FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEEDING THE HEALTHIER WAY

I wanted to focus this blogpost on the topic of feeding your family in a healthier way because I know that some people want to eat healthier but they just don’t know where to start.  It can be overwhelming at times, when you consider how busy we all are, how expensive “good” food can be, and how we are constantly saturated by advertising of food
that isn’t healthy.  Many of you know that I have five boys and let me be the first to say, it takes lots of effort, attention, planning and research to make sure your family eats well in our modern age of convenience, microwavable, fast food.  And I will tell you that on occasion my kids do eat fast food because it’s sometimes unavoidable.  But I try to make this the exception, not the rule, and I will share some tips that I use to determine what our choices will be if we have to go this route.

Let me also let you know that although I have some babysitters that help me with meals three days a week, the rest of the time it is up to me and my husband to feed this hungry brood.  I am praying for God to send me an “Alice” from the Brady Bunch, but this has so far not manifested, and I just have to make it a priority to nourish my family.  I use the word “nourish” purposefully to distinguish from the word “feed” because filling your belly with processed food
full of synthetic ingredients, flavor enhancers, chemical preservatives, etc. is not the same thing as providing your body with “whole food,” real, pure unadulterated macronutrients.  I know some people feel their best when they eat a raw vegan diet.  Personally I believe, and for many of the patients I treat it is true, that animal proteins are a necessity for optimal health and a lack of protein can cause hormonal imbalance and mood disorders.  I know dietary choices are
very personal for many folks and I absolutely respect that.  If you are thriving on your particular dietary regimen, then great!  However, if you are not doing so well, even though it seems to be, or people have told you that it is, “healthy,” perhaps you need to see if there is a better option for you.

If you would like a real eye-opener into just how much the American diet has deteriorated, I suggest you check out Sally Fallon’s excellent cookbook entitled “Nourishing Traditions.”  The subtitle of the book is “The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.”  Hold on to your hats!  Mainstream information
about what are healthy foods and what are not can lead to so muchconfusion.  “Fat is bad, certain fats are not so bad.”  “Carbohydrates are bad, except whole grains (but if you have gluten intolerance, then they’re bad!)”  Oh boy, is it a wonder we are experiencing a health crisis?!  What’s so great about this book is it really gives you a lot of insight into the history of food, industrial food production, and the progressively decreasing nutritive value of our food supply.  The book is fashioned after an appreciation for Dr. Weston Price, a dentist who studied many different people groups across the world, in regard to dental health and diet.  His experience was that those who ate a good amount of animal protein and fats as well as whole, unrefined foods and very little sugar, not only had great teeth, but they had great overall health!  Certainly many of his findings have directly challenged much of what “modern medicine” purports to be healthy, but I think many people would agree with the notion that getting back to a more simplistic approach to eating is going to do most people a world of good in terms of their health.  For more information, please see
www.westonaprice.org.

Much of what Dr. Price and his followers believe also goes against the vegetarian/vegan food movement.  Again, my purpose is not to denigrate or attack anyone’s personal dietary choices because there are many factors that can play into one’s decision to follow one plan or another.  Some people’s choices are due to health concerns, because their health was restored by avoiding certain foods or because they feel that it is healthier for them to avoid meat.  Some have very strong concerns for animals and choose not to consume animal products out of that love or because they feel animals are not processed for consumption in a humane way.  Factory- or industrialization to feed people on a large scale has led to much unsanitary, unhealthy and inhumane treatment of animals, so I can certainly relate to these concerns.  For those interested in exploring those perspectives more closely, I suggest reading Lierre Keith’s book, “The Vegetarian Myth.”  A former vegan, she dissects the different reasons why people choose this way of eating and how she radically changed her way of thinking on this very intimate choice. (I don’t agree with her beliefs that no-one should have children because of over-burdening the environment….gah!!)

In many cases, though, I do feel if close care is not taken in animal-protein-free diets, that it becomes difficult to consume adequate protein, limit excessive intake of soy products (which often are genetically modified and pesticide-laden, especially when added to prepared food products), and maintain normal glucose tolerance, neurotransmitter and hormone balance.  Many have gone so far as to claim that animal protein causes cancer.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s book, “The China Study.”  He conducted a large scale observational study in China which led him to make that conclusion.  However, there are many pitfalls that one gets into when using observational data to try to prove causality (i.e. you can make associations but you cannot prove causality because there are too many variables).  Smarter folks than me have dissected the study in detail so if you are interested, check out the work of Dr. Michael Eades, Denise Minger, Chris Masterjohn, and Anthony Colpo.

