Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fresh from the farm at school

As some people know, when I lived in Chicago I worked as a teacher for a fabulous non-profit organization called Seven Generations Ahead. The organization has a lot of programs that work towards building healthy and sustainable communities in the Chicago area, including my personal favorite, a program called Fresh from the Farm.

Fresh from the Farm teachers go into classrooms and summer school programs to teach kids about healthy eating, gardening, and cooking. They also work with schools to bring local, healthy foods into school lunch programs. And they recently sponsored another awesome idea, called Truck Farm, which is Chicago's first farm-on-wheels. They're part of the burgeoning farm-to-school movement, which helps schools connect with farmers to bring in fresh, local foods. For more information on the farm-to-school movement, click here...and here...and here.

I love this organization, and the year I spent with them was incredibly educational and exciting. I became a big advocate for local and healthy foods education, and continued to teach it when I moved to New York. Thus, I thought I should dedicate a post to Fresh from the Farm, and highlight their awesome new online resource center. The site has tons of links to curriculum, recipes, articles on obesity and nutrition, and resources for building school gardens. And if you know any teachers who live in the Chicago area, send them to the Fresh from the Farm teacher training, so they can learn to teach the program in their own classrooms!

For more detailed information on what the Fresh from the Farm program is all about, read this article in Chicago's Mindful Metropolis magazine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recipe of the week: Cherry Tomato Orzo Salad

One of my favorite things about summer is making easy, fresh pasta salads. This week's recipe is another delicious one I found on Simply Recipes. The ingredients are easy to find, and prep only takes about twenty minutes. I always double recipes like these so we can eat them for lunch all week long. Enjoy!

Cherry Tomato Orzo Salad 
  • 8 ounces orzo pasta
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 pints tomatoes, chopped
    • note: you can chop up any type of tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes are sweet and easy to slice in half so I like to use those
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 large cucumber, chopped
  • 2-6 green onions, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced
  • juice of a lemon
  • black pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the orzo and stir so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil uncovered until pasta is firm but cooked all the way through. Strain using a fine mesh sieve so the pasta doesn't go through the holes.
  2. Toss the pasta with the olive oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.
  3. If desired, add a little balsamic vinegar and cayenne pepper to give it more flavor. For more protein, add chickpeas or another bean.
  4. Eat hot or refrigerate for later!
Image credit: Very Culinary

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Live an invigorating life

I came across some memorable advice from one of the websites I read (Zen to Fitness, an online magazine on health and fitness). The author of the article recommends four simple steps to take towards health. You can read the other three steps on your own. (The article is actually posted on a different and equally awesome blog.) But the section that resonated most with me was Step # 4: Live an invigorating life. While what the author recommends is obviously easier said than done, I think it's a great way of life to visualize and work towards:

Live an Invigorating Life. Last but not least – living an invigorating life is probably the most essential thing when it comes to health and fitness. This means living a life that we get strength or energy from – something that gives us a reason to be active and move.
Whether this energy comes from doing a job you love, being around people you have fun with, travelling or just doing stuff you love. We need something in our lives to gain strength from. Excitement and passion change things up and gives us the motivation to exercise, eat well and most importantly makes us feel good.
I would even go as far as saying one of the best ways to stay fit is just to live life – be active, play with your kids, play tennis, touch football or whatever sports you enjoy, do some bodyweight exercises in the morning, walk lots and eat lots of wholesome food. In all honesty that is how most of the healthiest people I know live.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Health claims on unhealthy foods need to go

There's currently a debate raging right now over whether food companies should be allowed to advertise  unhealthy foods to kids. One side of the debate believes that, to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, we need to put limits on which foods can be marketed to kids (aka no commercials for foods that have high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, etc). The other side believes that food companies themselves should be responsible for deciding what they can advertise.

I've found that when I bring up this issue with others, I often get the "why should the government be involved" response. After all, they explain, childhood obesity is largely due to parents' irresponsibility. It's the parents' job to choose which foods children buy and eat. If a child has an unhealthy diet, it's the parents' fault.

I have a pretty big problem with this response (as you might have guessed). Parents are faced with dozens of decisions to make for their kids each day. Ideally, choosing healthy foods for their children should be one of the easier decisions. But instead, parents are swimming in a sea of confusing food products when they enter the grocery store, and many unhealthy foods make health claims that are pretty convincing. And now, a new study shows that these health claims (like "Cocoa Krispies supports your child's immunity") indeed do mislead parents and increase the likelihood that they'll buy these unhealthy foods for their children.

See, in my opinion, almost all parents are trying to do the best they can, and that certainly includes feeding healthy food to their children. But there is a whole mess of things that make this harder for them -- ridiculous health claims on foods that are really not good for you, lack of education and knowledge about how to purchase and prepare healthy food, terrible lunches served at school, and, in some areas, a complete lack of affordable and fresh food nearby. So, for all these reasons, parents are not the only ones at fault when it comes to childhood obesity and malnutrition. And I believe food companies need to be held responsible.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Make your own applesauce

Making applesauce is one of my favorite fall projects. I love going to pick apples from nearby orchards (search here to find an orchard near you) but it's just as easy to buy a bag of apples from the grocery store and use them to make a big batch of applesauce. Here are some easy directions to make applesauce from scratch. It's simple enough that you can watch a movie while you do it, or involve kids in the process. If you want to can the applesauce jars so they'll last longer, click here for instructions.

Step 1 Peel the apples

Use a sharp knife or peeler to take the skin off the apples. This is actually an optional step, as I've made applesauce with the skins still on. It just makes your applesauce occasionally chewy. If you don't want to use the skin, you can compost it or use them in a recipe like this.

Step 2 Core and slice the apples.

I usually cut them into eight slices per apple. You can use one of those apple corers, but a knife works just as well.

Step 3 Put the apples in a large pot.

Add a cup of water, a half cup of sugar (optional), and two cinnamon sticks. Use a teaspoon of ground cinnamon if you don't have sticks. Bring to a boil, then let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Check the apples to see if they're soft. If not, simmer for longer.

Step 4 Mash the apples.

Using a potato masher, smash the apples until they're a good consistency for applesauce. It'll depend on how chunky you like your applesauce.

Step 5 Jar the applesauce. And eat it!

This recipe works for 9-12 apples. If you want to add more apples, just increase the amount of time you let them simmer in Step 3. Yield is about four cups of applesauce.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My current obsession: Smoothies

So, I'm currently obsessed with smoothies since I bought a bunch of fruit at the store and also went blueberry picking. I've tried all different kinds of smoothies, but so far my favorite recipe is pretty simple:
two big scoops of vanilla yogurt + a handful of blueberries + one banana + two frozen peaches (sliced and frozen by us last year) = best smoothie ever
Smoothies are an amazing healthy snack, both filling and delicious, and you can use just about anything in them, including almost all fruits, vegetables, and various dairy products. Don't worry about adding sugar; it's not necessary since the fruit already has it.

And, since I've been having a smoothie a day for the past couple weeks, I came across this flow chart from Eating Rules and had to repost it. It's awesome, and also gives a lot of ideas for creative smoothie recipes.

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