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Part 4: Cooking Kids Love Food, Knowledgeable Kids Make Healthy Menu Choices

Saturday, November 10, 2012

So, if you start using any of the ideas I've shared in this series, you will learn that kids will at least taste something they have helped cook from start to finish. I've even had kids who were in the same room, though not involved want to try new dishes that were prepared.

There are added benefits for their cooking experiences. They will have lots of opportunities to learn and apply real world skills that are usually taught in school from the textbook. And you will have lots of opportunities to send them off on a research journey to find the answers to their questions. And perhaps, most importantly, you get to turn the tables on all those "Why?" questions that are thrown at you. You get to sit back and ask, instead of tell.

Bam! The Math of it all when the Kids Cook

Application of learning seals the deal. Many math concepts are involved in cooking, menu planning and nutritional evaluation. Young children who have learned to count can inventory the fruit bowl when you're getting ready to go to the store. If they've learned to read, they can inventory the cans of legumes or boxes of cereal. As you have them cook and plan, your kids will have lots of opportunities to use measuring cups and a scale, and to graph information. Graphing can be done with pictures representing information. Have pictures of family members that move along a scale. For example, the face of each family members
could move up a graph one box for each veggie eaten with a special reward when they reach the top of the graph. A digital scale will go a long way to help everyone understand the relationship between grams and ounces without having to convert with formulas. You just push the button and you know how many grams or ounces you have in that cup of sliced bananas.

And be sure you understand the math before you start discussing sodium. Do you know how many milligrams of sodium are considered optimum for your daily intake? Do you know what 580 mg. of sodium looks like? You know what it tastes like in canned soups or spaghetti sauce. You know what 1500 mg of salt tastes like in that restaurant meal. Do you know what that salt looks like in a dish all by itself? Could you measure out approximately 300 mg of salt or 1500 mg without a scale? And you can show what high sodium intake does with a blood pressure monitor, recording results before a high salt meal and after. Another possibility is to graph changes in blood pressure on one line and changes in salt intake on another. What's the difference between a gram and milligram?

Kids Find Out (KFO): Ask, Don't Tell, or Here's Where YOU get to ask Why? Why? Why?

Kids can find out more about what needs to happen in our diets than we give them credit for.

Please take time to watch this video, and if you have children, invite them along!!

I was so impressed with Birke Baehr the first time I saw his Ted Talk that I researched recipes on SP for Kale chips and made them right away. And I've since started my own organic fall garden for the first time in my life. Kids can truly be instruments of change. So if you start to implement some of the suggestions for having kids help cook and plan, then you are also going to have to be ready to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Now, I DO NOT mean to talk and talk and talk to your kids. They will usually turn you off quickly if you talk AT them. Kind of like the teacher episodes on Peanuts Cartoons. So get ready to Ask, Ask, Ask, and then Act, Act, Act.

Research Questions

You will be amazed at how many opportunities will come up for your younger charges to look for answers to questions. You need to be in the mindset of ASK, Don't TELL!! If your kids aren't asking questions, then you ask. If they ask, DON'T tell. Send them to find out at Spark People web search., a site created by librarians, has a wonderful list of internet sites available to help kids with their nutrition questions at

The sites are evaluated for reading level– for example 0, 3, or 7. The site which required 0 reading level was created by first and second graders!! Older kids could help younger kids find answers at any of these sites, or use them to do research for a report for an assignment.

If you home school, outlaw research questions that can be answered with a yes or no, or one word (like a number).

So here are some questions about sodium moving from less desirable "outlawed" research questions to more desirable questions.

1. a. How much salt should you eat?
b. What does the amount of salt you should eat look like?
c. Plan 3 meals at ________________ (fast food restaurant choice) for the day that stay within your salt recommendation for the day. All fast food chains publish nutrition for all items on the internet) and explain what you could do to improve the menu for our health if you prepared it at home.

2. a. Should everyone have salt every day?
b. What does salt do for your body?
c. What happens to our bodies if we eat too much salt? What happens to our bodies if we don't eat enough salt?

And the last question can be changed to many other options like calories, fats, calcium, fruit, cupcakes, fast food fries, etc.

While you're cooking and planning, be sure to casually talk about the food, about life. Ask. Don't tell them what they should think. By the same token, you should answer their questions of you candidly.

Sample questions:
Which do you like better: riding a bike or jumping rope; apples or pears; painting or writing; red pears or brown pears; wheat bread or corn bread; tossed salad with oranges or tossed salad with shredded apples; walnuts or sliced almonds; steamed, raw, or roasted carrots; peel carrots or do the dishes? What did you think of dinner? the storm? the Lakers? the cassserole? the picnic? the appetizers? the carrot juice? the winner?

