Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Recipe of the week: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas

In our attempt to add more protein to our diet, I always look for recipes that incorporate beans, since they're an easy way to add more protein without using meat. Here is an awesome recipe that I am currently obsessed with. If you bake the sweet potatoes ahead of time, it only takes fifteen minutes to get these ready. Perfect for the days when I get home from work starving.

Also, the recipe website I got this from, fresh365, is pretty awesome. But they adapted it from the Vegan Planet book, which I've been meaning to look at. Anyway, here is the recipe...

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 in. cubes 
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small jalapenos, finely chopped
  • 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t pepper
  • 1 large handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 c crumbled feta cheese (optional)
  • 8 whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 c salsa 
Preheat oven to 400F. On a baking sheet, arrange sweet potato cubes in one layer, and bake for 20 minutes until tender. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, and add garlic and jalapenos. Saute 2-3 minutes, until garlic begins to brown. Add tomatoes, beans, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, just to heat it up. Turn off heat, stir in onion, feta, and cooked sweet potato.

Arrange half of tortillas on baking sheet. Bake for two minutes in oven. Remove from oven, top with sweet potato mixture, and add another tortilla on top. Cook in oven for six minutes, until tortillas are desired shade of brown and crispiness. Top with salsa. Eat and enjoy!

Photo credit

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A culture of health in America

Amsterdam, where travel by bike is easy
I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be American. Now, I don't want to get too deep into it. I don't want to talk about patriotism and freedom and democracy and all that. Basically, I'm considering how being an American relates to living a healthy life. This particular train of thought was inspired by several insightful blog posts I've read lately, as well as discussions with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. We have two close friends from Spain who have lived here for the past year. In a recent conversation we asked them to tell us some stereotypes of America that they'd heard before they moved here. I should note that, after answering, they pointed out that stereotypes are often inaccurate (as an example, they informed us that everyone in Spain doesn't fight bulls and wear red).

After "don't know anything about other countries," they said another stereotype is that Americans are fat and eat unhealthy diets. How sad, I thought! Besides ignorance, we are known around the world as being the unhealthy country. Indeed, the obesity rate is pushing 33% of all Americans. One in three people are overweight or dangerously overweight. Indeed, we subsidize the growing of corn and soy instead of healthier fruits and vegetables. And indeed, we eat a lot of fast food.

But, I said to myself, I eat healthy. My friends and family eat healthy. I don't have any close friends that are particularly overweight. But I realize that this fact is largely based on where I live and my income level. Where you live and how much money you have really makes a difference in your health in this country. For example, in this insightful article from Feministing's community blog, the author describes where she lives:
As for me, I live in Washington, DC, where wealth and means converge. Exercise is trendy, as is eating healthily. Grocery stores, co-ops, and farmer’s market, all devoted to providing high quality food products are everywhere. An affluent population is willing and able to pay more for the privilege.
Although I don't live in DC, the same set of circumstances was true in Chicago, Madison, and various other places I've lived. It was easy for me eat healthy. I was lucky enough to be taught how to cook by my family and friends. The importance of exercise has been instilled in me, and I could walk or take the bus almost everywhere. Additionally, the city was full of people who ran, biked, and played sports. You couldn't drive through the north side of Chicago without seeing dozens of runners and several yoga studios. But that's not the case in other places. As the author goes on to say,
Are these same options present in Alabama, especially in the rural areas or the inner city? Not so much. Does a tradition and corresponding cultural expectation of these sorts of beneficial practices exist? Not really. Cities are concentrations of wealth and the highly educated. There is no financial incentive for either of them to leave and spread elsewhere. Quality food is rarely found in areas of poverty. Most often, only cheaper, lower quality food is affordable and available.
In addition to quality food, there are other aspects of health that are only accessible to the wealthy: health insurance, gym memberships, time to cook meals from scratch, reduced exposure to fast food ads, the privilege of living in a safe neighborhood.

I don't have a solution for this issue that our country faces, in which where you live and how much money you have has a disproportionate effect on your health. I wish that healthy food was cheaper and available everywhere. I wish there were bike lanes and bus routes in all areas, including surburban and rural towns. I wish we were taught in school how to cook, maintain a healthy diet, and build exercise into our schedules. I wish minimum wage was higher, so people could work less and spend more time cooking. I wish kids were given more time for recess and had greener cities.

I wish that health was an expectation our country, just part of our general culture, instead of a privilege. I don't think that individuals can be blamed for their obesity or heart disease or poor eating habits, at least not entirely. Right now, living in our country makes it harder to be a healthy person, instead of easier. I hope someday that will change. I hope, however naively, that someday when people think of Americans, they will think of healthy people.

Photo credit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recipe of the week: Pasta with Swiss Chard, Goat Cheese, and Red Peppers

This recipe is delicious and a good way to use Swiss chard which is still somewhat in season. It calls for orecchiette pasta, but sometimes it's hard to find, so I just use medium shell pasta. Additionally, it asks you to blanch the Swiss chard (put it in boiling water, then dip it in ice water, then chop it) but you could just saute it instead. Whatever you have time for.

Orecchiette Pasta with Swiss Chard, Goat Cheese, and Red Peppers

  • 3/4 pound Swiss chard (1 bunch), stemmed and washed in two changes of water
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut in small dice
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 3/4 pound orecchiette
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup) 

1. Begin heating a large pot of water while you stem and wash the chard. Fill a bowl with ice water. When the water in the pot comes to a boil, salt generously and add the chard. Blanch the chard leaves for one to two minutes until tender. Using a skimmer or a slotted spoon, transfer the chard to a bowl of ice water, then drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop medium-fine. Keep the pot of water at a simmer.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet, and add the bell peppers and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until tender, five to eight minutes. Add the garlic and salt to taste, and stir for half a minute. Then stir in the chopped chard and the marjoram. Stir together for a few seconds, then turn the heat to very low.

3. Bring the water in the pasta pot back to a boil, and add the orecchiette. Cook al dente, following the timing instructions on the package. Add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the chard and peppers. Stir in the goat cheese. Drain the pasta, transfer to the pan and toss with the chard, pepper and goat cheese mixture. Serve hot.

Recipe and photo credit: NYTimes

Monday, November 7, 2011

How bad is it? The childhood obesity epidemic

Take a look. Some of these facts are pretty frightening. We need to do something about this.

