Risk it or Toss it? Lunchbox Challenge

Today I packed my kids’ lunch (pretty much the same items as yesterday).  They’re on an egg kick – which fits well with the hunger challenge as an inexpensive protein.  My son likes hard boiled and my daughter likes egg salad, so I can easily satisfy both for a healthy lunch.  Plus I was able to boil the eggs ahead, Sunday night and be prepared to pack quickly in the morning.


The lunchbox is pictured above.  It contains:

egg salad salad in 1/2 pita (hard boiled egg for son)

edamame and carrots

half a banana

apple sauce

For my son I had to pack a snack as well – a fig bar and cheese.  Luckily my daughter’s preschool supplies her with a morning snack.  We’re doing o.k. for the challenge as far as lunches for them, I think.  I hope I have something left by Friday to pack.

It was a really hot day and when I picked my son up from school at 1:30 he said he wanted to eat his lunch at home and didn’t eat much because “I wasn’t hungry, just hot.  And they don’t give me enough time to eat”.  My son is a slow eater and so we’ll have to figure that out.  As I unpacked his lunch at home, I realized I forgot to put the ice pack in my son’s lunch.  Oops!  Not sure how that happened but anything is possible as we’re trying to get into a kindergarten routine. 

I realize that if I throw the egg away, I am not only wasting precious food but cutting into my reserve for another lunch or snack.  Being that my son’s safety comes first, I toss the egg.  Poor food safety and an honest mistake happens all the time, but it may seem like a luxury to some to throw it away.  Other’s may say “It’s fine.  Just eat it.” and may have been, but I don’t want to take the risk.

For my lunch I had the final piece of the left-over veggie sandwich from Sunday dinner and a few edamame.  I would like something more, but will wait until I am truly hungry.

Daughter’s lunchDaughter's lunch

Food Stamps and Potlucks

sandwichSo my very first dayof the hunger challenge I am faced with a dilemma, that I did not deal with last year, and that’s social dining and guests.  Just because you’re on a limited budget and using food stamps, this doesn’t mean you don’t want to connect with family, friends and community.  Perhaps eating in a communal setting actually helps feed more and gives more variety too.  But how do you create meals that can be expanded to feed more on the same $4 a day?

You’ll note I added some large loaves of bread, veggies and goat cheese to my list.  I was to bring a main lunch item to a family gathering and I made my Big Veggie Sandwich from Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry, with a few adjustments.  I used japanese eggplant instead of mushrooms and doubled the recipe for two sandwiches.  In looking at the recipe I just realized I omitted the artichoke hearts on my shopping list, since they were already onhand.  I’ll add another $3 to my bill.  (Good thing I added some cushion).  I even have a few left-over veggies that I cooked, but didn’t add to the sandwiches (I’ll use them later in pasta). The two sandwiches cost about $22 to make total (more than 1 1/2 days of total food bill).  This also made me realize that shopping and planning is crucial.  And why doing the challenge determining grocerieis rather than individual pricing of meals makes more sense, and is like we all shop and plan.  We don’t buy $4 of ingredients per day.  If I hadn’t factored in the event and it had been toward the end of the week, I may not have budgeted for enough food.  Thus I can see another issue of not having enough food and finance – and that’s feeling isolation.

The really good thing is that while the sandwiches were a hit, and there was so much food (which usually happens at a potluck) that I took home an entire sandwich.  This meant we had a few bites for dinner (we were still a bit full from the lunch) and ate it again tonight with a can of minestrone soup.  There’s even one square left which I plan to eat for my lunch tomorrow.  Each sandwich (about $11) is a hearty 8 adult servings, but with sides at the original luncheon it was certainly stretched to 16 servings.  So about .70 per serving.

Here’s the recipe…

Makes 8 (2-inch-wide) servings, or 16 (squares) 


1 (1-pound) ciabatta or pugliese loaf, about 14 × 7 inches

1 organic red bell pepper

1 zucchini

1 summer squash

1 portobello mushroom

3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1 (14-ounce) can water-packed artichoke hearts, chopped

4 ounces goat cheese (rBGH free)


Preheat oven to 440 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray a 12 × 9-inch glass baking dish with oil. Slice vegetables lengthwise into ¼- to 1/3-inch-thick slices and layer in prepared dish.

