Healthy foods and healthy recipes. That's what you want to feed your kids, right? It should be just that simple to figure out what foods and recipes are healthy. But that, unfortunately, is not so easy.
Does healthy mean low fat? Low carb? Low salt? High fiber? High protein? Low calorie? It's hard to know what makes a food or recipe healthy. Indeed, nary a day goes by when some study or another proves or disproves some other study's theory about what makes foods healthy. Here's one that points to how a low carb diet can lead to weight gain, while here's a study that shows a low carb diet can be effective at reducing blood pressure.
Of course, there are dozens of other studies for and against virtually every dietary approach out there. So how is a concerned parent supposed to figure out how to feed her kids healthy foods?
In my book, when it comes to kids, healthy means more good stuff than bad stuff. Here are my criteria for healthy foods and healthy recipes:
- Healthy foods and healthy recipes should have more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients than they have empty calories.
This is why I consider a recipe like Brussels sprouts with bacon to be healthy, even though it has four slices of bacon and 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Even if you define "healthy" as "low in fat," you have to admit that the incredible combination of vitamins, minerals and fiber in the Brussels sprouts far outweighs any potential negative effects of the fat from the bacon and cheese.
- Healthy foods and healthy recipes start with whole, natural ingredients.
Whole foods and natural foods are not processed, have no additives or preservatives, and are not chemically altered beyond recognition. You could make the argument that heating a raw butternut squash, pureeing it and freezing it is chemically altering it, but let's be logical here. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that an orange is healthier than a Twinkie.
- Healthy foods and healthy recipes are made with organic ingredients.
Certainly, no one is saying that a conventionally-grown apple isn't healthy. But organic foods are healthy in ways besides the vitamins and minerals they contain. Organic fruits and vegetables are not sprayed with pesticides. In the case of organic milk and meat, the animals are fed a diet of foods that haven't been sprayed with pesticides, and they are not injected with hormones or antibiotics. And organic foods are grown with sustainability of the land in mind. Now I don't eat only organic foods, and I don't specify organic ingredients in my recipes, but my preference is for organic ingredients when I'm making healthy recipes.
- Healthy foods and healthy recipes are made with local, sustainable ingredients.
Although there are certainly many good reasons for importing foods, local foods are healthier for the local economy (more dollars go into local farmer's pockets), healthier for the environment (less money spent on fuel to truck that food thousands of miles to your supermarket) and are potentially more nutritious for you.
I say "potentially more nutritious" because a tomato is, after all, still a tomato. All tomatoes have vitamins and antioxidants. But locally-grown tomatoes can ripen in their own time, be picked when ready, then sold to you to eat. By contrast, tomatoes that are grown hundreds or thousands of miles away are picked before they ripen, are often gassed in order to appear ripe and therefore, lose some of their natural nutrients. Many people believe that locally-grown foods taste better, too.
Of course, not all of my healthy recipes are made with organic, locally-grown, sustainable, whole ingredients. And not all of the foods I consume or give to my kids fit this criteria either. I am not an all-or-nothing person. But when I'm talking "healthy foods" and "healthy recipes," this is the criteria I strive for.
What about you? What makes a recipe healthy for you?