Childhood Obesity Epidemic Infographic
Brought to you by MAT@USC Masters in Teaching

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The frustrating fight for healthier school lunches

The headline of this article caught my eye: School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute. What is there to dispute, I wondered? The first paragraph, which described the changes that the USDA wants require in school lunch menus, made perfect sense to me. Cut back on potatoes, add more fruits and vegetables, and reduce salt. Kids couldn't have more than two servings of starchy vegetables a week, so this would cut back on French fries and other forms of potatoes, and would add in new produce like spinach and peaches. I like this idea, a lot. Forty percent of children's daily calories come from the lunch they eat at school. So, we should make those lunches healthier. What's not to like about this idea?

Apparently, a lot. The USDA is facing a whole slew of people who don't want these regulations to pass. This includes senators from potato-producing states (who say we shouldn't limit the amount of starchy food kids consume), food lobbyists (who say that kids won't eat the new vegetables), and frozen food companies (who say the reduced-salt guidelines will be too costly to follow). Because these people have so much power and sway in our country, the USDA guidelines will likely not pass.

This frustrates me beyond belief.

As a substitute teacher in an urban Michigan area, I teach in a lot of schools and get to see a lot of school lunches. Not once have I seen a meal that I would be willing to eat. Friday's lunch, served to the kindergarten class where I was subbing, was no exception. The main "entree" was a gigantic piece of bread with an inch of greasy white cheese melted on top. This came with milk (plain, chocolate or strawberry -- and which option do you think most kids took?), tiny carrot sticks, a flavored yogurt tube, and a frozen fruit popsicle. While this isn't the worst meal I could think of, it's laden with sugar, and most students probably didn't eat the healthiest item they were offered - the carrots. It's understandable that the kids don't eat carrots when they can fill up on all the other sugary options.

Who eats these types of lunches? Mostly students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, which means they are from low income families. And which group of children has the highest obesity rate in the U.S.? Children from low-income families, and children of color.

This is particularly frustrating when I compare it to the food offered where I taught last year, at a private school in upstate New York. This school had a daily salad bar with multiple greens, grains, and vegetables offered. The entrees included lentil meatloaf, vegetable stir fry, and curry beef stew. The meat was locally sourced and usually organic, and dessert was only served on Thursdays.

Who eats these types of lunches? Students from middle- and upper-income families.

I know that it's not realistic for all public schools to serve organic beef and an elaborate array of freshly chopped vegetables. They have a tight budget and limited kitchen staff. But no one is asking for that kind of a menu. The USDA is asking for meals that are just slightly healthier. A few less potatoes, a little less salt, and a bit more vegetables. In a country that claims to care about its children's health, this shouldn't be too much to ask.

Photo credit

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recipe of the week: Easy (and filling) vegetarian chili

Now that it's getting cold, hot soups and stews are comforting and delicious. Here's a recipe for easy vegetarian chili that's filling and good for you. You can use the vegetables suggested, or add anything else that is in your fridge, like carrots, corn or celery. Cornbread on the side makes a perfect fall meal.

Vegetarian Chili

2 medium zucchini, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 28-ounce cans Italian stewed tomatoes, cut up
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can pinto beans
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin

1. In a large pot, saute zucchini, onion, peppers and garlic in oil until tender.
2. Stir in all remaining ingredients.
3. Bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Recipe credit: Food.com
Photo credit: Bhakti in NYC

Monday, October 17, 2011

How to can tomatoes (it's easier than you think)

So, I used to be afraid of canning because I thought it was way too complicated and required expensive materials. But after our generous neighbors gave us a water bath canner (see one here - it only costs about $20, and it's really just a giant pot), we finally gave it a try. It turned out to be pretty easy, and a lot of fun! It made me feel like an accomplished adult, as if canning was some right of passage to adulthood. But besides that, canning is a great way to preserve food in order to have fresh, flavorful vegetables all year long.

An easy place to start is by canning whole tomatoes. They don't require a lot of preparation, and you can use whole tomatoes in all sorts of recipes. We love to use them for making pizza sauce; just dump the tomatoes, juice and all, into the pan and mash them up to make flavorful sauce.

Here's our method for canning whole tomatoes. We learned by using this website and this book, two great resources for canning all kinds of things.

Step 1: Buy a ton of tomatoes, or use the ones you've grown.

If you're lucky enough to have a garden, this is a great way to use up tomatoes that are becoming too ripe. If you don't have a garden, go to the farmers market in late September. Farmers often sell bulk tomatoes for really cheap, because they're trying to get rid of them. It doesn't really matter how many tomatoes you get. It just depends on how many you want canned. We bought 20 pounds of tomatoes, and it made about 15 pint-size jars of tomatoes.

bulk tomatoes bought at the farmers market

Step 2: Sanitize your jars.

You can just put your jars in the dishwasher on the "sanitize" cycle. If you don't have a dishwasher, put the jars in boiling water. Don't put the lids in the dishwasher. Instead, dip those in boiling water before you are ready to use them. Meanwhile, fill your water bath canner halfway with water, and start bringing it to a boil. 

Step 3: Peel the tomatoes.

The quickest way to do this is to blanch the tomatoes. Get a big pot of water boiling, and drop the tomatoes a few at a time into the boiling water. Once the skins start to break, take the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl of ice water. This will stop them from cooking further. Use your hands to slide the skin off the tomato.

the tomatoes after blanching and peeling them
Step 4: Cut the cores out of the tomatoes.

You can actually do this step before peeling the tomatoes, or afterwards. Whatever you think will be easiest. Cut out the cores (which is just the top part, near where the stem was attached) and any bruises or bad spots. You'll probably end up with some squished tomatoes, but we use those anyway.

Step 5: Put the tomatoes in the jars.

We use a slotted spoon that we have dipped in boiling water to put the tomatoes in. You can also use a funnel (which should be sanitized ahead of time). After you fill the jars, take a spoon handle and slide it around the inside edge of the jar. This will get rid of any air bubbles.

Step 6: Add lemon juice and water (if needed).

Add two tablespoons of lemon juice to all the jars. If there is still too much room at the top, add some boiling water. There should only be a half inch of space between the liquid and the top of the jar (this is called "head space").  Put the lids on the jars.

Step 7: Put the jars in the boiling water, and boil for 35 minutes.

