Getting to the Source: Grassential Farm

Cows grazing on grass as they were meant to do

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a local farm and meet the young and energetic farmer behind it all, Matt Rales.  Located in Potomac, MD this unique farm is named Grassential.  Rales chose this name “as a way to illustrate how essential the grass is to the health of our animals and the ecology and its subsequent contribution to our own health and quality of life. We farm grass FIRST, our animals convert the grass into the products that we sell.”

At the beginning of the tour Matt explained that he did not like to use the word “sustainable” when describing his farm, which is surrounded on all sides by million dollar McMansions.  Instead, he prefers the terms “restorative” and “regenerative.”  He explained that until we heal the land, there is nothing to sustain!  In order to accomplish this, Rales uses the the process of biological mimicry, where cows are managed like bison and chickens like cattle egrets.

“Managed grazing, which attempts to mimic the grazing patterns of these great wild herds, can produce an abundance of nutritious animal foods, while sequestering massive amounts of atmospheric carbon. We are told by the global warming gurus that the earth is heating up due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Through specific grazing strategies we can sequester this excess carbon and form rich, productive topsoil in the process. We do this not by planting more trees, or even setting aside more wildlife preserves. We do this with domesticated ruminants—pulsing the landscape with large numbers of animals for short periods of time.”

As described by this progressive farmer, cows are like solar panels.  They are able to harness the sun’s energy and convert it into nutrients like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vitamin K simply by unlocking cellulose, which is indigestible by humans.  By doing what they do best and eating nature’s most nutrient dense vegetable (grass!), cows produce superior food for people in the form of butter, milk and meat.

But remember, it’s all about the grass.  The healthy food is a lucky byproduct of the grass farming which relies on the cows.

“The hoof action, manure, urine and saliva all act as bio-stimulants on the pasture, encouraging the grass plants to thicken, bare spots to fill in, and species diversity and succession to accelerate forward from simplicity to complexity. The productive grasslands of the world and the massive herds of herbivores that grazed them co-evolved together. One cannot exist without the other. The grass relies on the ruminant for its full expression just as much as the ruminant relies on grass. Without ruminants to fertilize the soil and break down cellulose in dry climates, prairies quickly become deserts; and with managed grazing of ruminant animals, deserts can be restored to productive land.”

Pigs living in the suburban “forest.”

Rales also is passionate about the importance of finishing cows on grass rather than grain.  Not only does grain finishing support carbon releasing agriculture, but less than two weeks of grain feeding completely changes the fatty acid profile, omega balance and fat soluble vitamin content of the animal products, according to Rales.  So do your research, and if you are paying for grass fed products, make sure the cow is grass fed right up to the end.  Better yet, visit the farm from which your food originates.  See the conditions in which the animals live and talk to the farmer about how they are fed.  If it is too far to visit or if the farmer doesn’t allow visitors, maybe you should reconsider the source.

It was wonderful to be in the presence of many like minded consumers who want to know the source of their food and want to participate in climate stabilization by supporting pasture-based farms.  “The managed landscapes of these pasture-based farms are the healthiest, most biologically diverse places on earth, and the sheer volume of life in their soils proves it.”

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

If you live in the area try to visit Grassential farm and talk with the farmers. Matt welcomes visitors and seems to truly enjoy answering questions and sharing his vision.  Many products can be purchased from the onsite farm store.

For more information, here are some articles written by Matt:
Chickens Are Omnivores: It’s No Dilemma 
An Inconvenient Cow

Movie Night: Reversing Disease with Diet

This video has been circulating for quite a while now.  Perhaps you’ve seen it…even so watch it again because this woman is AMAZING!  She went from a wheelchair to bicycle, completely reversing all of the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis purely by a shift in diet.

Dr. Terry Wahls learned how to properly fuel her body. Using the lessons she learned at the subcellular level, she used diet to cure her MS and get out of her wheelchair.

If you’ve never seen this one, you’ve got to make the time to watch it.  If you want to hear her speak here is a podcast that she did recently with Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness.

