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Growing Up Gourmet: May 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Nutrition 101

I am just days away from completing my first graduate-level course in nutrition. Throughout the semester, "Nutrition for a Healthy Lifestyle" reminded me just how complex the human body is, and how important it is we nourish it with the right foods. I've still got lots to learn, but the overview -- from antioxidants to zinc -- will serve as a solid foundation for understanding what we eat and why we eat it. Now that I'll be spending less time pouring over my textbook, I hope to share more ruminations about nutrition for kids on this blog. But after all the tests, and all the lectures, the most important take-away message is something I've known at heart all along: eat fresh; eat balanced; eat variety.

As a final project, I developed an informal website for kids: "Eating the Alphabet: the kids' guide to the WHY of nutrition". If your kids are tired of being scolded to...

"Eat your carrots!"
"Finish your milk!" and
"Don't eat those cookies!"
...and would like to learn why they should -- or shouldn't -- eat those goodies, this site is for them. It's a work in progress, but kids will learn about protein and carbs, iron and vitamins. Also, you'll find lots of links to other resources on kids' nutrition, including KidsHealth and MyPyramid for Kids.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

The Kitchen Classroom

When the editors of contacted me about writing an article for their fabulous site, I was happy to accept. Perhaps you've heard of Tastybaby's exquisite line of natural, delicious and organic baby food like "Peas on Earth" and "Hip 2 B Pear". Did you also know their website is bursting with tasty and touching articles, too?

At any rate, I thought the most fitting story to share with health-conscious moms who want the very best for their children, would be about turning the family kitchen into a global classroom:

I’ve taught children in lots of fabulous places: three year olds on the ski slopes of Park City, Utah, high schoolers from a working-class suburb of Florence, Italy, hormonal adolescents in a public school classroom. But I founded Kitchen Kid, a Los Angeles-area culinary school for kids, because I think the best place to teach kids is in the heart of every family’s home: the kitchen.

So I’ve composed the top 10 reasons why you should stop cooking for your kids, and start cooking with them.

10. They call it culinary arts for a reason. Cooking is a tasty and tangible way for kids to express their creativity. Children experience success, independence, and increased self esteem when they put dinner on the table, all by themselves! And quite simply, cooking is a fun adventure for all the senses!

9. Kids love the prep work you hate. Washing potatoes? (Fun with water!) Trimming asparagus? (Snap off that 3rd grade aggression!) Chopping herbs? (Meticulous results with craft scissors!)

8. The kitchen is a classroom, and school becomes delicious! Kids hone skills like… Geography – find the Mediterranean Sea when you make hummus; map out the Silk Road when you stir fry. Language – steak frites anyone? Farfalle with prosciutto? Math – cups are in thirds and tablespoons in halves way before fractions are introduced at school. And science. Consider the chemistry of egg whites and whipping cream post electric mixer. Not to mention reading comprehension, sequencing, and one of my favorites, following directions.

7. Healthy snacks and yummy meals have thankfully begun to replace vending machines and drive-thrus. With the help of your tiny chef, roasting chicken and making snack bags won’t seem like such formidable tasks.

6. Kids are empowered to make their own wholesome choices when engaged in honest dialogue about nutrition. Teach them to eat a rainbow of colorful foods each day. They’ll be glad to know sweet potatoes fuel their brains, bananas boost their energy, milk makes them grow strong, and strawberries fight a cold.

5. An appreciation of where food comes from fosters an interest in local, sustainable, and organic ingredients. Long after they forget the nursery rhymes of barnyard animals, kids clamor to track the journey from farm to fork.

4. Your child’s palate will expand well beyond the limited fare of nuggets and buttered pasta. Children are much more likely to eat – and enjoy – foods which they had a hand in creating. In countless Kitchen Kid culinary classes, I’ve seen picky eaters chow down happily on foods they previously feared. Vegetables, fish, and funny textures included.

3. Dinnertime becomes family time once again. Kids and parents who cook together dine together. Norman Rockwell rests in peace.

2. You might just score a really delicious breakfast in bed this Mother’s Day.

1. Watching five year olds mix, mash, and measure is pretty entertaining! As one toque-touting tot-chef explained to me during cooking class, “I love to be shoe-chef!”

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dinnertime Challenges for Mom, Top Chef Style

Is it just me, or was the elimination challenge on Bravo's Top Chef last night hardly, well, a challenge? The task: cook a nutritious, simple, and kid-friendly dinner that American families would be happy to re-create. Oh, and spend $10 or less. If this seems an impossible feat, as Chef Andrew quipped, it's worth noting these astounding figures reported in Chef Tom Colicchio's blog: 10% of Americans rely on food stamps. Food stamps allocate just $1/meal per person. That means cooking a simple, nutritious, and kid-friendly dinner for your family of 4 for just $4. And the cost of food continues to rise...

Anyhow, it seems this 'challenge' -- or should I call it a 'regularly nightly task' for most American moms -- really stumped these talented chef-testants. So I've decided to critique each of the chefs so they'll be ready when they have hungry kids of their own.

Mark: I agree with the judges on this one. Your sweet curry entree lacked essential carbs and protein. Gail was right, sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins, but a dinner of "just vegetables" doesn't work on the family table. How about mashed sweet potatoes with turkey burgers?

Dale: Good thinking. Pre-cooked sausages are a quick, inexpensive staple in the family kitchen. But your kids may find brats and cabbage to be the 'worst'. How about smoked chicken and apple sausage instead? Or an Italian turkey sausage kabob with sauteed red peppers and broccoli, with a side of brown rice?

Spike: Few kids get excited about olives and capers. But pasta with red sauce will always be a quick, inexpensive, and nutritious family meal. Jessica Seinfeld's been known to sneak some unique vegetables in there, too. I loved your idea for carrot soup -- I wish more American moms knew how easy and rewarding it is to make homemade soup.

Nikki, Richard, Stephanie, and Lisa: Lots of roasted chicken. Definitely a healthy, delicious way to feed a family. Think outside the BSB (boneless, skinless breast): it's a lot cheaper to buy whole chicken, thighs, or even bone-in breast. I liked Nikki's easy clean up plan and wished more chefs had considered using just 1 pan. Richard did a nice job introducing hot pink beets. Kids love the sweet taste and bright color when they are roasted. But left whole the texture is intimidating. Try running the beets through a food processor and toss with pasta and cheese. Though Stephanie's dish was deservedly on the bottom, whole wheat couscous is a great, quick kid-friendly grain. Mixed with some leftover chicken, chickpeas, and snow peas, it's one fast dinner.

Andrew: I loved this take on a 'kid classic': chicken parm. Your salad of fennel, orange, and apple was sweet and full of vitamin C. But Spike, no dad in his right mind would dare serve it on top of the chicken!

Antonia: How fitting that you, the single mom, knew how to "stir-fry" up a healthy, tasty, inexpensive kid-favorite. It's no surprise that this includes whole wheat pasta, chicken, and sweet veggies like bokchoy and edamame. I'm sure your daughter is proud!

I applaud Top Chef for inviting kids into the kitchen to help put dinner on the table: note to viewers, try this at home! And I know moms across the nation smiled in victory last night, confident their "Wednesday night chicken" or "surprise pasta bake" would have earned gushing praise from the Judges Table in this "challenge".

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