Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Transitioning Away From Plastic Children's Dishes

When my first child started eating solids, I purposely didn't buy any plastic dishes or cups, preferring instead to use glass dishes and metal sippy cups. As time went on and another baby came, some plastic dishes started turning up in our house as gifts and we bought some plastic cups that came with straws and lids for the convenience of letting the kids have drinks that wouldn't spill easily.

When we recently moved to our new home, I realized that I hated the plastic dishes because they seemed to create more work for me.  I never wanted to put them in the dishwasher, so they all had to hand-washed, and the plastic cups had a lip that would always remain full of water even in the drying rack, so they would never dry properly.  So I decided to take the plunge and get rid of all the plastic dishes.

Reasons Why Glass is Better

  • Smell: One of the things that always bothered me about plastic dishes was their propensity to grab onto the smell of foods. I could wash a plastic dish over and over in hot soapy water, yet there would still be a residual smell. Glass dishes never have this problem. 
  • Cleaning Ease: Glass is so much easier to clean than plastic.  If something is stuck on glass, I can use a scrubby pad, whereas with plastic I would worry about scratching up the surface.  And I love that glass can be washed in the dishwasher with no issues.

Won't Glass Break Too Easily?

Back when I was still working outside the home and pumping breastmilk for my infant daughter, I used glass baby bottles.  Frequently, people would express concern that the glass bottles would break too easily.  This was something I was concerned about too when we first started using bottles, but my fears were quickly alleviated by one experience: one of the glass baby bottles was accidentally knocked out of the dish drainer and fell down onto our ceramic tile floor; the bottle did not break or even crack. So I realized early on that some glass dishes are very strong and somewhat break-resistant.

Besides baby bottles, there are plenty of other break-resistant glass dishes as well.  At the dinner table, I don't worry too much about using our typical glass plates and cups. Early on, we taught both of our kids to be gentle with glass dishes.  But I do also have other break-resistant glass dishes that the kids use whenever they will be eating away from the table, such as when they want to take snacks out into the back yard.  


What About Non-Spillable Drinks?

For road trips or lengthy park days, my kids use stainless steel Thermos Funtainers, which have an integrated straw. These work great because they keep milk cold even in the summer heat.

Around the house, though, I don't let my kids use the Thermoses because I find them cumbersome to clean. The one type of plastic dish I was tempted to keep around was a plastic cup with tight-fitting lid. My kids used these cups frequently when they wanted to take a drink outside, and I liked not having to worry about them spilling their drinks. However, I have come up with a solution that works really well (although not perfectly spill-proof): glass mason jars with screw-on plastic lids. A 1/4-inch drill bit works perfectly for making a straw hole in the plastic lids. 

Glass Dishes for Kids

The glass dishes I have found to be the best and most durable for kid-use are:
  • Porcelain ramekins - My kids use porcelain ramekins every day for most meals, along with kid-sized Oneida silverware.  Ramekins are perfectly sized for kid-size portions of food and, since they are intended for oven use, they are very durable and chip-resistant. My kids also use these bowls when they want to take a snack outside.
  • Mason jars with drilled plastic lids and metal straws - When a cup with a lid is desired (such as for drinking smoothies or when my kids will be taking a drink outside), I like to use 8-ounce mason jars.  Since they are intended for canning, mason jars are rather durable. For lids, I drill 1/4-inch holes in plastic lids (and the drinks won't really be touching the lids anyway unless the cup gets tipped over).  Since my kids like to use straws, we have a set of reuseable dishwasher-safe metal straws that fit into the drilled holes in the lids. If you prefer to buy a lid instead of drilling your own, there is also a Cuppow lid that can be used with Mason jars.
  • Pampered Chef or Corelle dishes - Having some break-resistant dishes on-hand can really help ease the worries over whether the kids will break the dishes.  We have some Pampered Chef Simple Additions plates and bowls that are very durable and chip-resistant.  Corelle also makes lightweight, chip- and break-resistant glass dishes that are great for kids.
  • Glass baby bottles - For babies, glass baby bottles work wonderfully. I pumped milk directly into these bottles and stored them in the freezer as well. We used glass baby bottles for 15 months, and none of the bottles were ever broken or cracked. 
  • Glass sippy cups - Once they were toddlers, my kids used this glass sippy cup which includes a silicone sleeve to prevent breakage. Most often, we just used the lid from this which would fit onto any standard mason jar. A newer, more affordable solution is the Cuppow lid, although I haven't tried it myself.
My kids have never broken any of these dishes.  Of course, you should use common sense to decide whether or not glass dishes would work well for your own kids, given their personalities and temperaments.  I love knowing that my kids are using healthy dishes with the convenience of being able to wash them all in the dishwasher. 

Do you use glass dishes for your kids? Please share any tips you have!

