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Activism Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family

How to Make a Difference in Your Child’s Health with Real Food

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Do you spend time reinforcing good health habits with your child? There are a variety of messages sent to children from many sources about health. Many of these messages contain false information, so it is important to help your child understand the reasons why.

Food manufacturers, for example, label foods they sell as “healthy”, “natural“, “trans fat free”, “whole grains” or “low-fat“. Do these claims make foods healthy? Although the pressure to buy these products is always there, it’s important to realize that our children’s health begins with us. If we don’t go beyond store bought foods and educate ourselves about what will keep our children healthy during the formative, developmental years, it will have negative effects for the rest of their lives.

With that said, it’s critical for children to receive healthy, proteins, and cholesterol for brain, heart, and other body organ system health and development. So it’s up to us, the parents, to be willing to go outside of what conventional wisdom recommends for nutrition, as most conventional ideas about what is believed and taught is actually harmful for children’s health.

Making smart choices for your child’s diet really can make an enormous difference in their ability to learn and develop, ward off illness and disease, maintain energy and focus, stay physically active and keep moods balanced out.

Be interested and interactive with your child about healthy choices for health and life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Just like grownups, children need real foods with full fats and proteins for good health. Foods with fat are replete with essential nutrients our bodies need to maintain various functions. If you aren’t eating these foods already, consider the following: raw milk, grass-fed meats and poultry, eggs from pasture-raised hens, organic fruits and vegetables, raw, sprouted nuts and seeds, whole, sprouted and soaked grains, rice, and legumes. Foods that have been processed (changed or altered somehow) with preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, high-heat, or are low-fat or non-fat are all foods we should avoid consuming. Real, traditional, whole foods from nature provide the correct balance of nutrients and other essential components (like essential fatty acids, antioxidants, co-factors, and enzymes necessary for absorption, correct digestion, and good health).
  • If you are on a budget, don’t despair. You can still make some healthy changes without overspending. Removing processed foods and replacing with real foods are the main idea. Try making nutritious broths from scratch with bones, water, salt, celery, carrots, and onions. You can add a little meat to it for more sustenance and this can make several meals. Include plenty of vegetables, some sprouted bread with plenty of butter, and you will have a nutritious, economic meal. Here are some tips for saving money on organic foods.
  • Help your child to understand the connection between a healthy immune system and a healthy diet, which keeps you from becoming sick. When children eat healthy foods and have energy, focus, and feel good, they will be more motivated to make healthy choices as they grow older.
  • Provide a good variety of healthy cooked and raw foods. Also consider fermented, raw foods that are nutrient-rich such as yogurt and kefir, and lacto-fermented vegetables (see recipes at the end of Getting the Most out of Your Vegetables). Fermented foods are naturally rich in friendly bacteria and have a profoundly positive effect on both the immune and digestive systems.
  • Avoid as much as possible, refined sugars and processed foods.  Beware of  processed foods that are believed to be healthy such as pasteurized dairy, low-fat foods, cereals, crackers, tortillas, pastas, food bars, and store-bought breads (those that are not from soaked, sprouted, or fermented grains). For some good descriptions of how to tell what foods are healthy and what aren’t, read this article about knowing your foods.
  • Spend time in the kitchen with your child, helping them to learn how to make healthy, delicious foods to serve in your home. Let your child experiment and become exposed to the process of making healthy foods.
  • If traditional, whole foods are new to you, start some research about where to shop in your local area as well as on the Internet.  Learn about traditional foods for a good foundation for your child’s health. Also read Changing ingredients for a nutrient-dense diet for ideas on how to switch out unhealthy for healthy ingredients in your kitchen.
  • Shop for food with your child. Let your child be involved in going to the health food store, farmer’s market, or local farm where you buy food. The more your child becomes connected to where food comes from, the more active and interested he or she will be in eating healthy.
  • Vegetables are important, but they should be properly prepared and served with healthy fats.  Serving vegetables with butter, olive oil, or animal fats like lard and tallow is very important to ensure absorption of the nutrients in these foods. Animal fats contain fat-soluble vitamins which help with digestion of vegetables and fruits. Another great way to serve vegetables is by culturing and fermenting them.  Here’s a great article about how to make your own cultured vegetables at home from Donna Gates (Body Ecology).  Cultured vegetables not only provide more nutrients than raw or cooked vegetables, but also contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics which support your child’s immune and digestive system.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day since the body has been in a fasting state for many hours. It can be an especially challenging time to get in enough nutrients. Fats and proteins are important, but also consider vegetables as a possible component of breakfast. Be willing to think differently about breakfasts and consider preparing items like eggs from pasture-raised hens with no-nitrate bacon or sausage from naturally raised beef or pork. You can incorporate all types of vegetables as well as leftover meats into omelettes such as broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, squash, and zucchini. For some good ideas about breakfast makeovers, read this article.
  • Plant a garden with your child, whether it be a community garden, a school garden, or a garden in your own backyard.
    Teach your child about the importance of sustainable and organic foods and why organics are superior to the conventionally-grown variety.
  • Model good eating habits with your children by eating the same kinds of foods with them when you are together. Even though your child will show some rebellion about some things, he or she really will be affected by your habits, and try to emulate the things you do.
  • Become an activist in your community and encourage your child to follow along. Children learn by example and if your actions show that you care about healthy food, your children will grow to care about it as well.
  • Communicate to your child that although eating healthy is important, it’s what a person does 90 percent of the time that counts. Occasionally there will be situations where eating healthy is simply not possible – due to outings or visits with other important people in your life who may not follow your philosophy. Be reasonable about these instances, as your child will only have access to food provided to him or her by the responsible adult, or possibly older children.
  • In instances where your child will be away from home, such as school lunch or on other outings, consider sending healthy foods in a sack to encourage good eating habits while he or she is not in your care. Here are some great ideas about packing foods for lunch and other occasions, by using foods and leftovers from meals you’ve already prepared.
  • When you are planning to make changes in your child’s diet from processed to traditional foods, it may be most effective to integrate changes gradually. You can replace some items right away that are unhealthy with healthy choices you know your child will like. The more you expose your child to the healthier choices, the more he or she will come to expect eating those foods and enjoy them.
  • Don’t become discouraged if your child resists change. Be willing to rotate by offering different choices and provide encouragement and perhaps a reward like a fun outing or a break from school work or chores now and then as incentives to try new foods. If your child isn’t eating something you believe he or she should be, take a break from the food and return to it in a few weeks or a month. Above all, keep trying!

