Feeding With Freedom; a Series. Part 3: Avoiding Pressure

So you’ve put the family meal on the table; several components, and at least something every family member can eat.  Now comes the hard part. Sit back, relax, enjoy your meal, and let everyone serve and eat what they want from what is available.  Sounds like the easy part, right?

You would think. But after years of feeling our own pressures to get our kids to eat a certain amount of vegetables each day, or protein, or even just to eat, pressuring can be the hardest thing to let go. A little encouragement to eat one more bite, a little more this, a little more that, with the good intention of making sure kids get a balanced meal and enough food to fill their bellies.  What’s the harm?

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Studies on the subject show a variety of findings.  First off, children who are pressured to eat are more likely to be picky eaters.  This could be more or less evident depending on the temperament of the child.  Those who are more stubborn may refuse simply because they are being pressured.

Another thing to keep in mind is that healthy children are born with the ability to regulate their hunger and fullness.  Pressuring children to eat one more bite when they say they are full encourages children to override these signals.  This could cause them to lose touch with these cues for life, leading to unhealthy eating behaviors and weight gain over time.

Lastly, children’s eating behaviors are very sporadic; they may be very hungry one day or one meal, and eat next to nothing the next.  Parents should understand that this is very normal and trust their child’s body to tell them when to eat, stop eating, or not eat at all.

Pressure at mealtimes also leads to tension and stress at the dinner table, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.  We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food, enjoy a variety of foods for a lifetime, and learn to try new foods. Family meals should be seen by all as a pleasant time to enjoy each others company and good food, even though ‘good food’ might mean something different to each of us.  Tension and pressure at the dinner table may lead to unpleasant feelings about eating, and unnecessary stress for the child.  Most typical children want to learn to eat and enjoy a variety of foods, but it takes time and repeated exposure for this to happen.  Pressure, or even ‘gentle suggestions’ (depending on the child), may lead to the result we want in the short term, but usually will not help children to truly enjoy variety in the long run.

Another form of pressure is bribing.  This technique works like a charm in the short term, so that children can get the reward they seek.  A recent study  showed that indeed children ate more fruits and vegetables when offered an incentive, but that when the incentive was taken away, the level of fruit and vegetable consumption went back down to where it began.

Bribing with dessert, such as promising ice cream if a child finishes their broccoli, also sends a poor message.  By withholding dessert in this way we are telling our children that vegetables must be so bad that we need a reward in order to eat them.  What we want to teach them is that vegetables can be just as delicious as any other foods and are no less valuable or desirable than sweets or any other foods.

Beware of pressure in it’s many forms. We tend to think of pressure as negative, such as restricting food or criticizing.  But pressure can also come in a positive form, such as praising and encouragement.  Both positive and negative pressure can cause undue stress in the feeding relationship.

I’d love to hear your views on this subject!

For more on family dinner see Part 1 of this series, for more on making family dinner work for everyone, see part 2 of this series.

Feeding with Freedom; A Series. Part 2: Making Family Dinner Work

In Part 1 of my Feeding with Freedom series, I talked about the importance of family dinner.  But how do you make family dinner work for all involved, including the picky eaters?  Can one meal really be made for everyone?  And if one meal is made, will everyone really eat it?

The answer is a resounding YES!  Though it may take some planning and preparation, especially in the beginning, one meal can be made that everyone will (eventually!) learn to enjoy.  It is important to be prepared with ingredients on hand, and to have an idea of what will be made at least one day ahead.  I usually plan my main dish the day before (or sometimes earlier–I am trying to get into that habit) so I can defrost meat, soak beans, or have any prep done in enough time.  I have just started using a great service called Plan to Eat that provides you with an online recipe book, a drag and drop weekly menu, and shopping lists that you can access from your phone.  The more organized you are for the week or days ahead, the better chance you have of pulling off the meal with relative ease.

At each meal, offer several components.  For instance, offer a meat or meat alternative, 1 or 2 starches like rice, pasta, or potatoes, and 1 or 2 vegetables and/or fruits.  Serve each component in it’s own dish in the center of the table, and allow family members to serve themselves if appropriate.  Allow children to eat their fill of each food available without suggestion as to what else or how much of anything should be eaten.