Your water bath canner probably came with a rack that you can put the jars on so they don't touch the bottom of the pot. (This can cause the jars to break.) We use one of these fancy jar holders to slide the jars into the boiling water. (And by "fancy," I mean they cost $5 at the hardware store.)

the filled jars in the water bath canner
That's it! Take the jars out, and wait for them to cool. After a few hours, check to make sure the lids have sealed. You'll know because the lid won't pop back up after you push down on it. And voila, you've canned tomatoes!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hunger in America, represented on Sesame Street

A friend of mine sent me a link to a story that surprised me. Apparently Sesame Street will be debuting a new Muppet character, named Lily, who is food-insecure (which is the government's word for "hungry"). This makes me simultaneously sad and happy. Sad because the number of hungry children in the country is so great that it necessitates a TV character to represent it. Happy because children who are not hungry will learn about those that are, in a gentle and powerful way.

Hunger is a huge and basic issue for so many families in America. 49 million Americans live in food-insecure houses, which includes 16 million children. And evidently, food pantries are struggling to feed people, both because the number of hungry people is increasing, and because their budgets are being cut. Hunger is a problem in big cities, and it's also a problem in the suburbs.

But primarily, hunger is a problem of poverty. Forty percent of families below the poverty line are food insecure. Children who are hungry are more likely to do poorly in school, have developmental problems, and suffer from illness and depression, conditions which presumably increase the likelihood that they will stay poor. With one in six people hungry in the U.S., this might just be the biggest problem that many (including myself) haven't been paying attention to.

To learn how many people are suffering from hunger in your state, click on this map and hover over your state. And click here for ideas on how to help.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Eating unhealthy not necessarily cheaper

There's a myth going around that eating healthy is expensive. People use it as an explanation for why obesity is such a huge problem in this country. This idea, wherever it came from, is a pretty dangerous one. I've worked with both children and parents who think eating healthy is not worth it because it's beyond their financial means. As a result, they don't make the effort to pick out meals that are good for them.

While I agree that organic produce is pricey and your average person can't afford to shop at Whole Foods, that narrow subset of food choices is not the only type of food that fits the definition of "healthy." Healthy foods are simple, unprocessed foods, can be found at any supermarket, and provide a multitude of nutrients that keep you full longer. And, as Mark Bittman explains using the graphic below, healthy foods are often cheaper. By a lot.

Once you realize that choosing healthy foods won't wreak havoc on your budget, the next step is to learn to cook them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fifty people answer: What's your favorite memory?

There are a lot of sad things going on in our country right now. Just this morning, in ten minutes of reading the news, I came across awful stories of bullying and teen suicides, tragic executions, simultaneous hunger and obesity. But then I came across this video, which made me feel better about life. Sometimes, learning to live a healthy life means (temporarily) forgetting all that's wrong in the world...and remembering that there are so many beautiful, happy, wonderful people out there. For a little cheering up, watch this sweet video of people sharing their favorite memory. Then try to recall your own.

Via feministing.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The food we waste

Lately I've been helping Seven Generations Ahead create a food curriculum called "Linking Plants and Food," which teaches middle school students important issues about food and food politics. The kids will learn that almost everything we eat comes from a plant, and how to design a school garden. They also learn about food waste, and how to reduce it through composting. While doing research for this lesson on food waste, I came across some shocking statistics.

Every year Americans throw away 34 million tons of food. 34 million tons! In one month, a family of four throws away 122 pounds of food, or a pound per person per day. We throw away up to 30% of the food available to us each year.

There are so many reasons why this is terrible. It's terrible because the food in our landfills produces high amounts of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. It's terrible because it's a huge waste of money (up to $31 billion a year). It's terrible because throwing away this food is disrespectful to the farmers who worked to produce it.

But most of all, it's terrible because we live in a world where so many people are hungry, while others throw away food because it looks slightly bruised or was forgotten in the back of the refrigerator. Our food waste habits are taking away food from these hungry people. We buy too much food, and it drives up grain prices, making food unaffordable for people in poverty.

But that means that if Americans (and Brits) stopped wasting so much food, we could help alleviate hunger. In fact, we could almost eliminate it completely. At least one billion people could be lifted out of hunger with only a quarter of the food we waste. One billion!

We need to start reducing our food waste. The EPA has its own plan for how to do it nationally. Here, and here, and here are some tips on how to do it in your own kitchen.

And, for some visual fun, here is an infographic on how much food we waste. Click on the picture for a larger image.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why I won't be seeing a doctor this year

Most of my blog posts in the past have focused on individual choices you can make to live a healthy life: eat more vegetables, exercise more, learn to cook from scratch. While these are important steps to take, they don't constitute the whole picture of healthy living. There's a whole host of forces in society that make it more difficult to be healthy. And one of the biggest problems, one that I often overlook until it slaps me in the face, is lack of access to quality health care.

Disclaimer: This post is long. If you don't have time to read it all, the general message is this: Not having health care is a major problem for many people of different income levels. Please consider donating to clinics that serve uninsured individuals, and support policies that will improve access to affordable health care.

As you may have guessed, I support universal health care for multiple reasons. I think it's a fundamental right that Americans deserve. I think it's the job of our government to care for those most in need. But the biggest reason I support universal health care? Because without it, I can't even get a basic doctor's appointment.

Now theoretically, getting a doctor's appointment should be easy for me. I come from a middle-class family and have a college degree. I speak English as a first language, and I'm not afraid to speak assertively to persons of authority. All these things are to my advantage, and yet scheduling a doctor's appointment has always been my idea of a living hell.

Know why? Because I don't have health insurance.

I have held wonderful teaching jobs for the past three years, but only one was full-time, and I haven't had health benefits for a year or more. Unfortunately, health insurance is not offered by all employers. People who work part-time or for a non-profit or are self-employed are usually uninsured, unless they want to pay through the teeth for private individual insurance. States offer insurance for low-income individuals, but these are not often affordable. In New York, I would have paid $350/month for basic health insurance, while working two part-time jobs.

Therefore, I am stuck with no health insurance. And that means I will probably never see a doctor unless I absolutely have to. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, preventative care is just not worth it to me, considering the hassle, humiliation, and financial challenges I have to face to see a doctor.

