Wednesday, September 23, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup

There has been a lot of information in the past few years on the evils of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and it's contribution to childhood obesity. And you would not believe how many products list HFCS as an ingredient: breads, crackers, cereals, juices, yogurts, even pickles and ketchup! The biggest culprits seem to be the processed snack foods that make your life easier when packing school lunches or throwing something in your purse or diaper bag. Ah, the irony.

DO NOT DESPAIR, I've done some legwork for you and have found some substitute products that are still "convenience foods" but contain no HFCS.

As a general note, products labeled ORGANIC do not contain HFCS. If you have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's near you, you'll hit the jackpot with HFCS-free products galore, especially snacks and cereals. Not all of their goods are HFCS free, but most are. Products labeled "natural" are often big, fat hairy liars. Check the labels and you may find HFCS. Wah, wah...

Thomas' English muffins have taken out the HCFS in their products. Check out Arnold Sandwich Thins (our family favorite) and any organic bread. Try Costco's Kirkland Organic bread. It still has the squishy-ness of fructose laden breads so you don't even notice the difference!

Check the labels. Many cereals have it but many don't!

Who doesn't love Ritz crackers? But yes, they contain HFCS. Alternative brands: Late July Organic brand has the same buttery Ritz flavor without the chemicals. The good news-Cheez-its, Triscuits and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish do not contain HFCS. Also Annie's Naturals line of sweet and savory crackers are HFCS free.

Mott's makes a Natural line as well as Musselman's "Totally Fruit" line of applesauces. Canned fruit-check the label. The "light" versions usually don't contain HFCS while the ones packed in heavy syrup do.

Crunchy, salty snacks:
Regular pretzels or Pretzel Thins, Stacy's Pita Chips, Pirate's Booty, potato chips, popcorn are all HFCS free.

Granola/Breakfast bars:
Try Quaker's Simple Harvest line or Nature Valley granola bars. Trader Joe's makes the softer breakfast bars that are also good. Our whole family is addicted to the Clif Kid Organic Z bars.

Instead of Dannon or Yoplait, try Stonyfield Farms yogurt Smoothies or Horizon Organic yogurt Tuberz.

Eggo and Aunt Jemima products contain HFCS. Van's Belgian Waffles do not. Alternatively, make a big weekend batch of pancakes from scratch and put them in the freezer. Use them the same way you would the store-bought frozen kind, just microwave for 30-40 seconds! Buy real 100% maple syrup to avoid HFCS.

Smuckers and Welch's why must you torment me so? Chock full of HFCS. Any jam or jelly labeled 100% fruit is good, i.e. Polaner All-Fruit. The "boutique" brands of jams & preserves are HFCS free too: Stonewall Kitchens, Bonne Maman.

Take a look in your fridge and pantry and see what is full of HFCS that you can live without or substitute. There are more and more alternatives every day that could make a difference in your diet and the future health of your family.

P.S. I won't hate on you if you keep a few. I confess, I'm still doing the walk of shame with my French Vanilla coffee creamer and my Heinz ketchup. A girl's got to have a few vices.

School Lunches

September is not even over and you may already be out of creative lunch ideas for your kids. Or maybe your kids are saying "peanut butter and jelly, AGAIN?"

In the race to be SuperMom, all of our current knowledge is not helping. Will you get the evil eye at the next PTA meeting if you don't have BPA-free plastics only? Will you continue add to landfills with your flagrant excessive use of ziploc bags? Will you continue to poison little Sally & Johnny with high-fructose corn syrup? Organic or conventional fruits and veggies? Processed or unprocessed? HELLLPPP!!!

Here are some ideas that might help you to think out of the box or expand your repertoire.

1.Sandwich Thins/Deli Thins-Made by Arnold, Orowheat, Pepperidge Farm
These are round breads/buns, small enough for little bellies, only 100 calories, no high-fructose corn syrup and NO CRUST for your crust-phobics. I love these.

