Victoria BC Dietitian (Nutritionist) Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD Shares A simple, Delicious, Healthy Fall Recipe for Pumpkin Pasta. Vegan, dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free.Read More
I’m often asked my opinion about what vegetable is the healthiest. I also hear the “best-Mommy” contest that happens on the playground where each parent tries to one-up each other bragging about what weird & healthy veggie their child loves. It goes something like this:
“My Johnny loves carrots.”
“MY Suzie loves broccoli.”
“WELL, MY Nicolas loves kale.”
“Guess what. MY Olivia loves Brussels sprouts. Eats them like candy. Can’t get enough of them.”
You get the picture.
I understand why people ask me about veggies. And why parents feel pressured. The amazing powers of specific vegetables often are the subjects of headlines. It makes a great sound-bite. It’s a great way to sell newspapers & magazines.
But as is often the case, that which makes a great sound-bite isn’t always what’s true. Because it’s been pulled out of context, the sound-bite ends up being only partly-true.
Science’s understanding of exactly what it is in veggies that’s so good for us is crude. We’re constantly learning of new healthy nutrients. For example, when I was studying human nutrition as an undergraduate in the late 1990’s, I was taught that white veggies didn’t have any healthful substances. They may provide flavor and crunch, but they were nutritional zeros. However, we now know that onions, garlic, and their other cousins such as leeks, have healthful nutrients like antioxidants.
While science is constantly discovering new nutrients, what’s found again and again (and again) is that the people who eat the most veggies are the healthiest. Period.
I also like to balance current science with the tried-and-true. And, when I look at traditional diets around the world, I see that human beings have survived and thrived eating all sorts of plant foods.
Let me be clear. I’m not denying that dark green veggies (like kale) and brightly-coloured veggies (like carrots and purple cabbage) are really healthy. They’re fantastic choices! What I’m saying is to not consider veggies such as cucumber and celery as empty junk. While they’re today’s zeros, who knows if they will be tomorrow’s super-stars. And, they’re healthier than most processed foods which kids typically eat if they’re not eating veggies.
So don’t stress if your picky eater doesn’t like today’s super-star veggies.
When it comes to veggies, it’s about quantity. And, variety.
Instead of relying on the magic of any one vegetable (and trying to force your picky eater to eat it), enjoy a wide variety of veggies. Introduce your little one to many different veggies (and repeat those introductions, and repeat, and repeat…). Be a veggie variety role model yourself. Encourage your little one to enjoy the wide, wide world of veggies in all colours of the rainbow. Together explore all the different tastes and textures.
And celebrate when your little one eats ANY veggies - whether it’s kale chips or that French Breakfast radish that the Farmer convinced him to try at Saturday’s Farmers Market, or…
So, what’s my answer when I’m asked what’s the healthiest vegetable? Answer: The one that you’ll eat (because it doesn’t matter how healthy any veggie is – if you won’t eat it – it can’t do you any good).
Photo credit: Keenan Loo on Unsplash
Love the flavour of pumpkin spice and pumpkin pie? But looking for a healthy way to enjoy it? Look no further. This mousse is seriously delicious.
I admit that I'm lazy so I make it without the crust. And it's still fantastic! I find that the pumpkin mousse tastes best when refrigerated overnight.
This recipe is a great way to include some more veggies (for picky kids and us adults who can use to eat more veggies too). Pumpkin rocks the vitamin A and has good fibre too.
Baby Food Version: Make this recipe without the crust and omit the maple syrup.
Healthy Pumpkin Mousse Ingredients:
1 cup of full fat coconut milk (put in fridge overnight)
1 can of pumpkin puree
1/4 cup of black chia seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 3 dates
- 1 cup of raw nuts (e.g. walnuts and pecans)
- 1/4 cup of oats
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Healthy Pumpkin Mousse Directions:
- In a food processor, mixer or blender, add all the ingredients. Start with low speed and work your way up to high speed.
- Once all the coconut chunks are pureed set aside in a bowl.