Here's a recent example. My newest employer, a nature center run by the city, asked me to get a health physical before beginning the job. A simple request, for most people who are insured. But for those who aren't, it's much more complicated...
Step #1: Find a health clinic who will take me. 
While the wonders of the internet should make this simple, I have a few limitations. I can't go to a regular private clinic, because the costs for uninsured patients are outrageous. Even if I did want to shell out the money, I don't have an assigned doctor there, so I would have to wait a month to have a "New Patient Appointment," then wait another few weeks to see a doctor. This would mean I couldn't start my new job for at least two months. 
I also can't go to some of the free clinics, because they don't offer routine preventative care like health physicals. They're also only open limited hours, mostly during the weekday, leaving me no options if I am already working full-time. (I'm not, but others often face this problem.) 
Step #2: Make the appointment. 
This involves waiting on hold for at least twenty minutes, if not longer, since low-income health care clinics are often understaffed. I finally got through to the county health clinic, and they told me the earliest I could see a doctor was in November, and that was for a New Patient Appointment. (See Step #1.) Wonderful. 
Crossing that clinic off the list, I moved on to the Cristo Rey clinic, whose website said they serve uninsured community members at the low cost of $20 per visit. Perfect. Keep in mind that this nature center job that requires the physical, while a wonderful opportunity, is only paying me $9/hr, so I can't afford an expensive doctor visit. 
I decided to call this place. After my second attempt at connecting with someone, the receptionist was very confused and rude when learning that I needed a physical for employment. "Don't you have a family doctor?" she snapped. No, I replied patiently, as I already told you, I don't have health insurance, and haven't had a "family doctor" since I was 17. After we got through these introductions, the clinic then informed me that they don't do physicals for new patients, and if they did, it would cost $80. I would have to work more than a full day to pay that off. 
So far I have spent at least 45 minutes on the phone in this process, and still no successful appointment. I also tried Planned Parenthood, whose website said they do employment physicals, but apparently this was erroneous. The receptionist there was shocked when I asked to schedule a physical, and derisively told me "we don't do that here."
Now, this particular story actually has a happy ending. Someone suggested that I look for an urgent care facility, and I was lucky enough to find one which actually took walk-ins and only charged me $39. Awesome for me, but not typical. In my experience in both Chicago and New York, the costs were much higher. I have paid $350 out of pocket for a gynecological appointment, and have heard stories that are much worse. But at least I found a place, so that meant I could move on to the next step.
Step #3: Get to the clinic. 
For most people this requires taking time off work, which often equates with a smaller paycheck. I also needed to consider what neighborhood the clinic was in. When I lived in Chicago, there were several neighborhoods where I didn't feel comfortable walking alone. And taking a buddy along was not really an option. Who's going to come to a doctor's appointment with me in the middle of the workday? 
I'm also lucky enough to have a car, but many people need to navigate bus routes, resulting in even more time off work. 
Step #4: Actually get seen by a doctor. 
Now, this is my least favorite step. I have gone to my share of county clinics, and some are better than others. But most are loud, busy, smelly, and stressful. The receptionists are shouting, babies are crying, moms are yelling. The wait is usually at least an hour, if not more (which is annoying at best and takes away from precious work time at worst). The medical staff are trying their hardest, but they're underpaid and understaffed, and stressed. As a result, "welcoming" is not a word I would often use to describe these clinics.
The rest of the appointment is probably pretty typical whether you have insurance or not: the nurse gets me and takes my vitals, then I wait another twenty minutes to see the doctor, then the doctor breezes in and out since I'm her nineteenth patient that day. 
 But finally, after giving up time, money, patience, and dignity, I have seen a doctor.
Now, this small experience, which I have repeated every time I need to see a doctor, is the reason why I support universal health care. It's the reason why the employer-based health care system is not working. The system is not providing people with health care that will prevent them from getting sick.

But until this system gets fixed, please consider donating to a low-income health care clinic in your area. There are people who are facing much larger health issues than I am, and they have a right to see a doctor.

Image source: Carolina Living Health Care

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fresh from the farm at school

As some people know, when I lived in Chicago I worked as a teacher for a fabulous non-profit organization called Seven Generations Ahead. The organization has a lot of programs that work towards building healthy and sustainable communities in the Chicago area, including my personal favorite, a program called Fresh from the Farm.

Fresh from the Farm teachers go into classrooms and summer school programs to teach kids about healthy eating, gardening, and cooking. They also work with schools to bring local, healthy foods into school lunch programs. And they recently sponsored another awesome idea, called Truck Farm, which is Chicago's first farm-on-wheels. They're part of the burgeoning farm-to-school movement, which helps schools connect with farmers to bring in fresh, local foods. For more information on the farm-to-school movement, click here...and here...and here.

I love this organization, and the year I spent with them was incredibly educational and exciting. I became a big advocate for local and healthy foods education, and continued to teach it when I moved to New York. Thus, I thought I should dedicate a post to Fresh from the Farm, and highlight their awesome new online resource center. The site has tons of links to curriculum, recipes, articles on obesity and nutrition, and resources for building school gardens. And if you know any teachers who live in the Chicago area, send them to the Fresh from the Farm teacher training, so they can learn to teach the program in their own classrooms!

For more detailed information on what the Fresh from the Farm program is all about, read this article in Chicago's Mindful Metropolis magazine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recipe of the week: Cherry Tomato Orzo Salad

One of my favorite things about summer is making easy, fresh pasta salads. This week's recipe is another delicious one I found on Simply Recipes. The ingredients are easy to find, and prep only takes about twenty minutes. I always double recipes like these so we can eat them for lunch all week long. Enjoy!

Cherry Tomato Orzo Salad 
  • 8 ounces orzo pasta
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 pints tomatoes, chopped
    • note: you can chop up any type of tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes are sweet and easy to slice in half so I like to use those
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 large cucumber, chopped
  • 2-6 green onions, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced
  • juice of a lemon
  • black pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the orzo and stir so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil uncovered until pasta is firm but cooked all the way through. Strain using a fine mesh sieve so the pasta doesn't go through the holes.
  2. Toss the pasta with the olive oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.
  3. If desired, add a little balsamic vinegar and cayenne pepper to give it more flavor. For more protein, add chickpeas or another bean.
  4. Eat hot or refrigerate for later!
Image credit: Very Culinary

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Live an invigorating life

I came across some memorable advice from one of the websites I read (Zen to Fitness, an online magazine on health and fitness). The author of the article recommends four simple steps to take towards health. You can read the other three steps on your own. (The article is actually posted on a different and equally awesome blog.) But the section that resonated most with me was Step # 4: Live an invigorating life. While what the author recommends is obviously easier said than done, I think it's a great way of life to visualize and work towards:

Live an Invigorating Life. Last but not least – living an invigorating life is probably the most essential thing when it comes to health and fitness. This means living a life that we get strength or energy from – something that gives us a reason to be active and move.
Whether this energy comes from doing a job you love, being around people you have fun with, travelling or just doing stuff you love. We need something in our lives to gain strength from. Excitement and passion change things up and gives us the motivation to exercise, eat well and most importantly makes us feel good.
I would even go as far as saying one of the best ways to stay fit is just to live life – be active, play with your kids, play tennis, touch football or whatever sports you enjoy, do some bodyweight exercises in the morning, walk lots and eat lots of wholesome food. In all honesty that is how most of the healthiest people I know live.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Health claims on unhealthy foods need to go

There's currently a debate raging right now over whether food companies should be allowed to advertise  unhealthy foods to kids. One side of the debate believes that, to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, we need to put limits on which foods can be marketed to kids (aka no commercials for foods that have high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, etc). The other side believes that food companies themselves should be responsible for deciding what they can advertise.

