Back-to-School: What’s for Lunch?

I homeschool my children. We’ve been talking in the past couple of weeks about what we want to cover this year. We’ve decided to focus on food. My daughter’s big list of questions included requests to learn to make “yummy foods from all over the world,” and my son’s questions included “what is the most common American food?” (Corn, and that is a story worth telling here.) We plan to bring food questions into our cultural geography, chemistry, reading and writing, art history, even our newest addition, philosophy.

In preparation, I have been rereading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). I have the recorded book on my iPod and the book on our homeschool table. I’m still in the middle of the first meal: corn syrup, corn-fed creatures, a dizzying array of corn-derived additives, all in a car fueled by ethanol made from industrial corn.

It’s tough to say no when children want sweet and fat foods. We evolved as humans to desire both, but the exploitation of the desire for sweet and fat and the changes in our culture and in own bodies should be enough to inspire any parent to create positive, healthy eating patterns for children.

One of the points I have tried to make in my Monday Morning Smoothie series is that the nutrients of vegetables and fruits is more easily available and in higher quality when we eat foods raw. Cooking changes nutrition—not that this is bad (though I do count many raw foodists among my friends), since many foods are made more digestible by cooking. Industrial processes of breaking down natural foods into components that can be reconstituted in the form of food, though, has had a vast negative effect on the health of the people of our planet. We suffer a long list of food-related or food-exacerbated diseases as a result of the industrialization of our food chain—diabetes, heart disease, eye disease, autoimmune diseases, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and, not the least, obesity.

When I read that children don’t want to eat healthy lunches created through programs like Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners and Slow Food USA’s Schools Project, I think the media coverage is more than a little superficial.

In my limited experience in my little homeschool of two students, I find that when children are given accurate nutritional information they are able to overcome the exploitive advertisements of fats, sugars, and processed goo as food and make their own choices. I encourage, but I don’t (often) enforce. They generally eat in moderation.

When my daughter said that she felt happier and more energetic all last week than this week, I pointed out that we were having vegetable-rich smoothies every mid-morning last week. This week, we slacked off a bit (well, a lot actually). She really felt the difference, and now she is the one who is leading the way with reminders.

I think what it takes is not anti-sugar or anti-snack food propaganda, at least not with children who are older like mine, but enough information that children can make their own informed decisions. Maybe the kids who reported that they thought healthy school lunches were “yuck” weren’t given enough context. It’s tough to make decisions that delay gratification, especially for children but still true for any of us. The chain of consequence isn’t necessarily as simple as, “Hey, kids, if you drink that high-fructose corn syrup soda, you have a better chance of getting diabetes.” Actually, the link between high-fructose corn syrup and diabetes has been made quiet clearly through studies, so maybe it is just a matter of making the connections for kids.

When food is engineered to get past our defenses, we need to equip our children with stronger defenses.

What to do as your children head back to school? Find out what they are eating for lunch. If you don’t like it, meet with other parents and start a healthy school campaign. Sustainable Table has a great article on school lunch referencing a lot of information and educational materials you can use to make a change for your children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has an excellent collection of resources you can use to start your own local campaign.

  • You can send your children to school with foods closer to their natural state, real whole foods.
  • You can give your children accurate information about nutrition, so they will make their own better choices.
  • You can encourage your schools to improve nutrition and reduce the amount of processed food offered to children. Take small steps if they worry about big steps.
  • You can get many more ideas at the Green Moms Blog Carnival, the August Green Schools edition hosted by Organic Mania.
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Baby Carrier Manufacturer Profile: Beco

Continuing our series of baby carrier manufacturer profiles, this week we feature Gabby Caperon, designer of the award-winning Beco Baby Carrier.

Gabby Caperon of Beco Baby Carriers
Gabby Caperon of Beco Baby Carriers

What inspired you to become a manufacturer of baby carriers?

The company got started in March 2005 about a month before Duke (our only son) was born. I have originally started as a diaper cover business (under brand name “Ecobabies”), but the intention shifted as soon as I found out that a leading brand store bought baby carrier does not work for me. Then I spent about nine months developing a design which would actually work for myself. First Beco (originally called “BECOpack”) was launched in November 2005. A wider recognition of the design happen during 2006. Since then, encouraged by the customer demand and the business success, I just keep developing and improving the product, improving the infrastructure of the company, building the brand name etc. In short, I am trying to make the Beco the best and most sold baby carrier on the planet Earth! Having fun with it so far, love to serve and fulfill my purpose of being in this way. I am very grateful to my son, husband, all of our employees, business partners and off course OUR HAPPY BECO CUSTOMERS!

About myself…?

I am just a very happy mom, wife, designer and lately a dirt/trial bike rider! I love every moment of my life, give it all I have and make as many people happy as possible (including myself) during the process.

Did you ever have an ah-ha moment when you realized how much a baby carrier really does help?

