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Passover 2015: 8 Surprising Kosher for Passover Products

Roaming the Passover aisles in amazement of the latest offerings has become an annual tradition for me. While in the past I have presented my Dirty Dozen list, this year I came across quite a few positive additions so I wanted to put out a list that highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly. Find out which products are a #healthypassoverfind and which ones are a #passoverfail.

Here are 8 Surprising Kosher for Passover Products I found on the shelves for 2015:

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 1. Organic Coconut Water:

This is something that I was really shocked to see on the shelf this year. Coconut water has certainly gained popularity over the years due to its refreshing taste and electrolyte content, however, the majority of coconut water on the market is not organic. To find coconut water that is both organic AND kosher for Passover seems too good to be true.


 

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 2. Nut butters:

Over the last few years I have seen a number of companies producing kosher for Passover nut butter, including almond and cashew butters. On the one hand, I love that this is available (and there is certainly a convenience factor here), but at the same time, if you own a food processor, it is super easy to make yourself, tastier and it will save you money too. One small jar of almond butter retails for almost $20! Here is my recipe for Toasted Almond Butter if you want to give it a try.


 

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3. K for P Quinoa:

Quinoa has been a controversial Passover food in recent years. While some rabbis have given it their seal of approval, others have been reluctant to do so. At this point, it is less of an issue of whether or not Quinoa is permitted, but rather relating to potential cross contamination. Some rabbis were instructing that if the Quinoa was grown in a certain part of the world and was certified kosher (year round) that it may be used during Passover. Other rabbis were still erring on the side of caution. Well, we can finally end that debate as we now have certified kosher for Passover quinoa. For those who require this certification, it is a great option!


 

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4. Almond milk:

This was another item I was surprised to see. I guess it was inevitable. I mean, what is the dairy-free crowd supposed to eat with their rainbow-coloured Crispy-O’s breakfast cereal (see number 8)? Even though, assuming I had a Passover blender (which I don’t), I could easily make my own almond milk, I have to admit, I was a bit excited when I saw this. A closer look at the ingredient list quickly changed that feeling of excitement into horror. Cottonseed oil: a byproduct of the cotton industry and my biggest Passover pet peeve. Cottonseed oil is one of the worst oils we can consume and I look forward to a time when the kosher food industry will find an alternative. Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops and since cotton is not a food crop, the same regulations for pesticide use do not apply. The seeds of the cotton plant are turned into oil using an extraction method involving harsh chemicals such as hexane as well as other chemicals used to bleach and deodorize the oil. Cottonseed oil is something that I avoid at all costs and while I expect to find it in many Passover products, adding it to almond milk for people to drink is just going too far, in my opinion.


 

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5. Organic Spelt Matzah:

The availability of organic spelt matzah is not new, although you definitely need to stock up early as the boxes tend to disappear from the shelves quickly. There are now even a few brands to choose from which is great to see. Something surprising this year was the newly added Non GMO Project Verified label, North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO (genetically modified organism) food products. While you might consider this to be redundant, since organic foods are non-GMO by default, it is still great to see Manischewitz showing its support.


 

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6. Gluten-free Oat Matzah:

This year there seems to be a huge surge in gluten-free items. While many Passover items are naturally gluten-free, others are quite processed, so it is essential to read the ingredients. This brand of oat matzah is not new, however, previously we have only been able to get it through special order. It is nice to see it becoming more accessible and while it does come with a hefty price tag, for those who cannot tolerate gluten, it is currently the only option. Even though there are a number of gluten-free matzah style crackers on the shelves, since the matzah used at the seder must be made of only flour and water, they would not be acceptable. Hopefully the claim of “new improved taste” is accurate since my past experience with this matzah has been disappointing, taste-wise.


 

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7. Organic grape juice – mini bottles:

We are not juice drinkers at my house, with the exception of a little grape juice for the kids on Shabbat and holidays. It is always frustrating when I need to purchase a large bottle when we only need a small amount. While small bottles have been available for some time now, this is the first time I have seen Kedem’s organic grape juice in small bottles and I am very excited about this.


 

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8. Fruit-Flavoured Crispy-O’s:

The amount of added food dye including yellow #5 & #6 and red #40 is not all that surprising in this rainbow-hued Passover standard. If you have ever tasted Crispy-O’s cereal, the fact that they have resorted to giving away “20% more free” wouldn’t surprise you either. What does surprise me is that this stuff is still being sold…which means that people are still buying it. Please stop!!



