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Want to learn how to eat healthier, while cutting your food budget? Jenn Koffs, RD, of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, explains how shifting to a local or organic diet not only provides healthier, fresher and more nutritious food, but also helps the environment and supports local farms. Click the link below to listen to the 25-minute podcast.
Jenn Koffs, a registered and licensed dietician, explains the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” foods and which to buy organic vs. conventional.
Among her other tips:
- For healthiest eating, try to limit meals outside the home to no more than two per week.
- Create monthly/ weekly food budgets to help cut down costs, which can help you afford organic foods at the grocery store.
- Consider planting a small garden or at least organic herbs in pots at home.
- Buy in-season organic produce in bulk and freeze the extra for use later in the year.
She also shares helpful online resources, including:
Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local®
Local Harvest/Community Supported Agriculture
Environmental Working Group
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Food Routes Network
USDA National Organic Program
Green America/Safe Seafood
Food Babe/How to Eat Organic on a Budget
Read the full transcript below or listen to our conversation with Jenn for more helpful hints on healthy eating.
About Jen Koffs, RD, LDN, CSO: Jenn is a registered and licensed dietitian. She strongly believes in the integrated, patient-centered model of care at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). She says it inspired her to join CTCA at Eastern Regional Medical Center, the national network of cancer hospitals’ Philadelphia location, in December 2010.
THE CONFERENCE FOR WOMEN
“Healthy Eating Just Got Easier”
Moderator: Whitney Gray Wilkerson
Guest: Jen Koffs
WHITNEY GRAY WILKERSON: Hello, everyone. This is Whitney with The Conference for Women. Thanks so much for joining us on this Tuesday for our teleclass with Cancer Treatment Centers of America, “Healthy Eating Just Got Easier.” We have Jen from Cancer Treatment Centers of America who has joined us and is going to walk us through how to eat better, and some simple ways to shift to a local or organic diet.
So before we begin, a little bit about Jen. Jen Koffs is a registered and licensed dietician. She believes strongly in the integrated patient‑centered model of care at CTCA. She says it inspired her to join the team at Eastern Regional Medical Center, the National Network of Cancer Hospitals’ Philadelphia location in December of 2010.
So welcome, Jen.
JEN KOFFS: Thank you.
WGW: I want to encourage everybody who is on the line who is a Twitter user that you can tweet highlights and follow along by using @pennwomen or #pennwomen.
So Jen, please, welcome.
JK: Thank you. So we’re going to be talking today about how to make the transition from just following a regular diet to eating more local, organic, and healthier foods
So the first question that comes to my mind is why?
Why should you bother making that transition? And there are many different reasons to do it.
For one thing, it’s better for the environment. Fewer resources end up getting wasted in transporting items across the country or around the world. The food itself also tends to be fresher and better tasting because the longer something sits around before you end up eating it, the more flavor and the nutritional value of the food diminish. So the sooner you are get it, the more nutritious the food is going to be.
It also helps the local economy and helps keep local family farms in business. And with organic food, you don’t have to be concerned about the addition of pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormones, and unnecessary antibiotics and whatever effects those items happen to have on the human body.
So how do you actually go about making that transition and how do you do so, more importantly, on a budget? There are a number of different ways to go about keeping down the costs and still managing to get these healthier items into your family and yourself.
The number one thing that you can do to keep the price down is make sure that you’re prioritizing getting the organic versions of products that tend to hold onto the most additives and the most pesticides. So the first thing that I usually tell people to focus on is making sure they are getting their meat, their dairy and their eggs from organic providers.
There’s also a list of items called the Dirty Dozen, and this refers to 12 items that have been identified ‑‑ 12 to 13, depending on the year, items that have been identified by the Environmental Working Group as being foods and produce items that have more pesticides and more fertilizers and residues left behind on them. These include apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries and sweet bell peppers.
There’s also a shorter list called the Dirty Dozen Plus. These items didn’t meet the Dirty Dozen criteria, but they still were commonly contaminated with pesticides that have been found to be exceptionally toxic to the nervous system. So these items include kale, collard greens, and squash.
So when you are deciding which items to purchase from the grocery store from the organic section and which to purchase from the conventional section, those items on the Dirt Dozen and the Dirty Dozen Plus are the ones that you want to try to get organic as often as
So you can save some money by purchasing some of the other items in the grocery store that tend to have fewer pesticides and fewer residues left behind on them. The Environmental Working Group also identified the 15 items that tend to hold on the fewest of these pesticides. So these items include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwis, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapple, frozen sweet peas and sweet potatoes.
Both of these lists can be found on the EWG’s website at EWG.org.
Another way to help keep down the costs is to actually just reduce the amount of meat and dairy that you consume. These products tend to be some of the most expensive items to purchase organic, so the less of them you eat, the less of them you have to purchase organic.
