Back To School: Choosing Reusable Food and Drink Containers

There is a Bring-Your-Own Revolution going on in school lunch boxes.  Kids are being taught not to pollute and why we aim to reuse, recycle and reduce. Schools are advocating Litterless Lunches and some have programs where students and staff work to earn the coveted ‘eco’ certification. However, parents need to be on board.  I have seen first hand how many throw-away, single-use containers are still being packed in lunches contrary to school efforts to teach otherwise.

I understand it can be a challenge to switch gears and follow the eco path when we were brought up with plastic ‘sandwich baggies’ that always went into the trash without a thought.  But It is really easy to reuse plus it costs you oodles less in the long-run. And many reusables now are eco AND cool. My kids love to help pick out their favourite colours/design for their school lunch reusables.

The Bottom Line on Plastic Reusables:

Plastic is never a good option for food or beverage containers. Plastic contains unsavoury chemicals….bottom line and no two ways about it.  And don’t think you are necessarily doing well by buying BPA-Free. It may be ok and it may not. It is simply not worth the risk. Ever wondered what has been replacing BPA? A California father, Michael Green did and had his daughter’s pink plastic sippy cup tested. The lab results were enough to give all parents pause. The sippy cup was made from just as health-harming substances as is BPA plastic. You can read his story here.  I do love when parents advocate for the health of kids. And thanks to Mr. Green many parents are now off plastics.

Best then to choose either food-grade stainless steel, tempered glass (difficult to break) and organic fabrics.  It’s easy to do and much more worry-free. Here’s what to look for:

Water Bottles:

Choose food grade stainless or glass NOT aluminum or plastic. Aluminum is known to be made with plastic-type liners often made with BPA or BPA-like substances. So this hidden plastic as with full plastic bottles will leach a little of the chemicals into you or yours every time a sip is taken.

Stainless steel bottles are not all created equally. I love double-walled construction as they keep cold beverages cold and hot beverages hot for the good part of a day. I swoon over these particular bottles both for quality, design AND the company is an eco-do-gooder. Colours and sizes for everyone. #Love

Single-walled stainless steel construction is a less expensive and a safe option for parents who worry their kids might loose a bottle. It won’t be quite as effective however at keeping water cool through a trip to the park on a hot day or keeping hot cocoa hot while out skating in January. Perfect for school though and the price tag may be more palatable. My favourite in this single-walled category is by this Canadian company. And their insulated thermal containers are great for the smallest of students.

Glass is non-leaching so a good option but can be heavy for little kids and some parents do worry about breakage.  My favourite glass bottle is tough to break and the silicone cover comes in fun colours kids love..

Food Containers:

Food grade stainless steel containers are hot right now on back-to-school wish-lists.  Kids love the coloured lids of this fab high quality stainless gear. And never waste another penny on polluting one-time use plastic baggies by opting for organic cotton ‘baggies’ or snack packs. And you will be able to ditch plastic wrap forever as many of these containers can be used in your fridge for leftovers.

In the end reusables are good for you, the environment and your student so it’s best to get on board!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Kids Sunscreens…

Summer On The Dock

I had no idea when I first became a parent of the variety of ingredients in kids sunscreens and how scary some of them could be.

And then one July day when my daughter was 2 she experienced a serious allergic reaction to a conventional sunscreen. Her wee body swelled terribly and turned beet red. Frightening.

Categorized by doctors as a ‘hyper allergic reaction’ it was something I never wanted to experience again.

And so the label-reading and researching began. The sunscreen that caused the reaction turned out to be a chemical stew. Try to find out what your child is allergic to when there are multiple potential culprit ingredients,  It included some likely suspects including oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, isobutane, synthetic fragrance and homosalate. Enough to make a new mom cringe and her baby’s skin crawl.

The bottom line is I wish I had known before I slathered my first born in sunscreen that it could be much worse in many ways than what I was trying to guard her against.

Now I choose ONLY mineral-based sunscreens. Not only did my daughter have a reaction to the chemical-based stuff but in all my research I found concerns of endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity and cancer associated with commonly used synthetic sunscreens ingredients. Horrific for any parent to think of.

