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School Lunches versus Packing a Lunch: How to Keep Both Healthy

23 May

We homeschool, but we are out and about a lot.  Here’s an example of our packed lunch.

How do we keep our children’s lunches healthy?  According to the World Health Organization“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”   So, we can rephrase our question as: how can we ensure our children’s lunches contribute to their physical, mental and social well-being and, by consuming them, they will not be afflicted by disease or sickness?

I recently watched a short documentary called Lunch, a film based on interviews about ‘Green School’ lunch programs, instilling healthy habits in kids and organic gardening in a school setting.  It seems to me that most people talk about kid’s lunches from a single viewpoint: the food. They say: let’s improve food quality, organic is better, no more GMOs, add more fruits and vegetables, no more fried foods, add healthier options, grow a school garden, add nutrition to the curriculum…  While I think these are all wonderful and much needed, the most important thing we can do is to empower children themselves to make the right food choices.  

At the end of the day, the children are the only ones who can control what they eat, therefore it is not enough to simply create a healthy nutrition environment for them. Children need to be taught that any kind of food can keep us alive, but it is the nutritious food that helps maintain our body, mind and social capacities well. We need to teach children about a whole lifestyle that emphasizes not only nutritional choices, but also how the choices they make affect their own physical, mental and social well-being.   When children are educated, when they understand, when they are given proper role models and when they are given tools to help them choose health, then the responsibility for parents and guardians to create a healthy nutrition environment for them becomes easier – simply because children will WANT it for themselves.  

Proper Nutrition is integral to maintaining our physical, mental and social health and well-being.

We can teach children the value of eating to live, not living to eat. We can teach them the value of maintaining physical, mental and social well-being (these are a few examples):

    • show them what happens to their bodies when they consume junk versus nutritious foods, for example:
      • what happens to teeth when they eat processed sugar (place a tooth in Coca Cola and see what happens)
      • what happens to bones when people eat too much animal protein and cow’s milk (show rates of osteoporosis in different communities)
      • teach them to look at their own poop and explain what healthy poop should look like
      • teach them how different foods create different energy levels (discuss athletes and their diet)
      • watch Wall-E and discuss why the humans are obese (foods they eat, exercise)
      • show videos like Supersize Me and Forks over Knives to older children
    • show them what happens to their minds depending on the food consumed, for example:
      • discuss how mental performance suffers/improves due to diet (i.e. Food For the Brain study)
      • show them that learning challenges and problem behaviors may decrease/increase according to diet
      • discuss how exercising the brain is just as important as sports is for the body
      • discuss how quality foods help the nerves in the brain function properly (memory, problem solving, etc)
    • show them that their nutritional choices have social implications, for example
      • discuss what “social well-being” means vis-à-vis proper nutrition within the community, the nation and the world (according to the United States Institute of Peace: “Social well-being is an end state in which basic human needs are met and people are able to coexist peacefully in communities with opportunities for advancement. This end state is characterized by equal access to and delivery of basic needs services (water, food, shelter, and health services), the provision of primary and secondary education, the return or resettlement of those displaced by violent conflict, and the restoration of social fabric and community life.)
      • discuss composting, recycling, reusing and reducing in the community and at home
      • discuss pollution and toxicity
      • discuss what stress does to us
      • discuss how the quality of food we eat affects our emotions and therefore our social well-being.
As we teach them to grow their own food and to prepare their own meals from scratch… we can sit back and see what happens.

Other ideas here too: Top 10 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat More Fruits and Veggies

Part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop! Click on the image for more links to Gifted/2E Health and Wellness Issues!

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30 Lessons this Raw Vegan Mama Learned from Traveling and Dining Out with Omnivore Loved Ones

4 Mar

In the last 6 months alone, it seems like my family and I have traveled non-stop to be with friends and extended family.  These days, I feel like I am a bit of a pro when traveling with and dining out with loved ones who happen to be non-Raw Omnivores. 

I wish I could tell you we did wonderfully: I ate 100% Raw Vegan Foods and my family kept up their 50% Raw Vegan diet. But we did not.

What we did a lot of instead was, what I call, nutritional compromising. Why?  Well, believe it or not, for harmony’s sake.  We love our friends and family dearly and being together with them means a lot to us.  We didn’t want to alienate anyone… or ourselves.

