Cooking with Kids

Reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man“?!?  The plumper we get, the more true that may be. . .

Overweight children are more likely to be obese adults.  Obesity in the US is increasing Jamie Oliver bring-food-education-back_502917291bbf9-620x3402about 1 percentage point per year.  Unfortunately the US isn’t alone.  A report  produced by the National Obesity Forum in the UK suggests that half of the UK population could be obese by 2050.  Due to spread of the Western lifestyle around the globe, obesity is now a greater health crisis than hunger.  And it’s an entirely preventable epidemic.

Let’s work on that ounce of prevention.  Invest in the future of a child by fostering a love of real, whole foods.  Involve your kids (or borrow some) in meal preparation and see the pride that comes with making something delicious.  Even if they don’t like a new food or recipe, they’re much more likely to try it if they’ve been involved in making it.  And with repeated exposures over time, they will start to enjoy a wider variety of whole foods (added bonus- you will too!).

In selecting new recipes, incoporate at least 1 ingredient (or side dish) the child recognizes and enjoys.  For example, the MYO Pasta Salad is a great dish to start with.  Most kids love pasta and with a variety of toppings to choose from (beans, veggies, seeds, herbs), they have some control over what goes in, though you should make a quantity minimum (for example, each kid needs to fill a ½ cup with toppings or get a scoop of at least 4 different toppings).  If they’re not old enough to boil water for pasta, have them cut (using a knife or scissors) or tear topping ingredients.

If you’re trying a new one pot dish and there’s nothing obviously recognizable, include whole grain bread as a side after a minimum bite buy-in.  That way the kids have to have a certain number of polite bites before they can have the piece of bread.

Ask your kids to ‘kick it up a notch’ by turning a mundane spaghetti dinner into something adventurous by adding lentils or white beans, canned artichoke hearts, and maybe even sauteed mushrooms into a jar of spaghetti sauce.  Easy and quick- your kids will be making dinners for you in no time!!

Before the kids can have a snack or dessert, ask if they’ve met your family’s daily whole food requirements.  Your requirements can evolve over time but start out with a list that expands everyone’s current repertoire.  For example,  4 servings of veggies, 4 servings of fruit, 2 servings of whole grains, 1 serving of beans or lentils, 1 serving of nuts or seeds.  If you’re more of a bean counter (ha ha), you can always count grams of fiber using a site like this.  Regardless of what method you chose, instead of thinking about what you’re missing, focus on what to eat as in Dr. Fuhrman’s Holiday Challenge.

Use the recipes below to start teaching your kids about the benefits of eating whole foods.  Lower your expectations for what constitutes a proper dinner and kick up the health factor.  Making simple plant-based meals requires minimal planning and kitchen time (it is summer after all), and it’s far cheaper than going out to eat.  Recognize that by eating plant-based foods, you’re transitioning to a low fat diet so satiety will feel different.  Low fat doesn’t mean severe calorie-wise, though.  Instead of a chicken breast and cheesy potatoes, eat two hummus wraps with raw veggies and fresh fruit on the side if that’s what you need to fill up.  Because you’re eating whole, plant-based foods, there’s no need to count calories or fat intake.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to minimize your consumption of nuts and seeds to no more than 1 ounce per day or every other day.  And everyone should avoid processed soy food products (more on soy coming soon- but organic whole soy like edamame, tofu, and tempeh are fine- it’s the isolated soy protein type soy in faux meat products that you want to avoid).

I know first hand from teaching at the local Boys and Girls Club that involving kids in making healthy food gets them excited about plant based eating.  So do yourself a favor – change your expectations about what constitutes a “good” dinner, get in the kitchen, and help the next generation not be as obese as the current one.

Here are some easy ways to do that, ideally with your favorite young’uns.


Carrot salad

Using a food processor, shred the carrots into small pieces.  Transfer to a bowl with a lid.  Add raisins.  Stir in half to a full can of drained pineapple tidbits, depending on how many carrots you used and how sweet you want your salad.  If possible, refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight before serving.  When serving, have sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or walnut pieces available to stir in for extra crunch (as well as omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin E).


