A few weeks ago, we noticed that Jacob had started grimacing. It seemed an involuntary tic, something he could not control and that he wasn't aware of. I thought he was stressed - his teacher is strict, his class is big (for an international school), he is still catching up with the English spelling. Plus learning French. And all of a sudden, Math Minutes - not something up Jacob's alley who is not fast in anything he does. So, stress, right?
We tried getting some calm into the family life and maybe expect a bit less. It didn't help. He is not having night terrors anymore, at all, which seemed to indicate to me that he was less stressed, not more. But the tics persisted.
Now, if you google "face grimacing" you get all sorts of really horrible results. Chorea and Tourette's are the most popular choices. But deep inside all those horrible results was one page that suggested a lack of magnesium in the diet can cause tics. So I feed Jacob bananas and almonds. And it's gotten better. And that made me feel really bad.
What else is going on because my kids' nutrition is not as good as it should be? Alan doesn't like most fruit and vegetables -- that is, he likes quite a few but almost nothing that is in season now. He loves strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, currants. Hm. I guess he just likes berries? He also likes apples and grapes. Not tangerines or oranges. Not pineapple. Not anything tropical really, not even bananas. He likes raw spinach and pretty much any kind of lettuce as long as it hasn't seen the evilness that is salad dressing. Which is great! Only, lettuce is kind of rare here, and dark greens even more so. No chard, no kale, nothing of that sort to be had here. Needless to say, he doesn't dig cabbage, either.
He doesn't look like he's lacking for anything... But this persistent cough that is just not going away? How much is that due to not getting enough vitamins, minerals, and micro nutrients? I am, by the way, of the persuasion that one should get one's vitamins from food stuffs, not a pill.
So after I realized that Jacob's grimacing might be a simple lack of magnesium, I thought to myself that I can do better. Even here in Kosovo where organic is faute de mieux but not certified, where lots of veggies and fruit actually come from Turkey (not organic), where it's kind of hard to find whole wheat pasta and I haven't seen brown rice yet. Even here, I can do better than I do so far.
So I went back to a food blog I've often perused and taken the occasional recipe from - 100 Days of Real Food. I think it's kind of famous by now but I've been following it for a year or two, since when it was still kind of small. It's full of great articles on whole foods, recipes, advice, information about the food industry.
Lisa Leake's story is really inspiring. Three years ago, she decided to cut all processed foods out of her family's diet for 100 days. They pulled it through, kept it up and three years later, they are experts on the subject and are veritable treasure troves of nutritional advice. Many of her family's chronic maladies just went away and they feel better (no afternoon slumps!) and are healthier than ever. Who doesn't want that?
It's kind of hard, though. Especially when you live in a country that's not First World.
For us, it won't be possible to cut out all processed foods -- we just don't have access to alternatives as much as we would in the US or in Germany -- but we can try to reduce them. I'd be happy with 80%. Since we cook most of our food from scratch anyway, it shouldn't be too hard or unusual. We've never allowed the kids much in the way of sodas, and we avoid food coloring because it sets off their ADHD. Conveniently, Lisa also has a whole section dedicated to school lunches which is great because my kids don't eat their (supplied) school lunches and Alan tends to spend his lunch money on, let's say, less good choices.
I've always been interested in healthy nutrition. I read lots by Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle, and am just (slowly because it is ever so depressing) reading through "Pandora's Lunchbox" by Melanie Warner. I'm interested in this subject because really, we are what we eat. My Mom taught me how to cook, and to cook healthy foods. We both grow lots of food in our backyards. There is jelly season, jam season, pickle season, plum cake season, quince season, apple juice (and wine!) season...
The difficulty we face is the lack of access to what we consider wholesome foods here in Kosovo. There are no whole wheat crackers for sale, or organic nut butters, or Lara bars. Many of the suggested food items on 100 Days are simply not available. No hummus or fancy seasonings. Honey is very expensive. There is no maple syrup. I have yet to find coconut oil. The offerings of vegetables and fruits are extremely seasonal - and yes, this could be a good thing if you like lots of cabbage in winter. I didn't can any tomatoes because we arrived at the tail end of tomato season. Right now, there are lots of apples so I make Jacob's beloved applesauce with local (cheap!) apples that just have to be organic - they look exactly like the spotty, misshapen apples out of our backyard. They sure make a wonderful applesauce! We have spinach at the moment, so we eat spinach salads with nuts and dried fruit. But stop - is this organic dried fruit? Not so much. We can't get grass-fed beef but we can get really wonderful organic chicken. We can get tacos but they are not whole-wheat. We can't get organic cheese. Etc, etc. At least our milk, being European, does not contain growth hormone! The offerings in the winter will be mostly cabbage and imported fruits and vegetables.
Some of those can be worked around - I can make our own whole wheat tacos. I can bake whole wheat and rye crackers. But it all takes a lot of time and there are no shortcuts for when you are sick or just tired of cooking and baking all the time.
Still. We are going to try to cut even more processed foods out of our diet and at least use more whole wheat and make healthy school lunches for the kids. The whole wheat banana bread that I made today didn't wow me (Doug and I both agreed it needs more honey and maybe some nuts) but the kids who eat banana bread (all but Alan) just snarfed it up. That counts for success, I think.
Let's see if we can make those whole wheat tacos next...