A balanced and easy approach to healthy living.

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How to Start a School Garden Program & Where to get Funding

school-garden-image-1Imagine an educational program that can improve students’ health, gets kids excited to learn science and math, and instills a love of nature? School garden programs can accomplish all of these feats and more.

In fact, school gardens are sprouting up across the country, as educators and school administrators begin to realize their many benefits.

For one, they are a hands-on and effective learning tool for teaching just about any subject, including social studies and language arts.

In addition, gardens have multiple beneficial health impacts. Studies on children and adults show that gardening can increase the consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables, alleviate stress, and improve cognitive function. Plus, gardening gets kids moving outdoors.

Finally, gardens teach responsibility, teamwork, and environmental stewardship. Children feel a sense of accomplishment and awe as they witness a tiny seed grow into a sprout, and eventually, a plant bearing fruit.


Whether you’re looking to start or expand an existing school garden program, now is the best time. With the beginning of the schoolyear, many school garden grant opportunities are now live and accepting applications. Check the list below to see if any of the programs are a match for your school. (The list includes national programs and those specific to my own state of Florida.) You can also check out the USDA’s “People’s Garden” web site, that has a searchable list of funding opportunities for different types of community and school gardens.

In addition to getting funding for your garden, check out the many resources on the internet for how to create a program at your school, like this awesome guide published by the USDA. (Hint: the first step is constructing a Farm to School Team of interested parents and school staff).

Finally, contact your local Extension Office (a national educational network concerning agricultural matters) for specific information about which crops will do best with your state’s climate.


National School Garden Grants:

Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grant Program

The Whole Kids School Garden Grant program provides a $2,000 monetary grant to support an edible educational garden on the grounds of a K-12 school. Schools, or a non-profit organization working in partnership with a school, may apply. Since the grant program started in 2011, garden projects at more than 2,110 schools have received funding.

Apply at: https://www.wholekidsfoundation.org/schools/programs/school-garden-grant-program

Deadline: October 31, 2016

Walmart Community Grant

K-12 public, private, and charter schools are eligible to apply for a Community Grant ranging from $250 to $2,500 in four core areas of giving: Hunger Relief & Healthy Eating, Sustainability, Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Opportunity. Schools can apply under the “Healthy Eating” core area. Potential grantees should located within the service area of the Walmart store, Sam’s Club or Logistics facility from which they are requesting funds.

Apply at: http://giving.walmart.com/apply-for-grants/local-giving-guidelines

Deadline: December 31, 2016

KidsGardening.org Youth Garden Grant

This grant opportunity will be going live later this fall. Make sure to check the web site so you won’t miss it.

Apply at: http://www.kidsgardening.org/upcoming-grants-2/

Deadline: TBD

Annie’s Grants for Gardens

This grant opportunity will re-open in November, so be sure to check back then.

Apply at: http://www.annies.com/giving-back/school-gardens/grants-for-gardens

Deadline: TBD

Slow Food USA’s National School Garden program + Chipotle

This one is not a grant, but a great fundraising opportunity provided by a partnership between Slow Food USA and Chipotle. Chipotle will host an in-restaurant fundraiser where 50% of the sales are donated back to the school. Chipotle can also donate food for a school garden fundraiser taking place at the school. They can also provide free coupons and materials you can use.

Check it out here: http://gardens.slowfoodusa.org/chipotle-resources-for-school-garden-programs


Florida Specific School Garden Grants:

Florida “Agriculture in the Classroom” Teacher Grants

Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, Inc.’s Teacher Grant program strives to fund classroom projects that teach Florida school children about the importance of agriculture and introduce them to agricultural producers and representatives in their areas. The grant is open to general education and agri-science teachers in pre-K through 12th grade who want to use agricultural concepts to teach core subject areas.

Apply at: http://faitc.org/teacher-grant/

Deadline: September 30, 2016. Only the first 40 complete applications will be accepted.

Florida County Farm Bureau School Garden Grants

In addition to the Florida Farm Bureau, County Farm Bureaus may also disburse funds for school garden programs. Check the web site of your county’s farm bureau for more information. To find it, Google the name of your county plus the term “farm bureau” (example: “broward county farm bureau”) or call them directly.

Apply at: County Farm Bureau website

Deadline: Various

TERRA Mini-Grant

The Technology Education Research & Redesign Alliance’s (TERRA) Mini-Grants are intended to support school-based projects in grades pre-K through 12 that utilize technology in a new and innovative way or sustainability initiatives seeking to encourage and support creative, local environmental education and stewardship activities.

