Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Cuban Black Bean Recipe

"Beans.  Beans.  Beans.  They're good for your heart." 

That's a line from a catchy tune I used to love to sing when I was a kid.  Okay, I still love to sing it to this day even though I'm a grown man.  But, is it true?  Are beans in fact good for your heart?

The term bean is a common name for large plant seeds from the legume family.  When it comes to human consumption, the beans most of us eat are the seeds of grain legumes, called pulses.  Examples of pulses include beans (black, navy, pinto), chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, peas, and peanuts.

Grains like cereals, breads, pastas, and rice typically take up a large portion of American plates and are the primary source of carbohydrates in the human diet.  From both a nutritional standpoint and a health standpoint, we would be better off making beans the staple and all other grains the side item.

Beans are rich in essential vitamins and minerals like folate, iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.  They are high in fiber and low in saturated fat.  Beans generally have a low glycemic index, meaning they don't tend to cause significant spikes in blood sugar levels.  Beans are also an important source of protein.  And while beans provide most of the essential amino acids that our bodies require, with the exception of soybeans, beans are considered incomplete protein sources.  Adding some whole grains to your beans creates a complete protein source.

But does the favorable nutritional profile of beans benefit your heart?  Well, in one study of Costa Ricans, eating one serving of beans per day was associated with reduced odds of having a heart attack!  In another study of nearly 10,000 subjects, eating legumes at least four times per week was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease.  And, in a study of nearly 30,000 women, replacing carbohydrates or animal sources of protein for vegetable sources of protein such as nuts, tofu, and legumes was associated with a 30% lower risk of death from heart disease.

So, there does seem to be some truth behind the lyrics to this childhood tune.  Unfortunately, this tune also toots about the downside to beans that comes from all that good fiber.  In this musical clip of "Beans In Me",  I show you an easy and tasty recipe you can prepare for your kids and also give you some tips so that you can enjoy your beans without having to suffer in the end.

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The above video features a recipe that I adapted from the following link:

In the video, I reduced the sodium content by using dried beans and cooking with one half cup of reduced sodium chicken broth rather than using canned beans.  Sprinkling your beans with your favorite whole grain and chopped cilantro not only creates a complete protein source, but creates a delicious and complete meal.  So, as the song goes, "Eat some beans in every meal!"


Kabagambe EK, Baylin A, Ruiz-Narvarez E, Siles X, Campos H.  Decreased consumption of dried mature beans is positively associated with urbanization and nonfatal myocardial infarction.  J Nutr 2005;135:1770-1775.

Bazzano LA et al.  Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study.  Arch Intern Med 2001;161:2573-2578.

Kelemen LE et al.  Associations of dietary protein with disease and mortality in a prospective study of postmenopausal women.  Am J Epidemiol 2005;161:239-249.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Make Easy Recipe for Eggplant Chips and Dip

I remember as a kid not wanting to touch any foodstuff that looked foreign to me or had an odd color.  I missed out on some sweet mousse just because I thought it looked like a pile of...poo.  I have vivid childhood memories of long standoffs involving my mom, myself, and nothing between us but a plate of untouched eggplant.  I remember the visceral feeling of enmity I had for this purple headed monster with a mushy grey interior.  Since those days, I have realized that I've been missing out on a truly versatile and remarkable vegetable.

Kids are visual creatures.  When it comes to food, if they don't like the look of something, they won't even try it.  In order to to get your kids to eat their vegetables and get the nutrition they need, you have to think like a kid.  Fortunately for me, that's not too far of a stretch.  Realizing that kids eat with their eyes first, parents can disarm their child's food antagonism by hiding or transforming food into visually approachable forms.

Three techniques that I repeatedly use with success to improve the nutrition of my kids include:
  1. Pureeing vegetables
  2. Encouraging hands
  3. Encouraging dipping
By using a food processor to blend ingredients into a puree, you can take a vegetable that your child would normally reject immediately and make it unrecognizable.  Blending also has the advantage of bringing in new colors and flavors together into appealing combinations.  Allowing kids to use their hands and dunk their food into dips not only puts them at ease, but puts the fun back into eating.

I demonstrate the use of these techniques in the following clip on making eggplant chips and dip.  In this clip, I show you how easy it is to make your own eggplant chips and discuss why eggplant chips are a much healthier alternative to the traditional potato chip. 

