You’re Never Too Young To Start Vegging

24 10 2009

There’s always been a conventional wisdom, or lets call it a myth, that kids can eat junk and get away with it. The concurrent myth is that kids should not go vegetarian, because their bodies are developing, or some such nonsense. So, they can run amuck eating sugar and chips, but skipping meat is bad.Their developing brains need high fructose corn syrup and beef, and any parent who doesn’t provide is damaging their youngster.

Unfortunately, this odd dual thinking is setting up some kids for a lifetime of bad health. And according to a recent poll by the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) only 38% of the parents surveyed realized that cholesterol plaques start forming in childhood, not just later in life. 70% of the respondents also said that they were not good examples for their kids, because they had bad eating habits.

“There is overwhelming evidence now that atherosclerosis, a build up of plaque in the arteries, starts in childhood, not when you’re 50 or 60,” says David J. Driscoll, MD, professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. We know this from autopsies performed on children who die of accidental deaths, he notes. Other studies on young soldiers who died in Korea and Vietnam showed that by their early 20s, many already had the beginnings of atherosclerosis, “Some of them with pretty significantly advanced disease.”

Add to this info the recent endorsement by the American Dietitians Association, in which they gave the thumbs up to a veg diet for all stages of life, including children and pregnant women, and you have some really good reasons to keep on driving when you see those golden arches.

So what do kids need to go veg? Well, many kids like simple foods like pizza, mac and cheese, and PB and J’s. All of those can easily be made whole grain, lighter in fat, and perfectly healthy for developing bodies.(check out the mac and cheese and pudding recipes in my previous posts, in the links below)

Kids, just like adult vegetarians, need to eat lots and lots of vegetables and fruits, especially green leafy vegetables. Kids like fruit, so keep a steady stream of fruity things on they menu. They need plenty of plant proteins, like peanut butter, nuts, seeds, beans, and cheese and dairy can work for some of it. Whole grains as much as possible, good fats from olive oil and nuts, and some grass fed dairy. The easiest way to make sure they are getting their vegetarian specific vitamins is to serve fortified non-dairy milks. Soymilk, rice milk and others have put together fortification that makes sure vegans who drink a cup a day are getting pretty close to the RDA of B12, calcium, zinc and other vitamins that vegans might be lacking.

I’ve got to come clean, I don’t have kids. But, I do cook for other people’s kids-for pay, no less. I’ve cooked for kids who only ate buttered noodles and fruit, and kids who loved mushrooms and organ meats, so I get it that they are all different. But they can be swayed, inched toward healthier choices. The big difference with kids today and kids of old is that they have way too many bad options. My Mom made one thing for dinner and we ate it gratefully. There was no screaming until a special pot of fluorescent mac was produced, or for that matter, swinging by the fast food joint. We thought we were losing out, sometimes, but getting a home cooked meal every night was a great start in life.

The Whole Grain Conundrum, with a Recipe

18 10 2009

Basic, Ancient, and Too Scary To Eat?People are so slow to change. You might think, that with all that you hear about whole grains, that people were adopting them. All those ads for cereals and crackers, touting their grainy goodness and the new RDA of three a day must be getting through to people, right?

A recent poll commissioned by the Grain Foods Foundation found that 98% of people consume one serving of grain (not necessarily whole) per day. The average number of servings is around three, and only 11% of that is whole.  So while math is not my strong suit, I think that means that most people are not eating whole grains at all. 11%of three servings adds up to a serving of whole grains about twice a week.

So, despite all the efforts of the great folks at the Whole Grains Council, writers like me, and all new products and the advertising, we are barely making a dent.

What’s up people?

Healthy eating has always had an image problem. Brown, coarse, tasteless, or too strong tasting, all bad adjectives to apply to food. And seriously, not all that applicable to whole grains today. Sure, I cook farro and brown rice, with their insane time commitments of an hour or 45 minutes on the stove-ooh how hard core. But even the complete non-cook can now buy such camouflaged products as Wonder White Wheat Bread (suspicious, but legally a whole grain) and the like. What is so hard about eating whole grain cereals for breakfast ? Seriously, raisin bran and oatmeal are not freaky health foods.

I am as usual, baffled by the vox populi when it comes to making healthy choices.

So, in the spirit of making it easy, let’s talk about the fastest possible ways to get whole grains on the table.

First, when buying prepared products, like cereals, breads and pastas, be a savvy label reader. As someone who really loves whole grain bread, I am always let down when a bread claims to be whole wheat or multi grain but is mostly white flour. All food labels are in descending order by weight. Whole wheat should be the  first ingredient. If it says “enriched flour” or “wheat flour” first, it is not whole grain bread. If it has high fructose corn syrup high on the list, it is probably not all that great. The Whole Grains Council has a seal, so that is a very simple tool-look for the Whole Grains Council seal and see how many servings of whole grains they say it has.

Boxed Cereals. All those ads on tv are for boxed cereals, and that seems to be the easiest way for people to  get some grains. My husband’s grandfather ate raisin bran every morning and lived to be 94. He was not a health food enthusiast. Cheerios, Wheat Chex and all sorts of familiar, non-threatening cereals are out there, easy to find. Just read labels and look for whole grains. the big scam on cereal labels is the multiple listings for sugar. Because of that rule that things must be in order by weight, using six kinds of sweetener means that they can list them lower down. that is why molasses, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and other -oses are all in one little box of cereal. Add them up and they make the cereal into a sugar bomb, not a whole grain health food.

