For all of you who are like me and get all charged up about this idea and are shouting, "Yeah!" but are facing the reality of what-to-cook-for-dinner-itis, check this out: Cooking Interruptus. Cynthia Lair is a Bastyr University nutrition professor and an improv actress. She combines her talents to teach you a new recipe and make you laugh.I spent the morning cruising the recipes and videos over there and can honestly say you won't be disappointed on either the food or comedy fronts.
For those of you not from around here, Bastyr University is one of the world's leading academic centers for education, research, and clinical service in the natural health arts and sciences. Operating right here in Seattle's backyard, the area is lousy with Bastyr graduates including naturopathic physicians, acupucturists, oriental medicine practitioners, health psychologists, herbalists, exercise scientists, and of course, nutritionists. There is no doubt in my mind that more fully integrating natural medicine into our health care system, with its emphasis on preventing illness in the first place, is one of the keys to creating healthier Americans while holding down the out-of-control costs associated with the entrenched allopathic approach to health care. (If you're interested in more ranting from my healthcare soap box, you can read here and here.)
And ultimately, that's what sound nutrition is: preventative health care. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I've found that the simple act of increasing my intake of fresh produce has greatly improved my overall sense of good health. That said, everybody and their hair stylist is promoting his own diet program these days, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to share the patented . . .
Teacher Tom Diet
My underlying theory is that it's very hard to eat too much fresh produce so I have no qualms about stuffing myself with it during the day. I'm lucky that my neighborhood grocery specializes in natural and local, but I believe that more and more traditional supermarkets around the country are striving to meet this growing demand as well.
Breakfast is comprised of a big pile of chopped, fresh fruit (5-6 cups). I like getting a hit of protein in the morning as well and can't stand the watery stuff that passes for non- or low-fat yoghurt. Hence, I add a healthy dollop of the deliciousness of real, creamy, full-fat yoghurt. This takes me about 5 minutes to prepare each morning. My favorite combination is two bananas, a whole mango, and a couple fists full of blueberries, but I mix it up to make sure I'm getting a variety of nutrients as well as to entertain my taste buds. (Lest you be concerned about my carbohydrate intake, I assure you this much fruit gives a body quite a bit of fuel to work on.)
Lunch is a big pile of mixed greens (5-6 cups), at least one other veggie, and a topping of cheese, meat and/or nuts/seeds. My relationship with greens was given a huge boost by the advent of pre-washed mixtures in bags. When I cook dinner for the family, I like to plan ahead by making a little extra broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, or whatever else we're having, so that I can add it to my salad the next day. I do the same thing if we're having any kind of meat for dinner. I really like blue cheese crumbled on top. I sometimes use dressing, but after eating this way for such a long time, I often skip it because I've really learned to love the taste of vegetables -- seriously! This takes me another 5 minutes to prepare and I make it each morning to take with me.
Dinner is whatever I want, including dessert, as long as I don't stuff myself until it hurts.
The results are purely anecdotal and personal, but as a nearly 48-year-old male, my doctor has been pleased with my last half dozen physicals. I rarely get sick even though I work in a natural germ pit, and when I do I recover quickly. I credit it all to my massive consumption of fresh produce. Individual results may vary.
As Jamie Oliver suggests in the video I shared yesterday, one of the keys to teaching our children about food and nutrition is good role modeling.
As a half day preschool, I only get to eat lunch with my students once a week. The Pre-K kids bring their own lunches and we all sit together at one long table. Part of our table conversation always revolves around what everyone brought to eat. I usually guide the conversation by asking about food groups (e.g., "Who brought a kind of fruit?" "Does anyone have any grains?"). By this time of the year, the kids are really noticing when they are lacking one of the food groups. Parents tell me that their kids often want to check their lunch boxes before coming to school to make sure they have at least one of everything to show off during this impromptu show-and-tell session.
One of my proudest moments as a teacher was a few years ago when a group of the girls started insisting on imitating me by bringing their own salads. Their parents were naturally thrilled. Some of them discovered that a little fruit juice made an acceptable dressing and they would very carefully use the straws from their juice boxes to drizzle a little on their greens.
Another way to share good nutrition with children is to cook with them. We don't have the facilities for this at Woodland Park, but we all have them at home. I think it was the Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling who said that every great chemist got his start by helping his mother cook. I would hazard a guess that this is true for chefs and most healthy eaters as well.
One of my fondest memories of cooking with my own preschool-aged daughter was teaching her how to steam clams. We started with a little garlic and oil (I like to use a large wok), reduce some white wine, then add some chopped tomatoes and clam juice (or some other kind of broth). The entire time, Josephine would be standing on a stool at the stove between my arms in her apron. When you add the clams, they begin to open within minutes with the same kind of cooking drama that comes from watching the popcorn pop. For years thereafter, my preschooler would order steamed clams in restaurants. Pretty cool.
Like Oliver says, "If they don't know what it is, they won't eat it." To that I would add: if they know how to cook it, they'll choose it.
I know that many parents struggle with picky eaters so this entire conversation might seem moot. But remember, your job isn't to make them eat anything -- "force feeding" is the surest path to an eating disorder. As my mom said, "You can't make them eat, but you can put healthy food in front of them." That's really the entirety of the parent's job when it comes to nutrition. Home is not a restaurant. If they don't eat it, there shouldn't be an "alternative meal" waiting in the wings, nor some bag of snack food they can dig into to fill themselves up. If they know that is an option, they'll always wait you out.
Children will not starve themselves, I promise. If you're worried about vitamins, give them a supplement. Avoid the fights and expressions of disappointment. If their only options are healthy ones, if you are role-modeling good nutrition, if you involve them in cooking, if you have patience and fight the urge to given in to their whims, they will eventually become healthy eaters.
When my preschooler would leave her vegetable untouched, I tried to take my mother's wisdom to heart, remain calm, and just add it to my salad the following day. At least it didn't go to waste.