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the oil, the vinegar, and thyme. Brush vegetables with oil mixture. Bake for 25 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Remove from oven and set aside. Leave oven on.

Cut the bread lengthwise down the center so you have a top and bottom. Lay pieces, cut sides up, on prepared baking sheet. Spread the artichoke hearts on bottom half and goat cheese on the top half. Drizzle artichokes with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until warm.

Layer vegetable slices on bread over artichokes and top with remaining bread, goat cheese side down. Press sandwich together and weigh top of sandwich with a baking dish or heavy plate. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.


Packing Tip. If taking these for travel, be sure to wrap tightly and place toothpicks in each section to hold together. Remove picks before serving.


The Hunger Challenge Grocery List

grocery bag
grocery bag

Before I even started thinking, shopping and planning (but forgot to amend in my previous blog), I revised my rule number one and cancelled my CSA box for the week.  With all the extra produce coming free from the “pantry”, I decided the $44 could be used elsewhere – like more of my necessary staples and kid favorites.  More cereal, usual lunch box items and my husband’s favorite iced tea.  Also while I love getting the produce box, part of the fun is the surprise.  My kids and I open the box with great anticipation, as we unpack, wash and put away.  While we’re looking it over, I’m trying to determine what I’ll make and how to cook some of the items.  The box luckily comes with some yummy recipes too.  However  this week, I didn’t need the added and last minute surprises – I needed more of a strict plan.

 I must say the list isn’t too bad.  Although some of the variety is missing.  My son and husband’s cereal cocktail of 4 or 5 types, will be limited to 2.  There also is a lack of animal proteins – fish, chicken, meat.  I must say this won’t be too bad for a week, especially since my sister was just visiting and is approaching a vegan diet.

So here’s my list, with a thought about what I’ll do with it.  I went under budget so I could shop again if I ran out of something such as eggs or fruit and wanted to build in cost of small ingredient amounts such as butter, oil, vinegar, soy, salt, pepper.  Remember I created this list at home (using past receipts, since many of these items I already had onhand.  This was also easier to buy just the few items on my list (I didn’t already have) and not take my kids.  Because we always tend to buy more when we’re hungry and seeing everything looking so yummy in the market.  I avoided the emotional please of “Mommy can we buy these huge mushrooms?” or “Mom let’s buy a whole chicken!”

Pantry Items – SF Food Bank

Granola Bars – free – good for on-the-go or son’s snack for school

Chicken Apple Sausage – free – add to pasta and/or bean dish

Chinese Pasta – free – perhaps chinese long life noodles or put with veggie stir fry

Black Beans – free – good in veggie salad or as a side 

Watermelon – free – alone and for a salad

Strawberries – free – snack, good breakfast and lunchbox item

Nectarines – free – snack, breakfast and lunchbox

Carrots – free – snack, lunchbox in stir fry

Garlic – free – perk up main dishes

Onions – free – stir fry and added spice to bean dish

Potatoes – free – serve with beans or with sausages and cabbage

Cabbage – free – with stiry fry or above beans and sausage


Garden – my home

Cherry tomatoes – free – snack, lunchbox

Mint – free – perk up fruit

Basil – free – for pasta and pizza


Purchased at Trader Joe’s and Farmer’s Market

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread 3.99 – toast, sandwiches

Milk (gallon) 4.29 – drink and cereal

Eggs (12) 3.99 – hard boiled, egg salad, scrambled

Cheese Cheddar 3.99 – pizza, cut in lunchbox, grilled cheese, on noodles

Cheese Feta 1.69 – salad, pasta

Mini Wheat Pita (8) 2.29 – lunchbox, bake for chips

Crumpets (6) 1.69 – breakfast

Cereal (Hemp granola and Mighty Bites) 3.39 x 2 = 6.78 – husband and son breakfast

