June 20, 2006

Morningstar Farms Broccoli Cheddar Veggie Bites

If you've read this blog long enough, you should know that one of the mantras is "Read ingredients lists." I fell victim to ignoring my own advice.

While spending time in the depths of Suburbia, I found myself at the grocery store with a minimal selection of natural and organic food options (they stock the four frozen veggie options with the T.G.I.Friday's Potato Skins.) Generally I like to make everything from scratch, but dealing with high heat and humidity and my mother's kitchen (a whole other blog, really) makes for complicated cooking. So, I decided to pick up some quick frozen bites for my two year old to make all of our lives easier.

I grabbed a box of Morningstar Farms Broccoli Cheddar Veggie Bites, since I knew that Morningstar Farms is a company that also makes veggie burgers as well as touts itself as a line of healthy foods. I never looked at the ingredient list.

When I went to prepare the bites, I looked at the list. I'll just start by saying that there are 42 ingredients in these bites that are half of the size of my computer mouse. Included in this list are two kinds of sugar (sugar and dextrose) and hydrogenated soybean oil -- two definite no-no's on my eating list.

At this point, I had a starving child who had already spied the food, so into the oven they went. They baked up in about 15 minute's time and came out of the oven smelling vaguely of brownies (but that could be me.) Inside they had real chunks of broccoli and what appeared to be melted orangeish cheddar cheese, which impressed me. They tasted fantastic, with nice broccoli taste, creamy cheese and even a hint of pepper after finish. I'm sad to report they taste better than the all natural broccoli bites that I usually buy.

So here's the dilemma, do I buy them for taste or do I buy the less satisfying ones that are healthier? Tough call. I think that I would rather find a better tasting healthy option, than just succumb to the convenience of hydrogenated oils and sugar. Of course that didn't stop me from eating three bites myself.

And yet, despite all of this deliberating, my child wouldn't touch one bite.

About Morningstar Farms:

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May 19, 2006

Lazy Man's Side Dish: Alexia's Yukon Gold Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Sea Salt

I sometimes question how I ever lived without a microwave. My husband and I didn't have one for quite a while after we married, until we moved into our first house. For a couple of years, it just sat there, totally idle, a remnant of the previous owners. Then, we had kids. It's amazing how quickly the microwave becomes an essential household appliance when you have screeching, hungry children on your hands.

Thankfully, there is an ever-growing selection of decent microwaveable food out there these days, as long as you're willing to pay for the convenience. Tonight I tried Alexia's frozen Yukon Gold Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Sea Salt. The label had the usual "All Natural" and "No Trans Fat" labels that seem to be so popular these days, but what made me pick them up was the small, simple ingredient list: basically, potatoes, buttter, and salt. Just like the real thing, only quicker, more expensive, and easier on the arms.

Unlike other prefab mashed potatoes I've tried in the past, these actually looked like real potatoes--they were a bit chunky here and there rather than being whipped beyond all recognition. They also tasted like actual potatoes, too. The sea salt added quite a salty bite, although the package claims only 80 mg of sodium per 1/2 cup serving. They also have a version called Country Reds Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Parmesan.

The only drawback? The kids wouldn't eat them. My son ate choked them down bite by tiny bite (under threat of punishment), while my daughter reacted like I was asking her to eat a steaming plate of cat turds. She wasn't buying my claim that "they're just like mushed up french fries!". But I sure as heck wouldn't base your buying decision on my kids' palates because you'd be restricted to about 10 foods. Let's just say the plates didn't make it to the dishwasher with any leftovers on them because the grown-ups in the household thought they were delicious.

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May 6, 2006

Arnold Healthy Multi-Grain Bread


Arnold Healthy Multi-Grain Bread is the bread that I switched to when I started realizing that perhaps white slices of nothingness were not the best selection nutritionally. The dark color and the variety of seeds at the top lead me to believe that there would be much more of an offering than the simple white flour and yeast in the other packaged breads available. I was correct, but only to a point.

Arnold Healthy Multi-Grain Bread is a perfect "transition" food. With ingredients like unbleached enriched wheat flour, wheat bran, brown rice and oats, and no artificial colors or preservatives and no hydrogenated oils, it has more nutritional value than its ghostly cousin. However this bread also has three different types of sugar in it: sugar, brown sugar and sucralose. As a reader of ingredient lists, generally the healthiest breads have either no sugar or natural, unrefined sugars such as honey, or molasses. With that much sugar (and wheat flour that must be enriched because it has been stripped of nutrients) I would classify the Arnold multi-grain bread as a good middle ground between junk food and health food.

The Arnold multi-grain has a fluffy consistency for a wheat bread, not far from the airiness of white. The taste, while more flavorful than white, is slightly sweet and less intense than true grain breads.

So, if you grew up on slices of bread that easily turned into marshmallow in your mouth, and are looking for something a little more substantial but aren't willing to commit to something as intense as sprouted grain breads, Arnold Healthy Multi-Grain Bread is a good health food starter item. Just keep in mind that the word 'healthy' is a subjective term.

About the Arnold brand:

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April 26, 2006

Minute Maid All Natural Lemonade

It occurs to me that instead of shopping the natural section of the grocery store, that I needed to branch out and see how the wholesome foods and products market was permeating the other aisles. Wow, talk about your Promise Land! Now let's see how they start fulfilling their promises...

The first mainstream product purchased was Minute Maid All Natural Lemonade which came in 12 skinny juice boxes from Target. My husband sheepishly loaded it into the car while promising me that they were "all natural" with "real juice". Oh husband.

To begin with, the packaging is quick to point out that they have added calcium and vitamin C with 10% more calcium and 100% more vitamin C than the unfortified version. The second line in the package tells you that this drink is a good source for both of these nutritional additives.

There is 11% lemon juice in the drink. To be clear, just because a bottle or box indicates a percentage of juice, doesn't necessarily mean it is the juice of a certain fruit, or that it is not from concentrate. For it to be of a certain fruit (ie. lemon juice) then the package must specify that directly. Otherwise, when stated '100% juice', it could actually be any kind of juice, in any form. There is no regulation in how the word 'juice' is used. That said, this has 11% lemon juice from concentrate, not fresh juice.

In addition to the lemon juice and the added calcium citrate and vitamin C (asorbic acid), Minute Maid All Natural Lemonade contains pure filtered water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and natural flavors. Can anyone tell me exactly why you would need natural flavors when creating an 'all natural' juice? Wouldn't the natural flavors already exist?

The taste seems palatable enough to my two year old. I drink lemon water all day and this tastes less like lemons to me and more like watered down crushed Smarties. But then that could be why the child sucks the box dry like she is a starving mosquito.

The lesson here: there is no rule when it comes to using words like 'all natural' on packaging. Read ingredients and decide for yourself.

Two things to note:
1. I did not add the clouds to the picture to make the lemonade seem more heavenly. This was compliments of the Minute Maid site. I maintained the integrity of the image to preserve Minute Maid's marketing influence and because floating lemonade is funny.
2. While you may reconsider purchasing this product when shopping for a wholesome juice for your child, it makes a wonderful mixer in a single serve margarita!

About the Minute Maid brand:

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