home.health.love

A balanced and easy approach to healthy living.


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Make Your Home a Toxin-Free Sanctuary

Do you realize that you have the power to carve out a safe space for your family? A space that is free of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and other hazardous substances? That space is your home. 

family at homeHere’s why it’s so important:

Wherever we go, we’re constantly being bombarded by toxins, pathogens, and electromagnetic radiation. As a society, we’re only beginning to understand what this means for our health. Studies of specific toxins have shown that repeated exposure can damage our immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, particularly those of children, who are especially vulnerable. We are regularly exposed to over 70,000 newly developed synthetic chemicals that have never been tested and whose potential dangers are unknown.The list of environmental toxins we encounter on a daily basis includes air pollution, lead, formaldehyde, BPA, pesticides, flame retardants, mercury, and much more.

Toxic overload– along with poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, the overuse of antibiotics, and other factors– may explain why children today have so many allergies, weight problems, neurological deficits, and behavioral challenges. It may explain why, as a generation, they are “compromised.”  Too much of a bad thing can’t be good.

Now, here is the great news:

I once heard Master Herbalist Andrea Candee say, “My home is my sanctuary.” She had been discussing her rationale for not having wi-fi devices in her home. Everywhere else, she explained, her family members are bombarded with electromagnetic radiation. But, at home, they get a break.

Though we can’t protect ourselves from every health threat, our homes are the only places in the world where we have some control over the environment. Just as we think of sanctuaries as a safe haven for endangered animals, so, too, should we think of our homes as our own special, safer, place. In our homes, our bodies can get a break from the deluge of toxins, pathogens, and radiation that strikes us when we are outside. We get the chance to rejuvenate.

This philosophy, “my home is my sanctuary,” guides the decisions I make about the foods we eat, the products we use, and the things we do in our home. It explains why I have a no-shoe policy. It explains why I make every effort to keep out pesticides, heavy metals, phthalates, BPA, formaldehyde, PVC, VOCs, corn syrup, food coloring, and other potentially hazardous foods and substances.

These limits at home enable us to enjoy all sorts of treats and activities that the great world has to offer us. Outside the house, my kids can eat almost anything, they get dirty, and my son crawls around grubby floors in play areas and waiting rooms. We even invoke the “3-second rule” when teething toys or snacks fall on the floor. We get to roam free without worrying too much about germs and other hazards, because having a “sanctuary” means that we’ll have a chance to repair and rest when we go home. And, we are healthy. While my kids get exposed to all sorts of germs and viruses when we go out (which, studies have shown is important in the development of a stronger immune system), they’ve never been hospitalized or taken antibiotics.

The empowering and protective effects of my “sanctuary” matter not only for my kids’ physiological health, but for their spiritual health, as well. It teaches them about balance and the importance of limits. It teaches them that if we are careful a lot of the time, then when we have fun, we can go ALL OUT. (And, by the way, we have a ton of fun at home, too!)

My home is my sanctuary. It’s a safe haven I carve out for myself, my spouse, and my little ones, based on the trade-offs I am most comfortable with. Think about what your trade-off’s are: What’s most important to you? What can you give up? 

Make your home your sanctuary.


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Why You Should Have a No-Shoe Policy at Home

Since having kids, we’ve instituted a no-shoe policy in our house. My three-year-old daughter is so used to this, that she immediately takes off her shoes whenever we go to someone else’s home, and she’ll often ask me why others aren’t doing the same.

I always find it awkward to ask guests to remove their shoes and it feels like an imposition. They just arrived and here I am making a demand of them! I am aware of the nuisance, but I have good reasons for it.

Studies have shown that people track in all sorts of harmful toxins from outside the home when they walk into the house without removing their shoes. These toxins persist in the air in the form of dust, which is inhaled and absorbed by our skin as it settles on the floor and furniture. Chemicals stay in the air and on surfaces longer in our homes than they do outdoors, where the sun and rain help break down pesticide residues.

Children are more highly exposed to these chemicals. They spend most of their time on or near the floor, and can breathe in and touch chemical-laden dust or soil tracked in by shoes.  Little kids who are constantly putting their hands and other objects in their mouths can ingest these dangerous particles, too. In addition, the infant breathing zone nearest the floor is less ventilated than the adult breathing zone.

