If it seems to you that organic kids foods are hotter than ever, you’re right on track. You might say that organic food is the new black, or green for that matter, as this sustainable food trend is surging in popularity among parents, who are seeking the best choices for feeding their young families. Indeed, the USDA reports that retail sales of organic foods more than doubled from 1994 to 2014, with a steady annual growth of about 10% over the past several years. Why are parents drawn to organics? A Pew Research Center Survey found that health is a key reason why people buy organic; 76% of people reported health concerns as their primary motivation for buying organic foods, along with 33% reporting environmental concerns as the reason behind their purchasing decision.
Behind the Organic Food Label
So, when you invest in organic food for your children, what does “organic” on a food label really mean? The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) maintains standards for organically produced agricultural products, which support a system of farming that promotes ecological balance and biodiversity, enhances soil and water quality, and conserves ecosystems and wildlife. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used; only products that have been certified as meeting the USDA’s requirements for organic production may carry the USDA Organic Seal.
Benefits for Kids, Too
There are health benefits for choosing organic foods for your family, too. Organic foods, produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, not only help build a healthier ecosystem, they can help boost levels of phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities) in plant foods, as well as lower pesticide residues in the diet. While a Stanford study found little difference in vitamin content between conventional and organic produce, they found that organic produce had a 30% lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional, and children had lower levels of pesticide residues on organic diets compared with conventional. And a new study found that the concentration of antioxidants was substantially higher in organic produce compared with conventional.
Scientists think that when the plant has to fight to struggle (without the use of synthetic pesticides), they produce more phytochemicals, which act as a natural defense system for the plant. Indeed, phytochemicals are behind some of the major benefits of eating more plant foods, including heart health, better brain function, and lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Power Up with Organic Plant Foods
One of your best strategies for making the most of organic purchases for your family is to save your dollars for where they count the most: whole plant foods. Instead of shelling out dollars for organic junk foods for your kids (think, candy, “fruit” snack, drinks, and snacks), prioritize your organic purchases for foods that are grown close to the soil—carrots, greens, beets, berries, beans, grains, and squash, for example. That’s why I love
Sprout Organic Foods line of convenient, delicious organic baby and toddler foods made from real whole foods—fruits, vegetables, pulses, and grains—produced as close to Mother Earth as possible. The ingredients are procured from certified-organic growers and are made without any preservatives, making them as clean as possible. The organic blends are minimally processed and made only with ingredients you can find in your own kitchen: whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and never anything artificial. The recipes start with whole foods—not concentrates—and the preparation is limited in order to keep it as close to Mother Earth as possible. It’s a great time for parents to feed their kids organic plant-powered foods! Check out my plant-powered guide for feeding your infant and toddler.
Note: Sharon Palmer is a nutrition ambassador for Sprout Organic Foods.
Celebrate the cold days of winter with this gorgeous, candy-colored salad! That’s thanks to the pretty pastel shades of radishes in pink, lilac and white juxtaposed against the soft green hues of arugula and avocados. But the flavors are anything but subtle: Spicy radishes, pungent arugula, creamy avocados, nutty pepitas, earthy truffles, and tangy citrus! This salad won’t soon be forgotten. Plus, it’s all inspired by the seasonal offerings of the California farmers market, and my own backyard.
Yields 4 servings
Arugula Salad with Radishes and Avocado and Truffle Lemon Vinaigrette (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
4 cups arugula leaves, torn
6 radishes, assorted colors, trimmed, and thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced
¼ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds, shelled)
1 tablespoon truffle-flavored olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Toss together arugula, radishes, avocados, and pepitas.
Drizzle with truffle-flavored olive oil and lemon juice.
Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
The vibrantly flavored, Indian classic comfort food, Chana Masala, is one of my all time favorite dishes. And it’s super easy to make this classic dish at home, too with a few simple ingredients—chickpeas, canned tomatoes, spices, and brown rice. I promise this will be on your weekly menu rotation for weeks to come!