So one thing that you can do is as soon as you bring the meat or poultry or fish home from the grocery store, before you even put it into the fridge or freezer, portion it out into three‑ or four‑ounce servings, and then make sure you are sticking to one serving per meal.
If you are someone who is used to eating a larger portion, six, seven or eight ounces of animal protein at a given meal, you can offset these smaller portions of the animal protein by making sure that you include a side of plant protein such as beans or lentils at that same meal.
Another thing that people find helpful is to choose to make one meal each day vegan, meaning no meat, no dairy, no animal products whatsoever at that particular meal. And an example for breakfast might be a bowl of oatmeal with some berries and nuts thrown in. Or lunchtime you might want to do something like a cup of black bean soup and a side salad. Or dinner could be a stir fry with some vegetables and tofu thrown in. So it’s not necessarily challenging to avoid those animal proteins.
Another way to help keep the cost down is make sure that you are planning your weekly meals out ahead of time to minimize waste and the amount of money that gets thrown out as well. So one of the easiest ways to go about doing this is to have more of your meals at home rather than going out to restaurants and cafes. Dining out is generally more expensive than eating at home, and organic restaurants in particular tend to be much more costly. So try to make sure that you are keeping it to no more than about two meals per week outside of the home.
When you go to the grocery store, pay attention to which organic items are on sale that week and plan to have meals that incorporate those ingredients in them. If you can purchase these items that are on sale in quantity, meaning buy one, get one free, make sure that you do so. Whatever you can’t use immediately, just freeze it when you get home so that it doesn’t go bad.
Along similar lines, you can go to the coupon section of your local newspaper, or you can go online and find coupons and you can use those to help decide what to purchase as well. Just make sure you are making a point of selecting recipes for the week that actually include those ingredients that you have those coupons for, or that are on sale.
Another thing that’s helpful is to make sure you’re creating monthly budgets and weekly budgets and then trying to stay within those frameworks. Doing so can help cut down on unnecessary purchases, and that can leave you better able to purchase the organic ingredients without having to worry quite so much about their cost.
Another option would be to use customer loyalty cards or rewards card that a lot of supermarkets have, because they can help cut down on the final bill as well. A lot of grocery stores have programs where if you few spend a hundred dollars, they will give you a hundred points or something like that, and that can help keep some cash back into your pocket.
Another thing that can help minimize waste and help with planning ahead is making sure you are purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables from the organic section. Oftentimes these are cheaper than the fresh versions and they can last a lot longer, so they can be quite helpful.
Another way to help keep down on the cost is to make bulk purchases. So if you have a membership to Sam’s Club or BJ’s or Costco or some other kind of wholesalers, oftentimes those stores sell organic items and they can be purchased for a relevantly low unit price. If you are somebody who doesn’t have a membership and you don’t think you would use it that often, you can actually split your membership with a neighbor or some friends or family to help keep the overhead costs down and still have access to those organic resources.
When you are at the regular grocery store, you can purchase unpackaged organic items such as nuts, lentils, dried beans, so on, from the bulk containers or dispensers that are oftentimes found near the produce section. Oftentimes these exact same ingredients can be purchased much cheaper from the bulk dispensers than from the pre‑bagged versions that are found on the shelves. And if you are going to do this, it’s actually helpful to make sure you are bringing a measuring cup with you so you can measure out exactly how much you need of any particular ingredient for a recipe so that you don’t end up paying for extra that just gets thrown out at the end of the night.
Another way to use this strategy is to make sure when you are going home, make doubles batches of soups and stews and the other dishes that you are preparing so that you can use up the produce before it has the chance to go bad, but immediately freeze half of it and save it for later. This can actually help cut down on the amount of prep time that you have to do for your food during the week, because everybody gets busy in the evenings.
Another thing that helps with keeping the costs down is making sure that you are being willing to take a couple extra steps with your food preparation. For example, rather buying individual sections of a chicken, meaning things like the breast or the thighs or the wings, purchase and roast an entire turkey or an entire chicken. And then once you have removed the parts that you plan to use, you can use the rest of the bird to just throw it into a pot and turn it into some homemade broth or homemade stock, and that can make one fewer thing that you have to purchase at the grocery store.
Along similar lines, you can use leftover ingredients like butter and stale bread to make croutons or bread crumbs, again, so you don’t have to go out and pay the cost of purchasing them separately.
Another thing that you can do is buy unwashed produce rather than the pre‑washed produce. It takes about three extra seconds to wash it and it can cut down significantly on the price. You can also chop and dice your own organic produce rather than purchasing the pre-chopped items. Or you can create your own stirfry and shish kebab blends rather than purchasing the ready‑made ones. You can make your own granola bars, trail mixes, rice pilafs, smoothies and so on.
