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Archive for the ‘Kids’ Food’ Category

I know it’s a stretch to write a food blog post and even attempt a segue from the news about the passing of Steve Jobs, but here it is: Mr. Jobs liked things small. I recently read that he once had an aha moment while pondering the appeal of Mini Coopers and realized that they’re cool for really no other reason than because they’re small. Well, mini food is cool, too — think street tacos, soup in shot glasses, cake pops. And of course sliders. Actually, I’m not sure if sliders are really cool, but they are delicious and fun to eat. I think it’s because they’re “just right” in terms of proportion of meat to bread and, yes, they’re so damn cute — like an iPod Shuffle.

I made these sliders with ground elk, which is very lean and not gamey at all. Really. But if you don’t have a hunter in the family, these would be just as good (and almost as healthy) made with ground buffalo or turkey, or even grass-fed beef. For the buns, I had some leftover hot dog buns so I cut them in thirds, lightly buttered them, and stuck them under the broiler for about 2 minutes. Ciabatta is also good (no, great). I’ve seen tiny potato rolls in the bakery before, and I bet those would be perfect. I cooked these indoors on a grill pan because it was pouring out, but if you do cook them over an open flame, I would probably put them on a piece of tinfoil first so they don’t dry out. I served the sliders with a mixture of green and waxed beans that were blanched and tossed with a little olive oil, Parmesan, and lemon. And ketchup of course. It made a simple family meal that everyone in my family, even my slightly meat-phobic daughter, loved.

Sliders

Ingredients
1 lb. ground elk (or other lean meat)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch garlic powder
Pinch dried herbs (oregano or parsley)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg
salt & pepper
Sliced cheese (I used Swiss)
Rolls or bread for buns (and butter)

In a large bowl, combine meat with egg, Worcestershire sauce, spices, and bread crumbs. Mix well with your hands. To make the patties, use about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture for each one and roll into a ball, then flatten slightly. Put the patties on a sheet of tinfoil, and use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each one to keep it from shrinking into nothingness when you cook it. Heat a grill pan (or skillet) over high heat (I used my ancient Calphalon grill pan on my hottest gas burner). When it’s hot, cook the patties for about 6 minutes until browned, then flip and cook another 4-6 minutes depending on how you like them. Add the cheese (about a 1 1/2-inch square is all you need for each burger) during the last 2 minutes of cooking and loosely cover the pan with a lid. While cheese is melting, toast the bread and get out some salad plates; you won’t be needing the big ones tonight.

This recipe makes about 12-14 mini burgers. If you’re really hungry (like my husband), you will probably eat about eight. I ate three. Okay, maybe four.

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Two Smoothies

I clearly remember my first Jamba Juice. When I tasted that massively delicious fruity — and healthy! — concoction, I felt like I’d died and went to heaven. And then I got a stomach ache. That was when Jamba Juice only offered one size: behemoth. Nowadays they have smaller and less sugary options (The hefty Caribbean Passion drink I loved so much is over 400 calories and almost 100 grams of sugar; no wonder it tasted so good.), but it still annoys me that Jamba Juice won’t divulge what’s in its “non-dairy blend.”

While Jamba Juice is a special occasion treat, homemade smoothies are a fantastic option for kids’ breakfasts or snacks, plus they’re a great way to use up overripe bananas, squishy berries, and big vats of yogurt. I realize everyone probably knows how to make a decent smoothie, but I have a couple especially delectable combinations that I’ve stumbled across, so I wanted to share. Both of these are delicious and healthy; you can probably guess which one is probably more kid friendly.

One note about blenders. If yours is 20 years old and you love it, great. Keep it and whirl away. If yours is 20 years old and it only blends the bottom inch of whatever’s in it, creates a weird burning smell, and often makes you want to scream, I suggest splurging on a new appliance. Look for a beefy, wide model with a powerful motor and all-metal drive for durability. I finally ditched my college-era Hamilton Beach for a new 6-speed Oster, which has a special ice-crusher blade. I looked at a few more-expensive blenders, but none seemed noticeably better than this $50 model. So far it’s working for me.

High-Protein Breakfast Smoothie

Ingredients (all quantities for both recipes are approximate)
1/2 cup crushed ice
5 large strawberries
1 scoop (maybe 1/2 cup) full-fat Greek yogurt, either vanilla or plain (The Oikos brand by Stonyfield is organic.)
2 tbs. organic almond butter (We use Maranatha.)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 packet organic whey protein powder (I’ve read a lot of conflicting reports about processed soy so we don’t eat that much of it, although I wouldn’t think a scoop of soy protein powder here and there could be anything but totally fine, especially if you’re lactose intolerant.)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more of whatever is lacking.