Apply at: http://www.terraonline.org/2016-2017%20TERRA%20Grant%20Application.pdf

Deadline: September 30, 2016

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Love Your Gel Manicures? How to Minimize the Risks

Gosh, I love gel manicures.  No chips for weeks?! Fewer visits to the salon?! Super shiny nails?! Gel manis are a busy girl’s best friend.

But are they too good to be true?

Since making their entrance, gel manis have been under scrutiny. Some medical studies have shown that they may be bad for you health. The goods news is that the risks are small, and there are ways to minimize them further. Read on for the potential risks and my tips (get it?!) to making gel manicures a safer option for your health.

1. UV drying can damage skin and lead to skin cancer

When you dry your nails, you’re exposing your skin to UV rays, which can increase your risk of cancer. According to a 2014 study, the UV exposure from nail dryers is “small,” but dermatologists cannot definitively deem them as safe because they do emit UV rays, after all. Furthermore, nail lamps can cause DNA damage to skin that can lead to premature aging. In sum: taking steps to protect the skin on your hands is a good idea.

How to minimize the risks?

  1. Find a salon that uses LED lights instead of machines with UV lights. LED lights dry your nails much quicker (45 seconds vs. 3 minutes) and emit less radiation. Most newer salons use LED technology, but you should always ask first.
  2. Coat the top of your hands with sunscreen before drying.
  3. Wear photoprotective gloves with the tips cut off! (To be extra safe, you can wear the gloves after applying sunscreen.) You can buy sun-blocking gloves like these or use a cheap pair of regular gloves, which will still let some UV rays through, but less so than if you don’t have them on. Remember: put the gloves on BEFORE the technician polishes your nails, so you don’t smudge!
  4. Use an at-home kit. These kits usually don’t require a UV light (though your mani will probably not last as long as the salon version.) You can even use your favorite regular polish and seal with a Gel coat like this one or use a Gel polish kit, like Essie Gel Couture.

2. Gel nail polish contains harmful chemicals that are absorbed by your body

Many nail polishes contain cancer-causing and endocrine-disrupting chemicals like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), and formaldehyde. A Duke study found that such chemicals are absorbed into the body just hours after their application. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some brands don’t list all the ingredients of their polishes on the bottle, so it’s hard to even know what you’re being exposed to.

How to minimize your risk?

While several nail polish  brands have removed some of the harmful chemicals from their products, I have not specifically seen this done for gel polishes. Which means that if you want to minimize your exposure to the toxins in gel polish, you’ll have to get fewer gel manicures. (Sorry ladies). Save the gel manis for special occasions; in between, opt for regular manicures using polishes that are made from safer ingredients from brands like Gabriel and butter London.

3. Soaking your nails in Acetone exposes you to a toxin

To remove gel polish at the salon, you have to soak your nails in an acetone-based polish remover for at about 15 minutes. Acetone is a known toxin. Though exposure via polish remover is low and unlikely to be dangerous, I still try to avoid soaking my nails in acetone, especially for the many minutes required to remove gel polish.

How to minimize your risk?

Remove gel polish with acetone-free remover. You can do this at home, or bring your acetone-free polish remove with you to the salon. I’ve successfully removed gel polish at home by soaking my nails in acetone-free polish, and it works great! How? I cover each finger nail with a piece of cotton soaked in the polish remover, and then I wrap each finger tip in foil (just like they do in the salon). Wait 15 minutes. Remove foil and the polish should be coming off. If not, soak for a few more minutes until it does.

4. Gel manicures can damage your nails

Leaving polish on for an extended period of time prevents oxygen transfer to the nail, and can result in discoloration, thinness, and brittle nails. Additionally, the scraping and peeling that often happens when you’re trying to remove the polish can damage the nail bed.

How to minimize your risk?

Moderation is key. Dermatologists recommend not leaving polish on for more than 3 consecutive months. Remember to give your tips a break every so often, and use protective ointments to sooth and hydrate your nails.



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5 Ways to Save Big on Natural Body Care Products

Natural beauty products often come with a high price tag. This is because better quality and cleaner ingredients cost more than the artificial ones.