Wishing you a happy and healthy Passover,

Aviva

 

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Once again, my father (Rabbi Wayne Allen) and I have joined forces to bring you the Passover Dirty Dozen List.  We collaborate on this project because keeping kosher for Passover presents us with two different kinds of challenges:  Halachic (matters of Jewish law) and nutritional.  Many of the kosher for Passover products on the supermarket shelves are convenient but are usually not particularly healthy.  While some consumers realize this, many are still unaware of just how unhealthy these products can be.  I recognize that time is a huge factor and not everyone wants to make everything from scratch.  My message is simply to make yourself more aware of what's inside of these products and try to minimize your use of packaged/processed foods, over Passover and year-round.

Our 2014 list includes foods that are extremely unhealthy, totally unnecessary or just downright silly! Some of these may make you cringe, some might make you laugh out loud…but hopefully none of these will end up in your shopping cart.

Here is our Dirty Dozen list for 2014:

1. Mac & Cheeze:

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I definitely laughed out loud when I spotted this gem on the shelf.  Fake "mac": noodles made of various starches and egg powder.  Fake "Cheeze": artificial flavour and turmeric for colour.  That's right…no actual cheese, which is likely the reason they had to spell it with a "Z".  Of course, no Passover product would be complete without the use of cottonseed oil (see number 4).  The 620mg of sodium per 1 cup serving it quite impressive too.  But where they really get you here, is the giant box that it comes in.  You would assume you could get a good number of servings out of it, or at least be able to feed a family of 6 for dinner.  Yet the box contains only 2 small servings of 1 cup each…cooked!  This is false advertising and likely done to take up more shelf space and mislead you into thinking you are getting a good value.  Packaging a product in such a way so to suggest the contents will yield an amount far greater than what it will actually be borders on fraud.  The codes of Jewish law rule explicitly that animal intestines, for example, must not be inflated to make them look larger.  Deceptive packaging can be construed as violation of this law.

 

2. Fruit Slices - Jelly Mini:

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These brightly coloured candies which are covered in sugar don't exactly scream out "healthy", but my issue is how can they get away with calling these "fruit slices"? Do they want people to believe there is some fruit involved?  In fact, not one bit of fruit can be found in these "fruit slices".  The first ingredient is sugar and it contains a variety of artificial flavours and colours including FD&C yellow #5, FD&C yellow #6, Red #40 and FD&C Blue #1.  Artificial food dyes have been linked to a number of health concerns including hyperactivity and other behavioural issues in children, migraines and cancer.  Why don't you just pour some sugar into your mouth and call it a day.

 

3. Mini Mandlin:

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Here we have a classic example of a Passover food that has transitioned into an everyday food, available all year round in every supermarket's kosher aisle.  These artificially coloured yellow crunchy bits are typically added to chicken soup at the table.  Consider this: a chef takes pride in seasoning their food to perfection.  Adding something like this to your bowl may be interpreted as insulting to the chef.  Poor etiquette, if you will.  I understand that some people simply enjoy adding a bit of crunch to their soup, but why not use the eight days of Passover as an opportunity for a "soup nut" detox and perhaps it will carry over to the rest of the year.   So unless you are nutritionally deficient in yellow dye #5, this product should not make its way into your cart.

 

4. "100% PURE" Oil of Cottonseed:

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Cotton is considered to be one of the world's "dirtiest" crops due to the heavy use of pesticides.  Since cotton is technically not a food crop, many chemical pesticides can be sprayed, which would otherwise not be allowed.  These pesticides are concentrated in the seeds and then they are turned into oil for our consumption.  The oil is also extracted, refined, bleached and deodorized using harsh chemicals processes.  You can certainly choose another oil for your Passover cooking needs, but if you buy any packaged Passover food, cottonseed oil is difficult to avoid.  Cottonseed oil has become the oil of choice for Passover products.  Although the oil comes from seeds which are kitniyot (meaning small and grain-like and may be confused with grains that can become chametz), the oil is permitted since derivatives from inedible seeds are  rabbinically allowed.   A better choice would be extra virgin olive oil, which as long as it bears a year-round kosher certification, it would not require special Kosher for Passover certification.

 

5. Passover Bagels:

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If a product is Gebrokt, it means it is made with matzah meal to which water was added.  Some Jews avoid eating these foods during Passover for fear of it turning into chametz.  Thankfully, they can relax and enjoy a nice potato bagel! But seriously - we have 357 days of the year to eat bagels - you can't go eight days without one? While the idea of bagels on Passover just doesn't seem right to me, the cottonseed oil and/or shortening, 11g of fat and 500mg sodium per bagel seems even more outrageous.

