Real Food Resolution: March Label Madness!

blueberry label

You’ve heard of “March Madness,” here’s a different kind of madness that happens every day with your favorite foods. We call it “Label Madness!”

This month’s resolution helps you become a supermarket sleuth so you can spot the madness and understand what all those words on a food package really mean. Ready to investigate?

Let’s pick a food that seems pretty healthy and tastes good, too: blueberry yogurt. It’s got blueberries in it — one of the healthiest foods — it should be good for you! Or is it? What’s on the label?

 

 Parents: Get a PDF of this activity for your kids

 

Front of the package

The front of the package is the place where food companies want you to look first. The things written on this part of the label are what food companies want you to think about the food so you will buy it.

You’ll find words like “naturally flavored,” “lower sugar,” and lots of claims about what kind of vitamins and minerals the food has in it.

Mostly, these claims all sound like good things, but read them carefully. For example, terms like “natural” and “naturally” are not always what they sound like.

You would think that in order to make blueberry yogurt, you would just add blueberries, right? Because blueberries are expensive, food companies often use a little bit of real blueberries and add extra flavors to make a food taste a lot more like blueberry and colors to make it look more like blueberry.

The word “natural” is sometimes used when these flavors and colors are not created from chemicals but come from a natural source (which does not have to be a blueberry!). Some foods don’t even have real blueberries in them! Those labels will say things like “blueberry flavor.”

So, how do you find out the truth about what’s in your food?

The Ingredients List

If you want to know what’s in your food, turn the package over and read the ingredient list. Here is where you can see what’s really in the package.

For our yogurt, the ingredients list can look like this: Cultured Lowfat and Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Blueberries, Modified Corn Starch, Blueberry Flavor, Natural Flavors, Kosher Gelatin, Colored with Fruit and Vegetable Juice, Vitamin D3.

Ingredients are listed in order of how much is used in the food. This list tells us that our yogurt contains more sugar than it does blueberries!

For foods like sweetened cereals, companies sometimes use a few different kinds of sugars (maltose, dextrose, corn syrup, fructose to name a few) so that sugar doesn’t show up first in the ingredients list. Some cereals contain more sugar than they do the “whole grains” they are supposed to contain!

The label also tells us that the yogurt has both natural and artificial flavors, not just blueberries. To make the yogurt look more like blueberry, they’ve used food colors.

banana

What is THAT?!

Sometimes foods have ingredients you can’t pronounce like BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE or CARRAGEENAN. What is all that?

If these ingredients don’t sound like food, you are right. These are food additives, things that are often added to food to keep it fresh or to help processed food keep its texture when it sits on the shelf a long time. Artificial colors and sweeteners are other examples of food additives.

The Nutrition Label

The nutrition label is also on the back of the food package. This label helps you understand things like how many calories are in it and how much of some nutrients it contains.

Nutrients are the healthy things foods offer us, like protein or vitamins and minerals. Some foods have added “nutrients” to help it sound healthier.

The nutrition info box also shows a percentage of each nutrient. This tells you how much of a nutrient a food item has compared to how much of that nutrient you should eat every day.

The nutrition label also shows some of the things you should avoid eating too much of, like added sugars, salt and saturated fats. Some yogurts have 26 grams of added sugar in them, that’s over five teaspoons of sugar!

This is an important label, but be careful when you read it. It can be tricky. A food item that looks like you can eat the whole thing as a snack may list its nutrition label as two or three servings. If you eat the whole thing, you have to triple the calories, sugars and fats that you think you are eating! Sneaky, huh?

There are some new ideas for making the nutrition label easy to understand, especially the serving sizes and if there are added sugars. Those rules have not been approved yet, but when they do, the food labels will be easier to understand.

 

Kid-safe Sites to Research Food Labels

Kid’sHealth.org

Food Additives List

How to Read a Food Label

Make Your Own Nutrition Label

Food Labeling Chaos – A Full Guide

Healthy Food Nutrition List

March Get Real Resolution Activity

For Parents

Do you ever dread taking your child to the grocery store? That nag factor that causes so many arguments over food choices can make you crazy. Our March Food Label Madness activity will help you and your child to have conversations about food choices instead of arguments.