The unfortunate truth is that it is quite hard to get adequate nutrition from a vegetarian diet in general, and a vegan diet in particular.  Too much soy, a frequent protein source, can negatively affect thyroid function.  Depletion of minerals, B vitamins, amino acids and fat soluble vitamins can also be a problem.  Since the quality of our food has dropped significantly, whether it is fruits and vegetables or meat and dairy products,  our goal must be to seek out food sources that are unadulterated by chemicals, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers/additives,  contaminants,  growth hormones/steroids, and antibiotics.  The vision of the farms of old, with cows grazing in beautiful unsprayed pasture, hens running around freely ranging and pecking the ground, vegetables grown without the aid of Round-up, is not just a distant dream.  Depending on your area of the country, there are many people who are still producing food in this manner.  Our job is to find it, participate in it if we can, and support those who are devoting themselves to providing good, quality food for our consumption.  I know many farmers who would be open to bartering goods and services if you cannot afford the higher prices of this type of good food.  To me, I see it as aninvestment in my family’s health and vitality.  The fact that many in the city have no reliable source for food other than the cheap, processed, synthetic and chemical-laden products available at the corner store is a sad commentary on how we have neglected our health.  Pretty soon we are dealing with the fall out when our body starts to break down and we are constantly at the doctor’s office or in the hospital.

HOW DO I BEGIN? Spend some time finding resources for accessing good quality food near you.  One of my favorite websites is www.eatwild.com which allows you to link up with local farms in your area.  Maybe you have a bit of a drive to get to them, but I strongly recommend that you support these local farmers who are committing themselves to providing great products.  And remember, the farmers’ markets, friends’ and family gardens, and the organic section of your local supermarket are all good places to start.

When I really began trying to identify how to improve my family’s diet, I started by eliminating as many convenience foods as possible.  I started with one fairly easy meal: breakfast.  As much as it is busy and crazy in the morning getting three boys ready for school (with more to follow), I realized that I couldn’t keep taking the easy way out (cold cereal).  So I started cooking breakfast with emphasis on protein (bacon/ sausage and eggs, multigrain pancakes with raw milk).  Now the kids complain if they have to eat cereal.

Next lunch.  Aw, school lunch, otherwise known in most schools as a nutritional wasteland.  I send a packed lunch several times a week.  If the food is halfway decent (like chicken and mashed potatoes), I will let them eat at school.  I try to keep snacks limited to fruit, popcorn, wheat cheese or peanut butter crackers.  For drinks, I will do a little fruit juice or water.  Yes, they do get some candy, but I try to emphasize dark chocolate or ice cream with real ingredients (like Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s).  I feel that it’s important not to totally restrict any particular thing, because I think this causes kids to overly desire something they think is forbidden.  The idea is that when if you give your kids
nutritious food most of the time, the occasional splurges are not as harmful.

I remember watching a show many years ago on the cooking channel about a mom who worked twelve hour shifts as a nurse and had two kids.  As soon as she got home from work, she had a list of several restaurants on the refrigerator that they would order dinner from.  Those poor kids were “starving” for a real home-cooked meal.  The host of
the show worked with the mom to show her several easy, nutritious meals that she could prepare without much effort or time. Believe me when I say, as much as I was amazed at this family, I have a lot of empathy for working parents who come home exhausted from their jobs, with cooking being the last thing they want to think about.

My biggest solutions are stock up, buy in bulk and do a little bit of planning.  My progression to feeding my family good food started with some basic changes and then I just built on them as I went.  Because I have a big family, a deep freeze is a must.  Not only is this good for buying things on sale, but in our case, we have been able to buy half a grass-fed cow, had pastured pigs processed without added nitrates, and been able to put away surplus garden food.  While the idea of buying large portions of animals may seem daunting, in many areas, the better quality meat is much more economical if purchased in bulk.  Since we have several cuts of meat to choose from, I can always thaw out a roast for the Crockpot or some ground beef for tacos.

I try to stick to the standard protein, starch and vegetables to give my boys balanced nutrition.  When I go to the city, I stock up on hard to find items like organic brown rice, rice noodles and couscous.  My local grocery store carries organic potatoes for a decent price and I can usually get pre-bagged organic vegetables when they go on sale; cook them right away or throw them in the freezer.  My kids really like spinach salad so I get bags or boxes of organic spinach.  When I hear about parents who can’t get their kids to eat vegetables, I say…who is the parent?  My kids are not given the option to NOT eat their veggies, and although I once heard that it takes a kid an average of trying something 25 times before they begin to like it, the point is, they can learn to like it.  There’s nothing wrong with dressing the veggies up with sea salt, real butter or natural cheese.  I do like to keep some Amy’s natural pizzas and macaroni and cheese in the freezer for those busy nights when church or sports limits time. If your grocery store or health food store doesn’t carry these quick frozen items, stock up at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s when things are on sale.  I also like these stores for natural or organic items like taco seasoning (no MSG or HFCS), canned foods or condiments that are hard to find in regular grocery stores.  I have also discussed previously about how joining a co-op or buying club can help you get things in bulk for wholesale no matter where you live (my favorite www.frontiercoop.com).

EATING OUT Let’s face it; most of us eat out some of the time.  I really limit fast food and if we do it, we
tend to choose somewhere like Arby’s (anyone who’s watched Supersize Me knows how awful McDonald’s is for you).  We also like to go to places where you can get real food with vegetables (and in our case, we have a quality Chinese food place) and the kids know, you must have fruit and vegetables on your plate.  In this economy, it really makes more sense to stock up on sales, cook at home and truly NOURISH your family. Start slowly rebuilding and restocking your pantry and essential items, find some good local resources for your food and most of all learn to ENJOY the taste of real whole food!