Never Miss a Monday – Add a Veggie Course First

veggie firstLet’s get fancy and healthy…add a first course to dinnertime and make veggies the star! If you’re serious about healthy eating then you know the more vegetables each day the better, but people often stumble on how to do this consistently. You may have heard the suggestions of making half your plate vegetables or being sure to eat your vegetables first. These are good ideas…until we have that nice plate of sizzling steak in front of us too…and then we start giving the steak a bit more plate real estate then we meant to, or we take a few bites of our veggies…but that juicy steak can really be too hard to resist…and next thing we know, our stomach is full but our plate still has a pile of wilting salad staring right back up at us.

If you’ve read any of my previous NMAM posts (anyone? Bueller?) you’ll see that I am a big fan of reducing the need for willpower when it comes to wellness. In this case, make veggies a priority and give them their own course, leaving the main meal in the kitchen to be served afterwards (remember though, we are trying up the ante on vegetables, so the 2nd course should still include a vegetable side along with the protein and whole grain). Keep it simple…bowl of greens, cup of squash soup, plate of raw veggies, tomato/basil salad; anything goes as long as it is veggie based. And if you have kids at home, check out some of the tips from Bethany’s last N2F Blog Posting “Making Dinner Time Fun” (…/making-dinner…/). Sophisticated and nutritious…now that’s a meal!

Be well,

April 27, 2015


Why Do MA Organic Growers Oppose Genetic Engineering?

Science Blog PhotoIn genetic engineering (GE), technicians extract genes from one form of life and insert them into another (they can put fish genes into a strawberry).  In doing so, GE can create totally new organisms which will pass these genetic changes on to their offspring.  Why do organic growers in Massachusetts oppose that?

 Because it is a threat to family farms

Monopoly control of seeds – Farming is dependent on the use of seeds.  Many seed suppliers, means healthy competition and fair prices.  Recognizing the huge profits associated with biotechnology, agrochemical companies have been acquiring seed companies since the early 1900s.  Today, 75% of the global vegetable seed market is controlled by 5 corporations, 3 of which are also among the world’s largest agrochemical firms.

Loss of economic dependence – An ecosystem is rich when a variety of organisms thrive in mutual interdependence.  The same is true for farms – diversity in farm size, markets and crop mix makes for overall stability and strength.  With the gaining momentum of FE seeds, fewer and fewer varieties will be available, and what is sold, will be patented and licensed.  This turns family farms into franchises, relying on agricultural biotech firms for inputs and management systems.

Presumption of guilt – As GMOs come to dominate US crop production, buyers in Europe and Japan are refusing shipments from America unless they can be guaranteed GE-free.  Farmers who don’t use GE seed are being forced to bear the expense of segregating and testing their crops in order to prove that they are free of this controversial technology.

Contamination of organic crops – there is no way to protect some organic crops from pollination by a GE crop, even several miles away.  The use of GE by some is a serious threat to organic farmers whose markets require contaminant-free food.

 Because it is a danger to human health

Toxicity – Genetic engineering is not an exact science A GMO is the result of many thousands of random insertions of genes into target cells, which are screened to see if they exhibit the desired characteristic.  But genes work in combination, and new combinations can have novel characteristics – including toxicity to humans – which cannot be predicted FDA scientists warned of this problem in 1992 and recommended long-term toxicological tests.  The FDA ignored their scientists, however, and refused to require such testing.

Allergic reactions – Children are most at risk for allergic reactions.  Allergies are usually triggered by a specific protein in food  GE foods can cause allergic reactions in two ways:

  • Genes from one food can be inserted in another, causing the new food to produce the old protein – but allergic individuals will not know to avoid the new food.
  • Novel proteins can be created by the new combinations of genes present in GE foods, no one knows what allergic reactions these may induce, because they have never been seen in nature before.

Antibiotic resistance – Genetic engineers insert genes for antibiotic resistance into their creations so they can find whether the new genetic material has been successfully transferred.  Medical professionals, however, have become increasingly concerned that this practice will lead to the transfer of antibiotic resistance to disease organisms in the environment and a resulting loss of effectiveness of key antibiotics in controlling major threats to public health.

They are not safe – The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) cites animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immunve system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility from GMO consumption.  They urge doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients  After GMO’s were introduced in 1996, human food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, and digestive problems began to rise.