Food labels are confusing, even for adults, so this is a great activity to do together. The online resources listed here will give you a great start to tame the food label madness. This skill set is key to helping your child become an informed consumer. It’s also a good time to talk about marketing claims and what they really mean. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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February Get Real Resolution

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Get a PDF of this activity and content for your family.

For Kids: Before You Start

Most of us are celebrating Valentine’s Day this month with heart-covered cards and boxes of chocolate shaped like hearts. But, did you know February is also Heart Health Month?

Good News! Chocolate Can Be Healthy

The good news is some of that chocolate may be good for your heart! Dark chocolate contains substances, or compounds, known as flavonoids, or flavenols, and antioxidants. These compounds may help protect your heart and your cardiovascular system.

But, Wait a Minute Before You Eat the Box!

Before you dive into that whole box of chocolate, wait! Chocolates like milk chocolate with marshmallows or caramel have too much sugar and bad fats to be healthy.

To find healthy chocolate, look for the labels that say the bar is 85 percent cocoa and stick to a small portion — just one ounce! That’s only about a 1-inch square.

You Can Get the Same Benefits from Fruits and Veggies!

One ounce of dark chocolate isn’t enough to keep your heart healthy. Your body needs a variety of healthy foods every day. You can find flavenoids and fiber and a lot more good stuff in other plant foods besides chocolate.  We’ve listed a few favorites here along with a fun activity to share your heart healthy message with some one you love.

Good Sites to Use for Food Research

World’s Healthiest Foods

Heart.org’s Nutrition Center

Web MD: 25 Heart Healthy Foods

FOR PARENTS

We’d love to see your kids art work! Would you share a photo of their finished cards with our page on Facebook

Heart Health and Your Child

Most of us think about heart issues as a worry for older adults. But a family history of heart disease plus factors like obesity and physical inactivity can put a child at risk for early onset heart disease. Further, findings show that the path to heart disease can begin in childhood.

A study quoted by the American Academy of Pediatricians found signs of arteriosclerosis in 7 percent of children between the ages of 10-15.  For kids aged 15-20 that rate nearly doubled. The link between childhood health and heart disease led physicians to change their recommendation on cholesterol screenings for children.

Prior to 2011, pediatricians only recommended screenings for children with a family history of heart disease. Now, they recommend all children between nine and eleven should be screened.

There’s no time like Heart Health Month, to teach your kids healthy eating and exercise habits to prevent heart disease. We’d be nuts not to.

Have you joined The Cleaner Plate Club and Edible Kansas City for the Get Real Resolution yet? Get monthly activities and fun food adventure ideas for a no-fight, all-fun way to help your whole family enjoy real food.

Next Month: March’s Get Real Resolution explores food label madness. Kids get to explore the aisles of the supermarket and spot the difference between a marketing claim and the truth about the food in the box. Then, they get to be the food marketer and nutritionist to build their own healthy food label for an item from the produce section!

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Real Food Resolution: January

 

The no-fight, all-fun way to help your whole family enjoy real food

Join The Cleaner Plate Club and EdibleKC’s Get Real Resolution

Ready to start The Get Real Resolution?

Okay, done. That’s it! No diets or sacrifices, no pushups or sit ups! Just make a commitment to try the challenges and have fun.

The first activity for your resolution is to sit down at a family dinner with a sheet of paper for each person (who is old enough to write) and answer a few questions to that will help you get the most from your resolution.

Questions for Parents:

  1. What do you hope your family gains by taking this challenge?
  2. What worries you most about the foods your kids will or won’t eat and why?
  3. What’s the biggest issue in our food system?
  4. When you were a kid, did your parents ever make you eat a food you hated? What was the food and what happened? Do you eat that food now?
  5. What is your favorite food memory from when you were a kid?

Questions for Kids:

  1. What’s your favorite food and why?
  2. How do you feel when your mom or dad makes you try something you don’t think you will like?
  3. What does “healthy” food mean to you?
  4. What do your parents “nag” you about most when it comes to food?

When you are done, seal the papers up without reading any of them in an envelope (you’ll need them later) and get ready to get real. Each month will offer fun activities and educational content to support your resolution. Check the site for each month’s challenge ideas and share your stories and photos of how your family is celebrating real food.