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

Wednesdays Without Barcodes: Making Condiments

This post is part of a weekly series in which I  give ideas for eating off the grid.  In other words…fringe eating.  It is also a REAL food challenge and my first GIVEAWAY!  See the Wednesday, April 11th post for all of the giveaway details.

One of the biggest challenges for eating REAL food is condiments.  We all love them.  They add flavor and spice to otherwise bland dishes and can even make tasty meals tastier.  They definitely get our little ones to eat things they otherwise wouldn’t touch, but when you look at the labels…BLAH!!!  Sugar, artificial colors and flavors, ingredients I can’t pronounce…and WHY?  Most of these accompaniments can be quickly made in your own kitchen with a handful of wholesome ingredients.  So over the next few weeks I’ll do some how-to’s on some of our country’s favorite condiments.  Today…cream cheese!

Cream cheese is so versatile and so easy to make.  I used to avoid all recipes that called for cream cheese purely out of guilt.  Cream cheese was synonymous with junk food in my mind.  Now that I make my own I’m the first to offer to bring the buffalo chicken dip to the Super Bowl party!

INGREDIENTS & SUPPLIES:

  • 1 QT full fat, grass fed yogurt
  • cheese cloth or clean dish towel
  • strainer or colander
  • large glass bowl
  • pitcher
  • wooden spoon
  • string or rubber band

Place the strainer into a large bowl and line it with a towel or about 6 layers of cheese cloth.  Dump the yogurt onto the towel and walk away. You’ll begin to see the whey dripping into the bowl almost immediately.  After a few hours the dripping will stop and you’ll probably have about two cups of whey in the bowl.  Pour the whey into a glass jar and save if for neutralizing beans and oats.  You’ll also use it to make condiments such as ketchup and mustard which I’ll post about soon!  Whey will keep for about 6 months in the fridge.

Now tie the cheese cloth into a little bundle around the thickened yogurt and attach it to a wooden spoon and hang it over a pitcher.  Let it sit out another hour our so until it stops dripping completely. Untie it and move it to a bowl and store in the fridge for up to a month.


Use it to fill celery, to top homemade crackers or sourdough bread or in any recipe that calls for cream cheese. Homemade cream cheese is also a great substitution for peanut butter in nut-free settings.  Spread a layer on bread and top with fresh strawberries or apple butter…YUM!

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

This post was shared on Real Food Wednesday @ Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Kombucha: The Other Magic Mushroom

Kombucha is an effervescent tea-based beverage that is has been enjoyed for over 2000 years due to its reported health benefits.  It was worshiped in ancient China as a remedy for immortality. In Japan, Russia, Germany and India it was known as a healing tonic and given to those who were ill.  Today it is making a comeback!  You’ve probably seen it on the shelves at your local Whole Foods and maybe you are even among the many home brewers out there.  If so, you know it’s pretty powerful stuff.  Full of antioxidants and probiotics, just a few ounces a day can have an amazingly detoxifying effect and improve both digestion and energy.  But here’s the rub…it costs about $4 for a 16oz. bottle at most health food stores.  Is it really worth it?  It is, but there’s a much less expensive way to get these health benefits…make your own Kombucha!  It’s easy to do and is a another great project in which to involve your mad little scientists!

Kombucha can be easily made at home by fermenting tea using a visible, solid mass of yeast and bacteria which forms the kombucha culture,  referred to as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) or “the mother.”  Sounds weird I know…looks even weirder.  But if you can get your (sterile) hands on one, you’re ready to brew.  

Finding a SCOBY may be much simpler than you think.  Every time you brew a batch of kombucha, the mother produces a baby.  Home brewers are often trying to find homes for their little darlings so ask around at the local farmer’s market or health food store and maybe you will find someone who has a SCOBY for you.  Another option is to contact your local WAPF chapter.  I guarantee you at least one member has a home brew set up and can help you out.  Of course you can always purchase a starter kit online, and if that turns out to be necessary, two reputable sources are:

Once you have your SCOBY, you will need a few other supplies before you get started.

