Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Kabocha Squash Recipe

Why don't more Americans cook?  Some common excuses include not having enough time, not wanting to go shopping for ingredients, not wanting to clean up afterwards, or just plain not knowing how to cook.  What is the most frequently cited reason people give for not cooking?  They let their spouses do all the cooking!

I used to be guilty of every one of those excuses myself.  In fact, I still find myself making excuses even though I have a cooking blog!  The problem with cooking is it is inconvenient.  After a long day at work, it is just easier to pick up a package from a convenience store and serve that up for dinner.  It's just easier to buy processed food and store it indefinitely in your pantry rather than shop for fresh food.  That's part of the appeal of processed food.  Removing fiber and adding preservatives, salt, and trans fats to processed foods enhances their shelf-life and their convenience. 

There's no doubt that processed food is convenient.  But I question whether or not we can really consider these products food.  The reason processed foods don't spoil is because bacteria and fungi don't recognize them as food!   Bacteria and fungi won't touch the stuff and yet we call this stuff food and give it to our kids!

But nature provides a solution to the inconvenience of spoiling food.  The tough exterior of seeds, nuts, and gourds protect these organic foods from spoiling.  You can buy a winter squash and stick it on your kitchen counter for one to two months!  Now that is a convenient, real food that is good enough to eat!  In the following video, I pit the American pumpkin against Kabocha, the so-called Japanese pumpkin, in a movie meal called, "Glory of the Gourds".

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Make Vegan Quinoa Chili Recipe

What kind of potato do you plan to serve this Thanksgiving?   Possible choices run the gamut from white to orange to purple.  There are also many possible ways to prepare your potatoes from mashed to fried to baked.  Which potato is the most nutritious and which method is the healthiest way of preparing potatoes?

White potatoes are very high in glycemic index and are one of the most fattening whole foods.   For instance, mashed white potatoes have a glycemic index close to pure glucose.  Also, in a study looking at the weight gain potential of over fifteen categories of food, potatoes and potato chips topped the list at numbers one and two.

Compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes provide significantly greater amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.  Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, and are a good source of fiber.  Sweet potatoes are also a good source of the antioxidant beta carotene, which gives sweet potatoes their orange color. 

In general, sweet potatoes are lower in glycemic index than white potatoes, but this can vary depending on what you add to and how you cook your sweet potato.  Many recipes for sweet potatoes include added sweeteners such as brown sugar, maple syrup, or marshmallows.  Why these recipes insist on drowning out the natural sweetness of a sweet potato with the deafening notes of these added sweeteners is beyond me.  They're called sweet potatoes for a reason! 

The method you use to cook your sweet potato can also alter its glycemic index.  One study tested the glycemic responses to cooking potatoes in different ways--roasting, baking, frying, and boiling.  This study found that sweet potatoes prepared by baking or roasting were associated with the highest glycemic indices, around eighty.  On the other hand, sweet potatoes prepared by boiling had the lowest glycemic indices, around forty.  In this video, I show you how to make a sweet potato puree for your baby and a spicy sweet potato chili for your toddler, courtesy of Kristen Leidelmeijer, the personal chef who helps my patients eat healthier:

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So this Thanksgiving, consider skipping the white potatoes altogether and try some sweet potatoes.  Consider boiling your sweet potatoes and skip the brown sugar and maple syrup.  Now that's a sweet meal that you can be thankful for!


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.

Atkinson FS et al.  International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008.  Diabetes Care 2008 Dec 31(12):2281-3

Bahado-Singh PS et al.  Relationship between processing method and the glycemic indices of ten sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) cultivars commonly consumed in Jamaica.   J Nutr & Met 2011:1-6.

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Vegan Quinoa and Sweet Potato Chili Recipe

Here is another fabulous recipe from Kristen Leidelmeijer.  You may need to adjust the spices, particularly the chili powder, which may be too intense for some kids. 
Vegan Quinoa and Sweet Potato Chili
6 Hearty Bowls of Chili

  • 29 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained                                                                        
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 32 oz vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • avocado, cilantro for garnish (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium low heat.  Add onions, and cook until soft (about 10 minutes)
  2. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. 
  3. Add the beans, stock, and potatoes, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  
  4. Add quinoa and continue cooking for about 15-30 minutes, stirring frequently.  Cook until quinoa and potatoes are cooked and the chili has thickened.  Add water if the chili becomes to thick for your liking.  
  5. Top with avocado and chopped cilantro.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Eat Like The French

Food can serve as a window into different cultures.  Exposing your kids to various ethnic cuisine is not only a great way to give them flavor variety, it is also a nice way of exposing them to different backgrounds and traditions.  One country that carries a rich tradition in cooking and a deep appreciation for gastronomy in general is France.

Interestingly, France is the 128th fattest country and claims one of the lowest obesity rates in Europe.  This might partially be explained by the fact that the French have a profound respect for the labor that goes into cooking food and traditionally eat more freshly prepared food than processed food.   An interesting book by Karen Le Billon called, French Kids Eat Everything makes the point that the French are distinct not just in what they eat, but when, where, and how they eat.

Because of this book, I decided to look a little deeper into how French traditions differ from American traditions when it comes to kids and food.  So I went to the source.  I interviewed my friend Sabrina Keller, a French native.   Many thanks Sabrina!

Chris: How many meals do French kids eat per day?
Sabrina: Generally three standard meals and one after-school snack

Chris: Do kids and adults eat the same food?

