Cooking Tip Tuesday: How to become a better cook (Step 2)

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Watch a cooking show or even just a quick video on Facebook and you’ll notice how easy they make it look.  A small bowl of this, another of that and 20 minutes later, the dish is picture perfect.  We all know most things aren’t as easy as they look.  Aside from (what I imagine is) hours of editing, preparing and measuring ingredients (Step 2) is something that TRULY does make cooking more efficient, enjoyable and easier.

In culinary terms, it’s called “mise en place”, which means “putting (things) in place”.   This includes washing, drying, chopping and measuring ingredients before you start cooking and having spices and seasoning within reach.  Yes, it takes time on the front end BUT it’s more efficient and keeps you organized which guarantees a better quality dish. On the flip side, fumbling to chop or measure while cooking inevitably causes missteps or overcooking which can cause frustration and/or ruin a dish.

So, after you’ve read through the recipe (see Step 1), take the time to do step 2 and you’ll be on the road to dinnertime (or breakfast, lunch or dessert) success!

Sundays with Samantha: 10 ways to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies

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Fruit salad made by Samantha.

No doubt about it, it’s challenging to get kids to eat enough fruits and veggies.  But, in order to keep our kids healthy and strong, we must provide them a variety of healthy foods, especially fruits and veggies. They contain a unique blend of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and more that are CRUCIAL to fighting off illness (fewer doctors visits), disease, and cancer (peace out free radicals). These nutrients help maintain healthy organs, aid in tissue repair (healing scrapes and cuts), and promote healthy digestion (hooray poop). And while we all know how difficult it can be to coerce a child into trying something new, if you keep these 10 tricks (I mean, tips) handy, in time, you should notice a less resistant and a more adventurous eater.

First and foremost..

1. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  My son, Jack, is pretty picky. I put broccoli on his plate at least 10 times before he actually ate it. And now, he loves it and asks for seconds! At dinnertime, I always put at least a taste of everything on both kids’ plates, even if there’s a strong chance one of them will dislike SOMETHING. All I ask is that they try a bite and if they don’t like it, I don’t force it.  BUT, there is no doubt they will be trying it again the next time I make it.

2. Try them different ways. If your kid isn’t a fan of cooked veggies, try them raw.  If they won’t eat them steamed, try them roasted.  Cut them into smaller pieces or puree them and add them to spaghetti sauce or soup. Tune into WHY they don’t like it.  Is it the texture or flavor?  I know multiple kids who won’t eat anything mushy like mashed potatoes or cooked carrots but will eat them if they are crunchy or raw. Knowing what makes them tick is half the battle.

3. Smoothies.  If you can’t get your kid to eat whole fruits and veggies, try them in a smoothie.   Throw fruit (and veggies if you can get away with it) into a blender with water, milk or a little juice.  Make it more substantial by adding nut butter, whole nuts or seeds, or plain yogurt.  And if you are feeling really generous, toss a few dark chocolate chips or cocoa powder in for a boost of antioxidants and kid-friendly flavor.  Check out my kid-friendly smoothie recipes for ideas.

4. Limit “empty calorie” (foods with little nutrition) snacks. I get it.  Kids eat a lot.  It’s not realistic to expect them to snack on just fruits and veggies.  Crackers and other refined snacks are not great but they are OK, in moderation.  Just try to find the healthiest version your kid will eat (i.e., those with whole grains, protein, low in sugar).  Try offering a fruit or veggie alongside or allow them to have those snacks only after they’ve eaten a piece of fruit or veggie.

5. Let them help. Kids are more likely to try new things if they are involved in the cooking process. Teach them that tasting is part of the fun and let them be your tester. Teach them how to safely use a knife and let them make fruit salad.  Give them a peeler and let them peel carrots or potatoes.

6. Offer them any chance you get.  Offer them healthy snacks before the less healthy ones.  If my kids are hungry enough, they will eat it.  In my house, this is most successful right before dinner.

7. Be creative and branch out.  Try spiralizing veggies, using a cookie cutter to make fun shapes or make your own masterpiece on their plate.  For a little help, check out these plates. Or these. Or these. And sometimes, you just need to find something new and different.  For example, skip the apples and grapes and offer mango or kiwi.

8. Dress them up…or down. Veggies tend to be harder to swallow (pun intended) than fruits.  Try melting cheese on top or put dip on the side. On the flip side, if you are making veggies with a kid-questionable sauce or marinade, set some aside before dressing them up. Or, if you are making a salad or soup, for example, pick out the veggies your kid likes and serve those to them separately.