Article Source: Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts

Never Miss a Monday – Just Park & Walk

parkOne of the best ways to improve our overall health is to build in physical activity into our daily lives. This is true for every person, whether you are a regular exerciser or someone who hasn’t quite found his or her exercise niche. I get it though, life is busy, and many of us don’t have time to bike around town doing our errands, or walk the 20 flights of stairs up to our office. (bravo if you do though!)

My NMAM tip for the week is quite simple and aims to not only increase daily activity but has a dash of peace of mind to go along with it. From this point forward, when you are driving into any parking lot, garage, etc…Just park. And walk. Stop the never-ending quest for the ultimate close-to-the-door parking spot. Make a habit of parking in the first available parking space you see. It doesn’t need to be at the far corners of the lot, just one that is open at that moment and is a reasonable walking distance for you. You’ll be surprised how freeing this can be, especially when you pull into a mall parking lot and don’t have to go through the mental checklist of which entrance is closest to the store you are heading to, and then trying to find the closest spot to that entrance. Just park. And walk. Your mind and body will thank you!

Be Well!

April 20, 2015

Never Miss a Monday – Dark Chocolate for Sweet Cravings

choc“Chocolate. It’s what’s for Dinner”. Okay, some wishful thinking there, but I’m sure many of you have heard that this plant-derived treat can be a healthier way to satisfy a sweet-tooth. Antioxidants known as flavonols are inherent in the cocoa bean (along with many other plants) and can influence certain health benefits like lowering blood pressure. The key though is to make it “dark” chocolate, and here is where the confusion begins. Since there is no real regulation on labeling for dark chocolate, many of the big name food conglomerates have put out versions of “dark” chocolate that not only miss the mark from a health perspective, but are nowhere as near as tasty and satisfying as the real thing.

So like any plant-based food, the less processed, the healthier. Stick with high-quality brands with a short ingredients list (think Endangered Species, Theo, Green & Black, Sweet Riot) and stay away from any “dark” chocolate that shows chocolate processed with alkali as an ingredient. This process, also knows as “dutch process” takes away the bitterness of the cocoa at the same time stripping away the flavonols. Think Dove Dark Chocolate, Hershey Special Dark Chocolate, and really, any dark chocolate that lists “sugar” as the first ingredient.

If you can start at 70% dark chocolate and make your way up the percentage chart, that’s great, but if you are a real milk-chocolate die-hard, it’s okay to start with a 60%-65% for example and train your palate to appreciate the taste before going up to the next level. Just remember, like any treat, moderation is key; a square or two will do just fine, and with the full-bodied taste of dark chocolate you’ll find that that is all you will really need!

Be Well,

April 13, 2015

Soule Homestead – Heart and Soule of Middleborough

Soule signBy Pamela Denholm

Soule Homestead is a 120 acre farm in Middleborough, with a history dating back to 1622.  Over the many years, it has seen its fair share of triumph and tragedy, successful business ventures, marriages, children, fires, accidents (cows once fell through the barn floor).  It has been a dairy farm for most of its history, until 1983 when the cows were all sold and the farmer turned to haying fields to earn a living (8,000 – 10,000 bales a year).  Eventually, though, it was sold.  Despite numerous offers from developers, it was the town of Middleborough that acquired the farm, and now it lies in the care of the Soule Homestead Education Center.

Soule Homestead might be a bit of a hike for some of our Quincy customers, but for a day’s outing, it is so worth the drive.  The bucolic setting, rolling landscape and open sky is very welcoming, and there are always activities on the calendar for anyone of any age.  For you under 5-year olds who want to expend some energy in the open space, listen to a story and visit with the animals, or teenagers who might like to get out of the house for bit, learn a craft, go for a hike, or do some gardening, they have it all.  Heritage-based craft classes for wool spinning, print making, rug braiding, quilting, basket weaving, and candle making are also offered regularly, as too are regular features around farming, agriculture and sustainability – want to learn to forage for food?  Keep bees?  Garden?

And throughout the months of July and August they have an open air concert series for music lovers.

Speaking of summer, there are a wide range of summer activities to keep families busy, farm-based school vacation programs (which we get asked about often).  Activities around star-gazing, owl-prowling, mushroom walks, landscape painting . . . seems like I can just go on and on.  We are so fortunate that the South Shore is dotted with open spaces and farms that are family friendly, and Soule Homestead is definitely one such treasure.

