Green Eating, Bees and Butterflies: How Pollinators are Linked to Nutrition

As the weather turns warmer and flowers start to bloom, you may have noticed more pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, visiting those flowers.  xylocapa-225171_640What you may not realize is that animal pollinators (which also include many other types of insects, such as beetles and ants, and larger animals, such as bats and birds) are needed for the production of over one third of the food crops consumed by humans.

These foods include apples, pears, bananas, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, mangos, almonds, cashews, avocados, tomato, sugarcane, coconut, vanilla, chocolate and coffee, and of course honey, among many others.

Imagine waking up in a world without pollinators:  Having to do without your morning cup of coffee or tea, not having access to your favorite fruits or nuts, no sugar or honey, chocolate or vanilla to prepare your favorite baked goods, no tomatoes for your sandwich or favorite pasta sauce.  Many other foods, spices, and herbs would also decline, becoming harder to find and costlier to produce and purchase, with the loss of pollinators.

Currently about 40% of invertebrate pollinators (such as bees and butterflies) and about 16% of vertebrate pollinators (such as bats and birds) are endangered.  Causes include habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides, invasive species, and climate change.

What can be done?

Ideas to help pollinators:

  • Eat a plant-based diet to conserve land use and reduce emissions created in large-scale animal production
  • Choose organics or transitional foods when possible, to support farmers limiting their use of pesticides
  • Try growing your own veggies, herbs, and fruits
  • Support land conservation and the use of native plants in your area and beyond.  Visit nature preserves
  • If you have access to a space to garden, plant pollinator-friendly plants native to your location (for a free pollinator-friendly regional planting guide visit http://www.pollinator.org/guides.htm and enter your zip code)
  • Purchase pollinator-friendly food products when available (Whole Foods, Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen, Almond Breeze, Organic Valley, and General Mills have all made commitments to pollinator-friendly practices).  Please see http://xerces.org/2016/05/25/xerces-in-your-grocery-store-working-to-make-the-food-you-eat-better-for-bees/ for more information
  • Advocate for climate change action, and work on reducing your own contribution to carbon emissions, by combining car trips, ride sharing, biking, or walking when possible, conserving energy use at home, reducing your use of one-use products such as plastic bags and water bottles, reusing items when possible, and recycling
  • For more information on helping pollinators please visit: http://xerces.org/
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Vegetarian meal ideas for those hard-to-please kids (or adults!)

My kids haven’t noticed that they are not the most adventurous eaters.  And, to be fair, they both eat a much wider variety of foods than they did as toddlers/preschoolers.  

Nevertheless, over the years I’ve discovered some tried and true ideas for healthy vegetarian meals that are likely to please everyone:

  • Scrambled egg sandwich on whole grain bread (melt on cheese if desired), with fresh fruit on the side.
  • Grilled cheese (Paninis made with sliced mozzarella are a favorite in our house.  Vegan cheez could be subbed in), add veggies like spinach/tomato/avocado as desired, and serve on whole grain bread, with a cup of tomato soup (soup can be used for dipping the sandwich).
  • Veggie soups (homemade butternut squash or cream of broccoli are two of our favorites) with fresh whole grain bread and/or whole grain crackers.
  • Pasta with vegetables on the side, and a choice of marinara, and vegan “cheez” or traditional Alfredo sauce.
  • Taco night (my daughter thinks this should be every Tuesday!): Let everyone prepare their own taco as they like with refried beans and sides of lettuce, chopped tomato, stir-fried bell peppers, grated cheese (or vegan “cheez” shreds–our family likes Daiya brand), regular or tofu-style sour cream, salsa, and avocado slices or guacamole.
  • Homemade pizza (English muffin pizzas work well on a busy evening, kids can make their own if desired) with organic mozzarella (or vegan shreds), veggies as desired on the pizza, or on the side.
  • Mac and cheese (can be vegan), homemade or from a box mix (My kids like Annie’s Organic Grass Fed), with a little pureed sweet potato to boost nutrients (a small jar of baby food works and is easy–just don’t tell my kids I do this!)
  • Veggie burgers, “chik’n” patties, or veggie hot dogs, served with cheese (or cheese substitute)–with lettuce/tomato/avocado as desired–on a whole grain bun, with a side of baked beans (homemade or from a can), or sweet potato fries (homemade or from the freezer section).
  • Stir fry with tofu or other meat substitute, over rice or noodles.  Save some chopped fresh veggies to serve on the side if kids prefer their veggies raw.
  • Homemade cornbread served with chili or other more “adventurous” soups or stews.
  • Potato “bar” with sweet and white potatoes with a variety of toppings, such as shredded (real or vegan) cheese, salsa, olives, sour cream (dairy or soy-based), or stir-fried bell peppers.
  • Make-your-own sushi night (I must give credit to M. for this idea): Let everyone roll their own favorites into sushi rolls with nori paper cut into squares, rice (mix seasoned rice vinegar into cooked sushi rice), and cucumber, carrot and avocado sliced finely.  Serve miso soup on the side.