9. Don’t call them out.  Just put it on their plates and see what happens.  For a long time, my kids didn’t realize that fruit and veggies were the “healthy” foods.  It was just part of their meal and they were expected to try them just like anything else on their plate.  This may not work as well with older kids who know the difference but for young kids, it’s worth a shot.

10. Make it fun.  When my son was little, my husband used to tell him to eat a bite for Darth Vader or that all good ninjas eat broccoli.  Remind them they need healthy foods to be as big and strong as the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. This worked often when Jack was in his really picky phase.

So how much is enough? Here is a handy chart I’ve borrowed from the USDA.  Good luck!  And may the force be with you.

Table: How much Fruit and vegetables do Children need? Click to view larger image and text.

(These amounts are for children who get less than 30 min/day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. More active children may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.)
SOURCE: USDA, www.ChooseMyPlate.gov

Favorite Recipe Friday: Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I really am a firm believer in moderation and for those of you who know me or follow me on Instagram, know I love to bake.  Life would not be complete without dessert.  Don’t get me wrong, I can’t have baked goods around all the time or I WILL eat them. I generally bake a few times a month for dinner with friends, birthdays, parties or fundraisers.  That being said, I’ve created a collection of recipes that I want to share with you so when you need to make something sweet, you know it’s gonna be good.

Enter, Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies.

These cookies are to die for.  They are all beloved cookies rolled into one single cookie.  They have oatmeal. They have peanut butter. They have chocolate chips.  They are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and they truly are melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  So let’s take a moment of silence to thank “Joan” from All Recipes for THIS heavenly cookie.  Thank you, Joan.  Thank you.

Wild Card Wednesday: Instead of eating less, cook more–New York Times Food

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I know, I know. I sound like a broken record but seriously, cooking at home is arguably the best thing you can do for you and your family’s health.  And, it doesn’t need to be fancy shmancy meals that take an hour to prepare.  It can be as simple as adding your own toppings to a pre-made pizza dough or flat bread, scrambling some eggs or building your own burritos. (Just don’t forget to serve some veggies or fruit on the side.)  If you choose to go out to eat more often than not, you are without-a-doubt getting far more calories, fat, and salt than you’d get in a homemade version of the same thing.  Not to mention, you are spending a lot more money.

Here are some easy, quick meal ideas, beyond pasta, to remind you that cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated:

Burritos or burrito bowls: Canned beans, cheese, seasoned brown rice, salsa (or fresh tomatoes and onions), avocado or guacamole.  Feel free to add roasted veggies, chicken or steak. Or, go breakfast and make eggs, uncured bacon or sausage, potatoes, cheese, avocado and salsa.  Serve with fresh fruit or raw veggies.

Build your own pizzas: Top pre-made pizza dough, English muffins, bagels or baguettes with your favorite toppings.  I recommend upgrading your pizza base to a whole grain version.  Serve with a green salad or veggies and dip.

Burgers (turkey, veggie, chicken, or beef): Throw your patties (if you’re making beef, opt for 93% lean) on the grill or in a skillet.  Put them on a whole grain bun, top with red onion, lettuce, and tomatoes.  Serve a salad, corn on the cob, grilled veggies or baked sweet potato fries on the side.

Breakfast for dinner:  Scramble some eggs with veggies, mix up some whole grain pancake batter (I like this Kodiak Cakes variety), or make your own french toast with whole wheat bread.  Serve a bowl of fresh fruit alongside.

Soup and grilled cheese:  Make your own soup, get some fresh from your local grocery store, or check out the lower sodium varieties in a box.  Serve it alongside grilled cheese made with whole grain bread and raw veggies (with dip, if desired).

Chicken and veggies on the barbie: Before you head off for the day, put boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs in a large Ziploc bag and let ‘er marinade all day.  When you’re ready to cook, toss some chopped veggies with a little olive oil, salt and fresh pepper, put both the chicken and veggies on a BBQ-safe grill pan and dinner is ready in less than 20 minutes.  Not grill season?  Roast it in the oven or use an indoor grill pan.

Fish or shellfish (stove-top or oven): Fish and shellfish cook super fast and if you get a fresh piece of fish, it doesn’t need much in the way of seasoning.  And shrimp is awesome because you buy it frozen, it defrosts in about 10 minutes and cooks in less time than that (an average fish fillet cooks in about 6-10 minutes). This Teriyaki Salmon from the Skinnytaste blog is one of my favorite fish recipes.  And if you are craving sushi, you MUST try this Spicy California Shrimp Stack.