Only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide cut the mustard now. These minerals create a physical barrier and are not relying on chemical UV absorbers to do the work. As a bonus they do not sting eyes as do the chemical sunscreens and you don’t have to wait any length of time before going in the sun. Once applied, you are good to go.

Although there are MANY fabulous, SAFE sunscreen brands as per the Environmental Working Group, I do have my favourites that have served my extremely sensitive, allergic daughter well over the past few years:

Dr Robin For Kids SPF 30

969457_574892349222064_137487956_n

 

Best For: Super-sensitive-skinned, allergy or eczema-prone kids. No synthetics, no nut or seed ingredients, no fragrance or gluten. Bonus: It’s formulated by a pediatric dermatologist.

 

 

Thinkbaby SPF 50 / Thinksport kids SPF 50

SUN_CAT

 

Best For: Sensitive and allergy-prone kids who like a little bit of scent. Still safe but yummy, all-natural scent.  My allergy-prone daughter is crazy for this stuff now.

 

 

COOLA Baby SPF 50

Baby_SPF_50_450x530__43787.1335045389.220.220

 

Best For: Babies and very fair-skinned wee ones. Best to stay out of the sun of course but if you must, this super-safe, unscented formula offers a great physical barrier.

 

Good news is that there are lots of great sunscreens.  Do you homework here and make sure to choose something super-safe. You will find different brands carried in different areas so best to do your own research on a brand you might be interested in so you feel rest-assured. Happy and safe sun-screening!

Seriously…Plastic Beads In My Child’s ToothPaste?

Crest For MeNothing makes me crazier than huge corporations putting unsavoury ingredients in products marketed specifically for children.  There is no excuse.

I recently read an article on-line written by a mom/dental hygienist, alerting consumers about the use of plastic beads in tooth paste. The product specifically portrayed in the article was Crest’s ToothPaste For Me which promises to ‘Get The Gunk’ out for kids between 8 and 12 years old.  However, dental hygienists are finding the plastic beads are getting in and staying in…under gums. That sounds like putting ‘gunk’ into children’s mouths and I’m not ok with it.

Polyethylene does not break down, it is not biodegradable. So unless your hygienist can find and remove these beads, they will stay there. And what parent of a child wants to have their child go through having plastic microbeads fished out from under their gums?

I have to wonder why Procter and Gamble ever put plastic in any toothpaste, let alone one specifically for children? On their website, it is confirmed that the blue microbeads are added for colour. So kids are getting plastic microbeads stuck under their gums for COLOUR?

To find out if your product contains polyethylene, take a look at the Inactive Ingredients part of your toothpaste label. As well, the Skin Deep Database confirms specific Crest products reported to be using polyethylene beads.

Unfortunately my husband had just bought one of these Crest For Me toothpastes for our 8 year old.   Upset I actually owned one of these products, I called the company to voice my concern. They assured me PE is safe and is used in food packaging.  I asked if they had done any studies on kids health if plastic sits under their gums for years undetected? No surprise that I didn’t get a direct answer to that one.  Or do they know the impact is of kids having dental tools stuck up their gums to retrieve the beads? I just cringe thinking about it.

In my upset over my child having plastic beads in her toothpaste,  I didn’t even mention to P & G, how these beads are polluting our Great Lakes. Feel free to mention that point if you call.

Procter and Gamble can be reached at (800) 959-6586  or send an e-mail comment to them here

Does Fast Food Make Sense in a Campaign to Have Kids Eat Healthier?

First Lady Michelle Obama orders a Subway sub during an event at a Subway restaurant to announce that Subway will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America to help advance the goals of "Let's Move!," in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama orders a Subway sub during an event at a Subway restaurant to announce that Subway will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America to help advance the goals of “Let’s Move!,” in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

This week First Lady Michelle Obama took the next step in her Let’s Move! campaign.  This program was developed by the First Lady to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.  As a mom I admire Mrs. Obama’s initiative toward a very serious health issue but do find concern with her latest partner in the program toward getting kids to eat healthier; Subway Sandwich.