Soule Homestead ‘Green Film Series’

Soule landscapeThe Soule Homestead in Middleborough is happy to announce the beginning of a ‘Green Film Series’, with the screening of ‘GMO OMG’ on Friday May 15th at 7pm. The film follows concerned father (the filmmaker) Jeremy Seifert as he searches for answers about GMOs (genetically modified organisms in 80% of our food), and how they affect our children, the health of our planet, and our freedom of choice. The screening will be hosted by Soule Board Member Mike Gioscia (aka ‘The Green Dad’), a local food activist who helps raise awareness of GMOs and the efforts in Massachusetts (and the USA) to have them labeled. Q&A to follow the film, and organic popcorn will be served! Donations accepted.

The Soule Homestead Education Center
46 Soule St, Middleborough, MA 02346
(508) 947-6744
Mike Gioscia


Making Dinner Time Fun!

By Bethany Whitemyer

My family is super busy! With two working parents and two kids that are involved in multiple activities and sports we find that we only have a few nights per week that we all sit down together for dinner. I’m sure that your family is busy too, but everyone needs to eat, so make dinner time fun with a few of these tips.

Setting the scene

Even if you’re all just having grilled cheese sandwiches and smoothies for dinner, set the table with some care. Consider using a place mat at each seat. You can make them yourself with your kids or buy them inexpensively pretty much anywhere. If you choose to make them with your family you can use children’s artwork, or seasonal decorations like leaves, flowers, or grasses pressed between contact paper. Or you can work with your older child to teach him/her how to use a sewing machine and make a few simple ones out of fabric the children choose.


Your place setting should also include a napkin of course. We use cloth napkins at my house and have a lot of different colors and patterns. Sometimes we have every person’s napkin match and sometimes we switch it up and have them all mismatched. When I was little we each had a different way of keeping our napkin in a napkin ring. One pulled the napkin through by the middle, one person did a fan fold, one rolled it, and one person did a double fold. It was a small tradition but made dinner time more memorable. You could even make a few napkin rings with your children.

Make it playful

One fun game to play even before you start eating is to play a guessing game at the table. Set one different thing at each person’s place. For example everyone has a blue plate except for one person who has a white plate, or everyone has water except for the one person who has milk. I had to get very creative with this as my children got older and make the differences more subtle because they learned all my usual tricks. Try putting out one tablespoon and the rest teaspoons if you’re running out of tricks

Familiar foods

Be sure that there is always something familiar for your child to eat at dinner. If you know he will always eat fruit, add some blueberries, strawberries, or a sliced apple to his plate. If there is something you know he likes available then he may be more willing to look at an item you’re introducing for the first time.


Ditch the distractions

Turn off the TV. Put away your phones. Your time is valuable, and you probably spent a chunk of it preparing the food you’re about to eat. So spend some quality time to really focus on your food, and on your dining companions.

Ask the right questions

I am always tempted to ask the dreaded “How was your day” question at dinner, but it never seems to generate the conversation I hope it will. Try asking some other kinds of questions instead, like:

  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  • Who did you eat lunch with today? Where?
  • If you could relive any moment from the day today which one would it be? Why?
  • If you could erase one moment from the day what would it be?
  • How is _____ (insert child’s best friend’s name or spouse’s co-worker’s name here)?
  • What are you reading? What are you studying in science? What art materials did you use?

Have a back-up plan

What’s your plan if your child doesn’t want to eat what you’re serving? I’m always disappointed when I’ve put a lot of work into a meal, only to have my sons look at it with loathing when I put it on the table. Decide in advance with your partner in parenting what you will say and do if your children choose not to eat what you have made. Here are some back-up plans that you may consider:

  • What’s being served is the only option.
  • If the child doesn’t want what’s being served then he/she can have a bowl of cereal or some other alternative.
  • You make a whole separate dinner for your child.
  • Your child may be excused from the table if they’re not eating.
  • Your child has to stay at the table until everyone is done.
  • They have to eat all of something, and some of everything.

Your back-up plan may involve multiple options. Discuss the rules on seconds, after-dinner snacking, and dessert in advance with your family to avoid dinner time confusion, confrontation, and disappointment during dinner.

I hope that some of these tips help make dinner time at your house a little more enjoyable. Happy dining!

