Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Refreshing “Un-salad Salad” Lunches for Hot Weather - A Guest Post for The Balanced Platter

I was delighted to write a guest post for The Balanced Platter that was published this week!

My topic was lunch salads that can be packed ahead of time without wilting by lunchtime. The secret is choosing heartier vegetable bases.

The below is a sneak peak, but click on over to The Balanced Platter to read the full post for mix and match options that add up to 9 different pack-ahead "un-salad" combinations!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Estimating Needed Freezer Space, and Buying A Whole (Smallish) Grassfed Cow, In Pictures


Today our family picked up its first whole grassfed cow. Before, we had bought half grassfed cows from a couple of different local farmers. We knew that we were in for a lot more beef than we had ever bought, so we added another chest freezer to our family's setup in the garage.

Before our family made the move toward increasingly depending on local bulk purchases of meat, I was always at a loss for knowing how much beef would be involved, how much freezer space we'd need to have,  and whether we could handle the commitment. I used to be rather annoyed when I could never seem to get a straight answer from people who had bought bulk in the past...but now I know why! There are so many factors, it is hard to pin the experience down.

Example: How many pounds of meat can I expect in my grassfed beef purchase?


2011 (Half cow, Farmer A): 198 lb. dry hanging weight
2012 (Half cow, Farmer B): 498 lb. dry hanging weight
2013 (Whole cow, Farmer B): 660 lb. dry hanging weight

Do you see what happened there? The cow sizes varied not only between Farmers A and B, but also between how much beef we committed to buy from Farmer B. Farmer B was straightforward about the fact that his smallest cows at slaughter go to his whole cow purchasers, to avoid the whole cow families having the sticker shock of buying, say, one of his 1000 lb. dry hanging weight cows. (Even at an inexpensive price of $3/lb. that comes to $3,000! ...whereas by comparison the smaller-side cow he designated for our whole cow purchase - at 660 lb - came to $1980, kill fee and butchering fee included in that number.)

What I can visually quantify for curious would-be local beef buyers, though, is how much space is required for certain amounts of meat. For example, we own an older Hyundai Santa Fe. 660 lb. of frozen beef took up the entire back. You can see two large knee-high Sterilite containers (blue and grey) containing just a small amount of the beef.

In other words our emptied trunk is capable of transporting a small whole grassfed cow (660 lb. shown here), or half a very large grassfed cow (498 lb. in the past)...that's with the back seats still installed.
I can also give visuals on the rough proportion of cuts we got from our 660 lb. this time around. It is worth noting that my husband specifically requested that the butcher cut our beef to maximize grill-ability. (We do lurv ourselves some grilling in this family!) That means that cuts that might have been roasts (like chuck roasts) were instead cut as chuck steaks and cube steaks.

I used smaller Sterilite containers to divvy up some of the meats on our driveway. This way my girls could take 1 lb. packs of frozen ground beef from the designated "ground beef bin" to their daddy standing by the freezer in the garage...while I sorted the cuts.

 Below you'll see the cuts in a shallow (6" deep, roughly 2' by 3') Sterilite container. This is to give you an informal idea of the quantity of cuts that comes from a 660 lb. purchase. These are rough estimates only...even after taking the shots of the cuts I'd discover an extra of the same cut here or there somewhere else, so there is an estimation margin of error.

These are shown in a large knee-high depth Sterilite container.

This one's an exception...the T-Bones shown were in
a smaller Sterilite container that would hold a couple of shoeboxes side by side.

One last photo. This shows how much freezer space we required for 660 lb. You'll notice that we got A WHOLE LOT of ground beef in the deal. Our top freezer on our refrigerator is completely full of ground beef. Our chest freezer also had some ground beef in it, along with other cuts.

This is where I can give the good "rule of thumb" estimation I always give friends who are curious about freezer space requirements for bulk purchases.
  • One refrigerator freezer can store roughly 100 lb. of meat...if it's "neatly contained" (like the blocks of ground beef shown here). More irregularly-shaped cuts may mean less storage efficiency.
  • One modest waist-high chest freezer (as shown here) can hold roughly 200 lb. of meat.
  • One modest double-wide chest freezer (as shown here) can hold roughly 400 lb. of meat.
That adds up to 700 lb. capacity, but since we had a few items (like leftover bones from our last bulk purchase) still in the freezers, that largely fits with the notion of 660 lb. of meat.