 

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is Sugar Really So Bad?

We are bombarded with messages about the evils of sugar.  Sugar is blamed for bad behavior in kids, diabetes, heart disease, cancer... the list goes on and on. But is sugar really so bad?

I was convinced that sugar was bad

I am the type of person who tends to act quickly and jump right in, so when I started learning about how "bad" sugar was, I immediately started to restrict it.  For over 5 years, I restricted my sugar intake, and took my family along for the ride with me. I thought that dessert was something to only enjoy once in awhile, and I still felt a little guilty about eating dessert even infrequently.  Over time, I kept reducing our sugar intake more and more, thinking that being even more strict would make us healthier. 

But guess what? Our sugar consumption was less and less, but we didn't become any more healthy.  And I noticed that my daughter was becoming fixated on sweets. In my quest to give her the best possible health, she was allowed to eat very little sugar her whole life.  But something definitely seemed out of balance since she was still getting sick very frequently.  When she was 4, I noticed my daughter was starting to hoard sweets, and she even exhibited some binge behavior by sneaking a large tub of raisins into her room and eating them all.

Did the experience of my 4-year-old hoarding and binging raisins wake me up? Nope.  I was still buying into the "sugar is evil" mantra. And by this time we were even strictly following the GAPS diet, because I was so sure that if I tweaked our diet enough we would finally find full health. I was wrong. 

My wake-up call

Two years ago I was hitting rock-bottom on the GAPS Diet I didn't understand how I could be feeling worse and worse when I was trying to eat so well.  I finally had a wake up call through learning about Matt Stone's Diet Recovery plan. Matt encouraged people to actually follow their body's cues on what to eat, and not to restrict any particular foods just because they were thought to be "bad". While this went against everything I thought I knew about nutrition, I was so desperate to find a solution that I gave it a try.

My body was asking for ice cream, lots of ice cream.  So I started eating lots of ice cream and was shocked at the results. I felt so much better and my body was showing signs of better health: a more normal menstrual cycle and increased waking body temperature.  My energy levels were so much higher, and I realized that I had been going through life half-asleep.

This experience made me re-think my conclusions about sugar. If eating more sugar could make me feel so good and improve my body's indicators of health, maybe sugar wasn't really so bad after all.

Some surprising facts about our bodies and sugar

As I started researching more about sugar, I learned that the body actually prefers to use glucose (sugar) as a fuel, and the brain prefers to use ONLY glucose as a fuel. When there isn't enough glucose in the diet, the body undertakes the process of gluconeogenesis, whereby the adrenal glands send messages to the liver and kidneys to convert protein and fat into glucose. These messages from the adrenal glands come in the form of cortisol, which is one of the body’s stress hormones. The body sees a lack of sugar as a stress, and in the long term this can be detrimental.

When the body is deprived of sugar for an extended period of time, the adrenal glands can become overworked since they have to keep sending signals for gluconeogenesis over and over again.  Not having enough sugar in the diet can also lead to other problems because the body is constantly in a state of elevated stress. 

Breastmilk and sugar

One of the things that makes humans different from other animals is the size of our brains.  And given that our brains prefer to use only glucose (sugar) as a fuel, it seems like we would naturally need to consume more sugar than other species.  Guess what? Human breastmilk contains twice as much sugar as milk from other mammals such as cows.  In fact, the food that most closely resembles breastmilk in nutrient composition is full-fat ice cream. No wonder so many kids crave ice cream!

Letting my kids have more ice cream

I'm not advocating that we eat sugar all day every day, but I am convinced that sugar is a healthy part of our diets. In our home, I am finding the middle ground when it comes to sugar. Instead of looking at sugar as an evil that must be restricted, I am valuing sugar as a part of our diets. When my kids want to eat ice cream, I let them. I am making sure that they have access to homemade sweets, a few storebought treats, and even some juice a few times a month.

When my 4-year-old son asks for maple syrup in his raw milk, I go ahead and stir a little in. I know that our bodies do need sugar, and his natural desire to make his milk more-closely-resemble breastmilk makes sense. I hope that never again will one of my children feel so deprived of a food that they start to hoard and binge. I am learning to trust our bodies and their guidance with regards to which foods we eat.

I prefer to use unrefined sweeteners, such as sucanat, local raw honey, and Grade B maple syrup. I do still avoid high-fructose corn syrup and agave nectar. But I am also feeling a little freedom, and not stressing about a little white sugar here and there.

Do you restrict sugar intake in your home?  Have you found a place of balance with sweets?