Yogurt – large 32 oz. 2.49 – cereal, snack, to make smoothies

Penne noodles  1.19 – main dish hot pasta or cold salad, left-over in lunchbox

Dry Beans and Barley Mix 2.69 – main meal with sausage

Bananas 4 x .19 = .76 – breakfast, snack or lunchbox

Apples 4 x .59 = 2.36 – snack with sunflower butter, sliced for lunchbox, baked for chips

Lemon .50 – kick to plain water, seasoning

Lime .50 – ”

Orange Juice 3.39 –

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough 1.29 – pizza, breadsticks

Veggie Broth 2.29 – stir fry, bean soup/stew dish

Oatmeal 2.29 – breakfast, made cookies or muffins

Hummus 2.19 – spread on pita or dip for veggies, lunchbox

Frozen edamame 1.69 – lunchbox, snack, side

Sunflower Butter 4.69 – spread on crumpet, pita, apple, sandwich with fruit butter

Apple sauce (6 cup individual) 3.29 – on the go snack or lunchbox

Fruit Spread 1.99 – on crumpet, toast, sandwich, flavor plain yogurt

Fig Bars (12) 3.99 – lunchbox, snack

Trail Mix  3.99 – snack, salad

Tomato starter sauce 1.29 – pizza, pasta

French/Olive Loaves (1 lb) 2 x 3.99 – potluck sandwiches

Goat cheese – $3.99 – potluck sandwiches, pasta, salad

Broccoli (bunch) 2.29 – stir fry, steamed for lunchbox or with hummus

Firm Tofu 1.29 – stir fry or baked for tofu fries

Minestrone Soup 2.69 – dinnerside, lunch

Heirloom Tomatoes (6)  $4 farmer’s market – gazpacho, pasta, salad

Summer squash (3) ,zucchini (5), bell peppers (3), japanese eggplant (2) -$8. Farmer’s market – potluck sandwiches, pasta, with hummus and pita

Tejava Ice Tea 1.19 x 2 = 2.38

Total $96.82

extra for butter, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, pepper


Got Food? The Hunger Challenge

hunger logo
hunger logo

I participated in last year’s Hunger Challenge led by the San Francisco Food Bank.  I didn’t realize how many were effected overall and especially in San Francisco.  We know what an expensive place this is to live, but there is the assumption that those living here are doing well.  Not so, as 1 in 4 San Francisco children lack regular access to food they need to learn, grow, & have a healthy start in life and  60% of the clients served by The San Francisco Food Bank are working families.  This year when asked to participate I’ve learned the numbers of those served is even higher and over 34 million people in the U.S. received food stamps in April 2009, up about 20% over April 2008.


While the numbers have increased, thankfully so has the amount given to food stamp recipients.  Last year the average family living on food stamps has just $1 per person to spend on each meal (example my family of four would have $4 total per meal).  So the challenge was to try spending just $3 per day on food (per person in your household).  This year the amount has been increased to $4 per day, or about $1.33 per meal.  Thus $4 x 7 = $28 per person for the week.  Thus a family of four would get $4 x 28 = $112.  This increase is good for my own family’s challenge since my family’s appetite and food bills have increased as my children get older (now ages 3 and 6).  There’s no factor for age.  I can imagine this is quite a bit harder for a family with a few teenagers.  Unfortunately the increase is due to a stimulus bill that is only temporary (through December 2010).

Another benefit of this year’s challenge is factoring in foods that someone would have access if going to the SF Food Bank.  This was a big improvement.  Not having to factor in some fresh items such as potatoes, strawberries and melons, plus adding a few staples such as beans and pasta goes a long ways when you’re using such a limited budget.  However in looking at the pantry list, I’m sure some items do not appeal to everyone.  I think those in need can’t be picky, however I’m surprised to learn from my friend Adrienne at Leah’s Pantry (a non-profit educating people living in transitional housing about nutrition and shopping choices) that some recipients do not take some items offered by the pantries because they are unfamiliar with the food (bok choy, even cabbage) or it does not fit in their culture (such as Chinese pasta).  However I’m also thinking of those people on food stamps who have health issues and are elderly.  Having some processed items such as sausages (high sodium and possible nitrites) and chai tea latte (possible high fructose corn syrup and additives) is going to make someone with diabetes or high blood pressure feel worse, not better.