Sabrina: Yes.  In fact, a jar of baby food is commonly the same meal that an adult would eat, only pureed.  One good example is lamb and leeks.

Chris: What do French kids drink?
Sabrina: Milk, water, some juice, and traditionally very little soda.  Fresh milk is really only sold in two versions: whole and half fat.  Usually the only skim milk you can find is the long-conservation/unrefrigerated stuff. Most French kids start their day with a big bowl of warm milk mixed with something like Banania ( 

Chris: Do kids help themselves to snacks? 
Sabrina: Not that I've ever seen.  In general I would say the adults are in complete control.

Chris: In what ways do the French eat differently compared to other cultures? 
Sabrina: I would say second servings are rare, although that of course depends on the family.  A traditional French meal is usually composed of several smaller courses, so there really isn't room or time to have seconds of any particular course; you just move on to the next one!  And because the meal is slower, you feel fuller sooner.  Utensils are used rather than finger foods (except for babies and toddlers).  People made fun of me when I moved here and cut up my pizza with a fork and knife. 
Also, food is rarely eaten on the go.  

Chris: Are desserts like cakes and pastries eaten regularly?  What kind of portions?
Sabrina:  Even though France is known for its desserts and pastries, I feel like those are reserved for special occasions. One exception is a morning croissant with your espresso.

Chris: How often are meals eaten in restaurants?
SabrinaPretty often.  Meals out are usually long, and rarely just one course.  There is no such thing as "multiple seatings"  at a restaurant or a rush to turn the tables - a waiter will never hurry you.  (Tourists often complain about the slow service because of that!)  The waiters are also not working for tips, which probably plays a part.

Chris: Are kids taught how to cook?
Sticking with the French theme, I thought I'd try my hand at some "French" cooking. What's more French than a souffle? I found a healthy soufflé recipe using non-fat Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream at the following link:


Le Billon, Karen.   French Kids Eat Everything.  New York: Harper Collins, 2012

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Make Chia Salmon Burger Recipe

Chia pet!  Chia tree!  Chia Obama!  Chia figurines grown from chia seeds gained popularity in the 1980s thanks in large part to clever advertising and a fantastically catchy jingle.  Recently, chia seeds have gained new-found popularity thanks to the associated health benefits of eating chia seeds.

Chia seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants.   They are also a notably rich source of essential omega-3 fatty acids.  In fact, 60% of the fats contained in chia seeds are omega-3 fats.  To read more about the importance of incorporating omega-3 fats into your diet, read my previous post:

While studies on the health benefits of chia seeds are limited, consumption of chia seeds have been associated with improved circulating levels of healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids in the bloodstream, improved weight control, and reductions in blood triglyceride and glucose levels.  Because chia seeds are considered healthy, they have made their way into various food products from smoothies to breakfast bars.

And while chia seeds have a healthy nutrition profile, they are not a panacea to unhealthy eating!  Simply adding chia seeds to a sugary smoothie or chasing a burger with chia seeds doesn't turn an unhealthy food into a healthy food.  The antidote to unhealthy eating is not addition but subtraction.  Rather than add chia seeds to counteract an unhealthy diet, chia seeds can be added in a myriad of creative ways to enhance your healthy diet.  In particular, if you don't like the taste of fish and other seafood, you can add chia seeds to your yogurt, salads, and lean meats to ensure that you get an adequate amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

In the following video, I demonstrate how easy it is to incorporate chh- chh- chh- chia seeds into your diet.

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You can find the recipe I used in the above clip at the following link:
I modified the above recipe by using my Vitamix dry blade container to grind up whole oats instead of using bread crumbs.

Norlaily MA et al.  The Promising Future of Chia, Salvia hispanica L.  J Biomed & Biotech 2012:1-9.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Make Roasted Chicken For the Lazy Eater

When I was a kid, I was a lazy eater.  It took me FOREVER to finish a meal.  I found eating to be tiring.  I needed to take multiple breaks over the course of dinner.   At restaurants, I needed to stretch out on two adjoined chairs.   And I did NOT like to work at my food.   I still remember how my dad would cut up my pizza into bite size chunks whenever we went out to Pizza Hut.

Sounds pretty bad huh?  The problem is, we are bringing up a generation of lazy eaters.   Kids today drink their food.   Kids today require that the crusts of their sandwiches be cut off.  Fruit is being stripped of fiber, steeped in sugary juice, and served out of a can rather than being eaten whole with the peel on.  Whole chicken is being processed into bite-sized chicken nuggets.

Yes, food should be approachable.   Yes, food should be fun.  But this lazy eater will be the first to admit that convenient food lends itself to lazy eaters.  When I was a kid, I would scour the chicken bucket for chicken legs because they were easy to eat.  Breast or thigh?  Heck no!  That would require a knife and fork!

As foods become more and more processed, whole foods become less recognizable.  It is important that kids recognize whole foods so they have a better understanding of where their food comes from.   In fact, ignorance of where our food comes from is what Michael Pollan, a prolific journalist and author of Omnivore's Dilemma argues is the fundamental problem with our food system.

The other day we went out to a Peruvian restaurant.  They served roasted chicken that was succulent and juicy.  Not only did Cassie and I love it, so did the kids!  And we weren't the only ones.  The restaurant was packed with other families.  It was really refreshing to see kids enjoying chicken that wasn't served in a fast food establishment and wasn't shaped like a nugget.

I decided to attempt a version of a Peruvian roasted chicken, which is featured in the following video:

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Here's the link to the recipe I used:


Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006. 

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