Illinois Farm Families Field Moms look for a healthy canned vegetable during a scavenger hunt at the Ultra Food Store. A group of 18 Chicago-area Field Moms spent the day at the grocery store, the first tour for this group. After finding six items on their shopping list, Jodie Shield, a registered dietitian, answered questions on food and nutrition. During the next several months, the Field Moms will have the opportunity to visit several farms to learn more about food production directly from Illinois farmers.
Illinois Farm Families Field Moms look for a healthy canned vegetable during a scavenger hunt at the Ultra Food Store. A group of 18 Chicago-area Field Moms spent the day at the grocery store, the first tour for this group. After finding six items on their shopping list, Jodie Shield, a registered dietitian, answered questions on food and nutrition. During the next several months, the Field Moms will have the opportunity to visit several farms to learn more about food production directly from Illinois farmers.
WHEATON, Ill. — Checking the credentials of the source providing facts on an Internet site is important for evaluating the validity of the statements.

“There is no governing body for what you read online,” said Jodie Shield, a registered dietitian. “So, as you are reading websites, the most accurate tend to be from universities or government sites, but they are not very interesting to look at.”

Registered dietitians are scientists, Shield told the group of Field Moms who gathered at the Ultra Food Store in Wheaton.

This was the first tour for the group of Chicago-area moms who have been selected to participate in the program organized by Illinois Farm Families.

Over the next several months, these moms also will have an opportunity to tour a pig farm, corn and soybean farm, dairy farm and beef farm.

Illinois Farm Families programs are supported by the Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Beef Association and Midwest Dairy Association.

“I got interested in this when I was in high school,” said Shield, who is now in her 30th year as a registered dietitian. “I was excited when I found out there was a science that told you how to eat.”

Dietitians learn about both health and food.

“I don’t eat calcium or protein. I drink milk, I love yogurt and I eat pork tenderloin,” she said. “This is how you teach people to eat healthy — you learn about the science and then provide the foods that will help them eat healthy.”

Empowering Families

Shield is president and founder of Healthy Eating for Families, and she has worked as the nutrition analysis for the Chicago Tribune for 25 years.

“My mission is to empower families,” she said.

When shopping for food items in a store, Shield said, she likes to look at the ingredient list.

“I consider the ingredient list on any product the recipe,” she said. “I like the recipe to be short. I don’t want to eat products that have 50 ingredients.”

The dietitian recommended moms try to buy fresh produce when it is in season.

“Canned or frozen vegetables are picked at peak season, and I like the ones that have few ingredients,” she said.

The salt that is put into canned vegetables is not to preserve them. Salt is added for flavor, Shield told the Field Moms.

“The salt has nothing to do with safety,” she said. “You can rinse canned vegetables, and 40 percent of the sodium will go away.”

The goal is for kids to eat more vegetables.

“How they eat them is up to you, your budget and personal philosophy,” Shield said.

“Most people in this country don’t even have a serving of vegetables a day, which is very sad,” she said. “Yet we know that’s one of the greatest ways to prevent cancer, heart disease, etc.”

Shield said that salt is salt. Although there are lots of salts available, they are all sodium chloride.

“My goal is to get people to eat healthy food and not everybody is salt sensitive,” she said. “A lot of the national standards are for the general public.”

Salt is an acquired taste.

“I rinse vegetables, buy more low-sodium items and I flavor food myself,” Shield said. “I seldom add salt to recipes.”

‘Natural’ Foods

Consumers often are confused by the term natural on food products.

“Natural means nothing — no legal definition for the use of natural on food labels has been issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Shield said. “However, the FDA has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.”

Several of the Field Moms on the tour had questions about organic food.

“There is no scientific research that will tell you an organic product is healthier than a non-organic product,” Shield said. “Organic products cost more because they have to be grown differently, under specific conditions.”

Consumers have a huge number of products in grocery stores to select from and organic food is among those choices.

“It’s your call — that’s why we live in this country,” Shield said. “I never buy organic because I don’t feel financially it is in the best interest for me. However, if there was a nutritional benefit, I would buy organic.”

Although some consumers may be concerned about preservatives, she said, there are no preservatives on the market that will harm a person.

“Preservatives are there so you can have the product on the shelf longer,” she said. “We have the safest food supply in the world. Many other countries don’t have anything like the FDA.”

Hoping To Learn

Barb Grochocinski, a mom of four, applied for the Field Moms program because she is interested in learning about making healthier food choices for her family.

“I found out about this program from a friend of mine who was a Field Mom last year,” she said. “If I learn one thing new, it is worth my time.”

Grochocinski also is interested in learning about organic foods, and she is looking forward to visiting farms that have livestock.

“I am concerned about animals raised in poor living conditions and the effect that could have on the quality of meat,” she said.

The Field Mom, who lives in Mount Prospect, raises chickens in her backyard.

“We have 12 chickens that we raise for eggs,” she said. “We like the fresh eggs, and the kids really love the chickens.”

Jill Thurmond of Deer Park also learned about the Field Mom program through a friend who participated last year and suggested she apply.

“I don’t know where the food I buy comes from or how fresh it is,” she said about why she is looking forward to the various tours planned for the Field Moms.

“I learned a lot today about the true definition of organic, food labels and the different terminology that is defined by the FDA,” said the mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9.

Thurmond has a little experience with farms. She has picked blueberries on a farm and visited a corn maze.

“I’ve never been to a dairy farm, so I am most excited about that tour,” she said. “I think it is great that farmers are willing to open their farm for us to visit.”

For more information about the Illinois Farm Families, visit www.watchusgrow.org.