7 Foods to Keep Your Kids Warm This Winter

Winter stew

Craving comfort foods this winter? There is an explanation for that. When the temperature outside drops, your body has to work harder to keep warm, burning more calories to create that energy. Simple, hearty foods like stews have many of the elements your body needs right now: protein, fats, and spices. Don’t avoid those foods you crave, just keep it healthy and you and your children will stay toasty warm.

You don’t want just to be hot for minutes; you need foods that keep the kids feeling cozy and warm for hours. Choose foods that burn slowly rather than simpler carbohydrates like crackers and sweets. Potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice are all great foods, but they will metabolize more quickly—and you will feel hungry sooner. Winter is the time to eat true slow foods.

Winter Foods Kids Will Love

Nuts. If you need to tide kids over with a snack, give them nuts. The protein and fat content make them an ideal winter snack food. Cook with nuts and seeds as well.

Spices. Whether you tend toward cinnamon, chilies, or ginger and garlic, spices are particularly good for you during the winter. Ginger helps you digest the fatty foods your body craves in the winter, and antibacterial and antiviral effects of foods like garlic help you fight off infections.

Curry. My favorite winter food is curry. I have a long list of my favorite Indian and Thai curries with lots of chilies and ginger. These make an ideal winter lunch. I feel warm and full all afternoon with no temptation to snack before dinner. My children favor peanut-based curries that aren’t quite as spicy.

Stew. Do you have any holiday leftovers, like a ham bone or a desiccated turkey carcass you put into the freezer to think about later? Your holiday leftovers can make a great base for stew, but you can also make a hearty stew without any meat at all. Add a variety of root vegetables, and caramelize those onions to give it a nice flavor. Or, make nut-based sauces for African stews. Or, make rich tomato sauce for gumbo. Any flavor-way can be used to make a rich stew. This is the perfect place to experiment.

Pie. Pot pies are one of my favorite post-holiday dishes. My mother always made great turkey stew in her flakiest pie crust. For children, you might consider making the crust more of a feature. A Cornish pasty is a pie with the crust folded over in a half-moon shape. You can eat it with your hands without too much mess and it keeps the family full all afternoon. That is why the Cornish miners took these little pies with them to work. Any stew you can dream up will (probably) also make a great pie.

Beans. My kids often just have spiced black beans for lunch. This is my daughter’s absolute favorite comfort food—a food that she almost missed when she first saw it. She told me, the first time I served her black beans, that she didn’t like it. She knew immediately, but we have a rule that one has to have at least one taste before one can form an opinion about liking a food. It turned out that she actually loved it, and she’s been eating beans happily in many forms since.

Chili. Chili is another kind of stew. Either chili or stew can include almost anything you have on hand or anything your children favor. It’s easy to make vegetarian chili or meat chili. A slow cooker, a bag of beans, and a (glass!) jar of tomatoes, and you are almost there. It’s easy to make simple chili, and you can involve children in choosing the flavors.

Keep those toes and bellies warm. Eat up!

Image © Maxim Shebeko | Dreamstime.com

What’s the Big Deal About GMOs?

Child eating corn on the cob

GMO foods, those from genetically modified organisms, show up in the news every week. The information we get about them can be confusing because the issues are complex and the interested players putting their spin on the issues are many.

Don’t give up and move on, though. GMOs matter. Take the time to learn how GMOs have not in the past 20 years lived up to the promises made to consumers, but they have shifted control of global agriculture to a few corporate hands. Beyond instability introduced to global food systems, research connects GMOs to health and environmental issues.

The issues most often in the news are whether GMOs should be allowed into the food supply (in Canada & the U.S. they are; in Europe they are not), and, when they are allowed into the food supply, whether they should be labeled (in Canada and the U.S. they are not, though there is some voluntary GMO-free labeling).

What does GMO mean?

You might see references to GMO, GM, or GE in discussions of genetic modification of organisms.

  • GE – Genetically Engineered – Genetic material has been added or removed. This is a specific term.
  • GM / GMO – Genetically Modified (Organism) – Genes modified through any means. GM is an umbrella term that includes all GE.

In common (rather than scientific) discussion of these issues, you may see references to both as GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms.

Why genetically modify foods?

Crops have been modified to make them resistant to weeds and insects, to make them ready for specific (patented) herbicides, to make them resistant to weather damage, to make them ripen slower and travel better so it is easier to get them to market looking fresh.

GMOs benefit the corporations that profit from higher production and monocultures. They can benefit the farmers who plant these crops in some situations, though many traditional farmers have suffered at the legal hands of the major GE corporations.

Where are GMO foods found?

You are likely eating GMO foods every day without realizing it.