I cannot say I was very much OK with all the nutritional compromising in the past few months… but I met Perry the other day who made me feel a whole lot better.  He sold me a bottle of E3Live.  I asked him if he was Raw Vegan.  He said he used to be.  “Why?” I asked.  He said, his mother had cancer when he was growing up and foods were designated as BAD or GOOD, ALLOWED or NOT ALLOWED.  So Young Perry rebelled. He would go behind his mother’s back, steal her money and buy the foods that were verboten at their house.  Needless to say, he thought it was a good idea that I allow my son some slack. 

Here is what I learned while traveling with Omnivore loved ones:

Our Travel Food Bag

I always have fruit (bananas, oranges, apples) and salad for everyone. I also always have some cooked Vegan foods for the boys. Hopefully we can recycle the plastic containers.

1. I always pack my family’s meals for road trips and national/international flights. Unfortunately, the food lasts only about 8 hours and after that we have to make do with what we are given or find at the other end of our trip.

Vegan Meals up in the friendly skies: include preservatives, coloring and a bunch of other stuff we wouldn't normally eat. But - this is the best option we have when we run out of food.

2. On planes, we request either the Raw (not always available and this tends to be fruit or cut carrot and celery sticks) or Vegan (although some are cooked with many processed Vegan ingredients) options for flights.

3. Clearly, our family’s highly raw/unprocessed Vegan diet tends to go down the drain pretty much from the get-go.

I love this old photo of my son snuggling with his step-grandmother. In the first 5 minutes after they met, it was clear they had already bonded so wonderfully.

4. We want to spend time and create strong bonds with our extended family and friends while traveling/visiting with them.

5. But, this means mealtimes more often than not emphasize non-raw and non-vegan foods.

6. We tend to eat out at mainstream restaurants a whole lot while traveling with others.

7. We have lengthy and careful discussions with servers about our family’s food preferences and allergies before ordering. It seems to us that waiters, on the whole, are not trained well on matters relating to Veganism or food allergies.  Neither are they made aware of the repercussions of food allergies. Sometimes, the problem may be that they don’t properly convey diner’s requests to chefs in their kitchens.  So, we like to take our time in our communication with them.

8. Raw Vegans are not the best for diners with nut and maple/agave allergies.  After talking very carefully to servers about our son’s allergies, my son has had very bad vomiting spells after eating/drinking something at Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco and Quintessence in NYC.  Needless to say, we are not going back to these 2 places to eat.  I can, however, recommend The Farm in the Philippines, Good Life Café in South Carolina and Pure Food and Wine in NYC.

9. We tend to eat what our host provides.  “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do!” Right?  As guests, we are really at the mercy of our host, especially when they want to treat us all the time and/or we are in a foreign country.

10. I have discovered that food allergies are difficult for others to understand.

11. The concept of Raw Vegan foods are even harder for many to grasp.  I have had, many a time, cheese and bread on my “all Raw Vegan” salad or been offered regular hummus with cooked chickpeas.

12. Requests for Gluten- and Vegan-free food is akin to speaking a foreign language.

My son kept asking for the white bread served at most mainstream restaurants. Having said 'no' so many times (due to allergies), I finally ordered some wonderful Rice Bruschetta at a Vegan restaurant we visited towards the end of one of our trips. My son was extremely happy. So was I for having found a half-raw, half-cooked meal for him too!

13. My son will want to eat what others are eating: i.e. the cooked or processed refined foods.

14. A loved one recently baked 6 loaves of maple syrup white wheat bread while we visited her for 2 weeks – even after I asked her to please stop at the first loaf.  The breads just kept appearing though, which my son gladly ate and I tried to stop.  She was thrilled of course to watch my son devour her bread. On the other hand, I was focused on his rashes (c/o maple sugar).

15. This Mama will compromise only to a certain extent.

Using a handheld immersion blender in a plastic tub while traveling to make a lamb's lettuce smoothie for my family

16. If a kitchen and/or appliances are available, I supplement our family’s meals with fresh fruit for breakfast and fresh juices or green smoothies before a meal (that is if we have access to appliances and/or a kitchen).

Someone shared this on Facebook and made me LOL!

17. If a kitchen is available and if possible, we eat ‘in’ as much as we can and I end up a Mama in the Kitchen with no holiday.  But, I can’t complain!  We minimize allergies this way.

18. You cannot simply trust labels.  My son has even reacted to packaged Raw Vegan foods we have purchased while traveling to which, according to ingredients on labels, he isn’t allergic.

19. On every trip these past few months, my son has had some type of allergy, despite our efforts.  He has been very mucus-y on the plane home twice.