Another option, kind of in a completely different direction, is to actually just grow your own produce or raise your own chickens for their eggs. If you don’t feel comfortable launching right into a full‑scale vegetable garden, or maybe you don’t have much space in your backyard, even just setting up some pots for herbs on your kitchen window sill or on your back steps can make a big difference, because purchasing even small quantities of organic herbs can be quite expensive.
Another thing that helps to keep the costs down of eating organic would be make sure you are eating according to the seasons. Items tend to be cheaper when they are in season and they can be purchased in larger quantities. So what you want to do is make sure you are buying these in‑season items in bulk and then save whatever you don’t use immediately in your freezer for later during the year. This can be especially helpful for adding some variety into your diet during the winter months.
Here in Pennsylvania, in the spring and early summer, so right around now, it’s pretty easy to get your hands on some asparagus and peas. And then throughout the summer and fall you can get ingredients like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cantaloupe, cucumbers, snap peas, lima beans, sweet corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, leaf lettuce and summer squash. And then mid‑summer through winter you can get a lot of root vegetables like beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes. And then early fall through winter you can get brussels sprouts, pumpkin and winter squash.
So you can see there are definitely times during the year when produce tends to be more plentiful, but it’s also possible to get fresh, local produce all year long.
Speaking of which, it’s also helpful for keeping the price down if you are eating locally because, again, you don’t have to worry about paying the extra costs of shipping item across the country or around the world.
So you can buy local ingredients from local farms, farmers markets, roadside stands.
Pennsylvania has a program called the Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local program. You may have noticed some of their signs in the grocery store. They point out the ingredients that have been shipped from somewhere else in Pennsylvania. And they do a lot more than just celebrating these regional foods. They also create food guides, they coordinate tasting events, they organize farmers markets, and sponsor farm tours.
Their website actually breaks Pennsylvania down by region, and it indicates the location of farmers markets, farms, restaurants, caterers, retail stores, wineries and breweries that actually carry locally grown products. So if you are somebody who wants to not just practice this inside your house but also carry it with you when you go outside of the house, that can be a great resource.
You could also get your hands on some local produce by participating in Community Supported Agriculture programs, or CSAs. These are programs in which shareholders invest prior or during the growing season, and then they receive meat, produce and/or dairy throughout the season from the farm in which they invested. You can find local CSAs or CSAs in your area by going to the website www.local harvest.org/CSA.
Additional resources for finding local agriculture include the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and the FoodRoutes Network which is more of a national organization.
Another thing that helps with getting your hands on local produce, helps to keep your costs down, is getting to know the local farmers and their growing practices. A lot of smaller farmers use organic practices in the sense that they don’t throw pesticide or fertilizers at their plants, but they don’t have the organic label because it costs extra money or they have to go through extra paperwork.
So you can speak to your farmers and find out what it is they are growing and find out that maybe they do use organic practices but they just haven’t gone through the work to get the label. So that can be another helpful way to get your hands on some cheap organic produce. It also makes it easier to negotiate prices when you get to know them better.
When you’re at the farmers market, try to make sure that you are going to the stands toward the end of the hours because farmers oftentimes will cut their prices at the end of the day just so they can get rid of whatever extra produce they have left.
Another option to help keep your costs down is to use the Internet to find deals. A lot of websites are updated weekly with fresh coupons, so you can go to places like organicdeals.com or organicfoodcoupons.com. Or some companies will actually post coupons and deals on their social media pages, so you can go to Facebook and like their page, or you can follow groups on Twitter and you can get access to coupons and deals that way.
Some websites will actually allow you to purchase organic ingredients and groceries, and then they’ll deliver them to your house. So places like Amazon.com or Greenpolkadotbox.com can be helpful in that sense.
So in summary, there are a number of different way to help ease the transition to eating more organic, local food as long as you are willing to spend some time planning out your budget and your meals, adapting some of your eating habits and portions to de‑emphasize the meat and dairy, and if you are paying attention to coupons and sales and what’s in season, willing to do a little extra food prep and get to know your local farmers and CSAs, it’s really quite feasible to eat well and deliciously without hurting your wallet.
WGW: So Jen, I want to go back. When you started speaking with us, you mentioned meat, dairy, eggs, growth hormones and antibiotics, and them having a negative effect on our bodies.
There’s a lot of conversation about transitioning to local, organic, or eating better, but what effects do these actually have on us? Why should we be concerned?
JK: Well, that’s a good question. They are doing a lot of research into what’s okay, what pesticides and fertilizers are okay, and there have been a number of fertilizers and pesticides that have been removed over the years. But the concern is that for one thing, we
just don’t necessarily know what the long‑term effects are going to be. Depending on how old a person is or how fully developed their immune system is, you know, infants may be able to handle a much smaller amount of these toxins than the adult body is.