Yup! The moment our son was born (well OK about 1.5 hrs later – I had a water birth in a small birth center and we went home almost right after the placenta was out) we put him in a sling and did not take him out of SOME carrying device for about 1 year :) then he took off on his own feet. I personally appreciate the extra bond the baby carrier helps to create, I do believe in the accelerated social skill development via the baby carrier, and I was always grateful to have the option to soothe my son when the need was there (like when he was sick or tired or plain bored and lost in himself).

Are there unexpected ways that you have seen a baby carrier make your own life or the lives of your customers easier?

Any baby carrier does make parent’s life easier IMO. But for me personally, I think I felt quite special about the whole baby carrier business, when we (as a manufacturer) got contacted by parents of special needs children and adopted children and thank us for making Beco and telling us their stories. That really widen my horizons and made me extra proud and grateful about the way I choose to serve others.

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Back-to-School: Waste-free lunch box

Laptop Lunch Bento box system for obento lunches

The most recent issue of Mothering includes a gorgeous, inspiring article about “Beautiful Obento Boxes,” those compartmented Japanese lunch boxes that inspire parents to create amazing food art for children’s lunches.

If you are looking for ways to make healthy food irresistibly appealing to your children, make your own obento lunches with Laptop Lunches Obento Box System. (Look at over 7000 Laptop Lunches parents have made with this system.)

Parenting by Nature also has a variety of lunch boxes, bags, and drink containers for a waste-free school lunch.

Boxes and Bags

  • Laptop Lunches Obento Box System – lunch box, containers, water bottle, flatware, and a book to help you get started
  • LunchBots Stainless Lunch Containers – small stainless steel containers with lids
  • Zippered Waterproof Bag – makes a great, simple lunch bag
Lunchbots stainless lunch box containers

Drink Containers

  • Kleen Kanteen Stainless Sippy Cups – a toxin-free, non-leaching alternative to plastic
  • SIGG Water Bottles, 0.3L Kids – a small version of the great SIGG bottles every adult wants
SIGG water bottles for children

Drink Accessories

  • Thirsty Totes bottle covers – a machine-washable cover that absorbs spills
  • Stainless Steel Straws – no more throwaway straws
  • SIGG Kidz Grip Handles – makes a SIGG bottle more kid friendly
Stainless steel straws in Canada
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Monday Morning Smoothie: Easy Green

Green Fruits and Vegetables for Smoothie

This week, my children and I made green smoothies. We usually mix colors and get sort of muted orange (a lot of carrots) or dull purple, but it has been great to see how bright we could make our smoothies and still taste great. I avoided vegetables that tend to be bitter in smoothies, like broccoli, and vegetables that don’t add much color, like celery and cucumbers. We ended up with a very smooth taste, probably because of the avocado. Sweet enough that kids loved it and veggie enough that parents loved it.

  • 1/2 green apple
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 12 medium spinach leaves
  • 12 grapes
  • 2 large mint leaves
  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 soy milk

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health.

Green Smoothie

Also, the spinach is a huge source of Vitamin A and folic acid; the green apple is a good source of Vitamin C; avocado is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and several other vitamins; and banana is high in manganese, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6.

I’ve noticed a lot of my friends using liquid, vegetable-based vitamins. The best choice in making sure children have a balanced diet is to give them an abundant variety of fresh, whole foods. Smoothies are just an easy way to give your child several servings of vitamin-, mineral-, and phytonutrient-rich foods in one sitting.

As interest in color-related nutrition increases, so does research. It is likely we will know much more in the future about the exact benefits phytochemicals (plant chemicals). In the meantime, we know that it is important to get as many intensely colored vegetables and fruits in our children’s diets as possible.

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5 Tips for Non-toxic Sun Protection for Babies

Summer is going to be over soon. One of my friends lives high in the mountains, and she had 3″ of snow yesterday—weak, slushy snow, but still snow.

As the summer draws to a close, a lot of my friends are going off for weekends hiking and camping by lakes. Some of these friends are new parents, and they ask me how to take care of their babies while camping—how to use cloth diapers on the road, how to keep their babies entertained, and how to protect them from the sun since sunscreen is not recommended for infants.

Non-toxic sun protection suit for babies
  1. Stay in the shade whenever possible and use an umbrella at the park or the beach where there are no trees.
  2. Stay out of the sun during peak hours especially
  3. Keep babies covered with light clothing
  4. Always have the baby wear a hat
  5. Use an all-natural sunscreen for older babies and toddlers when they are no longer putting hands in their hands in their mouths

Nature Mom uses these non-toxic sun protection suits for both of her children at the pool and at the beach. These are less messy than sunscreen, and they offer great protection. This is a great time of year to look for summer bargains because most retailers are starting to put them on sale as they prepare for back to school specials and (if you can believe it!) the holiday season.

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