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When planning the meal, think about the main dish first.  This is usually a protein such as meat, poultry, chicken, fish, beans, or tofu.  It does not always have to be a dish that you know your children will enjoy, and oftentimes meat dishes (especially when they are mixed with a lot of other ingredients, like casseroles) can be the most difficult for a picky eater to handle.  This is OK. If it isn’t too much trouble I will sometimes leave some of the ingredients separate for my picky eater, and other times not. In fact my son surprised me a few weeks ago when I made a chicken, pasta and pesto dish and left plain chicken and pasta for him on the side.  He went right for the mixed dish like he had been eating it all his life.  MInd you he had been refusing pesto for probably the past 2 years. I served it up with nary a smile, though I was cheering on the inside!  And I am happy to report he ate pesto again tonight, despite my low (but secretive) expectations!

If you are planning a main dish that you are fairly certain your child will not accept, plan side dishes that you know they will like such as pasta or rice.  If you have a couple of picky eaters and one will eat this or the other won’t eat that, tack on an extra starch (like bread and butter) or fruit that you know your child will eat.  If the main dish is something you know your child will most likely eat, this is the time to introduce new starches, new vegetables, or vegetables your child has previously refused.

Once the meal is on the table, it is time for you to be firm that there is nothing else being offered for dinner.  It is also the time to relax about what does or does not get eaten.  It is hard at first, but you have to be OK with your child eating only bread and butter for dinner.  If they are hungry enough (or bored enough with eating bread and butter) they will begin to push themselves to explore the other foods on the table, as long as there is no pressure being put on them.

That said, some children are amenable to tasting new foods when prompted as long as they know they are not required to eat them if they don’t like it.  And this is, of course, a great and easy way to get kids to taste foods they would not otherwise.  However, other children will refuse trying a new food simply because someone asked them to.  Only you know your child, and only you know what will work best for them. So it is up to you to decide the best way for your family.

Lastly, try serving foods in different ways, and don’t be afraid to dress up your vegetables or make them fun to eat in some way.  I love vegetables, but even I don’t get excited about eating plain steamed broccoli.  Add flavor with a little butter and salt, cheese, or a dip on the side.  Besides, a little fat helps the body absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables much more efficiently!

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I’d love to hear whether any of you have started serving family dinner, and what the results have been!

Feeding with Freedom; a series. Part 1: Family Dinner

Happy New Year to you all!  Wishing everyone lots of happiness and health in the new year.  As for me, I am focusing in more this year on my work of helping parents feed their kids well, which prompted me to start this series.  I hope it is helpful to some of you.

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Feeding children is a huge part of being a parent.  It happens day in and day out, several times a day, and those kids just keep getting hungry!

Sometimes feeding kids can seem like a thankless job, especially with kids who are less than willing to eat what you put on the table.  Most people know what they SHOULD be feeding their kids, but the problem is how to actually get fruits, vegetables, grains, and other whole foods into them. There just isn’t a lot of advice out there on the how part of feeding.  Things can get especially difficult around the age of 3, when children begin to assert their independence, and say NO to many of the foods they ate with gusto just a few months previous.  Many parents throw up their hands and just feed them what they know they will eat.  We figure they will get through this ‘phase’, and many kids will, some quicker than others. But there are several things we can do along the way to help ease our children into eating (and liking!) a variety of whole foods without having to bribe, battle or beg.

This series will hopefully offer a few key suggestions to help turn the job of feeding your kids into something more enjoyable for everyone involved.  Food is so much more than nourishment, and battling, bribing and coercing children to eat certain foods creates an air of tension and can set kids up with a negative attitude toward food and eating for life.  I think one of the most important things we can do for our children is to provide them with a love of and appreciation for delicious, whole food. Like any other skill that we teach our children, learning to eat in a balanced way takes time and patience.

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Today we start with a bit about the benefits of family dinner.