- For the “crust”, mix together dates, raw nuts, cinnamon, oats, and nutmeg in a food processor until the dates have broken down.
- Take a spoonful of the “crust” into a parfait cup and add the pumpkin mousse.
Get more recipes on my recipe page HERE.
Photo and recipe credit: Amazing student Hanna Kim (Thanks Hanna!)
At a workshop that I led last week, I was asked whether it was worth eating lettuce because it doesn’t have any nutrient value. I knew that this would be a great so-called nutrition “truth” that I can bust for you too.
All over the internet, in books, even in grocery stores, you’ll see vegetables ranked based on a score of nutrient value. But just because these scores are popular, doesn’t mean that you should believe in them.
You see, I am a true scientist. A true scientist understands what we know, and acknowledges what we don’t know. The real truth is that the scientific understanding is in its infancy regarding exactly what it is in each and every vegetable that is healthy. We know of many vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. But there are likely tens, hundreds, thousands more that we haven’t yet discovered. And that’s just the nutrients that are healthy for our bodies. We’re also discovering more and more about the many roles that our gut microbiome has on our health. Science has even more of a rudimentary understanding of what it is in vegetables that makes our gut bacteria happy.
Let me share a few examples to illustrate my position. When I did my undergraduate degree in nutrition from arguably the best nutrition school in in Canada during the mid-90’s, I was taught:
- There is no nutritional value in onions and garlic. Their only role was to provide taste. Now we know that there are health-promoting phytochemicals in onions and garlic. Onions and garlic certainly do count in your daily servings of vegetables.
- Nothing about phytochemicals. That’s because the whole class of phytochemicals had not yet been discovered. All that science knew at the time was vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- That the gut microbiome simply helped digest food. It didn’t play any other role in human health. Now we’re learning that it may be linked to depression, heart health, obesity, food allergies, and a wide range of other health conditions.
Now I want to be really clear here. I’m not telling you that vegetables aren’t healthy. Vegetables certainly are healthy. In fact, I want about half of what you eat to be vegetables. I just don’t want you to buy into these various rankings of the “best” vegetables. Also, I don’t want you to buy in to the idea that certain vegetables have no nutrient value. Yes, even iceberg lettuce.
Instead of thinking that a vegetable has no nutrient value. I recommend thinking that science has not yet discovered what’s healthy about this vegetable.
So how do you apply my message? Eat lots of vegetables. Make vegetables be about half of what you eat. As wide a variety of vegetables as you can get. Eat any and all the vegetables that you enjoy. And, try new veggies often. Eat them raw sometimes. Eat them cooked sometimes. Because our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are raw. And, our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are cooked.
Photo credit: Petra Cigale on Unsplash
Reducing food waste is the ultimate win-win. It reduces our environmental impact by allowing less to go to waste. And, by using more of what we buy, it saves us money. So, I've been exploring recipes that use ingredients that normally you'd throw away. Today, student Hanna has perfected a pesto recipe made from the green leaves and stems of carrots instead of the commonly-used basil. Voila - carrot-top pesto! Perfect timing before our local carrots start to pop up in farmers' markets and produce stores. Thanks Hanna! That's Hanna's handiwork with the camera too :)
Carrot-Top Pesto Ingredients
4-5 carrot top leaves
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp toasted pinenuts (or walnuts or macadamias or almonds)
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
Carrot-Top Pesto Directions
- To toast pine nuts: Lay out pine nuts on a baking sheet or aluminum foil for 200C for 5 minutes, watching them so they don't burn. This can also work with a nonstick pan constantly stirring the pine nuts.
- In a food processor, combine carrot tops, garlic, salt and pepper until smooth. Begin to add the olive oil until desired consistency is reached.
Check out more healthy recipes.
P.S. This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and vegan.
I don’t know about you but I’m tired of this long, extra-snowy winter. I mean snow in Vancouver and Victoria, BC in March?! So I’m choosing to think about spring. Spring is the beginning of the season for many opportunities to give picky eaters ways to explore and be interested in food. Because for many picky eaters, veggies and fruit are less scary when you’ve grown them, picked them, or chosen them from the farmers’ market. So today, I’m sharing with you some spring picky eater success strategies.
