Last summer, we featured a list of 14 sustainable food companies you can trust , which we compiled with the help of GoodGuide, a company that rates the health, environmental and social aspects of companies. We asked GoodGuide to use its rating system to devise a list of food producers that are independently owned, create a wide range of healthy products and do their part to benefit the world, both ecologically and socially. When they came back with their list, Plum Organics was one of the top scorers.
At the time, I was pregnant, so I was overwhelmed with choosing baby prep gear—not worrying about baby food, which seemed a far distant concern. Fast forward almost a year and my baby is now 6 months old (!!!) and starting to try a few foods (so far, bananas and sweet potatoes).
Great timing, then, that Plum’s PR department just so happened to send out a sample pack of its “Just Veggies” line for babies ages 4 months and up. As his second food was sweet potato and he’d already had some pureed potato we cooked up at home, the Just Sweet Potato veggie blend was a perfect thing to give him. And he loves it!
But more important, here are a few reasons I love it:
- Plum Organics features fruits and veggies that are gently cooked and minimally processed.
- They’re all certified organic and have no high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial ingredients or GMOs.
- They’re packaged in BPA- and phthalate-free packaging.
- Their manufacturing and transportation processes focus on waste and energy reduction.
- The company tries to source as much food domestically as possible.
- The foods are unsweetened and unsalted.
- Even the “just veggies” are mildly flavored with herbs (peas with mint and squash with cinnamon!), giving babies the chance to expand their palates. The “Second Blends” include interesting pairings designed to help babies become adventurous eaters (Sweet Potato, Mango and Millet; Zucchini, Banana and Amaranth; Blueberry, Pear and Purple Carrot—yum!)
So, after trying the free samples I’m lucky to get from time to time as an editor, I’m thinking, OK, so how much do these wonder convenience foods cost (this was not part of our article last summer). The answer? A very reasonable $9 for a six-pack at Target.com. I’m sure many of you already know all about Plum Organics, but I wanted to share my latest baby find.
(Of course, I’m still going to be making a lot of foods at home. Here are a couple favorite recipes if you’re more of a maker than a buyer.)
These three delicious recipes will have your Superbowl guests begging for more. But they’re also filled with antioxidants, vitamins, healthy fats and more. So you can party hearty and feel good the next day—unless of course your team loses.
Slow Cooker Corn Chowder
With poblano peppers and smoked cheese, this corn chowder will warm up guests by the bowlful while offering a dose of fiber, protein and vitamins. Ready for the slow cooker, it's also easy to start the night before or early in the morning and will be perfectly piping hot come game time. Get the recipe.
From 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley. Buy the book!
If you are a vegetarian (or if you're not!) and looking for an alternative to beef burgers, consider these yummy, simple and easy-to-make-ahead-of-time beet burgers. Made with cheddar cheese, eggs and brown rice, these burgers are hearty but healthy. Get the recipe.
From Farmstead Chef by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist. Buy the book!
Buttermilk Pecan-Crusted Chicken
This supereasy recipe requires only five ingredients. Marinating the chicken in buttermilk helps tenderize it and crusting it with toasted pecans and panko gives it a light, nutty flavor. For a Superbowl party, I might cut the chicken into strips and serve it on bamboo skewers. Get the recipe.
From 5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson. Buy the book!
If you’re a foodie, you’ve likely tried barley risotto—but if not, I highly recommend it. A more-nutritious cousin to regular Arborio rice risotto (barley has three times more fiber than white rice and is packed with vitamins and minerals), barley risotto is easy to make and easy to modify with whatever you have in your kitchen. We ran a recipe for it when I was an editor for Natural Home & Garden magazine a few years ago, but you can make this dish with a huge variety of ingredients. Since we first tried it a few months ago, my husband and I make it at least once a week if not more!
Because I’ve been raving about it to our staff, I thought I’d share the basic recipe with you all.
Start by mincing some crushed garlic (did you know you will get more health benefits from cooked garlic if you crush it and let it sit for 15 minutes before cooking?) and dicing some onions (one large onion will do).
Throw a couple tablespoons of butter or olive oil into a pan (I like cast iron) over medium-high heat. Once it’s warm, add your onions and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
If you’re familiar with cooking risotto, you know that you start with a dried grain, then continuously add liquid, letting it boil down then adding more, which cooks and puffs the grain, giving you a creamy consistency. For your liquid in this recipe, you can use low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, boiled bouillon or just water. If you’re going to use boiled bouillon, prepare it as you are sautéing your onions and garlic.
