A Look Back at…10 Tips for Eating Organic on a Budget

A recent article over at Vox goes into “the shifting economics of organic food.” But while some organic food is getting cheaper, the fact remains that it can be pricey. But as we point out in this post from October 2013, buying organic doesn’t have to break the bank…

 

You often hear complaints about how expensive organic food is. And if you rely on lots of processed food products or measure value only by calories-per-dollar, then foods grown with chemicals or bioengineered or manufactured in factories might seem the best deal.

But in terms of human and environmental health, they’re only a bargain in the short run. As they say, you can

pay

Why are organic foods priced higher than conventionally grown? Rest assured, the pricing’s not arbitrary. The fees organic farmers pay for certification are hefty and frequently go up. Operations are small, and special facilities are often needed. Organic is more time-consuming and not focused on the subsidized commodity crops at the heart of the modern, conventional food supply. (You can read more reasons for the cost differences here.)

Still, it’s entirely possible to eat organically even on a tight budget. Here are 10 ideas for keeping your food bill low without compromising your health:

  1. Plant a garden! Probably the cheapest way to have organic food is to grow your own. Mother Earth News has a great guide on growing organic food by crop. And if you rent or don’t have the space to garden, there are community gardens that offer space across the country.
  2. If you do grow a garden, consider using heritage seeds – seeds collected from harvested foods and saved for the next growing season. Doing so maintains trusted plant varieties and encourages diversity in our gardens.
  3. Prioritize and buy organics selectively. The Environmental Working Group provides a handy list of what it calls the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 – respectively, foods to buy only in organic form due to their tendency to retain pesticide residues and foods that are acceptable whether conventionally or organically grown.
  4. Buy whole foods – unprocessed grains, vegetables, fruits and meats. Whole foods have the most nutrition and give you more bang for your buck.
  5. Buy food in season. Seasonal food is usually cheaper and always better than off-season. There is greater nutrition per dollar than in the same product during the off-season.
  6. Stock up when there’s a sale. If the food is perishable, consider canning or freezing it for later use.
  7. Buy in bulk – not Sam’s Club bulk but things like grains, dried beans, seeds and nuts. Because you’re not paying for fancy labeling, packaging or marketing, you save money. And you also reduce your environmental footprint by using less disposable packaging. Many natural food stores allow you to bring in pre-weighed containers for shopping their bulk aisles, and they may even offer a discount at the register for bringing your own.
  8. Buy local. Support your local economy, help save the environment and get better and cheaper food by doing business with your friendly, neighborhood farmer. If the produce at the farmer’s market food isn’t marked as certified organic, it still may be organic, so don’t be afraid to ask! Remember that cost of certification is prohibitive, so some farmers may forgo certification. If these reasons don’t convince you, here are 10 more reasons to enjoy shopping locally.
  9. Sign up with a CSA, or community supported agriculture. You get local, seasonal food delivered to you or you can pick it up each month. This may not be significantly cheaper per product, but the vegetables are much fresher than you’ll find in a grocery store, which makes the actual nutrition far cheaper.
  10. Shop online. Is there an organic product you like, such as a sunflower seed butter? Try comparison shopping at your computer to see if you can get cheaper through the mail.

The important thing here is to eat food that is good for you and that you enjoy. You shouldn’t have to be wealthy in order to enjoy good, wholesome food.

Have tips of your own for eating healthfully on a budget? Share them in the comments!

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Sugar: Sweet. Delicious. Comforting. Everywhere. (Guest Post)

Originally published on Know Thy Health.
Re-posted with permission.

 
sugarSugar consumption has skyrocketed over the last century. US per capita consumption now stands at 180 pounds a year, fueling all manner of chronic illness in adults and children alike.

Sugar is big business. And like all big businesses, the industry will resort to just about anything to keep the money flowing. Remember how the Corn Refiners Association tried for years to get the FDA to reclassify high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” – a thinly veiled attempt to rid themselves of HFCS’s shady image? Or makers of aspartame grasping for the less chemical, more “natural” sounding name “Amino Sweet”?

All of these organizations are literally battling for your business, throwing lawsuits back and forth, burying facts from studies to promote their products and just being all around dirty, rotten scoundrels.