Now, let me tell you a little about the toxins we’re literally walking into our homes.

These chemicals include pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on lawns and gardens (they can remain on the lawn for up to a week after application). An EPA study found that 85% of the total daily exposure to airborne pesticides was from breathing air inside the home—a result of both indoor use of such chemicals and track-in. At least a few studies have focused solely on tracked-in chemicals and their persistence in homes. For instance, a 1996 study found that the weedkiller 2,4-D used to treat lawns could persist in carpet dust up to one year. Pesticides have been repeatedly linked to cancers, tumors, and neurological disorders, among other things.

The EPA has warned that lead, mercury, and gasoline can also be tracked into our homes from soil outside that is contaminated by deteriorated exterior lead-based paint and other lead sources, such as industrial pollution and past use of leaded gasoline. Lead and other heavy metals have been linked to neurological problems, particularly in the developing nervous systems of children.

And then there is coal tar, a known carcinogen used in driveway sealants, which is tracked into homes from driveways and parking lots. Even the US government is concerned about the carcinogenic nature of coal tar and the dangers it poses to people and especially children, both outside and indoors.

These are just a few of the toxins we regularly track in with our shoes. There are many others. For instance, just this week I read in the news about a trend of young soccer players developing cancer, potentially due to their frequent contact with, ingestion, and inhalation of the black crumbs found in most artificial turf. If your and/or your kids play sports on synthetic fields, you’re tracking these potentially hazardous particles into your home, too.

I hope this post draws awareness to the hazards of wearing outdoor shoes in the home. I know that most people won’t implement such a policy–it is cumbersome and inconvenient, and we all have to make our own trade-offs. But, on behalf of those who do, I’d humbly suggest that next time you visit someone’s home, ask if they’d like you to remove their shoes. This way, it’s less awkward and guilt-inducing for your hosts, and on behalf of us no-shoes-in-the-home-policymakers, we’d greatly appreciate it. 🙂

For those who come to my home: I have slippers available so no one has to go barefoot. (As I’ve learned from my readers, it’s important to offer indoor shoes, particularly for guests with medical issues.) I hope that makes your stay a little more comfortable.

Photo Credit: SportsandHistoryReader521


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Toxin-free Lunch & Snack Containers for Kids and Adults

 

Many of use are sprucing up our kids’ gear for the school season. If you’re looking for lunch containers for school, snacks, and/or work, I’ve found some great sets! And, the bonus is that they are toxin-free and super convenient!

My favorite food containers are made of food-grade stainless steel (as opposed to plastic or glass), and here is why:

1. They don’t contain PVC, BPA, melamine, phthalates, lead, or other hazardous chemicals commonly found in plastics.

2. They are super light (unlike glass containers).

3. They don’t stain, unlike reusable sandwich bags. (They also protect your food from getting squashed, which baggies don’t do.)

4. They are easy to clean and dishwasher-safe.

5. They are reusable and will last a long time. Good for the wallet, great for the environment!

6. They are durable and won’t warp or break.

There are MANY options out there, but here are two sets I am enjoying now. I like sets that come with variously sized containers because they are so versatile: I’ll always have the right size for whatever I am packing that day.

Great for little kids:

MIRA Brands 3-Container Leak Proof Stainless Steel Lunch box

I love this nesting set, consisting of three small containers perfect for little kids’ lunches. All three can fit into a kids’ lunch bag. For example, I’ll use the largest one for cut up veggies, the smallest one for chumus or guacomole, and the middle one for fruit. The covers seal pretty well–I wouldn’t put liquid in them, but yogurt and dips are well-contained and won’t leak through.

 

Great for bigger kids and adults:

U Konserve Eggplant Square Leak-Proof Nesting Trio, Set of 3

This is another nesting set. The smallest container fits a sandwich perfectly, so I use it for both little-kid and adult lunches. The medium and large are great for salads and any leftovers.

Other fun and useful options:

Bento box, anyone?


LunchBots Trio Stainless Steel Food Container

Wanna stack?