A piece of a SCOBY
  • large glass jar (1 -2 gallon), preferably with a spigot
  • no rinse sanitizer
  • cheese cloth or coffee filter
  • rubber band
  • sugar
  • filtered water
  • organic tea bags
  • 2 cups of kombucha

BREWING KOMBUCHA BY THE BATCH:

Decide how big a batch you want to make.  I’ll give all directions for a gallon size batch and then you can just multiply or divide for your batch.  (FYI there are 4 quarts in a gallon)
  1. Bring 1 QT of water to a boil and add 1C of sugar.  
  2. Stir until sugar is just dissolved and remove from heat. 
  3. Add about organic 10 tea bags (any kind will do, I use a mixture of black and herbal).
  4. Cover and let it sit until the water cools to room temperature then remove and discard tea bags.
  5. Meanwhile sanitize your glass jar with the no rinse sanitizer according to package directions.
  6. Pour the tea solution and remaining 3 quarts of water into your large glass container.
  7. Add 2C kombucha.  Whoever you got your SCOBY from should be able to provide this. 
  8. Gently place your SCOBY on top and cover with a coffee filter and rubber band.
  9. Label the container with today’s date!
  10. Place the container in a warm, dark place where it will not be disturbed for a couple of weeks.
See how the new SCOBY has formed on the top

On the 9th or 10th day, you can check your kombucha to see if it’s ready.  You will notice that a new SCOBY has formed on the top and has gotten thicker throughout the process.  Usually this will be about 1/4″ thick when the kombucha is ready, but you can go by taste to be sure.  If your jug has a spigot, simply draw off a sip or two and taste test it.  If you have no spigot, use a straw with your finger held over the top to suction out a small amount.  Kombucha will become less sweet and more vinegary the longer it ferments (as the sugar is “eaten” in the fermentation process).  You want to stop the fermentation process before the kombucha becomes undrinkable.  This will differ depending on your preference.  Usually 14 – 16 days is good for me…not too sweet, not too sour.


When you are happy with the taste simply drain out all of the kombucha into smaller glass containers (quart size works great!) and move it to the refrigerator to drink.  Leave about 2 – 3C of kombucha in the glass jar along with your SCOBY and mother for the next batch.  You can give the baby away or leave it in with the mother.  Leave this in the warm, dark place where you fermented your kombucha…do not refrigerate!  They should be good in there for a couple of weeks if you want to wait before starting another batch.

 
KOMBUCHA CONTINUOUS BREW:
As I mentioned above, kombucha will become increasingly sour as it ferments, but some of the health benefits do not appear until much later in the brewing cycle.

“the longer the ferment is allowed to proceed, the more beneficial acids that will have a chance to form. Some of these acids don’t even appear until 14-21 days in the typical process.  These acids are largely responsible for the detoxifying nature of Kombucha Tea and are  the catalysts we seek in kombucha mushroom tea. Glucose content maximizes around the 8th or 9th day. This implies that gluconic acid production could not peak until after that point. Gluconic acid is the biggest single contributor to the detox effect. (source)

By the 21st day,  the tea will be pretty much undrinkable.  For this reason, some people prefer to keep their kombucha in a continuous brewing cycle.  This allow you to get the benefit of the nutrients and acids that form later in the cycle as the SCOBY grows more layers, but it keeps the kombucha flavor very palatable.  In order to do this you follow the directions above for batch brewing.  When the tea reaches it’s peak flavor (around day 14) you will begin drawing off a small amount of tea everyday and replacing it with a feeder solution.  The directions below are for the 1 gallon batch as described above and you will need a 2 gallon glass jar with a spigot to do the continuous brew method.

Scoby after 1 month of continuous brew
  1. Bring 1 QT of water to a boil and add 1/4C of sugar.  
  2. Stir until sugar is just dissolved and remove from heat. 
  3. Add 2 – 3 organic tea bags.
  4. Cover and let it sit until the water cools to room temperature then remove and discard tea bags.
  5. Drain 16 oz. from the batch and replace with half of the feeder solution (save the other half for the next day).
  6. Stir the kombucha with a sterile wooden or plastic spoon and cover with a coffee filter and rubber band.

