lifelong skills of healthy cooking

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I’ll admit it. I sometimes wait until my little ones are either napping or at school so that I can make dinner like a normal person. Preparations are quick and easy and the cooking is done safely. But mess, danger and lots and lots of experimenting are what goes on when I’m cooking with kids.

It’s true that most parents are too busy to cook with their children but everyone must find a time to do it anyway, even if it’s only once a week. And I will absolutely not accept the excuse that kids make too much mess or it’s dangerous to give kids peelers or knives. They need to learn how to use kitchen tools eventually, wouldn’t it be best if they learn in the safety of their home with parents or caregivers to teach the child how to use the gadgets properly?

Learning how and what to cook is an essential life skill. Do you think most adults remember long division? Or every president or prime minister? Or the periodic table? But how many adults know how to cook healthy meals for themselves or their families? Teaching young people how to cook is imperative. Granting children admittance to the kitchen allows them to learn lifelong skills of healthy meal preparation.

You don’t need to be a super chef to teach a child how to make a healthy meal. Start with healthy ingredients, preferably that you choose together (broccoli, carrots, salmon and brown basmati rice for instance). Then discuss the plan (steamed broccoli and carrots, baked salmon with a thin spread of miso and lemon juice sauce, and rice with sauteed onions added). Then start cooking. Kids learn just by watching and doing, so let them get involved with whatever they’re interested. It could be mixing the sauce and spreading it on the salmon, or measuring the rice and water, or trimming the broccoli, or peeling the carrots. And finally it’s time to eat together. The added bonus of children helping in the kitchen is that usually they want to eat what they’ve helped to create.

what will you do with all the spare time?

IMG_5206Kids are natural actors. Their adorable pouty quivering lips can get anything out of us. That’s why so many parents find themselves making 4 different meals for dinner every night. It’s an assembly line. 3 plates. 3 orders. No onions or mushrooms in that one, this one can’t have any of the foods touching and the third has white pasta with white cheese. Sound familiar? Now you all sit down to eat, albeit 30 minutes late since it takes so long, and you’re just pooped. What would happen if you said calmly “this is what’s for dinner. If you don’t want to eat it, don’t eat it. It’s mealtime now and later there will not be anything else available”?

 
I’ll tell you what: anything from whining, screaming and flinging of anything green. It will take getting used to, but the payoff is incredible. Less stress for you. Healthier meals for them. Better attitude as adults towards trying new things.

 
Going to bed hungry is OK sometimes. It reminds kids that there is no second dinner, even if they don’t eat the first dinner with the rest of the family. Eventually children learn that they’re part of a team. No one gets special treatment. Everyone is included. Kids set the table, stay at the table, eat some of their meal and clear their dishes, just like all of the adults in attendance (I hope). This built-in approach to food and eating doesn’t allow much room for pickiness, whining or petitioning for treats.

 
Are you rolling your eyes right now (or muttering some words that I am too polite to type)? No household gets it perfect every time. In fact just last week I found my three year old stuffing Swiss chard under his chubby legs. He tells me “I ate it Mummy”. Not a good day to be wearing shorts. According to Natalie Rigal, a psychologist and author of Winning the Food Fight, Neophobia (food rejection) is normal. It’s what you do with that food rejection that matters.

And what you do is stay neutral. IT’S NO BIG DEAL. Kids control 2 things: what goes in and what comes out (or, at least where it comes out). So if they feel that meal time is becoming a power struggle then they will do anything to gain control. Remain calm but firm. No substitute meals. If you’re serving cauliflower soup, they’re having cauliflower soup. And if they don’t want it, then they don’t eat it.

Now what will you do with all of your spare time, since you’re not making 3 dinners every night anymore?

Want to read more? Here’s my opinion about “Kid’s Meals”

dashing through the snow…and rain

IMG_2502This winter challenge your family to brave the cold and stay active all season. Use these tips to prevent boredom outdoors.

When my oldest son was about 6 months old I began a morning ritual of opening the blinds to check the weather (mostly for his benefit, because in Vancouver you can almost guarantee that it’s raining). I decided that the only way he’ll learn to appreciate and even enjoy the rain, is if I appreciate and enjoy the rain, so I began to cheer whenever we looked out the window and saw drizzling skies. Well, now he’s 6 years old, and this summer, on a typical rainy day, he blurted “Yay, it’s raining! It’s perfect weather for radishes!”