Luckily, you don’t have to break the bank to buy the good stuff.  Over the years, I’ve found many ways to save on natural body, skincare, and hair products for kids and adults. Here are my top 5 strategies to spend less on natural products:

1. Avoid buying special “kids'” or “women’s” products

You’ve probably heard of the “pink tax” and witnessed it firsthand: products labeled for women (like shampoos and razors) cost more for less. It’s the same for kids’ products–soaps, shampoos and creams made for children are much more expensive than products made for adults.

So to save money, stick with gender- and age-neutral products and use them for the whole family–from infants to grownups. For example, I’ll buy Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap and use it as shampoo, body wash, and hand soap for my baby and everyone else in the family. If there’s a natural product I like for myself (like conditioner or sunblock), I’ll use it on my kids. In most cases, there’s no need to buy separate products if they’re made of natural ingredients anyway (read labels carefully!). I save even more by buying a big bottle and refilling smaller containers as needed.


2. Re-purpose kitchen items for your beauty regimen

Homemade facial masks with natural ingredients,

The truth is, you can make any body-care product you need out of food items. Coconut oil can be used for almost any beauty regimen purpose: it’s a great moisturizer (for baby to grown-up), make-up remover, hair de-frizzer, cuticle softener, under-eye cream, shaving cream, and may even protect your baby’s diaper area from rashes thanks to it’s anti-fungal properties. Sugar makes a luxurious scrub for face and body. Avocado can be turned into a soothing face mask and hair mask. Vinegar is great as a hair rinse, facial toner, and skin soother. (Hydrogen peroxide is another great toner, by the way, and it can also treat acne.) You’ll find loads of great DIY beauty product ideas containing these and other ingredients on the internet. Bonus: Add your favorite essential oils to any product you make and create the scent you love.

3. Dilute foaming products so they last longer

Many hand soaps, shampoos, face wash, and other sudsy products can be diluted with water and still be very effective. Diluting them makes your products last a lot longer (and you’ll save even more if you buy in bulk). There is no hard and fast rule in terms of how much water to add–experiment with different proportions and see how they work for you. Start with adding 1/5 water; you can always add more. For instance, I often dilute hand soap by 1/4 to 1/3 water with no discernible impact on how it cleans.

4. Know where to shop
I used to buy some of my natural products at Amazon, until I discovered I could save much more by shopping at Thrive Market. Thrive has a great selection of healthy food, supplements, and natural body care products for up to 50% less than Whole foods and other stores. Plus, you can buy food and toiletries in everyday sizes and you often get a free gift with your order (I’ve received free avocado mayo, raw energy bites, organic tomato sauce, and natural hand sanitizer).

Thrive’s prices can be significantly lower than Amazon’s. For example, Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile Soap (32 oz) is currently $18.40 on Amazon and just $10.95 on Thrive. An 11 oz bottle of Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Shampoo is now $11.75 on Amazon vs. $7.45 on Thrive. The savings are real!!! Click here to try Thrive for a free month and get 15% off your first order, plus  free shipping for every order over $49. The annual fee is $59.95, which you will quickly make back in savings.

5. Stick with affordable beauty brands

Some brands produce great, clean products at a relatively low price point. Dr. Bronner’s is one of them. In addition to their famous castile soap, they also make shaving gel, various hair care products, toothpaste, and lip and body balms, all at very affordable prices.You may not find all of these products in stores, but they are sold on Thrive Market and Amazon. Everyday Shea makes really affordable bath products and lotions for kids and adults (on Thrive, you can get Everyday Shea body wash and shampoo at $7.95 each for a 32oz bottle!). Finally, EO (“everyone”) also has skincare and bath products for really great prices (see for yourself). All three of these brands get great reviews and I’ve been personally pleased with their products.


I’d love to hear your tips for saving on natural body care and make-up products. Please share! In the meantime, enjoy shopping while saving!

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For Passover: Healthy + Kid-friendly + Matzah-free Dishes

Those celebrating the holiday of Passover can rejoice: you’ve made it halfway through the holiday eating one food group–Matzah.

With a few days left, here are some snack and meal ideas to change it up.

Healthy 2-ingredient pancakes

Gosh I just love these pancakes, and I make them year-round. They are fluffy, sweet, yummy, and nutritious. Best of all, they’re made of two natural ingredients: bananas and eggs. There’s no reason to save these for breakfast: with protein, fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals, these are great for lunch and dinner, too.