Here are the guidelines I set up for myself and family for the challenge.  Those with a * are new items that make the challenge different from my rules for last year (good be good or bad – we’ll see):

  1. Buy food how and where I would normally shop.  I frequent Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and farmer’s markets.  I will buy most items from Trader Joe’s because of price, as I did last year.  *However this year I need to factor in my bi-weekly produce box, which happens to come this week.  Every other week I receive a CSA box from Capay Farms.  This is $44.  Thus I will reduce my $112 by $44, for a total of $68, since my box will arrive on Tues. during the challenge.
  2. *Use some of the free pantry items provided by the SF Food Bank, that I would normally buy. 
  3. *Use items from my garden.  Last year I didn’t have a garden, but this year the kids and I have been working hard to grow herbs and veggies.  While we don’t have as much as we had a month or two ago (no more peas and beans).  We will enjoy our free and very tasty cherry tomatoes.  I’ll also appreciate the fresh mint and basil to add some flavor to some of our dishes.
  4. Stick to my usual values and food philosophy of fresh, whole foods when possible.  Buying organic for the dirty dozen.  Thus I’m not going to buy a conventional apple just because it is cheaper and sacrifice health and pesticide exposure.  If it doesn’t fit the budget I will make another choice.  Also I’m not just going to buy a $1 on-sale chicken pot pie because it will satisfy hunger (but little else).  Although I do understand how someone could make that convenient choice.
  5. Buy usual items my family enjoys and I feel good about feeding them. 
  6. *Create a menu and list of groceries based on past grocery receipts.  (The benefit of keeping receipts is knowing the cost of foods, my family’s usual staples, and creating my plan and menu before shopping)  Some items I already have and a few I will buy.  I will use these items only.  This will keep me from having to determine the cost of each ingredient for each meal (I did that last challenge and it was painstaking).
  7. The challenge was accepted by me, not my family.  Thus you’ll see in my day’s food journal below I went over (as noted) budget when my children asked for more.  I didn’t think it fair for them to go hungry (but explained the challenge and wanted them to appreciate what they have).
  8. My husband will participate in breakfast and dinner, but not lunch.  Again it was my decision, and he has lunch meetings that were out of my control.  Going to an office with a limited budget means brown bagging the same lunch as my kids’ or heading unfortunately to fast food.  Quickly you realize how someone with few means goes there because their hunger will be satisfied for $1.  Unfortunately cheap food and convenience rules over nutrition and health.

While I’m behind on my posts, I did start the challenge yesterday.  I am hungry, but the real challenge so far was setting up the blog…so stay tuned to what I’ve been eating and recipes I’m working on.

Want to learn more about the challenge and read other bloggers recipes and experiences?  Go to www.HungerChallenge.com.  Also learn how you can help make sure Tyson Chicken donates 100,000 pounds of free chicken to the Food Bank.  All it takes is a quick tweet or a blog.


Getting Greener or Getting Fooled – Label Deception

From Lisa Barnes

Advertisers and marketers are having a field day with the going green trend and making millions on labels for everything from cheese puffs, to laundry soap, to toys. Everyone wants to buy “greener” products and we simply look for a quick “seal” or buzz words – but what do they mean? Is it eco-friendly, or sustainable, or recyclable, or animal-friendly, biodegradable or “other”?

I recently taught a baby food cooking class to new parents who were just starting to feed their children solids. They of course are very concerned about what goes in and around their babies – as they should be. I showed them how not only to read labels but decipher them and be careful about products marketed for babies and children. Brands our parents and grandfathers trusted aren’t necessarily helping the confusion.

