The more I get to know Jill, the more I find we have a lot in common. For instance, we both have a strong interest in chickens. I have a flock of laying hens in my backyard. We both are convinced that there’s a strong connection between what we feed our kids and their ability to perform at their physical, mental and emotional best. There’s so much confusing nutrition information swirling around on the internet, in magazines, books, on TV, radio and especially on labels of all packaged foods in the grocery store. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re feeding our kids something good because it says so on the box! Yet how much do you really know about the food your kids are eating? Our children belong to the first generation in our nation’s history that has a shorter life expectancy than that of our parents (CDC). Rates of Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Anxiety are growing exponentially among our kids. Why is children’s health declining in America?
The hens can answer at least part of that question. I feed my hens certified organic feed. Organic certification means the feed is 100% grain, grown without pesticides or other chemicals, and with no meat or other animal by-products added. and when there’s not a couple of feet of snow on the ground, the hens spend their days scratching in the yard eating bugs (including deer tics) and worms (mmmmm, good protein!) They get lots of sunshine and enjoy a “dirt bath” when the weather is really hot. So the hens are healthy and happy.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat. The hens eat a diet that’s just right for a hen. But what about the eggs they lay? My parents are big readers, and for twenty-five years they’ve been convinced that eggs are bad because they raise your cholesterol. And suddenly this year, they’ve read that this is all wrong-eggs are good for you again!!
If you find this a little confusing, then maybe you’re willing to dig a little deeper. Consider that the nutritional value of a food, any food, isn’t really a set of numbers that the USDA has charted and published. Really the nutritional value of a food has much more to do with the quality of that food-how it was grown or raised, and not whether it’s a simple carrot or a gourmet dinner. That’s because a carrot is only as healthy as the soil in which it was grown, and the egg is only as healthy as the hen that laid it.
Reading the labels on an egg carton, you will find, “omega3 enriched eggs,” “cage free eggs,” “vegefed eggs,” “free range eggs,” “organic eggs,” ”all natural eggs,” etc. None of these labels means that the those hens ran around outside and scratched in the yard. In fact, most hens never leave the hen house, spending most of their short lives in tightly packed, artificially lit barns where they endure stresses like having their beaks clipped off so they won’t attack other birds in their overcrowded space An organic label does mean that the birds were fed grain free of pesticides and animal waste by-products. And if you find an egg carton labeled “pasture raised hens,” that should mean that the hens actually spend their days outdoors.
There’s something special that happens when a hen scratches in the dirt and bathes in the sun. What happens is this: the nutritional value of their eggs is in perfect balance. The fat in the yolk has naturally occurring beneficial fatty acids, and won’t raise your cholesterol. The protein in the white has all the right amino acids. When you feed those good eggs to your kids, they get a variety of minerals and vitamins along with those macronutrients. Their bones, blood and brains are nourished, and their bodies absorb this nutrition readily. Food that has pesticide residues, growth hormones, sweeteners, thickeners, preservatives, flavorings and other chemicals in it will make your child’s digestive system struggle to figure out which stuff is good and which must be excreted as toxic waste. Your child’s digestive system will be just as confused as you are when you read those labels. Often even good nutrients aren’t properly absorbed when mixed in with all those other ingredients.
Kids who eat processed food on a regular basis may be malnourished, even when they appear to be normal or overweight. When your child’s digestive system is confused, she may have trouble learning, or paying attention. Some school districts have even banned “tag” at recess because of the increasing number of children who are breaking bones playing a formally low-risk game. Once a child’s digestive system has been damaged by non-nutritive foods, it can take a while to repair. The child may have to be on a special diet of very simple, whole foods that the body can recognize and easily digest.
The best nutrition for your child is the best quality food you can afford. In fact, organic food and farm fresh foods aren’t that expensive when compared to what kids spend on sodas, latte’s, chips, cookies and fries. Not to mention what you end up spending on doctor’s bills. In terms of prevention, there’s nothing better you can do for your child. I encourage all parent to find a local farmer, buy some organic eggs from pastured chickens, and taste the difference. Or ask for some tips on raising your own flock. Your kids will notice the difference and you will too!
Amy Kalafa has produced award-winning films, television programs and magazine articles in the fields of food, health and wellness education. Her credits include PBS television series,”Lidia’s Italy” as well as many years on the “Martha Stewart Living” series. Amy’s recent film about school food, Two Angry Moms has met with wide acclaim and has sparked an international movement. Amy is also an organic farmer, nutrition counselor and certified yoga teacher.
Amy is also the author of Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health.
To learn more about nutrition and children go to:
This post reflects the partnership and creative collaboration between The Motor Story, Sustainable CAPE , Truro Public Library and Truro Recreation.