Over the past 20 years, GM foods have been approved in Canada. In Canada and the U.S. (unlike Europe), there is no government requirement to label these foods, either in the whole fruits and vegetables section of your grocery store or as ingredients in processed, packaged, and other foods.

Health Canada is charged with making sure any GMOs on the market are safe for consumption. Health Canada refers to these and other foods as Novel Foods. They provide GMO / novel foods factsheets, including details of their safety assessment process. There are no further plans to research safety of GMOs in Canada.

Some smaller areas in Canada and the U.S. have banned GMOs or required labelling of GMOs in their jurisdictions.

What are the problems with GMOs?

Outside the U.S. and Canada, 60 countries have bans or restrictions on GMOs—including Australia, Japan, and the European Union. A lot of scientists and global health professionals urge caution before accepting unproven modifications in our food supply. We can’t just take back GMOs. Once they are growing, they change wild plant and animal populations as well as agriculture. They change our ecosystems.

Your Health. Government agencies and those who sell GMO seeds and foods tell us that they are safe, yet research accumulates on the long-term harmful effects of GM foods. Abnormal structural changes are shown in animal feeding experiments. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine explains how the idea of “substantial equivalence” underlies the claims of food safety but why that doesn’t give us the full story.

For example, I know a lot of bynature.ca customers are concerned about food allergies and sensitivities. There is research into whether GM crops cause allergies. It’s tough, though, to get around all of the corporate-sponsored FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to find science that isn’t conducted under interested parties. Read one doctor’s view, tracing the gradual acknowledgment of the association between one disease and GM foods. Over time, we can expect to see more stories like this as more long-term health effects become clear.

Environmental Impacts. GMOs contaminate similar organisms as genetically modified genes spread. The spreading is natural, though the genes spread are not naturally occurring. Crops that have been modified to include their own herbicides or pesticides have resulted in weeds and insects that have grown more tolerant and resistant, which means pesticide and herbicide use increases to combat those.

Biodiversity. What may be weeds to a monoculture farmer are habitat for butterflies, bees, and other small creatures. Huge weed-free zones mean destruction of habitat. GMO forests could be devastating to biodiversity.

Sovreignty. Farmers save seeds to plant next year, right? Not with GMOs. Genetically modified genes together with gene patents mean corporate legal control over a growing number of the most commonly planted seeds. Terminator Technology results in plants that produce sterile seeds. Even in plants that do not produce sterile seeds, farmers are not allowed legally to save seeds patented by the massive GE corporations. This creates long-term dependency rather than self-reliance. Together with the massive corporate buying of seed companies then raising of prices for seed, you have every farmer at the mercy of the corporation that modified and patented the genes of the seeds that farmer’s family has been growing for generations immemorial.

What can that mean in the real lives of real people? Over the past 15 years in India, more than 270,000 farmers have committed suicide. Seeds and GMOs play a big role in this tragedy. Watch a short film about the connection.

What if I want to avoid GMOs?

Foods containing GMOs are not required to be labelled. If you want to avoid eating genetically modified foods, you will have to do the research for yourself to determine which foods are genetically modified or may contain GMOs.

  • Avoid the worst GMO foods: Canola, corn, soy, sugar (from sugar beets), papayas, dairy from cows treated with rBGH, zucchini and yellow squash. Look for high-risk crops and be aware of ingredients in processed foods. The introduce of new crops means you can’t rely on a list long-term. Check the food list at the Non-GMO Project.
  • Buy organic. Certified organic foods are not allowed to be genetically modified.
  • Plant your own. Though GM seeds are available for home gardens, you can find non-GMO seeds by asking your seed provider.
  • Look for GMO-free labels. Some smaller food retailers are also concerned. Shop where you can find the label “GMO-free.” The Non-GMO Project will help you find labelled foods.


“Human Health Risks of GMOs,” Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

Genetic Routlette: The Gamble of Our Lives (2012). Documentary film.

GMO Trilogy. Watch “Unnatural Selection” online for free. Documentary films.

Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating (2005). Also available bundled with the documentary films of the GMO Trilogy.

Dr. Vandana Shiva has long been an activist for food sovreignty and anti-globalization. Read her response to a recent campaign of doubt against her published in The New Yorker, August 2014.

Take Action

Join CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

Organic Consumers Association works on a lot of issues that concern us. Dig through their section on GMOs to find the ways you can take action internationally, nationally, and in your own community. Includes the Report, GMO Myths & Truths: An Evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops by Earth Open Source.

U.S. based? Sign the MoveOn petition to Hillary Clinton by the Organic Consumers Association about support for Monsanto and GMO agriculture.