The recipe is simple: Mash 1 ripe banana and whisk two eggs. Mix eggs and banana together and fry away, just as you would any pancake. I sometimes add 1/4 tsp vanilla for flavor (and you can also add chocolate chips, or whatever you enjoy in your pancakes). Easy? Yes! By the way, they’re so sweet they don’t need a topping, but we enjoy adding honey and berries.

Fish (or eggs) in a boat

Again, a year-round favorite. This is basically a substitute for wraps and sandwiches. Wash a romaine leaf and fill it with tuna fish salad, egg salad, babaganoush, guacamole, or whatever your kids enjoy. That’s it. I usually cut off the leafier top part, because my kids enjoy the crunchiness from the bottom half of the leaf.

Cauliflower rice

These days, you can find riced cauliflower in a bag at Trader Joe’s or make it yourself using a food processor. Cauliflower rise is simply a cauliflower minced up into rice-sized morsels. A simple sauté in oil with onions, plus some salt and your favorite spices is all you need to make this yummy. Add herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice if you so choose. If you want a specific recipe, this one is simple and great.

Spaghetti squash

I totally convinced my kids that spaghetti squash was actually a form of spaghetti. This is yet another easy, healthy option. I cut a spaghetti squash in half, remove the seeds, drizzle on some oil, and roast at 425 degrees (flesh-side down) until tender (usually about 30-45 minutes). Remove from oven and scoop out the flesh, which will come out like spaghetti.

Then, all you gotta do is add tomato sauce like you would on pasta, spices to taste (I add garlic), and you can top with shredded mozzarella or Parmesan cheese (which you can melt for 30-60 seconds in the microwave. Done, nutritious, and yummy! If you want to get fancier and cheesier, here’s a riff on baked ziti using spaghetti squash!

Healthy chips

Healthy chips do exist. Don’t forget these year-round goodies. Kale chips (or try spinach chips–make them the same way you would kale chips) are awesome. Also, try to make chips with your favorite fruit, like these banana chips, which you can also do with strawberries or apples. The key with fruit chips is to keep the oven on a very low temperature, around 200 degrees, simulating a dehydrator. (Of course, if you have a dehydrator that is kosher for passover, use that instead!).

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5 Ways to Eat More Greens Without Even Trying

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for a decade, you’re probably aware that study after study show that leafy greens are all-around the healthiest foods we can eat. Eating these “powerhouse” veggies on a daily basis prevents disease, slows aging, and improves just about every bodily function.  

Even just a couple of servings (about a 1/2 cup each) per day can make a big difference. For instance, a recent study found that people who ate one to two servings of greens per day–such as collards, kale, and spinach–for about five years had the cognitive abilities of someone 11 years younger.

But, let’s be honest–many of us don’t always have the time to make a salad, and, frankly, we’re not always in the mood to sit down in front of a plate of greens (pass the pasta, please!). Luckily, there are many easy ways to incorporate greens into your favorite dishes 

To start, all you need is a fresh package of your favorite baby greens, preferably organic. They’re usually pre-washed and ready to eat. I recommend boxed organic baby spinach or baby kale because of their mild flavor. 

Tip 1: Serve Your Meal on a Bed of Greens

2016-02-09 13.04.40

My lunch recently: a bed of baby spinach topped with leftover roasted potatoes and onions, with chopped sardines.

Before serving your meal, whatever it is, grab a fistful of your leafy greens, layer them on your plate, and then top them with the food you’re planning to eat–an omelette, pasta, chicken salad, baked salmon, eggplant parmesan, whatever. You’ve just added one or two servings of greens to your diet within seconds. The flavors of your dish will transfer to your greens. If you want to so step up the flavor, you can always drizzle some salad dressing onto the greens before topping them with your food. (By the way, my favorite healthy dressing these days is Bragg’s Organic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing)

Tip 2: Add Greens to a Smoothie

Little boy drinking a green smoothie


If you stick to greens with a mild flavor–like baby kale or baby spinach–you can add a handful (or two) to your favorite smoothie without even tasting them. The easiest recipe for a smoothie is combining one banana, a large handful of frozen organic berries, a handful of greens, and liquid of your choice (water, almond milk, coconut water, etc.). Then blend. There you go, instant serving of greens. Play around with different fruits and different proportions to identify your favorite recipe. You’ll find tons of easy smoothie recipes online like this one. Bonus: This strategy is super kid-friendly, because you can’t taste the greens!

