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Tales of an organic mom

Local mom talks pros and cons of organic living in the Hudson Valley

pros and cons of organic living in the Hudson Valley

Raising your offspring to be healthy eaters is a bit more complex than only buying organic kale.

When I was an expectant mom, and long before, I vowed I’d feed my babies only home-made pureed organic fruits and vegetables. But with the chaos of being a new parent, that was soon supplemented and then replaced with quicker things, my good intentions lost to the hectic reality of day-to-day life as a parent of small children. And as they’ve grown into teenagers, I control less and less of what they eat when they’re not with me, and I can only hope that something has rubbed off when they make all those daily food choices.

Long after they’ve stopped cooking us dinner, our parents’ influence lingers. When I was a kid, we shopped in natural foods stores. My father had a huge organic garden in the backyard and my parents fed us healthy international meals. Although there surely was the occasional TV dinner or fast food burger, the bulk of our diet was nutritious, locally sourced and full of variety. So that’s the kind of food I still crave and choose to cook most of the time.

READ MORE: Is it safe for kids to be vegan?

We really only control what our kids eat for a relatively short portion of their lives. After that it’s up to them. So if we can instill in them a love and respect for food and for themselves and others, then we’re doing really well.

As consumers, we’re seeking out organic foods more and more, with national sales skyrocketing, supermarket chains expanding their organic produce sections and farms new and old deciding to go organic. We’re learning that when we buy natural foods that are free of hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, chemical pesticides and other toxins, that what we put in our bodies will be as nutritious and harmless as possible.

Buying organic can be harder on the family budget, but there are ways to make that impact less severe. Even if you can only afford to purchase it a third of the time, that’s healthier than none of the time. Also, often the older a fruit or vegetable is, the less nutritious, so sometimes fresh and local foods raised or grown according to organic principles, even if not certified, can be a great alternative to organic produce that has traveled from across the country or overseas.

For some foods, that organic designation is more crucial than for others. Certain items are more heavily sprayed with pesticides and should be bought organic whenever possible. Called “The Dirty Dozen” by the Environmental Working Group, the 2016 list includes peaches, nectarines, apples, strawberries, cherries, grapes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and spinach. A search online for “Clean 15” offers a list of those veggies and fruits for which selecting organic isn’t as crucial.

READ MORE: Raise your child with a healthy body image

Grass-fed, organically raised meats and poultry are much more nutritious than the mass-market versions, but of course much more expensive. One way to get around that is to serve meat meals less often, and when you do, make portions smaller, with plenty of non-meat options or sides to fill bellies. 

Another challenge to healthy family eating is time, and sometimes dinner just has to be something out of a box in the car on the way to a game or rehearsal. So cook when you can, make extra and freeze it for meals on busy nights that will be tastier, nutritious and economical than processed frozen dinners.

Encourage the kids to help – even if that help is slow and sloppy in the beginning. Spark that interest in the growing, selection and preparation of foods, an interest you hope will carry them healthily and happily into adulthood.

Sometimes when I am talking to customers at Mother Earth’s Storehouse (which is where I work part-time as a healthy eating educator) about how to make healthy eating easier and integrate it into their lives, I think about my teens, who may at that very moment be grabbing pizza or fast food tacos with friends, food that is likely not low in fat, sodium or sugar, not locally sourced or sustainably raised or grown, and decidedly not organic. I’ll feel bad that what I’m touting and what my family is consuming is not in sync at that moment. But then I hope that for most of the meals they eat when I’m not there, that I’ve had some influence and that most of the time they are making healthy choices.

Jennifer Brizzi is the mom of two teenagers and a cook, cooking teacher, healthy eating educator, writer, editor, and founder of Hudson Valley Food Tours. This is part one of a two-part series.