Repeat this process everyday or every other day.  If the tea becomes too sweet wait an extra day.  If it becomes too sour add some extra feeder solution.  If 16 oz. a day is not enough for your family, you can begin with a larger batch (1.5 – 2 gallons) and then draw off a quart each day.  This is a lot of kombucha though.  2 – 3 oz. per day is enough for most people to get the health benefits.  1 oz. a day is plenty for children.

If you need to stop the continuous brew for any reason (i.e. vacation), simply bottle what you have and move it to the refrigerator to drink.  Leave about 2 – 3C of kombucha in the glass jar along with your SCOBY and mother for the next batch.  Leave this in the warm, dark place where you fermented your kombucha…do not refrigerate!  They should be good in there for a couple of weeks if you want to wait before starting another batch.
FLAVORING YOUR KOMBUCHA:
You can have fun with your brew by doing a secondary ferment.  After you draw off some of the tea or move it to quart containers from your batch brew, add 2 – 3 oz. of organic fruit juice per quart of kombucha.  Now cap it and let it sit out for another 24 hours before moving it to the refrigerator.  Play around with the flavors and see what you like.  Lemonade and blueberry-pomegranate are our favorites.
Here you can see some of the brown sludge…totally normal

CARING FOR YOUR SCOBY:
Always have very clean hands and try to gently sterilize all of your utensils and containers to keep any unwanted bacteria away.  Brown sludge & slime are totally normal on your SCOBY but if it starts to turn black or get moldy it’s time to compost it and start over!

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

SOURCES:

Worms Eat My Garbage

In honor of Earth Day I thought I’d post about a “green” project that we recently started here at the house.  It was an exciting day when the Worm Factory 360 showed up on our doorstep.  After a quick video tutorial we had the worm bin all set up and ready to receive 1,000 little friends.  My 3 year old spent the next three days constantly asking me, “Are the worms here yet?”  We tracked the delivery online about 20 times and did a little worm dance the day they arrived.  Big excitement!  The kids helped to settle Uncle Jim’s Red Worms into their new home.  I’ll admit they looked a little worse for wear when they arrived, but the note attached assured us that with a little TLC our red wigglers would be ready to start eating our garbage in no time!


Vermicomposting is the process of have redworms process your kitchen scraps and turn them into amazing compost that you can use on your lawn, garden and house plants.  Redworms are voracious eaters that are extremely happy to spend the day eating organic waste, excreting worm castings and making more worms, providing you with the highest quality compost available.  It is incredibly easy, odorless, and a fun project for the kids.

To get started you only need a few supplies which you can purchase or make yourself.
  • a worm bin
  • bedding
  • water
  • worms
  • kitchen scraps

The bin can be kept inside or outside and some people even build it into a piece of furniture such as a coffee table or a patio bench.  For now we just have it set up in the kitchen but once the weather warms up permanently I think we’ll move them out to the patio.  It’s been a really fun “project” so far and it will be great to see how it improves our vegetable garden this summer.  It’s also a wonderful way to introduce some environmental lessons to reduce our waste!

Here’s our bin prepped and ready for our new pets…
The girls getting their first peek at the wigglers…
 Settling the worms into their new home…

Our new friends…

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

This post was shared on Monday Mania @ The Healthy Home Economist.

For more information
Vermicomposting:  Composting with Worms

Movie Night: Introduction to the Work of Weston A Price

From Wise Traditions 2010 – the 11th Annual Conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation, this lecture by Sally Fallon is a peek at how the “displacing food of modern commerce” affected the health of non-westernized people, causing tooth decay, altered facial structure and crowding of the teeth…and these are only the affects that we can see!!!

Sally Fallon Morell, MA, is founding president of the Weston A Price Foundation and founder of A Campaign for Real Milk, Mrs. Fallon Morell lectures extensively around the world on issues of health and nutrition. She is a prolific writer of numerous articles and books and serves as editor of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation. In 1996, Mrs. Fallon Morell published the best-selling Nourishing Traditions (with Mary G. Enig, PhD), the cookbook that launched her career in alternative health.

More conference recording can be found at WAPF.