3. Make Pesto…Out of Kale (or Spinach)  

pasta al pesto di rucola su piatto

Seriously, you can make pesto with almost any kind of leafy green. And lord knows, pesto is good with EVERYTHING–chicken, fish, pasta, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, eggs. I found this awesome Kale Pesto recipe in O Magazine, and here’s another recipe for Spinach Pesto. You can make a big batch and freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray–just defrost when you’re ready to eat it.

4. Use Leaves Instead of Bread or Wraps

Collard Rolls

Photo source: Whole Foods Market

Instead of your typical sandwich, substitute a crunchy romaine leaf for bread. I like to cut of the droopier tops of the romaine leaf and fill the crunchier bottom half with tuna fish or salmon salad, egg salad, babaganoush, pesto, hummus, or any other dip I enjoy. You can also use hearty collard green leaves to make a wrap. The inside can be whatever you normally like inside a burrito, or try this collard wrap recipe. I love how avocado, sprouts, tomatoes, and creamy dressing taste when they’re wrapped up in a collard leaf. 

5. Garnish with Greens or Herbs


Top an almost-ready soup, pasta, omelette, quinoa or other saucy dish with a handful of baby spinach, kale, or your favorite herbs. They will wilt but will stay fresh and bright green–full of live nutrients.

With these tips, you can start adding some of the healthiest foods to your diet with minimal pressure. 

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10 Kid-Friendly Pantry Staples for Quick + Healthy Meals

One question I get asked again and again is what to feed kids for dinner, and how to make meals that are quick AND nutritious. Enter your pantry. This is where the magic happens. If you have a pantry stocked with healthy items that can be incorporated quickly into a kid-friendly meal, then you’ve almost entirely solved the problem of what’s for dinner.

Here are 10 great busy-mom and kid-friendly food items we keep in my pantry. Many of these items can be served without the need to cook! Everything is meat-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Buy in larger quantities and you will have what you need when you need it.

I like to stock up on these items at my new favorite online store, Thrive Market. Thrive sells healthy food, supplements, and natural body care products for up to 50% less than Whole foods and other brick and mortar stores. What I love about Thrive is that their prices are usually lower than Amazon’s and you can buy food products in everyday sizes. You can try Thrive for a free month and get 25% off your first order, plus you get free shipping for every order over $49. The annual fee is $59.95, which you will make back in savings.

1. Canned Salmon and Sardines


High in protein and loaded with heart- and brain-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, canned salmon and sardines are a great basis for dinner. They are also high in vitamin D and calcium. I avoid tuna because of the mercury content. The canned fishes are wild-caught, not farm-raised, which is healthier for you.

How to serve them? Make salmon salad like you would tuna salad (i.e. add mayo and whatever else you like). Serve salmon salad with veggies and whole grain crackers for dipping. Another idea: My kids love what I call “fish in a boat”–which is a couple of scoops of salmon salad in a romaine lettuce leaf (I just cut both ends of the leaf off and leave the crisper middle section). You can also make salmon patties, salmon tacos, and crumble salmon on top of a salad. Sardines can be served as is. For a full meal, add a starch, like potatoes or rice, and veggies. I buy these at Thrive and at big-box stores to save money and I look for brands that use BPA-free cans (such as Wild Planet). BONUS: no cooking necessary!!!

2. Taco Shells 

Tacos can be nutritious, filling, and fun. Keep a few boxes of shells around and you can make tacos with all sorts of things you already have in your fridge or pantry! We enjoy making tacos with canned salmon and refried beans (which are both on this list) as a base. Then we add shredded romaine, avocado, mild salsa and sour cream. Voila–a whole, balanced meal and you don’t even have to cook a thing. (I briefly heat the tacos in my toaster oven to soften them so they’re easier for my kids to eat.) Preferably, buy organic or at least non-GMO taco shells, like those made by Garden of Eatin. Serve blue and yellow tacos to make “Taco Night” even more fun.

3. Canned beans 

Pinto Beans, OrganicBeans are some of the healthiest foods in the world, and because they come packed with fiber and protein they are super filling. They are also versatile. The great news is that no cooking is necessary. Here are some ways you can serve them:

  • Sprinkle them on salads.
  • Mix them with rice or quinoa for a complete protein.
  • Serve beans with your kids favorite sauce or dressing.  I like using olive oil, lemon juice, and a little salt. Or, add soy sauce, which I sometimes combine with turmeric.
  • Make (or buy pre-made) refried beans for  tacos (here’s a quick and yummy recipe).
  • Make chumus and serve with veggies or corn cakes (see #4 below).
  • Briefly saute  beans in a favorite sauce if you prefer them warmer.

