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D.A.D.: Healthy Food, Where Are You?

Long Valley Patch editor Jason Koestenblatt needs advice on where to find the most nutritious foods for his sons.

Raising kids is difficult.

That’s like saying touching the sun may warm your hand. 

Raising kids is one thing. Raising healthy kids–especially today, when seemingly every food is full of some kind of disease-causing garbage–is a whole new ball game.

Nancy and I want nothing but the best for our kids, and to raise them in a loving, healthy home. It’s the second part of that statement that’s getting harder each week.

Our oldest son, Jacob, will be three in June. Since the day he could digest solid foods, he’s been a chowhound. He eats three square meals a day, and asks for about a 100 snacks in between. We’re blessed that he loves fruits and vegetables and a bevy of nutritious foods.

But it’s those snacks that are becoming so difficult to manage. We’d love nothing more than to give our kids–and ourselves–the healthiest, organic foods we could find. But there are two problems: the cost, and the location.

Before I go any further, please know I don’t think I’m some holier-than-thou, healthy food nut. There’s a week-old, family-sized Wendy’s bag sitting in our minivan, and I’ll probably gorge on some leftover Easter candy before I finish writing this.

While we’ve always been mindful of what we feed Jacob, sometimes the garbage in the food is nearly unavoidable. Finding the right foods, and the right stores to buy them in, has become a daily task.

It doesn’t help that Nancy and I tuned into this “60 Minutes” report from a few weeks ago that basically said sugar–namely high fructose corn syrup–was the devil in food’s clothing. The segment prompted us to go on a crusade last weekend to find healthier snacks for our nearly-three-year-old Ox.

Watching Jacob eat solid foods for the past two years or so, we learned quickly what sugar could do to a child. We didn’t introduce it for quite a while; in fact, there’s a photo of him on his first birthday, looking disgusted at a cupcake with chocolate frosting on it. He actually pushed it away during the party, and opted for fruit.

But then it crept in. A cookie here. A lollipop there. Sugar can quickly become a child’s form of crack. Once they have it, they want it–even need it sometimes. Rather than committing a crime to get their fix, they’ll throw tantrums and change personalities in a heartbeat.

And we don’t want any part of that.

So, we headed over to the Healthe Shoppe in Chester and found some perfect snacks, including all-fruit 'leather' strips, organic fruit snacks, organic cookies, wild blueberries and other quick hits we knew Jacob would enjoy. The price, however, was tough to swallow.

Comparison shopping at the nearby ShopRite was helpful, as we found some of the same products at a lower cost, but the variety just wasn’t there.

So I’m asking you, the faithful and intelligent Patch readers and parents, what can I do to make sure my kids are eating the most nutritious foods they can?

Do you have a recipe you can share? Know of a place nearby to get these organic–or at least very healthy–foods, possibly at a cost less than a paycheck per month?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Thanks for listening to me rant.

And now, for Russ Crespolini’s weekly roundup.

Russ' Ravings

I am not going to lie and say I have the healthiest relationship with food. I don't. It is a major character flaw I am very much hoping not to pass on to my little girl, At 14 months, we are really lucky that my daughter will try ANYTHING. She loves vegetables, she loves fruit, she loves it all. My personal concern is the expense of these organic foods and where those prices are going to go. My wife is a social worker. I am a journalist. And so that leaves me trying to balance my desire to feed my little girl chicken without hormones so she doesn't go through puberty at eight and being able to afford to send her to college. Does this stuff concern you? Or is the implied medical risks scare tactics like the fervor over vaccines? What are your thoughts?

Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 21, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I like Barbara's idea, Jason. Start a garden at stately Koestenblatt manor and then share the haul with me.
MrsT73199 April 21, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I use www.suburbanorganics.com - have a coop that is delivered to my house in Chester - and I shop at Shop Rite in the "healthy pockets" and the Health Shoppe. I am learning to read labels, as RGJ notes, in order to avoid the scams. I found an organic farm for meat in Long Valley (Mini Mac) that will deliver to the house, which is helpful because we are a dual working family. I am slowly making the shift to "healthier" eating. Though I have always been conscious about what I feed my children, like you, I am now realizing the harmful problems with processed foods and all of the hidden sugars in the products I buy. I wish the grocery stores would make it easier for parents to create a healthy home for their kids. I'm with you on this so please keep writing about what you find in our area!
Barbara April 21, 2012 at 02:47 PM
David- you are right about GMO. But the big money behind GMO is lobbying heavily to keep our government from requiring labeling of GMO foods. Meanwhile, more progressive countries in Europe have banned GMO because they recognize the health risks to their residents. I believe something like 80% of all corn in the US is now GMO. Next time you visit your local CSA, ask them if they are using GMO seeds.
MrsT73199 April 21, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Another shift I am making is rethinking my grocery bill. I used to worry a lot about cost. I then learned that Europeans spend about 4x as much on their food bill as Americans do. We end up making up that difference in doctor's bills. So perhaps it is ok to spend a little more for quality food.
stacie bohr April 21, 2012 at 03:42 PM
One thing that worked for Jay and I was putting the healthy snacks within hands reach (lower shelves in the fridge and cabinets). If they wanted a "junkier" snack they had to ask us because they couldn't reach. I may be a little old school but I don't think a good bowl of ice cream or a few cookies will hurt. It's about balance! But honestly, Jason...the reach to eat trick worked and my kids will still grab an apple just as quickly as they will an Oreo!
RGJ April 21, 2012 at 05:07 PM
I'm inspired. I'm switching to skim milk on my morning bowl of breakfast Skittles.
Claire April 21, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Jason, Think about the things your kids consume most often such as milk. Switch to Farmlands milk, while it may not be "organic", its hormone and antibiotic free and better yet its only about .30 more than reg milk and the taste is noticeably better. Also, look for hormone/antib free eggs (eggland etc) something is usually on sale at the grocers. Certain yogurts are horm-antib-free too such as Yoplait. Google info on what organic food is worth buying and what isn't, ie: if it has a skin that you consume or root plants, then buying organic may be worth the extra. $. Get your kids use to 100%whole grain bread from the start. Stay away from processed foods. While its hard to afford all organic foods, maybe eliminating the junk from 1/2 your foods is a good start. Organic/freerange meat taste best, look for when its on sale and stock up in freezer. Sorry, but local farms do not necessarily mean "organic" you need to inquire if they use pesticides. But I do buy all our veggies at Orts, they taste good. I'll be over to try those hot house tomatoes this week! Best of luck.
DXJ April 21, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Reposting due to bad link (and the perils of a new mobile phone). Can't say that many organic foods are worth the price or are of superior quality per say. Oft times I can't tell the difference, except for the meat. It's more important to buy locally grown with sustainable methods because you know where it came from and how it was grown. The differece in *value* is in large part the reduction of transport costs from Chile or Idaho or wherever the product came from and the added freshness of just picked. Something I discovered recently is the health hazards of modern wheat. The so-called healthy whole grains we have been brainwashed to think are healthy, really aren't. The dwarf wheat strains we eat today were genetically modified in the 1950's and little resemble the einkorn wheat that everyone ate before the 1950s. While we are focused on organic, we pay little attention to the greater health risks of genetically modified foods that may or may not be."organically" grown. It's not just a weight issue but a whole host of health issues related to modern wheat. I recently cut out wheat, starch and sugar in my diet and I shed 10 pounds in the first week without being hungry. Wheat was my crack. Check out this book if you want to learn more: http://tinyurl.com/87xbotb
