Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

More from this author »

Eating healthy has hidden challenges


Smart Mama

At a friend’s house for dinner recently, we dined on bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin in an apple butter barbecue sauce. Doesn’t that just make your mouth water?

Even being a recovering vegetarian, I thought it was incredible. But my family’s ardor was on a different level. They fell silent as they devoured the fork-tender pork. Emma, my 7-year-old, licked her fingers. “Mmm, bacon,” she said.

“Meat,” my husband murmured softly.

OK, so maybe I’ve been approaching that “meat” section of the dietary pyramid more as a side dish. Or even a condiment, like relish. I only really prepare meat once or twice a week.

Is it any wonder that when Jon makes our weekend meals, the menu is likely to be grilled sausage, with chicken and shrimp?

It’s not just that I get a little queasy about the idea of chewing on something that once had eyes, although that is unpleasant. It’s more of a lack of confidence in my own abilities as a chef, mixed with a dash of phobia about E. coli and salmonella and pathogens. Oh, my.

A nice salad, steamed broccoli or roasted potatoes just seem like a much safer — albeit not-quite-as-satisfying — way to fill a plate.

That is, until my neurotic meter went into overdrive after reading about the “Dirty Dozen.” Did you see that report? It lists the non-organically grown produce with the highest pesticide residue, with some estimates 47 to 67 pesticides per serving.

Those dozen include celery, the go-to veggie Emma craves crunching. While the cherry tomatoes 3-year-old Benny pops into his mouth like gumdrops are safe, his breakfast favorites — blueberries, peaches and strawberries — are not.

Other pesticide-filled posers include apples; nectarines; sweet bell peppers; spinach, kale and collard greens; cherries; potatoes; lettuce and imported grapes. So basically all the foods you might serve and then self-congratulate for your health-consciousness.

Of course, there is a way to buy your veggies and eat them, too. Go organic. For bonus points, go local, too.

This year, we purchased a Community-Supported Agriculture share at a local farm. Beginning in mid-May, we get a bag full of pesticide-free vegetables straight from the farm. Literally.

But while the vegetables are fantastic and actually healthful, we do get some surprises each week alongside our spinach and strawberries. Golden chard, anyone?

At 30 years old, I had my first taste of turnips this year. Maybe in another 30 I’ll try them again.

I try to look at the variety of vegetables as an opportunity to work on my cooking skills. And some things, like bok choy slaw, actually are awesome. (But not even bacon could improve the turnips.)

So if you find yourself confronted with bok choy, either from a local farm or at the grocery store, don’t shove it to the back of your fridge alongside the turnips. Try this recipe. (It goes great with burgers, even if all you serve are the black bean variety).

Old Bay Bok Choy Slaw

1 bunch of bok choy (including several inches of the greens), shredded

2 cups carrots, shredded

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1½ teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning

¼ teaspoon salt

Pepper, to taste

Put the vegetables in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the vegetables and chill for about an hour or so.

Healthy recipes

Do you have a healthy recipe you think other moms would enjoy?

Share them with Smart!

Send your recipes to or share them on our Facebook wall (search

The ‘Dirty Dozen’

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit focused on public health, dubbed a group of fruits and vegetables that contain 47 to 67 pesticides per serving the “Dirty Dozen.” These foods are believed to be most susceptible to pesticides because they have soft skin that tends to absorb more pesticides.





Domestic blueberries


Sweet bell peppers

Spinach, kale and collard greens



Imported grapes


The ‘Clean 15’

Produce that has a strong outer layer provides defense against pesticide contamination, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The Clean 15 contain little to no pesticides.



Sweet corn



Sweet peas


Kiwi fruit






Sweet potatoes

Sweet onions


Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 7, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns visit

Leave a Comment

Comments (1)

  1. Pingback: Weekly Round Up « TodaysMama