Monday, April 19, 2010

CHOCOLATE - The light and dark of it!

We all love chocolate and most of our kids are raised with the addiction too! Is it a bad thing?
Well, I believe that food is certainly about our health and nourishment but it is also about pleasure and enjoyment. That’s why quality is so important. How many of us would much rather enjoy a small plate of beautifully prepared and cooked food than one overflowing with cheap, ill prepared food?

Chocolate can be great, chocolate can be ok and chocolate can be awful. Again, it’s all about the quality.
Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted, and ground beans taken from the pod of the tropical cacao tree and is made primarily of cocoa solids and cocoa fat. The different flavours of chocolate are obtained by varying the time and temperature when roasting the beans, by adjusting the ratio of the cocoa solids and cocoa fat, and by adding non-chocolate ingredients.
The interesting factor in chocolate making (like much of food manufacturing) is that production cost is significantly decreased by reducing cocoa solid content or by substituting cocoa butter with a non-cocoa fat (such as hydrogenated vegetable oil). Therein lies the problem with most of the chocolate kids consume.

Most ‘kids’ chocolate (such as many Easter eggs, cheap chocolate bars etc) is this compound chocolate which is made from cheap hard vegetable fats and tropical fats such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil in place of the more expensive cocoa butter. It is this type of chocolate that our kids are exposed to more than any other. And its this type of chocolate that our kids think of when they think of chocolate.
When we are told chocolate is good for us it doesn't mean this type of chocolate!
The type of chocolate that is good for us has at least 70% cocoa. It is dark, has few ingredients besides cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter and sometimes vanilla and melts in your mouth. The added benefit of eating good quality, dark chocolate is that it is rich and difficult to eat too much of it! A little bit goes a long way and moderation is always the key!

So get your kids trying dark, finest quality chocolate. Most organic and fair trade chocolate is good chocolate and many small chocolate shops sell quality too.
If the taste is too strong for them, simply get them trying it a little at a time and exploring the flavours. Use it in cooking and keep away from the other stuff till they adjust! They'll soon be begging for more!

Do your kids love dark chocolate? Are you trying to switch them over or do you love milk chocolate yourself? Tell me your thoughts.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bread - nourishing, delicious and extraordinary? or cheap, tasteless and ordinary?

Bread can be nourishing, delicious, life sustaining and extraordinary. It can also be cheap, tasteless, toxic and ordinary. Which type do you give your kids?

For thousands of years man survived on bread – it has been an integral and pivotal part of our diet for ever and dates back to Neolithic times. But bread and bread making have changed…..

No longer do we dine on just flour, water, salt and sourdough. We have pesticide and herbicide controlled wheat milled into flour which is then bleached and oxidised. We have commercial bakers yeast, bleached and chemalized salt, toxic vegetable oils, food additives, genetically modified soy flour, fish oils, synthetic vitamins and often a whole list of other questionable ingredients. No wonder it tastes so bad!!

I am asked about bread all the time by anxious parents…
• But what about high fibre bread?
• But what if my kids won’t eat brown bread?
• Is multigrain better than wholemeal?
• Is bakery bread better than supermarket bread?
• But aren’t fish oils good for us?
• Isn’t soy good for us?

and so on

So how do we know when bread is good for us? How can we tell the good from the not so good? Here are some questions to ask before we buy..

• Where is the bread made? A cheap supermarket line will almost certainly not offer as good a quality as a bakery which in turn will not offer as good quality as an artisan bakery.
• How many ingredients are listed? A long list of ingredients often signals poor quality breads.
• What flours are used? Organic? Unbleached? Wholegrain? Wheat? Rye? Soy? Spelt? Organic rye for example is far better for us than bleached white. Be wary of some soy flours as they are sometimes from genetically modified soy.
• What type of salt is used? Sea salt is far superior to the refined, bleached cooking salt used by many food manufacturers.
• Is it sour dough? Sourdough culture has been used since ancient times to leaven bread and has greater health benefits and is easier to digest than commercial yeast.
• Is there any oil used and if so, what type? Cheap, toxic vegetable oils are widely used in commercial breads, so beware.
• Have any food additives been used? The mould inhibitor 282 is a prime example of a typical food additive in bread. Amongst other things, this additive has been associated with behavioural problems in children.
• What about synthetic vitamins and fish oils? Yes, kids who are poorly fed may be getting some benefit from these additives, but for the most part, we need to get our vitamins and minerals from the food they originated in. Fish oils from fish, vitamins from fruits and vegetables etc.
• Does it take a long time to toast? This is often a simple test of bread quality. The more refined the bread the higher the concentration of sugars. When bread is exposed to heat during toasting the sugar caramelises and turns the bread brown. This will happen far more quickly in highly processed breads than traditional breads.
• Is it a pure natural loaf made with simple ingredients or is a highly processed loaf made with ingredients far removed from their natural source?
• Is it homemade? Bread made at home is delicious and you know what is in it!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

THE SCHOOL LUNCHBOX - 7 Ways To Make It Better!

School’s back and once again we are faced with the challenge of filling up those lunchboxes with interesting, delicious, simple and healthy things for hungry tummies. Sometimes it can be tricky to keep a rein on the packaged food, particularly under pressure from wily young ones or determined teens! But it is important to remember that if we fill their lunchboxes with good food they are much more likely to be settled and focussed at school and be able to concentrate more easily. This means learning is easier too! Making some simple changes can mean a big difference in their learning potential and outcomes.

Lunchboxes and good food at school can be as simple or as difficult as we choose to make it. It's not necessary to make elaborate, gourmet lunches but neither is it necessary to fill the lunchboxes with packaged convenience food. A balanced approach is the way to go with the main focus on fresh, clean tastes for healthy brains and bodies.

Here are 7 ways to make that lunchbox better! :

1. Switch to wholegrain bread and forget the white. Brown, rye and wholegrain breads and rolls will give your kids the brain power they need at school. And remember to make the sandwiches interesting! Try wraps, pita pockets, mountain bread, triangles or finger sandwiches for something different.

2. Fill that delicious bread with anything fresh they like - tomato, cucumber, avocado, celery, salad, grated carrot & beetroot, sprouts, pesto, hummus, cheese, egg, tuna, fresh chicken......

3. Make a salad tub or give them last nights dinner. Pasta, corn on the cob, hard boiled egg, chicken salad or casserole. Kids love cold leftovers! For the foodie, add some felafel, a wedge of brie, spicy dolmades and olives or some sushi!

4. Pack your own dips and wholegrain crackers instead of buying the cheap pre-packaged ones which are loaded with food additives and, instead of chips, try home popped popcorn or a bag of muesli.

5. Leave out the chocolate bars, roll ups and all the processed and pre packaged foods that are marketed to children and give them a bag of sultanas and almonds, yoghurt and fresh fruit or home made muffins, biscuits, slices, scones or pikelets.

6. Change over to lots of fresh fruit instead of sugary fruit bars and swap the boxed juices or flavoured drinks for water. Lots of water will keep their minds alert and focussed.

7. Get your kids involved, keep it fun and as simple and fresh as possible and you are on a winner!