I've found that when I bring up this issue with others, I often get the "why should the government be involved" response. After all, they explain, childhood obesity is largely due to parents' irresponsibility. It's the parents' job to choose which foods children buy and eat. If a child has an unhealthy diet, it's the parents' fault.

I have a pretty big problem with this response (as you might have guessed). Parents are faced with dozens of decisions to make for their kids each day. Ideally, choosing healthy foods for their children should be one of the easier decisions. But instead, parents are swimming in a sea of confusing food products when they enter the grocery store, and many unhealthy foods make health claims that are pretty convincing. And now, a new study shows that these health claims (like "Cocoa Krispies supports your child's immunity") indeed do mislead parents and increase the likelihood that they'll buy these unhealthy foods for their children.

See, in my opinion, almost all parents are trying to do the best they can, and that certainly includes feeding healthy food to their children. But there is a whole mess of things that make this harder for them -- ridiculous health claims on foods that are really not good for you, lack of education and knowledge about how to purchase and prepare healthy food, terrible lunches served at school, and, in some areas, a complete lack of affordable and fresh food nearby. So, for all these reasons, parents are not the only ones at fault when it comes to childhood obesity and malnutrition. And I believe food companies need to be held responsible.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Make your own applesauce

Making applesauce is one of my favorite fall projects. I love going to pick apples from nearby orchards (search here to find an orchard near you) but it's just as easy to buy a bag of apples from the grocery store and use them to make a big batch of applesauce. Here are some easy directions to make applesauce from scratch. It's simple enough that you can watch a movie while you do it, or involve kids in the process. If you want to can the applesauce jars so they'll last longer, click here for instructions.

Step 1 Peel the apples

Use a sharp knife or peeler to take the skin off the apples. This is actually an optional step, as I've made applesauce with the skins still on. It just makes your applesauce occasionally chewy. If you don't want to use the skin, you can compost it or use them in a recipe like this.

Step 2 Core and slice the apples.

I usually cut them into eight slices per apple. You can use one of those apple corers, but a knife works just as well.

Step 3 Put the apples in a large pot.

Add a cup of water, a half cup of sugar (optional), and two cinnamon sticks. Use a teaspoon of ground cinnamon if you don't have sticks. Bring to a boil, then let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Check the apples to see if they're soft. If not, simmer for longer.

Step 4 Mash the apples.

Using a potato masher, smash the apples until they're a good consistency for applesauce. It'll depend on how chunky you like your applesauce.

Step 5 Jar the applesauce. And eat it!

This recipe works for 9-12 apples. If you want to add more apples, just increase the amount of time you let them simmer in Step 3. Yield is about four cups of applesauce.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My current obsession: Smoothies

So, I'm currently obsessed with smoothies since I bought a bunch of fruit at the store and also went blueberry picking. I've tried all different kinds of smoothies, but so far my favorite recipe is pretty simple:
two big scoops of vanilla yogurt + a handful of blueberries + one banana + two frozen peaches (sliced and frozen by us last year) = best smoothie ever
Smoothies are an amazing healthy snack, both filling and delicious, and you can use just about anything in them, including almost all fruits, vegetables, and various dairy products. Don't worry about adding sugar; it's not necessary since the fruit already has it.

And, since I've been having a smoothie a day for the past couple weeks, I came across this flow chart from Eating Rules and had to repost it. It's awesome, and also gives a lot of ideas for creative smoothie recipes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Recipe of the week: Chickpea potato curry

So I've been living in a small town in New York for the last year, with my partner Dustin, after living in Chicago for two years. Before that I lived in Madison, and will soon be moving to Michigan while Dustin goes back to school. In each place, I have met such fabulous people, and some of our most enjoyable get-togethers have revolved around food. I especially love potlucks, which allow each person to showcase what they most love to eat and cook. Last night, a bunch of friends came to our house for a potluck, and the variety of foods was amazing. Our friends from Spain brought salmorejo, a cold soup made with tomatoes and bread; another friend brought home-brewed beer that he crafted; another couple brought hot dogs from their hometown of Buffalo. The whole experience of a potluck, with all its sharing of food and conversation, always leaves me excited about life.

While I don't have any signature dishes that I'm known for making, I made one of Dustin and my favorite go-to dishes, that we use whenever we want a lot of food for not a lot of effort. This recipe for Chickpea Potato Curry is from the recipe blog Simply Recipes. It's easy to make and delicious, especially if you like the flavor of Indian food. For a spicier version, add more cayenne pepper (which is what I did last night, and consequently gave all the leftovers to a friend since I have such a low spice tolerance). Enjoy!

Chickpea Potato Curry Recipe 

  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • one 14-ounce can stewed tomatoes with chiles [if you can't find these, buy stewed tomatoes and add half a 4-ounce can of diced green anaheim chiles]
  • 6 baby Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup uncooked Jasmine or Basmati rice
  1. In a large pot, combine the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, potatoes, onion, butter, ginger, 1 teaspoon of salt, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Stir to mix and nestle the potatoes into the liquid.
  2. Set the pot, uncovered, over medium heat. Simmer vigorously for about 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add more salt to taste.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the Jasmine rice according to the package directions.
  4. Serve the curry in bowls over the rice. Serves 4.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Organic water? and other ploys that take advantage of people's attempts to be healthy

If there's one thing that drives me crazy, it's big corporations trying to take advantage of people's desires to live healthy and sustainable lives. In the last ten years or so, the general public has become much more aware of the importance of "being green," which in and of itself is not a bad thing. It means that many people (who have the money and the ability) are searching for organic and fresh food, recycled products, and energy-efficient appliances. This, in turn, raises demand for such products, and they become cheaper and more readily available.