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

Adventures in Sourdough

In the 1930s Dr. Weston A. Price researched traditional cultures that were free of degenerative disease.  One of the places he visited was “Switzerland’s Lötschental–an isolated valley then only accessible by a footpath.  It was so isolated from the rest of Switzerland, let alone the world, that the residents existed on what they could grow in the valley, with no food brought in from outside, with the exception of salt.”  One of the staples of their diet was a fermented sourdough bread called roggenbrot.

The process of making this traditional sourdough bread reliably neutralizes the anti-nutrients in the cereal grains as the flour is kept moist and acidic for many hours (or days).  Double blind research with celiac patients indicates that this long fermentation process may also “sever the bonds of the “toxic” peptides in wheat gluten responsible for the celiac reaction and neutralize them as well.”  Basically, celiac patients that ate true sourdough bread showed no signs of intestinal permeability as compared to those who ate regular bread.   Of course much more research is needed in this area, but true sourdough bread may a great option for those who are sensitive to gluten.
First things first, don’t confuse sourdough bread that you purchase at the store or bakery with real sourdough bread.  This is most definitely not true sourdough bread in that it is not fermented and uses a monoculture baker’s yeast and vinegar for that sour flavor.  True sourdough bread is cultured for about 24 hours and the tangy flavor comes from the wild yeast fungi and several strains of local lactobacilli.

“Michael Gaenzle, a cereal microbiologist now at the University of Alberta, Canada, has suggested that sourdough cultures are in fact so intimately connected with the people who use them that they form a mutually supportive and sustaining relationship. That is, the microorganisms are part of you (and come from you) and so the bread you ferment with them is tailormade to nourish and support especially you.”

Making sourdough bread is a labor of love.  It’s a multiple day process and that is if you have starter ready to go.  If you are starting from scratch you will need to make your own starter and this takes about a week.  It’s really cool to do and a great “experiment” in which to involve the kids.  You start with flour and water and within a week you a fully active culture that came to life from the naturally occurring yeast in your own home!  OK, I admit that I’m a bit of a nerd, but that’s neat right?!?  If you think you have it in you, here’s how I did it.

MAKING YOUR STARTER
Begin by getting about 4 cups of rye “berries” in the bulk section of your local health food store.  You will need to grind these so if you don’t have a dry blade blender in which to do this you may need to grind it at the store.  If you can’t find this you can get a bag of ground rye flour.  You will also need two large glass bowls.

  • DAY 1:  Put 1 C of flour in a glass bowl and mix with 1 C of filtered water, stir and cover securely with a few layers of cheesecloth so that yeast can get in but not bugs.  Put the bowl in a warm place such as the top of the fridge.
  • DAYS 2 – 7:  Transfer the starter to a clean bowl and add 1/2 C of freshly ground flour and 1/2 C of filtered water, stir, cover and return to warm place.

After a few days you will begin to see signs of fermentation (bubbles) and the starter will develop a wine smell.  This is a good thing.  By day eight you are ready to make bread!  Making bread requires a bit of attention so the weekend might be a good time to give it a try.  If your timing was off, continue to “feed” your starter by removing one cup of starter daily and adding 1 C of freshly ground flour and 1 C of filtered water.  You can discard the starter that you removed or you can give it away.

MAKING SOURDOUGH BREAD
You will (ideally) need a stand mixer and a large cast iron dutch oven with a lid.

  • DAY 1, Noonish:  Feed your starter as described above and wait for it to get to the frothy, bubbly stage.  This will probably take about 6 – 8 hours and it will look something like this.

  • DAY 1, 8:00ish:  At this time remove a quart of the starter (*reserve the rest for the next time you bake) and put it in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add 1.5 TBS Celtic sea salt and 1/2 C filtered water and stir until the salt dissolves.   If you don’t have a stand mixer you can do this by hand, but it will require a lot of kneading!!!  Add  3 C of freshly ground spelt or hard winter wheat and begin to mix.  Slowly add another 3 C of flour and continue to mix or knead until the dough is firm and thick.  If using a mixer it will form a ball.  You may need to add a bit more water (1/4 C) or a bit more flour (1/2 C) to get the right consistency which is soft but not sticky.  By hand this will take about 15 minutes.  Now let the dough rest for about 5 minutes and come back to it.  Knead or mix a little bit more and add more flour or water as needed.  Now form a ball and put the dough into a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a towel.