Here are some other related topics to feeding your children nutritious foods:

Feed your children real food – don’t they deserve it?

Your voice can make a difference in the way children eat lunch

The 10 most unhealthy “health” foods marketed to kids: Babble’s list

 

This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays carnival. 

 

Activism Green Living Healthy Living Real Food Recipes

The Forgotten Craft of Rendering Lard

www.mypicshares.com

When I first heard the term “render lard”, I can’t tell you how many visions of difficulty swelled up in my head. I imagined a long, labor-intensive process that would leave me frustrated and my kitchen a mess, stinking of pork. What was surprising to learn is that none of those things happened.

I didn’t grow up loving the kitchen or having an appreciation for cooking, so I spent a good part of my adult life fearing the idea of preparing food.  It wasn’t my fault, I was as much a product of our society as anyone else, having purchased and eaten convenience foods a good portion of my years. As a result, I believed that cooking was something I’d never be able to do.

What’s even more astonishing to me is that cooking is really much more enjoyable than I ever imagined, and although it takes some planning, thought, and preparation, it it especially satisfying when I have a family (and friends who like food) to prepare meals and nourishing foods for on a regular basis.

Lard is a substance, I find, when mentioning to most people, they are shocked that I would talk about it in the same sentence as “healthy”.  And yet lard is older, by far, than any of the so-called “healthy” fats we are recommended to cook with in modern cookbooks and recipes.

Despite the gasps and mouth-covering motions of some who might read this, I wanted to share my experience in delving into creating this exceptionally nutritious (yes, nutritious) and versatile food. If I were to follow the advice of today’s health experts, I’d use canola oil, margarine, shortening, or some other artificial fat that has only been around since the time just after the Industrial Revolution – which is about 120 years or so. Not only is it unhealthy and disease-inducing due to its distinct lack of nutrients from  industrial processing, but its flavor is severely lacking.