Deco Stacking Lunch Box

And, perfect for soups…

Thermos FOOGO Stainless Steel Food Jar

Photo credit for header: http://www.kidsfoodalert.com


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Sneaky Little Greens

 

Even when I don’t have the time or energy to put together a healthy home-cooked meal, I still try to find ways to “health-ify” the food I am serving. One great trick my mom taught me is to use herbs for instant health-ification!

Fresh herbs contain lots of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. They promote heart health, and protect against cancer and arthritis with their anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they are cheap, easy to use, and easy to hide in a variety of foods because they are so small. Even if you are using a tablespoon here, a tablespoon there, you will be making a difference in a your family’s health.  Over the course of the week(s) the amounts will add up.  

The best way to use herbs is without cooking them first, for maximum nutritional value. If your family is not used to eating herbs, starting with parsley and/or dill is a good idea because flavor is more mild than other types, and their leaves are nice and soft–easy to eat in raw form. Other herbs to try with stronger flavors are basil, oregano, and sage. Herbs like thyme and rosemary have strong flavors and tough leaves–these are great for cooking and roasting.

Here are some ideas of how to add fresh, raw herbs to a variety of common foods, both health and not-so-healthy:

  • Making sandwiches? Add herbs to egg, tuna, or chicken salad. Stick some into a grilled cheese sandwich or into any meat sandwich. Dill and parsley are great for this. Chop them finely or just stick whole leaves right into the sandwich. This is a great way to add a nutritional punch to your kids’ lunches.
  • Garnish pizza or chicken or eggplant parmesan with basil, oregano, or other herb of your choice
  • Taco night? When I make tacos for my family, I stick herbs into the middle of the taco. They get lost in the guacamole and other fillings, so my daughter doesn’t even realize she’s eating them.
  • Garnish any soup you make with herbs. Stick them right on on top or mix it in. It’s best to garnish right before you serve the soup so the greens don’t cook in the heat.
  • Sprinkle minced basil or oregano onto any pasta. Mix it into sauce or cheese to hide.
  • Mix fresh herbs into a starchy side dish, like rice, quinoa, or potatoes, right before serving.

Try buying one bunch of herbs and using it up over the course of the week…then try out a different herb the next week. You will get into the habit in no time.

Happy sneaking!


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It’s All about Balance

free directoriesHey there folks! I took a not-so-brief hiatus to have a (second) baby, move my family across the country, and finished my doctoral dissertation. No biggie, right? Now that those things are done, I am excited to be back in the blogosphere!

This is more of a big-picture post. As I get back into writing, I want to ground myself in my vision for this blog: making healthy choices, yet maintaining balance in our lives.

In a crazy world like ours, how do we do this??? We are all constantly barraged with new information on what we should and shouldn’t do for out health. The dizzying array of data gets my head spinning. Whether you are looking only after your own health or that of others, it’s so hard to know what to do.

Here is how I handle the dilemma of living healthy in a confusing and sometimes overwhelming environment. 

Though information can be overwhelming, I still believe that knowledge is power. I do my research and use tools (like EWG’s Skindeep database and Dirty Dozen list) to help me make determinations about what to buy for my family. I’ve  also developed a network of like-minded friends that I turn to. You can learn so much from people in the same position as you, even if you are not credentialed experts.

At some point, though, I have to stop asking questions and make a decision. In addition to weighing different opinions, I consider whether the “right” thing to do is going to cause me any significant hardship. Sometimes following the healthiest or safest path is really expensive (like buying only organic food) or very difficult (like making my own fresh wheat grass shot every morning). In these scenarios, I remind myself that the stress and anxiety caused by making the healthiest choice may offset any benefits I’ve gained.

That is why, for me, healthy living is all about MAKING TRADE-OFF’s, weighing pros and cons. The hope is that if you make the right decision for your family most of the time, the times you choose differently won’t veer you too far off the healthy-living track.

Let me share two examples from my own life where I deliberately cho0se the not-as-healthy option in exchange for less stress and more peace.