But, this being corporate America, many companies are taking advantage of people's noble consciences, and trying to make a quick buck off of them. Everywhere you look these days, you can find dozens of products that are labeled "green" or "eco-friendly" or "sustainable" or whatever the current buzzword happens to be. Most of the time, these products are no more environmentally friendly or healthy than their unlabeled counterparts. Someone I was with bought a Snapple last week, and it was proudly labeled "gluten-free." I'm relatively certain that Snapple was never made with wheat products, but "gluten-free" is a current buzzword and makes their product sound healthier. Similarly, McDonald's boasts that their smoothies are "made with real fruit!" but they still contain 44 grams of sugar (twice the recommended daily value). Freakonomics has an interesting podcast on "conspicuous conservation," in which they discuss people's willingness to pay for products that make them look environmentally conscious.

But my favorite example of trying to make money off of the latest health craze: organic water. Water, which is in no way alive and therefore could never be grown organically or otherwise, is currently being sold in bottles that brag about its lack of growth hormones and genetic modification. We should avoid buying bottled water in any case, since virtually everywhere in the U.S. tap water is safe to drink, but we should especially avoid paying $4 a bottle for organic water!

There's nothing wrong with looking for keywords that will indicate a healthier food or product choice. Fruit that is labeled organic will have fewer pesticides and probably taste better. Paper that is 100% recycled will kill fewer trees. And so on. But there are hundreds of products out there that are inaccurately disguised as something healthy. Take a closer look at the nutrition label, the product history, or the company itself before you purchase.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health

The Environmental Working Group just put out a really great resource called the Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health. It doesn't tell you not to eat meat, but instead recommends which types of meat and protein are best for your health and the environment. Below is the graphic they use to show the greenhouse gas emissions of twenty common foods. Surprisingly, cheese is listed as the third worst food in terms of environmental impact! Chicken, fish, and eggs are much better (less impactful) sources of protein than cheese, beef, and lamb. To see the graphic up close, as well as the rest of EWG's report, click here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Recipe website recommendation

a recipe I found on Gojee, that I'm
going to try tonight: Peanut Pesto
and Peas Pasta Salad
My friend Tad sent me this recipe site which I've really started to love. It's called Gojee, and it customizes recipes better than any other recipe sites I've used. You have to make an account, which is free and quick, and then you can start to search for recipes in a couple ways. You can enter which types of food you are craving, and it'll give a bunch of recipes that include that food. For example, I entered "beets" under I crave, and it came up with the following delicious looking recipes: Roasted Beet Salad with Walnut Dressing and Cheese Crisps, Beet Gratin with Goat Cheese and Greens, and Red Beet Pasta with Balsamic, Poppy Seeds and Mint (among lots more).

You can also enter any ingredients you don't like or are allergic to under I dislike. And, my personal favorite feature since food always goes bad in my fridge, you can add ingredients that are currently in your fridge, and they'll make sure it's included in the recipes.

The website aggregates recipes from all different places, so it seems to have a wide variety. Hope you enjoy! Here is the link again: gojee.com

Image sourced from steamykitchen.com, the source of the recipe I'm going to make tonight

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some reading on running

So, the last few weeks have been extremely busy for me, as often happens during the summer. Consequently, I've been ignoring the blog and also been ignoring my running routine. For a while there, I was running 3-4 times a week and doing yoga once a week. In the last month, I've done enough traveling and working that I've barely run at all. Consequently, I wanted to find some inspirational reading that would motivate me to get moving again. This morning I went for a quick fifteen minute run and have felt better all day. And lo and behold, the internet/blogosphere provided me with a lot of reading to keep the motivation high. I thought I would share:

Zen Habits posted 10 Life Lessons from a Reluctant Runner. I relate to so many things on this list, including dating a runner who convinced me of its benefits, as well as sometimes hating runs (but loving it after I get back from one).

NYTimes has an interesting article on the science behind why exercise makes us feel good. Turns out it reduces anxiety, and makes stressed out rats a lot more resilient. I think the only reason I got through my first year of teaching is because I picked up running.

I also like this article on Thomas Farley, New York City's health commissioner, who is doing some pretty admirable things to advocate for a healthier city. He also exercises every day, which is what I someday hope to say is my habit as well.

Plus, exercise improves memory!

Hopefully this will be enough to keep me motivated to run even though it's going to be 90 degrees all week...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tasty (and not so tasty) tomatoes

I used to hate tomatoes. Well, I used to hate a lot of foods, in particular most vegetables. (I know tomatoes are actually considered fruits...but I still didn't like them.) I was averse to the texture and taste of tomatoes, whether on my sandwiches or in salads, and I would certainly never take a bite out of a tomato purchased at the grocery store. It wasn't until I had a tomato right off the vine, grown in my parents' backyard, that I realized what I'd been missing. Sure enough, the tomato was sweet and juicy and flavorful, not bland and mealy. Last year, my partner Dustin grew Sungold tomatoes, and I couldn't get enough of them. They truly pushed me over the edge into tomato-loving land. This year, I can't wait for tomatoes to become available at farmers markets and in our community garden (which Dustin and I have been completely neglecting, so I'm not sure if we'll have dibs on the tomatoes).

Regardless, I still don't like tomatoes from the grocery store if it's not tomato season. Even if the tomatoes look red and juicy and are labeled "vine-ripened," chances are they were ripened by a chemical fog, in a truck on the way from Florida, and won't taste very sweet. NPR had a really interesting interview with the author of Tomatoland, a book all about industrial tomatoes (the ones available at most grocery stores). You can hear the interview on Fresh Air here. It gives some great information on where our tomatoes come from, and why we have to put up with such terrible tasting ones. (Simple answer: because they come from far away and are out of season most of the year).

Grow tomatoes if you can. Buy them at the farmers market or a farm if you can. You'll have to look harder and wait longer for them, but it's worth it for a delicious tomato.

I also wanted to include a recipe for canning tomatoes, which is a great way to preserve fresh-tasting tomatoes so you can eat them year-round. Last summer, when Dustin grew lots of tomatoes in the garden, I used this recipe to can whole tomatoes. The results were great, because we used the tomatoes throughout the year when making homemade pizza sauce.

