Do you remember your PLUs?

About a year ago I ran a post about PLUs.  These are the numbers listed on the little stickers of the produce we purchase.  Did you remember that PLUs (“Product {or Price} Look-Up” labels) actually mean something?… they aren’t just random numbers.

I have them in long-term memory but I was reminded about them during my recent grocery store trip when I realized (while standing in line, of course!) that I had forgotten to purchase tomatoes.  I asked my 10-year old to run back to the produce section and bring back three tomatoes.  I did, however, forget to be specific… ugh-oh.  Well, lo and behold, she returned with three lovely tomatoes and said “Don’t worry… they’re 9 Mom!”  Yes, she remembered!

So, it’s a good time for a reminder:  the important number is actually the first digit and they can tell you a whole lot about the produce you purchase.  It tells you exactly how it was grown.

Here are the digits you need to remember (with an update from my past post) :

  • 3 or 4 – indicates conventionally grown produce (grown with pesticides, herbicides & fertilizers)
  • 8 – originally I had indicated that this identifies genetically-modified (GMO) or genetically-engineered (GE) produce but more evidence is showing that this may not be so and there is no true designation for GMO.
  • 9 – indicates that the produce is ORGANIC

The next time you pick up a piece of produce: (1) look at the first digit of the PLU label, (2) remember these numbers, (3) know what you’re buying and then (4) rest assured that they’ll tell you more about the food you’re buying for (and serving to) your family.  And, even when you don’t expect it, your kids may catch on too!

10 simple steps for a green Thanksgiving…

thanksgvg tblTo me, Thanksgiving has always felt like the holiday with the greatest “green potential”. There are no gifts, costumes, candy or extra, elaborate frills.  It’s simply about family gatherings, feasting on the bounty of the season and giving thanks for everything we have.  There are so many ways to avoid over-abundance… (well, with the exception of over-eating!)

Everything from the decorations, to the food, to the clean-up can be exceptionally green.

Here are the things to keep in mind:

  1. Invitations – forgo the paper invitations and send Evites instead.  You’ve probably already handled this task, but this rule goes for any gathering!  And if you do need to mail invitations, look for those made of recycled paper.
  2. Decorations – in many cases, you need only walk into your own backyard: leaves, acorns and twigs can be turned into amazing arrangements. Combine them with colorful gourds, Indian corn, squash and apples and you’ve just captured the season!  Afterward, compost or add them back to nature.
  3. Food – visit your local farmer’s market for all of the most amazing produce.  Go organic.  Think acorn squash, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, apple and pumpkin pie! And seek out an organic, hormone-free, steroid-free turkey (if it will be a part of your feast).
  4. Drinks – serve organic drinks or consider a local brew… or, if you’re lucky (like me!) and surrounded by local wineries, a local wine!
  5. Tableware and serveware – stop saving “the good dishes” and silverware!  Use them!  Glasses, cups and stemware?  Get them out! Forget the disposable “anything”.  You can even score inexpensive cloth napkins and table coverings at any dollar store.crncopia
  6. Consider the temperature – ovens heat a house quite quickly… and so do lots of people… so turn down the thermostat or, in warmer climates, keep ceiling fans circulating or windows open to keep the indoors comfortable.
  7. Recycle – that should go without saying, but just remember to make it happen.  Cans, jars, containers, bottles, anything and everything possible.
  8. Don’t waste leftovers – keep only what you know your family will eat.  Send the rest home with your guests.  Start thinking about containers now (no styrofoam plates or plastic-wrap, please!).  You can even ask guests to bring their own glass or ceramic dishware… why not?! And if you compost, toss in those food scraps.
  9. Clean-up – use your dishwasher, but make sure you fill it first.  For the big jobs, you’ll need to use some elbow-grease, but be sure not to leave the tap running endlessly.  And get out your green cleaners.  You can get back to “shiny & clean” without harsh chemicals.
  10. Although it has nothing to do with being green… give thanks. Ask everyone at your table to share a thought. It will certainly put happiness in the air, and that’s absolutely free!

Now, if you need some of those ‘leaf, acorn and twig’ decorations I mentioned, email me… and then back up a truck… I have enough in my own backyard to supply your whole neighborhood!

It’s the “grill battle”!… propane vs. charcoal

grll prpaneThis coming Memorial Day weekend always seems to be the kickoff of grilling season in my neighborhood.  It’s the aroma that indicates that summer is on its way.  While some of you may be lucky enough to grill all year long, we’re just getting started… and once we get started, it doesn’t end until the snow flies. (It’s also a time for me to share cooking duties with my husband… BONUS!)

We’ve always owned a propane grill and never, ever, go the route of charcoal or (perish the thought!) lighter fluid!  (EEK!)

To me, the propane choice seems like a no-brainer, but is it really?