Example 1: I let my children eat (almost) whatever they want at school, social events, and other peoples’ homes. My policy on junk food is: In the home we eat healthy, but outside the home we can enjoy whatever treats are offered so we don’t feel deprived. This way, 80% or more of the time, my kids eat well; even if they eat junk when we are out, I know they will get the proper nutritional balance overall. By letting go of eating healthy 100% of the time, I reduce fights, tantrums, guilt, and stress. We all have a better time.

Example 2: I often make smoothies, but use powdered greens instead of the fresh version. In an ideal world, I’d have the time and energy to make a fresh green juice every morning. I know it’s the best way to get a huge nutritional powerhouse of a meal, but I don’t have the time or energy these days to wash and cut the greens, make the juice each morning, and then spend time washing the machine. I also don’t like the taste of green drinks. The next best thing to a green drink is a smoothie where you sneak the fresh greens in. Sometimes I do this. But when I don’t have the time or the desire, I use a green powder as a substitute, such as this really yummy one (in orange popsicle flavor!), and I will even add a protein powder to fill me up. I may not be getting my nutrition in the ideal package (fresh, raw greens), but I still get a nice amount and I enjoy it more this way.

In conclusion:

By letting go of the ideal healthy option, I can still be healthy but keep my sanity and peace.

We can only do our best, and chances are, our best is great enough.


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Quick & Healthy Eggplant Parmesan (Gluten-free, too!)

A friend of mine was telling me recently that eggplant parmesan is one of her favorite foods…but she only makes it once a year. Why? Too much work! Slicing, breading, frying…it’s quite a labor intensive dish. (And usually not the healthiest one, either.)

But, no need to fear! Eggplant parmesan can be really quickly, easily…and, yes, healthfully prepared. The secret is not to fry the eggplant and to leave out the breadcrumbs…instead, just broil the eggplant! Another time saver: slice the eggplant lengthwise instead of into circles. Finally, I don’t bother to salt the eggplant in advance–this doesn’t seem to add to the flavor. Bottom line: no smell, no standing over the frying pan, no burning oil, no scrubbing caked-on greasy bits when you are done. Not only is it easier, but healthier to avoid frying. I also love how broiling eggplant brings out a smoky eggplant taste (it reminds me of baba ganoush).

Here’s a healthy, easy eggplant parm’ recipe for you, with a bunch of variations to make it interesting.

No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients:

2 eggplants

1 jar tomato sauce

1 16 oz. package shredded mozzarella

1-2 handfuls of minced basil for flavor and garnish (optional)

Olive oil

Salt, pepper

(Feel free to halve the ingredients if you only have one eggplant.)

Preparation:

1. Turn on your broiler (I put it on the high setting).

2. Cut eggplant lengthwise, in half. Slice each of the halves lengthwise, into approx. 1/4-1/8″ slices. (No need to make these slices too thin: I like them thick because I love the taste of roasted eggplant, I don’t want to hide it in cheese and sauce!). If you prefer slicing the eggplant into circles, then go ahead!

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3. Drizzle baking pan(s) or cookie sheet(s) with olive oil. Place eggplant slices in one layer in pan or on sheet. Drizzle eggplants with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Put into oven and broil for 10-12 minutes. Take eggplants out when they are tender and browning, but not dried (then you left them in for too long).

4. Spray/drizzle bottom of lasagna dish with olive oil. (If you used a baking pan in the previous step, then you can now use it to make the lasagna!) Layer eggplant, tomato sauce, cheese and basil; repeat for 2-3 layers or until ingredients are used. End with garnish on top.

Variations:

1. Mediterranean style: instead of basil, used parsley and/or dill. Instead of mozzarella, used feta.

2. Zucchini parmesan: use zucchini or summer squash instead of eggplant. Follow directions, exactly. Yummy variety.

3. Zucchini-eggplant parmesan: use zucchini and eggplant!

4. Use fresh, diced tomatoes in addition to or instead of tomato sauce.

5. Use fresh, sliced mozzarella instead of shredded.

Photo Credit (1st photo): seriouseats. Silly me, when I made this last I forgot to take a photo of the finished product…by which I really mean, my family devoured the dish before I could think twice. But, my parm looked almost as nice as this one. 🙂


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Waste Not, Want Not

A year ago, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that as a nation, we waste  40% of our food. The average family plays a role in this. Often, we over-buy food or forgot what we have in the fridge and it goes bad.

