It’s amazing how fast time flies. It seems like just last week we were attending High School and College graduation parties and voila…now it’s back to school time. I was looking at my Facebook page this morning and saw that one of my friends was taking her daughter to her first day of school. Wow – the summer went fast.

So what can we do differently this year, as school begins? If you are a parent (or grandparent) that has school age kids – can we talk about what the kids should eat for lunch?

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought…there is so much “buzz” out there about eating healthy. I really feel the need to share some ideas on improving the way our kids eat (and ideally…we parents will adopt similar changes). Here we go:

No fast food or processed foods this year. That means we’ll be packing healthy lunches at home (instead of allowing the purchase of ready-made foods at school). I’m not saying that the ready-made food available at school is “fast food” – but if we make it at home, then we KNOW what’s in it!

I plan to sit down with my daughter Sophia each Sunday, before we do our weekly grocery shopping, and plan what she’ll need to make her lunch each day (and breakfast, too). (Idea: my sister Jackie has created a “check list” so my niece can just “check off’ the menu she wants each day). We’ll create our weekly grocery list from this menu plan. We’re going to keep track of how many servings of fruits and vegetables we eat each day (goal is AT LEAST 5 a day…hopefully more).

If Sophia successfully packs (yes she’ll be packing her own lunch) and eats a healthy lunch each day – she’ll get a “bonus” at the end of the week (it may be financial or a credit towards something she wants). I got that idea from checking out the FOOD DUDES website. “Reward” is an important part of the program to change the way kids eat.

Sophia will go to the grocery store with me each week and will pick her favorite fruits and vegetables (participating in the process really gets our kids to “buy in” to the changes, as they have control).

I’m going to pay closer attention to see if this change in diet, also changes her behavior and how well she does in school. All the anecdotal research shows the change will be positive.

If you are interested in more ideas on how to help kids eat healthier, check out these websites: Fruits & Veggies More Matters — they even have shopping lists, community ideas and a section called “getting kids involved” and First Lady Michelle Obama’s inspired Let’s Move! website that is a great resource on exercise, eating healthy and more. Also, check out this New York Times article about doctors now writing “prescriptions for fresh produce” to fight childhood obesity.

To all the moms and dads reading this – I know that getting our kids to eat healthy is a big challenge. They want to be cool and eat cool foods (read: fast foods), or they don’t want to eat during the school day at all (and then totally gorge themselves when they get home from school). Just stick with it – that’s what I plan to do. I plan to have a dialogue (not a monologue) with my daughter so we are both on the same page. I would love to hear what you’re doing to help your kids eat healthier. Please share your comments here.

Best of health to you!
Karen

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I realize I am definitely dating myself on this one. But that was the year that my parents moved into their home in Los Alamitos, California. We had a huge backyard (I was almost three years old…so it looked like a ranch to me).

My parents decided to plant fruit trees in our backyard…the entire back fence of our backyard was filled with Pomegranate trees (planted in between them were Guava trees…but that’s another story).

As we grew up – of course the trees bore fruit. What to do with those giant red fruits? Naturally, being the first born daughter of an entrepreneur, I would go out to the backyard and pick the fruit, put it in bags and go around my neighborhood (pulling my little red wagon filled with fruit) and try to sell it. Pomegranates were not well known at that time, so I had a hard time selling them.

I recall the harvest was always near the end of October, so we decided that what I couldn’t sell we would give out at Halloween instead of candy.

While that sounded like a great idea…do you have any idea what kids like to do with big red fruits, filled with dark red seeds? They like to throw them at other people! Our Halloween gift idea only lasted one year, as our entire block was filled with dark red stains on the sidewalk.

Fast forward to the late 1990s…I had been working with mom in the produce business for many years and had been selling Pomegranates each fall to our retail clients across the country. One day, I received a phone call from Lynda and Stewart Resnick. They owned Teleflora and the Franklin Mint and a large acreage of Almonds. They asked me to come up to their home in Beverly Hills, as they had some questions about Pomegranates.

