Last week, we began telling you about celebrity chef, Mario Batali’s “Food Stamp Challenge” initiative. For one week, the acclaimed chef challenged Americans (and his own family) to “walk in someone else’s shoes” by eating only what they would be able to buy with food stamps. Batali, the star of ABC’s “The Chew,” partnered with the New York City Food Bank to raise awareness about potential cuts to the food stamp program, which helps feed millions of Americans. The food stamp guidelines amount to $31 per person, per week, or $1.48 per meal! Instead of filling up on fresh, organic vegetables, he’s been feeding his family more beans and starches like egg and bean tacos and lentils and rice.
What this initiative brings home to us is the need for families of all income levels to educate themselves on wellness and nutrition—as well as eating and cooking options—especially at a lower income level. Mario Batali may be giving up his $4 lattes from a specialty coffee house, but most families struggle with larger and more fundamental issues, like what to make for dinner that will be healthy, and not break the bank.
Peanuts are not Nuts
Sneezing, hives, difficulty breathing, or nausea–are all allergy symptoms to peanuts. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), more than 3 million people in the United States report being allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both, and approximately 1% of the U.S. population has a peanut allergy. Nearly half of the 150 deaths attributed to food allergies each year are caused by peanut allergies.
People with peanut allergies often are concerned about possible reactions from tree nuts; however, tree nuts are botanically unrelated to the peanut, which is a legume. It is estimated that 25 to 35 percent of people with peanut allergy have sensitivity to tree nuts, as well. The biggest reason people allergic to peanuts should be careful of items with tree nuts, is that they are often manufactured around equipment that has touched peanuts. (this is called “cross contamination”)
Many manufacturing plants that process tree nut and seed butters also process peanut butters and other peanut-containing products. Cross-contamination often is unavoidable. Thus, individuals who are not allergic to tree nuts, but very sensitive to peanuts, may not be able to eat prepared foods or other nut and seed butters that contain tree nuts. If tree nuts are tolerated and desired, sources that are not cross contaminated with peanuts should be sought, as nuts can make important contributions to a healthful diet including, protein, energy, vitamin E and trace minerals.
At Red Rabbit, we are advocates for whole foods rather than processed foods, especially for our kids. We feel strongly that food that comes directly from the farm, prepared with as few processes as possible and ends on the table are better for our bodies, but why?
In an effort to accommodate population growth as well as leverage modern manufacturing technology, much of the foods Americans used to grow and eat have been replaced by packaged and processed foods found in stores. Food manufacturing companies spend millions of dollars marketing to us to try and win our wallets and our taste buds. Though these processed foods last longer and taste sweeter, what are the unintended consequences to our health and wellness?
You may find it as unbelievable as I did that three common food additives that show up in many ‘kid friendly’ foods are actually very harmful:
In a 2007 study, artificial colors and/or sodium benzoate preservative increased hyperactivity in 3 and 8/9 year olds when consumed. These food additives are found in cakes, candies, pork sausage, gelatin desserts, soft drinks, juices, ice cream, cheese, butter, pasta and even Maraschino cherries. Check out the study here!
If we aren’t diligent about checking the ingredients in the foods we serve our children, we could be inadvertently giving them food known to cause cancer and hyperactive behaviors such as inattention, impulsivity and over activity. And these three chemicals are just examples of many manufactured additives now found in factory produced food.
It's time to start talking about solutions, not only the problems. I believe we can have an impact on the issues facing our society regarding healthy food in schools and the obesity epidemic if we focus on both ends of the spectrum—the bottom-up local grass roots level and the top down regulatory and government level.
From the top:
We live in a country where USDA nutrition standards consider (using only a few examples here) pizza and French fries as vegetables—which means they can be served to our school-aged children every day of the week. If that is the standard that we set; if the bar is set at that low a level, then kids are far from safe. No one can re-invent the system overnight, but parents and educators need to step up and say, “this is not helping our children and it must change.”
Here is another awful oversight in our current system: refined foods. None of the school nutrition standards in place today address those at all. Until Congress changes the guidelines, large companies will not change what they serve. We all know pesticides, chemicals and preservatives are horrifically bad for us—as kids and adults. Yet, we treat all fruits and vegetables the same. Do you think peaches that were grown on a farm 50 miles away and picked yesterday have the same nutritional value as those that were picked 6 months ago, shipped half way around the world, dumped into a sugary syrup (most likely high fructose corn syrup) and canned? Take a look at the typical school lunch fare and you will find more of the latter than the former.