But, we also willingly discard perfectly edible food, and we do it all the time! Think about the last time you made broccoli or cauliflower: chances are, you used the florets, but threw out the stems. Or the last time your family didn’t get around to finishing the salad greens you bought before they started to wilt. Perhaps you got rid of those, too? Do you ever throw out fruits, like apples or bananas, that get soft and brown after a while?

When you do this, you’re throwing away nutrition and money (hey, you paid for that broccoli stem!). The goods new is: there are lots of ways that you can actually use veggie stems, wilted greens, over-ripe fruit, and other produce you are used to throwing away.

Read on for a variety of ideas to save food and save money:

  • Stir-fry or steam veggie stems: Instead of discarding stems, slice them and include them in a stir-fry, either alone or with other veggies you enjoy. If, for example, you’re using broccoli, then why not use both the stems and the florets?  Along with those from cruciferous veggies, stems from leafy greens, like kale, collards, and spinach, are great in stir-fries, too! You can also steam stems like you would other parts of the vegetable. TIP: add stems to stir-fries first; once tender, add in your other vegetables. Also: for thicker stems, like broccoli or cauliflower, make sure to cut the stems into thin pieces, so that they cook quicker.

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    Sauteed kale stems. I added these to quinoa for a yummy meal.

  • Make veggie broth: Keep a Ziploc bag in your fridge or freezer and use it to store parts of vegetables you usually discard: onion ends, carrot tips, herb stems, mushroom stems, parts of any root vegetable, etc. After you’ve collected a bit, use the veggie cuttings to make a tasty broth for your favorite soup! Just throw veggie cuttings into a pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer for an hour or more.
  • Sauté wilted greens: Bought too many salad greens  that are starting to wilt? No problem, put them in a pan with some olive oil, add seasoning of your choice (even just salt and pepper is great), sauté for a few minutes, drizzle with lemon juice (optional) and your going-bad-greens are now a tasty wilted-greens side dish! This works with any leafy green: romaine, arugula, spinach, kale, you name it.
  • Make chips: Another tasty treat you can make with your wilted greens is to drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle seasoning and bake…voila, the healthiest chips you can make! Kale, spinach, swiss chard—any green can be baked into a chip and eaten as a snack, pizza topping, burrito filling, or added into a salad!
  • Freeze for smoothies: If you have fruit that’s getting a little too ripe or soft for your taste (bananas, berries, plums, peaches, nectarines, mangos, etc.), store them in a closed Ziploc or other container in the freezer and use them to make smoothies.
  • Flavor water or seltzer: Something else to do with fruit that’s getting old and going soft, is to chop it into pieces, add to a pitcher of water or seltzer, and then put in the fridge. After a day or so, you’ll have fruit-flavored water (and by drinking the make-at-home kind, you save yourself about $2 for every 16oz, which is approximately how much Hint and other such fruit-flavored water drinks cost).

With these tips you will save money, and enjoy the satisfaction of using what you already have, rather than throwing it away.


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For Summer’s Sake, Stop Cooking!

Many of us are in the habit of cooking dinner for our families. But, dinner doesn’t need to be a cooked meal, and summer’s the best time to avoid heating up the kitchen in already-high temperatures! Besides for the hot weather, here are other reasons not to slave over a hot stove: 1) it can be quicker and easier to prepare a meal, and 2) when you don’t cook, your food maintains most of its nutritional content.

So, here are some no-cook or (low-cook) ideas for filling and nutritious summer dinners:

Entree salad:

I often like to base my non-cook meals around a hearty salad. Salads can be tasting and filling when they have a protein included, like canned beans. (I always buy the organic kind from a company that does not use BPA in their cans, such as Trader Joe’s and Eden Organic.) Other ideas for an easy protein to add to your salad: sprouts (you can grow your own!), baked tofu, tuna, canned salmon, nuts (slivered almonds, crushed walnuts), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), and cheese (goat, feta). Some easy-cook protein options are hard-boiled eggs and quinoa (it’s a grain, but it’s also a complete protein!). To fill out the meal, you can always add a side: a piece of whole-grain bread, a chilled soup. Easy and super healthy!