I doubt the information we discussed that day changed their business strategy…but you probably know what they eventually did with pomegranates. POM WONDERFUL® (made from fresh squeezed, California grown Pomegranates) reinvented the Pomegranate category, whether it is fresh squeezed juice, tubs of Pomegranate Arils, or freeze dried chocolate covered seeds that are now at Trader Joe’s. You can read about Lynda’s recently published book “Rubies in the Orchard” here – it is an interesting book about her marketing savvy. And she is an incredible marketer.

It made me feel good that Lynda and Stewart called upon our firm to get a feel for market potential. That’s what we’ve done for a lot of growers over the years. We pioneer a product, develop a following and get the product lots of publicity. Then, like in the case of Kiwifruit and Sugar Snap Peas™, the item “takes off” and eventually is grown world wide by many growers, thus requiring a larger network of marketers.

We still sell Pomegranates, Kiwifruit and Sugar Snap Peas™…but we’re not the only ones.

But, maybe you can now see, how we got the name…”The company that changes the way America eats.” It sure makes trying new foods exciting!

Enjoy!

Karen
PS — When I was at the food show, Fruit Logistica in Berlin this past February, guess which product was selected as the best new product of the year? A new plastic tool, invented in Israel that allows you to easily remove the seeds from Pomegranates!


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Have you ever wondered how produce companies (like Frieda’s) evaluate fruit to see if “it’s good” when it arrives at their warehouse? Here’s a quick course on some of the tools we use:


To tell how SWEET a piece of fruit really is, we use a Refractometer. A Refractometer measures the brix (or percentage of soluble solids, or sugar) of the fruit. Our Quality Control guru, John, uses the Refractometer whenever we receive any kind of fruit.

To measure the brix, John will cut a piece of fruit and then squeeze some juice from the fruit onto the open Refractometer. He will then close it, and look into the eyepiece (kind of like a kaleidoscope) to see what degree of sugar is measured. For most fruit, the minimum level of brix is 14-15 degrees. For SUPER SWEET fruit – it might be as high as 20 degrees brix. For fruit over 20 degrees brix – we say, it would “give you cavities.”

To tell how FIRM a piece of fruit really is, there is the Penetrometer, also known as a Fruit Pressure Tester. It helps measure the firmness of the fruit. There are several models of Penetrometers – one for apples, pears, and other harder fruit, and another for softer fruits, such as peaches. When we receive fruit at our warehouse in Southern California it must be firm or hard. If it’s soft, we cannot ship it to our customers across the country, so we may have to send it back to the grower (reject it).

To tell the exact diameter or SIZE of fruit or vegetables, we use Calipers. Many of our clients have requirements as to the exact diameter of fruit they will accept at their produce warehouses, so we always double check fruit when it arrives at our warehouse. Most growers pack fruit on high speed, sophisticated packing equipment that guarantees the same sized fruit is in each box. However, because we specialize in “specialty fruit and vegetables,” many of which are grown by small scale growers, they don’t always have this high speed equipment. So, in order to have accurate information about the products, we will use the Calipers to verify the consistent sizing.

Other tools we use include scales (small scales to measure the weight of a piece of fruit, or HUGE scales to measure an entire case of fruit).

We also use temperature gauges (thermometers) to measure the temperature. We always want to be sure fruits and veggies are not too warm when we receive them, as that shortens their shelf-life and affects their taste.

So, now you know!

Karen
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Betsy and I left her house and were on our way to the gym to do our Bootcamp workout.

During our short drive to the gym, we usually recap our days for each other (she’s an Executive Recruiter) and then talk about what we’re having for dinner. She informed me that she was making one of her favorite vegetables, “Corn on the Cob.”

Thank goodness I wasn’t the one driving when she told me that she put the corn in a pot of boiling water and hoped it would be done in 30-40 minutes when her husband got home. I was shocked that she was cooking the corn for so long.