“Speaking at this year’s BIO International Convention, you reiterated your support for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). You said the industry needs ‘a better vocabulary’ to change negative public perception about GMO agriculture. But mounting scientific evidence says the public is right to be concerned about the impact of Monsanto’s GMO crops and food on the environment, public health and global warming. We don’t need a better vocabulary. We need leaders who will stand up to Monsanto.”

Image © Alinute | Dreamstime.com - Pretty Child Girl Eats A Boiled Corn Photo


Fast Food for the Holiday Season

Child drinking a green smoothie

Me suggesting fast food? It’s not what you think.

If you are running around between school activities, shopping, and quick visits with relatives and friends, it gets tough to cook whole foods at the expected meal times.

In 3 minutes you can make a green smoothie. You are out the door again in 5 minutes. Smoothies make an easy, densely nutritious meal for you and your children.

Green Smoothies

Start with the base. Choose bananas, coconut water, yoghurt, milk, juice, or anything that will give your smoothie a mostly liquid texture.

Add leafy greens. Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, or cabbage. Dark foods of any color each pack their own group of micronutrients and phytochemicals that are great for your health. Green plants provide antioxidants.

Add more greens. Celery, cucumber, or avocado. Go through your vegetable drawer and use what you have—except broccoli. Learn from my sad experience and don’t add broccoli. I love it cooked and raw, but it makes a bitter smoothie ingredient.

Add flavorful fruits. You can sweeten the flavor of your mix by adding an apple, mango, orange, or grapes. We keep berries in the freezer for red smoothies.

Add protein. Yoghurt can add protein but nut butter will add more. We like Almond Butter.

Add a punch of flavor. Choose a flavorway that will work with your other ingredients. Cinnamon, nutmeg, or mint add just a hint of flavor; fresh ginger adds a punch. Depending on the mix (and the spice tolerance of your children), you can add cayenne pepper and garlic. I love to add spices to my drinks.

Add superfoods. When we are missing meals, we are careful to add superfoods to our smoothies. We like hemp seeds, cacao nibs, lucuma powder, goji berry powder, and chia seeds.

Don’t add everything at once! Create a simple mix of base, 1-2 greens, 1 fruit, 1 superfood, and a few spices. Let yourself taste these beautiful foods.

4 Simple Green Smooth Recipes

Light and simple. My husband requested that I add his current favorite: coconut water, cucumber, and lime. It’s light on nutrition and substance, but this is what he craves at the moment. When the rest of the foods around you are heavy and dense, this can be very refreshing.

Sweet and spicy. In addition to your base and greens, add mango, grapes (to give it more liquid), cayenne pepper, ginger, and a short squeeze of lime juice. This is me trying to recreate mango chutney in a glass.

Green eggnog spice. Banana, yoghurt, spinach, a splash of vanilla, and nutmeg. Your mind expects the nutmeg in eggnog, and the creaminess of the banana and yoghurt does the rest of the trick.

Mint chocolate. Banana, spinach, mint leaves, splash of vanilla, and cocoa nibs. This is another simple one. I like the flavors to stand out rather than getty muddied together.

Extra Credit

Red & Green. If you aren’t in a big hurry, pour your green mix into glasses, then make a quick red mix (base plus cherries, raspberries, or strawberries) and pour that carefully on top. A thicker mix is less likely to blend at the edges. Surprise your children when they see the beautiful holiday colors in their drink.

More green smooth recipes.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Let’s Talk about Candy

Child dressed in Halloween costume eating cupcake

For parents who prefer that their children not eat everlasting gobs of sugar every Halloween, the holiday becomes a time to take a deep breath and figure out how we will navigate the choices this year. To candy or not to candy?

Switch to Better Alternatives

Within the dominant structure of treat or treat and begging for candy, or truck or treat, or school parties, or whatever is popular in your area, most options include a lot of candy.

One option is to participate but contribute better alternatives. Better alternatives to WHAT depends on your priorities. Is your family completely sugar free? Then maybe you look for sugar-free treats or natural sweets. Are you open to candy, but you don’t want to eat conventional chocolate? Then you might want to find bite-size fair trade chocolate. Organic? Plenty of that. Local? My grocery store has a dozen local chocolate choices, some organic and some fair trade.

So, the first question is: what part of the dominant celebration are you trying to avoid? Then ask how you can do that and still participate.

Or, Limit the Candy

Some parents who generally avoid sugar or chocolate or a list of other candy issues, relax the rules on Halloween. This approach avoids creating candy as the desired thing for a child, the thing they must have at all costs as soon as you aren’t looking.

The Switch Witch and the Magic Pumpkin are two ideas you can read more about in “Halloween Treat Alternatives.” The child chooses a few candies to keep then leaves the rest out for the Switch Witch or the Magic Pumpkin, who leaves a different gift.