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The eggplant dip featured in this video is a traditional Bulgarian dish called kiopoolu.  I adapted the recipe by blending all the ingredients together to also hide the tomatoes, which my son would typically pick out and reject.  You can warm up the color of the dip by using red bell pepper.  This simple recipe can be found at the following link:

Here's an easy recipe for making eggplant chips:

Eggplant Chips Recipe


  • 1 eggplant 
  • canola oil spray
  • garlic salt
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Wash and peel eggplant.
  3. Cut eggplant horizontally into thin slices (the thinner, the crispier the chip).
  4. Spray both sides of chips with canola oil, then sprinkle both sides with garlic salt and cheese. 
  5. Bake in oven for 40 minutes until browned and crisp, flipping every so often.

Schlosser E. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Nestle M.  Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

Mozaffarian D et al.  Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and LongTerm Weight Gain in Women and Men.  N Engl J Med 2011;364:2392-404.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Make Easy Recipe for Homemade Granola

Top of the morning to you!  My wife, Cassie, is an anesthesiologist, so she has to wake up at an ungodly hour.  I on the other hand, get to sleep in until a quarter after six!  Then, I am treated to a dazzling sequence of morning festivities.  I typically take care of washing myself up and eating my breakfast first before I tackle the delightful task of waking up the kids and getting them ready for their day.

Cailya is still a heavy sleeper so she is typically an easy transfer into the car seat.  Colin on the other hand, is not a morning kind of guy.  I let him sleep in as much as I can, then I sneak my way into his room and gently call out his name.  I know he hears me but he responds by snoring louder.   Eventually, I get him up, put him on the potty, get him changed for the day, brush his teeth, and coax him down to breakfast.  Guess what the rate-limiting step of this morning routine is?  You guessed it!  Colin's breakfast!

Like most busy parents, I strive to serve my kids a daily breakfast that is nutritious, quick, and tasty.  Most traditional American breakfasts consist of highly refined and processed carbohydrates like bagels, breads, or cereals.  The problem with these starchy staples is that they are examples of food processing gone bad.

Most of the grains people eat for breakfast either have had sugars added to them or have had significant changes to their original whole form.  On top of that, grains are a particularly starchy form of carbohydrate.  The combination of a densely laden carbohydrate with processing that increases the absorption of that carbohydrate translates into a very high glycemic load.  Meals that are high in glycemic load cause significant elevations in blood sugar levels.  In fact, high dietary glycemic load has been associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

That's why breakfast is so important.  It's a daily routine that either starts your child's day off right or starts them out on a carbohydrate roller coaster.  Yogurt is a great alternative to the traditional American breakfast.  Yogurt is high in calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and B12.  In contrast to a breakfast that is high in glycemic load, yogurt has been found to be negatively associated with weight gain and diabetes.

Some of the benefits of yogurt derive from the fermentation process that converts milk into yogurt.  Bacterial cultures such as lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus are added to milk and these bacteria ferment the milk sugar, lactose.  This has at least three consequences: 
  1. Lactose content is lowered, making yogurt easier to digest for people who are lactose intolerant.  
  2. Lactic acid is produced, which gives yogurt its tangy taste and creamy texture. 
  3. The final mixture of sugars results in lower blood sugar elevations when eaten.
Yogurts that contain live or active cultures may have probiotic properties that confer additional health benefits.  It turns out that our bodies are filled with friendly bacteria that we coexist with in a symbiotic relationship.  For instance, the ecology of the flora in our intestine dynamically changes based on fluctuations in what we eat and what our body weighs.  It is possible that eating yogurt with live cultures promotes the beneficial ecology in our intestine.

On top of it all, kids love to eat yogurt!  I find that they really seem to gravitate toward the creamy consistency of yogurt and eagerly shovel down spoonfuls of the stuff.  Yogurt is a fast and functional breakfast, a great snack, and a healthy recipe substitution for salad dressing, coleslaw, mayonnaise, cream sauces, and desserts.

