When Should Your Child Eat Organic?

mother and child in grocery storemother and child in grocery storeBy Mandy Major

Feeding a family is never easy. Putting the right foods i front of your brood takes time, money and thoughtfulness. But what exactly does
right mean? It's tough to know, given all the competing information about organic vs. nonorganic foods. "Buy most things organic if money's no object; but for most people, this isn't the case," says Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD, author of Eating Expectantly, Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids. "I suggest families look at what their children eat on a regular basis and then look online to see how those foods rank in number of pesticides." Then, buy organic versions of the favorite foods that are high in pesticides and standard items for the rest. Or take a look at this cheat sheet from nutrition experts on which kid picks are worth buying organic-and which aren't. Photo by Thinkstock

Buy Organic: Apples and Celery

Sliced apples and ants-on-a-log are quintessential kid food, but think twice before buying nonorganic apples and celery. These items absorb more chemicals and fertilizers than most produce. In fact, they're the top two foods on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Dirty Dozen list, which ranks produce for pesticide exposure. "When people think health food, they almost immediately think 'apples'," says Isabel De Los Rios, certified nutritionist and founder of BeyondDiet.com. "Unfortunately, some apples are actually more harmful than healthy" because of the pesticide residues. Other popular children's foods in the Dirty Dozen to buy organic: strawberries, potatoes, grapes and peaches.
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Buy Nonorganic: Pineapple and Corn

As a rule of thumb, you don't need to buy organic produce with thick skins or peels. "They're less absorptive of chemicals and fertilizers," says Heather Stouffer, founder of Mom Made Foods. As a counter to the Dirty Dozen, the EWG created the Clean 15, highlighting produce that's the lowest in pesticide exposure. Sweet corn and pineapple hold the second and third slots, respectively (#1 goes to onions, which aren't a popular kid pick). Other conventionally grown, nutritious and child-friendly produce that made the Clean 15 list: sweet peas, mangoes, cantaloupe, watermelon and sweet potatoes.

Buy Organic: Milk

Unless your child has an allergy, he probably consumes a lot of dairy. And because some farms apply pesticides directly to cows' hides and feed their cattle pesticide-treated grains, it's important to serve organic milk, says Stouffer. Swinney, who recommends children drink two to three servings of milk daily, says, "Even if milk is low in pesticides, a child is getting at least 14 servings of it a week, so the pesticides add up." If your child eats a lot of yogurt and cheese, opt for organic with those too. De Los Rios adds that hormones such as rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone)-which extends the duration of a cow's milk production cycle-are another reason to consider buying organic milk. Though rBGH hasn't been proven to have harmful effects on children, "You'll greatly reduce your child's exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics," she says. However, Chris Galen, Senior VP of Communications for the National Milk Producers Federation, notes that both organic and nonorganic types of milk are heavily tested for quality and safe for kids to drink.

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Buy Nonorganic: Bread

Between toast at breakfast and sandwiches at lunch, kids eat a lot of bread. In this case, though, organic doesn't always mean healthy. "The ingredients are much more important than whether or not the label says 'organic'," explains De Los Rios. "Many kinds of organic bread contain high amounts of sugar, processed oils and refined flour." She urges parents to look for brands featuring a short ingredient list with no added sugar. Whole-wheat, rice, spelt and millet breads all offer fiber and a rich mix of vitamins and minerals, thanks to the whole grains in each slice.

Buy Organic: Eggs

"The quality of an egg is only as good as the quality of the chicken that lays it, so it's crucial to serve your child only organic eggs," says De Los Rios. She asserts that organically raised birds deliver eggs that are higher in brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids as compared to eggs that come from conventionally grown birds. Look for packages marked specifically as "organic," a term that's regulated by the USDA; "natural" and "cage-free" are largely unregulated terms.

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Buy Nonorganic: Peanut Butter

Peanut crops are exposed to relatively high levels of pesticides, but by the time they turn into peanut butter the residues aren't significant. "I recommend buying conventional peanut butter because it has relatively low amounts of pesticides," says Swinney, citing a 2006 study by the USDA Pesticide Data Program. However, Stouffer adds, if your child eats a lot of PB&J sandwiches-or is the type to smear peanut butter on everything from apples to pretzels-consider choosing organic peanut butter for the healthier ingredients.

Buy Organic: Meat

Whether it's a beef burger or chicken nugget, organic is the way to go. "When purchasing meat and poultry, the extra cost per pound for foods with the label 'antibiotic- and hormone-free' is worthwhile. The USDA strictly regulates this language," says Stouffer. But why is it worth it to pay almost double? "Many scientists suspect that giving our livestock antibiotics to help them gain weight is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people," says Stouffer. "When your child is sick with a serious bacterial infection, you need to know that the antibiotics are going to work."

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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.

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