Egg Marketing

I was duped. As someone who has studied marketing, I should know better, and I’m ashamed. Egg producers played on my lack of knowledge, and I walked right into it. My husband watched a show on public television about egg marketing recently and was able to make fun of me, and nothing burns me up more than ignorance about my food – and being made fun of. I’ve been paying more for vegetarian fed, cage-free, natural, and sometimes certified organic eggs. I thought all of these things would mean I was getting a better egg. But in reality, these chickens are being raised in warehouses, being fed a vegetarian diet when their natural inclination is to go out and forage. There is nothing natural about any of these labels. So, I decided to do my homework and checked out the Humane Society website, to get the facts.

  • Vegetarian fed: This one is confusing, because it seems like what you would prefer, but chickens eat bugs, worms, snakes and mice, and lots of other delicious stuff they find outside – they love to forage. If they are only vegetarian fed, then they are raised in a warehouse and have no access to the outdoors.
  • Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing. (Humane Society website)
  • Natural: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare. (Humane Society website)

Here is something else that is pretty horrible about commercially sold eggs: “Virtually all hens in commercial egg operations—whether cage or cage-free—come from hatcheries that kill all male chicks shortly after hatching. The males are of no use to the egg industry because they don’t lay eggs and aren’t bred to grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry. Common methods of killing male chicks include suffocation, gassing and grinding. Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed at hatcheries each year in the United States.” (Humane Society website)

My new plan is to get our eggs straight from a local farmer, that is the only way to ensure the eggs are the best tasting, and the best for you since chickens in their natural habitat lay more nutrient dense eggs. Here is a label I found on the Humane society website that sounds promising (if you can’t find a local farmer to support):

  • Animal Welfare Approved: The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is prohibited. Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the Animal Welfare Institute. (Humane Society website)

Make your own salad dressing

Salad dressing

Make your own!

I recently became exasperated with grocery store salad dressings. If the dressing tastes good, it is filled with things like MSG and sugar (I will miss you, Ranch). If the dressing is good for you, like the Organic versions I’ve found, they taste horrible. Maybe I’m the only person this has happened to, but I’ve been noticing it for a while, and just recently threw in the towel. This summer I was pouring straight olive oil on my salads. Which, honestly isn’t so bad, at least you can taste the vegetables. Call me high maintenance, but I want a dressing I can’t live without.

So, my research began. Tonight we tested a dressing called “Absolutely Fabulous Greek/House Dressing” I found on allrecipes.com. With that title, how can you go wrong? Look it up if you are interested in making it yourself. The ingredients are simple, as absolutely fabulous foods normally are. It includes olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil and oregano. It was a hit! I cut down the amount of vinegar so the ratio of oil to vinegar was 1:1, but after trying it, I recommend upping the oil in that ratio so you have more oil than vinegar. We had it tonight and my daughter actually thanked me for making such a yummy dinner. Seriously, my jaw was on the floor. She asked me why I was staring at her and smiling.

The recipe makes a ton of dressing, so I cut it down to just 10 servings and store it in a dollar store dressing bottle. It is on my kitchen counter right now, making me so proud. I know, I’m crazy!

Weekend Cooking Extravaganza

Out and About

Out and about, loving the outdoors

One of my runner chick friends, Stephanie Gupton, and her family, came up with this fantastic idea for working parents, or non-working parents. This “Cooking Extravaganza” idea is a fast, efficient way to cook a ton of your weekly meals, make sure those meals are healthy, plus spend quality time together. I asked her to give me the low down on how it works, mostly because I want to copy her, but also because I thought it might be a nice idea for other families who struggle to eat well during the hectic workweek.

Question: Tell me about your family’s weekend “Cooking Extravaganza”. What prompted you to start doing this, and what was the result of doing this for you, your family?

Answer: In our lives, before Abigail, Jason and I would get home from work and exercise each weeknight. Afterwards, we would make dinner together, and we always made enough for leftovers for lunch the next day at work. Both of us are really good “leftover eaters,” which was key for our “Cooking Extravaganza” to work for us.  We both are really interested in eating healthy and whole foods. I wish we ate less meat, and more local… but at this point, I think we are doing well.   After Abigail was born, and before I went back to work, I would prep for dinner while Abigail was napping during the day, be ready for a run as soon as Jason got home, to give them some alone time together, and then cook up dinner after the run.