She was a little surprised when I told her that I know a few corn growers who eat it raw – right after they pick it! It is super sweet and absolutely delicious.

I shared with her that to get the best flavor from corn on the cob, this is how you select it and cook it:

  • Buy corn that looks fresh, those that do not have dark or soft spots on the outside husk
  • Buy corn on the same day as you plan to eat it (the sweet flavor of corn starts to decline the moment it is picked, so the faster you eat it the sweeter it will taste).
  • Before boiling corn, remove husks and strings. Place ears in plenty of boiling, lightly salted water.
  • Cook for 3-5 minutes — That’s It!

To grill corn…

  • Leave husks on, and soak corn in cold water for about an hour before grilling. (Soaking it hydrates the husks, which kind of protects the corn and allows it to steam on the grill).
  • Grill the corn, in husk, turning frequently (so it doesn’t burn).
  • Cooking time will depend on your personal preference – anywhere from 15-20 minutes.

Here is a tasty recipe for grilled corn, Grilled-Corn-with-Chive-Butter

In recent years, there have been some fabulous developments in corn breeding and we now have corn that retains its sweet flavor (and doesn’t turn starchy so fast). In addition to Yellow Corn, there are varieties of White Corn and even “Bi-Color” Corn (which has both white and yellow kernels on the same cob!)

One of the newest innovations is Fresh Red Corn (in photo). It’s available during the summer months and is grown in Northern California. It’s not available in supermarkets everywhere, as it is considered a specialty item. But, you may see it in your local market and wonder what it is and how it got to be red. Red corn is actually an heirloom variety (from centuries ago) and its popularity has grown as consumers seem fascinated with new colors of familiar foods (think of all the different colored bell peppers we have now…instead of just green). From my taste experience, the Red Corn has a starchier flavor than regular sweet corn.

So, as you are making plans for your Labor Day barbecues – consider picking up some fresh corn at your local supermarket…and grilling it next to the burgers, chicken and hot dogs.

Delicious! Enjoy!
Karen

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Okay, I admit it. It was kind of “nosey” of me to look at what was on my friend, Wendy’s desk. I was spending the night at her house a few months ago and she was showing me her home and we came to her home office.

Her desk was very neat – and I couldn’t help but notice this small, turquoise paperback book titled, “Pocket World in Figures.” It is published by “The Economist” (you know that magazine that you see on the newsstands at airports…right above the Wall Street Journal and Forbes).

So, I picked it up and started thumbing through it.

Part 1 – is a section entitled “World Rankings.” You pick the subject and there is probably a ranking…Highest Population (China) and Median Age (Japan) (those were interesting, no real surprises there).

Yes, there are all sorts of trivia in this book.

Part 2 – is a section by Country. From Algeria to Zimbabwe and every country in between – all sorts of information is right at your fingertips: Population, Economic (like Gross Domestic Product – GDP), Education, Energy, etc.

For example, Percent of Employment in Agriculture: China 41%, Brazil 21%, New Zealand 7%, USA 2%, Israel 2%

Number of Computers per 100 people: Canada 94.3, Norway 62.9, Italy 36.7, Thailand 7.0

It took me a while to find the exact name of the book (I emailed someone at The Economist offices and described what I had seen). And to purchase it took a little while longer – thank goodness for Amazon.com. I purchased a used copy for less than $6.

Not only is this a great gift for student, it’s also an awesome way to learn about the world we live in. Sadly, included in the book are rankings of The Largest Refugee Nationalities (Afghanistan) and Business Software Piracy (Armenia).

So, if you plan to be a contestant on JEOPARDY…I would definitely purchase a copy!

Enjoy the details!

Karen

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As part of my position on the Board of the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California Davis (from which I graduated), I have gotten to know a researcher by the name of Dr. Karen Jetter. Karen asked me to serve on a task force whose purpose is to see if giving school-aged children free snacks of fresh fruits and vegetables will help improve their total consumption of fresh produce. The idea is to find a way, at an early age, to change the consumption patterns of Americans, and stop our obesity epidemic.