I know some of you are saying, “We could not have family dinner in my house, ” for various reasons.  The reality is that our modern world is such that many parents do not arrive home until it is much too late for little ones to eat, or that kids have evening activities to attend, or that parents get home without enough time to prepare a meal for the family.  Whatever the reason, that is OK.  Accept the reality of where your family is, and begin to think about a different type of “family dinner”. Perhaps yours is “family breakfast”, or “family lunch” on the weekends, or even just having dinner together 1 or 2 nights a week.  Any and all of these things “count” and will provide many of the benefits that families reap from eating together.  Recent studies show that kids who share family dinners 3 or more times per week:

  • Are more likely to eat healthy foods
  • Do better in school
  • Are more emotionally stable
  • Have better relationships with their parents
  • Are at lower risk for obesity, substance abuse, and disordered eating.

Besides these quite amazing benefits, family dinners provide no-pressure opportunities to introduce kids to new foods.  And when I say “family dinner” I mean one dinner cooked for everyone, served family style, with the whole family (or even just those who are available) sitting down together to eat. By serving new food in a family style way (placing it on the table in a central dish) but not on a child’s plate, kids are exposed to new foods and will progress to exploring, tasting, and possibly even liking the new food without pressure to try it.  This will likely not happen the first time a new food is served, or maybe even the 5th or the 15th, but this is a great way to introduce the food without creating tension at mealtime.

It is important for successful family meals to keep a positive environment at the table. Go around the table and talk about your day, or just about anything except what everyone is or isn’t eating.  Of course it’s great to talk about the foods offered and help your kids learn about them if they are interested, and it is also important for them to see you enjoying the food. But that is where the influence should stop, allowing kids natural curiosity to take over when they are ready.  Watching you also teaches kids about how to behave at mealtime as well as learning good table manners by example.

You may be wondering how it is possible that your picky kid will eat anything you have put out on the table for everyone to eat unless mac and cheese or chicken nuggets are there nightly.  It is perfectly OK to serve these foods occasionally as a component of the meal, but they should not be there every night.  It is important to make sure there is SOMETHING that each family member will eat (for example bread and butter or fruit), but this is the best way to push children along to try new things without pressure, as it is likely they will get bored eating the bread and butter every night and decide to try some new things.

Of course this new style of feeding is likely to cause some meltdowns and strong demands for the usual but it is important to stick to your guns.  When children realize that this is what there is for dinner tonight and no amount of whining will get them another meal, most will give in after a few days and at least begin to eat some parts of the meal.  It is also important to let go of the thinking that kids need to eat a “balanced” meal every night.  This style of eating, especially at first, will allow for your child to eat only bread and butter, or noodles, or fruit for dinner.  It is important not to worry about this and to look at a child’s whole day or their eating over a few days.  Chances are that if you are offering several components at each meal (for example bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables, more on this in a later post), your child’s eating will balance out over the day or few days and they will get all the nutrients they need.

That said, there is a difference between a picky eater and a problem feeder.  If your child seems to be on the extreme picky side, for example rejecting whole groups of foods, or having extreme physical aversions to certain foods even being near them, there may be other issues involved.  If the changes you’ve made and stuck to over time don’t seem to be making any difference (and remember this type of change takes lots of time, more than you would think), then I encourage you to seek the help of a feeding therapist or registered dietitian.  Most children can learn to like at least some new foods, but some just need a little extra help.

I hope that this information will be helpful to you, and I would love to hear your questions and experiences you have with your family around feeding.  Stay tuned for part 2 of this series next week!

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, delicious food, and laughter.  We actually ended up staying home from our celebration, as my son was sick AGAIN!  He is all better today, but we’ve been in the house a lot with little ills more often than I would like to admit. I’ve been cooking up chicken broth, and we’ve been taking probiotics and elderberry daily too.  I know it’s helping, but little kids just seem to be susceptible to every little germ out there!!

Do you know about the wonderful Elderberry?  So first of all it is a berry, so of course contains antioxidants, which are great for warding off cancer and various other diseases. It has long been used to treat respiratory diseases such as cold and flu, and some evidence suggests that elder may help reduce sinus swelling and nasal congestion.

Studies have also suggested that the little elderberry has some amazing powers, such as possibly reducing the duration of flu by 3 days as well as reducing flu symptoms.  One study even showed elderberry extract actually killing the H1N1 flu virus in a test tube!!?