Allow the dough to rise all night long!!!

  • DAY  2, between 9 AM & Noon:  Your dough should have at least doubled in size.  Remove it from the bowl and put it on a floured cutting board and use your knuckles to press it down gently.  Flip and do the same on the other side.  Now fold it in thirds and cut it in half and form two small balls.  Put one of the balls back into the greased bowl and put the other in a large cast iron dutch oven with corn meal sprinkled on the bottom to prevent sticking.

  • DAY 2,  2 hours after previous step:  Put the cast iron dutch oven, covered, into the oven and set it to 450° (no need to preheat).  If you have a convection setting on your oven use this.  Allow it to bake for 30 minutes and then check it.  It should be a golden brown color.  Remove the lid and lower the temperature to 350°.  Bake for another 20 – 30 minutes.  Check to make sure that it is not getting too dark.  After removing it from the oven transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and move the second loaf from the greased bowl into the dutch oven.  Add more corn meal if necessary.  Repeat the baking process with the second loaf.

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

*NOTE:  Store your reserved started in the refrigerator and bring it out once a week to feed it (remove 1 C if necessary and then add 1 C each flour and water).  Or you can freeze it.  In either case, when you are ready to use it you may have to feed it a few times to revive it.  You are looking for that frothy, bubbly stage and then you know you are good to go!  Feeding will also “grow” the starter so that you have plenty for now and some to save for later or to give away. 

References:
Against the Grain
A Visit to Switzerland’s Loetschental in the Footsteps of Weston A. Price

Wednesdays Without Barcodes: Savory Favorites

This post is part of a weekly series in which I  give ideas for eating off the grid.  In other words…fringe eating.  It is also a REAL food challenge and my first GIVEAWAY!  See last Wednesday’s post for all of the giveaway details.  This post was supposed to be part of my Snacking Without Barcodes series but I ran out of days that week.  So many snacks, so little time!  With two toddlers, we do a lot of snacking in this house!  So here are some ideas for when sweet treats just won’t cut it and you need a good dose of salt!


CRACKERS

Crackers are a staple with kids and adults alike, but it is super hard to find a box of these savory  favorites that doesn’t include some unsavory ingredients.  Here is one of our favorite cracker recipes adapted from Nourished and Nurtured to make them not only grain and dairy free, but also nut free (sort of, though some are allergic to pine nuts, it’s rare and they are tolerated well in my house unlike other nuts).

  • One large roasted red bell pepper (in a pinch TJs sells some in a jar)
  • 1 C *crispy pine nuts (in a pinch you can buy the toasted ones)
  • 2  TBS nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning (or 2 tsp fresh)
  • 3 cloves garlic (pressed)
  • 1/2 tsp celtic sea salt

Roast & skin the red pepper and remove seeds.  Press the garlic unless you know that your processor will “find” it.  (If I don’t press it first, it often comes out in a big piece.)  Put all of the ingredients into the food processor and process until smooth.  Spread out to about a 1/4″ thickness onto one or more dehydrator sheets and put into the dehydrator (I highly recommend the Excalibur 3900) for 12 – 24 hours at 155°.  You can turn the sheet over at the halfway point by laying another dehydrator sheet and tray on top and “sandwiching” the crackers while you do a super stealthy flip!  This will help them to dry more evenly.  When they are finished break them into random shapes and sizes and top with your other savory favorites!

* Simply soak raw nuts or seeds 12 hours or overnight in filtered water with 1 TBS of Celtic sea salt.  Then put them on a baking sheet and “dehydrate” them at 150°.  If your oven doesn’t go this low just set it to the lowest temperature.  Mine only goes down to 170° and that has worked fine for me in the past.  If you have a dehydrator even better!  Put the nuts or seeds on the dehydrator sheets and set it to 150°.  Dehydrate for 12 hours or overnight.

POPCORN

Sometimes the simplest snack solutions escape us, but never underestimate the power of popcorn to please the masses!  I recommend getting a Whirley Pop popper if you don’t already have one.  I know air poppers are great but they don’t allow you to add the secret ingredients that supercharge this simple snack…grassfed butter or coconut oil!