Last but not least, here is my favorite recipe using tomatoes. Homemade pizza dough + Margherita pizza.  Delicious.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Meatless Monday: an easy, gradual step towards a healthier diet

I want to preface this post by telling you that I am not a vegetarian. At a work party earlier this week, everyone was shocked when I helped myself to a hot dog. All year long, I taught healthy eating classes to 4th and 5th graders, and everyone at the school (including the kitchen staff) assumed I was a vegetarian. Health-conscious eaters are often assumed to be vegetarians, but it's not true that a healthy diet can't include meat. Various kinds of meat can be a rich source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and delicious flavor.

That said, Americans often make and order meals that are centered around meat, resulting in consumption of large amounts of beef, pork or chicken (larger than the recommended deck-of-card-sized portion) in almost every meal. This type of meat-heavy diet has a large carbon footprint. Large farms, where most grocery store and restaurant meat is produced, have hugely negative impacts on the environment. Higher consumption of red meat is also associated with diabetes and obesity.

While no one should expect Americans to eliminate meat from their diet entirely, a new idea called "Meatless Mondays" is catching on across the country. The NY Times recently profiled the city of Aspen, which is encouraging the idea in its restaurants and schools. Oprah's studio, Toyota's U.S. branch, and the U.S. Department of the Interior have all gone meatless one day a week. More interestingly to me, many universities and school districts, including UC Davis and Baltimore Public Schools, have eliminated meat from their menus on Mondays.

There are also lots of individuals who have taken on this challenge. Why do this? First of all, it's an easy and gradual step to reducing your meat consumption. There's no need to stop eating meat if you enjoy it. But avoiding it one day a week means you'll be more likely to fill up on vegetables, fruits, and grains. It means you'll save the water and fossil fuel energy that goes into producing your meat. And it means that, on the days you do eat meat, you'll enjoy it that much more. And who doesn't want to savor their food?

Not sure what to cook on your meat-free day? Here's a huge list of recipes from one of my current favorite magazines, Eating Well: Meatless Monday

Thanks to MeatlessMonday.com for many of these resources.

Photo credit: Run with Kate

Friday, June 10, 2011

Some information on the E. coli outbreak in Germany, and whether it could happen here

There have been lots of news reports and blog posts on the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany, which was responsible for 30 deaths and more than 3,000 illnesses. E. coli outbreaks and other foodborne illnesses are a serious issue in any country that has a large, complicated food system that makes it hard to trace where your food comes from. Here are a few articles that give more details on the outbreak, its possible causes, and the best way to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses.

These articles can be frightening, but it's important to remember that knowing where your food comes from will help eliminate the threat of E. coli and other contaminants. Food that is grown locally on small farms goes through less processing and travel, and is easier to trace if there is a problem.

And if you don't have time to read the articles, here is a bit of concise advice (from Bill Marler, via Mark Bittman's article) on how to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses:

“Eat simply, locally, things that you wash well, cook well and process yourself. Wash your hands and keep your kitchen clean — especially the dish rag. Keep cold things cold and hot things hot. Keep meat and unwashed vegetables away from ready to eat food. Have a glass of good red wine.
“Think about eating mass-produced raw meat and produce like you are swimming in a pool with a thousand people you don’t know. Think of eating as described above as sitting in a bath with your significant other — hopefully less risky and much more fun.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How to find real food at the supermarket

Just came across this flowchart. It's funny, and it does a great job of illustrating the confusing nature of shopping in giant grocery stores that have shelf after shelf of processed food. Thanks to Summer Tomato for the image. Their website has a lot of great articles on healthy living.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why we need to ban Happy Meals

So, there is a debate raging in the public health world about Happy Meals. Health advocates are trying to  ban McDonald's and other fast food restaurants from handing out toys with kids' meals, since the meals are completely unhealthy and the toy prize just makes kids want them even more. The fast food industry, on the other hand, says that the government shouldn't decide what kids eat, their parents should. (Conservatives, I should add, also strongly agree with this statement. It fits in so well with their fear of a "nanny government," and any attempts at regulating the crap that children are encouraged to eat. For a golden example of this, recall when Sarah Palin handed out cookies to school children in order to mock Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign.)

Honestly, at first I wasn't sure where I stood on this issue. I understand that parents are leery of elected officials deciding what their kids eat. There is something sacred and private about the meals we eat at home. But after a long time thinking about it, I now whole-heartedly agree with the public health advocates who are pushing to ban Happy Meals. Happy Meals are not something we eat in the privacy of our family kitchens. They are high-calorie, unhealthy meals that are marketed deliberately towards children on TV, billboards, stores, and other public places.

Let's take a closer look at what's offered in the Happy Meals at McDonald's. The choices for a Happy Meal are a hamburger, a cheeseburger, or chicken nuggets. They come with a soda and fries. Well, McDonald's also offers other choices for drinks (milk or apple juice) and a side (apple slices). But the default Happy Meal comes with the soda and fries, which automatically means fewer families will order the healthier option. (See this article on why it's important to make healthy meals the default at restaurants.)

Let's pretend the kid chooses the chicken nuggets meal option, with fries and chocolate milk. This means she is eating a meal that gives her 580 calories, 26 grams of fat, 710 milligrams of sodium, and 25 grams of sugar. To put this in perspective, this one small meal provides 41% of recommended daily calories, 65% of daily fat, 60% of daily sodium, and 200% of recommended daily sugar intake. In other words, way too much.

Now, I don't have an issue with children eating these meals every now and then. But for many families, especially those in food deserts that have many fast food restaurants and few healthier options, these meals are a regular part of the diet. They're cheap, they're fast, and kids love them. Happy Meals come with a toy. Seriously, what kid turns down a meal that comes with a free toy and box with a huge smile on it? As a matter of fact, what kid wouldn't beg for that meal?

There aren't two ways to look at this issue. We don't market cigarettes to kids anymore, because cigarettes are terrible for kids. Happy Meals are terrible for kids. They shouldn't be marketed towards them.

Either fast food restaurants need to step up and offer healthier meals with their free toys, or we need to ban Happy Meals altogether.

Sources: McDonald's, Los Angeles Times, Mayo Clinic 
Photo Source: Gunaxin

Monday, May 23, 2011

Easy gardening idea: Lettuce beds from scrap wood

It's been a while since I posted! I'm currently working on a schedule for posts that is more predictable and organized. More on that later. For now, I have a fun project to share. Springtime is upon us, and my partner Dustin and I have been trying to figure out what foods we would like to grow this year. Two weeks ago, we planted peas, kale, beets, and a few other spring crops in his workplace community garden (in the picture at right).