So we get aisles full of sodas, sugary drinks, ice cream and cookies in every grocery store. Sweeteners – usually in the form of cheap HFCS – are hidden in virtually every processed food to enhance the flavor. Countless TV commercials beckon us to indulge in the sweet happiness they are advertising, and like moths to the flame, we can’t seem to stop ourselves.

Sugar is the gateway drug.

Sugar stimulates pleasure centers in the brain. It’s also the brain’s primary fuel. Leave it to industry spinmeisters to contort that into the idea that sugar is an essential nutrient, no different than a vitamin or mineral. Here’s how The Sugar Association sells it (via ANH):

Sugar is more than a “fun” food ingredient, it’s an essential one as well. Because it’s all-natural, you can consume it with confidence. As Nature’s preferred sweetener, sugar is present not only in nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, but is also a key component in foods as diverse as whole grain breads and cereals, yogurts and tomato sauces.

Thus, do they deftly duck the difference between naturally occurring sugars and the added sugars they want to sell. Those, we don’t need. We get sugar enough for our bodies’ needs from the naturally occurring sugars and carbs in the food we eat.

Here are 5 ways you can free yourself from the sugary snare:

  1. Try making your own food; it’s rewarding, healthy and fun! Fill your pantry and fridge with seasonal whole fruits, legumes, vegetables and herbs, not boxes and cans. There are fantastic recipes for more delicious recipes than you could possibly imagine all over the internet.
  2. Speaking of cans, soft drinks are probably the #1 sugary enemy, so if you’re a soda addict, try switching to plain mineral water. If that just doesn’t do it for you, try infusing it with some fresh fruit – or add a splash of 100% fruit juice (but just a splash, as juice is just as much concentrated sugar as soda pop). Or get yourself a Sodastream but make your own simple syrups! The ones on the market are loaded with sucralose, and homemade syrups are easy to make. You’ll find some great recipes here.
  3. Sugar is hidden everywhere. Avoid packaged foods, dressings and sauces. Be particularly suspicious when you see the term “spices” in the ingredients. Don’t buy the box! Buy a cookbook. Just about anything you make will be tastier, because the sugar they add to the boxed products masks the true flavor of the food anyway. Most dressings and sauces can be made in a snap, all it takes is a few ingredients and a little creativity. There is a great basic vinaigrette here.
  4. If you feel you must indulge a sweet tooth, go for dark chocolate, which has less sugar and more antioxidants. If you area cookie monster and like to make your own treats, reduce the sugar in each recipe. For instance, if you reduce the sugars from 3/4 cup to 1/3 cup in this great recipe for chocolate chip cookies, the cookies will still be delicious and the chocolate chips will taste even more chocolaty.
  5. Use fruit like a condiment, keeping it to less than a handful per serving and no more than two servings a day. Toss a few dried cranberries on a salad, or enjoy a half an apple with peanut butter for a snack.

Have some favorite tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

Image by Bart, via Flickr

How to Help Your Child’s Teeth Survive Halloween

fake_teethAny kid will tell you that a Halloween costume isn’t really, really scary unless it includes some gnarly, gnarly teeth. From top-of-the-line, glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs to twisted, stained and sparse “hillbilly” teeth and everything in between and beyond, fake teeth can make or break a spooky Halloween costume.

No one, of course, would like their child’s real teeth to look like that.

Yet here we are at the time of year when bucketfuls of Halloween candy can make the risks of developing a frightful smile go way up. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent this.

Sugars & Acids & Cavities, Oh My!

Strictly speaking – and despite what we all hear growing up – sugar alone does not cause cavities. What it does do is feed the oral microbes that form the biofilm known as plaque. The waste products generated by those microbes are highly acidic, and highly acidic is damaging to teeth.

But wait! There’s more!

Not only do you have the acidic conditions created by oral bacteria. Many sweets are highly acidic, as well – sour gummies and other tart candies being among the worst offenders.

Sugars + acids = a real one-two punch. (This is why soda pop is so notoriously bad for teeth, as well.)

So just have your child brush right after gorging on their trick-or-treat haul and all shall be well, right?

