veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Junk Food vs Fresh Food

No one buys junk food because it is good for you. Everyone understands that junk food doesn’t stand a chance when you compare its nutrients, calories or health benefits with fresh or non-processed food.

So why do people continue to buy junk food? It is cheap and fast. Or is it?

When I talk to parents, the overwhelming reasons why they turn to junk food are that it is the least expensive and most convenient option. Whether it is a quick dinner with the kids at McDonalds or providing snack for a kindergarten class or soccer game, most parents turn to nuggets and fries or fruit roll-ups and cookies.

I have argued before that Fast Food isn’t actually faster than boiling water for pasta or cutting up a carrot.  Faster Than Take-Out Pasta

What about cost? Most parents nod their heads in agreement that times are tough and so junk food is necessary for cost reasons. Here’s new data that tells a different story. According to the New York Times, junk food is not cheaper than fresh/non-processed food.

 Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

It's a myth that chips are cheaper than broccoli. They're not. So what's stopping people from eating more healthfully?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pancakes Pancakes

Pancakes get a bad reputation. But really, with a few simple tweaks, it can be a healthy breakfast or snack. I just came across this post about spinach pancakes from Snack Girl.
This looks delicious – however I know that my kids would see green in their pancake and turn up their noses. I wanted to share this link – because maybe your kids will love them – but also to point out that you don’t have to put something green in your pancake in order for it to be a more healthy option. Just by using whole wheat flour, canola oil and not too much sugar, makes it healthful in my book. Pancake mixes often have unwanted added ingredients but making them from scratch is actually pretty easy.

I guess now would be a good time to talk about what goes on the pancake! You can start with a whole wheat cake and think you are doing pretty darn good. Then comes the butter, whipped cream and high-fructose corn syrup maple syrup. Okay, now we have a dessert. But there is an easy fix. Skip the butter and whipped cream and replace your maple syrup with a high quality one that does not contain high fructose corn syrup.

Here is my basic pancake recipe. Feel free to add fruit (blueberries, bananas, etc.) or even shredded squash or sweet potato or as Snack Girl suggests, spinach.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

1-1/4 cup whole wheat flour

2-1/2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

3 tbsp. brown sugar

2 eggs

1-1/4 cup milk (or buttermilk)

2 tbsp. canola oil

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in one bowl. Mix eggs, milk, and oil in another. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix well. (if you are adding a fruit or vegetable, now is the time to add it.) Fry in a non-stick frying pan into pancakes. Freeze extra in a plastic bag for quick snacks to heat up later.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mud Soup

My kids won’t eat soup. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe they don’t like the fact that more than one ingredient are mixed up together in one bowl? Or perhaps it is because you have to eat it with a spoon? When my kids are sick I can sometimes get them to slurp down a few spoonfuls of chicken soup as long as they don’t detect anything but broth in their bowl. I’ve also tried pureed soups, but my kids think it’s too gross and oozing.

One day my daughter checked a book out of the library called Mud Soup by Judith Head. The book is about two kids sharing their lunch where one is eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the other mud soup. The story covers “International Day” at school where everyone brings a dish from their culture to share. Mud soup is on the potluck menu. By the end of the book, the boy with the peanut butter sandwich gets up the courage to taste the mud soup. To his surprise, he finds that it is not made with mud after all. No, mud soup is really black bean soup that looks like mud. And guess what? He likes it!

My daughter loved reading this book because she thought it was so funny to talk about actually eating mud soup. I mean, that’s what she makes in the sand at the beach, right? Who doesn’t love to pretend to eat mud soup? At the end of the book, there was a recipe for Mud Soup.

“Can we make it?” my daughter asked with bright eyes.

“Sure,” I said.

I soaked the beans overnight and the next day prepared Mud Soup with our dinner.

“Yuck, what is that?” my son and daughter cried in unison.

“Mud Soup!” I said. “Just like in the book.”

“Smells like beans,” my son said, unimpressed.

“Oh Mommy, thank you for making Mud Soup!” my daughter said, giving me a hug.

They both tasted the soup. Sure enough, my son thought it was the most disgusting thing he had ever tasted. Instead he ate up the bowl of black beans that I had extracted from the soup and put in a separate bowl in anticipation of exactly his reaction. My daughter, on the other hand, loved the soup. She even asked for more and ate the beans floating in the bottom of the cup.

Does my daughter now like black bean soup? All I know is that she wanted to eat what the girl in the book ate and exclaim, “Delicioso!” after every bite. That desire pushed her to taste a new food, and for that, I am happy. Maybe she will eat black bean soup the next time I make, it. Or maybe she won’t eat it again for 6 months or even a couple of years. Either way, she tasted it, liked it and so I know she will come back to it eventually.

Mud Soup (from Mud Soup by Judith Head)

2 cups black beans

3 tbps of olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

Wash the beans. Put them in a pot with 6 cups of water. Soak them for 4-8 hours. Drain them and pu them back into the pot. Add 6 cups of water. Add the oil, the onion, and the bay leaf. Simmer for 1-2 hours or until the beans are tender. Add more water if the water boils out. Add salt and stir.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Talking to Kids About Nutritious Food

If I have learned one thing about being a parent it is that my kids outsmart me every time. They may not figure out my tricks today or next week, but soon enough, they beat me at my own game.