20. Raw Vegan food options are not always available when eating with family and friends…or they are harder to come by when traveling or sanitation is an issue in certain countries. When eating at mainstream restaurants or at people’s homes sometimes simply boiled, steamed or stir fried veggies are the best and only options.  In many health food stores in big cities, Raw Vegan Foods usually means a lot of packaged dehydrated foods… exactly the foods we try to avoid.

21. Raw Vegan food does not win over many people.  Some of my loved ones returned home to eat SPAM with white rice after a beautiful lunch at The Farm, Philippines.

22.  I, on the other hand, will have some type of food sensitivity after eating at a Raw Vegan restaurant: headaches, swelling or bloating from an excess of agave syrup, soy products, or nuts.

Juice Bars are worth it! Here in SAF London

23. To minimize allergies or sensitivities, we order simply at Raw Food Restaurants: an abundance of green juices (not smoothies) or simple Salads, and avoid other foods altogether (unless the server/chef can be 100% clear on the ingredients used).

The food was so delicious, I made sure I bought their cookbook as soon as we got home!

Food For Thought in Covent Garden will win over Omnivores anytime for taste and bang for buck! Just be prepared for small spaces and a communal-type feel.

24. Cooked Vegan foods, on the other hand, have been the best way for us to introduce family and friends to the Vegan diet. My mother gave us a cooked Vegan party when we visited her.  My friends thought they would have to lug their families to McDonald’s afterwards – but they admitted to loving the food by my Vegan Chef cousin!  They all had second helpings of the healthy mains and the desserts!  And no trip to McDonald’s afterwards!

I got an "That doesn't look very good at all!" comment for my salad here.

25. Prepare yourself for negative comments from loved ones about your food. Yes, even those who say they understand and would love to be Raw Vegan. I have had an ugly grimace directed at my food with a “I would NOT like to eat that!”, “is that all?”, “how do you get your protein?”, “yuck! how do you eat that!” And all in front of my son too, who takes it all in.

26. People somehow forget about your family’s diet and lifestyle choice, no matter how close they are to you.  I have had a platter of Steak placed under our noses blatantly at dinner with a smile and a “here, you will love this”; baked pastry treats full of syrup, butter and refined flour placed in front of my son while he, as most kids will, drools; salmon offered to us which they know was my son’s favourite fish before our kitchen turned Vegan.

27. The good outweigh the bad.  What is important is that we are surrounded by people we love and who love us back.

28. By the end of the trip, I am always itching to return to my own kitchen, I can’t wait to shop at my own local health food store and I can’t wait to eat healthier food.

29. After returning home, it is always just a little harder to get my son to eat as healthily as he used to.  And I am OK with this too because after traveling for the past 6 months, I know in a day or two, he’ll be asking for his fave smoothie and his fave kale salad!

30. And at the end of the day, I love what traveling does for our family.

When A Green Salad Just Won’t Do! Top 6 Ways To Get Kids To Love Plant-Based Food Again!

21 Jun

Look familiar? This is the "I don't think I can eat this!" look.

My fabulous niece Lia loves raw Kale Salad and Green Smoothies, but a piece of plain lettuce may be asking her for too much!  How many kids have you seen do this exact same thing? Many! And there are even more who won’t even touch any kind of vegetable.

A few months ago, when Karen Ranzi came to speak at our local university, she was so excited to see my 4 year old son eat a Banana Lettuce Wrap (below) and exclaimed “Wow! We need to take a picture of that!”  Unfortunately, as he grows up and gets more exposed to the Standard American Diet, his preference for unhealthy ‘normal American’ foods has escalated.  Recently, he has exclaimed: “No more Green Salads for me!  Only Green Smoothies!”

Banana Date Lettuce Wrap: a very simple meal

What’s a Mama to do? 

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.  So I have armed myself with new ways to get my little one to love eating unprocessed plant-based whole foods again. Here’s what I make sure we have:

1. A variety of fresh fruit in the house, for breakfast, snacks and/or pre-dinner munchies.

2. Lots of GREEN Smoothies in the house.

3. My niece Lia just discovered GREEN Smoothie Popsicles and loves them.  We have loved them in the summer time too!  Simply place leftover Green Smoothie into your popsicle molds and voila! another treat with nutritional benefits! By the way, we love our BPA free popsicle molds!

My son loves his popsicle from a Blueberry Green Smoothie!