How often do you hear parents say, “no you can’t play outside, it’s raining”? When on earth did this become a normal thing to say? OK, maybe if you live in Xiamen where the acid rain is corroding buildings. But Canada? If you’re scared of the rain or snow, your kids will be too. And they’ll be hard pressed to meet the minimum 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity recommended for Canadian kids. According to Statistics Canada, only 7% of Canadian children met the 60 minute guidelines from 2007 to 2009. It’s time to challenge yourself to embrace the elements. And, for goodness sake, go out and get some waterproof coats and boots, and do whatever you normally do outside, anyway!

Bored of jumping in puddles and building snowpeople? Here’s a list of other outdoor activities to try in the cold:

  • Start a collection. Of anything. Kids love to run around and see how many rocks, leaves, sticks, snowballs etc. they can find in a specific amount of time. The bonus here is that they now have ingredients for mud soup.
  • Stop at a playground right before or after school. Otherwise you “don’t have time” or “it’s not convenient”. Kids who play outdoors after school get an average of 2000 more steps (that’s like walking an extra 2 km per day!) than kids who don’t. Playgrounds are often deserted once snow hits the ground but, so long as you’re careful not to slip on icy play-structures, they can offer a whole new and wonderful landscape to explore.
  • Make a family goal of tracking how often, & how far, you walk … to school, to work or to grocery shop. Compete with one another for most miles traveled!
  • Go old-school: Play tag, hide and seek, what time is it Mr. Wolf?, family soccer or other well-known games to get everyone running around. Make sure that everyone gets a turn choosing which game will be next. Many of these are extra fun and challenging in the pouring rain or driving snow!
  • Visit a park with an obstacle course and do it three times together (your preschooler might need help with the chin-ups). Just make sure no one licks the bars.
  • Go to the beach to run near the waves (or frozen water!) and make snowy sandcastles. For real – try it!
  • Try a wintery picnic. Pack thermoses of warm drinks and some healthy treats, then hike into the woods (or a local park) to look for the perfect spot. Try looking for birds or anything frozen; ponds, leaves and berries look magical when they’re sparkling with ice.
  • Enlist the help of your little ones to rake leaves, shovel the driveway, and carry groceries. This is possible – just act like it’s normal and expected that everyone is part of the team.

When you’ve exhausted outdoor options, or just want to play inside, then there’s always jumping on the bed, playing hide and seek and building blanket forts. Coloring, reading and playing board games are certainly enriching, but make sure you balance these with physical activities.

melt-in-your-mouth salmon steaks

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I come from a long line of fishermen. As early as I could walk I had special roles in our family’s fishing adventures. Roles like digging worms in the wee hours of the day, before the sun was even up. As I grew into my responsibilities I was promoted to more sophisticated and privileged duties such as squishing the wriggling worms onto the fishing hooks or scooping fish guts out of dead fish, to prepare for cooking.

Besides for now having a high tolerance for blood, guts and dead fish, I also have an appreciation for fresh food. Food that has a journey that I can trace, from the first step. Freshly-caught-anything tastes completely different than freshly-bought-anything.

This recipe is made with salmon that my father caught with his own strong (and hairy) arms. He brought the enormous creature (larger than my daughter) to my house and I proceeded to chop it into steaks, feeling very happy and nostalgic, while my son stared at me in wonder.

You can certainly use store-bought salmon, but I highly recommend trying to go and catch one of your own.

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Melt-In-Your-Mouth Salmon Steaks

6 salmon steaks, about 1 inch thick

Very coarse fresh cracked pepper

Pinch of coarse Kosher salt

A handful of fresh dill, chopped

Wash and pat dry salmon, sprinkle with pepper, salt and dill

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 min

Eat slowly to enjoy the delicate flavor (and to make sure you don’t choke on fish bones)

book review of healthy children’s books

IMG_5497We have 5 library card users in our house. I’m constantly on the lookout for books that teach children about healthy eating, exercise and where our food comes from. Here is a list (by no means exhaustive, so if you have any to add please go right ahead) of some recent reads in our house.

Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal- A very cute book. But I didn’t like that the pea had to eat 5 candies (veggies are the dessert in this book) before he was allowed dessert. It would have been nice if he chose to eat them on his own. Forcing kids to eat to get dessert isn’t the best plan.