Summer Slaw:

An alternative to salad is making a slaw! When people think of “slaw,” they usually think “cole slaw,” or shredded cabbage with a mayo- or buttermilk-based dressing. Cabbage is super healthy, but slaws can also be made from all sorts of other shredded veggies and fruits, including broccoli, carrots, and kale. Further, the dressing does not have to be a heavy, dairy-based sort. Actually, lots of Asian dressings based on soy or peanuts work really well with slaws, as do tahini-based ones and different kinds of vinaigrettes. Like an entree salad, a slaw can be a meal in and of itself, or add some soup and another side if you desire.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then I will now: slaws are super easy because you can already buy the ingredients shredded. Shredded cabbage, carrots, and broccoli are available in most supermarkets, and I’ve seen shredded kale, too.

Here’s a quick and easy slaw primer: combine shredded vegetable of your choice, with favorite nut or seed (pumpkin, sunflower, slivered almonds, and/or sesame), with favorite dried or fresh fruit (craisins, raisins, dried apricots, grapes, etc.), and an optional pungent (like scallions). Top with your favorite dressing.

Below is a dressing I found in a Moosewood cookbook (Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day) that I like to use to make a tasty broccoli slaw (gets compliments every time).

Ingredients:

1 bag broccoli slaw (store-bought, approx. 12 oz)

Seed or nut of choice (sunflower seeds, slivered almonds)

1-2 cups Craisins, raisins, or fresh grapes

Optional: sesame seeds, scallions

2 tbs toasted sesame oil

2 tbs soy sauce

4 tsp honey

6 tbs lime juice (fresh, about 2 limes; or use store-bought)

salt, pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Combine sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, and lime juice in a container with lid; add salt and pepper. Close lid and shake to mix ingredients.

2. Put shredded broccoli in bowl. Add ingredients from step 1 to shredded broccoli.

3. Top with chosen dried or fresh fruit, nuts, sesame seeds and scallions, to your taste. Mix together. Preferably, let sit for 20 minutes before serving.

Need more inspiration? I found  a bunch of yummy slaw recipes on the kitchn.

Chilled soup:

Yum. Summer is the season for my favorite soups. I love gazpacho (there are so many kinds!), and other chilled soups, like chilled strawberry soup, cucumber, or pea. Some soups you usually eat hot can be tasty when chilled, such as a corn-based, zucchini, or butternut-squash soup. Serve with a side of multi-grain bread with a spread of chumus or canned salmon salad and you are on your way to a filling meal!

Fresh Veggies and dips:

Why not? Cut up carrots, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, and/or pepper and offer it all up with a variety of dips: chumus, guacamole, tahini, nut butter (I like almond and cashew), or whatever floats your boat. Such dips are high in protein and very filling. Offering up a variety of dips makes it more fun and will likely increase the amount of veggies your kids/partner will consume.

Squash:

Ok, this one involves cooking, but you can plan ahead. Bake a few butternut squash halves drizzled in olive oil  in advance (say, on a Sunday evening), and then serve squash for a couple of dinners over the next few days. Basically, I love butternut squash topped with a protein. Top with tuna/salmon salad or egg salad; sprinkle with some feta or goat cheese; and/or add some nuts/seeds and dried fruit. You can eat it cold or heat it up a little before serving.

I hope these ideas can get you started on the no-cook bandwagon. What are some of your favorite no-cook dinners?


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‘Tis the Season for Berries

Woohoo! Summer weather is finally hear (at least for those of us living in the northeast!). One of the benefits of summer is that there are lots of tasty fruits that are in season, including berries! And, by “in season,” I mean “cheaper”! I’ll give you lots of tips on buying berries cheaply, below.

But first, let’s talk nutrition. Berries are a nutritional powerhouse. Low in calories, great in taste, but high in vitamin C, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and minerals (potassium, magnesium, folate, calcium), which means they fight inflammation and are cancer-inhibiting. They also help to regulate blood sugar levels. I often see them included on super-food lists.

