The Candy Bar Alternative

The more I learn about sugar and how my body processes the stuff, the less I worry about the particular source–be it low glycemic coconut sugar or the demonized high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

I definitely don’t go out of my way to eat products containing HFCS. I don’t keep it in my kitchen or cook with it, but I agree with the Nutrition Diva on this one.

We should be less concerned with the form sugar takes and more concerned about the quantity. Excessive consumption seems to be the American Way. I wrote about recommended levels of sugar intake in a previous postAll sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.

That said, there’s a ginormous difference between a homemade treat and a Snicker’s Bar.


This candy bar contains almost three-quarters of the recommended maximum amount of sugar for a teenage boy!


Definitely not real. Highly processed and not something I could make in my own kitchen. Not to mention a rather alarming amount of sugar.  I definitely wouldn’t send one with my teenager for quick energy before after school sports.

No calorie counting here!

No calorie counting here!

The question then is what can be sent that is easily portable, real and sweet enough to appeal to a teenage boy more concerned with taste than nutrition.

The inspiration for one of the sweet treats that can be commonly found in my son’s backpack came from a vegan cookbook I found at Costco. The Forks Over Knives Cookbook has an awesome dessert section and, with a couple of improvisations, the following recipe was born…

A Better Granola Bar

  • 1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup (or honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (can use all vanilla)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8-1/4 cup uncooked millet
  • 2 cups whole rolled oats (not the quick kind)

Line the bottom of an 8×8″ pan with foil that extends up the sides. Lightly grease with cooking spray.

Heat nut butter and sweeteners together in a bowl in the microwave–just enough to mix easily, then stir together until smooth.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extract, cinnamon and salt.

In a large bowl mix oats and millet with the syrup mixture. Stir well until oats are evenly coated. Use wet hands or the back of a wet spatula (water will keep it from sticking) to very firmly and evenly press the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 for approximately 15 minutes–or until the edges look a bit browned. Cool to room temperature, remove from pan, remove foil and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before cutting with large kitchen knife (pressing straight down for a clean cut) into 8 equal rectangles.


To make it even more decadent, add 1/3 cup chocolate chips to the oat mixture before pressing into pan. Try chopped, dried apricots, toasted and roughly chopped almonds or whatever else appeals to you.

Perfect for packing! Only 3 teaspoons of sugar per bar.


Selling Soda at School: Is It Legal?

Last February my son’s school had a fundraiser on Valentines Day. Called “A Crush for a Crush”, students had the option to purchase an Orange Crush to send to another student for a mere $1.

Cute, huh?

But technically illegal. Ed Code SB 965 specifically outlines what kinds of drinks can or cannot be sold on K through 12 campuses, and soft drinks are definitely NOT on the list of approved beverages.

Yesterday I attended my son’s middle school track meet. It was a beautiful day–but warm for this time of year. I was thirsty. As I walked past the school snack bar on my way to the drinking fountain, I happened to notice that the parent club was selling candy and soda.

Having read the school wellness policy, I know that these items cannot be sold on campus during the school day. Just out of curiosity I asked a couple of my son’s teachers/track coaches if they were aware of the policy.

They were not. In fact, they seemed rather surprised. And, truth be told, I’m not quite sure they believed me. One of the coaches even asked me why.

Here’s a solid answer to his question from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

Students buy and consume fewer unhealthy snack foods and beverages when there are
school policies in place to prohibit or restrict the sale of these items in school.

Selling low-nutrition foods in schools sends children the message that good nutrition is
not important and conflicts with what children learn in nutrition education. 

• Selling junk foods and sugary drinks in vending machines and a la carte lines undermines the recent efforts schools across the country have made to offer healthier school meals.

• It is shortsighted to supplement school budgets at the expense of our children’s health.
In the long run, we are sure to spend more on diet-related health-care costs than we
can raise by selling sugary beverages and junk foods in schools.

• Many assume that schools will lose money if they replace junk foods and sugary drinks
with healthier foods and beverages. Research and case studies from schools across the
country show that this is not the case.

I later spoke with the district superintendent who assured me that this problem will be addressed. Most likely during the next school year.

Check out the legislation for yourself. SB 965 addresses beverages and SB 12 details the requirements for foods sold outside of school provided meals.

If you live outside California, here’s a link to the National Association of State Boards of Education to find out how your state deals with vending machine and other food/beverage sales at school.

Does your child’s school have a wellness policy? Tell us if you’ve read it.

If you have personal experience/knowledge about what type of food and beverages are sold at schools in your area, please share it with us here.

The policies/laws are changing. Slowly. These changes are long overdue. It’s time to get the word out so there can be some oversight. Parents, teachers, food service workers and administrators need to work together. We all share common goals of improving the quality of the food and drink our children consume while at school and protecting their health in the long run.

A+ for apples.

A+ for apples.


Family Project: Yogurt Cream Cheese

In If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, you learn that if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want some milk.  And when he gets the milk, he’s going to ask for a straw.  And when he’s done, he’ll need a napkin. I’m sure you see where this is going.  And if you have children, you’ve lived it! One thing leads to another until you’re right back  to cookies.