Let’s take my daughter’s blanket, for example. When our first child was born, a good friend gave her a soft, satin-edged, pink blanket. Embroidered all around the satin edges were our daughter’s name, birth date, birth weight and length, etc. It was a beautiful blanket and a thoughtful gift so we gave it to our baby girl to enjoy.

Our daughter took to the blanket so much that soon she not only slept with it every night but had a difficult time falling asleep without it, even for a short nap. She tried to say “blankie” but it came out “bobby” and so began the story of Robert B. Blanket, as my husband and I affectionately referred to it. Everything seemed to be smooth-sailing with our daughter and her blanket until one night she threw up on her faithful friend. We put Bobby in the washing machine for a good cleaning while we changed our daughter’s pajamas and attempted to put her back to sleep. It turned out to be the longest wash, rinse, spin and then dry cycle of our life. Our daughter cried her eyes out until clean, warm from the dryer, Bobby was returned to her.

This event occurred every time Bobby needed to be washed. I tried to strategically plan the blanket’s wash time when our daughter was pre-occupied with toys or a play date. But sure enough something would happen, a skinned knee, or a bump on the head where she would all of a sudden go looking for Bobby.

“Bobby is getting a wash,” I would say. That was all she needed to throw herself into a terrible tantrum that didn’t end until Bobby was returned to her.

When our son was born two years later, I decided that although I may not be able to fix the mistakes I had made with our first child, at least I could learn from them and not make them again. Our son didn’t get a fancy embroidered, one of a kind blanket to sleep with. Instead I went to Target and purchased not one but two identical, inexpensive satin-edged green blankets. “One for my son and one for the wash,” I thought, satisfied that I had solved my biggest problem.

For the first 18 months my plan worked beautifully. Spilled milk on blankie? Who cares. Dragged blankie through the mud? No problem. Each time I carefully swapped out the dirty blanket with an identical clean one and our unsuspecting son happily went to bed. I should have known, however, that all good tricks eventually come to an end. One day our son spotted his green blanket edge sticking out of the laundry basket in the hallway awaiting the trip down to the laundry room. He pulled the blanket out of the basket and held it up for a moment. Then he went to his bedroom and retrieved the second blanket from his bed. He showed them both to me and happily said, “two blankies!”

“No reason to panic,” I thought. When he started playing with his toys again I took the dirty blanket and threw it in the washing machine. That night at bedtime our son held up his one blanket and cried “two blankies” to me over and over again.

I stood back in amazement. “No way,” I thought to myself as I made the trip downstairs to the laundry room and retrieved the back-up blanket from the dryer. I handed the second blanket to our son and he happily cuddled up with, not one, but two satin-edged green blankets.

That night I learned a lesson about parenting. If I lie or trick my kids, they will eventually beat me at my own game.

When it comes to nutrition, trickery will eventually fail you just as my secret blanket trick did. You may not be able to predict the outcome, but rest assured, it won’t end well. Instead of using trickery or bribes, I tell them the truth. Sure I may embellish with an imaginative story, but at the end of the day, I haven’t actually told them something that flat out isn’t true.

Talking to kids about nutrition is just as important as getting them to eat it. Tell them why we are eating nutritious food rather than attempting to sneak it by when they aren’t looking. Kids want to know how the world works. Tell them!

“Here are some apple slices, it will give you energy.”

“Have some carrots, they make your eyes shiny.”

“Finish your milk, it is good for your bones.”

“Try this, it tastes just like sweet potato.”

Sure maybe some of my statements are old wives tales or circle around the truth, but at least it puts a positive image in their heads while they are eating nutritious food. And perhaps the explanation doesn’t always convince your child to take a bite. However, giving kids reasons (beyond bribery) to reach for healthy food will only inspire more healthy choices down the road.

“Mom, look how long my arm is,” exclaims my son after eating a banana, “did it grow yet?”

Some things in life you just can’t predict. When in doubt, tell the truth in an imaginative way and hope for the best. My son curled up in his bed, hugging two identical blankets, is my nightly reminder that my kids will outsmart me every time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Candy or Mini-Meal?

Nutrition bars and granola bars are marketed for kids as healthy snack options, or even mini-meal substitutes. But are they? I typically don’t stock my pantry with either for the simple fact that I think they are bad for my kids’ teeth. No matter how healthy the bar may claim to be, they are still either sticky or gooey more than anything else. Of course, I let my kids eat them now and then, but more as a treat rather than a staple. When something has that much sugar in it, whether it is organic or nutrient-rich, in my book it constitutes dessert not a meal.

But that’s me – the parent. What do kids think? They don’t read the ingredients on nutrition bars. So how do they tell dessert from meal food? Kids rely on taste and past experiences. The story goes something like this. My 4 year old and I are walking to the bus stop to meet my kindergartener at the school bus. When the bus arrives, and my daughter hops down from big steps, she is holding a bag of treats. She had been on a field trip that day and received a “goodie” bag with pencils, erasers, rulers, raisins and a health bar inside. All good stuff, I think compared to the typical bag of “goodies” I have seen get off the bus with her before. She asks if she can eat the health bar on the walk home from the bus stop. I say yes, but that she has to give her brother a piece.