A Wrapper (lettuce, cabbage, tortilla, spring roll wrapper, nori, etc)

Spread (any type hummus, guacamole, refried beans, bean spread, mashed avocado, etc)

Veggies (greens, carrots, peppers, onions, sweet potato, leftovers from last night’s dinner, avocado, brocolli, etc)

Optional: A Lil Extra (hot sauce, fresh herbs, seeds, oil-free dressing, tofu or tempeh, etc)

Select your wrap, apply the spread, cover with veggies, and add a lil extra if needed.  Roll up as tightly as possible without breaking the wrapper and enjoy.  To roll the wrap burrito-style: fold one side of the wrap over the contents, then fold the top and bottom sides in, finally roll the burrito toward the final side.

For Sushi Wraps, limit the amount of veggies per wrap and slice into 2 cm sections before serving.


Rice bowls


Cole Slaw

Cabbage, shredded or processed into small bits

Poppy seed salad dressing

Mandarin oranges or diced apples

Sliced almonds or sunflower seeds

Combine the first 3 ingredients to taste.  Add sliced almonds or sunflower seeds just before serving.


Black bean mango salsa


Massaged Kale salad


Caramelized Onions

Once your child is ready to use the stove, caramelized onions are a great place to start.  Caramelized onions make simple dishes like wraps, rice bowls, and spaghetti that much more delicious.  Peel and slice the onions (always cut way more than you think you can use because they shrink so much when cooked).  Add the onions to a large pan over medium heat and stir regularly to loosen the cooked bits from the pan.  Have a container of water nearby to add water by the spoonful as needed when the onions stick or start to burn.  The great thing about caramelized onions is you only cook them as long as you have time for.


Mac and Trees


Spaghetti with white beans, mushrooms, artichokes

Jar of spaghetti sauce

Can of lentils or white beans

Can of artichoke hearts or pieces

Fresh mushrooms, sauteed

Pasta or rice, cooked

Sautee the mushrooms if using.  Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and heat through.  Serve over pasta or rice.



Photo Credit:

Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day –


Fill Up With Fiber to Down Size

If you’re frustrated with your inability to maintain or lose weight or do not feel nourished by the food you are eating, check out the following keys to natural appetite control from Dr. Barnard’s 21 Day Weight Loss Kickstart.  You may be surprised that by following these recommendations, there’s no need to count calories or measure portions.

1. Bulk up on fiber.Fiber_Rich_Foods

Target 40 grams of fiber per day.  Fiber is plant roughage, and there is no plant roughage in animals or oils.  Accomplish 40 g fiber/day by meal planning and embracing an “eat this” approach instead of thinking about what you shouldn’t eat.  Here’s a sample daily food plan that gets you well over 40 grams of fiber:

  • Breakfast – 1 cup cooked oatmeal (4g fiber) topped with ½ cup fruit (2 g fiber) and 1 cup orange juice (1g fiber)
  • Snack – 1 medium sized apple, orange, or banana (3 g fiber)
  • Lunch – Salad with 4 cups of lettuce (8 g fiber) topped with  1 cup veggies (4 g fiber) and a baked potato with the skin (4 g fiber)
  • Snack – 1 piece of whole grain bread (2 g fiber) and 1 cup of fruit (4 g fiber)
  • Dinner – 2 cups of brown rice (6 g fiber) with ½ cup of lentils (7 g fiber) and 1 cup of cooked vegetables (4 g fiber)

In addition to high fiber intake being consistently associated with lower rates of colon and rectal cancer, fiber soaks up undesirable toxins and excess hormones in the intestinal tract and carries them out as waste.Campbell and Campbell; Barnard and Reilly  Not to mention that fiber fills you up!!  Long before you’ve eaten the number of calories in a burger and fries, the fiber from a diet rich in legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains will signal to your brain that you’re full.  And there’s no need to count calories or restrict portion size.