But…berries are pretty expensive to buy, as many of you probably know. So if you’re going to buy them fresh, the next few months are the time to do it, and do it often, because they are priced cheaper than when they’re not in season. In fact, this is the time of year you are likely to find all sorts of berries on sale in your local supermarket. At the Stop and Shop near my house in CT, organic strawberries are perpetually on sale throughout the summer, and blueberries and raspberries are often marked down, as well. So, shop the sales when you can (Wholefoods and other health food stores have sales every so often, too). I’ve found that for organic berries, Trader Joe’s has the lowest (non-sale) price, while Costco and other big-box stores have some of the best deals on conventional berries. Also, try out farmers markets in the spring and summer–they may have good deals, especially if you come at the end of the day, when you might be able to negotiate a better price. But, don’t bring them home and let them sit there: it’s really best to eat them within a couple of days, before they start losing nutrients.

Note: If you buy the conventional type, you should consider soaking them in a special pesticide wash designed to remove some of the pesticides, as strawberries and the other berry types contain lots of pesticides (their thin skins make them highly absorbent). The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List (which analyzes pesticide residue in common fruits and vegetables) ranks strawberries at #2, blueberries at #13 and raspberries at #21 in terms of most pesticide residue.

Another tip for buying berries on the cheap (and year-round) is buying them frozen. In fact, some researchers have argued that frozen fruits/veggies may have as much or more nutritional content as the fresh version. Why? Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing are usually processed at their peak ripeness, a time when they are most nutrient-packed. By contrast, produce destined to be sold fresh are picked before they are fully ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. (For a really great overview of the pros and cons of frozen vs. fresh, click here).

One thing you should know about frozen produce is that it is often blanched before being frozen, to arrest bacterial growth and general food decay. This always seems to be the case for vegetablesBut, GOOD NEWS: fruits on the other hand are not always blanched. I’ve read that Trader Joe’s frozen fruit is not blanched first, and though I haven’t confirmed this yet, I believe the same about the Wholefood’s 365 brand. If you have a favorite brand, I’d encourage you to contact their customer service department and ask about the freezing process. Makes sense to use the brands that don’t blanch first, right?

Another benefit to frozen is that you can buy bags of mixed berries to enhance nutritional variety.

The cheapest frozen berries I have found are at Costco (conventional, but some stores carry and organic bag of mixed berries) and Trader Joe’s (has many organic varieties at the best price for non-bulk). And, of course, when there is a sale in your local store, stock up, since frozen doesn’t go bad…at least not very quickly. It’s best to eat them within a few months, though, because nutrients in frozen produce to eventually degrade.

So, let’s bottom line this: Fresh, I believe, is still best! Buy in-season to reduce cost (and decrease carbon emissions). Shop sales, and frequent the store with the best prices. Try out farmers markets, which are plentiful during the warmer months. Frozen is a great back-up, more affordable, and year-round option. 

Okay, so now you are wondering, what the heck do I do with frozen berries? Here are some ideas:

1. Easy-peasy smoothies: I don’t even want to call this a recipe. Get out your blender.Combine a fresh or frozen banana (I buy a bunch of bananas, let them ripen a bit, chop them in half or thirds, then freeze them) and a handful of strawberries. If you like, add in some other berries to taste (blue-, rasp-, whatever). Pour in a liquid base, such as OJ, apple juice, coconut or almond milk. Optional but super worth it: add in a handful of greens, such as spinach, kale, or whatever you have. You probably won’t even taste it. Then blend!!! If you prefer added sweetness, add agave, honey, or coconut nectar. If you want it thinner, add more of the liquid base. Consider including a protein or greens powder for added nutrition.

2. Defrost and eat plain: that’s it. Don’t do anything, just eat. My mom taught me this trick. I don’t mind the consistency, though some people do. She takes out a bowlful of berries the night before and leaves them in the frig to defrost so they are ready for eating at breakfast.

3. Make sorbet! There are tons of easy recipes on the web, but here’s one that my friend Cara of Stamford Treats made and served at a recent event, it was delish! Super easy: blend 1 lb frozen mixed berries, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup Rose’s lime juice, and a enough coconut milk to make the mixture soft enough to blend. That’s it!