Take a look at the facts:

  • Overall, propane grilling creates a smaller carbon footprint than charcoal grilling, by about a third.  (win: propane)
  • Charcoal comes from renewable resources, but propane does not.  It comes from non-renewable fossil fuels. (win: charcoal)
  • Carbon monoxide levels from charcoal grilling can be as high as 105 times as much as propane grilling.  (BIG win: propane)
  • The “burn time” for propane is much less than charcoal.  It only needs to be “on” when you need it.  Charcoagrll chrcoall must burn until coals are hot and then you need to wait until it burns out before the cycle is done, and it creates gasses all the while.  (win: propane)
  • Charcoal often travels a far, far distance (and creates extra emissions) before it even reaches your grill, but “not so” with propane… it’s most likely local. Plus, producing charcoal creates even more emissions than actually burning it!  (win: propane)
  • Lighter fluid for charcoal is a petroleum distillate that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when burned.  (win: propane)

So, I’d say we’ve been making the right decision, especially with that last VOC issue!  But just remember that what you toss on the grill matters too – preferably local organic meats and veggies!  And when it’s time for clean-up, baking soda and warm water does wonders too!

Now, fire up that grill and let’s get the cookout underway! (My family will be right over!…)

Chicken nuggets… (what ARE they anyhow?)

chix nugThe idea of chicken nuggets turns my stomach. I know they have (somehow) become a staple of American kids’ diets, but for my entire life, I have found them disgusting.

Recently there has been a bunch of hub-bub about what’s really in those chicken nuggets… and patties too (and I really wonder if they are worth of having “chicken” in the name at all!).

My kids, like me, consider them fairly gross.  Have you SEEN this photo? Yes, that pink stuff right there (that looks like strawberry soft-serve ice cream) IS the stuff those nuggets are made of.chix nuggs

Want to know what’s in them? It’s called “mechanically separated chicken”.  A machine actually removes all of the disgusting leftovers after the quality parts are removed… it removes the tendons, tissue, cartilage, organs, and other chicken extras, and grinds them into a fine poultry paste. An ammonia wash is used to kill the bacteria and, because it looks (and now tastes!) horrible, artificial colors and flavors need to be added to make them edible.  In reality, with all of the other additives, only about 50% is even some chicken “part”… and that doesn’t even get into the nutritional side of the story. The sodium and fat content is appalling.

I tried to show this to my kids and my daughter said, emphatically, “No… Mom! I can’t watch!” If you want your kids to break-the-habit, try to get them to take a look. (I actually have two videos… this one shows the kids rejecting the nuggets, but I will warn you… the embedded video below shows kids STILL willing to eat the grossness they saw… a testament to how we’ve allowed this “food item” to become acceptable!)

Just like any other food item, not all chicken nuggets and patties are created equal.  There are some semi-decent products out there but, buyer beware. If it says “mechanically separated chicken” on the package, throw the box and RUN! … because that icky pink stuff is what you’re buying.

Instead, pack up some healthy food (in reusable containers!) when you’re on the go… or serve up a rainbow of healthy foods in a muffin pan when you’re at home.  Just reconsider chicken nuggets.

Truly, there are so many better, healthier, nutritious options… chicken nuggets are not really chicken nuggets.

Do you get the “most” out of your fresh produce?

ProduceIt feels as if it’s been somewhere close to… oh, I don’t know… “forever”(?!) since I’ve been able to buy fresh, local produce.  I’ve paid ridiculous amounts of money for fruits and vegetables over the winter months because, in my opinion, it’s always worth it.

It will be a few months yet (for many of us) before it’s high time to enjoy our fabulous, local harvest.  But whether you’re shopping your local farmers market or buying the usual organics from your grocery store, you want to make sure you get the “most” out of everything you buy.

Sadly, the nutritional content of today’s conventionally-grown produce is believed to be dramatically decreased from 30 years ago. The vitamins, minerals and proteins are dwindling (due, in part, to the use of synthetic fertilizers that make them grow faster and inhibit the absorption of nutrients!) so this is another little testimonials for “going organic” too.

But whether your produce is conventionally-grown (afterall, the “Clean 15” is often considered) or you go 100% organic, there are a few helpful tips to get the “most” out of your produce:

  • “Fresher is better” – all produce begins to lose nutrients are soon as it’s harvested, so consume it as soon asfarmers produce possible after you buy it. The rule of thumb should be one week maximum (plus, you must consider where your produce “originated”), so plan for what you need and don’t overbuy, even if it will “keep”.
  • “Bigger isn’t better!” – choose smaller pieces of fruits and vegetables instead of the largest ones in the bunch.  Plants have limited amounts of nutrients to pass on, so if the produce is smaller the nutrients are more concentrated.
  • “Keep it together, people!” – while pre-washed, pre-cut, and pre-prepped fruits and veggies may sound appealing (and convenient!), skip them… this causes them to lose nutrients as well.  And don’t do a lot a prep, cleaning, chopping or cutting at home until you actually need to consumer them either… no need to set those nutrients loose!

My kids have always been great eaters when it comes to a variety of fruits and veggies but, whether for us or our kids, we all know every bit matters, so use these tips to make the “most” of every precious bite!