This week kicks off SUBWAY’s “Playtime, Powered by Veggies” marketing campaign which with Mrs. Obama’s endorsement and support will promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption. The campaign is designed to encourage kids to pile veggies on their Subway sandwiches and select fruit as their side of choice not chips. Additionally, SUBWAY agrees they will offer milk or water as a default beverage not soda pop. Nobody has said what happens if a child who goes into Subway must have a soda pop or chips and is shy with piling the veggies high? This past week, Mrs. Obama celebrated the move by hosting a group of children in a DC area Subway showing them the ‘healthy choices’ available on the subway menu. It is rumoured The First Lady ate a turkey sub showing her support for the ‘healthy fare’ at the fast food giant.

Increased consumption of fruits and veggies by children is a always good thing in my opinion.  In fact, a huge part of my day to day is cutting up apples, carrots, cucumber, peppers for my two daughters.  I see that veggies make it into every lunch box and most every dinner.  And fortunately my kids eat them raw, unadulterated, unprocessed, unpreserved and uncoloured.

When fruit and veggies are being promoted by a fast food chain they will undoubtedly be accompanied by synthetic colours and preservatives, there to help them get through ‘shelf life’. Not to mention they are accompaniments to a sandwich filled with highly processed meats and sauces. Who considers highly processed foods a healthy choice by simply adding some (preserved and/ or coloured) fruits and veggies with it? So I am stumped by this latest initiative of the Let’s Move! program.

A quick check of Subway’s ingredient list on their website gives detail of the oodles of additives included in their sandwiches.  So it is easy to see that by eating at Subway you will get a significant dose of not-so-good-for-you ingredients such as added sugars, salt, colours (ie tartrazine, caramel colour), nitrates, nitrites, carageenan, azodicarbonamide (oh my!) just to name a few.

So irregardless of Mrs. Obama’s seemingly well-intended endorsement of Subway as a way to eat healthier, I will still opt daily to have my kids eat fruits and veggies at home, taken out of the fridge then sliced AND without a side of any synthetic, processed fake foodstuffs. Now isn’t that the best way to promote healthier eating?

Is Your Child Suffering From This Not-So-Well-Known Allergy?

Most of us are well-aware that tree nuts, dairy, soy, corn, seafood and other foods can cause serious issues to those allergic to them.  However it is not so well-known that harsh, synthetic chemicals can also cause serious allergic reactions especially in children.

I found out the hard way a few years ago, when I slathered my then 2 year old’s body in a big brand chemical-based sunscreen thinking I was protecting her. The result was frightening. Her wee body swelled and turned red from head to toe. Luckily in our case no swelling of the throat occurred. The medical doctors attending to her described the situation as a ‘hyper-allergic reaction’.

However, as many parents of allergic children know, you NEVER let your guard down. You arm yourself the best way you know how and are always on guard. With allergies you can’t assume what the ‘next time’ could bring.  I now live life avoiding chemicals in my daughter’s products that could be suspect in fear of a similar or worse episode.

I was happy this week when CBCHealth raised awareness of chemical allergies. Their article documented the case of an otherwise healthy 8 year old girl who had an allergic reaction to a synthetic chemical in a children’s product. The girl was having her mouth wiped constantly with baby wipes containing methylisothiazolinone (aka MI or MIT). The picture of the young girl causes me upset. Unfortunately her parents had no idea what was in the wipes and the issue synthetic chemicals can cause.

MI is a very commonly used preservative that has been on my personal ‘hotlist’ since my daughter’s episode (it was one of the chems making up the chemical stew that was her sunscreen that day).  You will find this chemical on Health Canada’s Hotlist of cosmetic chemicals…a list of the nastiest chems known to be used in cosmetics in Canada. And if you research MI, you will also find medical studies linking it to neurotoxicity. All good reason for any parent to avoid methylisothiazolinone in their family’s products.

Also according to the CBC article the girl’s allergy was initially mis-diagnosed as impetigo or eczema and she was prescribed steroid creams and antibiotics.  As the baby wipes were still being used, the prescription drugs did nothing to clear up her skin. Makes me wonder how many other kids may have been similarly mis-diagnosed? And how many parents are not aware of the potential issues caused to children from commonly-used synthetic chemicals? How many parents think their child’s eczema-like symptoms may be an inherent skin condition as this girl’s family did?