Bethany Whitemyer is the Center Director at the Bright Horizons in Pembroke, Ma. She and her family, husband David and sons Evan and Lucas, live in Rockland, MA. She has been known to serve cheese and crackers for dinner, on her wedding china.

Never Miss a Monday – Eating Deadlines

Contrary to what was believed many years ago, eating at night does not seem to be any more conducive to weight gain that what is eaten throughout the day. If you are committed to a healthy diet, full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, then it doesn’t matter what time of you day you eat. The challenge for most people is that the food being consumed at night after dinner tends to be highly caloric. If you are looking to maintain or even reduce your calories for the day, this is often the best place to start. Set a deadline for 2-3 hours prior to your usual bedtime that will be “the line in the sand” for not eating past that point.

Food is fuel for our bodies, but at this time of day we don’t need to fuel them up but instead we need to help them wind down to ensure we are getting quality sleep at night. Be sure to eat a healthy dinner with plenty of fiber, protein and healthy fats to keep you satiated. Make bedrooms off-limits to eating, and then start your night-time routine earlier by heading up to your bedroom 30-60 mins before your actual sleep-time. If you are hungry and must eat, remember that healthy snack list we talked about in last weeks NMAM Tip of the day? This is where it can really pay off. Pull out the list and gear your snack towards something on the healthy side.

Be Well!

April 6, 2015

BioChar – Trapping Carbon for Thousands of Years

Farmer in the FieldBy Pam Denholm

Along with bags of potting soil, mulch, and compost, you soon may see bags of biochar for sale at your local nursery.  To explain what biochar is, we need to return to the Amazon basin circa 450 a.d. Indigenous people didn’t practice slash-and-burn farming as they do now. They practiced slash-and-char agriculture, roasting wood and leafy greens in “smothered” fires, in which lower temperatures and oxygen levels resulted in the production of charcoal instead of ash. The charcoal was buried in fields where crops were grown.

But then, with the arrival of Europeans and their diseases, the Amazon civilizations, some with cities of more than 100,000 people, collapsed. Slash-and-char agriculture was forgotten, as were the fields of buried charcoal. But they weren’t gone. In the 20th century, huge expanses of black soil were rediscovered, although at first no one knew what they were. Then, in the 1990s, scientists determined that these soils were manmade. They were dubbed terra preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese). And they were extensive. Some estimates put the total acreage covered by the charcoal-enriched soil at twice the size of Great Britain.

Most amazingly, the soils extended up to 6 feet deep in many places. Scientists have theorized that terra preta soils are self-propagating and have grown in depth since they were first made. The charcoal, acting a lot like humus, had been colonized by myriad microbes, fungi, earthworms, and other creatures; these soil organisms produced carbon-based molecules that stuck to the charcoal, gradually increasing the soil’s carbon content. Carbon in decomposing plants, which would otherwise escape into the air as greenhouse gases, was sequestered by the biologically active charcoal in the soil. Scientists theorize that the charcoal was originally laid down in thin layers and that earthworms chewed through the layers and mixed them deeply into the soil.

That is just the beginning of the benefits of this strange soil. It appears that the carbon will be sequestered for a thousand—possibly thousands—of years, unable to contribute to global warming in the form of greenhouse gases. Green charcoal, or biochar made from agricultural residues or renewable biomass, appears to hold the most promise as a carbon sink. Every ton of this biochar in the soil is capable of capturing and holding at least 3 tons of carbon.

Biochar also stimulates mycorrhizal fungi—those fungal symbionts that live on plant roots, scour surrounding soil for hard-to-find phosphorus, and deliver it back to their host plants. According to scientists studying the soils, microbial growth of all kinds is substantially improved. And so is the soil’s ability to hold nutrients until plants need them, then dole them out at the optimum rate for plant health. Crops have been shown to grow 45 percent greater biomass on unfertilized terra preta soil versus poor soil fertilized with chemical fertilizers.

You can also make your own biochar.  One method of making biochar: pile up woody debris in a shallow pit in a garden bed; burn the brush until the smoke thins; damp down the fire with a one-inch soil covering; let the brush smolder until it is charred; put the fire out. The leftover charcoal will improve soil by improving nutrient availability and retention.  You want the fire to brun fast and hot at first, but the reason the fire is then covered is to reduce the temperature of the fire, limit its oxygen and have it burn more slowly.  You can also make biochar in a 55 gallon drum:Bio Char