Not exactly.

While saliva will eventually neutralize the acid conditions that come with eating sweets – all manner of fermentable carbohydrates, in fact – it takes a while for that to occur. Brushing before then can actually be more damaging, effectively brushing acids into the teeth.

Here’s how one dentist explained it to the Wall Street Journal:

When you want to make etched glass, you apply an acid or an abrasive and scratch it — that is what happens if you drink a sports drink or a soda, or even wine, and brush right after.

Or after eating a lot of candy.

The solution? Have your child wait 20 to 30 minutes between feasting on candy and brushing their teeth. And don’t forget the floss! (Brushing alone cleans only about 60% of tooth surfaces.)

More tips for managing the Halloween candy haul:

  • Have your children pick through their Halloween treats and decide which ones they really want to eat. Keep those and get rid of the rest – or replace them with a healthier alternative that you know your kids like.
  • Limit tart and sour candies, as well as sticky, chewy candies that easily cling to – and between – teeth, such as taffy and caramel.
  • Don’t let your children graze on candy through the day. Instead, let them eat a certain amount of your choosing at a particular time. (After a meal is ideal.)
  • Offer water to drink after eating sweets or even some sugarless gum to help stimulate saliva flow that will help neutralize acids and clean the teeth.

Also keep in mind that, when it comes to handing out treats at your door, sugar isn’t the only possible giveaway. In fact, about half of kids say they’d welcome something different.

“YES!!!! YEEEESSSS!!! I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH I CAN ENFORCE THIS, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE that other stuff.” – tween girl

jackolanternSome parents, for instance, hand out small trinkets, such as Halloween pencils, yo-yos or fake tattoos. Others opt to give more wholesome foods, like packaged trail mix, seeds or nuts, pretzels or low-sugar granola bars. Wax teeth or lips and sugar-free gum and candies can be good alternatives, as well.

Better yet, get your kids involved in the choice! Ask what non-candy items they’d be happy to see in their goodie bag this year. Chances are, plenty of other kids will be happy with it, as well.

More tips for parents from…

Images by Mauren Veras & Paul Dunleavy, via Flickr

10 Tips for Eating Organic on a Budget

You often hear complaints about how expensive organic food is. And if you rely on lots of processed food products or measure value only by calories-per-dollar, then foods grown with chemicals or bioengineered or manufactured in factories might seem the best deal.

But in terms of human and environmental health, they’re only a bargain in the short run. As they say, you can

pay

Why are organic foods priced higher than conventionally grown? Rest assured, the pricing’s not arbitrary. The fees organic farmers pay for certification are hefty and frequently go up. Operations are small, and special facilities are often needed. Organic is more time-consuming and not focused on the subsidized commodity crops at the heart of the modern, conventional food supply. (You can read more reasons for the cost differences here.)

Still, it’s entirely possible to eat organically even on a tight budget. Here are 10 ideas for keeping your food bill low without compromising your health:

  1. Plant a garden! Probably the cheapest way to have organic food is to grow your own. Mother Earth News has a great guide on growing organic food by crop. And if you rent or don’t have the space to garden, there are community gardens that offer space across the country.
  2. If you do grow a garden, consider using heritage seeds – seeds collected from harvested foods and saved for the next growing season. Doing so maintains trusted plant varieties and encourages diversity in our gardens.
  3. Prioritize and buy organics selectively. The Environmental Working Group provides a handy list of what it calls the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 – respectively, foods to buy only in organic form due to their tendency to retain pesticide residues and foods that are acceptable whether conventionally or organically grown.
  4. Buy whole foods – unprocessed grains, vegetables, fruits and meats. Whole foods have the most nutrition and give you more bang for your buck.
  5. Buy food in season. Seasonal food is usually cheaper and always better than off-season. There is greater nutrition per dollar than in the same product during the off-season.
  6. Stock up when there’s a sale. If the food is perishable, consider canning or freezing it for later use.
  7. Buy in bulk – not Sam’s Club bulk but things like grains, dried beans, seeds and nuts. Because you’re not paying for fancy labeling, packaging or marketing, you save money. And you also reduce your environmental footprint by using less disposable packaging. Many natural food stores allow you to bring in pre-weighed containers for shopping their bulk aisles, and they may even offer a discount at the register for bringing your own.
  8. Buy local. Support your local economy, help save the environment and get better and cheaper food by doing business with your friendly, neighborhood farmer. If the produce at the farmer’s market food isn’t marked as certified organic, it still may be organic, so don’t be afraid to ask! Remember that cost of certification is prohibitive, so some farmers may forgo certification. If these reasons don’t convince you, here are 10 more reasons to enjoy shopping locally.
  9. Sign up with a CSA, or community supported agriculture. You get local, seasonal food delivered to you or you can pick it up each month. This may not be significantly cheaper per product, but the vegetables are much fresher than you’ll find in a grocery store, which makes the actual nutrition far cheaper.
  10. Shop online. Is there an organic product you like, such as a sunflower seed butter? Try comparison shopping at your computer to see if you can get cheaper through the mail.