Now for the Act, Act, Act part. Do you believe kids watch you and emulate you? I do. So if they learn in their research that health problems are worsened by smoking, obesity, a nutrient poor diet, or a combination of high sugar/high fats snacks, and you march along doing one of those things, what are you teaching your child? You must set as a goal to walk the walk that the kids set for you. And celebrate the steps you take toward your healthy goals together.

I hope you've found something in this series to help you move your children along their journey to healthy eating and living!!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

IAM_HIS2 11/12/2012 7:40PM

    You are very this blog!!

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Part 3: Cooking Kids Love Food, Knowledgeable Kids Make Healthy Menu Choices

Friday, November 09, 2012

Involve the Whole Family in Monthly or Weekly Food Samplers

Adventures into the Unknown: You know how popular the food samples are in the grocery store?? Well, I see tasting parties being a great way to expose the family to new things. If presented the right way, like cooking on an electric fry pay in front of the eaters, everyone will try anything that smells good at least once. You could each be a judge with rating scales to vote for all the choices on the menu. Judge on visual, aroma, texture, taste and score from 1 - 5 or 10, or whatever number is appropriate for your youngest. Toddlers could give Thumbs Up or Down.
And asking young children to give names to new foods is always interesting. Have you ever been around a toddler who named broccoli florets "Green Trees?"

1. Appetizers, Hors d'oeuvres, Horsey Dervers (Dad's expression)
Have the kids help prepare little bits with small samples of crunchy veggies like mini sweet peppers sliced crosswise into wheels, never tried foods, or pinwheels of wraps with new tasty fillings like yogurt and nuts. "Veggie Juice" served in fancy glasses with a sampling of cheese cubes or cheese ball or a home made bread which you pull off in hunks will make the kids feel very grown up. They will love serving the tray while you finish dinner prep.

2. The Tray Sampler

Recently I watched a food show on Create TV. The three chefs prepared a huge salad sampler tray with many small piles of different foods and a vinegar/oil/herb type dressing on the side. They then sprinkled the dressing over all and started sampling.

Ideas for Large Tray Samplers:

a. Cooked grain sampler for a cold morning: Cook 3-4 grains and serve in large bowls. Your oven will be your ally to cook 4 different grains at once. Provide 3-4 very different whole grain breads and/or nuts that you normally do not eat. Provide a couple of different fresh fruits like berries or stone fruits or grated apples, and a new dried fruit. For a savory change, prep some herbs, caramelized onions and garlic, and chopped tomato and peppers. Sweeteners might include a cinnamon sugar, maple syrup, and a fruited yogurt sauce. If you feel very ambitious, you could prepare a casserole of grain like rose brown rice, coconut, dried fruit and almond. And how about a sampling of "dairy" with Greek Yogurt, an almond based drink, and a rice or soy based drink for those who want something like that with their grains. Put small serving spoons in each bowl to encourage a true tasting party. If you have them, divided bowls work well for each participant. Otherwise, 3 clear plastic solo cups on a plate will encourage sampling different combinations. This is a nice breakfast for Christmas morning if you are not preparing dinner. Be sure to have the family help.

b. Brown Rice Pudding Sampler: Ahead of the meal, cook rice. Mix Non Fat Greek Yogurt with coconut oil, cinnamon, and sweetener like maple syrup. Prep fresh and dried fruit. I like to put out washed grapes, berries, and shredded apple. But also consider coconut, pineapple and strawberries. Everyone mixes their own dessert. Nuts, nut butters, and black beans or cooked chunks of winter squash or sweet potato could also be choices to add to the pudding.

It might help with amount of work for this if you planned to eat in sturdy paper bowls for ease of clean up after the meal.

c. Salad/Sandwich Sampler: I'm picturing a large tray with a couple of different cooked beans, nuts and seeds, fruits, prepped veggies, meats, hard cheese cubes or shreds, etc. Include unusual colorful salad greens. Include some veggies that have been prepped 3 ways: raw, steamed, and roasted. Have the kids sprout three different beans about 4 days in advance for this sampler. Have some familiar items, but also some things your family doesn't usually eat including wraps, pita pockets, and whole grain breads. You might have two types of dressing–one savory and one fruity in bowls on the side. The tray can become the appetizer for a meal or the party tray for the super bowl. It would be easy to replenish the items which go quickly.

You can just dig in or provide skewers, small plates or bowls and silverware or chopsticks.

Left overs can go into a crockpot for a stew or soup because you haven't put the dressing over everything. Be sure to follow food safety rules. The food should either be back in the refrigerator after two hours, or thrown out.