Planting A Rainbow by Lois Ehlert- A colorful book that teaches colors and the names of flowers and what happens when we plans the bulbs.

The Monster Health Book by Edward Miller- Some good advice, but the whole grain section was quite dismal. A big focus on cereals, and not enough about other grains. Also, not enough about leafy greens. Teaching about counting calories was a surprise, I think generally it’s not a good practise for children to do this, but the information about minerals, fibre and vitamins was useful. I was surprised that it talked about eating disorders but for older children this may be a good idea to increase awareness.

Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right by Joanna Dolgoff- Written by an MD with an interesting plan for teaching about how to eat healthier and how to control portions. Some of the recipes I wouldn’t categorize as healthy, but lots of great tips and some good recipes.

The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky- This book is fascinating. Best for kids over 6. It really explores salt’s history, uses and benefits. I would have liked to see a little section about how most of us are overdoing it with salt…

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons- An excellent read. This book teaches kids (and adults) details about plants and how they grow. There is a project at the end for sprouting your own beans. We tried it but ours got mouldy. Probably not the book’s fault. I liked the details of the flower parts- I didn’t even know all of the names, or at least I had forgotten.

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert- Some creative ideas for different fruits or vegetables for each letter of the alphabet.

How Did That Get in My Lunchbox? The Story of Food by Chris Butterworth- This book has a unique set-up, with illustrated round pages. The idea was excellent, but I felt disappointed that kids had a juice box and cookie in their lunch box. I love how the author traced back to the very beginning. At the end there is information about food groups and what they’re needed for.

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle- A timeless theme of bigger is not always better. A tiny seed turns out to grow into an enormous flower, after a whole adventure of travelling.

The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons- Like her other book, also enjoyable and educational. This book explores many types of vegetables and explains why they are good for us.

Dinosaurs Alive and Well: A Guide to Good Health by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown- I wasn’t a fan of this book. It very often warned kids not to eat too much or not to eat certain foods because it will make them fat (as opposed to unhealthy), but I did like the first aid page and the importance of sleep page. There is a cute picture of what we look like when we don’t get enough sleep.

Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens- A folk tale-style book with beautiful illustrations that teaches a lesson on laziness and as an aside compares different types of vegetables and how they grow (those that grow above ground, below ground and in between).

Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre- The cheers are catchy and I was impressed with the numerous types of peppers she included. The photos seem outdated, but otherwise it was great.

A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards- Beautifully illustrated and creative. Explains what happens to seeds and talks about different fruits and vegetables. At the end there is a question and answer page with questions about seeds, like why don’t seeds grow in your tummy or what’s the smallest seed in the world.

Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert – Colorful and fun, this book goes through all the steps to making your own soup, literally from beginning to end.

Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole- Goes into a lot of detail about what happens in the earth and explains many different plants, bugs and birds and names them all. The illustrations were lovely. I like the repetition of building from one page to the next, each page adding more to what goes on in Jack’s garden.

Mealtime by Elizabeth Verdick- A simple book, but perfect for younger children. I liked how the author says that you have to just try a bite, you never know, you might like it.

Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals- Inventive rhymes teach kids and adults all about composting. I learnt a few things about composting myself. This book was enjoyed by the whole family.

The Edible Pyramid by Loreen Leedy.- I was not too impressed. For grains there was no mention of quinoa (a staple in our house), but it did include pretzels (!) I also didn’t like the “example” meals they used- pizza? But the different animal characters were fun and serving sizes were explained well.

I Eat a Rainbow by Bobbie Kalman- It was slightly boring and there was not much variety of fruits and veggies, but otherwise not bad.

How Do Apples Grow? by Betsy Maestro- Pretty illustrations and details about the process of an apple’s growth. Looks at a few different types of apples and gives very detailed explanations of fruits and flowers and pollination.

Exercise (Looking After Me) by Liz Gogerly- I love how the author used grandma as the healthy example. An ingenious idea! Grandma is super fit and tells the story of how she didn’t have a TV and that she walked to school. One part that I wasn’t fond of is when she says that the kids discover that exercise doesn’t have to feel like exercise. I think that kids should learn to like the feeling of exercise and enjoy it.