While the saying may be, “seeing is believing”. For many a picky eater “seeing is eating”.
Well at least for some. Other picky eaters will happily participate in growing, picking, and shopping but still won’t try them. Which is okay, because all of these activities still contribute to your picky eater building food-confidence, which one-day will turn into eating a wider variety of food.
Picky Eater Key to Success
So go ahead and plan family activities that involve exploring food. The key is that these activities are undertaken in the spirit of fun and exploring – not pressure to eat/try the foods. For example, if you follow up your growing of the radishes with “Try them. These are the radishes that you grew. Come on, you’ll like them.”, you likely will unintentionally undo all the confidence that you built with the activity of growing the radishes. And, next time you ask your little-one to help you in the garden, she/he will refuse because she/he knows that growing leads to pressure to eat.
- Bring your picky eater to the garden centre. Let him/her choose plants and/or seeds. Plant them together in the garden. A pot on a patio is great too.
- Fast-growing veggies like radishes and lettuce are a great match for short attention-spans.
- Do any friends or family members have veggies or fruits that you can offer to pick?
- Plan a family trip to a u-pick farm. Strawberries are great because they grow low to the ground. Check with the u-pick farm whether they allow young children (some do and some don’t).
Choose Them at a Farmers Market:
- Have a game where everyone in the family gets to choose 1 veggie or fruit to buy and try.
- Enjoy the free samples that many stalls offer.
- Encourage your child to talk to the farmer. Their enthusiasm is contagious! Ask how they grow the veggies to engage kids’ innate curiosity. For example, do the veggies grow up high in air on tall plants or secretly hidden under the ground
Looking for more success strategies for your fussy eater? Keep browsing through my blog, I share lots, such as this picky eater success tip.
It’s a new year and so it’s time for my annual post on 2017 food trends I love. I really am lucky that my work is my passion. I honestly don’t know if I’m working or ‘off the clock’ when I’m reading food magazines, browsing food blogs, shopping at farmers markets and grocery stores, and watching cooking shows. Regardless of whether I’m working or spending leisure time, being immersed in the nutrition and food-geek world, I see many, many a food trend. Lots of which make me cringe and I can’t wait until they pass. But others get me excited. Here’s the 2017 food trends I love. Enjoy!
Hot Produce: Fennel, Radish, Persimmons, Watermelon, Dragon Fruit
Now I don’t know if any of these trends will be strong enough to knock kale out of the King of Produce spot that it’s held on to for the last many years. But perhaps they’ll be strong enough to move Brussels Sprouts and cauliflower out of the spotlight (not that there’s anything wrong with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower).
I include these veggies and fruit trends on the list of food trends that I love because I hope that their trendiness will inspire you to break out of eating the same few veggies and fruit and try new things. And, overall, eat more veggies and fruit. Each vegetable and each fruit has a slightly different nutrient profile. Meaning that each one has a unique blend of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, fibre, fruit, and more that’s good for us that science hasn’t yet discovered. Every fruit and every vegetable is a healthy choice. And, the more variety you get, the better.
The dark shadow of the food trend is that people can get caught up in eating one particular food. Or, get worked up if their child doesn’t like one particular vegetable or fruit. But there’s nothing to get worked up about. Our bodies are amazing. We don’t need any one particular food in order to be healthy. We can meet our nutrition needs by eating a wide variety of foods. In fact, the wider the variety, the better. So use the food trend for good – as inspiration to try new foods. Or, to try new recipes for vegetables and fruit that are already familiar to you.
Looking for recipe inspiration? Check out my recipe ideas on Pinterest. So far, I have healthy recipe ideas for fennel and healthy recipe ideas for dragon fruit. Radish, persimmon, and watermelon will be coming later this year so stay tuned.