Mom’s Favorite Smoothie (This one is slightly reminiscent of a blended salad, but it’s very refreshing and delicious; just check your teeth for kale bits before leaving the house and smiling at anyone.)

Ingredients
Small handful kale, roughly chopped or shredded by hand (remove the thick stalks)
1/2 cup crushed ice
1/2 squeezed lemon
1 tsp. diced ginger
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/3 cup orange juice
2 capfulls flax seed oil

Put all ingredients in blender and blend well. Enjoy.

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The other morning, while I was trying to coax breakfast orders out of my groggy six- and nine-year-olds, my husband said, “When I was a kid, unless it was my birthday and I got to pick out a box of cereal, my mother never once asked me what I wanted for breakfast.” Now that I think of it, neither did mine. Of course I want my kids to enjoy their food and therefore — at least theoretically — eat a balanced, healthy breakfast. But do I really have to be a short-order cook at 7 a.m.?

So I decided to just make something, put it in front of them, and see how it goes. So far my experiment — i.e. “it’s smoothies and boiled eggs today” — has gone over really well. In fact, I don’t even think the kids have noticed. 

I know breakfast, especially during the school week, can be a pain. But we all know how important it is. I think of breakfast as one of the only meals that I can completely control. I am not naive enough to think (for one minute) that the healthy lunches I’m packing every day are really exactly what my kids eat for lunch every day. For example, recently my son let it slip that he traded his (nitrate-free, organic turkey on whole wheat) sandwich for his buddy’s (GMO-laden, highly processed) Lunchables Ham & American Cracker Stackers. While the food evangelist in me cringes, the mom and former kid in me understands.

What about dinner? Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am a big believer in family dinner — for about ten thousand reasons. One of the main reasons is that when we eat together, I can make sure there’s a nice pile of sliced veggies and lean, hormone-free protein on the plate. And we do eat together as often as we can. Which is certainly not every night. This is not because I’ve got a good excuse like a high-powered job or long commute; it’s simply reality. We try, but we’re busy. I do pack healthy on-the-go meals for my kids when they have after-school activities. But the truth remains that breakfast is my best shot at consistently getting real food into my kids’ mouths.

So, now I’m in charge of breakfast, which is less painful than trying to communicate about breakfast choices with a cranky kid (“Sweetie, we have the same kind of yogurt we had yesterday.”) — but also requires me to come up with something to feed them every day. Because I’ve read several studies that say eating protein at breakfast reduces cravings for unhealthy sugars and fats later in the day, I cook a lot of eggs. One egg has about 6 grams of high-quality protein and is a naturally good source of vitamin D, something a lot of us are deficient in. Not all eggs are created equal though. If you can’t get farm-fresh eggs, go for the next best thing, which is organic eggs from truly free-roaming chickens. There is an unbelievable difference in taste as well as health benefits: Pastured eggs have been shown to contain far less cholesterol and saturated fat but more vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and beta carotene. My kids like them almost hard-boiled, so I cook them for 9 minutes and serve them in darling little egg cups with chicken feet.

Another big hit has been PB & J’s. My son sits at a nut-free table at school, so this is his only chance to have what I think is close to a perfect meal. The key, of course, to a healthy PB & J is getting the right ingredients. First, you need organic (to ensure you’re not eating GMO wheat) whole wheat bread. We love Rudy’s Honey Sweet Whole Wheat (the Whole Foods version is also good and is less expensive). Peanut butter is a very personal thing, so go with the brand you and your kids love. Of course I recommend going organic and avoiding the brands that add weird oils, sugar, or any unpronounceable ingredients to an item that really should contain one thing: peanuts (okay and maybe a little salt). As for the jelly, in order to keep it healthy, watch the sugar. (My banana jam is fabulous, if I do say so myself, and is actually quite low in sugar.) Otherwise, I buy Crofters Just Fruit Spread, which has 8 grams per tablespoon, compared to Smucker’s Raspberry Jam, which has 12 g. Another great idea is to sub out the jam for chopped and slightly smooshed fresh berries. When they’re good (like right now), this is beyond delicious, and nobody misses the preserves.

