This post kicks off The Design Tree’s New Year’s Resolutions Week!
Healthy, hearty bean salad. Photo credit Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks.com
This time of year many of us commit to eating in a more healthful and conscious way. It’s no wonder, with the amazing range of choices available to North Americans when it comes to all things food, that we sometimes steer away from the better among options. And it’s not only what we eat, but how we prepare our meals that counts. My husband and I tend to get sucked – and suckered – in to many a silly gadget purchase. (Heart shaped sandwich anyone?) But truly, fancy things and fancy ingredients don’t make for better cooking. It’s the simplest dishes – requiring few instruments, instructions, and ingredients – that are the most satisfying. More alarming still, some of these gadgets may do more harm than good.
Always a health nut, wary of over-processed living, here are a few things I’ve learned about cooking and the kitchen.
Organic – why to choose it and what it means
I love heirloom carrots, their taste, their beauty. Heirloom seeds are passed down through generations, grown on a small scale using traditional techniques like open pollination.
For me organic foods just taste better. It makes good sense that choosing organically produced foods would be better not only for us consumers, but for the environment. Generally organic means food cultivated or raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, sewage sludge, growth regulators or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are rules too governing soil condition – for example farmland needs to be free from chemical contamination, including previous pesticide use for a minimum time, typically 5 years.
In North America, these are good standards to keep an eye open for. Seeing these logos in grocery stores lets you know the product has met the strict demands for organic certification:
USDA Organic – the use of this seal means that an item contains 95% organic ingredients, while 100% Organic USDA Organic, means just that.
Canada Organic – the national standard in Canada
Certification, however, is a lengthy and expensive process, the cost of which belongs entirely to the farmer/producer. Visit your local farmers’ market and talk to them about the practices they use. They may be somewhere in the middle of obtaining certification, but employing organic growing standards that you’re comfortable with. (There are even plenty of winter markets in urban centres these days.)
What’s in your cookware matters too
Cast iron, clay, glass and silicone (which is just glass processed differently and still chemically inert and stable) are great choices for your cook and bakeware. The simple and nontoxic materials that go into the production mean there isn’t the same risk of toxins leaching into your foods as there are with those with a non-stick coating. Plus in the case of cast iron and clay, there’s nutritional benefit to using these materials as each leach much-needed minerals into your food.
Stay clear of plastic utensils for stove top stirring and flipping. Many contain BPA, phthalates and other chemicals, the adverse affects of we’re just now learning about. Stainless steel, wood, and silicone utensils are really great alternatives.
Lemon has long been used in natural cleaning recipes
If you’ve got babies or pets scampering around, you might want to consider using natural cleaners given that residues will end up in their mouths. There’s also the ridiculously real danger of your creating mustard gas by mixing common household cleaners – they’re that toxic! Some experts are also saying that known neurotoxins in cleaning products might be contributing to some cognitive and behavioural issues in kids.
The great news is that there are more non-toxic options available on store shelves these days. Or you can always make your own. Here are two recipes for homemade household cleaners that will take care of most messes:
All purpose cleaner from BlissTree.com
Mix a few drops of natural soap, 2 cups water, and 15 drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oil. Spray this on all surfaces, like cutting boards, counters, toilets, walls, (except it will streak glass). Check out all of Bliss Tree’s 25 safe non-toxic homemade cleaners.
Pour 1 quart cool water + ¼ teaspoon 6% chlorine bleach into spray bottle and mix vigourously.
Discard after use and like all cleaning products keep away from kids and pets!
These adorable reusable snack bags are one example of a plethora now available. Look for lined ones that allow you to carry wet foods for added bang for your buck!
A home-cooked meal, even if it’s leftovers, will generally be healthier, tastier, and cheaper than what’s found in the cafeteria or restaurant. But I like to store food in the growing number of non-plastic alternatives popping up on store shelves everyday to reduce exposure to and reliance on plastics. From wooden bento boxes to stainless steel food containers, even fabric options are available when you opt to brown bag it. Though, as my sister-in-law points out, nothing’s going to leach into food if the kids lose their lunch box twice a week. Touché.