The processed food industry, sensing the enthusiasm for yogurt, has jumped on board and come up with a dizzying array of yogurts.  And while yogurt can be a healthy staple, you have to know how to choose the right kind of yogurt.  Yogurt is another example of the importance of avoiding processed foods with added sugars, a concept that I first introduced in the following post:
I go over this further and introduce you to a simple homemade granola recipe that goes great with yogurt in the following clip:   

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Homemade Granola Recipe


  • 2 cups whole oats 
  • 1 cup walnuts, crushed
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. In a large bowl, mix above ingredients together except for raisins.
  3. Spread mixture out on baking pan lined with aluminum foil. 
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, stir, and bake another 10 minutes until golden brown. 
  5. Remove pan from oven and add raisins.  


Liu S et al.  A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women.  Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:1455-61.

Salmeron J et al.  Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women.  JAMA 1997;277(6):472-477.

Barclay AW et al.  Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk-a meta-analysis of observational studies.  Am J clin Nutr 2008;87:627-37. 

Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB.  Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2392-404.

Huth PJ & Park KM.  Influence of dairy product and milk fat consumption on cardiovascular disease risk: a review of the evidence.  Adv Nutr. 2012;3:266-285.

Sanz Y et al.  Insights into the roles of gut microbes in obesity.   Interdiscip Perspect.  2008;1-9.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : The Cure to Sugary Beverage Addiction is Water - Infused Water!

What is the definition of healthy eating? In doing research for this blog, I came across various books promoting healthy eating for kids. I came across a recipe for fruit pizza. Is that healthy? I came across a recipe to hide a cauliflower puree inside a breaded, deep-fried meatball. Is that healthy? Eating healthy is actually very difficult to define, but it begins with avoiding foods that are unhealthy. And that begins with avoiding processed foods. The purpose of this blog is to empower you, the parent, to prepare simple foods at home so that your kids eat less processed foods and more real food.

There are many things about processed food that are bad for your health, but this post will focus on two major themes to beware of when it comes to processed food: 

1. Avoid processed foods that have added sugars
2. Avoid processed foods that significantly alter the form of the original whole food

Both of these forms of processing lead to rapid absorption of sugars, harmful spikes in blood sugar levels, and associated problems with weight gain and health.

In paleolithic times, we used to consume twenty-two teaspoons of sugar per year. Now, Americans consume an average of twenty-two teaspoons of sugar per day! The great bulk of these added sugars are hidden in processed foods and drinks.

One-third of added sugars in the American diet come from sugar-sweetened beverages. As you will see in the accompanying video in this post, a typical can of soda contains quite a bit of added sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Dr. David Ludwig, an expert in the field of childhood obesity, reported a sixty percent increased risk of obesity for each additional daily serving of soft drinks in middle-school children.

Many parents have heard of the harms of high fructose corn syrup and have turned to giving their kids fruit juices. However, although fruit juices are a naturally sweetened beverage, they are not innocuous. Fruit juices are examples of food processing that has altered the form of the original whole food.

A whole orange contains fiber which delays the absorption of the sugars contained within the orange. On the other hand, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice is effectively liquid sugar. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist and author of Fat Chance: Beating The Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease said, 
"When God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote."

It is far better to eat a whole piece of fruit than it is to toss the fiber away and drink the fruit juice.  
So, what's a kid to drink? Our bodies are comprised of 60% water, making water an essential nutrient. When your kids complain of thirst, they are simply voicing their body's inherent need for hydration. Water is the ultimate thirst quencher. 

Perhaps your children complain that water is boring. A simple and practical way to jazz up water is to infuse it with the natural essence of fruits and herbs. And because infused water does not have added sugars, it is a much healthier alternative to soda and fruit juice. You can read more about simply infused water in the following blog:

There's a famous saying that goes, "There must be something in the water." For many of our kids, it's sugar. The question is, "What do you want your child to drink?"

In the following video clip, I demonstrate just how much sugar is in a typical can of soda and I demonstrate how easy it is to make your own infused water.

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Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet 2001; 357:505–08.

Schulze MB et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA 2004; 292(8):927-934.

Lustig, R. H. (2013). Fat chance: Beating the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity, and disease. New York, New York: Hudson Street Press.

Odegaard AO et al. Soft drink and juice consumption and risk of physician-diagnosed incident type 2 diabetes: the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Am J Epidemiol 2010; Mar 15;171(6):701-8.