Next post will be a couple great smoothie recipes, because those are another staple around here. Hey, What’s your kid’s favorite breakfast?

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This is comfort food — not in the same sense as mac ‘n cheese of course, but anything sitting on top of a steaming bowl of sushi rice is comforting in my book. Sushi rice is completely satisfying and very filling. Its gluey deliciousness is worth an occasional departure from brown rice (although short-grain brown rice would also work for this dish) — especially since sushi rice is a key part of what’s referred to as the healthiest diet on earth.

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen. The only changes I made were to use chili paste instead of the finely chopped red or green chiles Nigella called for. Plus, I cooked a bunch of broccoli to serve with it. Broccoli works great with the slightly sweet and spicy Asian flavors here, and I definitely felt like the dish — and my kids — needed a veggie. Green beans would also be good, or asparagus. I like that the meal is customizable and can be deconstructed for any kids’ food issues (er, I mean tastes).

The most comforting thing about this dish was that everyone in my family loved it. Especially me.

Salmon with Sticky Rice

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups sushi rice (You can buy this in bulk at Whole Foods; I recommend making more than this because you’re going to crave it for lunch the next day.)
1 lb. slab of salmon without the skin (preferably wild salmon; remove the skin with a knife if necessary)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp. red or green chiles, diced (I used Sambal Oelek red chile paste.)
2 tbs. minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tbs. mirin or sake (Nigella called for 2 tbs. of each, but I just used the mirin. Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine and is usually easy to find in the Asian aisle of the supermarket; sake requires a trip to the liquor store.)
2 tbs. lime juice (about 1 lime, squeezed)

Cook the rice following the directions on the package (or bulk bin) or in a rice cooker.

Cook some broccoli (or green beans or asparagus spears or all of the above) in salted boiling water until just tender, 2-3 minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add a few drops of oil. Sear the salmon for 4-5 minutes on one side (if you’re using a stainless steel pan, the salmon should release fairly easily when it’s ready to be turned; don’t mess with it until then), turn it over and cook for another minute or so. The salmon should be just barely opaque and cooked in the center. Remove it from the pan and put it on a large piece of tin foil; make a loose package with the foil and seal the edges to keep the fish warm.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and put in a bowl to serve alongside the salmon and rice. You can serve this family style with the whole fish on a platter, which would make a nice presentation for guests, or divide the rice and fish (and veggies) into separate bowls according to your picky eaters’ specifications. I left the sauce off my daughter’s portion and added extra heat (I recommend trying sweet and gingery Lingham’s hot sauce; Sriracha is also tasty with this) to mine and my husband’s.

Tomorrow, leftover sushi rice with sauteed mushrooms for lunch! Mmmm.

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My mom likes to tell the story of how, when I was a toddler and we lived in France, she would buy a baguette at the market and I would pull it out of the shopping bag and eat a good third of it before we even made it it home. I think the point of this story might be to show that as a child I was a bit of a pig. (I like to point out that this probably could have been avoided had I been strapped into a carseat, or at least wearing a seat belt.) Apparently I’ve always loved French bread. Which can be a little tough to reconcile with my belief in the benefits of eating a healthy diet and especially whole grains.

Of course I am a huge advocate of eating whole grains, and especially of feeding them to your children. There is a ton of evidence that whole grains (whole wheat pasta and bread, unprocessed oats, brown rice, etc.) are much better for you than their processed (and usually white) counterparts. In fact, one recent study even links whole grain fiber to longer life, claiming eating it lowers your risk of dying from respiratory and infectious diseases — as well as heart disease — and by as much as 50%.

While I mostly avoid refined, white flour — and for years successfully hid from my kids the fact that white bread existed — I do think there is a place in a healthy, balanced diet for the occasional baguette. Okay, maybe more than occasional. Okay, I buy one several times a week. The food lover (and unabashed Francophile) in me just can’t quite give up the crunchy and chewy deliciousness of French bread. And while I know they’re generally made from white flour (I’ve tried many whole wheat versions by the way, and they just don’t cut it.), I can still defend eating baguettes because in my book, eating something real is always going to be better than eating something processed.