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Resolve to Make Real Food Fun for Your Family

The no-fight, all-fun way to help your whole family enjoy real food

Join The Cleaner Plate Club and EdibleKC’s Get Real Resolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join The Cleaner Plate Club and Edible KC for The Get Real Resolution

The no-fight, all-fun way to help your whole family enjoy real food

Before you resolve to get your kids to eat broccoli every day, give up cookies for the next twelve months, rid your family’s diet of all fast food or processed food ever, or look like [insert name of celebrity here who has a personal chef, personal trainer, and a house cleaner, gardener and nanny] in her or his last retouched cover shot of Vanity Fair magazine … wait.

Let’s get real. Try The Get Real Resolution instead.

The Get Real Resolution is way for your family to have fun together while exploring what real food means.

Each month offers one activity or adventure to enjoy that helps your kids understand and enjoy real food. Most of the adventures are away from the family table — the battle ground for most food fights. Many of the activities don’t even involve eating a bite, but instead help your family engage in conversations about “real food” topics such as; nutrition, food label claims and food marketing, local food, food waste and hunger, and animal welfare.

Hands-on food experiences, not more food fights at the table.

No daily dose of dieting required for this challenge. No nagging over nibbling allowed. Kids, big and small, will have a great time with food adventures that help them learn hands-on while they have fun:

  • Crazy Food Day where the kids get to pick the most unusual, crazy fruit or vegetable they can find. Research what the food is and where it comes from. Then, try the new food as a family. Anything from foot-long green beans to fruit with spikes — take a walk on the wild side through the market!
  • Just Label It helps kids experience food marketing claims and how to find the truth on a food label by finding examples of label claims on packaged foods. They get apply what they learned to making their own food label for a fruit or vegetable including the nutrition information and ingredients list.
  • Color Swap challenges kids to learn about heirloom vegetables by finding familiar veggies that come in crazy colors. Kids get to explore the science of phytonutrients and the real diversity of a plain old potato.

The key ingredient to this resolution is fun.

If you want to stick to a resolution, make it fun. Research shows even the least motivated among us perform better on goals when they are fun. In fact, less highly motivated people may actually perform better than over-achievers when fun is involved, according to an intriguing study by researchers Dolores Albarracín and William Hart at the University of Florida.

“It’s not that those with high achievement motivation always perform better,” Albarracín said. “You can also get the low achievement motivation folks to perform better than the highs when you present a task as enjoyable and fun.”

The boost we get from fun to stick to our resolutions is also a key to learning, according to education research. It’s also important that kids get to learn and explore ideas for themselves and not just be told.

“We have to intellectually engage kids,” says Anne Haas Dyson, a professor of curriculum and instruction at Illinois who advocates for playtime as part of the classroom process. “We have to give them a sense of their own agency, their own capacity, and an ability to ask questions and solve problems. So we have to give them more open-ended activities that allow them the space they need to make sense of things.”

Fun also means no nagging for parents! As a mom, I’ve seen my own kid shut down when she hears my nagging. The Get Real Resolution is designed to be nag-free fun where kids can learn for themselves through experiences that foster quality family time and a healthy relationship with food.

We’ll all be in it together.

If peer pressure is your mainstay for willpower, we’ll be here at this site. Or rather, right here on the pages of Edible KC, and online at ediblekc.com and cleanerplateclub.com. We’ll also be on Facebook ready to share successes and experiences as well as a few recipes along the way.

Look for a new activity for your family each month plus the supporting links, resources to help parents succeed. You can download kids’ content for the challenge including fun facts and tips, stories and bonus challenges. No sign ups required, no personal information shared, and no marketing food or otherwise targeted to your kids because they — and you — get enough of that.

Ready to Resolve? Let’s go!

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Is a CSA Right for You?

by Beth

So, you’re thinking about joining a CSA. It sounds all locavore and romantic, right? But every day you are already getting surprised by some school project that your kid forgot to tell you about, or if you can just get your socks to match. Do you really want to be ambushed weekly by a vegetable, too? Here’s how to tell if a CSA is your best bet — and how to make it work for your busy family life.