And the next time you try a Food Sampler Tray, involve the kids in the shopping. Each one should have to find a new or little used food to include.

d. Dueling Crock Pots
Get your hands on two or more crockpots and divide up into two teams and challenge to make the best soup or chili or stew. If you have a large family with at least one teenager who could become a team captain, AND you can get a third crockpot from your family or a neighbor, go for a third team. After dinner the night before you plan to do your grocery shopping, pull out all of the left over containers and available veggies, beans, bean sprouts, meats, herbs, etc. Harvest the herbs from your garden or kitchen window or set out a few bottles of dried herbs. Remember the onions, garlic, and celery for lots of flavor. Everything is fair game for each team to use to dump into their crockpot to make their creation. They can make broths using the juicer or blender. Then plug in the soup pots and let cook over night.

I guarantee everyone will want soup for breakfast!! You can all have a taste to determine a winner (a tie) but save it for the meal just before you leave for the grocery store, or after you come home when everyone is tired.

e. You get the Idea
Have a family brainstorming session to come up with other sampling ideas: pasta bar, omelet station, raw bar perhaps for Halloween, . . . or to list items which could be included in a new sampling bar or tray.

If you encourage your whole family to participate in these healthy food adventures, everyone should become more knowledgeable about the textures, flavors, and identifications of new foods.


Part 2: Cooking Kids Love Food, Knowledgeable Kids Make Healthy Menu Choices

Thursday, November 08, 2012

How do you get kids to choose healthier foods?

My sister makes very healthy food and activity choices now. But if we had allowed her to plan our menus when she was eight, we would have had a steady diet of macaroni and cheese. How do we get kids or even ourselves to sample AND eat a variety of healthy foods? Here are a few thoughts.

Set a rule for 6 fruits and vegetables every day. (or whatever number you truly believe will bring health to your family) And then say, "No nutrient starved snacks until you have tallied 6 fruits and vegetables." And then everyone lives by that rule, even you. That might mean you all need to find two or three fruits and vegetables you actually DO like. I could probably tell you what every child going into Wal-Mart for family grocery shopping will tease for. If that happens to you, too, say, "No snacks until we have 7days X 6 fruits and veggies X _____# of family members in the cart. Insert the number in your family into the blank. Then have the kids help choose the fruits and veggies and tally the servings. If you really do this, you will probably need an extra cart. Or three. And an extra refrigerator and freezer.

While doing Eat to Live I needed 4 fruits and 2 pounds of veggies daily. I set a goal of having 4 fruits and 6 veggie servings daily as minimum. My weekly grocery list planning for one looked something like this:

1. Bag of apples (7 minimum)
2. Bag of oranges (7 minimum)
3. Bunch or bag of bananas (7 minimum)
4. 7 total servings of fresh, dried without sugar, or frozen berries, grapes, stonefruits, or other seasonal choices.
1. 4 onions, 3 bunches scallions
2. large bag of mini sweet peppers and a bunch of broccoli crowns
3. 4 sweet potatoes
4. 4 bags of a variety of salad greens, at least 28 cups (2 cups for lunch, 2 cup for dinner)
5. 2 lb. carrots, 1 lb celery
6. 7 servings of a variety of veggies to cook like mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, edamame, winter squash, or seasonal choices.

That's a lot of food. Multiply a list like this for your family and you will fill a cart for everyone by the time you add the beans and nuts and paper products. There won't be any room for those nutrient-weak snacks.

When it comes time to choose a low nutrient or sugary snack, you can set a rule that it must have 5 grams of fiber or whatever number you choose. Or you can limit the sodium, calories or total fats, or for older children, the percentage of calories given to fats. This will almost guarantee some healthy choices. Because most available snack choices will NOT be high in fiber or low in fats, you are automatically limiting the snacks that go into your cart without having to play the teasing game. Who knows. They might even figure out that they could choose veggie sticks or a piece of fruit for their snacks!! Or Shredded Bran and Wheat Cereal (9 g. fiber) with no-fat Greek Yogurt and berries. (4-6 g. fiber)

Which is better: Home Cooked, Processed and Packaged, Restaurant?

Do some comparison and evaluation of meals at home, from the box, or at the restaurant. Ingredient lists and nutrition reports on labels and on line will help young and older inquiring minds determine which menus are healthier based on criteria your family decides is important to track.

An overweight family might track calories or fiber or tally vegetables and fruit.

An unhealthy family might track calories or fiber, or fruits and veggies, or SALT, or graph percentages of carbs, fats, and proteins, or another nutrient bloodwork has shown deficient.

A family with a member with a food allergy might be detectives and find that food hidden in different choices. Okay, so Johnny has an intolerance for corn and corn products. Is there any corn in a value meal or or the frozen package of macaroni and cheese, or the family favorite home made dinner entree or dessert? or salad? Hint: Johnny could become symptomatic with any processed food or homemade food made with corn oil or corn syrup.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

IAM_HIS2 11/9/2012 8:00AM


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MRSTABER 11/8/2012 10:17AM

    Great blog! Thanks!

