Twinkies for Breakfast?

How to read nutrition labels and a recipe for healthy, Homemade Granola

Are you a label reader? I am. I’m not talking about clothing labels; although, if it says “dry clean only,” I can tell you that I’ll think twice about buying it. I mean food labels. I’ve been a label-reader since I got married a million years ago, because heart disease and high cholesteral run in my husband’s family. Then the kids came along, and I wanted to make sure that they were eating healthy foods, so I guess you could say that cooking most meals at home, eating whole foods rather than processed nasty foods and reading labels has turned into a lifestyle for me and my family. And, a little word of advice based on my own experience, if you don’t mind — kids do learn healthy eating habits from you.

You’re not a cook, you say? You don’t have time? It isn’t that hard. If I can do it, anyone can. (And a bonus is that it’s cheaper than eating out or eating fast food.) As a working mom, here are some habits I’ve developed over the years to make things easier. Plan your menu for the week on the weekend and buy groceries for the week. That way, you avoid standing in the middle of the aisles at Reasor’s at 5 p.m. Tues. night wondering what you’re going to buy for dinner. Find a few recipes that are easy, quick and tasty. Cooking Light’s 30 Minute Meals cookbook is a good one. The recipes are good and they really don’t take long to make. I use them a lot, but sometimes I’ll use more ingredients or jazz up the recipes a bit based on my experience. For example, one recipe uses canned mushrooms (yuck) and I use a variety of fresh. The other bonus part of cooking (and, yes, my kids were in activities, sports, scouts, etc.) is that, even today, when my college-age daughters and post-college son are home, they are “home for dinner.” I’ve noticed that even if they have plans with friends or whatever, they usually make them for AFTER dinner. We all sit down together as a family to eat and catch up on the day. When my daugher’s boyfriend was visiting last week, I made dinner every night and we all ate together. It was a nice way to get to know him.

Also, there are SO many products now that are whole grain (but read the label — the first ingredient should be whole grain), lower in fat, no sugar or salt added, that it’s pretty easy to make healthy meals in a flash.

This brings me to label reading. Watch out for added sugar and salt. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says we don’t need to feed our kids extra sugar and salt. Don’t be the person who helps your toddler develop a life-long taste for salt and sugar. I was buying peanut butter last week and every one had sugar as the second ingredient except the “natural” brand, which is what I buy. And watch out for sugary drinks that say they’re “juice.” The AAP says even real fruit juice isn’t that great for kids. They’re better off having milk, water or eating the actual fruit.

Label reading isn’t that difficult — but you do have to turn the box around. Don’t trust what’s on the front. Marketers love to put things in natural looking bags or boxes that say “whole grain” or “good source of vitamin whatever” on the front. If you turn it around and the first or second ingredient is sugar, followed by a long list of things you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf.

Speaking of nasty stuff, last month I got the Environmental Watchdog Group’s list of the Top 10 Unhealthiest Cereals, which is what made me start thinking about this blog topic. It really made me angry because these cereals are actually being marketed to kids and parents as real food when they’re actually a bowl of sugar. Really. The number one cereal, Honey Smacks (formerly known as Sugar Smacks) listed the first ingredient as sugar. Yes, they do add vitamins back in to the stuff after all the nutrients have been removed, but is that really what you want to feed your kids? The press release said that the top cereals had more sugar than a Twinkie. Would you feed your kid a Twinkie for breakfast? This is what’s fueling your child’s growing brain and body. It’s probably not such a good idea to start your child’s day with his insulin shooting through the roof.

In the past couple of years, I’ve side-stepped cereals all together and started eating steel cut oats for breakfast. My husband and daughters love homemade granola, so I make a batch every week. When my daughters are home from college, I just double it. Granola is good because you can adjust ingredients and sugar to fit your taste. Here’s my recipe if you want to try it:

Homemade Granola

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup assorted dried fruit (optional — you can always add cut up fresh fruit to the granola when you eat it).

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Mix first 7 ingredients in large  bowl. Stir honey and oiil in saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture; toss. Spread on prepared sheet. Bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes. Remove granola from oven, stir and cool. Mix in fruit, if using dried fruit. Store in airtight container.

Categories: Editor’s Blog