Preferably, buy organic, make sure there are no additives, and, buy brands that do not use BPA lining. You can also buy beans in cartons or bags.

4. Corn Cakes

Corn cakes are crispy yumminess and can be served plain as a snack or part of a meal. We like to spread them with almond butter and honey; chumus; salmon salad (see # 1 above) and, my personal favorite, a little mayo and mashed avocados. We avoid rice cakes because of the presence of arsenic in rice, which I’ve reported on here. Preferably, buy organic, or at least non-GMO. Real Foods’ Corn Thins are the tastiest and crispiest ones I’ve tasted, IMHO.

5. Quinoa

We make and serve quinoa at least once a week. It’s a full protein, iron, fiber and phytonutrients (among other things) and, as I am sure you’ve heard, it’s been called a “superfood.” There are so many great recipes on the web. I like to prepare quinoa and then sautee it in oil (I use avocado oil for this reason), with onions and garlic. Then I add other sauteed veggies like mushrooms, carrots, and/or peas. Another thing I love to do with quinoa is to mix it into a regular green salad. It adds bulk, fills you up,and absorbs the dressing, making it super tasty.

6. Nuts 

We always have a variety of nuts on hand for a quick snack. Full of protein, they are great when you need a pick me up or to quench a craving. My kids enjoy them, too. Sometimes, we make them part of meal, with cut up pieces of fruit or veggies. I like to buy them raw so that none of the nutrients are destroyed during the roasting process. Important note: so many kids have nut allergies these days that we eat our nuts at home or in the car. We avoid taking them into public places.

7. Mung Beans

I buy dried mung beans in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods and other health food stores. Mung beans are super easy to sprout. Read this post on how to sprout mung beans (all you need is a glass jar, water, and a paper towel!). Then read this post for ideas on how to serve them (so many ways–plain, in salads, in dishes, etc.). Note: don’t buy sprouted mung beans; buy dried, like in the photo above, and sprout them yourself for maximum nutritional punch.

8. Lentils

Lentils are are a low-fat, low-cholesterol, nutrient-rich substitute for meat. Unlike dried beans, they do not need to be pre-soaked, are less gas-producing, and can be cooked in under 25 minutes. We use lentils to make soups, add them to quinoa, and prepare them sauteed alone or with veggies. You can read my post, “Ode to Lentils,” to get recipes and the full list of why lentils are so awesome.

9. Veggie Broth

Pacific Foods Organic Vegetable Broth, Low Sodium-32 Oz

I always have a few boxes of organic, low-sodium veggie broth on had to make quick and easy veggie soups. Also, quinoa and rice tastes better when it’s boiled in broth. I like the Trader Joe’s brand and the Pacific brand which is found in most super markets. Organic boxed chicken broth is also available, if you prefer that.

10. (Healthier) Prepared foods

Let’s face it: as easy and quick as it is to prepare the above foods, sometimes we just need something that’s ready to go. The key is to choose prepared meals that have ingredients you can pronounce and recognize, no additives/preservatives, and minimal sugar. Most packages foods are high in sodium–but if you generally eat a healthy diet and have no reason to pursue a low-sodium diet, then occasional splurges like these should be find.

  • Organic soups: Pacific brand has many flavors and is found in big box stores and most markets. My kids and I enjoy the creamy tomato flavor.

Pacific Foods Light Sodium Creamy Tomato Soup, Organic, 32 Fl Oz

  • Indian prepared meals: Found at super markets, big box stores and Trader Joe’s, prepared Indian meals like Madras’ brand and Trader Joe’s brand may be in high in sodium, but typically contain more or less healthy and pronounceable ingredients.

I hope you enjoy these suggestions and look forward to hearing about your favorite pantry items! Please share!

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An Easy Money-Saving Tip for Buying Produce

Piggy bank with red heart pillow

Has this happened to you before? You buy packaged produce, say a box of mixed greens or a bag of asparagus. A day or two later, you open the package and the greens/asparagus don’t look  fresh. Maybe they’ve started to smell, and you can see some wilting or yellowing. You end up throwing out the healthy produce you bought. It’s a waste of money and you’ve missed out on some awesome nutrients.This happened to me until I got smart about selecting produce.