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So I’ve been buying a prepared Elderberry Syrup for years that I think has been effective in helping us fight the flu. But this year I decided to get crafty and try making some myself.  The original recipe I used was too sweet for our liking, so I reduced the honey a bit and it came out just great.  We have been using it once a day for prevention and more frequently when sick or trying to fight something off.  We have been taking 1 tablespoon a day for adults and 1 teaspoon a day for children (skipping a day at least once a week) and up to 4 tablespoons a day for adults and 3 teaspoons a day for children when sick or fighting something. This syrup has several other immune boosting and anti-bacterial herbs and spices, and is also really delicious.  I usually put some in the freezer too; the honey keeps it from freezing too hard and it is so yummy to take frozen. And do use raw honey if you are able, it is full of live enzymes and good stuff that gets killed in the pasteurization/heating process of typical honey.

It should be noted that raw elderberries have a chemical in them similar to cyanide, so need to be cooked to make them safe for ingestion.  Anyone on medications or with special issues should speak to their doctor before using elderberry.  And please remember not to give this syrup to any child under 1 as it contains honey, which can be toxic for little ones.

If you are sensitive to honey, or want to give this remedy to your littlest ones, stay tuned for an updated post soon.  My next batch will be made with maple syrup, as I have embarked on a new diet to help with my IBS, a low FODMAP foods diet, but more on this later!

And here it is, I know you’ve been waiting for it, another use for the nut milk bag! When the syrup is done it needs to be strained, which can be done through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or, you guessed it, nut milk bag! I used my nut milk bag last time and was really pleased because I was really able to squeeze all the elder-goodness out at the end.

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Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

1 cup dried elderberries

4 cups filtered water

2 inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

3/4 cup raw honey

Add all ingredients except honey to a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the mixture reduce by half, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag. When the mixture has cooled but is still warm (118 degrees F or less) whisk in the honey and store in a glass jar in the fridge, or in the freezer.  The mixture should keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

I’d love to hear what you use to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season!

Chicken Enchilada Soup

My 4 year old surprised me the other day.  Not to say that he doesn’t surprise me every day in some way, but there have been very little surprises or branching out lately in the food and eating department.  But I just keep on keeping on, following Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding and knowing that he will come around eventually.

He had not eaten pesto, or anything on his noodles but butter in probably a year.  SO when I made fresh pesto the other night tossed with pasta, leftover chicken, and green beans, I also put out plain noodles, chicken, and green beans.  When my son sat down at the table for dinner he said, “What’s in the pot??” When I told him, he exclaimed, “I like pesto!!”  I almost fell over but didn’t let on for a minute as he proceeded to gobble it down and have seconds.  I was jumping for joy inside, but remained calm and cool so as not to encourage him either way.

I was hoping that we had entered into a more adventurous stage of eating finally, so I had high hopes for last night’s chicken enchilada soup. He likes chicken, rice, chips, cheese, and avocado, so I thought this one might be a real hit.  Well it certainly was for the rest of the family, but no such luck with our little friend.  He ate chips, cheese, and avocado for dinner.  Oh well, maybe next time, or the next, or the 10th or 20th time, because there will be a 20th time.  It’s that good.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I roast a lot of chicken around here and am always looking for new ways to use up the leftover chicken meat.  I mean I love chicken noodle soup and all, but it gets boring.  And I always have extra rice hanging around too.

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I was inspired by a recipe I saw online and she made these amazing looking crispy tortilla strips from scratch for topping the soup, which I was all set to do, until I discovered MOLD on my tortillas!!! So we had to settle for good old corn chips as topping until next time, and you can get the recipe for those from the link below.  I changed it up a bit, so here’s my version:

CHICKEN ENCHILADA SOUP

(gluten free, dairy free option)

  By Dana Youkilis

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

½ cup red bell pepper, diced

1 Tbsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

2 Tbsp fine ground yellow corn meal or masa harina

1 quart chicken stock

1 14 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup cooked, chopped chicken meat

1 ½ cups cooked rice

3 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)

Sea salt to taste

For garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, corn chips or homemade crispy tortilla strips (get the recipe from All Things Health), anything else that floats your boat

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the carrot and bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes more.  Add the chili powder, cumin, corn meal and ¼ cup of stock and continue stirring until the stock is mostly evaporated, about 1 minute.  Add the rest of the stock and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let the soup simmer about 20 minutes.  Add the chicken and rice and cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.  Season to taste with sea salt, add the cream and remove soup from heat.  Garnish with your choice of toppings.

