Are you scared of what the coming school year means for feeding your kids? I know I am scared at the temptation of all the mini-packages that could easily ensure my kids get their fill of red dye, corn syrup and preservatives at lunch.
I want you to be scared too. We all should be. I want you to feel repulsed when you see pre-packaged foods because the preservatives, dyes and processed sugars and flours they include really do affect the health of our kids. And the fear can be the inspiration you need to get in the kitchen and change the way they eat.
This back-to-school season I will focus on strategies to help us all keep our kids healthier, more alert, and less anxious by eating clean. Like many of my strategies, this one revolves around stocking up on Smart Ingredients – key core ingredients that add up to mealtime success. I will post one recipe per day on the Organizing Dinner facebook page that uses one or more of these ingredients and I’ll do a weekly recap via this blog. Some recipes will use barely more than what’s on this list. Many more will use the pantry stocking list from the 70 meals, One Trip to the Store cookbook so most of you will have everything you need anyway (as you know we try to get the most flavor out of the fewest ingredients). And all the recipes will be things you can feel great about feeding your kids. I’ll give you recipes for sweets to replace preservative and corn-syrup-laden packaged cookies. Great easy dinners, and creative items to pack in their lunch. I wish you the best on keeping it clean this school year!
Here is the “Top 10” list for this year’s back-to-school shopping for clean eating. These are the items you can buy in bulk and stock in the pantry or freezer. Or, stock up one at a time when you find a good price, i.e. ground beef is at its summer low price, and/or you find a great deal on one of the items:
- Ground meat – ground beef or poultry is one of the most versatile items to keep on hand for dinner. It is inexpensive, goes a long way at mealtime and is the basis for so many classic favorites such as burgers, meatballs and tacos. I keep several pounds in my freezer at all times, stocking up when I find a great sale.
- Flax seeds – flax seed has one of the highest nutritional components of any food. You are doing your body a great service every time you eat it. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flax seed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it. I personally think today’s governing officials should look to this kind of enforcement to keep down the costs of healthcare. Flax seed owes its primary healthy reputation to three components: omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans and fiber. The health benefits of these include heart health and lower cholesterol. Below is a picture of whole flax seeds if you’ve never seen them before. You can usually find them in the bulk dry goods section of your store or with the health foods. Milled flax is also a fine substitute, and can be found by flours and baking items.
- Chicken – another inexpensive and extremely versatile meal base, chicken breasts are a great item to stock up on and keep on hand in the freezer for weeknight meals.
- Quinoa – loaded with minerals and antioxidant qualities, protein to boot, quinoa is one of the healthiest nutritional component foods out there, and by far a superior substitute to pasta or white rice. I also find that it is extremely versatile, as you will see in the recipes to follow this post, from binding burgers to enriching salads, to making a healthy dessert.
- Greens – my favorites are kale and spinach because they have HUGE health components and freeze well, but feel free to substitute whatever greens you prefer. I don’t think I even need to touch on why we need these on our menu. They’re green, so ‘nuf said, right? Buy (or grow) a large bunch of either kale or spinach, keep 2-3 servings in the refrigerator, and freeze the rest by compressing it into individual baggies.
- Oats – the health benefits of oats are an article all in themselves. Click here to read some great testimony from a non-profit food health organization of their health impacts. In summary, look at it like this: if you are feeding your kids prepackaged breakfast and snack foods with a base of genetically-modified flours, sugars and preservatives, you are putting them at a risk of higher cholesterol, heart issues and diabetes. Whereas a preservative-free item based on something as wholesome as oats, does the reverse.
- Tomatoes – if you are growing some yourself right now or happen to be the lucky recipient of a batch of tomatoes this harvest season, do yourself the favor of canning them for the rest of the year. They can be a great base for many a quick and easy meal for your family.
- Black beans – canned black beans are ok, but if you don’t mind taking the time to soak beans, buy bags of dried ones. Rinse the beans and place them in a large pot, covered in water and let sit overnight. The next day, rinse and replace water, add 1 tablespoon of salt, bring beans to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for one hour or until tender.
- Sweet potatoes – these spuds are an excellent source of Vitamin A (beta carotene) and Vitamin C, and are known for reducing inflammation and restoring cells. These antioxidants can also help conditions such as arthritis, asthma and diabetes, as well as aid to prevent conditions such as emphysema, heart disease and even colon cancer. And they taste great. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ranked the sweet potato number one in nutrition of all vegetables. “Points were given for content of dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars and complex carbIn mohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Points were deducted for fat content (especially saturated fat), sodium, cholesterol, added refined sugars and caffeine. The higher the score, the more nutritious the food.”
- Dark chocolate – we all know the kids like a sweet treat, and dark chocolate has wonderful health properties. Stock up on the chips (which you can also find dairy free) for many great recipe uses. And/or if your kids are like mine – straight up chips are a good snack too. Good quality dark chocolate contains fiber and tons of minerals. Yep, dark chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease. Yum.