Once I my guard down. My husband took my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party when she was in kindergarten.  It was being held in the family’s backyard. Being mid-June, the mom hosting the party opted to slather the child-guests upon arrival in big-brand sunscreen (full of the same chemicals that caused our family grief a few years before).  I never considered someone else would put product on my child’s body. As my husband ran to the car to retrieve our zinc-based sunscreen, the hostess was insisting not to bother as she had enough for all. In my perfect world all parents would be aware that products other than food can cause serious allergic reaction.

I understand navigating chemicals is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Fortunately, I have the advantage of having studied environmental chemistry at university. Since my daughter’s allergic reaction I have delved deeper into researching everyday household chemicals, all health issues they are linked to as well as alternative products which do not contain controversial chemicals. And I now love to talk chemicals to interested parents in hopes of helping out. So feel free to ask!

5 Best Family-Friendly ‘After Sun’ Products

Now that summer is finally here and is accompanied by sun drenched days (Yippee!), I amMuskoka chair reminded of the need for after-sun products. My own experience has proved that some of these can be very hard on sensitive skin and that in many cases, conventional after-sun products don’t cut it.

I found out the hard way that conventional ‘after-sun’ was not going to work for us. One day, when I applied one to my young daughter’s skin, she screamed AND cried, ‘Get it off. It’s hurting me’!!

I had assumed the product was safe for her uber-sensitive skin as it was from a ‘natural’ products company.  Apparently, not so.  I checked the label after the screaming subsided, to find after aloe, were listed a few synthetic chemicals.  Clearly not suitable for sensitive-skinned kids. I then researched to find truly soothing products that would not cause us upset when applied.

As I hear so often that many parents identify with my need for only the most gentle of products, I am sharing my new fave, better-than-conventional skin soothers:

Dr. Robin For Kids Daily Moisture

  • Size/Price: 6 oz/177mL $16.00
  • Main Ingredients: Shea Butter, Safflower Seed Oil, Coconut Oil
  • Why We Love It: Dr. Robin is a pediatric dermatologist and developed her line of products for sensitive or eczema-prone kids.  She is also a mom of three wee kids. And Dr. Robin’s Daily Moisture works well on winter-weary skin too so if you have some left over at the end of the summer…lucky you!
  • Buy Here or Here

COOLA Body Lotion Bars

  • Size/Price: 2.75 oz./78g $22.00
  • Main Ingredients: Shea Butter, Beeswax, Almond Oil, Avocado Oil, Vitamin E
  • Why We Love It: Easy to apply. It is a bar of soothing, hydrating ingredients that you simply pick up like a puck and rub on skin. Older kids can apply themselves.  And we found it difficult to waste product.
  • Buy Here or Here

COOLA Radical Recovery After Sun Lotion

  • Size/Price: 6oz/180 mL $36.00
  • Main Ingredients: Sunflower Seed Oil, Aloe Vera Juice and delicious-smelling flower and citrus oils AND many ingredients are organic.
  • Why We Love It: Works so well AND smells so good! It comes in a tube large enough to do for the whole family for the entire summer season.
  • Buy Here or Here

Ella’s Botanicals Magic Balm

  • Size/Price: 62g/2oz $15.00
  • Main Ingredients: Olive Oil, Shea Butter, Beeswax and delicious-smelling oils of lavendar or tangerine depending which scent suits your fancy….Ella makes two Magic Balms. She says Lavendar is her best-seller but we are partial to Clementine.
  • Why We Love It: Soothes skin sooo well and we love that Ella is a person not just a brand name and a mom herself. Ella is a hometown favourite where I live for moms looking for all natural products for their kids.
  • Buy Here or Here

Consonant Unscented Hydrating Body Lotion

  • Size/Price: 8.5 oz/ 250 mL $22.00 OR 17 oz/ 500mL $42.00
  • Main Ingredients: Organic Aloe, soothing Sunflower Seed Oil and hydrating Coconut Oil.
  • Why We Love It: We love most products by this award-winning Canadian cosmetic company and this product is no exception. Unit for unit Consonant gives great value especially as many of its ingredients are certified organic.  We love that the larger format with a pump makes easy to use on squirming kids.  In fact we find it great for the whole family!
  • Buy Here or Here

I know there are lots of fabulous products I haven’t discovered yet. If you have a favourite , please feel free to share as I would love to hear! I do tend to favour local products as well as products that are standouts in their category no matter where they hail from.