6. Toasted Coconut Marshmallows:

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With ingredients like sugar, glucose and fish gelatin, it is not surprising to learn that marshmallows do not exist in nature. The kashrut of marshmallows is contingent on the ingredients used in its manufacture.  The principal ingredient in marshmallow is gelatin, a product that is typically derived from the bones, hides and skins of animals through a process of the hydrolytic conversion of collagen, the fibrous protein constituent of bones and connective tissue.  The gelatinous matter that is the hallmark of kosher marshmallows will instead derive from fish or plants. Coconut covered marshmallows have always been a popular Passover treat, second only to the Passover macaroon, perhaps.  What confuses me about this bag of fluff is the claim of being fat free (per serving) clearly indicated on the front of the package, while if you check the nutritional panel on the back, it actually contains 2.5g of fat per serving.  I think they also should have chosen a better slogan. "Healthy body, healthy spirit" is not exactly what I have in mind when I think of marshmallows.

7. Parve Kishke:

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Nothing says delicious like imitation cow intestines!  Author Leo Rosten correctly notes that kishke is made according to the cook’s ancestry, palate, spices, and patience.  My great grandmother would make a filling of matzah meal, schmaltz, kosher salt, pepper, and sweet paprika and painstakingly stuff it into a casing of cow intestine.  The stuffed “derma” would first be boiled in water and then browned in the oven.  The result was a crispy yet chewy skin and a starchy, flavourful middle.   Slices of kishke could always be added to cholent.  It is a quintessential Jewish comfort food.  Kishke was a treat because it was so labour intensive, therefore only served for special occasions.  From a health perspective, this imitation kishke is a double whammy.  The use of partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil gives you a delicious serving of trans fat with a side of pesticide residue.  According to my great grandmother, love is expressed through food.  To her, the best way to express her love was by spending hours in the kitchen.  Making food that everyone enjoyed and watching them take pleasure in eating it was what made her happy.  You may be able to reproduce the kishke taste with a bunch of chemicals (although I'm sure many kishke enthusiasts would argue this), but you can't reproduce the experience.


8. Chrayonnaise:

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Chrain is the Yiddish word for prepared horseradish.  Its root – pardon the pun - goes back to the twelfth century or earlier.  The sharpness of the horseradish is usually tempered by an addition of beet juice, giving it a red-ish purple colour.  For Jews of Eastern European background, chrain is the condiment of choice for gefilte fish, a traditional Passover food.  Enter the newest fusion condiment: Chrayonnaise.  It's pretty much how it sounds - a mixture of horseradish and mayonnaise.  As with most Passover mayo, you will get your dose of cottonseed oil (first ingredient) along with sugar and preservatives to "protect flavour".  But don't forget the beets.  While this product does contain actual beets, apparently they were not red enough, because the manufacturer felt the need to add some FD&C Red #40.  Why do we really need this product?  To schmear on our passover bagels, of course.

 

9. Matzo Ball Soup - "Ready to Serve":

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If you are thinking that someone's bubbie made a nice big pot of matzo ball soup and ladled it into a jar for you to enjoy in a convenient, "ready to serve" way - think again!  Typically, matzo ball soup involves a chicken soup base, but you will not find any chicken in the list of ingredients on this jar.  This is a parve soup, so in an attempt to match the colour and flavour of chicken soup, MSG, sugar and our old friend yellow dye #5 are thrown in.  At almost 1000mg of sodium per ONE CUP serving, you are looking at nearly half of your recommended daily intake in just one small bowl of soup.

 

10. Ma Puree - "100% natural mashed potatoes":

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The box highlights "100% natural" with an image of a whole potato.  Granted, the box does contain potato flakes as its sole ingredient, but we all know that potatoes don't grow in boxes.  Just boil some potatoes and mash them - it's quite easy to do.  Potatoes are fairly inexpensive and taste much better than the instant varieties.  Although this may be a time saver, to me this is just another example of how the Kosher for Passover industry wants us to spend more money on foods that are completely unnecessary.