Good sides to increase nutrient intake:

  • Fresh fruit (sliced apple, mango, or watermelon, berries, grapes, or whole clementines), or applesauce or canned peaches (packed in lite syrup or fruit juice).
  • Baby carrots or other chopped veg. “sticks”  (cucumbers work well), and/or cherry tomatoes, with ranch dressing or hummus to dip.
  • Smoothies with fresh fruit or even a little spinach thrown in for a “green” smoothie. My son, who is not a big eater of green vegetables, is a big fan of smoothies, even green ones!

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Taco night! It was a Wednesday, though, not a Tuesday…(Picture taken by my son)

Feeding Picky Kids

My personal experience over the years feeding picky kids on a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) diet and seeing that they actually do grow and thrive has inspired me to share my ideas with others who may be struggling with this issue, vegetarian or not.  Seeing your toddler cry about the complicated meal you have lovingly prepared for him, or your preschooler refusing to eat a single bite of her meal can be very frustrating and anxiety-provoking.  I have experienced many of these moments as a parent and would like to share some tips:

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Pick up a copy of Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense:  http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=52.  Ironically, Ms. Satter is not a big proponent of vegetarian diets for kids, and I think her ideas on this (at least in this book) are a bit outdated, but her philosophy of Division of Responsibility really helped my husband and I to relax and enjoy the healthy and balanced meal we were providing to our (at the time) toddler son, and to know that is was o.k. to leave it up to him as to what and how much to eat.  He did not starve when we stopped cajoling and bribing him into eating!

Always have at least one or two familiar foods available at the meal so that you know your child will have something he or she is comfortable with eating.  Maybe that is milk and bread with butter or margarine, soy milk and applesauce, or baby carrots with hummus.  This will help everyone to relax knowing there is something the child will eat, and your child may be more open to try the other more “adventurous” foods on the table.

Don’t “label” your child as a picky eater, or over-react in excitement when they do try something new.  You can remind them that their tastes will change as they get older, so that a food they disliked a bite of tonight may become a food that they enjoy later on.

Keep serving healthy, simple foods like cut up fresh fruits and veggies, both with meals and as snacks.  Serving these when your kids are hungry may encourage them to be more adventurous.  In our house, my kids know that they can always have a fruit or vegetable, even right before a meal (when the Pirate Booty is off limits!)

Have kids help with family meals by picking out produce they would like to try in the grocery store, helping to plant/tend/pick veggies in the garden, or helping to cook a meal.  Getting more involved with family meals may help them to feel more ownership in the process so that they are more likely to try these foods.

Remember that it often takes multiple exposures to foods before a child will try them, and the presence of a trusted adult is an important factor in whether a child tries new foods.  Eating meals together frequently as a family has been linked to better nutrition in kids.  Making family mealtimes a priority, and letting children see their parents eating healthy foods will help them learn to enjoy healthful foods themselves.  Likewise, kids respond to peer pressure, so seeing their friends eating healthy meals or snacks at preschool or a playgroup can help kids to be more interested in foods they may not normally eat.