Once your garlic and onions are fragrant, add your barley to the pan (I use about a cup of barley for two servings--often with some leftovers) and toast it for a few minutes until it starts to just slightly brown. Then add about a cup of liquid. Stir frequently as your barley cooks, and when you can clear a space in the barley and see no liquid, add more.
When your barley is cooked to the texture you desire (I like it with some tooth), add about a cup of grated cheese—traditionally, you would use Parmesan (and I normally do), but I’ve also made a “barley mac-and-cheese” version with broccoli and smoked cheddar, and many kinds of cheese work fine. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. I almost always also add diced fresh rosemary.
We add all sorts of things to the barley risotto. It can be easier to prepare your additions in a second pan, but you can also add them to the barley mix as it’s steam cooking (especially for something like broccoli). A mix of mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic makes a fabulous addition. Diced sweet potatoes, added about halfway through the barley cooking time, makes for a hearty winter dish. We’ve also added delicious chicken meatballs from Aidells (made with chicken and turkey raised humanely on independent farms) to bring in some additional protein—Aidell’s Caramelized Onion meatballs and sautéed Brussels sprouts is a delicious combination.
Try your own variation of this recipe and please let me know what you come up with!
Well, nursery renovations are thisclose to being done (we had some flooring installation issues last weekend, so we are waiting on new flooring to arrive, then we're down to window trim and closet interior—yay!), which means: A) that I owe some delayed posts of my husband's excellent artistry using lime plaster from Unearthed Paints on the walls and handiwork installing electric radiant floor mats from Nuheat and B) it's time to move on to the very fun part of nursery remodeling: decor!
Finding adorable and eco-friendly decor is definitely not difficult. The main problem is in narrowing down the many fantastic options and trying to stay on some sort of budget.
There aren't many non-huge chain baby shopping options in my town, so I've been finding tons of items all over the internet, many of them handmade here in the U.S., that I am considering for the nursery. Now I just need to narrow down my options and make some final decisions. In the meantime, I thought I'd share. I'd love to see some of your favorite nursery decor, too!
Uncommon Goods is one of my favorite eco-friendly retailers. They never fail to offer up interesting, fun, affordable and eco-friendly items, and my nursery-shopping expedition was no exception to their typical wish list-inducing offerings. I have coveted one of their recycled cardboard mounted deer heads for about a year; now they've added this upcycled moose head, so I have to decide which will work better!
Upcycled sweater moose head (made by a dad in Canada), $50.
Bucky Jr. Cardboard Deer Head (made of recycled cardboard in Virginia), $28.
The Land of Nod is another site with dozens of adorable kids' items. I love their many storage solutions, their affordable rugs, their collection of wall art and just about all of their other decor.
Load Bearing Storage hamper/bins (made of bamboo and recycled PET fabric), $29 to $49.
Color Inside the Lines Rug (made from recycled cotton), $99 to $299.
For organization, I'm also planning on picking up several of these Way Basics cubes, which are made from pressed recycled paper and can be reorganized in a variety of ways. Super Storage Cube, $25.
And finally, when it comes to interesting nursery wall art, there are few destinations that can beat Etsy. The prices are great, and I love supporting individual artists. I usually just search "wall art" and "nursery," then plan to spend several hours browsing. Here are some of my top considerations for nursery art...
I like the retro prints from handz ReStyle shop for $20
I adore the prints and wood-blocks by John W. Golden, in particular his woodland creatures and robot series. Prints are $45 for a set of three; wood-blocks are $30 each.
And finally, Etsy is also the best place I've found to hunt for interesting mobiles. Here are a couple of my favorites:
A card-stock mobile by JennaEBee13, $55
The Constellation mobile by The Wonderland Studio, $72
I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to a few companies who offer top-notch skin-care products for pregnancy. All of these products are safe and healthy for you and your baby (unlike many out there, unfortunately--check out our recent guide to personal care products
to learn about chemicals in conventional lotions to avoid). They have also (knock on wood!) seemed to prevent me from getting any stretch marks with just one week left of pregnancy. Phew! I have dutifully used these products daily throughout my pregnancy, and my rapidly growing stomach has stayed soft and smooth as a result. (I also had a friend make me a DIY skin oil, for which I am very grateful!)