Besides, baguettes are very useful. They make great after-school snacks topped with peanut butter or sliced turkey. I’ll often leave one sitting out on the counter while I’m making dinner, and the kids will occasionally come and tear off hunks, which keeps them from whining about how hungry they are. And if dinner isn’t coming together, I can always make a perfectly satisfying meal of soup and salad and a couple slices of French bread. French people eat baguettes with jam or butter for breakfast almost every day, and aren’t we all supposed to want to emulate French people? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate forsaking whole wheat toast or steel cut oats for French bread every day, but once in a while, it’s a fine breakfast option.

Have I mentioned that my kids love French bread? I let them have it for breakfast on Fridays — okay and sometimes Mondays. My recommendation is, unless you’re gluten intolerant or trying to lose weight, don’t be afraid of the occasional baguette. If you buy one and it doesn’t get eaten within a day (highly unlikely), just slice it and put it in the freezer in a plastic bag. You can use the slices for toast, croutons, or of course this killer roasted chicken. You don’t even need to let it thaw before putting under the broiler.

I do have one caveat though: French baguettes should be made from four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. If you pick up a loaf in the grocery store and it contains other, possibly unpronounceable, stuff in it, then it’s not the real thing and definitely not worth the — refined, white — calories.

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This has never been a political blog. I believe delicious food and healthy eating is for everyone, left or right, blue or red. But every once in a while someone says something so irksome it can’t be ignored.

Before I dive into this, I feel like I must preface it by saying that I am a big fan of personal freedom and (this is actually pretty important) the personal responsibility that comes with it. Because of that, I guess I’m a bit of a conservative. Albeit a liberal one, if that makes sense. I’ll even cop to finding Sarah Palin fascinating, being all for the humane activity of hunting in Alaska and elsewhere, and even admiring her for some of her choices as a working mom.

I try to stay out of the fray — and I avoid political talk radio like trans fats — but I happened to catch part of an interview recently that Laura Ingraham did with Sarah Palin, in which Palin felt the need to slam the First Lady’s efforts to help improve kids’ diets, health, and nutrition. Here’s Palin’s quote:

“Take her [Michelle Obama’s] anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. And I know I’m going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track.”

So, how’s that for nasty and misguided? And Ingraham (who is definitely an inciter and tends to goad people) hadn’t even specifically asked. For a brief moment, I thought about what Palin said. Does the First Lady’s choice to grow an organic kitchen garden at the White House and start GNO called Let’s Move infringe on my God-given right to eat whatever junk food I want? Does helping families who live in “food deserts” get information about and access to healthy food somehow imply that they we can’t let parents to make their own decisions? Does advocating for healthier school lunches amount to a health “kick?”

Consider some undisputed facts about childhood health in this country:

  • Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese.
  • One third of all American children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.
  • Food and beverage portions are two to five times bigger than they were 30 years ago.
  • Americans now eat 31 percent more calories than we were 40 years ago.
  • The average American now eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.
  • And the average American child spends more than 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen, and only a third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.

Combine those with the fact that a recent military study found that our national security is actually compromised by the fact that 21 percent of recruits are now rejected for being overweight (many of these are young people from military families who want to serve and would probably make fine soldiers), it seems to me that if Michelle Obama wants to urge us all to take better care of ourselves and raise healthier children, she is doing a huge public service to say the least. On the site, Obama is quoted as saying, “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” I believe she is right.

I went to the Let’s Move website, and what I found was a lot of really sane, sound advice and resources for helping people learn about nutrition, diet, and exercise. There’s an easy-to-use BMI calculator and even some nifty cooking videos. I didn’t see any evidence of a massive government takeover of the food industry or our families’ grocery carts, or even any suggestion of new taxes. The only policy-related recommendations involve better (i.e. not misleading) packaging information for junk food (you know, like how a serving of potato chips is 10 chips). However, the “parents” section did include these “5 Simple Steps to Success”:

  1. Keep a bowl of fruit within your child’s reach to grab as a quick snack.
  2. Take a walk with your family after dinner.
  3. Plan a menu for the week. Get your children involved in planning and cooking.
  4. Turn off the TV during meals and share some family time.
  5. Talk to the principal about organizing a school health team.
Maybe these suggestions fall into the category of a “politician’s wife’s priorities” and “making decisions for us,” but they seem reasonable to me. And you know what? If this program encourages one family to sit down to a healthy meal together or eat more veggies or get off the couch, than I am all for it — and I can’t understand why Palin would have a problem with it. I mean, if politicians are serious about national security, reducing health care costs, and even how America competes in the global economy, this issue can’t be avoided, can it? This seems like an obvious public policy issue and not an infringement on anyone’s inalienable right to eat crap.
After all, many studies link health and nutrition to brain power. Maybe Sarah should consider laying off the Wonder Bread.