4. Use in baking: it’s better not to cook berries because you lose some of the nutrients, but hey, everyone likes a berry-muffin or cake once in a while.

5. Sprinkle on your cereal, yogurt, waffles, pancakes (or whatever!): I take the berries out in the morning and let them defrost for a little while. Then I sprinkle them on my cereal or yogurt. You can also remove some berries from the freezer the night before, and keep them in your refrigerator overnight so they are ready for breakfast time!

With all of these tips, I am sure you will become a berry good eater! Enjoy!


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Ode to Lentils

Lentils are a great food for so many reasons. They should be a staple of any vegetarian diet, but are a great addition to any food repertoire. They are a low-fat, low-cholesterol, nutrient-rich substitute for meat.

Here is what makes them so special:

  1. They build your iron stores! A cooked cup of lentils contains 37% of your daily nutritional value. Apart from fortified cereals and soybeans, lentils have the most iron of any non-meat food source (see Table 1 to compare). Many women have low iron stores (12% of young women!), which can result in anemia. Vegetarians are particularly vulnerable to low iron, because they don’t eat meat, which is a great source for iron, but even meat-eaters suffer from low iron levels! (Other iron sources: all varieties of legumes, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, tofu.)
  2. Unlike other legumes, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking.
  3. They are less gas-producing than beans.
  4. They cook very quickly, quicker than other legumes! Boiling them takes about 15-20 minutes.
  5. According to a Harvard study women who ate beans and lentils at least twice a week had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate them just once a month. (Source)
  6. They taste great when sprouted!
  7. They make a great toddler/kid food!
  8. Many varieties add different flavors and colors to your dishes: orange, green, brown, black, etc.

Below re two of my favorite recipe for making lentils is. The first is a great side or vegetarian main dish or lunch salad. It was featured in the August 2005 issue of Gourmet Magazine. It’s super easy and tasty. I have served it to company on many occasions and always get compliments.

Lentil Salad with Tomato and Herbs

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried lentils (preferably small French lentils)
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 3/4 lb tomatoes, diced (2 cups)
  • 4 large scallions, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, or to taste (I usually start with 2 tbs. and then add more)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation:

  1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan with lentils, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes.
  2. Drain in a large sieve, then transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Toss hot lentils with tomatoes, scallions, dill, basil, vinegar, oil, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste.

Easy…right??? By the way, you can adjust this recipe by including whatever herbs and veggies you have in your frig. If you don’t have any fresh herbs, it still tastes great with the dried versions or none at all! 

Lentils with Rice (Mujadara)

Here is another favorite: a one-dish meal for a weeknight dinner, which can be prepared ahead. This recipe is adapted from one presented on Good Morning America. It’s so easy, that after making it once, you won’t need the directions anymore.

Ingredients:

  • 1-3 medium yellow onions, peeled
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 3 1/2 cups cold water or broth
  • 1 cup rice of your choice (sometimes I use quinoa)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • OPTIONAL: Other seasonings of your choice: cumin, turmeric, curry, paprika, etc.

Preparation:

  1. Dice 1-2 onions.
  2. Heat a large frying pan and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the diced onions. Saute until quite brown and set aside.
  3. In a 4-quart covered pot place the lentils and water/broth. Bring to a boil, covered, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the cooked onion to the lentils, along with the rice and salt. (Add any optional seasonings.) Cover and simmer 20 minutes until rice and lentils are soft. If a bit of water remains unabsorbed, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes and it will soak in.
  5. OPTIONAL: Slice the remaining onion into rings. Heat the frying pan again and saute the rings in the remaining olive oil.
  6. OPTIONAL: To serve, top the lentils with the sauteed onion rings.
  7. Accompany with plain yogurt, sour cream, or tzatziki sauce. Consider adding a lemony green salad, with tomato wedges on the side.

I sometimes make this recipe when I already have cooked rice or quinoa, in which case I cook the lentils alone according to step 3; when done, I put the lentils in the frying pan with the sauteed onion and additional olive oil, add the cooked rice, and saute it altogether for a few minutes.

Enjoy!