So, last week, I was on a conference call, which included Dr. Fergus Lowe (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales, Bangor) calling in from Wales, Dr. Jetter and a few other California colleagues.

On the call, we learned that the United Kingdom (UK) has one of the lowest consumption levels of fruit and vegetable in Europe and as a consequence, Britain now has one of the worst heart disease rates in the world. In addition, British children, in particular, are reluctant to eat fruit and veggies. In an effort to reverse this habit the UK government has developed a program to increase children’s consumption of fruits and veggies.

Enter “Food Dudes”, a program which was developed by psychologists at University of Wales, Bangor to encourage and maintain healthy eating habits in children. To find out more about it, go to their website. There is a video showing the four “Food Dudes” getting kids all excited. Check it out.

Here in the United States, we have a wonderful school-based fresh fruit snack program called the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program (FFVP). For the 2010-2011 school year, the US Government will be providing $101 million in program funding to benefit students in more than 4,000 schools nationwide. These school age children are given free fresh fruits and vegetables snacks during their school day – and in the over 5 years that this program has been going on, there have been some tremendous benefits.

• Attention span of the students seems to improve
• Kids like the new fruits and veggies and go home and ask their parents to purchase them
• Kids seem to have an interest in including more fruits and veggies in their eating and want to participate in shopping
• Administrators and nurses report less behavior problems and absences

With all the bad and sometimes confusing press we read or hear about regarding our elected officials – wouldn’t it be nicer to hear more about this fabulous program?

On the very same day as I was on that conference call, the U.S. Senate passed (by unanimous consent) the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (SB 3307) which will expand access to the existing child nutrition programs. To find out more information, click here.

What a great idea – give school aged children fresh fruits and vegetables every day instead of sugary, salty or processed snacks. Teach them good eating habits at a young age so that when they grow up, they will eat healthier, thereby reducing their lifelong medical bills.

Makes sense to me. How about if we all start doing this at home…right now, today?

Healthfully yours,
Karen

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That’s how we have always described Asian Pears. Well, that’s after we changed the name to “Asian” pears.

They were originally called Apple Pears. It was shortly after I started working full time in the business with mom (in the early 1980s) that we decided to change the name. It was confusing to people…were they apples or were they pears? We decided to change the name to ASIAN pears since they were so popular with those with Asian ancestry. In Japanese and Chinese cultures, they were so special, that you might be presented with a single Asian Pear, as a gift!

The first Apple Pears were grown by our good friends, the Kershaw family in Yakima, Washington. I can still recall the excitement when the first large shipment of them arrived on the downtown Los Angeles Wholesale Produce market. They were the Shinseiki variety, which had a pale green outside skin. The skin was so delicate that sometimes they looked scratched, just from being packed into the box!

Ed and Bob Kershaw have long since stopped growing Asian Pears in Washington state, as we found that the weather conditions were not optimal.

Now, there are some amazing growers, right here in California and as far away as Virginia, who are growing many different varieties. And the domestic Asian Pear season has just begun! (There is also a large crop which grows in Chile – during the opposite season. . .but this year the crop was quite small, due to the damage caused by the devastating earthquake a few months ago).

The domestic Asian Pear season starts each year in early August and you should be able to find them in your local supermarkets now. Why are Asian Pears one of my favorite fruits? Because of their FLAVOR of course.

The brown-skinned Hosui variety has overtones of wine in its flavor profile. There are other varieties, such as Shinsui, Kosui – but you will not often see them sold with their varietal names. They will just be called “Asian Pears”.

What makes them so unusual is they almost always have a grainy texture (not like the buttery texture of most other pears, of European origins) and are not usually used in cooking. They are most commonly eaten out of hand.