Studies have shown that food dyes and other additives can increase hyperactivity and cause other behavioral problems; children who ate fast food three or more times per week performed lower on standardized tests in reading and math. Today, Red Rabbit is successfully bringing healthy meals to thousands of school children across the Greater New York Area every day, with great results.
Though I think the Let's Move Campaign is a terrific first attempt at setting a good example, we need to go further and deeper into the system to make wellness, fitness and healthy food options something all kids—of all socioeconomic backgrounds—have access to.
Give your body the energy it needs to get through the day by making breakfast an every day habit...Breakfast is considered to be the most important meal of the day, because it is meant to give us that daily jump-start. Research shows that a person who begins their day by eating breakfast is less likely to be obese than a person who typically skips this all-important meal. Eating breakfast is a great way to get your metabolism up and running to help people shed unwanted pounds. Plus, eating breakfast every day prevents you from snacking on high-calorie and high-fat foods throughout the day. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 78% of individuals who have maintained their weight loss of 30 pounds or more, for at least one year, eat breakfast every day. Eating a balanced breakfast can help keep your family alert, improve mood and reduce mid-morning food cravings.
Children who eat breakfast are more likely to have better concentration, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. The State of Minnesota Breakfast Study showed that "students who ate breakfast before starting school had a general increase in math grades and reading scores, increased student attention, reduced nurse visits, and improved student behaviors." This would not be the case however, if they skipped breakfast or ate only sugary processed foods. These foods may cause your child to have erratic energy levels, so it’s best to eat a balanced breakfast, with a whole-grain carbohydrate and quality protein source, and that will help get them going and sustain their energy levels through lunch time.
Remember, many breakfast foods contain a lot of added sugar and preservatives and have had beneficial nutrients processed away. Best to steer clear of frosted and chocolate cereals, fat-laden donuts and fast-food breakfast sandwiches, white bread and high-sugar breakfast bars. Instead of sugary juices, serve yourself and your children 100% fruit juices or fat-free or low-fat milk.
Breakfast does not have to be a big formal meal or a time-consuming process. If you are not used to eat breakfast, start with a simple morning snack and add on from there. With a little planning, everyone can enjoy the health benefits from eating breakfast each day. Stick to the basics and serve simple foods that are both nutritious and convenient for anyone’s busy morning routine.
Here are our top tips to a successful and healthier breakfast:
Despite what some commercial diet plans say, or what people have been led to believe—not all carbohydrates are "bad". Just like not all calories are created equally, carbohydrates are not either. They provide energy for activity and they aid in the functioning of our muscles and internal organs, so we cannot live without them. When looking for high-quality (i.e., highly beneficial and healthful) carbohydrates, choose a nutritional super star, like sweet potatoes!
Whether child or adult...we all like to enjoy something sweet! That doesn't mean it has to be something full of added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. A sweet potato is a healthy whole food, sweet all on its own. When eaten in moderation, in proper portion size and prepared healthfully, it’s one of nature’s best bets. Besides their fun bright orange interior, sweet potatoes lend themselves to being seasoned by a variety of ethnic and flavorful spices, making them a “go to ingredient” no matter what the season.
Ounce for ounce, white potatoes and sweet potatoes contain about the same amount of carbohydrates (1/2 cup = 15 grams). However, sweet potatoes are a better source of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and calcium than white potatoes. In addition, sweet potatoes have more fiber and therefore a slightly lower glycemic index than their white counterparts.
For this reason, blood glucose will rise a little more gradually with sweet potatoes than with white potatoes. The rate at which your body breaks down a specific type of carbohydrate influences how quickly the food raises your blood sugar levels and in turn lowers them and potentially causing you to be hungrier faster. It is also a better choice for someone with diabetes or diabetic tendencies because of its composition.
Although not the same, the USDA requires the other typically orange- colored vegetable of a softer variety and a cousin of the sweet potato—the yam—to be labeled as a sweet potato, to avoid confusion. So, yams purchased in the United States are almost always sweet potatoes, no matter what color and shape they are.
There is no question that winter has officially arrived in New York! As we bundle ourselves and our children for the cold, windy weather and minimize our time outdoors for running to the subway, bus, or catching a cab, it’s a good reminder that we also are limiting the time we spend doing physical activities.