wildflower April 21, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Ok let's bring it back to what our DADS were asking...how to feed the kids healthy foods without breaking the bank, a few recipe ideas too. First, keep up with constantly serving fresh fruits and veggies as part of most meals, and snack time, even when it gets to be a hassle--washing, dicing, slicing, steaming, pureeing, etc...you have to keep their palates accustomed to it, otherwise you lose them to the processed, easier-to-dole-out fruits and vegetables like the fruit snacks and veggie chips, etc. which are not terrible, but it can become habit forming for both parent and child to reach for what is convenient, so just balance it out. We do both here, believe me! But I really push the fresh produce especially during the spring, summer and fall when we can get seasonal, local stuff. Another key to healthy eating is preparing things from scratch. DIFFICULT I know!! Time consuming and sometimes impossible with one or two little ones running about! But if you can manage to throw together a quick batch of granola to snack on with yogurt if you do dairy, kale chips, or a bean dip to serve with chips/veggies, you will be happy with the nutrition the kids are getting. As for where to get everything, yes to the Green Mkt, farms, SHOPRITE, Health Shoppe (expensive), Mini Mac, and Trader Joes. Check out the Dirty Dozen list for the must-be organic produce. Do the best you can. The farms I asked around here don't spray much..some use IPM. Russ, yes, all very concerning!
Claire April 21, 2012 at 07:10 PM
One more thing, keep your kids active. Teach them to ride a bike and do not buy a motorized hummer, keep them in the Lv Rec programs every season. Most of the volunteers are wonderful, if I do say so for myself! Its the best way to make friends. Stay involved and your kids will turn out ok!
CJMCG April 21, 2012 at 07:44 PM
When keeping children health, please consider what you use to clean your home. Avoid all the brand names and use plain vinegar and baking soda instead. Avoids the chemicals, which are horrendous for us all especially children, and is much cheaper. As to healthy food. Put out carrot sticks, hummus, plain nuts, cut up apples, and leave them out for them to nibble on when hunger strikes. Popcorn (if not gmo) is a very healthy snack, the homemade that is!!
MRE April 21, 2012 at 09:25 PM
I wouldn't get too caught up in trendy, deceptive categories such as "organic". The most pristine, organic "evaporated cane juice" (aka sucrose, table sugar) will derange you metabolically just as much as any industrially-produced high fructose corn syrup product. The major factor in getting your children to eat well is to you yourself eat well, because they're going to want to eat what you eat just by their very nature. The best general tip for health in my opinion is to generally try to steer clear of refined carbohydrates and simple sugars as much as possible, and to not be afraid of fats that naturally occur in foods (such as animal fats, full-fat dairy, more traditional oils, etc.). It would take a lot more explanation than is probably possible to delve into the specifics, but there is massively compelling evidence that basically every single chronic age-related disease in existence clusters around the development of insulin resistance and the chronic inflammation associated with having poor blood glucose regulation. The most surefire way to never have to worry about having problems like that is to restrict refined sugars and starches as much as possible, and steer clear of massively-unnatural industrially produced vegetable oils such as corn and soybean oil. Pretty much everything besides those two simple ideas is just gravy.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 12:42 AM
All - Thank you so much for the comments and information, it's greatly appreciated. First, skittles in my cereal bowl sounds great, RGJ! We're actually considering a CSA, as well as making our spring house project a small garden in the back yard. @CJMCG: We're actually a vinegar and water cleaning type of family here, and use dye-free detergent and other kinds of cleaners that lack harmful chemicals. @David Johnson: We've learned that wheat/gluten has a long tail and holds a pitchfork for our family, too. We keep the bread intake to a minimum for the sake of too many carbs and, who actually wants more yeast in their body? @Stacie: Nothing in the house considered 'junkier' is lower than eye level for the parents! And you're right, balance is key! One thing I did forget to mention in the column was our family's regular use of a Jack Lalanne juicer. The juice extracted from the fruit or vegetable thrown into it is, obviously, filled with the same nutrients and antioxidants, but in a quick and easy to digest way. Plus, Jacob loves throwing just about anything in the kitchen into the machine and then drinking it. Again, thank you all for your recommendations and comments–they're all very informative and welcomed!
organix April 22, 2012 at 01:50 AM
yes, I shop at both Healthe Shoppe Chester and Morristown. They Support Local farms, all year round. I don't see that happening in Shoprite. They use as much local sourced products as they can find in their produce department, and deli prepared foods. I"ve seen products from Runnin' Free Organic Farm, Zone 7, Comeback Farm, Tassot Apiaries and many others. Items range from produce, eggs, meats, dairy, bake goods, fruit and honey. NJ has tons MORE resources for clean responsible foods. And theres probably one near you.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:14 AM
My doctor says the health benefits of 1% are the same as skim. So, don't go crazy.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:15 AM
well...so much for my super-cheap BJ's milk run each week...
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:17 AM
So....what DID you eat?
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:26 AM