Don’t fret. I will continually post my recipes or recipes I love that fall into these “quick meal” categories.  So stay tuned and come back often!

Sundays with Samantha: Scrumptious Hot Cocoa

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My daughter, Samantha, has never been a fan of milk.  The only way I can get her to drink a cup of milk is to make hot chocolate (or chocolate milk). And while the pre-made versions of hot cocoa aren’t the worst thing in the world, they aren’t something I want to give her on a regular basis. That is how Samantha’s Scrumptious Hot Cocoa came to be.

Our version is free of all the fillers and artificial sweeteners that come in the pre-portioned packets (see below). It’s just as easy to make and it tastes delicious.

Bonus: She’s getting protein, calcium and vitamin D from the milk, antioxidants from the real cocoa and cinnamon, and less added sugar and sodium. Win. Win.

Samantha’s Scrumptious Hot Cocoa

Makes 1 (8-0unce) serving

Ingredients:

1 (level) tablespoon unsweetened cocoa (I like Ghiradelli)

8 ounces skim milk

1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Dash of cinnamon

Directions:

Heat milk in the microwave until warm (1-1 1/2 minutes).  Add cocoa, sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir and serve.

Calories:   130
Protein:   9 g
Carbohydrate:   19 g
Dietary Fiber:   2 g
Total Sugars:   19 g (6 g added sugar)
Total Fat:   1.5 g
Saturated Fat:  0.5 g
Cholesterol:   5 mg
Sodium:   100 mg

Here is a snap shot of your average ready-made hot cocoa for comparison:

(If you are reading on your mobile device you may have to rotate your phone to view labels correctly)

           Swiss Miss                                                         Nestlé   

              

Favorite Recipe Friday: California Burrito Bowl

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It doesn’t have to be breakfast time to eat breakfast food.  We often make breakfast for dinner because it’s quick, easy and kid-friendly.

This burrito bowl was inspired by a burrito native to Southern California: the California Burrito.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s typically a big, fat burrito stuffed with beef, cheese, and fries (or fried potatoes).  Yep, french fries INSIDE the burrito.  Instead, I opted for sweet potato fries, which are a healthier alternative and chicken apple sausage because it’s delicious and breakfast-y. Together, they provide a complimentary sweetness to the savory ingredients.

And, instead of the big guacamole bomb that often accompanies a typical massive burrito, I created a fresh, chunky avocado salsa sure to satisfy your guacamole craving.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

Cooking spray

10 ounces (about 3 cups) frozen sweet potato fries (I like Alexia brand)

2 green onions, chopped (white and green parts separated)

1 small tomato, diced

1 small (4 ounce) avocado, diced

Juice from ½ lime

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces fully-cooked, uncured chicken apple sausage, chopped

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Hot sauce (optional)

Directions:

Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray and bake sweet potatoes according to package directions.

Meanwhile, combine onion greens, tomato, avocado, lime juice, cilantro, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Mix gently and set aside.

Spray a small skillet with cooking spray.  Add sausage and cook until warmed and crisp on the edges.  Remove from skillet and keep warm.

In another small bowl combine eggs, onion whites, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Beat with a fork to combine. Add butter to skillet and scramble eggs.

Build your bowl: Chop the fries and sausage.  Layer ¼ of the eggs, sausage, fries, cheese and salsa in each of 4 bowls. Top with hot sauce (if desired). Makes 4 bowls.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories:   370
Protein:   16 g
Carbohydrate:   27 g
Dietary Fiber:   5 g
Total Sugars:   8 g
Total Fat:   21.5 g
Saturated Fat:   5.5 g
Cholesterol:   225 mg
Sodium:   580 mg

Nutrition Note: Looking to lighten it up?  Substitute egg whites for all or part of the egg, use reduced fat cheese and/or omit the butter and scramble eggs in a non-stick pan with cooking spray.

Miss the tortilla? Wrapping it up in a 10-inch tortilla adds roughly 200 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 500 milligrams of sodium. Alternatively, you can serve it (as show above) with a piece of lightly buttered whole grain toast for an extra (roughly) 100 calories, 4 grams of fat and 100 mg of sodium.

Serving suggestion: Serve with fruit salad.