We discovered baby teething biscuits with partially hydrogenated oils. Turkey labeled as “natural” (however it’s legal for “natural” turkey to have been raised on a diet that included hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified corn). Typical “junk foods” (cheese puffs, potato chips) labeled as “organic” (but still no healthier due to trans fats and additives and preservatives). And the biggest shock to the class was baby food packaged in #7 plastic (thought to leach chemicals in foods) – with microwave directions!

This past weekend was a helpful article in the San Francisco Chronicle about green products seals, and claims surrounding green products. We’re still so new at determining and establishing some product standards that some companies are just making them up themselves. Do we want to trust Johnson and Johnson’s “green” label conducted by an in-house team? We need to educate ourselves so we’re not caught up in the marketing tactics of large companies who just want to sell us products (healthy or not, truly “green” or not). Those of us trying to go “greener” need help as well as some time and patience to read between the lines. I found the article to be helpful which you can read here.

As far as food goes, it’s just one more reason to avoid reading labels and shop for whole organic foods at the Farmer’s Market. I know we can’t always go there and they don’t have everything, but it sure makes shopping, cooking and eating easier (and healthier). The good news is that there is a federal standard for “organic” food. However staying away from processed foods cuts down on much of the label deciphering, but if you must do it keep these things in mind for “organic” food claims.

Those small stickers with the numbers on the fruit mean something too. Did you know?…

*A four-digit number means it’s conventionally grown (not organic).

*A five-digit number beginning with 9 means it’s organic.

*A five-digit number beginning with 8 means it’s genetically modified (GM).

According to the Center for Food Safety, GM foods have been in stores only since the 1990s, so we don’t know the long-term health risks, and in a 1998 EPA sampling, 29% of the foods tested contained detectable pesticides.

Here’s a reminder of the organic labels on multiple ingredient foods:

Labels and definitions are as follows

“100 percent organic” All ingredients are organic.

“Organic” At least 95 percent of ingredients are organic.

“Made with organic ingredients” At least 70 percent of ingredients are organic. If less than 70% of the ingredients are organic, the word “organic” can be mentioned on the information panel, but not on the front of the package.

Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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I met Alice Waters… (with Toasted Breadcrumbs Recipe)


From Lisa Barnes

I was surprised to see Alice Waters was going to be signing her new book The Art of Simple Food, in Corte Madera at Cost Plus. First, authors usually do signings in San Francisco vs. Marin. Second, Cost Plus isn’t my first choice when buying a cookbook. None the less, I was curious and wanted in. I certainly think of myself as a fan. Not just for her revolution in bringing awareness to fresh, organic foods and of course delicious restaurant menu offerings. But more for her passion for seasonal food, fostering community, educating children, and overall environmental stewardship.

A few years ago I visited Martin Luther King Middle School where the birth of the Edible Schoolyard began. I was so impressed that this author and chef, along with a school principal cared enough to create this amazing garden and kitchen classroom. I wished I were back in middle school, or at least could have my own children experience this unique program. Kids were doing it all: composting, digging, picking, weeding, watching, cooking, prepping, smelling, touching, tasting. But mostly enjoying and learning.

For the book signing, I wasn’t sure how early to show up. I remember lining up for over an hour to see Jamie Oliver (he was really late) at Sur La Table in S.F. a few years ago. Unfortunately I finally had to give up, since my new baby woke up and didn’t want to be in a cooking store. Another time I was hoping to buy a cake pan in Williams-Sonoma and found a line around the block in Corte Madera. I wondered about all the fuss and discovered Rachel Ray was there signing her latest book. What a crowd! Mostly women trying to get a glimpse, signature and photo.

I decided to arrive at the Cost Plus store 30 minutes prior to the signing time and was surprised to see I was 3rd in line. Where was everyone? As the time grew near more people came, but I still thought there should be more. I overheard some saying they didn’t cook, but thought the book would make a good Christmas gift for a friend/reletive that did enjoy cooking. I wasn’t there for a gift, I was treating myself. In addition to buying her book and wanting to meet her, I also gave her my book. I just wanted to share with her that I too was a believer in healthy and fresh children’s food, and thank her for leading the way.