3. Get the JUICER out for GREEN Juices.  If they won’t eat the salad, they can definitely drink them (as long as they are yummy!).  For most kids, this means a mixture of fruit and vegetable juices.  Although it is hard work, it is worth any Mama’s time: fresh green juices go directly into our cells and work their wonders.

4. Mix raw and cooked together for Half & Half! Yes, definitely the easier way to get the family to eat more fresh raw veggies.

Asparagus and Tomato Salad: cooked asparagus and raw tomatoes with Balsamic Vinaigrette (this is great with Broccoli and Tomatoes too!)

Zucchini Pasta topped with Cooked Lentils... you can always try!

Vegetable Sushi: my family loves Avocado, we use raw untoasted Nori... and yes that's white rice, they prefer it that way... maybe because they feel it's more authentic?

5. Prepare more COOKED PLANT-BASED options at each meal so that the family doesn’t crave other SAD (Standard American Diet) Foods.  This is important and something I often forget because I am so involved in making something Raw Vegan at each meal.  As I add more home-cooked vegan options at every meal, my family craves less for the unhealthier cooked fare.  Some of their Vegan faves: Japanese Vegetable Pancakes, Buckwheat Soba Noodles, Vegetable Sushi, Steamed Sweet Potato, Steamed Artichokes, Baked Potato Chips, Peanut (or Raw Almond) Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, Pasta Alfredo, Pasta with a very simple Tomato Sauce, Chinese Dumplings, Sloppy Joes, Fajitas, Zucchini Bread… They don’t seem to like beans all that much.

6. Remind them that there are Raw Vegan Cookies and other Sweets too.  While I prefer fresh foods, I do make some treats for my family occasionally as well.

Other Resources:

How To Transition The Family Into More Raw Vegan Foods

Top 10 Tips To Get Your Kids To Eat Fruits and Veggies

Top 12 Kid-Friendly Year-Round Raw Superfoods

Robyn O’Brien’s Patriotism on a Plate

5 Jun

As I watch Robyn O’Brien, I am impressed by her work, how many people she’s reaching out to and how many diets she may be changing for the better.  Listen to her TED video full of real facts and figures about what’s happening to the American Plate.  These are all the reasons to Un-Process Our Children’s Food!

Let’s Un-Process Our Children’s Food

26 May

Let’s Un-Process Our Children’s Food:

prepare everything from scratch and

eliminate processed foods as much as possible.

Organic Candy without High Fructose Corn Syrup... Is it better? (answer below)

Can a Vegetarian Diet be BAD?

I ‘got’ it. I was vegetarian in high school and college because I learned that a plant-based diet was better for my health and for the planet.  But on a vegetarian diet, I was sluggish and gained at least 20 pounds in my first semester of college.  Even my own mother didn’t recognize me at the airport when she came to pick me up for Christmas break.  I had to stand right in front of her, wave my hands before her eyes and say “Hi!”  It is definitely not a fond homecoming memory.

I confess I did go a little food crazy in college. Sugar-coated cereal for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Countless dining hall visits for Ranch dressing, Honey Mustard dressing, Mayonnaise, American cheese melts, Pesto Pasta, cookies, ice cream with sprinkles galore at the dining hall. I also got a job at the Student Center Cafe, thinking I would learn how to cook for myself.  Well, I didn’t learn a thing.  The only thing I did learn was how to use the griddle and fryer, slap flat foods together to make sandwiches and slice tomatoes.  Everything else was pre-packaged and pre-made somewhere else. Looking back, I realize that most of the food I bought or ate or touched were highly processed foods – not whole foods.

A Processed Culture

I understand why we are attracted to ready-made convenience foods: they do not require much work or energy.  We want food NOW without having to work for it.  We want to be healthy but we don’t want to put the effort into actually preparing our meals directly from whole foods.  We want things EASY.

The thing is though, like most things, it requires work on our part to get something really worth anything.  Nutrition is no exception – plant-based or not.

The Difference

Consider this: When a fruit or vegetable is 5 days old, it will contain only 40% of it’s original nutrients.  How about processed foods with long shelf-lives?

Plant-based whole-foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.  They are in their natural state and are not packaged, canned, bottled or boxed.  Most of the time, you can eat them fresh (washed or not) or they may require some time and attention (cleaning, prepping, dressing/marinating, cooking).

Processed foods, on the other hand, require little time and attention.  Most are ready to eat as is (junk food) or require some cooking (frozen dinners).  They are foods that have been so drastically altered from their natural state.  They are anything canned, boxed, bottled and packaged.  They are foods that are full of preservatives, artificial flavors and artificial coloring. They include anything refined (like white flours and sugars), any hydrogenated fats, any processed meats, anything with soy fillers, artificial food grade chemicals and additives.  