I just wonder, MAG is this is just another thing that is being overblown. Now, I am not here to pick a fight when I likened it to the fervor over vaccines (Jason and I actually differ on this but neither of us really are the type to tell others what to do) because there are so many DEFCON 1 alarmist stories written about them. IS this stuff that bad? Or is this a manufactured issue designed to scare people into buying certain items? I really don't know. And I do the majority of the food shopping in my house and all of the cooking. So I am trying my best to plan out and prepare meals on a Saturday or Sunday for the week. I get sticker shock at the organic food section of stores when I calculate how much one meal would cost with ingredients from Trader Joe's rather than the Acme in Randolph.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Wait! Why can't I use cleaners in my house?
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:32 AM
See, here is the rub, man. You already have a jump on a lot of these suggestions. I swear I thought you were going to say you took your dole down to roman aqueduct and made your own bread using only your knuckles and the head from the core of your body. I use antibacterial soap. I have food from the regular food store that was on sale. And I think I am probably closer to the majority. So where does someone like me get started? Those are things I am hoping we get some answers to.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 05:34 AM
But the price, Organix! The PRICE!
carolcarlson April 22, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Many people facing rising food costs are considering coupons as a way to save money on their grocery bills including myself who uses smart source or Printapons websites to get daily alerts.
wildflower April 23, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Russ, in response, no, it is not overblown. You asked where someone like you gets started...Take baby steps...I second CJMCG's recommendations about cleaning products, and you can start that immediately and feel good about your daughter touching surfaces cleaned naturally! As I said, forget buying everything organic! Be a savvy shopper. That does not mean only shopping at TJ's or the health food store. Read labels, buy things with as FEW ingredients as possible, stay away from anything w/ingredients you can't pronounce. Don't feel like meat has to be eaten every night. Simplify. Homemade black bean dip and veggies does not cost much! Good luck.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 23, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Thanks MAG. I mean, I am going to give it a shot. I will let you all know how it goes.
Nicole Ort April 23, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Thanks for your feedback RGJ! Keep supporting local farmers!
Nicole Ort April 23, 2012 at 03:03 AM
It is definitely becoming more difficult to find healthy food and incorporate it in our every day lives. There have been several good suggestions listed, a CSA is definitely a great way to increase healthy foods in your household. It's also just so important to eat locally grown foods when they are available. Local food has more nutrients (less food miles) and will have better health benefits. The greatest part about eating local to me is the fact that you can actually know the person who grows your food and understand where it is coming from. The most exciting part for me working at the farm is having the opportunity to connect with consumers and help them understand the growing process. The best way to know the quality of your food is to ASK your local farmers and suppliers. To me, there is nothing more comforting than knowing where my food comes from. I don't need a book or news report to tell me how my food is grown, I can see it for myself and confidently know that it's responsibly handled. We are so fortunate to live in an area of New Jersey where farms are present and we all have the opportunity to see where our food really comes from. It's something I encourage everyone to take advantage of at local farmers markets, farm stands and health food stores.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) April 23, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Good point, Nicole. Also, as a side note, my mother works with your Aunt at Hunterdon.
Joseph Keyes April 23, 2012 at 07:38 PM
You don’t need to be holier than anyone, nor do you need to adopt any philosophy, “ism,” or anything else but common sense when it comes to food choices. Eat locally when you can—that means buying in-season produce, dairy and meats from local farms and vendors. The best sweets to give your kids are the ones that you make yourself. i.e., baked apples for dessert, home-dried fruits for snacks, home-made ice cream (you can find 1 qt. size machines anywhere), and fruit smoothies straight from your own blender. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or meat-eater, the same choices apply.
mommy1 April 23, 2012 at 07:58 PM
i agree, unless you are talking about dairy or meat, organic doesn't mean much. You can join one of those food co ops, plant your own garden, or donaldsons has food cards you put money on and get discounts. You can use less sugar, use fresh ingredients, and watch labels. My son eats healthy but my daughter only eats chicken nuggets, some fruit, and snack food. Until her, my son only ate cereal with under 5 grams of sugar. You can't always win. I make my own waffles using bisquick (low in sugar) and add baby food fruit to it as well as baby oatmeal (high in iron). Do what you can, but don't become obsessed.
Russ Crespolini (Editor) May 05, 2012 at 03:26 PM
New D.A.D. up. http://patch.com/A-sZ2d

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