So here’s my strategy to buying the freshest, longest-lasting greens: check and compare their expiration dates. Supermarkets often sell two or more shipments worth of produce at a given time, which means that some packages will be fresher than others (I’ve figured this out after years of comparing). The key is to dig through the packages until you find the freshest one, i.e. the one with the expiration date furthest into the future. You may find a difference of 3-5 days or more, which buys you a lot of time to include them in meals! My general rule of thumb is that I look for an expiration date that is at least 5 days in the future, so I know I have several mealtimes to consume the product before it starts going bad.

So, for example: the other day, I went to buy baby spinach and some boxes had an expiration date of January 1st, while others said January 4th. So, of course, I bought a box that said January 4th. I also made sure to select a January 4th box that had no yellow or wilted leaves.

Spinach leaves.

When I can’t find a package that gives me at least five days before the expiration date, I find an alternative product that will give me more time. Instead of buying the boxed baby kale that expires within a few days, opt for the spinach that expires over a week later. Bottom line: It’s best to buy fresh and have a chance to eat the product, then buying exactly what you want and it going bad quickly.

Note: expiration dates are never precise. The product can start going bad before or after the date printed. But they are a convenient rule of thumb because they do tell you which products are fresher and which are older. Obviously, it’s best to eat whatever you buy as soon as possible, because veggies and fruits start losing nutrients the older they get.

Another really great money-saving tip: If your greens have started wilting before you have a chance to finish them, then cook them! 

Warm Squash Salad

You can saute wilted greens in oil (with salt, pepper, and fresh garlic or whatever spices you love), throw them on top of a soup when it’s almost done cooking, use them as a pizza topping, include them in your omelette, or put them in a sandwich. I’ve sauteed all sorts of greens before: arugula, kale, baby greens, lettuce, etc. They all taste great  and you would never thing they had wilted!

Wishing all of my readers a healthy, peaceful, and fulfilling  new year!

And thank you for all of your support!




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Cancer-Causing Nitrates in Smoked Salmon?!

Culinary bagel eating.

As you’ve probably heard, the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” back in October. The agency found that eating 50 grams of processed meat–i.e salted, cured, fermented, smoked, or otherwise processed–each day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The theory behind this finding has to do with the nitrates/nitrites found in processed meats. One proposed mechanism is that the iron in meat works as a catalyst to turn nitrates/nitrites added as preservatives into a carcinogen. (You can read about a study examining this process here).

But, here’s something you should also know: Processed meats–like bacon, ham, sausages and hot dogs–are not the only animal products containing nitrates. Some brands of smoked salmon are also made with them. To be clear, the WHO only tested the health impact of nitrates/nitrites in processed meat, not in fish. But, given the strong evidence linking nitrates in processed meat to cancer, I’d prefer to avoid the additive altogether.

Just look at the ingredients of your favorite brand of smoked salmon or lox and you may see an item such as “sodium nitrite” on the list. For example, I’ve checked some packages of Acme smoked Nova salmon and found them to contain sodium nitrites. (You can read the ingredients of Acme smoked salmon products here). Vita brand salmon also contains nitrites; sodium nitrite is the 3rd ingredient on the list (see photos below), in addition to food coloring, by the way. I’ve also seen nitrites in some store brands of smoked salmon.

The good news is that many brands have stopped using them, so there are a lot of good options to choose from. From my own research, brands that do not use nitrates/nitrites in their smoked salmon include Kirkland (Costco), Wellsley Farms (BJ’s), Trader Joe’s, and Echo Falls. Some varieties of Acme smoked salmon also do not have nitrites. However, whichever brand you buy, be sure to  check the ingredients list as I did not look at every variety offered by these companies.

Happy and healthy fishing!


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For Halloween: Safe, Lead-free Face Paint for Kids (Coupon Code, too!)

Many of us are aware that house paints once contained lead, but few of us realize that Halloween face paints can contain lead and other heavy metals. The FDA does not test makeup to ensure that it is free of heavy metals and few retailers list all the ingredients on packaging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not identified a safe blood lead level in children, and even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ and cognitive functioning. In sum: Lead is a known neurotoxin.