Here’s to Happy Summer Skin!

Toxic Trinket or Toy?

My 4 year old was at a classmates party recently and received the cutest little bauble as a giveaway. A brightly coloured ball on a keychain. Cute, cute, cute. But reading the ingredients inside the fancy pink ball made this mom squirm.

The product called Twist and Pout is a lip balm with SPF.  The package itself listed the active ingredients which did include 7.5% octinoxate and 4.5% oxybenzone. Both are commonly used synthetic sunscreen ingredients with oxybenzone being THE most controversial sunscreen chemical of the bunch. With health concerns that include endocrine disruption, oxybenzone certainly deserves a controversial billing.

I continued to check on-line for the remainder of the ingredients.  The company’s website sadly, did not list the ingredients.  After searching other websites that sell the product, I found the rest of the ingredients.

The fancy pink ball also contained retinyl palmitate. I had read recently that Health Canada is looking to put a warning on sunscreen products containing retinyl palmitate. It is suspected that retinol or its derivative retinyl palmitate breaks down in sunlight potentially causing cellular level damage. Yikes! The ingredients were beginning to sound more and more dastardly and far from being a suitable child’s toy.

I read lots of reviews of the Twist and Pout product on line.  Many blogs touted its natural ingredients and one even made mention of the products all ‘organic’ ingredients.  Huh?? Nary a mention of the unsavoury very synthetic ingredients. People seemed to love the feel of the product on their lips and of course the packaging was a huge hit.  The do-gooder manufacturer even offers 5% of sales of ‘Pink Ribbon’ balls to Breast Cancer-based work. Are people choosing this product without focusing on what toxins are lurking inside?

It made me realize how ever-important it is to research your own products and ensure you are comfortable with the ingredients.  In this case, I definitely say ‘toxic trinket’ not suitable as a giveaway for wee kids.

The manufacturer of Twist and Pout has loads of opportunity to improve on their cute product. Take out the synthetics (including the fragrance of unknown origin) and more people ( including me) may be touting it’s complete and utter fabulousness.

Recently at my eldest daughter’s birthday party, I chose to giveaway Keeki Pure & Simple products and Clinical Luxury’s LipStuff. The kids loved them AND both lines contain only the most natural ingredients with not one suspected toxin. To me these nicely fit the bill for young girls who wanted to look and feel fancy without their parents having to worry about any associated risks.

***  I have never received compensation of ANY sort from any company whose product I gush about.  I like to think of myself as a cheerleader for companies making a difference by offering ALL NATURAL, safe products and simply love to write about them.

The Warrior Mom circa 2013

I gave birth to two fabulous, healthy little girls in the last 8 years and found out the hard way that common everyday household products contain harsh, synthetic ingredients that in many cases, are not tested for safety. So for my family’s sake I have decided that I MUST be a catalyst for change.

I now question everything and I research to make more informed decisions.  And in the hope I might help someone else to avoid the experiences I have had, I blog. Most recently I joined the blogging team at Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. I am so impressed with the fabulous work Safer Chemicals is doing, I am beyond thrilled to be a part!

My personal interest in toxic chemicals started with daughter’s severe reaction to synthetic sunscreen.  It was Canada Day 2007. Her tiny body swelled and became beet red after I applied harsh toxic chemicals to her body called ‘children’s sunscreen‘.  She was two.

People stared at our usually beautiful daughter that day in the medical waiting room. She was distorted and looked rather frightful. Medical authorities said simply it was a ‘hyper-allergic reaction’.  Any parent who has been through this, no matter what the exact cause or exact result, will tell you it is a life-changing experience.

I reacted by becaming a warrior mom. I set out to figure out what had happened and why and how it could be avoided in future? I found out that petroleum-based chemicals I had studied in University that were polluting waterways and affecting marine life were in my kids products!! And many are not tested for safety.  Scientists are now studying the health costs of using these cheap, industrial commonly-used chemicals.  The results are alarming… many common household chemicals are suspected carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Shame on the huge corporations that continue to manufacture products for kids peppered with such toxic garbage.