I know, we hear it often....physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. In combination with eating healthy, whole foods, physical activity can help prevent a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer and stroke, which are the three leading causes of death in the United States. Physical activity also helps control weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat, promotes strong bone, muscle and joint development and decreases the risk of obesity.
When it comes to children and physical activity—they need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to grow up to a healthy weight, though it doesn’t need to be all at one time. Living in New York apartments in the middle of winter often makes this a challenge. So, it’s time to get creative!
Here are a few fun, physical activities to get your children off the couch and using their natural youthful energy.
● Snow, Snow, Snow!
In the spirit of finding alternate ways of commemorating Valentine’s Day, and to follow up on Sandy’s blog post last week about treat ideas that don't mean consuming tons of candy, I would like to share some alternative gift ideas. Think outside of the box.....of chocolates! You don't have to turn to sugar to shower those you love with sweet treats in honor of the month of love! Kind gestures/gifts can be equally as nice, or even better!
As candy and chocolate last only a moment, these gifts can last forever…your loved one will be able to remember your thoughtfulness, generosity, as well as the time and effort you spent to make their day that much more special. Here are a few ideas to give you some inspiration:
- Homemade card with construction paper and a personal note: think how much Grandma, Mom, or Dad would love to see your creativity and skill!
- Framing one of your favorite photos: what a great way to “capture the moment” and remember a special memory you shared with your loved one.
- Painting something at a pottery painting venue (like a bowl, or a picture frame!...something that would get used or displayed and remind the person of your effort and creativity)
Did you know that January is Oatmeal month? Oatmeal is a GREAT source of fiber (which we all know we need on a daily basis) and comes in all sorts of flavors and varieties – slow cook, multi grain, or single oat. Oatmeal makes for a great breakfast or snack food, for any age. By mixing up the way you jazz it up (nuts, berries, bananas, any toppings or add-ins you like!), you can practically eat this breakfast a different way each day!
For children, choosing natural oatmeal for breakfast, rather than highly processed cereals with added sugars, will set their day up for success. Rather than suffering from the energy rollercoaster of sugar “highs and lows” that processed cereals often create, their moods and behaviors will remain stable throughout the day. Statistics show that having a healthy breakfast helps with concentration, weight maintenance, and overall wellness.
Additionally, oatmeal is also a great gluten-free option, so allergy-prone children can now “enjoy what everyone else is eating.” Just look for the gluten-free certification label, as some oats are processed on the same machines/rollers as those used for wheat.
Oatmeal can be cooked according to any time or budget constraints you may have. For quick preparation, you can choose instant oatmeal in flavors like cinnamon, maple brown sugar or spice. If you have more time, try longer-cooking Irish Oatmeal, which takes approximately 10 minutes on the stove.
To customize your own creation, cook plain oatmeal and add your own sweeteners- fruit, brown sugar, or agave. By using your own sweeteners, you have control of how much sugar is in the oatmeal. If you buy the instant variety, buy the plain kind and add your own sweeteners, as processed flavors are often a bit too sweet for many tastes.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year! Hope this finds you well and ready for 2012! I am pleased to share lots of exciting changes and additions happening at Red Rabbit this year with you... we have a new look, a new website, a new blog (yes, this is my first posting!) an improved weekly newsletter we call “Notes From the Patch”, and the addition of more staff with super qualifications and a commitment to not only improving Red Rabbit’s menu and service offerings but also sharing Red Rabbit’s mission and dedication to education. We are creating new programs for educators, parents and kids—in school, after school, on Saturdays and even summer camps and field trips. In short, we have lots and lots of really exciting new things happening that we are all very grateful for.
What hasn’t changed, however, is our daily commitment to our schools and kids and our desire to increase communications with you—our school and parent partners. The enhancements we are making to the operations, offerings, communication channels and services come as a result of what you have told us you wanted/needed in the last few years. Our local and very hands-on presence allows us to be responsive and agile; if we can do it, we will.
I’d like to invite you to post comments here or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . I always enjoy hearing what you like, or love about RR, and even the “not so good stuff,” like where we need improvement…it helps us stay customer-focused, and providing you what you want.
Take a look at our new website: www.myredrabbit.com and let me know what you think.
Rhys W. Powell