While I’m on the topic of vegetables and fruit, there’s another trend that has been gaining steam – ugly produce. This one is a win-win-win in my eyes – it encourages eating veggies and fruit (a nutrition win), encourages less food waste (environment win) and creates a new market for farmers (economic win). So what’s ‘ugly’ produce? It’s produce that is perfectly nutritious, but just doesn’t look perfect – in other words it’s ‘ugly’. For the last few generations who have done their grocery shopping at major grocery chains, the only produce that they’ve been exposed to are perfect-looking specimens. The hidden side of this fact is that a huge proportion of perfectly good vegetables and fruit are thrown out just because they don’t look perfect. But no more! Now, some major grocery chains are starting to carry ‘ugly’ produce. Farmers markets and farm-gate sales have long been where ugly produce is revered.
Buying ugly produce does require you to shift your perspective. You need to no longer judge a book by its cover (or a carrot by how straight it is). You need to be more tuned in to what’s in season, how food smells, how heavy it is, and firm/soft it is, to determine whether something is ‘good’ or not. But once you gain these new skills, it’s super easy. And, considering the win-win-win of ugly produce, you’ll likely see just how beautiful it really is. As they say, true beauty lies beneath the surface.
No Food Waste
How about a food trend that is good for the environment and saves you money? Sound too good to be true? Well that’s just what the ‘no food waste’ trend offers.
I’ve heard estimates that 40% of all food in North America is thrown in the garbage. What a huge negative environmental impact! We know that fresh water and agriculture land is under stress. Now think that almost half of what’s being grown is going to waste. It’s a tragedy.
The good news is that taking steps to solve this problem is really easy. And, it’ll save you money. One part of the solution is what I’ve described above – buying ugly produce. No longer demanding that every single piece of your produce be the equivalent of a supermodel.
The next part of the solution will save you money – buying less that you’ll throw away. This means meal planning. I’ve talked about the benefits of meal planning before. But another benefit is that you’ll buy less food that will go bad and end up in your green bin.
Got the first two solutions under your belt and now you’re ready to up your ‘no food waste’ game? The last solution also could technically fit under the meal planning title. It’s applying the nose-to-tail philosophy from meat eating to produce. In other words, including more creative recipes that use parts of the veggies/fruit that we usually throw away. Keep your eyes tuned because I’ll be sharing some recipes that I’ve been working on.
Many people get a lot of pleasure out of their weekly glass of wine or an occasional cocktail. But the reality is that alcohol does have significant calories in it. Any calories that you drink, your body doesn’t recognize, and so you still eat the same number of calories as if you hadn’t drank anything. This can contribute to creeping weight gain over time. We also know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and so while sober you may not have ordered the extra large, fully loaded nachos, after a few drinks, you’re happily elbow-deep in a platter.
It is for these reasons that I love the ‘no alcohol’ trend. The trend includes people who choose to not drink any more. And, people choosing to take a temporary break from alcohol (e.g. dry January).
What’s a non-drinker to do? More and more restaurants are now including interesting, low sugar, alcohol-free drinks on their lists. Love it! As a non-drinker myself, I really appreciate this. Whether you’re choosing to not drink for a while, or you’re the designated driver, you’re no longer relegated to choosing between plain water or a sugar-laden (or artificial sugar-laden) pop. Kombucha is showing up in more and more grocery stores and on-tap at restaurants and pubs. I’m also seeing an explosion of low sugar, no artificial-sugar, sparkling waters/pops.
Overall, this ‘no alcohol’ trend is one that I’m hoping has staying power.
While presenting a workshop on Monday, a small group of parents pulled me aside and asked a question that I get asked all the time. “What do you think about sneaking in vegetables? Is hiding veggies okay?” You know what these parents mean. There are several very popular cookbooks, one by a celebrity, made up entirely of recipes that involve pureeing vegetables and hiding them in other foods. Classic examples are squash in mac and cheese and beets in chocolate cake.
Most parents who ask me this question do so with a sheepish look in their faces. They’re expecting me to tell them that it’s a horrible idea. However, my answer isn’t a simple – “good” or “bad”. Here’s the details.