I just said NO to candy when my children were small, perhaps less than 5-years old. Once my children were older, I let them keep what they gathered, but I limited them to one piece per day each. I don’t love this solution, but it worked those years when we participated in trick or treating with friends and neighbors.

Or, Switch Structure

Rather than accept the dominant idea that Halloween must involve candy, switch to another structure entirely. Have a costume dinner party for adults and children. Go to a maize maze in costume. Find a fun activity that celebrates the season without focusing on candy.

This is the option we choose most years. I like that this doesn’t put our choices as an alternative to candy but just removes thinking about the candy altogether.

Resources: Thinking about Candy for Children

We’ve collected a few of our past posts that you may find helpful.

Halloween Treat Alternatives

Four ways to shift focus from “Gimme Candy” to sweet memories, weird science, social activism, or community.

Sugar: 7 Reasons to Break the Addiction

Baby eating a sugar lollipopNot sure whether there is a good enough reason to skip the sugary candy altogether this year? Read through our seven reasons to avoid sugar and the studies that back up the reasons. Sugar is addictive, toxic, leads to disease, saps energy, shortens your life, and can make you stupid. How is that for reason enough?

How Are Families Going Sugar Free?

A spiral of sugarThese are baby steps to break the sugar addiction for a whole family. It isn’t holiday focused, but there are good and important steps you can incorporate into a changed holiday if you are ready to make the break.

Dark Side of Chocolate

The Dark Side of Chocolate is a documentary about child labor and slavery in the cocoa industry. Fair trade or skip it. You won’t find chocolate so sweet when you see this story.

Chocolate — It’s About Dignity and Sustainability

Child with Chocolate

I wrote this post about the good reasons to choose fair trade, sustainable chocolate a few years ago. There are so many more choices now. If you want to make change, you do have options.

My Conscious Choices, Your Conscious Choices

Reasons to create your own candy-free Halloween traditions vary: health, social justice, environmental sustainability, and so on. Not all of us make the same choices, and that’s OK. If you want help thinking through whether now is the time to make those changes, ask yourself the five questions in this post. There are no right answers. You are the only one who knows if now is the time for change.

Image © Poznyakov | Dreamstime.com

Snack-sized Reading to Improve Nutrition

Food Rules Illustrated Michael Pollan


You want to eat better and ensure that your children are healthy, but how do you figure out which information about food is reliable? One book summarizes all of the basic food rules you need to know.

Having children often brings on one of those shocking moments of realization that what you eat and what your children eat really matters. For a lot of us, babies are the trigger to clean up our eating habits. Unfortunately, this is also the time in your life when you have the least time to spend and when you are most tired. Fortunately, if you do manage to squeeze out some time to improve your family’s nutrition, you will improve how you feel overall.

Simple Rules for Eating

Start with simple rules and take simple steps.

“If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t”
~Michael Pollan

Did you notice when we posted the quotation above on Facebook last month? This is rule #19 from his book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (published 2010).

Michael Pollan is a science journalist who has written several books on food. You might have heard of The Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food. His earlier books are more complex, and his more recent books are simpler. That makes sense to me. He isn’t engaging in an academic exercise. He genuinely wants to help people understand food and make better choices. People need the information delivered simply not because they can’t understand the complex but because, like most of us, they don’t have the time and energy to dive deeply into the subject.

Michael Pollan got the idea for food rules when a doctor told him, “What I would love is a pamphlet I could hand to my patients with some rules for eating wisely.” So, the next book summarized those rules in a way that anyone can understand

To gain some clarity about the general rules you should follow to improve your food choices, start with Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: Illustrated Edition. I suggest the illustrated edition because I assume you will want to share what you learn with your children, as I did. Also, this edition adds 19 more rules to the 64 in the original.

Find an indie bookstore selling Food Rules.

It will take you about a minute and a half to read each rule. You could read it in one sitting, but you might find it easier to integrate the lessons if you read one every morning and think about it as you go about your busy day. Give yourself permission to go slowly if you need to.

If you get into the illustrated edition and want to share more with your children, you will find Michael Pollan reading the rules and the artist talking about her illustrations on Michael Pollan’s website.

Over the years, I have written about my children, the food activists, and how we have integrated learning about food into our homeschool curriculum. We read together Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition, and we watched quite a few food documentaries (which I list for you). With every step we take, we find more to learn. That’s OK! The journey isn’t about arriving but about improvising your beautiful life along the way.

Take your own eco baby steps. You don’t have to (and you CAN’T) do everything at once. Just start where you feel the strongest itch, and make your own changes.