Lard in history around the world

Since the advent of convenient but industrially-produced shortening, margarine, and vegetable oils over 10 decades ago, lard has remained in the doghouse with those who consider themselves to be “health experts”. All this time, health communities have lauded health benefits of fake fats to consumers while criminalizing the use of lard or beef fat for any purpose. Funny that, since people used it all over the world for myriad purposes – cooking, soap, and candle-making, across history and to the credit of people’s survival and health. If you read back over any thorough and accurate history of medicine in this country, you’ll find that heart disease was pretty rare until the 1920s – just a few years after the appearance of artificial fats on the consumer market.

Regardless of its unseemly reputation, lard is a gorgeous food. There are so many uses for it, it’s hard to know where to begin. All across the Old World In European countries like Britain, Italy, France, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Poland, The Czech Republic, and Scandinavian countries, people used lard in everyday cooking from desserts to casseroles to pate, in the preservation of pickles and vegetables, in doughs, to being spread on bread with paprika.

Lard was used especially in places where dairy products were scarce.  In Japan and China it has been used mixed in with rice and soy sauce. Just like in European and Asian countries, lard has also been historically used for generations on the North American continent in the U.S., Canadian provinces and territories, and in Mexico in seasonal dishes, to season meats and vegetables, stews, one-pot meals, in beans and rice. Similar uses have been employed in South America, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia as a foundational staple for all types of cooking.

Health benefits of lard

Lard from hogs on pasture is a rich source of Vitamin D, something the majority of the population is sorely lacking in. Many people don’t know that as well as containing healthy saturated fat and cholesterol – which our bodies need to maintain skin, brain, and immune health, it’s also a good way to get monounsaturated fats which are known for their cardiovascular benefits and also found in healthy foods such as red meat, whole milk, olive oil, avocados, and nuts.

Lard on the prairie

Ma Ingalls always used lard or suet (tallow from beef) to make hash-browned or fried potatoes, pancakes, crackers, doughnuts, vegetables, fried chicken, and to bake pie crusts.  She would prepare the food in big iron pots on the wood cookstove using lard or drippings, or use in her baking for the oven. She knew that aside from its versatility, this useful substance was loaded with essential nutrients that would keep her family healthy.

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From The Little House Cookbook:

“Pigs are still family farm favorites because they demand so little and and offer so much. ‘Everything is useful’, goes the saying, ‘but the squeal’.”

“Pork, ham, spareribs, bacon, salt pork, headcheese, and lard – these are all gifts from the pig. How they tasted and appeared in Laura’s youth we can only imagine, for all the swine now considered traditional American breeds have been developed since that time. That they were different from ours we can be sure, by contrasting the home-cured and commercially cured bacons of today or the hams of corn-fed hogs with those of peanut fed-hogs. One certainty is that our pigs are leaner than their forebears.”

Where can I find lard?

Pig fat is cheap or sometimes free, and if you know where to look, easy to come by. But please, however, don’t buy lard you find in the grocery store. These foods are actually artificially produced and hydrogenated to improve shelf life, and aren’t much better for you than the artificial fats we talked about before (also many of which are hydrogenated, rancid, full of GMOs, or both).

So where do you find healthy fat from hogs on pasture? Why, from your local farmer, of course.  Be sure to ask your farmer how he or she raises the hogs – they should have access to pasture where they can eat roots, leaves, vegetation from trees (including some fruit, nuts, or vegetables) and if supplemented with feed it should be organic or sustainable feed that doesn’t include soy or corn. Farmers who feed their pigs leftover yogurt and soured milk are doing their pigs a great service as well – which makes the meat and the fat gloriously healthy to consume because of beneficial bacteria obtained from healthy, raw milk.

How to render pork fat into lard:

This is much easier to do if the fat is still frozen, but will take longer to render. But the time spent rendering is that which you will have to spend little effort doing anything other than checking the progress of the lard.