The best way to determine, then, if you have enough freezer space, is to ask your farmer before committing to a quarter, half, or whole cow is whether he/she might be able to predict the final dry hanging weight of your committed purchase. Then, eyeball your existing freezer space and use the rules of thumb above to see if you're in the ballpark.

In our case, we knew we'd need more freezer space, and we managed to pay $125 for the used double chest freezer shown on the right through a Craigslist connection. It was a very worthwhile addition to the garage setup!

Are you planning any bulk beef or other bulk meat purchases from your local farmers this spring? Have you figured out your freezer space needs for the purchase?

EDIT TO ADD: Jan of Jan's Sushi Bar posted this link in the comments on how much "eating meat" one can expect from beef purchases. I think it is another great measuring stick for assessing your potential purchases. THANKS, Jan!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Update: GAPS, Unorthodox Tweaks, and New Theories on Salicylate Sensitivity

My 3 year old daughter had a good month. OK, a really good month. The thing about having a special needs kid, is that needed core resources can often be inaccessible due to insurance, geography, or other heartbreaking complications. Or, the pendulum can find itself on the other end of the spectrum, where everybody is selling something to help, and the bewildered parent tries to figure out what is or isn't covered by insurance, and what offerings seem most promising.

In our house we have parades for celebration-worthy poops.
(Via Flickr Creative Commons.)
In the second case, it's not uncommon for a kid to make developmental or other leaps, and the parents find themselves not able to precisely determine the causes for success...because this isn't a double blind single variable/control random trial with lab rats; this is your one and only precious child, for whom you will spare little effort or expense in the hopes of progress. That is, you can have several contributing factors at once, and it can be hard to pin successes on any one factor.

In our case, we have connected in recent months with a board certified pediatrician who is known in our area for specializing with special needs kids and gut health. There are many things she is trying with our daughter, including some targeted supplementation after an initial lab determining nutrient status. Most notably, though, she characterized the GAPS diet as a, "good starting point". She noted that my daughter's ongoing issues with soft, mushy poop signaled that yeast could still be a problem, and asked us to cut way back on fruit. Although fruit is GAPS-legal, I think it is easy to overdo, at least in our case, because it is so portable and fast. Our daughter was eating 3 or 4 pieces in a day at the time. The doctor also recommended introducing a small handful of ancient gluten free grains, to see how they were tolerated.

GRAINS?! The part of me that was so committed and knowledgeable about how GAPS is supposed to proceed was fairly panicky at the thought. GAPS is supposed to heal the gut, and then much longer down the road, include nongluten grains once the gut was stabilized.

But, I had been feeling desperate to try something different. Mushy poop is not exactly an asset for a kid you'd hope to daytime potty train before her preschool potty training deadline arrives this fall. We started to follow the doctor's prescribed guidelines. While quinoa did not seem to settle so well, buckwheat seemed to agree with her very well, so she was getting very small servings of it as a carb source. Occasionally small amounts of rice (known by many in the paleo community as a safe starch) also came into play.

And guess what? She did not regress.

In fact, for about three glorious weeks, my 3 year old made some wonderful progress. It is, of course, possible for a parent to be biased or overly subjective when evaluating behavioral changes as correlated to diet changes. But, do you know what is not so subjective? Suddenly solid, normal-looking poop. Also: Sleeping all the way through the night like a rock star. Also: Her speech therapists, occupational therapist, AND her preschool teachers gave us extra-encouraging reports.

So, not only was our daughter's behavior and concentration improving, but her previously mushy, foul-smelling poop suddenly resolved into Bristol Stool Scale 4 poops. This is what many in the special needs community would call a "holy grail poop" - it is a pretty universal sign that digestively, something has resolved or is resolving in the right direction.

So, I got cocky. I thought, "This is great, we have figured things out, we are helping her!"

And suddenly, like that, 3 weeks of awesomeness went to (har har) crap. Awful poops, increasingly disrupted sleep, lack of concentration, and ultra-lethargic, distracted behavior.

I was beside myself. I was beside myself trying to figure out what the heck happened. What had changed? Then I realized: I had been doing a 21 Day Sugar Detox through March, and about a week before Easter it ended. Suddenly, I was back to making stuff that I hadn't made for about three weeks - treat-y things involving coconut flour, almond flour, honey, etc. We also had some meals involving marinara (= tomatoes), and I had bought some frozen diced pineapple and mango - all three of which I had not bought or cooked in that three weeks.

The common denominator among these foods seems to be salicylates - and these inadvertently reintroduced foods happen to be moderately to very high in them. Sarah Ballantyne of The Paleo Mom wrote a post on salicylate sensitivity a while back. The possibility of salicylate sensitivity had also been brought up by our certified nutritional therapy practitioner.

