Monday, September 21, 2009

Greening your diet for a healthy planet and family

In this season of abundance I have been giving a lot of thought to the idea of regional food independence. It’s the notion of supporting local farmers so they can make a reasonable living and supply us with high quality local food, a basic cycle that was hardly worth discussing a generation ago.

But you need to buy local food to make the cycle work. Judging from the burgeoning frozen food sections in our local grocery stores, the average family’s dependence on frozen and other packaged foods is leading us off the healthy green path in more ways than one: Processed food travels a great distance to reach us and includes lots of packaging waste; it tends to be loaded with chemical additives (flavour enhancers, preservatives, dyes) and includes unhealthy fats and too much sodium. It’s really no surprise that the old fashioned homemade diet is better for the earth and healthier for us too.

So how did we get in this sorry state? There are many reasons, but one of them is that a whole generation has lost the everyday know-how that enabled our grandmothers (and for us lucky ones, our mothers as well) to whip up dishes from scratch. It’s something we’ll need to relearn whole scale if we want the local food movement to grow and prosper, if we want our region to become less dependent on food that is trucked in from far away places, and if we want to be healthier overall.

It’s about learning to cook (as opposed to reheating) which is why I taught my children, age six and nine, to make homemade pizza dough. (I want them to be as confident proofing yeast and setting pizza dough to rise as they are pouring their own cereal.)

I know that people turn to packaged foods for speed and convenience too. But some of the most popular packaged foods are the easiest to make from scratch. (It would take me longer to walk to the salad dressing section of the grocery store than to mix up a batch of homemade dressing.) Here are my top five suggestions for greening your diet for a healthy planet and family:

1. Tomato sauce – Avoid jars and make your own with fresh or canned tomatoes. Make a big batch and freeze some for later.
2. Pizza dough – Replace frozen pizza with homemade dough or pita bread (topped with your homemade tomato sauce). Homemade dough freezes well too.
3. Salad dressing – Does your fridge house a crazy collection of bottled dressings? Make your own from oil, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Use it for salads, or drizzle it on meat, fish or vegetables before grilling or baking.
4. Mac & cheese – It takes about 15 minutes to make a basic cheese sauce from scratch so you can bid goodbye to boxed Kraft Dinner and other packaged versions of the real thing.
5. Cookies – Baking cookies is quick, easy and fool-proof. That’s why they’re always the first thing that kids learn to bake. They’re also a satisfying snack that can be surprisingly nutritious…if you make your own.
Take a look through your fridge and freezer to see what other packaged foods you might like to replace with a homemade version.

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