She was very kind and even interested in my writings and classes and asked “Has it been difficult?” The answer was “Yes, at first (7 years ago when I started). But now the practices of organic and sustainable foods (and lifestyle) are much more mainstream and thankfully there’s not as much of a need to convince parents of the value of making such choices when feeding children.” I think Alice Waters and others such as Jamie Oliver, have and continue to bring awareness to parents and schools about the state of cafeteria offerings, childhood obesity and diseases – and I thank them for that. You’ll see I couldn’t stop myself from handing my camera to a shopper and asking her to get a photo (above).

Ms. Water’s new book would be welcome in anyone’s kitchen library. I will refer to it many times, I’m sure. More interesting than the recipes I think are the thoughtful comments and information about ingredients as well as cooking techniques. I’ve included her recipe for toasted bread crumbs below. On the page facing this recipe is an entire page about breadcrumbs and why and how to choose the bread, various uses for breadcrumbs and texture differences. It’s informative, yet simple to do and that’s the point. “From scratch” doesn’t need to be intimidating or complicated.

Toasted Breadcrumbs
(from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, pg. 63)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pare away all the crust from:
Levain or other country-style bread

Cut the bread into cubes and process in a blender or food processor until the crumbs reach the fineness you want.

Toss with:
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil for every cup of breadcrumbs

Spread the crumbs on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Bake until golden brown, stirring the crumbs every few minutes for even browning.


Fry a handful of herbs in hot olive oil over medium heat until crisp. Drain well and toss together with the toasted crumbs and a pinch of salt, if needed.

A few dried chile flakes can be mixed into the crumbs for spice.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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Mom to Mom – Six Tips on How to Shop Wisely and Save Money when Buying Organic


From Lisa Barnes

Some moms I’ve spoken with say they don’t or can’t buy organic foods due to cost and availability. Here are a few ways to make organics more affordable and easy to purchase:

1. Do not always assume organic is more expensive. Look at the prices of conventional and organic products and compare. You may be surprised that on some items, there is little or no difference in price, depending on where and when you buy.

2. Buy in season. These items will be the lowest priced, whether you’re shopping at a specialty market or local farmers’ market.

3. Grow your own. Even a small window box can yield some organic herbs or tomatoes. Larger areas can accommodate lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, and more. A garden is also a great classroom and hobby for children and adults alike.

4. Shop at one of the more than twenty-five hundred farmers’ markets in the United States. The produce here is as fresh as possible, because the food is usually picked within twenty-four hours of your purchase. This is a great place to check prices with little effort. Becoming a regular shopper and getting to know growers personally is a good way to get the best selection and price.

5. Join a food cooperative. A food co-op is a kind of buyers’ club for affordable, fresh, local organic and natural products. It is an actual store where members buy shares of the business to provide the capital necessary to run the store efficiently. You as a member directly influence the kind and variety of products and foods available and also receive a discount in the store. Many co-ops allow you to buy shares by volunteering several hours per week or month.

6. Visit a farm and pick your own produce. Children love to experience something new, especially when it involves dirt and food. According to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), “Parents had reported that their children started to eat more vegetables after visiting a farm on a school field trip, having experienced for the first time the process of gardening.”

Justifying Expense

Eating is an agricultural and political act, as well as a way to educate your senses. ~Alice Waters

Even though you’ve shopped wisely and used the tips above, sometimes organic is more expensive. The cost of converting land, growing methods, and raising practices from conventional to organic is expensive. Consider the cost of health and well-being, as well as a decision to support the environment, preserving water resources and preventing agriculture-related problems. The extra cost may outweigh the worry and concern you have of the possibility of harming your family and the environment.

