Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I'm Not Playing the Box Top Game

Photo Courtesy of Simply Organized Blog
I'm sorry, I don't like Box Tops!  There, I said it and there's no going back now.

For those of you who might not have kids or who don't work in education, Box Tops are a program where you buy certain products which have the logo on the right, clip the top of the box, deliver them to your child's school and the school then receives money from the Box Top for Education organization.  From the Box Top for Education website, "Box Tops has helped America's schools earn over $475 million since 1996."  With school funding always an issue, especially here in California, it's great that there is a way for schools to have access to extra funds to provide quality education.

So if it's such a great way to help fund my local school, why should I hate Box Tops?  The answer is simple.  MOST (not all) of the products with the Box Tops logo are (how can I say this nicely) nutritionally challenged.

You can see the whole list of participating products here.  If you look at the list you quickly notice that there are some big name brands that participate.  Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Cheerios, Chex, Pillsbury, Kix, Fiber One and Yoplait to name just a few.  If you dig a little, you'll find that all of these products are owned by (drum roll please), General Mills. Interesting, right?  Can you guess which company started the Box Tops For Education program?  That's right: General Mills.  According to their site, Box Tops for Education was launched in 1996 in California on cereals like Cheerios, Total and Lucky Charms. 

What's wrong with General Mills being brilliantly smart by creating a program to boost sales and also help fund struggling schools?  Absolutely nothing except that their slogan which they proudly display is :

Photo Courtesy of Box Top for Education
How can you "nourish young lives" when the majority of the food you are feeding them is full of added sugars, artificial colorings and trans fat?  We hear a lot about how marketing to kids affects intake, but this program is genius because the schools do all the marketing to the kids and partents.  Kids come home excited to find Box Tops and compete to bring in the most in their class.  Parents feel good because they are helping their child's school and General Mills laughs all the way to the bank.  But General Mills simply can not "nourish young lives" when the food they are supplying is hindering our children.

There is some good news. 1) There are some healthier products that have Box Tops like Cascadian Farms cereals, Green Giant produce and frozen vegetables and Larabar Multipacks.  2) Box Tops are available for a variety of non-food items like Avery labels, Ziploc bags and Brita waterfilters.

Where does that leave me as a parent whose children are now Box Top crazy?  If it comes down to just money, I'll be happy to donate a few extra bucks to help fund my children's education.  Let's say hypothetically, my kids bring 10 box tops a week.  That's $0.10 per top for a total of $1.00.  If you subtract about 12 weeks for summer and vacations, that's about 40 weeks.  At $1.00 per week for 40 weeks is a grand total contribution of $40.  I can handle that!

As always I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Let's Have a Healthy Halloween

Originally written for and posted on Grandparenting Plus Blog.  In the interest of full disclosure the authors of this blog are my mother and grandmother.   (Yeah they blog too...who doesn't these days?)

No other holiday tests our parenting skills more than the issue of how we handle candy on Halloween.  But as with many of our current holiday traditions, Halloween and candy haven't always been linked together like they are now.  Halloween was originally a Celtic harvest holiday and was brought to the United States with the 19th Century Irish immigrants.  As the holiday evolved, kids began to trick-or-treat and until the 1950's trick-or-treat'ers were more likely to get non-food related booty, like coins, pencils and other trinkets rather than candy.  It was not until candy manufacturers started to market candy as a way to boost revenues that sweets became synonymous with Halloween.   To illustrate just how much emphasis candy companies put on Halloween I took my 5 year old son along to check out two very different stores: Whole Foods Market and Rite-Aid Drug Store.  It's pretty shocking to see the stark difference between them.
The Halloween candy section at  Whole Foods in Tarzana, CA
The Halloween aisles at Rite-Aid in West Hills, CA
When we think of all the candy that kids might get for Halloween, the first thing we think about is all the sugar that our kids are going to eat.  Unfortunately, the sugar is the least of our worries.  Sadly, it's the artificial food colorings and trans-fat that is pervasive in many of these foods that we should be concerned with.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a great report on the risks of artificial colorings in 2010 called, "A Rainbow of Risks".  You should definitely read it and you might reconsider buying M&M's.

Despite all the horrible things in candy, for me as a parent and as a dietitian the biggest issue during Halloween is how I approach and handle my kids' candy intake.  If you follow my blog ( you know that I believe in a non-diet approach to eating.  I am a believer in Intuitive Eating and I apply these principles to my clients and also to my family.  The other philosophy that fits nicely with Intuitive Eating are some of the theories on feeding children from Ellyn Satter.  When I decided to talk about eating and Halloween, Satter was the resource that I knew I had to include and thankfully she addressed the topic both in her book and in her website:
Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal- and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time. (From The Sticky Topic of Halloween Candy, Family Meals Focus #30 on 10/22/08)  
I know you are reading this and saying, "Are you serious?", or maybe, "Oh hell no, I am not going to let my child dive head first into a full bucket of a candy."  But hear me (and Satter for that matter) out.  By allowing your child to have the freedom to learn to manage their own candy instead of you controlling it will allow him or her to develop a sense of trust around food.  If your child breaks this trust, you can take the candy away until they demonstrate that they can handle it.  The goal is to let your child build confidence and self-reliance around listening to their internal cues of hunger and fullness.  If this method still seems too extreme for you, try to modify it, but the key is for you not to interfere with what they choose or how much of it they eat.  The hope is that the relationship your child develops with food and sweets is based on their own internal cues and not on restriction.