  • 3 TBS coconut oil or grassfed butter
  • 1/2 C non GMO popcorn kernels
  • seasoning

Melt your butter or oil in the popper and add the kernels and then follow the instructions for your popper.  Top with the seasonings of your choice.  Some of our favorites are salt, garlic salt, cayenne, cinnamon and crumbled kale chips.

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

This recipe is part of Real Food Wednesdays with Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

The Family that Eats Together…

©iStockphoto.com/monkeybusinessimages

I would absolutely be lying if I said that dinnertime is all sunshine and lollipops at my house.  In fact, it can be one of the most stressful times of my day.  Sometimes just trying to get dinner on the table while simultaneously entertaining and containing two toddlers is about all I can handle.  When we actually sit down, it’s often chaotic and always messy and someone ends up in tears at least twice a week.  Even if that someone isn’t me, I feel totally defeated when a nutritious meal that I’ve carefully prepared with everyone’s dietary sensitives and preferences in mind is pushed around the plate for 30 minutes.  UGH!  It would certainly be a lot easier to microwave some chicken nuggets and mac & cheese and feed the kids before my husband gets home and then order take out after the kids go to bed.  It might even be easier to prepare a healthy meal for the kiddos then prepare a second healthy meal for us later, but I don’t.  Why?  Believe me, I ask myself this question on a regular basis!  Whenever I’m ready to give up I take a moment to remind myself that the family that eats together…

…BONDS TOGETHER
Family mealtime is the perfect opportunity to talk, laugh and share the events of your day.  My kids are still a bit young for this, but some of my most cherished childhood memories happened around the dinner table.  I remember lots of laughter and great discussion.  It’s where I really got to know my family members as individuals rather than just Mom, Dad and Brother.  Even though we’re not quite there yet, I’m glad that my children have the security of knowing that we all come together once a day as a family.  I’m hopeful that despite the chaos we are laying the foundation for a wonderful family tradition.

…STAYS HEALTHY TOGETHER
For starters, home cooked meals are typically much more nutritious than food eaten on-the-go.  Research shows that children who eat frequent dinners with their families eat more fruits and vegetables and less soda and fried foods. Their diets also have higher amounts of many key nutrients, like calcium, iron, and fiber.  When children see their greatest role models frequently eating healthy foods and (better yet) trying new foods, they are much more likely to model these behaviors!  Meals are also a great time to introduce some nutrition dialogue such as why we eat the foods we eat and the fact that not every food can be your favorite.

…STAYS HAPPY TOGETHER
Studies have shown that kids who frequently eat with their families are less likely to get depressed, consider suicide, or develop an eating disorder. They are also more likely to delay sex and to report that their parents are proud of them.  Frequent family meals are  associated with lower rates of smoking, drinking, and illegal drug use in preteens and teenagers.  Think about it…if you spend every night sitting down with and talking to your children, you are far more likely to notice any changes or issues and you have the perfect venue to offer your love and support.

…LEARNS TOGETHER
Not only do we learn about each other at the dinner table, but this is where we learn many important life skills including table manners, proper utensil use, and clearing the table.  Frequent family meals have been linked to increased vocabulary development in young children; teenagers who eat dinner four or more times per week with their families have higher academic performance compared with teenagers who eat with their families two or fewer times per week.

…SAVES MONEY TOGETHER
Not only are meals prepared in the home more nutritious, but according to the national Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics they cost about half as much as meals eaten outside the home.

I’ll be the first to admit that family meals can sometimes be just short of torture, but even with two toddlers we have some very special dinnertime moments.   Routines start at a young age and the future payoff is totally worth the current stress and chaos.  So in this over-scheduled and under-nourished culture, we can make a difference by simply sitting down as a family every day and enjoying a meal together.   So light a candle, say a blessing, put on some classical music and start building those memories…bon appetite!

Eat Well, Be Well,
April

SOURCES:
The Benefits of Eating Together
8 Reasons to Make Time for Family Dinner
Regular Family Meals Promote Healthy Eating Habits
Family Nutrition:  The Truth About Family Meals