I can’t be sure that organic foods are better for my family’s health. But to me the organic practices just make sense. Why wouldn’t I do my best to avoid feeding my son chemicals and pollutants? ~Two-Year-Old Derek’s mom

Reducing Health Risks

Buying organic reduces health risks that can be attributed to commercial pesticides and herbicides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of all fungicides, and 30 percent of all insecticides as potentially cancer causing. No matter how well you wash certain fruits and vegetables there are still remaining traces of potentially harmful chemicals. A report released by the Environmental Working Group entitled Pesticides in Children’s Food concluded that the greatest contribution to a person’s lifetime risk of cancer from pesticide residues occurs during childhood. Babies’ bodies are much more vulnerable to pesticides because their brains and immune systems are still in a state of development. Also, pound for pound, babies eat two to four times more fruits and vegetables than adults, and thus are exposed to a higher percentage of possible contaminants if eating conventionally grown produce.

Increasing Health Benefits

A study at the University of California, Davis (my alma mater) shows that organically grown strawberries, corn, and blackberries are richer in cancer fighting antioxidants, sometimes 60 percent more, than the same conventionally grown crops. Other studies have proven the same for organically grown peaches and pears, too.

Researchers theorize that organically grown plants may produce more antioxidants because they have to work harder to fight off pests and disease otherwise killed by pesticides and chemicals.

Reducing Nitrites

Some fruits and vegetables you’ll want to introduce to your child have high levels of nitrites, due to the fertilized soils in which they grow. The nitrite levels also increase when these food items are stored in your refrigerator. Nitrites are difficult on a baby’s system because their stomach acidity is too low to properly break them down. Overexposure can cause anemia or encourage oxygen to be displaced into bloodstreams, resulting in rapid breathing and lethargy. High nitrite produce includes beets, cantaloupe, carrots, green beans, mustard, spinach, strawberries, and turnips. Buying these items grown organically and eaten fresh, without storing, will lessen exposure. If you choose to buy these foods commercially grown, wait until your baby is over eight months old so they can better process the nitrites. Or you can buy these foods in commercially prepared jars, since baby food companies can screen their produce for nitrites.
Lisa Barnes
is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.

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I Heart Organic Cranberry Sauce – Recipe


From Lisa Barnes

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I hope everyone is planning an organic and sustainable Thanksgiving Holiday. I read a few challenges on websites and newspaper articles for people to shop for Thanksgiving dinner ingredients that are produced, raised and grown within a 100 mile radius from their home. One site with some helpful tips and resources is IdealBite.com . This challenge is probably easier to do in some places than others. Of course farmer’s markets are always a good place to start. Check out LocalHarvest.com and search for “turkey” in your zip code to find a list (hopefully) near you.

How about organic cranberry sauce? As soon as these fresh, tart berries are in season I buy lots to have in the freezer (my son eats them plain – talk about sour!) and also to make sauce. Growing up we had sauce from a can (not because anyone seemed to like it but because it was tradition) and I didn’t realize until years later how much better (and easy to make) homemade sauce is. This is a simple sauce that works well on the Thanksgiving table, as well as the perfect condiment for sandwiches, pancakes and waffles after the holiday.

Organic Cranberry Sauce from The Petit Appetit Cookbook

Everyone loves cranberry sauce for the holidays. This has just the right balance of tart and sweet and makes a great spread for turkey, beef or veggie sandwiches anytime. Just remember to freeze some cranberries during the winter to enjoy when they are out of season. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for company.

1 cup fresh organic cranberries
¼ cup organic apple juice
¼ cup raw sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated organic lemon zest

Combine all ingredients in a saucepot and cook over medium heat. As mixture heats, cranberries will make a popping sound as skins break open. Be careful as hot juice may splatter. Sauce is ready when cranberries have popped and sauce is thick, 5 – 8 minutes.

Makes about 1 cup.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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First Taste – Organic Butternut Puree and Soup Recipes


From Lisa Barnes

Both my son and daughter enjoyed their first taste of food in the autumn – so there was an abundance of squashes and rich sweet potatoes available as first foods. I was reminded of these first tastes when I bought a butternut squash at the store today. I love being witness to the first time a child tries a new food. It seems so strange that the baby has no reference for the flavor or texture. I like the anticipation of the child’s reaction to the new food. Their faces show everything from “wow, mom this is awesome” (and grabbing the spoon for more) to “what are you crazy with this?” (and spitting it back down their chin).