 

11. Blueberry Muffin Mix:

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Can you spot the difference between these two boxes of blueberry muffin mix?  If you look closely, you will see that one is made with real blueberries and the other is made with artificial blueberries.  Hmmm…which one would you choose? First of all, I find it quite odd that they need to offer this as an option.  Is there a new wave of blueberry allergies that I need to be aware of? Let's do a little comparison.  The box with the artificial blueberries contains similar ingredients as the one with real blueberries, including shortening made of partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil (trans fat), but the imitation version also contains blueberry flavoured bits (alginate, propylene glycol, potassium sorbate, artificial flavours and colours).  Yet even the box with real blueberries isn't quite so simple.  Its "blueberries" consist of: wild blueberries, sugar and cottonseed oil.  These "blueberries" do not contain artificial flavours like the imitation ones do, but not to worry - they threw some of that into the the rest of the muffin mix anyway.

 

12. Bulk Baby Fingers - "Try me in a bowl of milk"!:

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We just couldn't resist adding this to our list.  What exactly are "baby fingers" and why do we need them in BULK??  Don't get me wrong when my kids were babies, their fingers were quite delicious.  But dipping them in a bowl of milk is going a bit too far.

Our Advice:

Focus on eating REAL food.  If it comes in a box - leave it on the shelf!  Of course, there will be a some exceptions for essentials like matzah. Just try to stick to whole grain varieties to avoid constipation ;-)

 

Have a healthy and kosher Passover!

For a selection of healthy, Passover-friendly recipes, check out The Organic Kosher Cookbook - Holiday Edition: PDF version is now available for download!

 

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Rabbi Wayne Allen is a recognized authority on Jewish law. www.rabbiwayneallen.ca

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Aviva Allen is a Kids' Nutritionist and author of The Organic Kosher Cookbook.  www.avivaallen.com

 

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Keeping kosher for Passover presents us with two different kinds of challenges:  Halachic (matters of Jewish law) and nutritional.  Many of the kosher for Passover products on the supermarket shelves are convenient, but are usually not particularly healthy.  While many consumers realize this, many are unaware just how unhealthy these products can be.


Here is a list of our Dirty Dozen for 2013:


1. Cottonseed Oil

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Cotton is considered to be one of the world's "dirtiest" crops due to the heavy use of pesticides.  Since cotton is technically not a food crop, many chemical pesticides can be sprayed, which would otherwise not be allowed.  These pesticides are concentrated in the seeds and then they are turned into oil for our consumption.  The oil is also extracted, refined, bleached and deodorized using harsh chemicals processes.  You can certainly choose another oil for your Passover cooking needs, but if you buy any packaged Passover foods, cottonseed oil is difficult to avoid.  Cottonseed oil has become the oil of choice for Passover products.

Although the oil comes from seeds, which are kitniyot (see number 5), the oil is permitted since derivatives from inedible seeds are  rabbinically allowed.   A better choice would be extra virgin olive oil, which as long as it bears a year-round kosher certification, it would not require special Kosher for Passover certification.


2. Passover M
argarine

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Margarine is full of trans fats which are linked to heart disease and an increase in "bad" cholesterol.  This margarine, for example, contains a whopping 3.5g of trans fat per Tablespoon!!  The trans fats are created from the process of partially hydrogenating vegetable oils.  Many of the year-round margarine also contains partially hydrogenated oil, but the Kosher for Passover margarine is a double whammy, since the oil being used is cottonseed (see number 1).

If you aren't having a meat meal, we would suggest just using real butter, which is what margarine is trying to mimic in the first place (minus the artificial flavours and preservatives). If you prefer margarine for its spreadability, try keeping your butter at room temperature instead of refrigerating.  If butter is not an option because you avoid dairy or are having a meat meal, olive oil can be used for most cooking and baking seeds.  And lastly, if your favourite recipes use margarine, you can either substitute with olive oil or try finding some new favourites that do not require it.

 

3. Chicken Flavor Mashed Potatoes

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Potatoes are kosher for Passover and do not require special certification.  Why bother with this dehydrated/re-hydrated potato product that is full of chemicals when you can simply boil and mash potatoes the old-fashioned way.  Simply add a bit of chicken soup for that REAL chicken flavour.

 

4. Matzo Ball & Soup Mix

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The "secret" is you still need to make the matzo balls yourself!  They don't come out of the box already made, unfortunately (or fortunately IMO) so what's the real convenience factor here?  What is not so secret in this mix is the high sodium levels with a little MSG thrown in.  The time saver here is only the soup.  If you need to make the matzah balls anyway, you might as well just buy matzah meal and find a good recipe.

