A PLEA TO STOP JUDGING FOOD CHOICES, PLUS AN ALLERGY-FRIENDLY BLUEBERRY MUFFIN RECIPE
The day of my daughter's routine 9 month well visit with the pediatrician, I packed a filling snack for her as we embarked on the 45 min plus drive from our place in the sticks past the river, and through the school traffic to the downtown Health Center, fearing that a long wait in the office and rush hour traffic would put us home late for dinner. There would be no stopping at McDonald's for a quick convenient meal later. Due to my food allergies, eating out anywhere was out of the question, even for my daughter. (Since she breastfeeds- which is recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics until at least 12 months of age- if she were to ingest a food that I'm allergic to, I would suffer an allergic reaction from exposure to the proteins that would inevitably enter my body through her saliva- even if we were to nurse hours after her meal). After we made it past the waiting room, we occupied ourselves in the doctor's office and looked forward to his grand entrance. We read books, nursed, there was a diaper change, and she delighted in dancing barefoot atop the paper covered exam table. The doc was running behind, according to an assistant who poked his head in to alert us, so after 30 minutes we dipped into the snack bag. A few bites in, the door finally opened and we greeted the doc with a welcome hello and a smile. He glanced through his chart to familiarize himself with his patient, then looked up and raised an eyebrow of concern. My baby happily sat on my lap eating, and sitting across from us, the doc's serious expression and tone of voice evoked eternal judgement from the heavens... "Having baked goods as a snack, are we?"
"Yes," I replied out loud and without affect. He carried on with the exam, and all checked out fine. We have been very lucky to have a healthy child.
Yes, baked goods, I thought silently to myself. Yes, organic, fresh out of the oven today, homemade by me with a recipe I invented myself even though I'd never baked once in my life before becoming a mother baked goods. Free of processed sugar, soy free, gluten free, egg free baked goods. High in plant based protein, natural fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants baked goods. Baked goods, that to me were a wonderfully healthy, nutritious, and filling snack to hold my daughter over until we could get home for me to breastfeed again and make her next homemade meal.
We took our free sticker, and as we drove home I digested my muffin, the doctor’s rude comment and my internalized reaction. I could’ve spoken up for myself, and simply explained the ingredients to the him, enlightening him about food allergies and whole food diets. I’m generally a confident, assertive person, but something stopped me from engaging, some funny feeling inside held me back from saying anything at all and I wondered why.
After some thought, I realized it was because I had been in his shoes before. No, I’d never worn an otoscope around my neck or walked the hall of Med school, but surely I had been judgmental of what I saw someone else eating at some point in time. In a culture of fast food and microwavable meals at the ready, GMO crops, fad diets and celebrity doctors, Americans face constant external pressure as we make our food choices, and ultimately we sometimes judge each other. For any one theory on what eating plan is best, you can easily google and find an article or scientific study to back your choice and contradict the next. Wine is healthy, wine is unhealthy. Coffee is beneficial, coffee is bad for you. A few years ago, as an elective, I audited a course at Yale called Nutrition and Chronic Disease, thinking I would learn a recipe for prevention. Instead, the biggest thing I learned was that the science of nutrition is complicated, relatively new, and ever changing. Remember when coconut oil was feared for it’s saturated fat content in the ’70’s? An entire generation avoids the stuff while many in the younger sect now eat it by the spoonful due to new reports that tout it’s health benefits. Remember the promotion of low fat and no fat products in the 80’s and 90’s? That trend led to an increase in sugar consumption, a fear of healthy fats, and pushed America’s obesity problems to what some have called ‘epidemic’ proportions. The problem, as explained by the professor in my class, is that scientists cannot control for nutrition studies the way they can in other fields. If we want to know what happens to the human body if we eat a sour apple everyday, a substantial number of people would need to eat the same quality and relative quantity of sour apple (adjusted for body weight) for many years. It’s impossible to account for all of the variables- what did each person’s diet look like before the test began? Age? Height? Weight? Sex? Physical activity? Smoker? Alcohol? Starting BMI or existing health issues? Genetic predispositions? Organic or non-organic? What other foods are eaten daily?…. Heck, when we eat an apple, our body processes the nutrients differently depending on whether or not we eat the entire apple including the peel, and whether or not it’s consumed cooked or raw. Aside from studying the general eating habits of whole cultures in various regions of the world, it's hard to account for specific lifelong eating patterns of individuals- afterall, we begin eating in the womb, digesting proteins from our mother's diet, and then taking from her diet again via breastmilk in the case of the breastfed baby.
At the end of the day, those of us on this planet who can afford to eat might have had a meal or two or three, and maybe we’ve been responsible for feeding a child or an entire family from morning to night too. Although processed foods and fast foods are readily available in our country, nutrition education is not. Whatever our choices, and wherever we are on our path to healthy living, we can only hope to do our best, to support and encourage each other, enjoy the little moments and what food we’re fortunate enough to have. It’s impossible to guess what another person has gone through, what health obstacles or goals they face, or why they eat the way they do. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my quest for a healthier diet and lifestyle these last 6 years, it’s that there are no one size fits all answers, no simple guidelines to suit everyone the same. Different diets and different exercise plans work best for different people, and the most uplifting thing we can do is support each other in our individual journeys, encourage each other forward on our own paths, learn from one another’s trials and triumphs, share our failures and success, and strive to feel our best.
I’m proud of my muffin recipe, and I’m happy to share it with you now. I might even make a batch to give to the doctor at our next well visit.
I make a variety of different types of muffins, and they all use the same base ingredients of organic rolled oats, banana, and ground flax seed. Lots of gluten free flours such as coconut or almond flour used in baking can break the bank, but with organic rolled oats priced at just $1.79 /lb in the bulk bin, this recipe is cost effective. To be clear, if you're looking for a sweet, fluffy, dessert muffin, this is not your muffin. Think dense, filling, deliciously subtle breakfasty bran muffin muffin- that's what we're up to here. My daughter has never once passed up the opportunity to eat one, and my husband grabs them to eat on-the-go for early work mornings.
These muffins are fun to make with your child too- at two years old now my daughter loves to separate the liners and place them in the tin, she enjoys peeling the bananas and scooping the oats into the blender. Her favorite part is proudly licking the raw (egg free!) batter off the spatula while I pour from the blender and push the tray into the oven. My daughter would surely eat the batter out of a bowl with a spoon for breakfast if I let her (ok maybe I let her once). Great for breakfast or a portable snack, I hope you might find this recipe useful for you or your family too.
(makes 1 dozen large muffins)
1/2 cup plain, non-fat, greek yogurt
3 ripe large bananas
2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
4 medjool dates
1 Tbsp chia seeds
4 Tbsp ground flax seeds
1 tsp vanilla extract
enough water to blend
1 1/4 cups blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F for approximately 40-50 minutes. Fill large size 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners or use unrefined virgin coconut oil for greasing.
Use the pulse button to gently blend all of the ingredients except for the blueberries in a high speed blender. Add only a small amount of water and a little at a time, stopping the blender and stirring in order to break up any air pockets that might jam the blender. Too much water will prevent the muffins from cooking properly. Put the bananas and yogurt in the blender first at the bottom to facilitate easier blending. Once you've blended your batter, stir in the blueberries by hand using a spoon or spatula. Divide the batter equally between the muffin liners. Bake until golden brown and cooked through.
Store your bag of ground flax seed in the refrigerator - it goes rancid quickly and will keep longer when refrigerated.
These taste best if you can let them cool completely before indulging. Store on the counter in an airtight container (not in the fridge where they will dry out). Keeps for 4-5 days.