The Busy Body Book: A Kid’s Guide to Fitness by Lizzy Rockwell- I loved this book. It has scientific facts as well as cute illustrations and great examples of why it’s good to keep fit. My favorite is the last page, how she asks what is your favorite way to be busy and there are pictures galore of kids doing all kinds of “busy” things, so you and your child can look and choose together.

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Polan- OK, not a kid’s book at all. But I had to throw it in hear because it was so amazing and informative. The author thoroughly discusses the meaning of organic vs. conventional food, eating locally and vegetarianism. He is also quite amusing (calling us all “corn people”, since almost everything supposedly comes from corn) and I love that he planned a whole meal around foods that he found or grew on his own, like hunting for wild Californian pig or looking for mushrooms and abalone (large mollusks).

roast lamb with garlic and red wine

Usually when I have a party I try to stick with vegetarian dishes. Guests leave happier and lighter. But once in a while I go old school and serve a huge piece of juicy meat. I try to be accommodating to my guests and offer different options, gluten free, vegan, dairy free, nut free, because as John Steinbeck, my favorite author in the world, put it

“It is generally understood that a party hardly ever goes the way it is planned or intended. This of course excludes those dismal slave parties, whipped and controlled and dominated, given by ogreish professional hostesses. These are not parties at all, but acts and demonstrations, about as spontaneous as peristalsis and as interesting as its end product”

No ogres here. You’ll see tofu stir-fry right beside roasted lamb on our table.

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Roast Lamb with Garlic and Red Wine

6 lb lamb shoulder

2 onions, chopped into large pieces

1 lemon

10-12 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried basil

Fresh cracked pepper

2 cups water

Bottle of red wine

 

Open wine and pour a large glass. Drink some. Grate garlic with a fine grater, such as Microplane (best kitchen invention ever)

Mix garlic paste with oregano, basil and pepper, set aside

Pour water and a good dose of red wine in the bottom of a roasting pan, add onions

Rinse and pat dry lamb and place on a roasting rack

Scoop and smear garlic and herb paste all over the lamb, then squeeze lemon juice on top and put the lemon peels in the roasting pan

Bake 25 minutes per pound at 350 degrees

Check about halfway through and if the liquid is running out, pour a bit more water in the bottom of the pan

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have you planned school lunches for the year?

IMG_2645Instead of giving a long list of lunch ideas (maybe that’s next week’s post) I want to arm you with guidelines that can be applied to all meals, school lunch included. Sticking with these guidelines will help ensure that kids are getting enough vitamins, protein and healthy fats (vs. unhealthy fats, found in common lunch foods such as cheese pizza). While you’re shopping for lunch supplies, answer these questions. If you get a yes, then don’t buy it or save it for the occasional treat:

  • Does it have added sugar? (there’s a thing called “ingredient list”. Usually found on the side or back of a package)
  • Does it have partially-hydrogenated fats? (can be found in crackers, some fruit leather products, many cereal/granola bars)
  • Does it have artificial flavors or colors? (often found in fruit leather products, granola bars)
  • Is it made with enriched flour? (a.k.a. white flour. What you want is whole wheat or whole grain)
  • Does it have nuts? (most schools are nut-free, but pumpkin or sunflowers seed butter, spreads made from beans and roasted garlic, or roasted soybeans are delicious substitutes)

So, what are you left with now that you can’t send flavored yogurt, pizza, jello, pretzels, craisins, and on and on? Well, a lot of these items have a healthier version (like plain yogurt with cut up fruit, or whole grain bagel with lots of veggies and some cheese, or raisins with no other ingredients). Not to mention why does lunch have to be lunch? Sending dinner is easier for you since you just plop today’s broccoli stirfry into tomorrow’s lunchbox. Either get a thermos or send along leftovers that taste good cold (like beans and rice).

Take a look at your typical lunch box staples and if they don’t make the cut, swap them for their healthier version. And please. Skip The Juice. Let your kids choose and purchase their own water bottle for school and fill it with, you guessed it: water!

Why does healthy have to be nerdy? Talk to other parents in the class and plan a class trip to a local produce farm or start a mini veggie garden at school to get kids excited about real food. Getting kids involved and inspired about healthy eating can slowly change the negative associations kids have with “healthy” food and will hopefully foster a lifelong appreciation for wholesome eating.

It isn’t about what you’re sending to lunch this week. Or this month or even year. It’s about educating the children of today to be the healthy adults of tomorrow.