Well, in my case it started with a realization that we were spending quite a bit of money on organic yogurt.  Sam was going through record amounts and I was *cough* indulging a bit as well.  So I met the challenge head on and made it myself!

Once I made the yogurt though, I discovered that I could make cream cheese out of it.  Imagine that.

Using The Encyclopedia of Country Living as my guide, I followed a few very simple steps:

Step 1:  Pour one quart of freshly made yogurt into the center of a length of cheesecloth spread over a bowl.  (Optional: Mix in 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt to yogurt beforehand.)

001Step 2:  Pull the ends together to create a “ball” of yogurt.  I used rubber bands, of which we have plenty, to close off the cloth.  I used the remaining ends to create a loop (again with rubber bands) which I could hang from a yardstick.  Use whatever materials you have on hand to hang the yogurt.

As you can see, the liquid will drain into the bowl.  I had to dump mine periodically so the yogurt wasn’t sitting in it, but you could hang yours differently so that it isn’t quite so low.

006Step 3:  Hang for 6 to 48 hours in a cool airy place (sooner is safer). This ball of yogurt cream cheese was hanging for at least 17 hours in my cold, unheated kitchen—from the afternoon of the previous day and through the night.  Peel off cheesecloth.

It’s ready to eat!  And honestly, it’s tastes better than store bought cream cheese made from cream and just slightly (and deliciously) tangier.  No complaints from the head taster, my 13 year old son.


And, naturally, if you make some yogurt cream cheese, you’ll have to make some bagels to go with it. 🙂  It’s as simple as that.


The Science of Addictive Junk Food

What if I told you that overeating had a lot less to do with lack of willpower and self-control than you thought?  That weight gain and the subsequent diet related diseases of the day are partly out of our control?  Just who’s responsible, anyway?

There was a very interesting article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Michael Moss, the author of the newly released book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.


There’s lots of money at stake, and the snack food industry is heavily invested in keeping us eating more and more junk food–through the use of economics, chemistry and psychology.

So if you’re wondering why that Coke you’re drinking tastes so delicious, why we have skyrocketing rates of obesity and how on earth we became one of the fattest nations in the world, you need to understand the level of manipulation of our taste preferences.

If you’re interested in reading the whole New York Times article, know that it’s long.  Make a bowl of popcorn (the real stuff, not the microwaveable kind–unless you DIY) and get comfortable.  It’s a fascinating read in a cloak and dagger kind of way…  Here’s the story.

I don’t want to be manipulated.  I’m pretty sure that a choice between soda and a diet soda isn’t much of a choice.  And I don’t want to spend more to eat more, compromising the health of my family.

Here are 3 ways you can take control:

1.  Buy real food.  It’s the most important thing you can do. Choosing food that is as close to its natural state as possible means you can avoid all the “science” that creates frankenfood that doesn’t nourish us.

2.  Be a smart shopper.  Cruise the outer aisle of your grocery store. That’s where most of the real and minimally processed foods can be found. Steer clear of the displays at the aisle ends. They’re for high profit, heavily advertised items likely to be bought on impulse. Make a list and stick to it!

3.  Cook at home.  Using real food to cook meals at home allows you to control the flavor, freshness and nutritional content of the food your family eats.  You’ll enjoy your food more and save money to boot.

We already know we need to eat better, but even knowing that doesn’t mean it will be easy.  But it’s not hopeless either.  What do you think?


The Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

When Sam was young, I used to read to him a lot.  All that reading paid off because today he is a voracious reader.  But I miss the good ole days of sitting side by side in bed or on the sofa with a boy curled up against me–begging me to read just one more book, then, when he got a little older, one more chapter.

I recently got a chance to relive some of that closeness with my teenager over a copy of a truly fascinating and beautiful book, The Hungry Planet.  We chanced upon it at our local library and finally, after checking it out multiple times, I decided to purchase our very own copy.

Authors Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio traveled to 24 countries to visit 30 families and showcase each of them surrounded by a visually stunning week’s worth of food.  From a small Himalayan village in Bhutan to an affluent community in Germany.  From Egypt and Australia to Mexico and Chad, we get intimate glimpses into the homes of families around the world.

Each chapter details the lives of families we get to know by name.  With vivid, engaging pictures, we learn about cultures and lifestyles very different from our own. Included are family recipes and country statistics.  Jim, Vegan Man, was interested in life expectancy and meat consumption per person per year.  Sam was hoping I might make some seal stew (fat chance).

Subjects such as malnutrition, obesity, the effects of urbanization and fast food are also discussed in such a way that is enlightening and educational when looking at them from a global perspective.

This is a book that the entire family can enjoy on some level and can lead to pretty great conversations with children of all ages.  Through Amazon the cost of a new copy approaches $30, but there are multiple used copies out there from a number of sellers.  I bought ours for about $10 which included shipping.

This would make a great gift–for your family.  Tuck into a bowl of seal stew (recipe, page 81) and do some “armchair travelling” for the price of a movie ticket.