Even if you have never considered toxins may be in your kids products, take a minute to read your own product labels. Make google your best friend and research, research, research. This will help you to be armed to make informed decisions. If your child hasn’t had an outward reaction as mine did you are fortunate. Trust me when I say that your research will confirm lots of nasty chems commonly used in everyday household products. Best to know these can be silently harming your children.

Who is surprised that moms are leading the way in demanding change?  I have since found that I am one small voice in a group of many moms trying to educate other moms and to ultimately make huge corporations change their ways for the sake of ALL of our children. Some note-worthy moms are moving mountains to speak up against environmental causes of childhood illnesses that plague us in 2013.  From autismfood sensitivities, life threatening allergies to pediatric cancers.The stats on increasing incidence of all of these is major cause for concern.

If you have ever wondered how successful moms are at affecting change, know that there have been some fabulous success stories of moms causing BIG BUSINESS to make healthful change. Such outstanding work! Keep on going sisters there is loads of work to still to be done!

If you know a mom or a mom to be, who may not know this info, please pass this post on to her.  Post something about this subject on your Facebook page or tweet about it. And if you feel so inclined, start a petition, sign a petition, or speak to other moms about this subject. AND speak with your wallet. Stop buying and they will stop making. If we don’t speak up, industry will most likely never choose to change.

Some of my favourite resources and some of the major catalysts for change on both sides of the 49th parallel are Environmental Defence Canada, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Women’s Voices for the Earth,  and one of my all-time fave fellow warrior moms, Lori at Groovy Green Livin….I am inspired and impressed with all these people’s efforts everyday on behalf of children and families everywhere. All are worth a ‘follow’.

Feel free to share any personal comments or stories with me.  I would love to hear from you!

A Celebration and Junk Food For All??!

Junk food for all! That was the scene in my 4 year olds classroom yesterday morning when I dropped her off at 9am. What? Parents weren’t informed of any reason nor given the option of making comment on the junk being given out in class that day. Usually we know of a party or celebration and can act accordingly.

Confused, I went to the school office to enquire. Why was my child being given junk food at school?! I explained…To me it’s an issue on so many levels.  So many food sensitivities ie. gluten, dairy, eggs are just being discovered at this tender age. And is there a person on the planet who thinks a high sugar treat is conducive to learning?

My daughter is too young to be able to speak about detail of what she does and doesn’t eat at home. I am not sure if the school relying on young kids to say ‘no thank-you my mom wouldn’t approve’? OR ‘We are a’junk food adverse family..no thanks’ OR ‘I barely eat gluten as my daddy is sensitive to it so it may bother my tummy’ OR  I only weigh 36 pounds so I won’t deal well with all that sugar’. Is anyone expecting that sort of thing from a 4 year old?

In retrospect I am still wondering how this all went down. Have schools become confused? The crap being doled out yesterday in class was labelled ‘school safe’.  But clearly peanut-free doesn’t make it a good choice for all and shouldn’t give schools the right to give it out at will to such young kids without their parents knowledge.

Needless to say, my child came home with a nasty tummy ache. To anyone who thinks it is fun to give young kids these things without knowing if it is in their daily diet or not, here’s the scoop… If you cause a wee kid a health issue, even a seemingly minor tummyache it was not such a celebratory thing for all. Maybe its time we respect all of each other’s dietary choices no matter how foreign it may seem to us.

And it would appear from my experience that there is no policy on handing out food to kids past that of severe allergens. I was asked if I wanted my daughter to be left out of such food festivities in future. What? is anyone listening…What place does junk food have in a school, handed out to young kids?  I was informed by the teacher (who I have the utmost respect for as a teacher..she is quite fabulous really) that she didn’t know the mom was bringing in the snack for the whole class to celebrate the birth of her new baby so couldn’t inform the parents in advance…Wow..and so you just hand it out? Clearly the Toronto District School Board (or at least the school) needs a policy around this.