Chana (Chickpea) Masala with Brown Rice (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
4 cups cooked brown rice, according to package directions
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 small (or 1/2 large) green chili, finely diced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon sea salt (optional)
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 14-ounce can tomato sauce
½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (reserve some for garnish)
2 15-ounce cans (3 ½ cups) chickpeas, rinsed, drained
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 lemon, juiced
Cook brown rice in water, according to package directions, until tender. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large sauté pan, skillet, or pot and add onion, chili, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, mustard, turmeric, salt (optional), and black pepper, sautéing for 9 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add canned tomatoes and tomato sauce.
Add cilantro and chickpeas, stirring well to combine.
Cover with a lid and cook for 20-25 minutes, until thickened.
One of the beauties of a plant-based diet is that you are eating a variety of plant compounds found in whole plants, namely polyphenols, which are linked to multiple health benefits. These compounds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and there are many different types of polyphenols in a range of plant foods. So, it’s no surprise that a diet high in polyphenols, found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, may have a positive impact on blood pressure, according to Italian researchers. The research study called the MEAL (Mediterranean healthy Eating, Ageing, and Lifestyle) study measured the dietary polyphenol intake of 2,044 participants using food frequency questionnaires. Those study subjects with the highest polyphenol intakes, no matter what the dietary source, had a 32% lower risk of developing high blood pressure. So, go ahead and pack your diet with a multitude of whole plant foods for a healthier blood pressure!
It’s another wonderful summer Friday, and I’m celebrating my favorite plant-powered things today. Despite the record-breaking heat this week, I still had a wonderful time visiting Northern California and my farmers market (see above), as well as trying some new plant-powered foods at home. Enjoy all that summer has to offer!
Eat and Live Well,
Tomato Harvest, My Organic Vegetable Garden
The warm weather brought out oodles of tomatoes in my garden. I always have great luck with the small yellow pear tomatoes.
Fig Tree, My Organic Vegetable Garden
My first fig of the season, which I immediately devoured!
I also got to stop into one of my favorite restaurants: True Food Kitchen for a fun weekend brunch. This seasonal vegetable dish featured green chickpeas, asparagus, radishes, almonds, greens and baked tofu. So good!
I love the story of Plumpy Nut, which is a nutrient-rich formula of peanut-based goodness packed into a RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food) sachet designed by a French engineer and pediatrician. This little package has made a serious impact on reducing malnutrition since it was first introduced in 1996. It has reached 5.5 million children in over 50 countries.
So fun to get this gift pack from Frieda’s specialty produce, with all of the fixings to make this Veggie Campechana—so delicious! A zesty, plant-based take on a Mexican seafood cocktail, created by Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger for the LA Food Bowl.
I also loved trying these TahiniBars, which were really delicious and packed with sesame seed nutrition power. They come in small individual bars with only 100 calories per portion.
Note: I am not a consultant for (nor do I profit from) these products or food companies on my regular Favorite Things post. Sometimes I may receive a free sample of a product to review; other times I purchase these foods.
If you love hiking as much as I do, then you’ll really love this roundup of 6 tips + recipes from dietitians for plant-powered eating to fuel your hike. Endurance exercise, such as hiking, requires a good source of carbohydrates, as well as proteins, healthy fats, antioxidant-compounds, and fluids! These are all easily obtained in plant-powered foods and beverages. Learn more about powering your journey along the trail with plants from these top dietitians.
6 Plant-Powered Tips + Recipes to Fuel Your Hike
Camo Snack Mix by Lisa Andrews
1. Tote Healthy Snacks. It’s priority one to pack along some nutrient-dense, slow-burning carb dense foods for snacking during a hike. “In addition to eating healthy snacks, like my Camo Snack Mix, to maintain energy while hiking, bring plenty of water. I suggest at least 32 ounces for a hike that lasts a few hours,” says Lisa Andrews, RDN, of Sound Bites Nutrition.