Want to read more about how sugar may not be so bad after all? Check out these posts:
Sugar: Prisoner of War by Elizabeth Walling
Sugar: Pure, White, and Awesome by Danny Roddy 

If you want to try some homemade ice cream, check out these recipes: 

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beef, Sweet Potato, and Veggie Stew (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

I love sweet potatoes, but my family doesn't generally enjoy them unless they are fried.  While my kids love broccoli and peas, there is something about sweet potatoes that they just don't like.  So when I first made this stew, I didn't tell anyone that it had sweet potatoes in it. They all just assumed the orange pieces were carrots.

I watched with anticipation to see if anyone would make a face or complain that they didn't like the soup.... nope. Both of my kids consumed it with glee! Now everyone knows there are sweet potatoes in the stew and no one minds. They all eat it anyway.  And me? I love, love, love this stew! It is my new favorite stew.

Beef, Sweet Potato, and Veggie Stew 
Serves 6-8
  • 2 Tb butter, preferably from grassfed cows
  • one large yellow or white organic onion
  • 2 stalks organic celery
  • 3-4 medium organic carrots
  • 1&1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably from grassfed cows
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme OR 1.5 tsp fresh thyme
  • 3.5 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups filtered water (or use more broth is using store-bought since the flavor of storebought broth is much more mild than homemade broth)
  • 2 medium organic Garnet sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium organic Yukon Gold potatoes
  • celtic sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • frozen organic green peas (optional)
  1. Chop the onion.  Melt the butter in a 4- or 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bay leaf, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and saute for 5 minutes. A bamboo spatula works great for putting this recipe together.
  2. In the meantime, chop the celery and carrots. Then add them to the pot and saute for 5 more minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Crumble the ground beef into the pot.  Sprinkle with 1&1/2 tsp salt and about 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. Add the cumin and thyme.  Stir to combine with the veggies. Increase the heat to medium-high and brown the meat for a few minutes. (There is no need to fully cook the beef during this step.)
  4. In the meantime, peel and chop the potatoes and sweet potatoes. (I love my Rada vegetable peeler.) I leave the peel on one of the Yukon Golds and remove the peel from both of the sweet potatoes.  Since the sweet potatoes can oxidize (turn brown) rather quickly once peeled, chop them last and throw then straight into the pot. 
  5. Add the broth, water, and potatoes to the pot.  Bring to a low boil and skim the foam.  Discard the foam.
  6. Reduce the heat to bring the pot to a low simmer. Scoop out a bit of the broth and taste to see if any more salt or pepper are needed. Cover the pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fully cooked.Turn off heat.
  7. Since my kids love green peas, I add a few frozen peas to their bowls before serving.  These thaw nicely once the stew is added, and they also help cool the stew down to the perfect temperature for eating.  My husband and I prefer this soup without the peas.
  8. Ladle into bowls and serve!

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Creamy White Pizza Sauce (nutrient-dense : gluten-free)

Often on Friday nights, we have pizza for dinner.  Looking for a change from our usual pizza sauce, I came up with this creamy white pizza sauce.  This sauce has a great flavor from the basil and garlic.  It makes a delicious base for our favorite pizza toppings.

White Pizza Sauce
Makes sauce for one 12-inch pizza

  • 3 Tb butter, preferably from pastured cows 
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup whole milk, preferably from pastured cows
  • 1/4 tsp celtic sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil OR 1 Tb fresh minced basil
  • 2 Tb white rice flour*
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Let the butter start to brown a bit (but make sure it doesn't burn).
  2. Use a garlic press to mince the garlic.  Add the garlic to the melted butter and saute for 20-30 seconds, just until the garlic is fragrant. 
  3. Stir in the milk. Add the salt, pepper, and basil. 
  4. Bring to a simmer and cook for about five minutes. Stir frequently so the milk doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
  5. Carefully remove ~1/4 cup of the hot liquid from the pan and pour it into a glass cup. I like to use a glass Pyrex measuring cup for this. Whisk the rice flour into the cup of  milk. Once it is well-combined, whisk the rice/milk mixture into the saucepan.  
  6. Continue to simmer the mixture for 5-10 more minutes, until the sauce has thickened considerably.
  7. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
  8. Spread the sauce over a pizza crust of your choice**. Top with your favorite toppings and bake.  We topped the white pizza sauce with sauteed mushroom, nitrate-free salami, green onions, and plenty of cheese. 
  9. Slice and enjoy!
*Wondering why I use white rice instead of brown rice? Check out this article to find out.
**We are currently loving Against the Grain Gourmet brand pizza crust, which is sold in the freezer case at our local healthfood store.  It is composed primarily of cheese, milk, eggs, and tapioca starch. My only complaint with the ingredients is that there is a small amount of canola oil in these crusts, but since the amount is small I have decided not to worry about it.  I know some of my blog readers have reported that my Cheesy Bread recipe also works well as a pizza crust, but I haven't tried that yet since my family just devours the cheesy bread every time I make it.

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