I hear a few “yums” and “oohs” as we walk home, the two of them savoring every bite of the health bar.

“I want MORE candy!” demands my 4-year-old all of sudden.

“I don’t have any candy,” I explain to him, confused by his sudden outburst. “How could I give you more candy when I haven’t given you candy in the first place?”

“MORE CANDY, PLEASE!!!!” he wails, ignoring my reasoning.

I am confused. I try to retrace our steps over the last fifteen minutes until it dawns on me. He thinks the nutrition bar is CANDY! Here I am, the parent, suspicious of the “health” bar market because I am not so sure of the actual health benefits. Then my son takes one bite and files what he has consumed under candy, not food.

What’s my conclusion? Is it a good thing that health bars border candy in sugar content and gooeyness? I suppose it is much better to reach for a health bar rather than a Snickers. But on the other hand, health bars should be served as treats, a healthy desert, shall we say, rather than a mini-meal substitute. Just ask your kids.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What happnes in kindergarten, doesn't stay in comes home.

Long before my daughter could talk, she taught me that well-timed nutrition snacks were my secret weapon to keeping her balanced and eager to explore the world around her. I discovered, first hand, the effects that good nutrition had on her behavior and moods. By the time I figured it all out and felt like I could predict her every move, my toddler grew into a preschooler and now a kindergartener.

What happens in kindergarten, doesn’t stay in kindergarten…it comes home. Sugary snacks, high-fructose corn syrup chocolate milk, fried everything and candy rewards. My kindergartener was exposed to and expected to maneuver through a new landscape of food choices except this time I couldn’t act as tour guide. My only hope was to teach my daughter to make healthy choices for herself because I wasn’t there to make them for her.

All of a sudden, nutrition wasn’t just about what we ate at home. Once my daughter entered school, nutrition became a community-wide concern. And so, I decided to tackle school lunch as I did my daughter’s snacks. Replace the junk with fresh food. They have a name for it. It’s called Farm to School.

No big deal right? Well my county doesn’t have one high school, two middle schools and 5 elementary schools as did the town I grew up in. No, my county has 19 high schools, 19 middle schools, 79 elementary schools and 20 specialty schools. Here is how I got involved.

When my daughter started kindergarten at our neighborhood public school this past fall, I asked the newly formed school garden PTA committee who was working on a Farm to School program and how could I get involved. Aside from the brand new and exciting school garden, no one else was heading a farm to school initiative. In fact, no one in the county had started one either. That day the school garden PTA parents looked at me and said, “You do it.”

And so here we are. More than halfway through the school year and I have assembled a group of PTA parents devoted to the Farm to School initiative, introduced some ideas about nutrition awareness campaigns to do in our very own school, and organized a county-wide stakeholders meeting to discuss how our county could start a Farm to School program.

Our county-wide meeting is scheduled for the end of March but already I have received an RSVP from three principals, a school board member, our state representative, a member of the county board of health, our county school nutrition director and possibly more elected officials. We also have many parents and teachers from schools all across the county as well as farmers and local businesses coming to our meeting.

This meeting is truly exciting for the fact that it will bring so many varied members of the school community together under one purpose, to improve the school nutrition and support local farmers. Whatever the outcome of this meeting, we have taken a gigantic step in the right direction just by initiating a discussion of Farm to School.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Salad: Dressed for Success

Salad dressing is one of my favorite foods. As much as I love greens, I am in it for the dressing. But here’s the thing, most commercially made salad dressings are expensive, use poor quality oils and contain large amounts of sodium and additives.

When I find myself wondering if I should make something from scratch rather than buy it in a store, I ask myself a simple question. How much effort goes into making it myself and how much healthier is that home-made version? For salad dressing, my answer is not much and quite a bit. It hardly takes any time at all to make your own salad dressing while the health benefits and taste over a commercially-prepared one are tremendous.

Salad dressing is like a child’s drawing. There are no wrong answers. As long as you have something to draw with and something to draw on, the rest is up to you. Salad dressing is the same – as long as you have 1 part vinegar and 2-3 parts oil, you are ready to dress those greens! The beauty of salad dressing is that the variations are endless. Once you understand the basic components, start experimenting with your own concoctions.

As for the kids…I will never forget the discussions I had with my 3-year-old son about the difference between salad dressing, getting dressed and wearing dresses.   His older sister got dressed in dresses almost every day so he was sure that the lettuce had something to do with it too.  After you’ve had a good laugh over how Amelia Bedelia might dress her salad, what better way to get the kids eating greens than dipping them in a homemade dressing?

Here are some simple guidelines to making your own fabulous dressing with ingredients you might already have on hand.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Dried Oregano (optional)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (or whatever mustard you have)
1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
1 pinch Kosher salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Basic Lemon Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pinch Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. dried herb like coriander, basil, or oregano (optional)

Basic Yogurt Ranch:
1/3 cup Greek style plain yogurt
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. onion powder (optional)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh chives (optional)
Salt to taste