The important thing here is to eat food that is good for you and that you enjoy. You shouldn’t have to be wealthy in order to enjoy good, wholesome food.

Have tips of your own for eating healthfully on a budget? Share them in the comments!

.

Getting Kids to Eat Right

Kids are smarter than we think.

We try tricking them into eating good foods by offering bargains and rewards, but those tactics can backfire. Too easily, the lesson becomes that dessert is the good thing and the nutritious meal is something bad they have deal with to get to that good thing!

We try hiding fruits and veggies in comfort food. But while hiding pureed vegetables may give kids the same nutritious content, it still doesn’t help them learn to love whole, unprocessed produce or whole grains. And once the children find out that you’re tricking them, they may not trust the food you give them in the future.

And as for smoothies? They may be delicious but are not exactly what you’d call “tooth-friendly.”

Instead, it’s best to teach that healthy food is good in its own right.

organic_deliveryParents and caregivers are aware how bright children are, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a recent Psychology Science study found when kids were taught about the benefits of healthy foods, they chose to eat those foods more often.

Its authors banked on preschoolers’ natural curiosity. When they taught the kids about the nutritional value of the food they ate, kids were more open to trying nutritional foods and “more than doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables during snack time.”

This makes perfect sense. When we tell children why brushing and flossing is important, they understand and, more often than not, will practice good dental hygiene. When we explain why they can’t cross the street without an adult or without looking both ways, they will understand and listen.

Why not apply these same methods to eating?

In the above study, the authors taught with children’s books “that emphasized key concepts about food and nutrition, including the importance of variety, how digestion works, the different food groups, characteristics of nutrients, and how nutrients help the body function.” But while you might not have access to those same books for your kids, there are plenty of great resources out there to help you teach them.

Here are a few to get you started:

  • A good place to begin is with “Principles of a Healthy Diet” from the Weston A. Price Foundation. Dr. Price was a pioneering dentist who discovered traditional diets found in the nonwestern world promote healthy teeth. This site offers clear guidelines you can consider for your own family’s diet.
  • The USDA offers guidelines for the American diet. You may remember the food pyramid the USDA encouraged, but that’s since been replaced with My Plate. It’s a good place for both kids and adults to learn about nutrition. Note the section specifically for preschoolers.
  • Dr. Sears’ “ABC’s of Teaching Nutrition to Your Kids” has advice on kids’ books about eating, taking children to see where their food comes from (grocery stores and farms, for instance), introducing new foods to toddlers and serving foods across the color spectrum.
  • If you don’t want to go through the entire alphabet, there’s a short but helpful article in the Los Altos Town Crier on teaching kids about nutrition.
  • Finally, there are books for kids about nutrition. Here, you’re encouraging both healthy eating and a love of reading! For titles, check out this list from the School Nutrition Association. Or visit Super Kids Nutrition for reviews of children’s books on food.

Don’t expect your child to become a healthy eater overnight after reading just one book. It’s consistently practicing good eating habits and teaching children about the food they eat that can create healthy eaters. As you know too, no study is needed to show that kids emulate the behaviors of the adults they love. We are their models. If we want them to eat well, we must do the same.

Image by sean dreilinger, via Flickr