 

5. Imitation Mustard

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Mustard seeds are not allowed for Passover as they are considered to be kitniyot, meaning small and grain-like and may be confused with grains that can become chametz.  This is why you will find imitation mustard for Passover rather than the real thing.

The first ingredient in this product is cottonseed oil (see number 1) plus added preservatives and flavouring.  Imitation foods such as these, which are created in a laboratory, are best left on the shelves.  If you are looking to add a bit of heat to your food, why not try a more traditional Passover food like horseradish.

 


6. Passover Pizza Bagels

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The Passover Pizza Bagel: A traditional Passover food.  Probably what Moses ate at his Passover table!  This is a perfect example of the many processed Passover foods that try to mimic foods we do not eat on Passover.  Why settle for something you know will not live up to the real thing?  Our professional advice: Wait 8 days.  If you are still craving a pizza bagel - make yourself an ACTUAL pizza bagel!  In the mean time, you could always keep it simple and melt some cheese over tomato sauce on a piece of matzah.

 

7. Passover Mayo…with Olive Oil

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Jewish legal and ethical texts especially note that misleading the public is a terrible sin.  Intentionally making false or misleading labelling claims would be violating the high ethical standards of Judaism.  This product is highlighting olive oil, however the second ingredient is cottonseed oil (again, see number 1).  Olive oil is way down at number 5 on the list.  This is misleading to consumers, pretending to be a healthier choice.

 

8. Flavoured Breakfast Cereal

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Everyone knows that Passover breakfast cereals are a sorry substitute, to say the least.  This rainbow coloured variety, however, is full of artificial colours and flavours.  If you must have a cold cereal for passover, try the plain varieties and add your own fruitiness with some fresh berries.

 

9. Soup Base

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The number one ingredient here is salt and number three is MSG.  This product contains 50% of your daily sodium intake in just one teaspoon (1 cup of prepared soup)!!  If you must use a mix, try to find a low-sodium variety.  Because this is a parve mix, extra artificial flavours and sodium are needed to make up for the lack of real chicken flavour.  A parve soup mix is not even necessary if you are using it for chicken dishes, as the box suggests.

 

10. Tomato Sauce...with vodka

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Just one more Passover money grab, creating products that are unnecessary.  Prepare a sauce from scratch easily by pureeing some fresh or unsalted canned tomatoes and add your own herbs/spices.  Rather that adding it to the sauce, why not drink your shot of vodka while preparing it?  Although traditionally vodka was made from potatoes, which are Kosher for Passover, some vodkas are now made from grains.  Be sure to purchase a specially certified Kosher for Passover vodka.


11. Imitation Soy Sauce

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Similar to imitation mustard, this product has made it's way to the Passover aisle due to restrictions of soy-based products (see number 5 re: kitniyot).  This product is basically liquid MSG and should definitely be avoided.  If you are looking to add a salty flavour, just add salt.  Add flavour to your dishes with fresh herbs and spices.  If you are looking for flavouring for a stir-fry, try fresh ginger and garlic.

 

12. Fruit Snacks

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Here we take an issue with the ingredients, but also with the marketing (see number 7).  The statement on the front of the package: "Made with real fruit" tells us that the company is trying to promote it as being healthier than other similar kosher for passover products on the market.  However, just below that statement you will find the words "natural and artificial flavor" in smaller print.  The ingredients include fruit juice concentrate, but also sugar, starch, added flavour, mineral oil and 4 different food dyes.

Why not just eat REAL fruit?  All fresh fruits are kosher for passover: no special supervision is required. Dried fruits would also make a great substitute but are often coated with starch to prevent sticking, thus require a special kosher for Passover certification. The downside is that all kosher for Passover dried fruits on the market contain unnecessary, added preservatives. If you are looking for something packaged and great for on the go…try a banana.

 

Our Advice:

Focus on eating whole foods as much as possible.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, meat/poultry/fish, eggs, nuts.  Try to stick to whole grain matzah and matzah products to avoid constipation.  For any specific kashrut concerns, contact your rabbi. 

Have a healthy and kosher Passover!

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For a selection of healthy, Passover-friendly recipes, check out The Organic Kosher Cookbook - Holiday Edition.  Currently on sale for 50% off while supplies last!

 


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Rabbi Wayne Allen is a recognized authority on Jewish law. www.rabbiwayneallen.ca

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Aviva Allen is a Toronto-based nutritionist. 
www.avivaallen.com

Organic Food

Aviva Allen is one of  Toronto's leading Kids' Nutritionists specializing in helping parents deal with their picky eaters.

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