2. Rev up your metabolism by omitting fatty foods, such as meat, dairy, and oils.no_meat

Animals are just like humans in that extra calories are stored as fat.  When you eat animal meat (and hence animal fat), no matter how ‘lean’ the meat is, it contains fat.  One gram of fat holds 9 calories, whereas one gram of carbohydrate or protein holds only 4 calories.  Even Atlantic salmon and skinless white meat chicken (3.5 oz servings), both regarded in the Standard American Diet as being ‘healthy’, are 40% and 23% fat, respectively.  A boiled egg and 2 ounces of cheddar cheese are 61% and 74% fat, respectively.  On the other hand, broccoli is 4% fat and contains 3 g fiber (1 cup cooked), and lentils are 3% fat and contain 8 g fiber (1/2 cup cooked).Barnard and Wyrick

By eliminating animal products and significant fat from your diet, there’s much more room for whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.  And because these whole foods are so much lower in calories, you will feel full without worrying about portion control.  Sometimes it may even seem like a chore with all the chewing you’ll need to do to ingest anywhere close to your normal caloric load.

Eating a whole food, plant-based diet actually changes your cellular biochemistry.  High levels of intramyocellular lipids (fat droplets inside muscle cells) impede the work of insulin and the ability of cells to utilize glucose as energy.  It’s the build-up of intramyocellular lipids that leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, which is why a whole food, plant based diet can reverse type 2 diabetes.

Normally the cellular mitochondria metabolize some of the fat you eat, but when you consume too much fat, the mitochondria cannot keep up.  There’s also evidence that high fat diets turn down the genes that regulate mitochondria. Sparks et al  Not only are the existing mitochondria unable to burn significant portions of consumed fat, but mitochondria seem to be down regulated as intramyocellular lipids increase.

The way to rev up your metabolism is to omit fatty foods from your diet – this reduces intramyocellular lipids, ensures cells can transport and utilize glucose efficiently, and ensures mitochondria are present and working efficiently to burn fat.

In addition to eliminating animal products, if your goal is weight loss, limit or eliminate nuts, nut butters, seeds, and avocados until you’ve reached your ideal mass.  Or use small amounts as condiments or in sauces.  One ounce of out of hand nuts can easily turn into a few ounces or a daily snack habit and sabotage weight loss.

In addition to planning your meals and snacks in advance, remember that it takes 21 days to adjust your taste buds.  You may miss junk food, but once you’ve lost weight, you won’t miss those pounds.



Barnard ND, Wyrick, J. 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health. 2011

Campbell TC, Campbell TM. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. 2006

Sparks LM, Xie H, Koza RA, et al. A high-fat diet coordinately downregulates genes required for mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in skeletal muscle. Diabetes 2005; 54:1926-1933.

Photo Credit:

Cinco de Mayo, A Few Days Late

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  Though this battle was not a major strategic win, the win at Puebla was a symbolic victory and strengthened the resistance against France, who ultimately withdrew 5 years later.  Though it’s a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has evolved in the US to be a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.  For me, the celebration of Mexican culture and heritage isn’t complete without celebrating the underappreciated black bean.

Before we go into the benefits of beans, though, I refer to Dr. Michael Greger’s informative and entertaining article to clear the air about beans and gas.  Dr. Greger uses data from a famed flatologist and even NASA to explain the normal incidence of intestinal gas, the main sources of gas, and strategies for reducing gas.

Despite this information, if you still feel that beans do not work well with your digestive system, start with small servings and smaller beans (lentils, black beans, black-eyed peas), believed to be easier to digest.  Gradually increase your serving size over a few weeks and work your way up to larger beans (pinto, kidney, fava).  Also, drain and rinse canned beans really well.  If cooking dried beans, first soak the beans for 8-12 h in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if possible.  While cooking the beans, change the cooking water once or twice to further reduce gassiness.