Here’s a recipe for a baby puree that is the key ingredient in the soup recipe for the rest of the family. Make a double batch and everyone can enjoy.

Butternut Squash Puree

1 ¼ pound organic butternut squash, about 3 cups

Oven Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash into quarters; remove seeds and place cut side down in a baking pan. Pour ¼ cup water in bottom of pan. Bake squash until fork tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and scoop out flesh.

Puree the squash in a food processor after cooking, until you’ve reached the desired consistency. You may want to add 1 to 2 tablespoons water, breast milk or formula to thin.

Microwave directions: Cut squash in quarters (this may be difficult, depending on size) and scoop out seeds. Place squash, skin side down, in a microwave-safe dish. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and cover tightly, allowing one corner to vent. Microwave on High for 10 to 12 minutes. Check for doneness, cool and proceed with recipe above.

For older babies, cut flesh into chunks that he can pick up and eat himself.

Butternut Squash Soup

3 cups organic butternut squash puree (see above)
1 medium organic onion, chopped, about ½ cup
½ cup peeled and chopped organic carrots
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth, low sodium
1 cup organic milk
grated nutmeg for garnish (optional)

In a medium pot, sauté onion and carrots in olive oil for about 5 minutes or until onions turn golden. Turn down heat to medium-low. Add squash and broth. Cover pot and cook for 20 minutes.

Puree small quantities of soup in a blender or food processor. Be careful as mixture will be hot. Return soup to pot, and add milk. Stir and reheat. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Makes about 6 cups of soup.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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Apple Puree for All – Baby Food Recipe


From Lisa Barnes

Seeing as apples are one of the most heavily sprayed conventionally grown crops, and also a favorite first food for baby, it is an obvious choice for making your own fresh, organic puree. It’s easier than you think. Simply steam the apples using your method of choice and puree in a food processor or blender until desired consistency. Make a large batch and freeze in individual ice cube trays. Once frozen, simply pop out the cubes and store in a freezer bag for up to 3 months. Be sure to label the bag with the contents (if making other purees you can easily confuse them) and date.

The great thing about homemade apple puree is that it is not only enjoyed by baby, but can also be used in other foods and recipes for all ages. It pairs well with a bit of cinnamon to accompany grilled pork, or warmed as a healthy topping for pancakes or waffles, or as a healthy addition to increase moisture and reduce fat in muffins. Here’s the recipe for baby’s organic apple puree as well as a recipe to use extra puree in mini banana apple bran muffins.

Apple Puree (from The Petit Appetit Cookbook)
Apples are a great first food because of their sweetness and versatility. Golden and Red Delicious, as well as Fuji apples have the least amount of acid, and thus are the most tolerable for babies. You may peel apples before or after cooking. Cooking with skins on allows the apples to retain more nutrients.

6 medium organic red delicious apples, washed, quartered and cored just before cooking

Steamer Method: Place prepared apples in steamer basket set in a pot filled with a small amount (about 1 – 2 inches, but not to touch fruit) of lightly boiling water. Cover tightly for best nutrient retention and steam for 10 – 12 minutes or until apples are tender. Apples should pierce easily with a toothpick. Set apples and cooking liquid aside to cool. Scrape apples for skin and puree in a food processor with a steel blade. Add tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid to puree to make smoother and adjust consistency.

Microwave Method: Place prepared apple quarters in microwave safe dish. Add ¼ cup water and cover tightly, allowing a corner to vent. Microwave on high for 3 minutes, stir apples and re-cover and cook for 3 – 6 minutes or until tender. Check for doneness, cool and proceed with recipe above.

Makes 16 – 18, one ounce baby servings.

An apple a day…When baby is ready for more texture, chunks on steamed apples are good finger foods. Also for teething baby, put steamed apple slices in the freezer for a soothing treat.

Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
Photo Credit: Lisa Barnes
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