Cake Batter Hummus by Aaron Mayhew
2. Hummus so Good. Hummus is the perfect, plant-powered snack to tote along, and you can really get creative by trying different types of hummus, too. “Take your energy bars to the next level by trying this Cake Batter Hummus! Hummus is a nutritious snack that is easy to prepare at home and even easier to prepare in the backcountry,” says Aaron Mayhew, RDN of Backcountry Foodie.
Snack ideas by Megan Byrd
3. Make Healthy Eating Portable. Find some convenient, healthy, portable snacks that you can really rely on. “All 5 of these snacks make great additions to your hiking pack because they are portable, shelf-stable, and light! Don’t leave home without these easy delicious snacks!” says Megan Byrd, RDN, The Oregon Dietitian.
Healthy Energy Bites with Dates, Apricots, and Cashews by E.A. Stewart
4. Bring Lots of Water + Your Own Energy Bites. “ALWAYS pack twice as much water as you think you’re going to need. I also enjoy packing my Healthy Energy Bites with Dates, Apricots, and Cashews for whenever I go hiking. They’re small, portable, and provide quick energy from the apricots and dates, but also have a small amount of fiber and healthy fats to help keep you full,” says EA Stewart, RDN, The Spicy RD.
Carob Walnut Energy Balls by Dixya Bhattarai
5. Go Light and Nutritious. “My tip is to make sure you are adequately hydrated and pack snacks that are light, yet nutritious. My Carob Walnut Energy Balls are ideal because they are very portable and can be carried in a Ziploc bag while hiking,” says Dixya Bhattarai, MS, RDN, Food, Pleasure, and Health.
Dark Chocolate and Cherry Energy Mix by Sharon Palmer, RDN
6. Whip Up Your Own Custom Trail Mix. “Who needs store-bought versions of trail mix when you can make up your own? I love my Dark Chocolate and Cherry Energy Mix, which can be packaged up in a sealable bag (make it earth-friendly with a cloth food bag) for easy, powerful munching,” says Sharon Palmer, RD, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. Check out the video on how to make Dark Chocolate and Cherry Energy Mix here.
Note: This blog is not sponsored or receiving compensation for any products mentioned.
I’m really happy to have Miriam Horn on my Plant Chat this month. Miriam is an accomplished author, focusing on collaborative and place-based conservation, large-scale sustainable food production, coastal restoration and community impacts. I saw Miriam, who works with the Environmental Defense Fund, speak about the film based on her book Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland, at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Kansas City last fall. Her book profiles a Montana cowboy, Kansas wheat farmer, Louisiana shrimper, Gulf of Mexico red snapper fisherman and the CEO of a barge company that navigates the inland waterways that connect them all—leaders of an unsung movement to protect the nation’s wildlife, rangelands, soils, wetlands, and marine ecosystems. Her previous book on clean energy technologies, co-authored with EDF president Fred Krupp, was a New York Times bestseller and also a Discovery documentary. If you want to learn more about Miriam’s thoughts on the environment, sustainable agriculture, and more, please continue reading our interview.
What are the primary ways in which agriculture has changed in the U.S. over the past 50 years?
Since its beginnings, agriculture has been destructive: first, because, by definition, it displaces an ecosystem and everything that lives within it. And second, because it has nearly always depended on plowing, which turns out to be one of the most destructive things you can do: to soil structure and soil life on the farm, and also beyond the farm–because plowed soil erodes, fails to hold water (which runs off and takes with it nitrogen and chemicals that do harm downstream), and releases carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
What changes are being made to address sustainability in the food system?
The farmers we’ve found having the greatest and most far-reaching success in minimizing agriculture’s harms are not artisanal growers serving local markets or romantics reverting to horse-drawn plows but the same farmers often demonized in that conventional story: big, heartland farmers using advanced technologies to grow commodity crops for export to domestic and global markets. These farmers are focused on what matters most: protecting biodiversity, both above ground (birds, pollinators, mammals) and below (the trillions of soil microbes that make up the most critical ecosystem on earth); rebuilding soil carbon; and making the most productive use of each bit of precious water and land they lay claim to—at the expense, they recognize, of its use by other people and other organisms.