Of course, you could always cook a little bit.

Saffron Gives The Rice a Golden Hue

Saffron Gives The Rice a Golden Hue

Saffron-Coconut Brown Rice with Pistachios

Short grain brown rice cooks up soft and comforting, especially with a touch of coconut milk to give it richness. Sweet fruit and crunchy nuts make this a fab side for curries, or a fine lunch on its own. Makes a great leftover.

You could also make this with millet, which takes less time to cook, and has a mild flavor that would take a back seat to all the other tastes in this dish.

Serves 4

1/2 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup short grain brown rice
1 medium orange
1/4 teaspoon salt optional
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup toasted pistachios optional

1. In a heavy bottomed 1 quart pot with a lid, put coconut milk, water and rinsed rice. Use a paring knife to remove the orange zest, leaving the white pith behind, in large strips, and add to the pan, reserving the fruit. Add salt and saffron. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cook for 35-40 minutes, until all the water is absorbed.
2. When all the water is absorbed, toss in the apricots and let the pot stand, covered, for at least 10 minutes. Pare the white pith off the orange and slice across the sections into rounds. Serve the rice garnished with orange and pistachios.

Italian Vegetarian Night

11 10 2009

The New Vegetarian is not officially out yet, but the “tour” has begun. Thursday’s class, The Italian Vegetarian, was a fabulous start for the book, and the food was a hit!

The class was offered at Sopra Sotto in Rochester MN, a store that specializes in all things Italian. The store is inside the Shops on University and very close to the famous Mayo Clinic. In fact, the Mayo is one of the reasons that the unique store exists. The back story is that the owner, Maureen McNally, was being treated at the Clinic years ago for cancer, and while she was there, promised herself that if she ever got well, she was going to follow her dream. Well, she got well, and the store is a thriving dream-the kind you like to see. Sopra Sotto is unlike most cookware stores, in that it focuses only on Italy, and it sells more than cookware, with a large selection of ceramics, leather, photography, and other Italian products. It also provides a small espresso bar and some food and pastries that bring in all the local Italian expats, as well as lovers of real espressos.

Maureen introduces me to the class.

Maureen introduces me to the class.

Once the class got going, I made Ligurian Hummus in Endive and Radicchio Leaves, a puree of edamame, parmesan, garlic and olive oil. A lively salad of Mache, Oranges and Pistachios followed, and then a lighter version of a Tuscan Bean Salad with Kale and Gorgonzola Bruschetta. But the big finale was the Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Broccoli Raab Sauce and the Cracker Crust Pizza al Aglio. We were quite safe from vampires that night, with about five bulbs of garlic gracing the meal. (A large part of that were roasted whole cloves on top of the pizza, which were sweet and mild.)

Explaining how gnocchi work

Explaining how gnocchi work

The students were a fun group, many with Mayo connections. A patient, a doctor, and other veg-friendly guests were all very interested in eating the Mediterranean way, with no meat. The cuisine of Italy is ever so loveable, and the meatless cuisine is one of the most popular in the World. And of course- Pizza!

Placing the Super-thin Crust on the Stone

Placing the Super-thin Crust on the Stone

All in All, a great way to introduce the New Vegetarian to the people at Sopra Sotto! Many thinks to Maureen and the helpful assistants at the store.


The First Event for the New Vegetarian!

3 10 2009

Writing a book can be compared to having a baby. If having a baby took two years, involved a large team of people, and had a long stretch of time in which the mother has very little to do with it, that would be a good analogy. All your friends are excited about your imminent book, and ask about it when they see you, but two years is a long time to sustain that. “Is your book out yet?” goes on for a long time, if you know what I mean.

So we are entering the home stretch, I am in the car on the way to the hospital, practicing my breathing. The book is about to come out!

So last night was a very fun way to start the “new baby” phase of the book, when it needs alot of attention. The little screamer needs to be introduced to everyone I can find. I’m going to be dragging that newborn to meet and greets several times a week. Of course, since the book is not a baby, I don’t have to worry about exposing it to H1N1 or something, so I think the analogy is breaking down here. Still, since this is my second book, I know that I am going to go from zero to sixty in the next few weeks.

So, to get back to last night, I attended the Heartlink Gala, where my brand new book was part of a lovely package in the silent auction. It was a wonderful evening, in part because the Heartlink organization is such a good cause. It was the 40th anniversary of a charity that sends pediatric heart surgeons to poor countries, to set up self-sustaining programs that save children who would otherwise die. These surgeons train doctors to do the operations and to keep doing them long after the visiting surgeons leave.

I am very proud to announce that my package, including books, wine from Solo Vino, a lovely flower arrangement and professional photography, and a dinner for ten prepared by me, went for:


In this economy, I am so glad that I was able to help sell the package, and spent the evening chatting up all the prospective bidders who stopped by the table. They were all very charming people, out for a good cause.

On the vegetarian front, I did meet a number of people who had vegetarian family members and who were interested in the topic of veg food. I also got to eat a special vegan meal involving a little tower of roasted vegetables, which was a pretty good effort for a hotel kitchen. I don’t know if the successful bidders will want a veg meal, or will pick something from the New Whole Grains Cookbook. We wanted to have the option for the omnivores. Don’t worry, once I get in there I will plant the seeds of eating lower on the food chain. I always do.Me with Sue Zelickson, of WCCO and Minnesota MonthlyThe New Veg Table, Me Amanda and my GF Kris