Asian Pears come in all different sizes (small for kids to pack in their lunch) and large to make a spectacular statement when served whole as a dessert. They are usually big and round and many times, you will notice them protected by a Styrofoam “sock”, making them look like a gift. That sock is there to protect the fruit from rubbing and bruising the fruit (sure wish we had those socks back in the early days).

They should be refrigerated when you find them at your supermarket and should be refrigerated once you get them home. And be sure to have a big napkin nearby as when you take that first bite, their juiciness will overwhelm you!

At various times of the year you can find Asian Pears from Japan (they have a light yellow skin), from Korea (they are brown skinned) and from China (they are usually light yellow skinned, too – but are more pear shaped).

Most importantly – be sure to try one. When I am asked, “What’s the next Kiwifruit?” I often want to say that it’s the Asian Pear. It is so consumer friendly and delicious.

And, as you can guess. . .they are crunchy like an apple and juicy like a pear! Yum!

Enjoy!
Karen

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One of my managers came into my office this morning. We meet each week to catch up, review pending projects and make sure we are on the same page.

Today’s meeting began differently than all our other meetings. He started the conversation by saying, “I went to a funeral last night.”

Turns out, a friend of his had passed away suddenly at the age of 49.

Why did my manager decide to tell me about this? For two reasons, I think. First, it is always hard when someone your own age dies – especially as you gather at a wake or funeral to reminisce about their life and their contributions.

The second reason was that it was suspected that his friend might have had a problem with alcohol.

I think we all have friends like this. They are great people. Smart. Inspiring. Until they start to drink. They drink and drink and drink. Their behavior gets out of hand. They get embarrassing or boisterous.

We looked at each other, after he told me about his evening, and all I could say was, “Is there a teachable moment here that we can pass on to our kids and friends?”

How many times have we been afraid to take advantage of these teachable moments? Do we talk with our kids (with sensitivity and respect) about the very real dangers of alcohol and drugs? Do we hesitate to confront a friend who has a drinking problem?

Coincidentally, late last night, my good friend emailed me about her own personal dilemma. She had become estranged from her best friend due to her friends’ husbands’ alcoholism. It broke her heart. She wanted advice on reconnecting with her friend. Should she?

For both of these dear people – it should be a teachable moment. Teaching sensitivity, gentle confrontation, forgiveness and a strong belief system.

Try to notice all the teachable moments that appear in your life. You always have the choice. You can ignore it and leave it alone…or you can embrace the teachable moment.

You choose.

Karen

Well, besides the obvious physical differences, you’ve probably noticed that men and women are different. We think differently, we act differently.

It is really apparent in my family, as we have so many women. My mom, Frieda, is the matriarch, there’s my sister and me, and of course, six out of the seven grandchildren are female. (I’m sure it was a shock to my husband Garry, who came from a family of four brothers and one son.)

So, when I received an email from one of my girlfriends about a UCLA study on how women respond to stress differently than men, I was intrigued. (You can read the abstract on the study here. In addition, here is a more detailed write-up.)

What interested me about this study were two things:

First, women are wired differently and often cope with stress by “tending and befriending,” rather than the typical “fight or flight” response – which is the natural male response to stress. Women seek the company of other women for comfort during times of stress. (We also tend to our offspring and do other nurturing behaviors to de-stress.) For you men, knowing why your wife, girlfriend, daughter or coworker acts the way she does when she’s stressed out can sure make life easier for you. It’s the reason women go and get coffee together and just “hang out” together when life gets challenging.

Second, over the decades, many medical studies were performed solely on male candidates, and the results and recommendations were thought to be the same for both genders. Researchers have only recently begun to realize that they need to study women separately, because the results can often be drastically different. For example, check out this recent New York Times article (sent to me by my former fitness trainer) about a study that changes the way women should calculate their maximum heart rate for exercising. (FYI, it is NOT 220 minus your age for women!)

OK, gentleman, I need to go now. I have to get ready to go to my (all female) book club, made up of women from ages 48 to 88. We have so much to talk about. . .

Karen

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