Nutrition Facts (per serving not including toppings): Calories 251; Total Fat 8g; Saturated Fat 3g; Cholesterol 35mg; Sodium 504mg; Total Carbohydrate 30g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 8g; Protein 14g

Homemade Nut Milk

For years and years I have been buying and drinking non-dairy ‘milk’ of different sorts, as I have never been able to digest regular milk.  First it was soy milk; sweet, thick and delicious.  After some time I stopped being able to digest soy, so switched to rice milk.  It was thinner and decidedly not as delicious, but I made do with it for many years.  Then came the news about rice and arsenic, and though I still have my reservations about whether this is really a threat, I couldn’t keep feeding my boy something that could potentially harm him.  So we switched to almond milk, and had been enjoying it for a while now.  Lately though, I have been reading about carrageenan, a thickener in many non-dairy milks that has shown in some studies to have a detrimental effect on some individual’s GI tracts (read more about this here and here…and now I just found out it’s in my sliced turkey too. DOH!!).  Well no one needs any extra inflammation in their lives, and anyone who knows me knows I certainly do not need any extra GI irritation.  Now, you should know that carrageenan is still on the FDA’s list of approved organic ingredients, but personally, I don’t really have a whole lot of faith in the FDA and their many lists.

Anyhoo, I have been seeking out milks that do not include carageenan for the past few months, and some have proven to be better than others, but then I started to wonder about these other ingredients too.  Take a look at this:

IMG_3028I’m pretty OK with cane sugar and salt…but Locust Bean Gum?? Gellan Gum?? What are these and why do we need them?

So I’ve been hearing how easy and amazing it is to make your own nut milk, and also how beneficial it is to soak your nuts and seeds before consuming them.  So I finally gave it a shot.  I do own a Vitamix, so all I really needed was a nut milk bag (everyone seems to hate this particular combination of words so I’ve been trying to throw ‘nut milk bag’ into my conversations as often as possible lately).

I started with almond milk, and it was good, but there was a bitterness that comes with raw almonds that I just couldn’t get past.  So this week I tried cashew milk..HELLO!  It is so creamy and delicious and SO easy to make, I don’t think I will ever go back to that stinky boxed milk again.  I am excited to experiment with other nuts and seeds so I will keep you posted.  But for now, here is how cashew milk goes.  It’s still somewhat experimental right now, so just go with what feels right to you, you can’t really go wrong with cashews.

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Cashew Milk

(Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Dairy-Free)

Adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen

3/4 cup raw, unsalted cashews

4 cups filtered water

1-2 dates, pitted (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

pinch of sea salt (optional)

Soak cashews in filtered water for 4-6 hours, no longer.  Apparently cashews can be finicky when it comes to soaking ; most “raw” cashews have been heat treated and  can become a bit slimy if soaked too long.  Drain and rinse well. Combine cashews, water, dates, vanilla, and sea salt if using in the blender and puree for 1-2 minutes until a smooth consistency is reached.

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Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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This is the only downfall that I can see of homemade nut milk. It doesn’t last as long.  Also, I have to say that with the cashews I don’t even think I needed to strain it, as there was barely an sediment left in my nut milk bag.  But that will probably depend on the blender you use and how smooth you like it. Also, you could sweeten with honey or maple syrup too, or not at all if you like it that way or plan to use it in a savory dish.  I was wondering if I could make an unsweetened version and freeze it to use in dishes when I need it.  I’m not sure how well it will freeze, so I will keep you posted on that too.

But don’t you worry, I have found some other uses for my NUT MILK BAG, which I will let you in on soon!  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about anyone else’s nut milk adventures and how they turned out.  Here is my first smoothie made with homemade nut milk, spinach, banana, and peach.  YUM!

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Healthy Holidays

Well, with all the hustle and bustle of getting it all done before holiday travel, I didn’t get this post up in time for you to read it before your Thanksgiving meal..but I think a lot of these tips apply to the whole darn holiday season, whether it be Chanukah, Christmas, or Festivus.

Hope everyone is enjoying time with loved ones, and that no one is feeling too nauseous at this point.  If you are, I have to recommend the homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica.  Put a few of those little pills under your tongue whenever you feel like you’ve overdone it, and see how you feel in about 10 minutes.  Chances are probably a little better, unless you’ve gone way overboard.  It has saved me and my sensitive stomach many, many times.