Many who work in the field of special needs kids' gut health know that there is not always a simple answer, and that often sensitivities and allergies must be determined slowly, sometimes taking months or years to suss out. Frequently, as seems to be happening for us, major issues like gluten and dairy will be identified, only for smaller, lesser-known factors including (but not limited to) salicylates, phenols, amines, food dyes, artificial colors, and artificial flavors to be determined as fellow culprits. More complicated still, they are often naturally occuring chemical components of otherwise healthy, harmless foods that most folks can eat with impunity, so the lesser-known factors are rarely obvious unless strict dietary elimination trials are performed.

In our case, while nothing is yet 100% certain, there was certainly a dramatic enough correlation to merit serious consideration of dietary salicylates as a real problem for our daughter - because when I stopped feeding her honey, almonds, coconut, tomatoes, pineapple, and other higher salicylate foods in favor of lower-salicylate alternatives, her poop went from ultra messy and gross back to celebration-worthy, her sleep improved, and she began talking up a storm again, using sentences with even 9 or 10 words, and increasingly discussing her surroundings.

For me, continuously tweaking her diet has become much less about following a protocol's rules (whether GAPS, paleo, etc.) than turning it into a real n=1. For example, buckwheat may not be optimally nutritious in terms of its nutrient content, but as a carefully considered carb source for my daughter it beats many fruits and other high-salicylate foods because it does not draw her into messy-poo-Crazytown. In the meantime, though, several solid GAPS principles remain in place: such as probiotics, live fermented foods, and bone broth!

I have a feeling this is just one example of many tinkering exercises we will be doing with her diet in the years to come, but until then, I celebrate that we can possibly slide one more giant piece of the puzzle into place.

Have you broken rank with a protocol or dietary recommendation in a bid to better personalize dietary needs?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Smallest Reasons To Persevere Are The Biggest (To Me)

Often, I wonder if it is worthwhile trying so hard as a family on the diet end of things. My investigation into how food impacts biochemistry/hormones originated about three years ago because of my family's and my own lifelong struggle with weight. Yet, striving to focus our diet on nourishing foods proves daily to be a countercultural notion.

Still, a couple of years the road, my husband and I realized that keeping my youngest's diet as cleaned up as possible was central to supporting her therapies and speech acquisition. However, these days I try to give my oldest some leeway sometimes so that she can learn about making her own choices. It is really hard to manage the dynamics of two separate levels of clean-eating between two sisters! I still run into snafus and learn lessons on how to do it better every day.

My husband took my oldest daughter to a popular and semi-legendary burger joint for a daddy-daughter date last night with my blessing - it is a rare occasion indeed at our house, probably once a year or less. When they came back and my oldest daughter was out of earshot, my husband told me that I'd be proud of her: she had eaten a bite of her burger, then removed the bun and started munching on the beef, cheese, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and onions, and said, "I just like the meat and cheese and veggies, I don't like the bun so much."

Via Flickr Creative Commons,
Gifford Photographic Collection.
I nearly fell out of my seat. It was so heartening to hear that on some level, her brain was running software that led her to the most nourishing part of the burger in front of her. I don't get to appreciate moments like these every day - there are certainly times even very recently that I've watched her dive gleefully into a sugary treat without a moment's reflection - but I am glad that she is independently displaying application of what we try to do with food at home.

There was another moment today that took me completely by surprise. The same daughter squealed to me today on the playground, "Look, Mommy, I went across the monkey bars all by myself!"

I caught my breath. Really?!

For some, the notion of a 6 year old swinging across monkey bars by herself is nothing remarkable at all: it's a kid being a kid.

But for me, it was deeply, personally encouraging. I have very clear memories of being 9 years old, watching other fourth graders whip back and forth across the monkey bars on the school playground. I tried a few times, but ultimately returned home dejected, feeling like I was less than because I was physically incapable of keeping up with the other kids on the monkey bars. By then, I was simply too heavy and not strong enough.

On Monday, my 6 year old starts a once weekly 9 week course of CrossFit Kids. It isn't the hardcore weight-bearing exercises that the CrossFitting adults do - it's looking to be more structured like an exceptionally fun phys ed class, with bear crawls and the like. I hope fervently that her budding healthy eating inclinations and her enthusiasm for the monkey bars are boosted further by an encouraging, friendly environment celebrating functional fitness!

Have you celebrated any small victories in your household with healthy eating and fitness this week?

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