Written by Jen Haugen
What’s the difference between organic and conventional grown foods? Is there a difference in food safety? Nutrition? These are real questions that pop up in our minds as we shop the supermarket aisles. One day when I was working as a supermarket dietitian, a mom drove her grocery cart right over to me to ask for my recommendation on the best foods to be purchasing to keep her family safe from harm. She came with questions about organic foods and conventionally grown foods, wondering about which type of food was a safer choice. She expressed her concerns over the media reports related to food safety. She was fearful and overwhelmed.
As part of my Mom2Mom feature series, today’s post features Cheryl Rude, a fellow registered dietitian from Minnesota. She’s a volunteer for CommonGround, an organization devoted to connecting women who produce food to women who purchase food. She’s sharing her expertise on the facts about organic and conventional options at the grocery store.
Cheryl has her roots in farming in southwest Minnesota where the corn and soybeans growing in the fields can be seen for miles. She went into the field of dietetics because of her interest in the science of nutrition and her love for preparing farm-fresh food. And she enjoys outdoor photography, check out this snow-beautiful photo from the river behind her home.
Let’s meet Cheryl.
How do you start your mornings?
“I’m a weather watcher. Literally. The first thing I do most mornings is look out the window at the weather and check the temperature. The weather is an important factor in farm life and drives the activities of the day. I have always been interested in the weather and enjoy being a Weather Watcher for WCCO. I send in our local information (conditions, temperature, rainfall amounts) when I am home.”
What’s your favorite quick breakfast idea?
“I eat a pretty quick breakfast on the weekday mornings because I need to get to work. So, my favorite weekday breakfast is a homemade oat bran muffin (oat bran, granola and walnuts) and a small glass of skim milk. I make a batch of muffins and keep them in the freezer, so I just need to microwave one for 15-20 seconds and pour a glass of milk and I’m ready to eat. On the weekends, my favorite breakfast would be an omelet made with fresh vegetables (mushrooms, red, yellow and orange peppers) and fresh berries on the side.”
What’s your typical day look like?
“My day starts a little slower now than it used to. My children are now both grown, finished with college and starting their own careers. We had some very hectic mornings while they were still in school and at home. I eat a quick and healthy breakfast, enjoy my commute to work (most of the time- I could do without icy roads and below zero temperatures) and have a meaningful career as a dietitian. Highlights of my day/week include catching up with my kids on the phone, spending time with my family and taking in local events and activities.”
What’s your recipe for creating a nourishing life for yourself and your family?
“My recipe for a nourishing life includes the right balance of ingredients. I think the main ingredients are meaningful work, family time and faith. Smaller amounts of other ingredients like friends and neighbors, vacations and free time activities. It’s all held together with love and sprinkled with patience and kindness.”
What did you struggle with as a mom when feeding your family?
“The one word answer- TIME! When my kids were living at home, we were a very busy family. The kids were involved in lots of activities and it was hard to juggle everything and still find time to eat healthy and eat as a family. Those were important things for me as a mom and as a dietitian- to make sure my kids had healthy and nourishing food and that we spent time every day connecting with each other. There’s no better place to do both of those things than around the kitchen table.”
What’s your role on the farm?
“While I don’t farm personally, my extended family does and I am involved in cooking and providing food and snacks. I’ve also driven the grain cart a little bit, given rides back and forth to various fields and done things like that. One of my favorite things is watching the area farmers bring in their harvest.”
What’s your favorite family recipe?
“One of our go-to meals was what the kids called “packet” supper. I had more time for preparing food on the weekends when the kids were home and so I made a practice of making enough meat or the main entree so that we could have planned leftovers (turkey, ham, roast beef, chicken, pork, hotdish). I made low fat gravy, added the meat and filled tin foil packets and put them in the freezer. My dad has had a big garden for many years and our entire family benefits from his hobby. All through the summer he delivers vegetables that I blanch and freeze. By the end of the summer I have enough frozen vegetables to last until the following year. So, with “packet” meat and home-grown vegetables in the freezer all ready to go, I just have to prepare a side dish (potatoes, rice or noodles), reheat the packet of meat and cook a vegetable. I can have a “meat and potatoes” supper ready in less than 20 minutes with a little pre-work done on weekends and in the summer. It’s quick and nutritious and was a favorite type of meal for my kids. I also like to experiment with grilling different things in the summer. We all enjoy grilled meats and vegetables in a variety of combinations. I like to use a grill basket to fix garden fresh vegetables. I think we eat two or three times as many vegetables when they are fixed this way because they taste so good!”
When it’s busy on the farm and you need a portable dinner, what do you like to prepare and serve?
“When I need to serve a portable dinner, hot dish seems to be a favorite. Sandwiches get tiring and a hot meal tastes good on a cool evening. I’ve also brought chili and cheese and crackers for a main dish. I like to put single servings of fruit and vegetables in small bags to have as snacks; something that is easy to eat, like grapes, berries, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, etc. Fruits and vegetables seem to be overlooked when packing lunches in a hurry and so having these ready to eat and easy to pack along are key.”
What do you value most in life?
“The two things I value most in life are my two kids. It has been a joy to be with them and to watch them grow and mature into young adults with careers of their own. My family is also very important to me as is my faith in God.”
What are your thoughts on organic and conventionally grown foods? Can you give us some expert insight?
“As moms we all want healthy, nutritious and safe food to feed our family. As registered dietitians we want that too! While there are many choices at the grocery store, it’s important to note that all foods, whether or organic or not, are produced in a safe way according to regulations set in place by the government to keep us safe. What is often most confusing is the thought that one is better than the other in nutrition quality, but many studies have proven that whether you choose organic or conventionally raised food, they are equally nutritious, providing essentially the same amount of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. When in season, I often look for locally grown items to support my local farmers and get the freshest flavor. And when the season isn’t right for growing (like now, when things are covered with snow), I rely on canned fruits and vegetables, along with frozen fruits and vegetables, because I know they were picked at the peak of ripeness (which means peak nutrition too) and those nutrients were captured and locked in since they often go from field to can or field to freezer within a matter of hours. Whether you purchase organic or conventionally grown foods, know you are getting a nutritious and safe choice.”
Jen Haugen, RDN, LD is a mom, award-winning registered dietitian and writer. Read more CommonGround Mom2Mom Features from Jen Haugen at her “Down-To-Earth Dietitian” blog, www.jenhaugen.com.