Hello! It's time for a long overdue update on our nursery renovations. In the past few weeks, we've accomplished a lot, but nothing quite as exciting as the work we've got planned in the next few weeks. We're only four short weeks away from baby's birth, so time is of the essence! We had to have the room rewired by an electrician. This room was the only room in our home that hadn't been remodeled by its former owner, which meant the wiring was circa the 1950s and both outdated and unsafe by today's standards. We hired a local electrician to rework the room, making sure everything is safe. He also installed in-ceiling recessed lights. These lights can be inefficient, but he insulated around them to ensure air wouldn't leak in and out. We also put these lights on a dimmer, which will give us greater control of our lighting options in the room.
We also had new windows installed. The old windows were in horrible shape, and they wouldn't fully close or lock, meaning energy was pouring in and out of them. We matched the rest of our home by installing energy-efficient Pella ProLine casement windows, which look wonderful. Pella windows are one of the best options on the market. Replacing windows is expensive, but fortunately, we only had two windows in the room.
The other major time input has been my husband's huge task of insulating and re-drywalling all the walls. We chose Owens Corning EcoTouch insulation. Greenguard-certified to be formaldehyde-free, made up of 99 percent natural materials and including nearly 60 percent recycled content, this insulation was a good choice in terms of health and price. It's available at Home Depot.
Then the drywalling fun began. My husband has invested many hours mudding and sanding and I'm happy to report is finally done with that task. In the meantime, we've been very excited to be working with Unearthed Paints on choosing a wall covering for the room. Unearthed Paints offers clay paints, milk paints, lime and clay plasters and other fabulous, all-natural and healthy wall covering options. Owner Jessica Pfohl has been exceedingly helpful as we've looked through the company's extensive offerings, giving us so much help and advice. We finally settled (after much indecision due to the many fabulous choices) to use the company's smooth lime plaster, which we received in the mail yesterday. So we will be trying our hand at that this coming week. I'm very very excited to share the results with you!! In my next post, I'll include a series of in-progress photos so you can see our progress.
As we pregnant women keep in mind what is entering our babies' bodies through our mouths and avoiding alcohol, processed foods, mercury in fish and food additives, we should also keep in mind what could be entering our babies' bodies through our skin. When we slather creams, lotions, moisturizers and sunscreens onto our bodies, they are absorbed into our bodies via our largest organ, where they are able to impact developing babies. In our upcoming July/August issue of Natural Home & Garden, we offer a hefty, 8-page feature on healthy skin care products. Not regulated well by the federal government, laws restricting what skin-care companies can put into their products are virtually nonexistent, so it is truly up to us to become educated consumers when it comes to what we put on our bodies.
This is more crucial than ever if we're pregnant, as levels of chemicals that can be somewhat hazardous to adults can wreak greater havoc on developing systems. As doctor Debra Jaliman says on her blog on WebMD, "I can't understand why warnings for pregnant women are not on more skin care products." While I would recommend looking at the labels on your skin care products and avoiding anything potentially hazardous (using our upcoming article, which will be on newsstands in two weeks, or the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database as a starting point), one of the most important ingredients to avoid is retinol. A vitamin A derivative that encourages skin to regenerate, retinol is in a wide array of skin-care products, particularly those touted as "anti-aging." Because retinol encourages cell regeneration, it can encourage skin to "renew" itself, helping it appear younger. However, that new skin is more sensitive to sun damage, and can actually increase risk of sun damage and skin cancer when used in daytime products. Nonetheless, the desire to slap "anti-aging" on the packaging has led more and more skin-care products to contain retinol. Some studies have found that retinoids (the class of vitamin A derivatives retinol is part of) in high doses can be harmful to unborn children. Oral retinoids such as isotretinoin (in the acne treatment Accutane) are known to cause birth defects.
Found in foundations, lipsticks, sunscreens and cleansers, retinol in daytime products will "actually make skin age faster because it is more susceptible to the sun, no matter the amount of SPF protection promised on the foundation or sunscreen," Jaliman writes. Retinol is particularly not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, which includes ALL products, even those intended for use at night. Check your sunscreen! Many sunscreens contain retinol, which is a particularly hazardous use of the additive because exposure to the sun helps the product break down more quickly.
If you are pregnant and you have been using skin-care products with retinol, don't panic. No studies have definitively linked topical use of retinol to birth defects or harm to unborn infants. To be on the safe side, though, avoid skin-care products with this ingredient. Retinoids can be listed as a variety of names on labels. Watch out for these: Differin (adapelene), retin-A, renova, tretinoin, retinoic acid, retinol, retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, tazorac and avage, tazarotene. You can read more on this subject on the BabyCenter website.