Monday, June 3, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Simple Recipe to Roast Cauliflower

Simple Roasted Cauliflower Recipe


  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • black pepper to taste
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. Wash cauliflower and break off florets from stalk.  Break into bite-size pieces. 
  3. Place cauliflower into ziplock bag  and add canola oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper.  Shake well.   
  4. Spread cauliflower onto a baking or roasting pan lined with aluminum foil. 
  5. Roast for 20 minutes, stir, and roast another 10-15 minutes until tender and browned.  
In the following clip, I demonstrate how easy it is to roast vegetables and how effective a strategy it can be to help get your kids to eat their vegetables:

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How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Simple Healthy Recipes

Hi there!  Thanks for checking out Cooking For Your Kids With Dr. Chris Ko, a blog featuring easy and healthy recipes to help parents give their kids the nutrition they need.   I'm Dr. Chris Ko.  Let me give you a little background about myself: 
  1. First, I am the recipient of an unforgiving name courtesy of my loving parents.  To even out the short surname that I inherited, they decided to give me the distinguished, elongated first name of Christopher.  Other kids used to call me CRISCO oil. They would ask me, "How's the shortening?"  As an adult, I have decided to own my name.  My parents have given me much more than a namesake.  They have showered me with love and guidance and taught me the importance of strong family values.  I am fortunate that they raised me in a positive environment, and specifically a positive food environment. 
  2. Second, I am the exceptionally fortunate husband of an amazing wife named Cassie.  Although this blog deals with my attempts to raise my children in a positive food environment, I could not do so without Cassie.  Just the other day, a nice couple witnessed us taking turns handling the two kids and said, "You guys make a nice team."  I replied, "Thanks, that's because I've got a great captain!"
  3. Third, I am an internist.  I completed medical school at Northwestern University and residency at Emory University.  I learned a lot from my medical training.  The most important lesson I learned was that medicine is about dedicating oneself to the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and further learning.  In my practice, I have learned that food is intimately tied to health.  Bad food wreaks havoc on your health and good food creates health.  So why would an internist who exclusively treats adults write a blog about cooking for kids?  Well, that has to do with my most important job of all:    
  4. I am the proud father of two adorable children.  (They take after their mom).   Like most parents, I struggle to raise my kids in a positive environment and to teach them life skills.  The most fundamentally important life skill to teach kids is how and what to eat.  As an internist, I regularly deal with the health complications that come about from years of bad eating.  The problem is that although parents want the best for their kids, a lot of the advice about food and nutrition out there is confusing or misleading.  What's more, busy parents find it difficult to find the time to prepare food for their kids.  
This last job of mine is what motivated me to blog about Cooking For Your Kids.  I used to think that a blog was a glorified online diary.  (Sorry to my fellow bloggers!)  Now, I realize that blogging is less about the messenger and more about the message. 
Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese.  Obesity is associated with a myriad of health problems from diabetes to heart disease.  At the heart of the problem is a toxic food environment and poor food education.  On a daily basis, I focus my efforts on helping my patients with weight management by teaching them to retrain themselves on how food affects their bodies.  But even better than teaching adults to change their eating habits is teaching kids to adopt good eating habits from the very beginning.  
One-quarter of our children are obese.  In fact, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine projected that due in large part to epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes, this generation of children will be the first American generation who will have a shorter lifespan than their parents! 
I've learned a lot about how food impacts health.  My background is in medicine, but my heart is with my kids.  I have translated the lessons I've learned into simple tips to help parents cook healthy food for their kids.  I will post a weekly series of videos featuring an easy recipe that any busy parent can do to help give their kids the nutrition they need.  
Through Cooking For Your Kids, you will learn that food is powerful.  You will learn that food is the key to your health and the health of your kids.  You will learn the harms of eating processed foods that have had sugars added to them or had significant changes to their natural architecture.  You will learn the value of eating whole food.   Finally, you will learn that you can pass these same values onto your children with simple recipes that make you a competent home chef.  One of the great joys of being a parent is watching your child eat something wholesome and nourishing that you prepared for them.  Even more gratifying than that is teaching your kids positive eating habits that they can apply for the rest of their lives.
 I hope you find this web series to be informative and even inspiring.  At the very least, perhaps my kids will bring a smile to your day.  If you know anyone who could benefit from this blog, please ask them to follow along.  Thanks, and I wish you and your kids happy and healthy eating!

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