Back in 2009, Healthy World, Healthy Child, a non-profit affiliated with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “tested 10 face paints for heavy metals and found lead in every one of them…Six of the face paints contained nickel, cobalt or chromium, all heavy metals that can cause skin allergies.” They also found that product labels gave misleading information. “Some claimed to be ‘hypoallergic,’ even though they were made with known skin allergens.” You can read the campaign’s full report, published in 2009, here. I wish that I could share a more recent laboratory analysis of face paints, but I have not found a similar study that was conducted more recently. Even Senator Schumer of New York took up the cause of warning families of the potential dangers of certain Halloween Make-Up last week in a statement which said,

“Halloween makeup and face paint, often made in China, can contain heavy metals like lead, nickel, cobalt and chromium which could pose a serious danger to the children wearing it. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not conduct routine testing of novelty cosmetic products or face paints and the agency needs to do more to enforce the packaging regulations that require companies to include the full list of ingredients. While lead is banned from makeup in Canada and Europe, it is not currently banned from makeup sold in the United States. Schumer explained that this lack of regulation means that many parents are exposing their young children, and even themselves, to products that contain harmful metals, like lead.”

The solution to the problem is to buy safe face paint for your kids. There are brands that pledge they do not use lead and other heavy metals in their products.

Elegant Minerals is one great option. Their makeup and face paints do not contain potentially harmful products like heavy metals, parabens, fragrances, or synthetic dyes. GOOD NEWS: YOU CAN GET THEM BEFORE HALLOWEEN…and at a special discount I secured for Home Health Love readers! Two ways to order:

  1. Amazon: they have several available kits on Amazon, including the Angel Fairy Princess set, the SCI-FI Robot set, or the Fantasy Butterfly set.
  2. From their web site: Order HERE.  Enter coupon code Halloween15 for a 15% discount. They offer several expedited shipping options. If you order from their site before 4pm CST, they will ship out the face paints that day. Select Priority Shipping for 2-day shipping for $6.50 to get it before October 31st! (Overnight shipping is $19.50. If you need same-day/expedited shipping contact them at 719-205-4480 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST or include in the comments section on the site).

15 Colors Natural STACKABLE Face Paint Makeup Kit - R

Another option is Go Green Face Paint, which you can buy on AmazonFace paint - Certified Organic Face Paint for Kids, No Lead Paint in Stacking Jars, Even for the Most Sensitive Skin, Best for Parties, Halloween and Sporting Events, Makes Your Favorite Halloween Designs even Better, Made in USA.

Whichever option you buy, do your research, first. Read the product description and call the manufacturer if you have any doubts, and…Have a SAFE and fun Halloween!

P.S. This is an unbiased review. I am not receiving any reward from any of the manufacturers recommended above.

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The Healthy Oil You Should Be Using

Coconut oil is all the rage, and rightly so–it contains healthy fats and has multiple uses, thanks to its antibacterial and nurturing properties. But it has a distinct, sweet flavor, which I don’t enjoy in savory dishes, and its smoke point of 360o is not high enough for all of my cooking and baking needs. (The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil breaks down and its components become rancid, producing free radicals. It’s when you start seeing the oil smoke–and it’s bad for you.) I usually reserve coconut oil for baking desserts and sweeter foods–like butternut squash and sweet potatoes, where the flavor works well with the dish–and for medium-temperature cooking.

So, for most of my cooking and baking, I use….avocado oil!

Here’s why:

  • Neutral Flavor: You really can’t taste it.
  • High Smoke Point: Avocado oil has a smoke point of 500o. It says it right on the label of the bottle I have at home. From what I have read, it’s the oil with the highest or one of the highest smoke points. By comparison, canola oil’s smoke point is 400o. (You can read about smoke points of other oils here…scroll down for the chart).
  • Health Benefits: Avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid, which is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, and heart-healthy. (Oleic acid is also found in olive oil, which is why so many experts tout its health benefits). Avocado oil is also a good source of Vitamin E, enzymes, other anti-oxidants, and minerals, like potassium.

Bottom line: Avocado oil is good for you the same way that coconut oil and olive oil are (healthy fats, anti-oxidants, and other goodies)…but it’s far more versatile due to it’s neutral taste and high smoke point. If you’re cooking and baking at high heats, switching to avocado oil is a good idea. Be sure to buy it cold pressed, as this extraction method retains the most health benefits. And, you can always use it raw in salads and dressings.

Where to buy: Avocado oil can be more expensive than olive, canola, or corn oil, so I like to buy it at big box stores to save money. BJ’s and Costco both sell it in a big bottle (~34 oz) in the cooking oil section. I’ve been very happy using the Chosen Foods brand (pictured below), which is also non-GMO. You can a two-pack on Amazon. A single bottle costs me about $12 in BJ’s