We're very lucky to have this space, and I know most people don't have yards or property that allow them to have a full garden. So, I wanted to share this easy and cheap way to grow salad greens anywhere! All you need is some scrap wood, a few tools, and a sunny place to store the lettuce beds. We got the idea from Grow It Organically, which has a lot of great gardening resources. For more specific instructions on building the beds, visit their website. I'll give a few details here, so you can get an idea of how easy it is!

First, you need some wood. No need to buy expensive wood at the hardware store. We called the feed store down the street and asked if they had any leftover wooden pallets (like the one below). Sure enough, they had plenty stocked in back of their store, and let us come take one free of charge.

Dustin used a hammer to pry apart the boards, so he ended up with loose wood. We then borrowed our neighbor's saw and cut them to the right size. For one lettuce bed, you'll need two one-foot boards and two 18-inch boards. Use nails to hold the boards together. You'll end up with something like this:

There are a few more steps on the website that you need to follow, including adding hardware cloth to the bottom of the frame, then laying window screen on the bottom of the tray to form a base. Then, pour in some soil and plant your lettuce seeds!

After a while, you'll have some beautiful greens growing in your backyard. We planted spinach and a variety of lettuce seeds. Total cost for this project was less than $20, and we'll have salad all summer long.

After two weeks

After a month

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recipe: Roasted kale chips

So, in an effort to make this a more useful blog, I've decided to start posting recipes that others recommend to me. I know there are a million recipe blogs out there, so this won't be the sole purpose of mine. But knowing how to make healthy meals is part of learning to live a healthy life, so I'm going to post a few recipes from time to time. I'll try to focus on ones that are easy to make.

A friend of mine, originally from Michigan but now living in Australia, sent this recipe for an easy and nutritious snack. Kale leaves are really good for you, filled with calcium, vitamin K, and other antioxidants. And this recipe for kale chips is quick to make (kids love it too...it's a really popular snack in the after-school program I lead). Kale, being a leafy green, is also on the list for potential cancer-fighting foods.

My friend Holly, who sent this along, notes that she likes to add red pepper flakes, and that any vinegar can be used in place of rice vinegar. Enjoy!

Roasted Kale Chips
  • 1 bunch kale, washed well and spun dry
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with nonstick pan coating.
  2. Use a sharp knife to cut along each side of the central rib or stem of each kale leaf; remove stems.
  3. Tear leaves into 2-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together olive oil and vinegar with a fork. Drizzle over kale leaves; toss to coat evenly. Use tongs to lay kale leaves in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Roast kale for five minutes in oven. Remove from oven and gently toss leaves with tongs or spatula; return to oven. Roast for another five minutes, or until the kale is crispy and browned.
  6. Let stand one minute on baking sheet, then remove to plate and serve.
Photo credit: ctbites.com

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More kid posts

One of our healthy eating activities,
discovering and graphing the number of
seeds in cherry tomatoes
Here are some more essays from the 4th/5th graders on how to live a healthy life. The first one is a letter from two doctors to a patient seeking health advice. I especially love the final tag-line.
Dear "troubled person,"
Hi! So, you may have a problem. If all other diets fail, and you want to help yourself, you've come to the right place. You should start by finding a workout schedule. Then start going outside more! (It gives you Vitamin D.) Then throw out all of your "junky stuff" and start counting calories. Then come to me and my assistant. You should ask us about proper vitamins and what foods give you what.
For instance, you should eat orange and yellow food because it has Vitamin A and makes your skin, hair, and eyes healthier. Red foods have Vitamin C. Blue foods have antioxidants. White foods have potassium. Green foods have iron, antioxidants, and fiber which makes you feel full and digests your food. So, make a rainbow salad!
Thank you for having service with us. Remember, lose that flab and trade it with ab.
This next essay is written by three 5th grade boys who describe how they stay healthy. It makes me wish I could list "climbing trees" as one of my health strategies!
The way we stay healthy is we do bike rides, chin ups, pushups and sit ups. Also on Wednesdays and Fridays we run about one mile. We try not to eat junk food. I am giving up ice cream and other fattening foods. Also we climb trees and other outside things. We eat fruits, vegetables, and meat for protein, and different vitamins.
Some of us get 8 hours of sleep and we don’t drink those sugary sports and soda drinks. We play sports and do jujitsu.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nutrition advice from the 4th and 5th graders

Students made tomato, basil
and mozzarella creations
Here is some more advice from 4th and 5th graders, this time about how to choose healthy foods. 
One thing you can do to make yourself healthy is exercising and eating organic foods. You can look for organic foods at farmers markets and local food stores. Good healthy snacks are things you grow in your garden. Things you get from local farms are also good for you. 
Here are good snack foods: Wheat Thins, apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, fruit salad, tomatoes, nuts, and organic ice pops. Healthy drinks are: v8, orange juice, apple juice, milk, water, and 100% juice.

And some more advice from the doctors to their patients:
Playing with our healthy food
To have a better life, you need to have a better diet. This is what we like to call the "Sidney and Co. Routine." One thing you could do is eat healthier like eating fruits and vegetables. Green foods will help you stop eating so much because it has so much fiber in it and fiber makes you full so you don't get so tempted to have more. Another food that will help you is purple and blue foods because if you are feeling lazy and tired, that could be symptoms of a sickness. So the antioxidants in the purple and blue foods will help keep you from getting sick. You should have red foods because they have Vitamin A which helps you when you are sick, so your immune system feels better. You should have all of these foods because they will all help you to have a healthier life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Students reflect on how to live healthy lives

Learning to make healthy snacks
For the next few days, I'll be posting short essays on how to live a healthy life written by 4th and 5th graders at Poughkeepsie Day School. In the class I teach called "You Are What You Eat," my students learn about all aspects of healthy eating, including the importance of eating a rainbow of colors (different colored foods give you different nutrients), how to make healthy snacks, and what foods to eat in moderation.

Some students wrote about what steps they take to live healthy lives. Others pretended to be doctors giving health advice to patients. Read on to hear their simple and inspirational advice.

Dear patient,
You can feel better if you eat fruits and veggies and get some more sleep. Also get more exercise. These things will help you feel a lot better than you did feel. Start doing these things as soon as you get this. And for snack, lay off those sweets. You can eat things like apples, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, pears, carrots, tomatoes, salad, bananas, and homemade soup. Put in your schedule to go to the gym every day. No slacking, not at all, you! There are a lot of things that can help. You should eat these things because they will help you grow and feel better.
I hope you feel better soon.
your doctor
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