Tips for Choosing Safe, Healthy Foods for Your Family

momscrewingup“Behind every good kid is a parent who is pretty sure she’s screwing it up.”

I felt like printing off this graphic when I saw it on Facebook and framing it immediately because it verified that someone else shared my sentiment. Parenting is no easy job! As a working mom of two, I have experienced more than my fair share of “mommy guilt.”

There have been many situations I wish I would’ve handled differently with my kids. There are times when I wish work didn’t take me away from home. There are days when I doubt myself and my abilities. The last thing I need is feel guilty about the food that I put on the table to fortify their growing bodies!

But one doesn’t have to take many steps inside any grocery store before doubt and even fear set in…
Organic vs. Natural. Cage Free vs. Free Range. GMO vs. Conventional. Sugar free. Gluten free. Fat free.

There are so many different food labels and marketing tactics that suddenly grocery shopping requires a “glossary of key terms.” Our nation has done such a great job of raising large quantities of food that Americans enjoy the luxury of food choice, but too many choices can be overwhelming.

In today’s blog, I’m attempting to bring clarity to a few commonly misunderstood food terms and provide a few simple steps to help every person feel better about the food that goes in his or her shopping carts. Let’s begin by taking a closer look at these three commonly used foodie terms:

    • Cage Free vs. Free Range: “Cage free” means that livestock is raised inside a building but not in a cage. “Free range” means the livestock is on the loose, basically living outside. You’ll hear people argue for and against each type, but honestly, it really is a choice that an individual farmer must make based on his/her beliefs, facilities, climate and a variety of other factors.This year I raised cage free chickens inside a building. The main reason my chickens were kept inside is because their purpose in life was to become meat on the table. These chickens were meant for human consumption, not for the dining pleasure of raccoons, weasels, hawks or eagles. Yes, predators are part of the circle of life. When you’re buying chicken feed and spending the time to care for animals, however, you hate to see your hard earned money literally get carried away.
    • Organic vs. Conventional: You might be surprised to learn that more than 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops are approved by the U.S. Organic Standards. The difference between organic and conventional farming is the origin of the pesticides. However, just because organic foods are raised with no or natural chemicals, doesn’t mean they’re free of harmful things. Organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens. One study found E. coli in fresh produce from almost 10% of organic farms samples but only in 2% of conventional samples. The same study found Salmonella only in samples from organic farms.Another misconception is that organic foods are healthier. These two methods of production have been studied for more than 50 years, but science cannot find any evidence that organic foods are in any way healthier than non-organic ones. Organic fruits and veggies, just like conventional produce, are dense with nutrients, low in calories and contain antioxidants that help promote health.Feel good about the nutritional value of your fresh fruits and veggies, regardless of how they were raised!
    • GMO vs. Non-GMO: What is a GMO? It turns out that most people fear “it” even though they don’t know what “it” is. Click here to see what I mean.The truth is, “modified” doesn’t equal “bad” or “harmful.” Unfortunately, many mainstream reporters and media personalities like Dr. Oz have created confusion by spreading misinformation and using outlandish examples to cause us to fear our food. They make “genetically modified organisms” sound like some evil development.Fact is, farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all crops grown and livestock they have raised since domestic agriculture began 10,000 years ago! Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands. Even kale is a genetically modified food. Can you believe that one of the most heralded “super foods” of our time is a GMO?

      Headlines throughout the summer produce season have been filled with them merits of kale, but very few acknowledged kale as a GMO. I’ve seen more recipes for Kale Smoothies get shared on Facebook. Why? Consumers are led to believe that the latest buzzword must be good, but as farming advocate Kim Bremmer writes, “…all of these “strategically worded labels” come at the expense of consumers.”

How can you feel comfortable about the food that you feed your family? Follow these easy steps:

    1. Consider the source. Mainstream media doesn’t always cover both sides of the story nor does it necessarily get the facts straight! Sometimes research findings are influenced by whomever paid for the research. Other times information from a special interest group serves only that group’s best interest. Make sure you’re consulting information from unbiased groups like Best Food Facts.
    2. Ask questions to a real farmer. Realizing that consumers have questions due to desire to better understand food production, more farmers than ever are sharing their personal farming stories. I regularly read blog posts by farmers who raise type of livestock that I don’t, and I find their stories fascinating. Engage in conversations about food and farming with groups like CommonGroundTM and the Iowa Food & Family Project. Start following hash tags like #RealPigFarming and #foodchat.
    3. Plan Well Balanced Meals. Whether you buy your food direct from a farmer or pick it up from your local grocery store, give yourself to feel good about the food you’re feeding your family! Take the time to meal plan, including menu items from all food groups. Studies show that when meals are eaten together, the food tends to be more nutritious. Not only that, but research proves that valuable conversations are shared and important memories are created around the family dinner table. At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather your family have warm memories of good food and good conversation rather than fear and anxiety over what’s on their plate?