Healthy Snacks by Frito-Lay

Nov 04

With the kids licking lollipops and flipping¬†Rockets into their mouths, it’s hard to recall that only a few days ago (pre-trick-or-treat) they happily munched on carrot sticks and homemade oatmeal cookies.¬† But, soon the candy will run out, and their sugar-laced taste buds will once again appreciate the¬†flavours of¬†home baked goods¬†and naturally sweetened fruits.¬† It’s not just the moms who are anticipating the return to nutritious snacks, the trend toward healthier munchies, and¬†less junk food eating is being embraced by the big snack producers.¬† Consider the latest takeover of Alberta-based¬†Spitz International Inc. by PepsiCo Inc., which also owns .¬† Spitz, which offers packs of sunflower and pumpkin seeds in various flavours, has enjoyed an¬†increasing presence in Canadian grocery stores alongside Doritos and Humpty Dumpty.¬†¬†¬†

The addition to PepsiCo better enables the global company to meet the growing demand for healthier snacks, and should be seen as a victory to parents who have continuously shunned the junkfood aisle when shopping for their families.¬† Considering the huge amount of marketing dollars invested by the largest food corporations on snack foods, the news could mean more effort will be devoted to advertising for healthier snacks.¬† Of course, the best foods continue to be found along the periphery of the grocery stores among the produce and dairy, but when a parent is meandering down the middle aisles while contending with a child begging for chips, won’t it be nice to see a bag of pumpkin seeds beside the ketchup chips?¬† It’s not so painful to relent to your child when you can say, “Okaaay, you can have something.¬† Here’s a bag of Spitz.”¬† And, with enough advertising, perhaps sunflower seeds will become the next cool snack at the party.

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Defending the Dinner Table

Sep 05

Book Review: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

 

A collective sigh of relief swept across the country this week as parents whisked their kids off to school and replaced careless summer days with new routines that will be rigidly in place before the leaves turn red.  It is an ideal time for new resolutions and specifically, a return to healthy habits that have evaporated in the summer heat (think daily slushies and ice cream cones.)  It won’t be long before the parental cheers give way to grumblings over tedious daily rituals – among the worst of them the packaged lunch preparation.  As a mother, I know the desire to ‘just get’er done’ is strong motivation to fill lunch boxes with single-serving cellophane-wrapped food products.  All the better that so many of them tout nutritional power – “low-fat” “contains vitamin C” “made with real fruit.”  But before stocking up on a year’s supply of , consider the arguments set out by Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food .  With summer beach paperbacks out of the way, it’s a great time to bite into an engaging read that will benefit the entire family.

 

Eat Food. Not too much.  Mostly plants.  These are the first three sentences in Michael Pollan’s book.  If you grasp the meaning of these words and believe you are able to act on them, then you needn’t read further.  But, you might want to anyways.  Pollan masterfully dissects why and how North Americans have adopted what is described as the “Western Diet” using wit and casual prose that is neither preachy not textbook-like.  The author, a Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley, humbly admits that he writes with the “authority of tradition and common sense” – but don’t be fooled, his common sense statements are backed by thorough research (the list of sources is more than 20 pages long.) He contends that what we consume today is not really “food”, nor the way we consume is really “eating” (i.e., alone, in the car, ahem…blogging) and explains how these munching habits have created “a new creature onto the world stage: the human being who manages to be overfed and undernourished.”

 

Pollan blames much of today’s eating woes on two influences: the rise of nutritionism and the industrialization of food.  Nutritionism, he explains, is an ideology (versus a science) that the key to understanding food is knowing its nutrients.  Therefore, it follows that such nutrients, when isolated from their foods, are as effective as the food itself.  In other words, “foods are the sum of their nutrient parts.”  One early example of nutritionism’s flawed reasoning, he asserts, was the proclaimed link between heart disease and saturated fat that led to the low-fat craze.  Suddenly consumers shunned red meat and did what they were told: eat more carbohydrates.  They continued to eat meat (white only, please), but lowered the proportion of meat by eating more “low-fat” carbohydrates, resulting in – surprise – more obesity.  It didn’t matter that these carbohydrates were made from refined grains and sugars – they just had to be low-fat – just as the nutritionists ordered. 