Any other parents have experience with this? Please share as I am at a loss…

8 Things You May Want To Avoid in the Grocery Store

One of my biggest food challenges as a parent is finding healthy foods for my family. Too many conventional packaged foods and snacks are over-processed, over-sugared, have been genetically modified and offer little nutritional value. We are all tempted to reach for the convenience foods at times but if you are tempted, best to do so with your eyes wide open.

Having worked for one of Canada’s biggest food brands for over a decade developing food products, I learned oodles about food and the processing of it. And from one parent to another, I wholeheartedly recommend questioning what is in your family’s food to make sure you are comfortable with it. Here are some factors I consider when purchasing foods:

1)  Genetically Modified? So many foods are genetically modified. As the jury’s out on whether adverse health issues can arise from eating GMO foods, I figure why wait while the scientists and major genetic modifiers are arguing about the details? When we know that some crops are modified to withstand some pretty serious pesticide use which would otherwise kill the plant, why eat it? That’s why I chose organic (especially corn, soy and sugar) as often as I can.

2) High Heat Processed? Heat kills alot of nutrients but is needed to kill live components that go off easily to give a longer shelf life. So chose raw or minimally-processed foods whenever possible. This means a piece of fruit vs. a processed fruit juice. No matter how much benefit a juice producer tells you there is in a commercial juice, it has been processed. As well, raw cocoa super-healthy in its raw state, loses considerable nutrients in its processing.. For a healthier treat, chose raw cocoa made into home-made goodies or in a chocolate bar sweetened with a little cane sugar.

3) Wheat?  I am not really a big fan of industrialized wheat. It really offers minimal nutrition at best as compared to other grains. Stripped of natural goodness through modifications and processing, it barely resembles the wheat our grandparents knew.  More and more people who are not celiac are having trouble digesting it. So better choices are the grains not yet tampered with such as spelt, kamut or red fife. I find these taste better and they are not genetically modified. And surprise, my kids love the baked goods I make.

4) Added Sugar? Sugar is added to more foods than you might imagine. Food companies love to add sugar as the human palate loves it.  Its so unnecessary in products like pasta sauce and salsa. And conventional yogurt most often resembles a desert not a breakfast food with the huge amount of added sugars.  Instead, I opt for unsweetened, organic yogurt and use a little real Quebec maple syrup to sweeten as needed. And I ditched my fave brand of salsa in favour of one that has no added sugar. Funny thing about the human palate as much as it loves sugar, it adapts to less and less quite easily.

5) How Is It Preserved? One thing to know about Big Food is that it generally must preserve the food in some way. The foods go through huge distribution systems, sit in warehouses and then sit on store shelves and then in your home. I watch for controversial preservatives or any even linked to health issues. This means I avoid BHT (used to preserve food AND cosmetics). As Canadians are being warned against even using it in bodycare,  I prefer not to eat it. Who wants to wait while science is proving or disproving suspected links to cancer? Check your breakfast cereals, margarines, enriched rices and even chewing gum.

6) Scary ingredients In the Packaging?  While BPA was banned for use in baby bottles, it remains in the lining of cans and the lids of baby food jars. Cook your own beans from dry and make your own baby food or simply limit the amount of either that you consume.

7) Unappealing, Unnecessary Ingredients? Read your labels! Food companies try to innovate to get more of your consuming dollars. Sometimes they miss the mark, developing foods that are in my opinion, are really quite unappealing. I recently saw a yogurt ingredient list which included anchovy and sardine oils AND pork gelatin.  If the addition of valuable omega 3’s is what they were after, someone should tell them there are great plant-based options for getting your Omegas.

8) Real Or Not? Know your foods and figure out your own tolerance for fake foods.  Processed snacks are often not ‘real’. At only 42% potato, Pringles are not so ‘real’. And neither are Fruit Roll Ups. With the regulation in Canada requiring only 2% be fruit puree, fruit rollups provide no nutrition for your wee ones. One company Sun Rype does offer a real fruit snack so should not be confused with Betty Crocker whose fruit snacks contain artificial dyes and loads of sugars, mineral oil and carnuba wax.

So read labels, research things you hear about food and figure out what is important to you and yours. Credible sources of info are readily available on-line.  And next time your kids work you over for something in the grocery store, you just may have a really good come back as to why its not such a good idea!