You are comfortable cooking with what you have on hand.
CSAs are a great fit for you if you are at ease in the kitchen, keep a few pantry goods on hand and you know you can use whatever vegetable that arrives in some kind of salad, roasted, raw dish or soup.

What if this is not you?
Here’s the magic secret: cooking is just formula and technique. You can modify any recipe with what you have on hand. Do you have a recipe for slaw? That red cabbage or kohlrabi will work there. Do you have your grandmother’s chicken soup recipe? Toss in the week’s carrots and potatoes while its simmering to add some veggie heft to the bowl. Got beets or root veggies galore? Simply roasting these with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and they are table-worthy.

Still worried about veggie surprise?
You can still buy local at the farmers market, supporting many of the same farms that offer a CSA. As mentioned in the previous post in the series, you can even “subscribe” to a farm, much like a CSA with pre-purchased market bucks. Pre-pay, and then pick your favorites at the farmers market where you farmer sells.

Another great step is to learn what’s in season when for your area. Ask your farmer which of these items he or she is planting. Then, you can plan ahead for each week easily.

Some surprises in life are good.
Even when they are leafy and green. Over the last decade, thanks to our CSA habit, my family has learned about the joy of heirloom tomatoes; how much fun it is to shell peas together; and, that crunchy purslane is not a weed, but perhaps the best salad green ever. We’ve also fallen in love with microgreens and miner’s lettuce, baby kale and bok choi — things I may never have bought otherwise.

You can fit a weekly pick up into your schedule.
Shortening the path from farm to table is one of the main reasons to choose local foods. The good news is your lettuces that were traveling 1200 miles to your plate now only need to travel twelve. It’s just not financially feasible for your farmer to travel those extra miles to each of the 50-plus CSA members’ doorsteps, thus most farmers choose a central location in town where their CSA members can come pick up the weekly subscription. Others have pickup times at the farm location or the farmers market, or other delivery options.

What if my schedule is really tight?
Good news for you, many CSAs do offer a delivery service for an extra fee. Your fresh vegetables show up in a cooler on your front step. Like UPS, only healthier. Or, you can also do a “split share” with a friend who can pick up the weekly box and then divide the produce. If your friend is also willing, and wants a full share of the CSA, he could just pick up both boxes and you can get yours later. But, you might have to share some of your tomatoes as a thank you.

I still can’t pencil in the produce.
Our lives are loaded down with a lot! It’s hard to fit even breathing in some days. A CSA may not be right for you — yet. But, you can start toward that path by making time to add more fresh produce to your grocery cart. Or, better yet, make it even once a month to the farmers market. Even a monthly purchase of local food feeds your local economy by two-fold. You may find out how much you enjoy the variety and experience at the farmers market and make time for more local food as a result.

You’re good with a knife.
The crazy thing about those veggies in the CSA box is that they don’t ever come pre-cut, washed and individually packed in plastic containers. Some would say this is one of the best things about a CSA, given we generate about 31 million pounds of plastic waste per year in the US. Most of which cannot be recycled.

Of course, this does mean some added prep work, breaking down those veggies into clean, ready-to-cook pieces. Personally, I find my “chop time” kind of like therapy from my day job. The bits and scraps make fantastic compost for my own “local food” garden out back.

No thanks, I like my fingers where they are.
Did you know you are actually less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull one? Knife skills are easy to learn and there are a lot of online videos to guide you. Not only will you be able to get that CSA basket prep work done, but every time you cook, you’ll save time and be more efficient just by learning a few easy techniques.

I still don’t have time.
Many hands make the work light. No, really. Every Thanksgiving, the first list I make is the menu and “shop list.” The second is the “chop list.” My spouse and I then split the knife duty and get the prep work done in advance. It’s a great system, and kids can even help with some of the easier prep tasks like washing and peeling, or shelling peas and fava beans. Older kids — if responsible, and based on your parental judgment — can even help with the chopping part. Make good food a family activity.

Why do you, or don’t you, participate in a CSA? Are there tips you can share for how to make your diet more local and still do-able when busy? I’d love to hear them!

Beth Bader is the author of The Cleaner Plate Club: Over 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love. You can find her recipes and food musings at her blog Ex-expatriates Kitchen.

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