Tonight I am feeling very thankful for my home, my family, and all of my amazing friends near and far.  I am truly lucky to have come upon such goodness in my life, and I hope you are too.  Here’s to filling your bellies and your souls with pure deliciousness..

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L). Słonecznik zw...

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L). Słonecznik zwyczajny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The holidays are upon us, and trying to get it all done can be very stressful on both our bodies and our psyche.  Taking the time to take care of yourself at this time of year can make a world of difference.  Here are some great tips for staying healthy through the holiday season, both physically and mentally:

  • Take a short time for your self each day.  Whether it be a 15 minutes yoga session, a short afternoon nap, or just a few minutes to read or veg on the couch, it is important to just let go of all the “things” for a few minutes each day.  Taking this time to rejuvenate can actually help you check things off your list at a faster pace.

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    yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

  • Don’t give up on cooking meals.  From purchasing the perfect gifts to planning that special holiday meal, there may not seem like there is enough time in the day to cook meals.  Do your best to keep up on the cooking as much as possible and let some other things fall aside…keeping on your Facebook feed or watching your favorite TV show perhaps.  Fresh, nourishing meals will help to keep your body healthy in the chilly weather, and will also keep you going much longer than a greasy take-out meal.
  • Plan your holiday meals well in advance and rely on the help of others.  Ask a few family members to bring a side dish and order some pies from a local baker.  Prepare as many foods in advance as possible and reheat them an hour before the meal.  This will leave you free to actually enjoy the meal and your family and friends.
  • Boost up that immune system.  If you are getting on a plane this holiday season (or even if you’re not), prepare your immune system in advance for the challenge.  Ramp up your intake of garlic and onions, which are full of natural bacteria fighting compounds.  Consider adding anti-inflammatory herbs such as garlic and ginger to your dishes.  Already popular for the holidays, cinnamon and clove have lots of anti-microbial action too.  Elderberry is also a great immune booster and flu fighter and can be found in delicious syrups or lozenges.  I even bought whole dried berries this season and made my own elderberry syrup.  Yummy!  It is so delicious I think it would even make a nice holiday gift.

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  • Speaking of gifts, don’t get crazy with the gifts.  People get REALLY stressed out about holiday shopping and getting the best deals.  Try thinking a little differently this holiday season. Is there something you could make or bake at home that would serve as a great gift for most people on your list?  These types of gifts are usually inexpensive to make and mean more because they are homemade.  And you don’t have to be super crafty to bake mini banana breads and wrap them in red cellophane!
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.  Sure it’s nice to enjoy a spiked egg nog or a few glasses of wine, but excessive drinking along with all that heavy food is sure to leave you feeling awful the next morning.   Have a glass of water in between each drink and pace yourself.  Holiday meals are usually day-long events, and if you spread your drinking out over the day, you will not only feel better, but also be able to remember the whole day and enjoy the next one too.
  • Allow yourself to indulge in holiday favorites without feeling guilty, but don’t starve yourself all day and the day before just so you can go nuts.  Eat a balanced meal before going off to your gathering.  Doing this will help keep your blood sugar steady and keep you from getting too hungry and eating everything in sight right when you get there.
Pumpkin Pie from a *real* pumpkin.

Pumpkin Pie from a *real* pumpkin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Listen to your body’s cues!  Eat slowly and enjoy all the delicious food.  Take small portions and then go back for more if you are still hungry.  Stop eating when you are full, and try to get out and take a walk in the fresh air after your meal.  This will not only help to burn off some of those calories, but also aid in digestion.

Lastly, remember what the true meaning of the holidays is.  Whatever holiday you will celebrate in the coming weeks, it is not about the best gifts, meals, or outfit.  It is about being thankful for what we have and enjoying the company of wonderful friends and family.  I wish everyone a safe, relaxing, and joyful holiday season filled with laughter and love!

So the farmers market got cancelled this week due to horrid weather, so I never got to make this recipe, Sauteed Red Cabbage with Raisins from Martha Stewart.  But it looks like it would be a nice addition to a holiday meal, and I am always looking for things to do with cabbage other than cole slaw.  If anyone gets around to making it before I do, let me know how it comes out.

