Have you ever walked down the snack aisle of a grocery store and wondered “what’s the point?” The aisles are littered with junk food that I would rather not get my kids started on. Don’t get me wrong, I let my kids have cookies and sweets, but I try to make it more of a treat as opposed to an everyday occurrence. It can be tough to navigate the snack aisle, especially when you want to prevent your children from contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic in the US. Additionally, you want to make sure what you’re feeding your children is not harming their growing bodies.
Do you let your children snack on conventional snacks, or do you give them organic snacks? The trend is definitely moving toward organic food. According to the Organic Trade Association, “U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010.” Based on current data, it’s debatable whether you will receive more nutrients from organic foods, but you will ingest fewer pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals from organic foods. For healthy adults this may not be as important, but for pregnant women and young children with developing neurologic systems, this is a major consideration since the long-term effects of pesticide exposure on humans is relatively unknown.
When it comes to feeding your kids a snack, one of your best bets is to head straight for the produce section of your market. Vegetables and fruits are a favorite snack at our house. The real question in the produce aisle is whether to buy organic or not. According to the Mayo Clinic, organic produce is grown using only natural fertilizers like manure or compost, whereas chemical fertilizers may be used on conventional produce. Insecticides and herbicides are used to minimize disease, pests and weeds on conventional produce, but organic farms use beneficial insects and birds, traps, crop rotation, and hand weeding to reduce disease, pests and weeds. No matter what you choose to eat, it’s important to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
Since organic produce can be more expensive than conventionally grown counterparts, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has compiled a helpful list of produce with the highest levels of pesticides and the lowest. This is a good list to follow if you cannot afford to buy all organic produce.
We previously talked to you about the “Dirty Dozen” as determined by EWG, but here is a fresh reminder. Again, these are the fruits and vegetables you may want to buy from the organic shelves, since they contain the highest amounts of pesticides:
- Nectarines (imported)
- Grapes (imported)
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Blueberries (domestic)
- Kale- Collard Green
Conversely, following are the fruits and vegetables grown with fewer pesticides that you can buy more confidently from the non-organic shelves:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas
- Cantaloupe (domestic)
- Sweet potatoes
You can’t have fresh fruits and vegetables with you all the time. I always keep a container filled with a variety of snacks in my diaper bag. If you want to make sure you feed your children mostly organic foods, then something to look for is the USDA Certified Organic emblem on the packaging. Product labeling can be confusing, so there are a few things you should know.
“100 Percent Organic” on a label means the product can only contain organically produced ingredients and processing aids (with the exception of salt and water).
If a label simply says “Organic,” it must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (again, with the exception of salt and water). The other 5 percent of ingredients must be non-agricultural and approved on the National List including certain non-organically produced agricultural products which are not available in organic form.
“Made with Organic ingredients” on the label indicates that at least 70 percent of the processed product’s ingredients are organic. The front panel of the product can say it’s made with up to three organic products. For example, the front panel of an Earth’s Best cereal bars box reads “Made with Organic Wheat Flour.” Additionally, products with this label cannot be produced using the following methods: sewage sludge or ionizing radiation. The USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package of these products, but they can display a certifying agent’s seal on the box.
Finally, if a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, than it cannot use the word “organic” anywhere on the front display panel. They can only identify the organically produced ingredients in the ingredient statement of the information panel.
Shopping for snacks should be easy once you find a few brands your children really like. The first few times might be a challenge as you read the labels and make sure the ingredients are right for your family. Once you have it figured out, all you have to do is continue to buy the same five or six snacks and your kids will certainly be happy. But remember, whenever possible fruits and vegetables are the healthiest snack choice for everyone!