Their strategies are highly responsive to the climate and soil types and ecosystems they farm within. Justin Knopf, for instance, the “industrial-scale” Kansas wheat farmer I profile in my book, emulates the prairie he farms within. He hasn’t plowed in 30 years, but leaves his soil and its inhabitants undisturbed and protected under a mat of residues. His move to “no-tilling” has not only put an end to erosion–critical in a region devastated by the Dust Bowl and still losing a billion tons of irreplaceable topsoil each year. It also cools his soils and increases their ability to capture and hold water, both ever more crucial as weather grows more extreme. He grows crops well-suited to his climate and soil types, so needs no irrigation or heated greenhouses (Those water and energy-intensive interventions are often the price of providing tomatoes, asparagus and microgreens to every farmer’s market across America.) He boosts biodiversity by accelerating his crop rotations and also by introducing “cover crops”–mixtures of plants that he never harvests but grows to shade and shelter his soils, feed his soil microbes, bank nutrients like nitrogen for the next crop, provide habitat and thwart pests. And knowing that half of all ice-free land on earth is now given over to producing food, and that every day new ecosystems are sacrificed to agriculture, he maximizes productivity on every acre. Efficiency, in other words, is not a dirty word but a critical measure of a farm’s sustainability. The results are stunningly evident: even as Justin’s yields remain high and steady year after year, intensive tests of his soils reveal carbon levels well on their way back to those of native prairie and a robust and diverse microbial ecology. And he is not an outlier: 20% of heartland farmers are now no-tilling, cutting soil losses by half while they rebuild soil carbon and life.
The sustainability movement has often focused on small, organic, local agriculture within a community, but what are the limitations for this sort of agricultural system within the overall food system? What are the successes of these sorts of agricultural systems?
Justin is not organic, a certification many think is synonymous with “sustainable” but in fact provides little insight into these crucial aspects of stewardship. Those gaps were recently acknowledged by the Rodale Institute–the most important force in the past half century in the rise of organic ag. Many consumers, Rodale wrote, “believe the USDA organic label regulates more than it actually does…it doesn’t go far enough when it comes to ensuring healthy soil, biodiversity and animal welfare.” Rodale has now joined the growing ranks of NGOs and companies working to provide consumers greater insight into the farms supplying their food. Some, like Rodale, are working on a “regenerative” label that would recognize farmers like Justin successfully rebuilding damaged soils.
Whole Foods has developed a “responsibly grown” certification for produce, prioritizing the crucial metrics: soil health; air, energy and climate; waste reduction; farmworker welfare; water conservation and protection; biodiversity (including pollinator habitat); and pest management that (like Justin’s) relies first on biological methods like diverse cropping. Individual food companies like Land O’Lakes are also stepping us as huge forces for good in moving their farmer-members to more sustainable practices. The most innovative emerging effort may be the Noble Growth Network, which is tightening up the supply chain between farmers and food companies. My most unexpected advice might be to shop at Wal-Mart, which has committed to eliminating a billion tons of carbon from its supply chain (the annual emissions of Germany), in large part by working with its suppliers like Campbell and General Mills to source grain from farmers like Justin who have reduced their carbon footprint. Wal-Mart is also a leader in chemical safety: working to both reduce chemicals of concern in the products they sell and to provide greater transparency to consumers. I won’t wade further here into chemicals, except to say that the arguments over Round-Up and GMOS are rife with misinformation (which I try to clear up in my book). And that it’s vital for consumers to understand that there is no perfect farm. Every farmer navigates trade-offs. An organic farmer who plows to avoid using chemical weed-killers has to weigh the damage done to soil life by that plowing, just as Justin sometimes has to weigh the use of an insecticide against losing an entire crop to a pest and thus wasting all the land and water and tractor fuel that went into its production. The best farmers take the broadest view and seek the least harmful path at every turn.