Once I was back at work though, I didn’t want to lose a second of my dwindling time with Abigail after work by cooking or exercising, and neither would Jason.  Thus we came up with the idea of “Cooking Extravaganza,” and exercising while Abigail sleeps.  It started meekly, with just trying to cook dinner for 2 days, but this experiment quickly turned in to trying to make it so we don’t have to cook all week-long, or at least until Thursday night.

Fresh Veggies

Fresh veggies, on the chopping block

Every weekend that we don’t go out-of-town, and on the lucky ones where we get back in time on Sundays, we do our “Cooking Extravaganza” on Sunday nights.  This usually starts with grocery shopping as a family on Saturday, and then on Sunday afternoon, we pull everything out of the fridge.  We are fairly sexist about it, Jason cooks the meat, and I do the veggies/grains, but it works, and I’m not going to try to liberate it. Normally Jason grills on the charcoal grill: a fish (usually salmon), chicken (like thighs and breast meat), and some pork (chops, tenderloin, etc). But on a rainy or cold, or lazy day, it all goes into the oven/broiler. My job is to make a salad, steam green vegetables: like asparagus/broccoli/kale/green beans, make some potatoes: sweet or russet, a grain: rice or cous cous, pasta, etc.

Sometimes we’ll do a crock-pot meal: soup, chili, pulled pork, etc. Usually there is an all-in-one meal, for instance casserole, chicken pot pie, curry, or burritos. Then we just eat everything we’ve cooked for lunch and dinner for the rest of the week.  We try to pack it individually a bit so that is easier during the week as well. Abigail is getting to the age where she will help me in the kitchen. Last week she ate 10 cherry tomatoes while I was doing salad prep.

Question: Tell me the pros and cons of doing this, in your opinion. Did you feel like it was a huge amount of extra work?

The End Result

Voila – almost a week’s worth of delicious, healthy food

Answer: The pros clearly outweigh the cons here.  Sunday this work takes about an hour of Jason and I both cooking like maniacs, and then we all eat together, put Abigail to bed, and then clean up for 45 minutes. It is definitely more work than we want to do on a Sunday, but it makes the rest of the week so much easier. We heat up food for dinner, and only have to put dinner plates in the washer each night, not scrub pots and pans. We normally make it to Wednesday at least, but usually through lunch on Thursday.

Question: What do you personally do to stay healthy?

Answer: We have reorganized our workout schedule since having Abigail because neither of use want to lose any time with her. I run from 5:30-6:30 am, and Jason works out from 8-9 pm at night.  It is hard, but well worth it for the fun times with our sweet girl that we get every day.

 

The Toussaints truly make the most of their work/family life, including adding in working out to their crazy hectic schedule. It’s one of the things I love about Stephanie, she never complains about not having enough time, or not being able to find the time to do the things that are important to her. She makes it happen. What a great example Jason and Stephanie are setting for their daughter. You can do whatever you set your mind to, you just have to get up and do it!

One seriously cool cleaning trick

Simple 'Green' Cleaner

These two ingredients make a simple, ‘green’ cleaner

The smell of bleach never fails to make me feel sick. For most of the day after I use bleach for cleaning, I feel like I’m breathing the horrid smell back in. Actually, I feel this way about most cleaning products, the smell is just too much. I have eczema and if I don’t wear gloves when I clean, my skin goes bonkers. I always felt like it was a necessary evil in order to get our kitchen and baths clean. I’ve spent many a nap cleaning bathrooms, showers, and toilets, and recently noticed that the bleach smell was permeating the entire house. Then it occurred to me, if my nose and lungs were hurting, then my kids were probably suffering, too. Probably more so than me, since they are still growing and developing.