Turkey Safety

A few years ago when I was in school for nutrition, I took a course in food safety.  We happened to be learning about proper thawing and cooking techniques for turkey right around Thanksgiving time, and one of them involved the possibility of food poisoning from stuffing cooked inside a turkey. Most of us had not heard about this, and sure enough, when we returned from the Thanksgiving holiday, one of my classmates had gotten food poisoning from the stuffing at her relative’s meal!

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S....

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving meal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

No one wants to make their guests sick, and of course no one would do this on purpose.  But there are a lot of food safety protocols for cooking turkeys that just aren’t widely known.  Many people learn from their mothers, who learned from their mothers, and so on.  Well, the meat was probably a little cleaner and safer back then, and unfortunately in today’s world, we need to take some extra precautions to make sure our turkeys are handled safely.  Here are a few turkey safety tips, and a wish for a happy, healthy, and very delicious Thanksgiving holiday.

  • Turkeys must be kept at safe temperatures during thawing. The danger zone for food is between 40 and 140° F.  Food that is kept between these temperatures for any period of time run the risk of bacteria multiplying rapidly, and the food becoming unsafe to eat.  There are 3 safe ways to thaw a turkey:
    • In the refrigerator.  Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.  Place the turkey in a container so the juices do not drip on other foods.  A refrigerator thawed turkey may remain thawed in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking.
    • In a cold water bath.  Place the sealed turkey in a large container of COLD water and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.  Allow about 30 minutes per pound, and cook the turkey as soon as it is thawed.
    • In the microwave.  Follow microwave instructions for thawing a turkey.  The turkey must be cooked immediately after microwave thawing because some areas of the turkey may have gotten warm in the thawing process.  I DO NOT recommend this type of thawing except in an emergency because microwave cooking is so uneven.
  • Prevent cross contamination.  I know I talked about this a couple of weeks ago but let me reiterate.  All hands, cutting boards, knives and other surfaces that come into contact with raw meat or poultry should be washed thoroughly with soap and water before contacting any other foods.
  • Keep your stuffing safe.  It is optimal to cook stuffing in a dish outside of the turkey.  If you choose to cook stuffing inside your turkey, place the stuffing inside the turkey just before cooking, and use a food thermometer to ensure that the center of the stuffing reaches at least 165° F.  Any part of the stuffing that does not reach this temperature carries a risk of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.  This is serious and how my friend from school got sick!!
  • Cook safely.  Make sure the turkey is completely thawed, and set oven temperatures no lower than 325°F.  The meatiest parts of the turkey should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat.

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The recipe for this week comes from Chef Ann Cooper.  These Cornmeal Apple Griddle Cakes were yummy little pancakes, and I even used gluten-free flour and they came out great.  They were delicious with our Vermont Maple Syrup on top, but I didn’t feel like they were apple-y enough.  Next time I would probably add some cinnamon or apple pie spice to the mix.

Naturally SWEET

Natural sweeteners are definitely big news lately.  From classics like molasses and honey, to new fangled agave and stevia, every week seems to bring about a new favorite, each touting its own unique ‘health’ benefits.  Sure, some natural sweeteners contain more nutrients than white sugar, while some digest a little more slowly, thus causing a slower rise in blood sugar levels.  But the fact of the matter is that these foods are all still sweeteners, and most of them break down to the same molecules as plain old sugar, and are digested in the same way.  Therefore, we should still use moderation with sweeteners, no matter which ones they are.  This is especially true for those who need to keep watch on their blood sugar levels.

 

One of the most classic ‘natural’ sweeteners is honey, which comes in many varieties that all lend slightly different subtle flavors.  Raw honey, which you can find for sale here at the market, contains a host of enzymes, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants along with natural sugars.  Raw honey is nutritionally superior to pasteurized or processed honey because many of the beneficial properties are lost when honey is heated.  There is also some evidence that eating locally produced raw honey, which contain local pollen spores, can help alleviate seasonal allergies by acting to build immunity much like a vaccine would.  Unfortunately, there are no studies yet to back up this belief.