We put our pork fat chunks in the crockpot because it can then reduce down for hours and it won’t have to be monitored as it would on the stove. If you decide to use a heavy stockpot on your stovetop, the process will take less time.

Lard – a great convenience food

Rendering lard is incredibly easy.  In this post, I have provided instructions for rendering lard both on the stovetop and in a crockpot. I find the crockpot method to be even more convenient than the stove method. Besides bone broth, I find rendering lard in a crockpot to be one of the easiest convenience foods in existence (how’s that for bucking the ideology of fast-food!).

If you have a bag of pork fat, the only other thing you’ll need is a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of filtered water to get going.

Equipment you’ll need:

  • Large stockpot
  • Fine mesh sieve and/or cheesecloth
  • Wide-mouth jars for storing lard (Mason) – for one bag of pork fat (1 – 2 pounds), you’ll need anywhere from 2 -3 quart sized jars, approximately 1 jar per pound.

Directions for rendering lard on the stovetop:

  1. Trim pork fat with a sharp knife to remove any meat or red areas.
  2. Cut the trimmed fat into cubes anywhere from 1/2 inch to 1 inch in size.
  3. Place the fat and filtered water in the stock-pot on your stove. Turn heat up to medium heat and bring to a simmer while stirring from time to time.
  4. After the fat has simmered for 45 minutes to about one hour, you will notice the water has evaporated and the fat has started melting. You will see bits of fat floating to the top – cracklings.
  5. Keep stirring occasionally. Soon all the fat pieces or cracklings will sink to the bottom of the pot. At this point, take the pot off from the heat.
  6. You will want a fine mesh sieve for pouring the lard through into wide-mouthed glass jars used for jarring. You can also use real cotton cheesecloth layered on top of the sieve when pouring from pot to jar. If desired, save cracklings to eat or use for other cooking purposes. (Laura and Mary Ingalls used to love the cracklings; Ma would save out for them from her rendered lard. It was a special treat!). Just add salt and then store in your refrigerator until ready for use.
  7. Use care when pouring the melted fat (which is a transparent, golden-brown) into jars, and wipe any spills up right away to prevent caking of the lard after hardening.  Cover jars immediately. The heat from the lard will suck out all the oxygen and “seal” your jars for storage.
  8. Allow the lard to cool. You’ll know when it’s finished because the appearance will turn from golden-brown into an opaque, creamy white-looking substance.
  9. Store unopened jars of lard in the cupboard, and opened ones in the refrigeration to prevent mold from developing in the jar.

You can use your lard in desserts like pastries and pies or for cooking scrambling eggs, cooking meats, stews, soups, casseroles, or for sauteing vegetables. The sky’s the limit for this wonderful food!

Directions for rendering lard with a crockpot:

  1. Put cubed pork fat with water in the crockpot and turn the heat up on “High” for the shortest time. Our crockpot setting has 4 or 6 hours for “High” time.  If the fat you are using is frozen, set it on the longer cooking time.
  2. Keep a watch on the fat you are melting in the crockpot – it can take longer – perhaps 4-6 hours or more – but may be ready sooner than that. It all depends on how high the heat is on your appliance and how much fat you are rendering at once.
  3. After the high heat has switched automatically over to low heat, check the fat for signs of browning and floating to the top.
  4. When all the fat particles have completely browned, they will sink to the bottom, just as if you used the pot on the stove.
  5. Follow the directions above for pouring, draining, and storing your lard.

We got about 8 sizeable bags of pork fat for free from our farmer after buying part of a side of pork last fall. Each bag we rendered made anywhere from 3 to 5 jars of lard, and was 3 1/2 to 4 pounds in weight. I ended up giving some away to different people, but all told, after rendering, we have about 6 jars of it sitting in our cupboard and one in the refrigerator that we’re currently using. And we still have 2 bags of fat in the freezer.

Keep in mind, the yield of lard you will get out of your rendering experience will depend on the following:

  • Amount of lard used (pounds)
  • Cooking time
  • Altitude

Want more information on nutrient-dense, traditional foods?
9 reasons to make bone broth
11 healthy and nutrient-dense foods at-a-glance
The importance of dietary fats

This post is part of The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania Carnival.