Plant-based processed foods are a whole niche market dedicated to serving ready made Veggie Meats and Veggie Dairy to vegans and vegetarians.  Unfortunately, these are highly processed foods too, containing especially high amounts of soy (most of which is genetically modified).

What’s The Big Deal?

Although we call them ‘food’, processed foods are not readily recognized by the bodyThey are seen as alien matter and our white blood cells will be on attack mode as soon as they enter our system.  Processed foods create toxins in our systems and cause degenerative diseases.  For our planet, processed foods require more energy and packing material.  Most of all, processed foods create more waste.

What’s more? 75% of all processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients – even foods labeled organic!  Of all seeds planted in the US, 93% of all soy, 86% of all corn and 93% of all canola seeds are genetically modified. According to Monica Eng of the Los Angeles Times, their bi-products “have become such common ingredients in processed foods that even one of the nation’s top organic food retailers says it hasn’t been able to avoid stocking some products that contain them.” People are generally unaware of foods containing GMOs: only 26% of Americans think they have eaten anything genetically modified and only 28% believed genetically modified ingredients were sold in stores.

The Ills of GMO

There has not been a long-term human study conducted to prove genetically modified organisms are safe.  A peer-reviewed paper GM Crops – Just The Science by The Non-GMO Project states that genetically modified ingredients:

  • “can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • can disrupt the ecosystem, damage vulnerable wild plant and animal populations and harm biodiversity
  • increase chemical inputs (pesticides, herbicides) over the long term
  • deliver yields that are no better, and often worse, than conventional crops
  • cause or exacerbate a range of social and economic problems
  • are laboratory-made and, once released, harmful GMOs cannot be recalled from the environment.”

Repercussions: Our Children’s Health

Studies have shown that processed foods are contributing to our children’s emotional and/or health disorders.  Recently, processed foods have been shown to adversely affect our children’s intelligence.  And yet, processed foods are still everywhere: in home kitchens, restaurants, cafeterias, and worse of all, they are used as gifts and rewards for children.

A few months ago, my friend Christina told me her children’s teacher at school was still giving Potato Chip parties every Friday for the best performing student of the week.  The kids also received daily Candy Rewards for good behavior.  My niece Lia is only in preschool and candy rewards are there too.  And it doesn’t end at school.  There are always boxed juices, frosted cupcakes and pinatas full of more candy at birthday parties. Doctors visits end with lollipops. People who want to do good, like Cookies for Cancer, raise money for cancer research by selling cookies with vegetable shortening, white sugar, sweetened condensed milk, packaged refrigerated cookie dough and Angel Coconut Flakes. Then there is Easter Bunnies, then Halloween Trick or Treating, then Holiday Sweets…  These are all occasions for highly processed foods with genetically modified soy, corn and canola products no doubt.

What adults are essentially saying to children is “You are so good!  Here’s some junk food that causes disease!” Why does our culture encourage this shameful and imbalanced exchange? Is it correct to reward our good children with processed foods containing empty calories and zero nutrients?  Is it right that we give them foods that negatively affect their future health?  Is it acceptable that by rewarding with these processed foods that children will be more resistant to eating whole foods?  Is it suitable that we are allowing children to crave junk foods by using them as rewards? According to Joanne Ikeda, a nutrition education specialist highly regarded for her work on childhood obesity, these are all the factors why foods (especially candy) must not be used as rewards for good behavior.

What’s A Mama To Do?

After a whole year of my son pestering me for the same lollipops he’s seen other kids eating (“Mama, REAL lollipops not my Banana Lollipops“), I finally ran out of distraction tactics or maybe he just wore me down.  So the other day, this Raw Vegan Mama succumbed to buying organic processed lollies for her son.  He’s only allowed 1 a week, which he rarely remembers and hubby and I conveniently forget to remind him.  The top 3 ingredients are: organic evaporated cane juice, organic tapioca syrup and organic rice syrup.  Not bad, no high-fructose corn syrup at least.  But all 3 ingredients are still processed foods. I sigh – almost defeated.  If you’ve read Is Sugar Toxic? you wouldn’t want your children to consume any kind of processed sugars either.

Resources on Plant-Based Whole Foods Diet

Blue Vinyl, The China Study, The Cove, Diet For A New AmericaFood Matters, Forks Over Knives, Mad Cowboy