So there are concerns that perhaps it may lead to neuro complications, as I mentioned with some of the items that are on that Dirty Dozen Plus. You know, we really don’t fully know what all of the effects would be. But we do understand that it’s probably for the best to just try to minimize your intake of them, minimize your exposure to them as well.
WGW: So remind us. The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15, remind us of the website that you had mentioned that we can go to as a resource to get those full lists.
JK: So it’s the Environmental Working Group’s website which would be EWG.org.
WGW: So in addition to just visiting that and writing down what the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 are, is there an app or an easy‑to‑download list that you are aware of that our listeners could easily take with them to the market?
JK: Sure. In fact, if you go to the EWG’s website, they actually do have a quick printout, like a bookmark that you can actually take with you. But USDA.org, they also have some helpful resources for people who are interested in making sure that you are purchasing the right kinds of food in the grocery store, so they can be a really great resource as well.
And then the Buylocalpa.org is also another great resource for finding what’s being grown in your local area and where you can get your hands on it.
Now, there was one of your recommendations which was to portion out meat and poultry and fish to smaller servings, and just stick to one serving per meal. There’s a lot of listeners who are listening in not just because they are looking to make changes personally, but for their entire family.
Do you have suggestions on how we can make a change like this for an entire family when we are dealing with several different eating habits and food preferences, especially for a family who is accustomed to eating quite a bit of meat and poultry, for example?
JK: Sure. Well, when it comes to helping out kids and getting kids on the right track, it can be very helpful to get them involved. So if you decide to grow a garden, for example, make sure that you’re letting your kids help pick out what kinds of items are going to be grown in the garden, and then having them come out and weed and water the plants and so on. Because the more involved the kids are in either growing the food or even just going to the grocery store and picking out which ingredients you are going to use, and then once you get home, including them in the cooking process, the more invested they are, the more interested they are going to be in the food and the more willing they are going to be to eat whatever is put on the plate in front of them.
As far as dealing with different tastes goes, it can be helpful to set up little rules. For example, oftentimes you will hear that a person has to try something 14 times before they actually develop a taste for it. So setting up little rules saying try one bite or try two bites, you don’t have to read the rest of it, but doing that at every meal, over time, kids’ taste bud adapt and so it becomes easier to have them be willing to eat these kinds of food.
As far as getting the rest of the family, perhaps people who have more fully developed habits in place already, as I said, instead of just strictly focusing on cutting down the portion size of the animal protein, if you can still include that three‑ or four‑ounce portion and then make sure that you are filling up the rest of the plate with some fresh vegetables or some other form of protein that will help keep people feeling full and satisfied longer, that can be another way to ease that transition.
WGW: So one of your suggestions was make your own granola bars, trail mixes, rice pilafs, smoothies which I could understand could be a great way to involve your family. But what are some resources? Where would somebody go to find these recipes and ideas? Pinterest is a fun one that comes to mind. What else would you suggest?
JK: Definitely Pinterest is great because you can actually see the recipes that you are planning to make, and it’s all about the visual appeal.
But you could also go to something like the American Institute for Cancer Research’s website, AICR.org. They have an entire section of their website that’s called The Test Kitchen, and it’s dedicated to including these really wonderful, healthy, cancer‑fighting kinds of foods into your everyday diet.
They have a lot of good recipes broken down by type, so you can find appetizers, soups or salads or entrees right on their website, and you know the foods are healthy because they include a lot of good cancer‑fighting ingredients. The AICR website is excellent.
If you even just Google recipes, you can find any number of different types of recipes. So you can find websites that are dedicated to vegetarian meals, or if you want to try that idea about using one vegan meal per day, you can find websites that are dedicated to vegan recipes. But there are many, many different types of websites out there that can help you find these easy recipes.
WGW: And Jen, following your favorite brand on social media in order to see what sort of deals and coupons that they are pushing out, what are some of your favorite brands to follow?
JK: Let’s see. Well, Annie’s is a great brand. They have a lot of good organic meals and snacks and so on that are, you know, devoid of those kinds of ingredients like the high fructose corn syrup, and they have a lot of good ingredients like whole grains in them. So Annie’s is one of my favorites.
And Kashi is another one because, again, they use a lot of good whole grains, and they add a lot of fiber to their food and you don’t have to worry about a ton of extra hidden sources of sugar and refined flour products and so on. So those are two of my favorites.
WGW: Fantastic. Well, Jen, thank you so much for joining us.
And to everybody listening in, we will be posting on our website a recap and recording of today’s teleclass. So thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to having you join us next month as well.
JK: Thank you very much for having me.