By Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM
No pun intended but here are some simple and delicious ways to green up your family’s diet. It’s easier than ever to make healthy, earth-friendly food choices that are actually fun to eat. From coconut-apple dips and pineapple/shrimp skewers to meals prepared with buttery textured Malaysian sustainable palm oil, with these ideas your kids (and your spouse) may not even miss their neon-colored crackers.
· Shop the farmer’s market for fresh berries and crunchy apples: Fruit at your local outdoor market was grown nearby and is most likely freshly picked, perhaps even that day. The fruit at your local supermarket has probably spent hours or even days on a truck. Bring the kids and make it an outing. Some markets are adding kid-friendly activities such as crafts and music.
· Pick your own: Visit a U-Pick farm with your kids. They’ll love picking their own strawberries, blueberries or cherries. And, it’s usually less expensive than buying fruit from at the supermarket. Find a list of pick-your-own farms online, such as at pickyourown.org. Be sure to call before visiting as picking conditions change daily. Make easy refrigerator jam or sauce with your bounty. Then freeze the rest so you can enjoy these sustainably grown fruits year-round.
· Improve your oil: It doesn’t make sense to buy healthy, sustainable foods and then cook them with oils made from genetically modified plants. Your family will love the buttery texture of Malaysian palm oil which is natural and sustainably produced. Because it is heat stable, Malaysian palm oil can be used for grilling, baking and frying without burning and making food taste bad. All palm oil is non-GMO, which may be why it’s more affordable than non-GMO canola.
· Upgrade your favorite spices: The use of chemical fertilizers and plant pesticides is a growing concern in the spice industry. But organic spices and herbs can be pricey, so invest in organic only for those that you use all the time. Here’s another money-saving tip: Whole ginger root is a fraction of the price of powdered. Buy a root and cut into 1-inch cubes then toss them into the freezer. Grate a cube whenever a recipe calls for this fragrant spice.
· Oven fry leafy vegetables: Kale and spinach grow quickly in most climates. This means they have a lower impact on our environment and may require less fertilizer than slower growing veggies. Up the kid-friendliness of these greens by making tasty oven-fried veggie chips. Drizzle Malaysian sustainable palm oil over the greens, sprinkle with salt and then bake in a 350 degree oven until slightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Eat on their own, sprinkle on pizza or add to cheesy omelets.
· Look for “grass-fed”, “organic” or “pasture-raised” beef: Raising livestock takes a big toll on our environment. It uses more than 70 percent of our agricultural land and is the largest driver of deforestation in the world. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up meat if you want to eat sustainably. Just choose quality over quantity. When cooking, combine meat with healthy plant-based foods. Throw some black beans into ground beef when making tacos or combine chicken with quinoa when making a casserole.
· Buy seafood from U.S. fisheries: American-based fisheries generally follow stricter environmental standards than those of other countries. You’ll still want to avoid the species highest in mercury: shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. Have a regular seafood night at your house. Two fun ideas: Grill skewers of shrimp and pineapple, or serve tilapia with a tomato-avocado-bean relish and a big bowl of whole-grain blue corn chips.
· Serve the peas while they’re still frozen: Peas, beans and lentils are some of the most sustainable vegetables. They are nitrogen fixers, which means they naturally enrich the soil. And who knew that green peas taste like ice cream when served frozen?
· Blend those beans: Kids love to dip foods, so blend beans or lentils with cream cheese or yogurt to make a creamy base. Then season with naturally sweet coconut and apples, buttermilk powder and spices, or whatever flavor combination your family craves for a healthy and eco-friendly snack.
For tasty, family-friendly recipes using environmentally responsible palm oil and other planet-friendly ingredients, visit www.palmoilhealth.org.
Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM is a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and expert consultant in nutrition and healthful living. She is the former host of TLC’s reality show, “Honey We’re Killing the Kids.” She specializes in integrating behavior modification to influence positive health outcomes. Stoler is the author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes (TM): The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great. She has published numerous articles (and chapters) on nutrition, exercise, health and wellness. She is very involved with the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.; and is on the NJ Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. She is the mother of two, step mother of one… practicing what she preaches!