Beans are a fiber superstar with 7 grams per ½ c serving.  Fiber, or plant roughage, has a critical role in ridding our bodies of toxins, cholesterol, medications, and excess hormones.  As it filters the blood, the liver removes these undesirable chemicals, which are then sent to the bile duct and to the intestinal tract.  It is in the intestinal tract that fiber soaks up the undesirable chemicals and carries them out as waste.  However, if there’s no fiber circulating in the bloodstream, the undesirables end up being reabsorbed back into the bloodstream and the whole process starts over again as enterohepatic circulation.  Without regular fiber in one’s diet, enterohepatic circulation keeps hormones, toxins, and cholesterol circulating for longer than they should.Barnard and Reilly

If the idea of toxins and excess hormones hitting their targets over and over isn’t enough to increase your daily fiber intake, T. Colin Campbell’s findings from The China Study provide evidence that high fiber intake was consistently associated with lower rates of rectum and colon cancers.Campbell and Campbell

The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine influences advancements in medicine StrikeOut_PCRM  and science and advocates for preventative medicine, especially good nutrition, in the form of a whole food, plant-based diet.  PCRM gained attention last summer by informing fans at Major League Baseball’s All Star game in Kansas City that hot dogs can strike you out
for good, referring to the link between consumption of processed meats and increased risk of colorectal cancer.EPIC                                                                                     Buns_PCRM

So save your buns by increasing your daily consumption of both soluble and insoluble
fiber.  The most fiber rich foods are beans and vegetables, followed by fruits and whole
grains. Soluble fiber dissolves in water (example, oatmeal) and is known for its ability to 
control cholesterol levels.  Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, fruit, wheat, rice, and other grains.  Both types of fiber are needed for prevention of cancer, and if you’re diet is rich in beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, then you’ll get plenty of each type –  realizing that the average American only gets 10-15 grams of fiber per day, compared with the ideal of 40 g/d.

This week’s recipes highlight the black bean.  If you’re using dried beans, make a big batch and freeze what you won’t eat this week to use in recipes over the next few weeks.


Taco Salad

Greens, torn into bite-sized piecesTaco_Salad

(Not only can you get a lot more greens in a small area if they’re in small pieces, but it’s also much easier to eat a salad if you don’t have to bother with cutting everything up first- really helpful in encouraging kids to eat more greens.)

Top with: black beans, diced tomato, diced avocado, peppers, organic corn (fresh or frozen, raw or briefly cooked), etc

Go naked or dress with: salsa or avocado dressing (1 avocado pureed with ¼ c orange or lime juice plus garlic powder or mustard if it is too sweet)


Oven Baked Tortilla Chips

Whole wheat tortillas

Spray EVOO


For chips, cut the tortillas in half (2 at a time), then cut into triangles.  Arrange on a lightly EVOO sprayed baking sheet.  Spray the tortillas with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.

For scoops, cut the tortillas in half (2 at a time), then cut more like 2”x2” squares.  Spray the cut tortillas with EVOO and place each tortilla oil side down into a mini muffin pan.  Spray the tortillas with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.

For salad shells, take each tortilla and drap over a small oven proof casserole dish or bowl, gently pushing the sides down to form an inverted bowl.  Spray with EVOO.

Bake at 350’ for 5 min then watch carefully for edges to brown.  The chips/scoops/salad shells are done when lightly browned and firm.  They will crisp up more as they cool.

To kick it up a notch, sprinkle with lime juice or seasonings, or use flavored tortillas.  Lime habanera tortillas were used in the taco salad above- delish!


Easy Black Bean Dip

1 can (1.5c) black beans, rinsed well

½ c fresh salsa, drained

In a blender or food processor, puree the beans and salsa.  Add liquid from the salsa if needed to thin consistency.

Add-ins: cumin, garlic, jalapeno, habanera, etc.


Black Bean Mango Salsa

2 cans of black beans (or 3c), rinsed well

2-3 mangoes, diced

Juice from 1 lime

½ t salt or to taste

Cilantro, optional

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Ideally refrigerate 12 to 24h before serving for flavors to develop.  Adjust lime, salt, and cilantro to taste before serving and add any of the suggested add-ins if desired.

Add-ins: diced pineapple, avocado, or tomatoes



Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Campbell TC, Campbell TM. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. 2006

European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study