I started researching and asking some of my brilliant mom friends, and discovered you can use baking soda and vinegar to clean your sinks, tubs, toilets, and showers. When my friend told me, I was doubtful, it felt too good to be true. I figured I would give it a try since I already had the items on hand and had a nasty sink to attack. (I like bullets and don’t get to use them enough, so here goes.)

Recipe for Sink/Tub/Toilet/Shower Cleaner

  • Shake some baking soda in a wet sink
  • Pour a bit of vinegar in on top of the baking soda
  • Scrub the fizzing solution until clean

When you mix vinegar and baking soda, they start fizzing like mad, like you are performing your own little science project. Maybe I’m 100 years behind the times on this one but it really made me so happy to not have to use something that smells bad. I have these two items in my home already, they are mostly environmentally friendly, and they don’t stink, or burn your nose when you use them. Everybody wins! Well, not the cleaning products industry. I feel like I’ve purchased so many “green” cleaning products that don’t really get the job done or over-promise on what they can do, plus they are expensive. It was nice to use something I had on hand, and I know is safe for all of us to breathe in. You should try it, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is.

*Improperly diluted vinegar is acidic and can eat away at tile grout.

Man I love some chili

Make your own chili

Make your own chili

Call me ridiculous, but for the longest time I didn’t realize you could make your own chili seasoning. This magic seasoning also works for fajitas and tacos, jambalaya, chile con carne, and whatever else you can think of in that genre. So I was thinking, if I didn’t know you could make your own, maybe other people don’t know about this simple, cheap replacement for those “Taco Seasoning” packets loaded with MSG and lots of other gross stuff we don’t want to eat. So here are the three ingredients:

  • Chili Powder
  • Ground Cumin Seed
  • Ground Cayenne Red Pepper

Seriously, that is all. You can find them at any local grocery store in the spices section. As you can see from the picture, I’m terribly inconsistent with brands, but it really doesn’t matter which brand you pick. They all taste good, and you can use these spices over and over. The initial cost of buying all three spices might be more than one packet of taco or fajita seasoning, but when you compare the cost of making multiple batches, buying these three is way cheaper over time.

When I make chili I like to add in a couple of cans of beans, which are terrific for you, some chopped up onions and red/green/yellow or orange peppers, diced tomatoes, corn, and ground beef (sometimes). I will admit I use more than three spices, I like to saute the peppers and onions in garlic powder, salt and pepper. We serve it over rice, topped with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream or whole milk plain yogurt if you don’t have sour cream, and it is so yummy! My 3-year-old eats it so fast, we don’t even have to ask her to sit down – which is serious improvement over most nights at our dinner table.

Month Long “Clean Eating” Challenge

A great friend of mine from way back, Allyson Nealis, did a month-long “clean eating” challenge in September this year. She decided to cut out processed foods and preservatives from her diet. She ended up eating mostly whole foods instead. In case you aren’t familiar with the phrase, Wikipedia says, “whole foods include unpolished grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and non-homogenized dairy products.” ‘Whole food’ frequently gets confused with ‘organic food’. But whole foods aren’t always organic, and organic foods aren’t always whole foods. The idea behind eating whole foods is to get as many of the essential vitamins and minerals you can from your food, and hopefully improve your health and well being.

I was so excited for Allyson’s personal challenge and couldn’t wait to hear how things went. It seems like such a huge undertaking, and something I would love to try but haven’t had the guts to, yet. Here is her take on it:

Clean Eating Challenge

Clean eating challenge, fresh fruits and vegetables rock!

Question: I know you eat pretty healthy, what made you decide to switch to only whole foods for the entire month this year?

Answer: Honestly, I think I am a sugar addict. I love sweets and junk food and really wanted to break the habits I have. I thought that presenting this to myself in a challenge form would keep me motivated and maybe be a good way to break a few bad habits.

Question: What specifically did you eat during the month?

Answer: Breakfast was the hardest switch. I made homemade cinnamon raisin bread (whole wheat, sweetened with honey), oatmeal, or egg whites with cheese and spinach a lot. Dinners were not too hard, we typically cook at home and use whole ingredients (lots of veggies). Lunches went from frozen convenience meals to leftovers from dinner. Snacks went from granola bars and sweetened light yogurt to fruit, cheese, or plain Greek yogurt. The Produce Box, a local CSA in our area, helped immensely, as a box of fresh local produce appears on our doorstep every Wednesday. It keeps me eating veggies.