 

Med u saću

Med u saću (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Honey is also a natural humectant (something that attracts and retains moisture), so it can help to keep a dish moist when used in a recipe, or retain moisture in the skin when used in a skin care product.  Honey is also known to soothe and coat a sore throat, and one study has shown that buckwheat honey provided better relief for nighttime cough in children than an over the counter cough medication!   However, please note that it is not considered safe to give honey to children under 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism poisoning.  Honey may naturally contain spores of Clostridium Botulinum, a toxin which adult digestive systems can easily fight off, but could sicken a young child.

 

Another classic is of course maple syrup, which has it’s own wonderful and distinct flavor.  Recent research shows that maple syrup is high in polyphenols, an antioxidant that helps ward off inflammation as well as supplying the minerals manganese and zinc.  Maple sugar has become very popular lately too, and is made by boiling down maple syrup until all of the liquid has evaporated.  It should be noted that maple sugar is about twice as sweet as regular sugar.  It is recommended to use ¾ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of granulated sugar called for in baking, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for every 1 cup of maple syrup used.

 

When substituting honey for sugar in baking, Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Cooking, recommends substituting ½ cup honey for every cup of sugar, reducing the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup, and increasing the baking soda by ¼ tsp. It is also advisable to turn down the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent overbrowning.

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The recipe for this week, Sweet and Sour Braised Fennel, was simple and so warming and delicious.  Especially on a VERY cold and windy day at the market.  The weather conditions made the stove a little hard to deal with, but the result made it all worthwhile.  I of course substituted honey instead of the sugar that the recipe called for!

 

Spice it up!!

Do you use herbs and spices in your cooking?  Not only are they a great way to add tons of flavor to a dish, but they also provide many health benefits.  Using herbs and spices in cooking also may eliminate the need for extra salt, fat, or sugar in a dish, without sacrificing taste. From heart health to cancer prevention, here are a few of the most beneficial herbs and spices around:

  1. Turmeric is a bright orange root that comes from the same family as ginger.  It is great for reducing inflammation and may reduce incidence of some cancers.  It can be found fresh or dried as a powder.  Try it in soups, stews, curries, or mixed with yogurt as a dip.  If you find the flavor too bitter, you can take turmeric as a supplement, but look for one that includes piperine or black pepper extract, which enhances absorption.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

  1. Cinnamon is not only warming, delicious and versatile, but is also loaded with antioxidants. It has been shown to decrease inflammation, as well as decrease blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides in some diabetics.  Most of us are familiar with how to use cinnamon; sprinkle on oatmeal or yogurt, in baking, or on top of just about anything.  My little secret-adding a dash to ground turkey or lamb really covers the natural gamey-ness of the meat.
Cinnamon verum2-spice

Cinnamon verum2-spice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Ginger can be found as a fresh root or powdered and dried.  I love the natural spiciness of fresh ginger root in a stir-fry or soup, or as a tea.  Ginger is wonderful for combating nausea and stomach upset, and also has anti-inflammatory properties.
English: Adrak

English: Adrak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Oregano, a wonderful Italian herb, is certainly delicious sprinkled on pizza, but also contains some very strong anti-bacterial agents that help fight infection. Oregano contains lots of antioxidants and is high in vitamin K.  You can find oregano fresh or dried and it can be used in dishes from salad dressing to pasta sauce.
  1. Thyme, another herb with strong antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, is delicious in soups, stews, or roasts.  It comes fresh or dried and can also be used for common skin problems such as acne and eczema.

Herbs: Thyme, oregano and rosemary

  1. Chili peppers come in many varieties; fresh, dried, or ground, from the pretty spicy jalapeno to the super spicy habanero.  The spicier the pepper, the higher the concentration of capsaicin, the compound that provides health benefits such as increasing circulation and providing high levels of antioxidants.  As a topical cream, capsaicin has also been shown to relieve nerve pain.  Use chili peppers in any dish you want to add spice too.  And keep in mind that the seeds contain the highest amount of capsaicin, so to mellow out the spiciness of any chili pepper remove some or all of the seeds, while wearing gloves of course.
Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers

Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My recipe for this week was a simple looking soup with surprising delicious flavor.  Cayenne pepper adds a nice kick of heat to warm you while filling you up with a plethora of fall vegetable goodness.  Get the recipe for Autumn Vegetable Soup.