I buy this by the box at Costco, because fortified, unsweetened soy milk is one of the things I include in my everyday diet. It’s important to get calcium and vitamin D in a vegan diet, which is why I recommend fortified plant milk. Soy milk, in particular, is much higher in protein than other plant milk versions. I also like the organic, plain, unsweetened variety. You can find it here.
Shredded Plant-based Cheese
I always keep this shredded “cheese” in my fridge as my go-to cheese for cooking. It’s great in taco salads, lasagna, casseroles, and on pizza. I also enjoy this brand’s Greek-style yogurt, “cream cheese,” and pizzas. You can find some mozzarella here.
I love keeping some plant-based yogurts in my fridge. There are several brands I like — some are richer in protein than others, which I try to buy. And I also try to look for those that are lower in sugar. One brand that is just straight up delicious is Kite Hill. I love the key lime flavor, which has 5 grams of protein and 17 grams of sugar. My favorite thing to do is enjoy it with fresh berries and top it off with granola. Yogurt is also a good base for creamy vegan desserts.
This is my go-to margarine for spreading and cooking — it’s simple, healthy, delicious, and vegan. This particular variety has a spreadable texture and rich taste, thanks to its blend of oils. You can find it here.
Plant-Based Egg Subsitutue
I really like this product — it tastes and looks like a scrambled egg. Its new formula, now made with an organic soymilk base, provides 3 grams of protein per serving. These vegan eggs are my favorite weekend breakfast in a veggie scramble with whole wheat toast. You can find it here.
You’ll find this mayo in my fridge. While there’s an original version, there are also some really great flavors to choose from, including truffle, garlic, and chipotle (yum!). Spread it on sandwiches, add a dollop to salads, and even include it in different recipes. You can find it here.
I’m in love with these veggie burgers. They’re so delicious and you can really see the chunks of beans, veggies, and grains. They’re as close to making veggie burgers yourself — which I love to do. You can find it here.
Though I like making my own baked tofu, I really enjoy this version as well. It’s flavorful and ready to be sliced into salads and sandwiches. You can find it here.
This is the classic tofu that’s always in my fridge — I love the super firm one for stir-frys and other recipes. It also has a long shelf life, so I always have at least one container. You can find it here.
This jerky is always in my travel bag as an on-the-go, delicious, protein-rich snack. They’re in small, individually wrapped shelf-stable bags, so they don’t take up room. Not to mention they’re a good source of plant-based protein, which can be hard to find while traveling. You can find some here.
This article originally appeared in Healthline. Sharon is not a spokesperson or benefiting from these brands.
Hey, you plant-based eaters! Looking for a classic, comfort food potato salad with a healthy crunch? Then you’ll love my sunny, colorful, healthy, and delicious potato salad. Bring it to a party and everyone will lap it up!
Yields 10 servings
Confetti Potato Salad (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
12 medium yellow potatoes (i.e. Yukon Gold), unpeeled
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 ½ tablespoons capers, rinsed
¼ cup fresh green herbs, chopped (i.e., dill, oregano, thyme, parsley)
½ cup vegan mayonnaise (i.e. Veganaise, Just Mayo, or make it yourself here)
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juiced
½ teaspoon agave syrup
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon white pepper
Pinch sea salt
Place potatoes in a pot, cover with water, cover with a lid, and boil until just barely tender, yet still firm (about 30 minutes). Drain water and allow potatoes to cool.
When potatoes are cool, coarsely dice them (with peels) and add to a large bowl with pepper, onion, carrots, capers, and green herbs.
In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, agave syrup, celery salt, garlic powder, and white pepper.
Fold the dressing into the potato mixture just until well combined. Do not over mix to avoid mashing the potatoes. Season with salt as desired.
Celebrate summer with this easy, healthy, six-ingredient recipe—right from your garden, farmers market, or CSA! It’s perfect for a quick salad, or as an accompaniment to pita sandwiches, tacos, or veggie-burgers.