Question: What was the result of your month-long challenge?

Answer: I felt much better! I lost 4 pounds in the first week, I am sure just getting rid of bloat from the junk that had been in my system, without counting calories or anything. Had I counted calories throughout the entire month, I think I could have lost a couple more pounds. But I never got that motivated. I felt less bloated and I had energy during this challenge for sure.

Question: Tell me the pros and cons of doing this whole foods diet, in your opinion. Did you feel like it was a huge amount of extra work?

Whole Foods are Delicious

Whole foods from the CSA weekly delivery

Answer: It was a lot more work up front, and you have to stay on top of it. If you don’t keep the kitchen properly stocked, you can fall in to the eating out/convenience foods trap. Day one, I made whole wheat bread, whole wheat tortillas, pizza dough, and some oatmeal breakfast “cookies” so we had things on hand. It is a lot more effort, but I think if you designate a prep day each week and make it part of your routine, it is perfectly manageable.

Question: What do you personally do to stay healthy?

Answer: I started this “challenge” idea in August by challenging myself to get some form of exercise every day that month. even if it was just walking the dog for 15 minutes, I had to get up and move. I am much more of an exerciser than a healthy eater. I try to exercise 4-5 days per week, with running, weights, and classes at the gym. It also helps that I have really fit, healthy friends so I can combine social time with exercise time. I sign up for races and get out for walks/runs with my 6-year-old as often as possible. I am still working on the healthy eating and my “clean eating challenge” helped me take a big step in the right direction. I learned a lot and have made some healthier habits because of it (I make our bread and tortillas exclusively now–it’s easy and they actually taste better). I hope to continue incorporating more whole foods in our daily diet as well.

Allyson works full-time and has a 6-year-old little girl that she is doing a bang up job of raising. I know time isn’t in abundance so thanks to Allyson for sharing her experience. I hope it helps some of you in your quest to live a healthier, fuller life.

Water – gotta have it

Sippy Cup

Sippy Cup full of delicious water

Everyone knows water is imperative – right? But I meet people frequently who drink no water each day. None. Zilch. Nada. It blows my mind to think that there are people who consume no water, besides the stuff they get from other beverages and food. If they only knew how much better they could feel each day, just by doing this one simple thing. And, it’s FREE! I did some research on it, mostly on the Mayo Clinic website. I think its pretty good information, so here we go:

All the reasons you should drink more water:

  • Regulates your body temperature
  • Lubricates your joints
  • Flushes out waste products, which helps your kidneys and liver
  • Moistens your tissues – like those in your mouth, eyes and nose
  • Protects your organs and tissues
  • Helps prevent constipation
  • Helps dissolve necessary minerals and nutrients so your body can use them

*from Mayo Clinic website, Functions of Water in the Body

What happens if you don’t drink water:

  • Dehydration
  • Drained energy
  • Feeling of being tired
  • Your body will suffer, all those great things listed above are not working properly without water

The Institute of Medicine determined that men should drink about 13 cups of total beverages per day, and women should drink 9 cups of total beverages per day. Prolonged exercise, your environment, illnesses and health conditions, and pregnancy/breast-feeding are separate from these general recommendations and will require you to drink more water.

Drinking water is only one way to get the daily amount of fluid you need. You can also get fluid from what you eat, especially fruits and vegetables. Milk and juice are composed mostly of water (make sure to get 100% fruit juice, otherwise you are drinking sugar-water), and beer, wine and coffee and tea also contain water and contribute to your daily intake. These shouldn’t be a major part of your total fluids though – they have lots of calories, plus they are expensive. Moderation – it’s a beautiful thing.

My rule of thumb is to drink water all day, if you are thirsty, drink a little more. Carry a reusable water bottle with you so you don’t waste your money, or our earth’s resources on those stupid plastic water bottles. Fill it up and drink up, water really is delicious!