2. Muffin tins are your friend. If you're making pasta for dinner save some of the cooked pasta and sauce. Combine the sauce and pasta. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or oil. Pack the muffin tin with scoops of your pasta (sneak in some veggies) and top with cheese. Bake at 350 until bubbly (about 10 minutes). Put these in the lunch box, they will be delicious at room temperature.

3. Do the same thing using eggs, leftover veggies and cheese and make mini-frittatas. Use cupcake papers in the muffin tins for these.

4. I recently used these little pie crusts and made mini-quiches using all sorts of leftovers: sun-dried tomatoes, salami, feta cheese, veggies, etc. I used the following egg custard recipe to make 12 mini-tarts:

3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4t salt
1/2 t pepper
Then I pre-baked the shells at 375 F for 15 minutes. I let the shells cool, added my ingredients and poured the egg custard into the shells. I lowered the oven to 350F and baked until the eggs were set, about 20 minutes.
These are great at room temp too. And what kid doesn't want their own "pie"?!

5. Finger foods or appetizers. Kids will eat almost anything if it comes with a "dip", skewer or is individually sized. We're kickin' it old school lately with deviled eggs. If you your kids like egg salad, try deviled eggs. When I pack these in a lunch, my kids are swarmed by other kids and teachers saying "oooh, deviled eggs!" Also cucumbers, grape tomatoes, carrot sticks, snow peas with salad dressing on the side.

6. Instead of the same old sandwich, how about sending tuna salad with crackers on the side. They can then dip it themselves. Or make mini-sandwiches on the crackers instead of bread to compete with their Lunch-ables schoolmates. Or make a wrap using tortillas, lavash or flatbreads.

7. Behold, the thermos. Leftovers are your friend. Soup is your savior. A thermos can be filled with last nights stew or pasta, soups, mac and cheese, even mashed potatoes and gravy. I fill the thermos with hot water while I'm heating up the soup. Empty thermos and add your hot food. My kids report that everything is still warm by lunchtime too.

8. Who says lunch=sandwich? Skip the sandwich. Today I packed my munchkin a container of hummus with carrot sticks and pita chips, grape tomatoes, cheese and a plum and yogurt--plenty of food without a sandwich.

9. Get them involved in the planning. If your little gourmand is complaining about their lunch, have them plan the menu. Write out what will be packed for the week so they know what's coming. They are less likely to complain if they have chosen it. Take them grocery shopping to help select their favorite fruits, bread, snack, etc.

10. Try new things. They may refuse to eat 90% of them but they just might find something new to love. Have you tried: almonds & dried cranberries mixed together; edamame; frozen grapes; flavored mini-rice cakes; a banana sliced down the middle (but not all the way) with peanut butter spread inside; mini Baby Bel wrapped cheese rounds; cream cheese and jelly on a mini-bagel; popcorn; dried fruits; yogurt smoothies, etc.

Please add on your inspired ideas in the comments!

Coming next: A shopping list of convenience foods without high fructose corn syrup...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Crafty Cake

I wish I were crafty. Cooking and baking, yes. Crafts, not so much. Even Halloween costumes stress me out if I have to put an effort into them. I own a sewing machine and a glue gun and if I ever sell them on Ebay I will be able to list them as NEW IN BOX.

Recently, I had an order for a Hannah Montana-ish electric guitar cake for a lovely young lady named Alison who is turning 5. This is a yellow butter cake with chocolate ganache. It's covered in fondant with the details made out of gumpaste. I made the guitar strings with jewelry wire. I added butterflies for additional girl power and a purple flower to replicate these beautiful flowers the birthday girl always wears as pins or hair accessories (all made by her crafty mom, Betsy).

I'm sure the favors for Alison's party will be uber-crafty and all made by Betsy, sigh. Well, we all have our talents. My kids may have the lamest Halloween costumes but you can bet they'll have the best lunches in town!

Coming up soon...a post on lunch ideas for your peeps and minions.