Eating Green: Part 2

Eating Green Part 2 (and 3): Local and Organic Foods

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Another approach to green eating, which for maximum impact will be done in conjunction with choosing a plant-based diet, is to choose local.  Ideas to help achieve this goal: Start checking out the signs next to produce at your local grocer which indicate where the produce originated, or check stickers on the produce itself.  Try to buy produce in season (check the following link where you can search your state and the time of year for a list of produce in season: http://www.sustainabletable.org/seasonalfoodguide/).  For a fun adventure, pick your own produce and can or freeze large quantities.  See this guide to locate u-pick farms: http://www.pickyourown.org/index.htm#states.

Other ideas: Shop your local farmer’s market when available, or join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which offers subscriptions for delivery or pickup of local produce.  If you have a little bit of land to work with, or even a little balcony to put some potted plants, try your hand at growing some of your own food.  Seeds (will need a little more time and care) and vegetable, fruit and herb plants can be purchased at garden centers.

Shop organic when available.  Certified organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic engineering.  Rather, farmers use crop rotation and other natural pest preventative techniques.  Organic food animals are given organic feed, and are not given growth hormones or antibiotics.

Sometimes a choice must be made: Organic or local?  For example, local apples from in (or near) state, or organic apples from across the country or even across the world?

If you can speak to the growers directly at your local farmer’s market, you can ask them about their practices and whether or how often they are spraying the produce.  Some farmers may use no pesticides, or use them very sparingly, though they have not gone through the process of obtaining organic certification.

If you can’t determine the growing practices for the produce you are purchasing–for example at the grocery store–or can’t afford to buy all organic, the following lists (published annually by the Environmental Working Group–https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/) may help.  Try to buy the fruits and veggies on the “dirty dozen” list organic if possible.  With the “clean fifteen,” you may decide it’s not worth it (though still may be more environmentally friendly) to go with the organic version.

Dirty Dozen (Try to buy organic)

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

Clean Fifteen (less pesticide residue)

  1. Avocados
  2. Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower

What kind of foods do you purchase locally, organic, or both?

Eating Green: Part 1

Eating green foods (think green vegetables and fruits, not leftover green jelly beans!) can be very healthy. Dark green vegetables contain a plethora of nutrients, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, calcium, iron, and carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which help to protect eye health.

There is another way to interpret eating “green,” however, and that is eating with the environment in mind. There are various approaches to this.

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The approach with by far the most impact is to eat a plant-based diet. Vegan diets, which eliminate all animal products, are the most eco- and animal-friendly. Animal-based products tend to release more carbon emissions than plant-based products, due to the methane animals produce and the water, energy and feed required for production.  Recent analyses have shown that vegan diets have a significantly lower carbon footprint than diets heavier in animal products http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/27/vegetarian-carbon-footprint_n_5538914.html.

There are other types of vegetarian diets for those of us who may need more flexibility, or who are not ready to eliminate all animal products: Lacto-ovo vegetarians include dairy and eggs in their diet, while lacto-vegetarians include dairy only and ovo-vegetarians include eggs only. Pesca-vegetarians include fish (often in addition to eggs and dairy), and semi-vegetarians (also called flexi-tarians) include some meat, often choosing red meat more sparingly, or eating meat less often or only on special occasions.

If the change seems overwhelming, start by joining the global movement Meatless Mondays, and eliminate meat from your plate just one day a week.  http://www.meatlessmonday.com.  Popular meals that easily lend themselves to becoming vegetarian:  Spaghetti with marinara sauce, tacos with refried beans, pizza–hold the meat toppings, vegetable stir fries (with tofu or meat substitutes if desired), and veggie burgers subbed in for the meat version. Even small changes can make a big difference for your health, and the health of the environment.