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In the aftermath of Halloween (which it still is around here; my son decided to “go pro” this year and trick-or-treat on his Razor scooter, with a pillowcase), I can fully relate to the idea that sugar is a drug — a potent drug that beckons you from across the room with false promises of satisfaction and chocolate-induced bliss only to leave you feeling guilty and more than slightly sick. I have a tough time limiting my intake of fun-sized Butterfingers and Almond Joys — even though I am a friggin’ food evangelist (thankfully, the black hole bucket of candy goes to the Troops today, although I’m not sure I get why it’s a good idea to ply our country’s servicemen and women with processed sugar…). So I can only imagine how much snarfing goes down among kids when their at least semi-serious parents aren’t looking.

It’s been pretty widely established that we Americans eat too much sugar. Instead of the relatively natural sugars people used to eat occasionally (if they were lucky), on average we eat 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, more than 350 calories’ worth. And most of that is highly processed and incredibly hard on our bodies and our moods. Sugar is associated with just about every health problem you can think of — from irritable bowel syndrome to diabetes to chronic fatigue. It’s also thought to impair immunity by blocking vitamin C from entering white blood cells. Not to mention it can rot your teeth, make you feel crappy, and get fat.

So, what’s a sugar-aware person to do? Well, I was planning on writing a post about curbing sugar cravings but then came across this article from Frank Lipman, M.D., a well-known and respected integrated-medicine doc in NYC whose followers include many svelte celebrities. I’ve tried many of Dr. Lipman’s suggestions, with varying degrees of success, but frankly I don’t consider having a piece of fruit “giving in” to my sugar cravings.

As I’ve learned more about sugar, I’ve tried to cut my family’s sugar intake by limiting processed foods, almost all of which contain gobs of added (and often disguised in the ingredients list) sugar, to almost none (no real hardship there if you ask me) and soda (one 12-oz. Coke contains as 45 grams of sugar, more than you’re supposed to consume in a day). I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to completely ban sugar because I envision a day when my kids are left to their own devices and have no skills for coping with all the sugar in the world. That said, we try to remember to “treat treats as treats” as Michael Pollan says, and (Halloween loot notwithstanding) make relatively wholesome choices when it comes to deserts and sugary snacks. When it comes to sugar, I guess I think you should make it worth it; have something that’s really, really satisfying and delicious.

So, instead of writing about avoiding sugar, I offer you some, well, sweeter ideas for coping with sugar cravings. My first suggestion is to eat a small piece of really good dark chocolate. Seriously, think of this as a weight-loss tip. High-quality dark chocolate (65% or higher cocoa content) is much lower in sugar than milk chocolate, it’s full of antioxidants, and most of its fats are the “good” kind — plus its flavor is very intense and a little goes a long, satisfying way. I love the Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70%.

If you’re looking for more chewy satisfaction, look no further than these super simple French Coconut Macaroons (not to be confused with macarrons, which is what they call meringues in France), which are just sweet enough to be a treat. Usually baking is not really my thing — too many precise measurements and crucial steps. But these macaroons are quick, easy, and don’t require any heavy equipment. Plus, the ingredients list is very short, keeping things in the “relatively wholesome” category in my book.

Chewy, delectable, and even gluten free.

Simple Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/3 cup sugar (I know sugar is sugar, but I use organic evaporated cane juice instead of refined white sugar; it just seems like it must require a few chemicals to make the stuff that perfectly white)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
  • A few miniature dark chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the coconut and sugar in a bowl, mix with a fork.

You can get unsweetened coconut at any natural grocery store.

Beat the eggs with a fork. Pour beaten eggs and melted butter into the coconut mixture and mix until fully blended. Add almonds if using and mix well.

A fork and a spatula are the only baking tools required.

Grease a cookie sheet (I use cooking spray). Spoon cookies onto baking sheet. They don’t spread much so you should be able to fit 18-20 cookies on the sheet. Pile the batter up to make mounds. Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips if using. Dried cranberries are also really good in these, but I didn’t have any today.

Pile up the batter to make little nests.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 18 minutes, until macaroons are lightly browned on top. Use a metal spatula to peel the cookies off the sheet while they’re still warm.

You'll want to eat these right out of the oven, but, weirdly, they taste better when they're cool.

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