Sunday, September 16, 2012

Take a Lesson from Abu Dhabi Schools

Winning a big thumbs-up from me, this week, is the Abu Dhabi Education Council. They've cleaned up their school food program, chosen new food suppliers, mandated nutritional values for student food, and have nixed processed meats from burgers to shawarma, banned soft drinks, sweets, and fried potatoes. They're now encoraging fruit, veggies, low-fat milk and iron-fortified cereals while limiting the portion size of pastries, pies, rice, and noodles.

With some time and Googling, I located the new School Canteen Guideline document for Abu Dhabi schools. It goes into great detail about the food safety and prep-area requirements. All fantastic and very specific. Then it gets to my favorite part...the menu guidelines. It looks great! There is some concern that the pies, even size-reduced, will still dominate and veggies will fall by the wayside. But let's give them a pat on the back and help cheer them on to sticking to their new guidelines and adding a lot of real food choices to their kids' days. Well done, Abu Dhabi!

Cereal (no artificial colors)
Bread (whole grain, white, or brown)
Fruit stuffed pie (<52g)
Dates and Fruits
Milk, yogurt, cheese, and soya products (low-fat, no artificial coloring or flavors)
Eggs (allergy-aware handling)
Muffins, plain biscuits, or date biscuits
Fruit Juice (with specified minimum juice/pulp %)

Boiled or Oven baked Potatoes, Corn, Legumes, Bread (whole grain, white, or brown)
Garlic Bread (<28g)
Rice, Noodles, and Pasta (<220ml, MSG-free)
Pies and Manakeesh (<52g)
Vegetables, Salads (dressing separate and only lemon, vinegar, and olive oil)
Lean grilled/boiled meats (chicken, kabab, kofta)
Grilled fish (allergy-aware handling)
Popcorn (butter-free)
Bottled water

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Organic Ain't Cheap

Every Wednesday, when I do our fruit & vegetable shopping, I have this little battle in my head. It goes something like this:

Conscience: "Organic veggies might be good, this week."
Wallet: "Hahahaha...No."

Quick battle, but a frequent one.

Potentially harmful pesticides are used in most conventional produce farming. You can see them spraying on a lazy Sunday afternoon, if you live in Farmland. But if we wash, scrub, sandblast our veggies when we get them home, they're surely safe, right? Maybe. I don't like "maybe". I like assurances. So I've turned to the scientific research of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their infamous Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 of Produce Guide.

That's a start! You may not be able to buy everything organic, but what's the real cost difference in buying just the Dirty Dozen (plus two)? Here's what I've found.

So, if you're feeling a little squeezed on shopping day, but still want to buy real food and do the best by your family, try to aim for at least the green items, hopefully the yellow too. Do what you can afford. Every little bit helps.

As an Australian resident, I would dearly love to do a similar comparison of produce for a major Australian grocery store. Alas, Woolworths offers only a handful of organic produce choices and Coles offers only a few more than that. So, what I'll do instead is show you how to contact the Australian Minister for Agriculture, Woolworths, and Coles to urge them toward greater organic selection and national labeling. While many look far and wide to find organic grocers and farmers markets, not everyone can. The government and major chains can do better.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Making Sense of Food

photo by brianjmatis
There are a lot of mixed messages on food.

We know we need it. In most cases, we know we enjoy it. Some people have lots and some have way too little. We're always being told what is good, bad, popular, old fashioned, the latest, and the greatest food.

This is where I am going to try to make sense of it all and try to decypher real food for real people.

I'm not a scientist, a nutritionist, a chef, or diet guru. What I am is a consumer, a parent, and a food enthusiast who figures there has to be an easier way to figure all this food mess out. Simply put, I'm a Real Foodist. You probably are too.