What do food labels really tell us?

September 05, 2015

What do food labels really tell us?

 

Labels still confuse me. Should I be organic, free range, hormone free, antibiotic free, all natural, locally grown, low sodium or cage free (to name a few)? Even with a master’s in Public Health, I’m befuddled. Jodie Shield, nutritionist and author of “Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens” answered my questions. She told me when it comes to setting a goal for healthy eating, encouraging kids to eat more vegetables should be a mom’s top priority. Most people in the U.S. eat less than one serving of vegetables a day, even though the recommended amount is nine to 12 servings daily! This is a significant contributor to the ever-increasing prevalence of childhood obesity.
 
Jodie says what moms need to look for most in a label is the ingredient list – NOT the marketing lingo on the front. Things like non-GMO, locally grown or natural won’t tell you anything about the nutritional value of the food we are eating. Jodie says this is what she thinks is most important: avoid added sugars and don’t be afraid of canned or frozen produce. Fresh is great, but good nutrition isn’t lost when I defrost a bag of broccoli after a grueling soccer match. In fact, frozen vegetables are often fresher than fresh because they’re frozen as soon as they’re picked. Fresh vegetables are delicious, but they take time to prepare. So, don’t beat yourself up if you open a can of sweet corn instead of shucking it yourself. What matters is that your children get as many opportunities to eat their veggies as possible!
 
Organic and non-GMO produce are typically more expensive because the production is more labor-intensive. If you want to spend more, go for it. But don’t feel like the worst mom ever if you stock up on conventionally grown produce on sale at the warehouse club. Oh, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau, 97 percent of Illinois farms are family owned. When I spoke to the produce manager at Ultra Foods in Wheaton, he told me some of their produce actually comes from Elgin – a mere 33 miles away.
 
(Editor’s Note: While not all produce is locally grown, when in doubt, voice your questions. Stores are now required to label where the produce comes from so it you don’t see a sign, ask an employee! I have seen local Lake County farms named on produce displays in Mariano’s and Jewel. –Melissa )
 
One of my favorite quotes is from Walt Whitman: “Be curious, not judgmental.” It reminds me to seek opportunities for growth in every situation. So, I’m still asking questions but I’m also eating my veggies – GMO or otherwise.

 

Genevieve O'Keefe

Genevieve O'Keefe Grayslake, IL

Genevieve is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms.

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