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Part 1: Cooking Kids Love Food, Knowledgeable Kids Make Healthy Menu Choices Introduction

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A featured article today on Spark People at:

encourages families to involve their children in cooking and offers suggestions for kid-friendly recipes AND ways to make your kitchen safe for them. The point is made that cooking kids will grow into cooking adults who understand that "food is supposed to be healthful–and made at home." I agree that kids who cook will love cooking. But they won't necessarily make healthy choices or believe it should be cooked at home as kid or adults.

As a teacher, I understood how important this was, and took it further into the planning stages: Planning for nutrition, budget, amounts needed, and preparation time. My elementary students were involved from start to finish. So when I read the article, I couldn't help feel this piece could easily be left out as parents work to teach their children the fine art of cooking delicious healthy food. So I wondered how the kids could be involved in nutrition planning at home.

Spark People and the Nutrition Tracker

Older children could do that at Spark People using the nutrition tracker. They could enter favorite fruits, veggies, etc. into their favorites, inventory the refrigerator and pantry, and search for recipes that use available ingredients. They could start out planning a healthy meal, entering it in the Nutrition Tracker, and then evaluating the report for the meal. If they have questions about different elements of nutrition, they can use web search to find their answers. They could track the menu for the whole day for the family, and tally fruits, veggies, dairy, carbs, calories. They could graph on a wall chart the number of fruits and veggies eaten by the family daily. And finally, a meal report could become part of the family dinner ritual.

Magnetic Nutrition Cards

Younger children can also be involved. I see a lot of benefit in helping them make magnetic raw food picture cards. They can use magazines, or the family camera to actually take pictures of raw foods at home or at the outdoor market. Paste pictures of raw fruits, veggies, dairy products, meats, fish, nuts, beans and favorite family dishes onto index cards cut in half, and apply a magnet to the back. The free e-book at has lots of wonderful pictures which could be used for this project. You could probably try to buy a kit like this; however, I believe kids will learn more if they make it themselves.

The cards become their magnetic refrigerator menu planning kit. They can group the pictures into food groups. They can group pictures into meals. Then, after the day is planned, they can move the items into a picture graph that shows the number of servings that are planned for each food group. You will need to be ready to prepare some of these menus and involve the creator in the prep and clean up. Use pictures to show the number of each food that they should set as a goal to eat before adding snacks with no food value. As they learn the meaning of numbers, they can start to count fruits and veggies planned for the day to determine if they met the goal.

Stars on a calendar for every day they eat the goal for fruits and veggies will go a long way toward building kids who truly understand what healthy eating means as they learn to cook those healthy meals and snacks.

What about those snacks? Snacks which are made with healthy whole foods: grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, fish, or meats will find a home in the chart. Snacks which are mainly sugar or chemicals won't find a home.

Calories in/calories burned is another area of planning which older children can graph and monitor in their menu planning. SP Fitness Tracker will also be helpful here. Learning their daily base line of calorie requirements, and the number of calories they are actually consuming via the Nutrition Tracker, they can decide what kind of effect their food choices have on their health, from a calorie perspective and also nutritionally.

Tomorrow: Part 2; How do you get kids to choose healthier foods?


Long Lines at my Polling Place

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I got up early and walked to a beautiful sunrise that changed to rain within 20 minutes. I took shelter under a carport, and ran home when it let up slightly. I was thankful the cold front had only brought temps down into the fifties.

After I warmed up, I decided to go vote. At 7:15 the line was all the way outside with those people standing in the rain. I wasn't patriotic enough to join the line and get cold and wet all over again. So I went home.

I decided to go again at 2:00 so I wouldn't be adding to any long lines which might occur when working people arrived later. So the line was even longer then, out in the hot sun. It took me an hour to get my ballot and 1 minute to mark it and get out the door again.

So what is so phenomenal about this is I've never seen such lines in any precinct I've voted in, in any election, ever. I hope that means that there will be an unprecedented record turn out, and not just a snaffooo because they were working with only 2 sign in machines instead of 3.

We'll see.

I'm also interested in learning if NY and NJ and other storm-bothered areas have been able to vote??

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SAGELADY2 11/7/2012 6:28PM

    It was long at my polling place as well. Took me almost 2 hours to get through. Parked about 4 blocks away as well.

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1_AMAZING_WOMAN 11/6/2012 9:21PM

    Our area was having very high turnouts at the voting booths by noon already, and the booths were open until 8pm.

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CBRINKLEY401 11/6/2012 6:39PM

    I have read that they are making special provisions for those in the storm damaged areas. Bringing polling machines to the temporary shelters, providing transportation to alternate polling sites for those in areas where the original polling sites were inaccessible, etc. It's good to hear that they are doing all they can to make sure everyone has the opportunity to vote if they so choose.

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