 

Nutritionism, however, was a boon to the growing industrialization of eating, says Pollan, because the food industry had only to latch onto the latest nutrition craze and re-package a food to make it marketable.  White bread, for instance, was found to cause major deficiency-related diseases in people during its early days because the grain had been robbed of all its nutrients during the refinement process.  The solution was to re-fortify the bread with vitamins and, voila!  No more deficiencies.  Pollan cites different studies that undermine this thinking, including one that determined there are additional benefits to eating whole grains that no nutrients alone or combined could provide.  He then explores the effect of industrialization on the food chain beginning at the most basic level – the soil.  Their fertilizers diminish the diversity of the soil which in turn reduces the nutritional quality of its crops that are then chemically preserved or refined for the final product.  Although some vitamins and minerals are added back, Pollan says, science does not “know enough to compensate for everything that processing does to whole foods.”  This science, however, enables industry to grow high-yielding varieties of crops that are most suitable for mechanical harvesting and processing, pushing aside hundreds, if not thousands of types of produce that once flourished on American farmland.  Today, four crops – soy, wheat, corn, and rice – account for two-thirds of the calories we eat. 

 

Now where does that leave the diner?  Surely, more confused and alone than ever.  Not only has the menu dwindled, so has our pleasure of eating.  But don’t despair.  Pollan offers numerous strategies to improve our dining habits.  Some are easy to follow, like: avoiding food products that make health claims; do all your eating at a table (“No, a desk is not a table.”); and shop along the periphery of the grocery store.  Other options may be more difficult to abide by, such as growing one’s own garden, and eating weeds whenever possible.  Similarly, his advice to pay more and eat less may be impossible for parents raising ravenous teenage boys – but there are at least a few tips that everyone can implement in their homes.

 

In Defense of Food is an enjoyable read that, at the very least, reminds us that food convenience has its costs (despite how cheap it is at the cash register.)  While parents will likely continue to buy granola bars or soda pop for their kids, Pollan’s book will help provide a more balanced approach to their children’s menus and remind them of the need to appreciate the value and flavour of whole, unprocessed food.  And above all, parents will remember that eating is as much for pleasure as it is for nutrition.  After all, at the end of a school day, there’s no better way to connect with your kids than at the kitchen table eating a home-cooked meal.  Even if it means listening to them complain about the smelly steamed broccoli.

 

 

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Aug 15

Throw a ball to a boy and he’ll probably fire it back and launch a game into action. Hand that same boy a book and he’ll probably fling it aside for a more compelling activity.

Sound like a cliche? Maybe not.

The 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of fourth graders found girls outperformed boys in all 40 countries, including Canada. Recent studies in Canada and the U.S. have shown similar results. While numerous school initiatives across Canada try to close this gap, Jo-Anne Coughlin, a teacher with more than 20 years of experience and Early Literacy consultant from 2001 to 2006, insists parents are always the first educators. Sitting comfortably in a pint-sized chair in her grade 2 classroom, she offers insights into the challenges facing parents with the familiarity of a seasoned mother, she has five (now grown up) sons.

Giving a boy choice in what he reads will help feed his literary appetite. Ms. Coughlin says parents can help by tuning into their son’s interests and providing a range of literature that fuels his inquisitiveness. But don’t focus on storybooks alone; boys are likely to seek out less conventional reading material, such as trading cards, magazines, and reference books. That’s okay, concedes Ms. Coughlin, these sources build literacy skills and are a valuable part of a boy’s scholastic backpack.
She recommends fact-based reference books to hook reluctant readers,”They enjoy the bite-size pieces of it, photographs, captions, headings, and they have choice in terms of where to begin and end in reading.”
Publishers are responding to the unique needs of boys by offering factionals, books that combine fact and fiction, such as the Magic Treehouse Series which embeds historical and geographical facts within an adventure story about two children who travel to different times and places.

Boys like to know their purpose for reading, says Ms. Coughlin, and they’re less likely than girls to read for sheer pleasure.

They dig through their source for useful morsels of information that they can store in their pocket of knowledge for later use. Boys want to engage others in their reading experience by sharing the ideas and facts they’ve discovered. A publication that includes instructions on how to make a craft or perform an experiment gives him a purpose for reading and provides an opportunity to share the experience with a friend. Ms Coughlin encourages mothers and fathers to find books that provide them opportunities to work creatively together.

Parents should set aside time to read, without distractions like TV and video games for both themselves and their child.  Mom and Dad model the values they wish to instil in their children when they read in their presence. But don’t underestimate the importance of time together, engrossed in a book or discussing the latest read because, says Ms. Coughlin, “Anything a parent does one on one with a child and takes seriously, makes him think it matters to them, so it matters to me.”

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