblity of this little life and we take that responsibility seriously. And when they start to eat what we eat...then we want to do the same. All of a sudden, how milk and meat is processed becomes of utmost interest. We read labels and wonder what words like "hydrogenated" and "trans-fats" mean and how we can avoid them.
Unfortunately, I have come to understand that the packaged foods that we are so used to consuming have very little nutritional or even beneficial content. Did you know that the taste and smell of your packaged foods are engineered in a lab in New Jersey? They literally take foods at their most basic state, strip all the nutrients and minerals as they process it, and then dose it with a large amount of post-end nutrients (chemically-enginereed nutrients of course). And, then they literally figure out how to make a smell like strawberry and then add it to your strawberry yogurt. So, instead of consuming milk, cream and some sort of yogurt culture with some strawberries, take a look at the ingredients in most store-bought yogurt.
How in the world did that happen?
Convenience Food. Pre-packaged, non-perishable, long-lasting, and toxic food.
And I think the "non-perishable" part is what's missing. Food, by it's very nature, is made to progressively lose its nutrients and decompose. Therefore, it makes sense to eat it as quickly as possible. Sure, we can prolong this process by refrigerating it or freezing it, but eventually, it's going to go bad. However, the advent of packaged foods that showed up around the 50's/60's promised to make life easier for families. The notion of "the little wife staying home" to make jellies, breads and butter all day disappeared as women began to invade the work place. All of a sudden, it was a daunting task to come home from work and create the usual "spread." Lo' and behold, the introduction of "instant" items.
Depending on your age, you might be part of the first generation that may have never experienced "home-made" or "from scratch" foods. In fact, you might think that "from scratch" involves creating your own spaghetti from a jar of Ragu brand sauce and a pack of spaghetti noodles. And why...because this is what we know. It's what we were taught and what we have seen demonstrated. The days of milk fresh from the cow to your door in glass bottles is a distant reality (one not known by many). The idea of going to your local butcher and knowing who his suppliers are is a distant memory as well. Does anyone know where our food comes from?
Well, if you've seen Food, Inc., then you are starting to understand the problem. Add in a read through of Fast Food Nation, and you'll really start pulling your hair out. If you never want to be able to choke down menu items from a fast-food restaurant, then definitely watch the movie, Supersize Me!
You will start to look at processed white flour, sugar, and oils in a new light. And, it's not in the light of home-cooked meals, because a home-made pizza dough with white flour and oil will nutritionally beat the pants off any frozen pre-packaged one out there. But, it's the quantity of these items that are in our foods that is alarming. If you see sugar or "high-fructose syrup" listed in the first 5 ingredients, it can't be good. Our bodies were not made to adequately digest and function at their optimum with the amount of those items we consume on a daily basis.
And unfortunately, we cannot rely on food companies to police themselves. By definition, they are a business. They exist to make money. I find it incongruous that the milk board would tout milk as an essential source of calcium that is vital in promoting "strong teeth and healthy bones," encouraging us to serve our children milk with every meal -- and then turn around and load it up with sugar and flavor-additives to make it chocolate and strawberry flavored to it to make it "more appealing." That's marketing at it's worst....and they can't have it both ways.
The health and quality of life of children and families are not on big-businesses top-priority list -- unless it will make them money. So, just as food advocates say, we need to put our money where our convictions lie. If we are willing to pay more for high-quality, fresh and organic ingredients, guess what we'll get?
So, what can we do to be different?
Change how you do things.
It's really that simple. Is it easy? Of course not. We have a "taste" for those foods now. Let's face it, they make them taste good. They make them really cheap. They want us to buy them over taking the time to make homemade alternatives. And a lot of the time, it does come down to the commodity of time. We don't have very much of it, it feels like. It sometimes seems like a no-brainer when you need ice cream and you know you can go buy it for $3 at the grocery store, versus spending a bit more for the ingredients and going through the steps of scalding it on the stove and mixing it in the mixer and freezing it in the freezer. It's 15 minutes vs. 5 hours! But, is it worth it...all this cutting of corners? I think that our obesity and health epidemic would weigh in with a resounding no.
So, what can we do?
1.) Buy fresh local - Farmer's Markets are awesome, but the produce you get in some stores can be just as fresh. Even frozen is a good option because it's additive free and flash-frozen right after it's harvested so much of the nutrients are still there.
2.) Cook/bake from scratch - it's relatively simple to make your own homemade spaghetti sauce. However, have you ever thought of making your own bread? (and you don't need a breadmaker to do it.) How about making your own yogurt? Pizza dough? Pasta? Hummus? Dressing? Truth be told....it might be a bit time-consuming at first, but I'm pretty sure that with some practice and thinking-ahead, it might not take as much time as you think. Need ideas and recipes? The internet has a wealth of information. All you need is Google.
3.) Teach your children about food - and sometimes we need to teach ourselves first. (And a good concise and thorough book on the subject is Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan.) If we want to raise children who know how healthy food is supposed to look at taste like, we need to let them see where it comes from and let them help us make it. And I found this super cute box of recipes for kids to make on Amazon!
We need to teach them about how "good fuel" creates "good results" in their bodies. They need to know that it's essential to put premium fuel inside the body that will carry them through a lifetime. Invite them to cook with you and be creative. I found a fun little cookbook and cooking cups to get you started.
This is the road I'm walking down. Am I perfect? No. Do I still take my kids to McDonald's? Yes. Do I find myself reaching for the easy pre-packaged items? Of course. But, this weekend, I made my family a calzone completely from scratch (okay, I didn't personally make the cheese, but I now that some people do...). And, did they love it? Yes. And, I felt really good about taking the extra 15 minutes to make that dough ball. Plus, I got to bond with my 4-year-old as we rolled it out and filled it up with the contents. And, we did make homemade ice cream that everyone raved about. And the apple tart I made for an auction received rave reviews. Yes, I could have bought one from the store or a local bakery, but I made that with my own two hands (and with the help of two smaller hands), and the sense of accomplishment was pretty amazing.
My current project is my kids' sack lunches. I don't know about you, but I get stuck in a rut of what to send with them every day. We've made the decision to allow one meal from the cafeteria a week, but the other 4 days are from home. One of my best finds is products by Fit N Fresh. I bought my first one a few months ago. I actually uploaded a picture (it's about halfway down the page...white container with red lid) with it in it as part of a super duper shopping outing I had at CVS.
Little did I know how much this would help me to get out of the sack lunch rut and keep providing healthy options for my daughter. I LOVE this container. I use it for soups and warm leftovers from the night before. And, luckily, she LOVES leftovers....and salads! So, I was thrilled about my newest finds at Ross and I scored them for about $5.99 each - the Salad Shaker and Lunch on the Go. The beauty of these is the flat reusable ice pack that goes into the container to keep it cold. It's a part of the container and fits in seemlessly. I have endless options that go beyond pb&j and a meat sandwich!
Now I need to tackle the rest of her lunch bag. I have the tendencies to want to add a "treat" to every lunch. I add in a chocolate pudding every now and then and a Capri Sun almost every day. I was reminded about the high sugar in both of these when I watched Jamie Oliver's show and saw him rip apart the sack lunches the children brought from home. How do I reconcile my new goal of making everything I can from scratch with the bustle of the mornings and the convenience of pre-packaged items? That's something I'd love to hear input on...and something I'm going to figure out over the next few weeks.
Whew...this blog post just flew from my fingers. I guess I definitely have an opinion on this subject. Hopefully it's not too long and rambling. I'd love to hear what you have to say on this topic...