One important thing to remember is that the best way we teach our children is though modeling our behaviors. If we call food "junk," "bad" or "garbage," our kids will pick up on that.  Conversely, if our children see us having a healthy relationship with candy, the chances are that they will develop the same attitude.  Be aware of how you handle candy because that will affect you child's behaviors.  These are just some of the concepts that are discussed at length in the new edition of Intuitive Eating in which the authors devote a whole chapter on raising Intuitive Eaters.  I highly recommend you read it.

Don't think of Halloween as a power struggle between you and your children.  If they are old enough explain to them what your plan is.  If they are too young to understand, try explaining your rules for Halloween so they know what to expect.

Halloween is just one day but feeding a child and raising an Intuitive Eater is the foundation for healthy eating for a lifetime. Here are some simple things you can do:

1) Don’t restrict dessert. Make it a part of regular meals and try serving it with all the other things during dinner time.

2) Try to refer to food in non-judgmental terms. Take out the “good” vs. “bad” so that kids don’t feel guilty for eating “junk.”  Try using terms like "play food" vs. "growing food."

3) Divide responsibility. It’s your job as a parent to provide balanced, nutritious meals with a variety of play foods. It’s your child’s job to eat.

4) Don’t be a short-order cook.

5) Trust in your child’s innate abilities. Children know how much food they need so allow them the freedom to choose how much to eat. Overall, they will choose foods that help them grow and most of all they’ll develop a healthy relationship with food.

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Slow Cooker Brisket

There is something really great about making brisket at home!  One reason I love to cook brisket is tradition.  I can think about many of the Jewish holidays I celebrated with my family and I can remember my grandmother's brisket at our table.  Having those same smells in my house transports me back to my childhood.  The other reason I like brisket and the reason all of you (who are not vegetarian/vegan) should try to make it at home is it's hard to mess up brisket.  It's a tough cut of meat that requires a long cooking time to break down that tough connective tissue and transform it into a melt-in-your-mouth treat.

The Slow Cooker Photo property of BVMRD

My wife and I bought a slow cooker a few years ago and we are always looking for things to cook in it.  A few years ago we also started hosting Passover so we needed to find a brisket recipe.  Thankfully the folks at had a simple solution for us: Slow Cooker Brisket.  This recipe is super simple and you don't need much prep or cooking time.  Most of the time is hands off while the brisket cooks in the slow cooker. 

Since we've been hosting so many folks for Sukkot (and I took the day off work on Friday to take my daughter to school) it was a perfect storm to make some brisket for Shabbat dinner.  I scooted off to Trader Joe's to buy some of the ingredients but since I've made this a few times, we had most of the stuff already. 

Ingredients for our slow cooker brisket.  Photo property of BVMRD

The first thing you do with this brisket is to brown the sides of the brisket in a hot pan.  Browning does one main thing: it adds flavor!  It turns a "ho hum" brisket into a "OMG that was amazing" brisket.  Yes, it adds one more step and one more dish to clean but it worth it.  The key is to get the pan hot, set the meat down and not to touch it again for about 4-5 minutes.  If you try to move it too early, it will stick and that's not good.

One side of the brisket browned.  Photo property of BVMRD
While the brisket is browning, slice the potatoes into disks and add them to the slow cooker.  They will make a great addition to the final me.

Potatoes added to the slow cooker. Photo property of BVMRD
Once the brisket is browned on both sides, add it to the slow cooker.  Onions are then added to the pan you browned the brisket in and cook those until they are soft.  Add some garlic to the onions and saute for a few minutes and add the garlic and onions to the slow cooker on top of the brisket.   Once the pan is empty, you add the beer and the broth to deglaze the pan.  Just like browning, deglazing is all about flavor.  You've spent time browning the meat and when you are done, you'll notice there are all these bits left in the pan.  These bits are called "fond" and by adding them back to a sauce or dish, we add flavor.  Remember, we're going for an "OMG that was amazing" brisket here!

While the onions are cooking, I assembled the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and mixed them up.  You are basically making a BBQ sauce.

BBQ sauce ready to be added to the slow cooker.  Photo property of BVMRD
Once the onions are done, the deglazing liquid is added to the slow cooker, the BBQ sauce is added and you are done.

Everything added to the slow cooker Photo property of BVMRD
You can cook the brisket on high or low settings.  I have done both and they are equally good.  Once the brisket is done cooking you'll notice how some of the sauce has reduced.  You'll know the brisket is done because you will be able to just pull a piece off with you hand.

The finished product in the slow cooker Photo property of BVMRD
Take the brisket out and scoop out the potatoes.  Slice the brisket across the grain of the meat and plate it up.  I made it this weekend with some broccoli and farfalle pasta.  This dish is great for everyone.  Kids will eat it, your friends will think you are a genius and your spouse/partner will not even think twice about doing the dishes for you because you are such a culinary God! 

I hope I inspired you to try this dish.  If you do, let me know how it goes. If you have another favorite brisket recipe, please share!

The finished dish plated up and ready to serve. Photo property of BVMRD

My own plate do delicousness! Photo property of BVMRD