Studies show that kids do eat more servings of vegetables in families where they add pureed vegetables to dishes. Also, most of us could use to eat more veggies. So exploring new dishes that include veggies is a fantastic idea. Go ahead, incorporate more vegetables into your eating habits!
However, if you are going to use this technique, there are two very important steps to take to make sure that you are both helping your child eat more veggies now AND helping teach them to choose to eat vegetables as a life-long habit. (And, not inadvertently creating an even more picky eater).
Hiding Veggies Important Step #1:
If all you’re serving your child is mac and cheese and chocolate cake, all they’re learning is to eat mac and cheese and chocolate cake. You may know that there’s squash in the mac and cheese and beets in the cake, but your child doesn’t. If you choose to sneak in veggies, also be sure to serve obvious veggies too. For example, serve steamed broccoli on the side of that mac and cheese. Even if your child doesn’t eat the obvious veggies, you’re role modeling choosing to eat vegetables – an important lesson for life-long healthy eating habits.
Hiding Veggies Important Step #2:
Don’t deny that there are veggies in a dish if your child asks. One book I read recommended waking up in the middle of the night to prepare your purees and freeze them so that you can sneak them into dishes without your kids seeing you. Um, no. Not what I recommend. First, I want you to get the few hours of precious sleep that you can get. Second, picky kids are smart and pay close attention to detail. They’re also little conspiracy theorists about food. They will figure out that you’ve been hiding veggies in your dishes. Then, they’ll wonder what else you’ve been hiding and will become even more suspicious of their food. Not the path you want to head down. Don’t deny what you’ve put in a dish. At the same time, you aren’t a waiter at a two Michelin star restaurant. You don’t need to describe every ingredient and every step that you took to prepare each dish. In other words, you don’t need to divulge what’s in a dish, but don’t deny what’s in it either. If your child asks, answer them directly in a neutral, matter of fact tone.
It's back, my annual home-made ice pop recipe collection. Some may call these homemade popsicles or paletas. Or, frozen smoothies. Whatever you call them they're a delicious summer treat. I want to give a big shout out to Carla, the dietetic student who is volunteering with me for creating these recipes. My directions for her: the recipes need to be simple, include no added sugar, include fruit and even veggies, and only include easy-to-find ingredients. Oh, and of course, that they needed to be delicious. She sure delivered.
The directions for each recipe are the same:
- Combine all ingredients in a blender.
- Blend until smooth.
- Pour into molds.
Enjoy her work!
P.S. For more delicious, healthy frozen recipes, check out these links:
Inspired by: http://www.kiipfit.com/spinach-kiwi-popsicles/
Packed with fruit and leafy greens, the vibrant green color of these popsicles comes from blending both kiwi and spinach.
- 1/3 cup spinach
- 1 kiwi
- 2 drops lemon juice
- 1/3 cup water
Inspired by: http://revisfoodography.com/2015/04/mango-lassi/
Inspired from a classic Indian cold drink, mango lassi is a blend of yogurt, fruit and spice. Not a fan of cardamom? Simply omit the spice and you can still enjoy it as a mango-yogurt blend.
- 1 mango
- 160 ml greek yogurt
- 1 small pinch cardamom (to taste)
This very simple and refreshing recipe allows you to use ripe or extra ripe cantaloupes. No added sugar necessary.
- ¾ cup cantaloupe
- ¼ cup water
Get more healthy home-made ice pop recipes here:
Full-meal salads are my absolute go-to during the summer months. And, with the growing trend of salads-in-a-jar, I can see that others are catching on. The secret to a perfectly balanced, full-meal salad (that will actually fill you up) is to include whole grains, protein, and healthy fats along with all those veggies. I also like to include a sweet note (such as fresh or dried fruit) and something crunchy for texture. Often foods will do double duty, such as chopped nuts providing protein, healthy fat, and crunch.
Baby- and Kid-Friendly Version: Serve each salad component “deconstructed”, in it’s own little pile. Serve a small dish (ramekin) of the dressing on the side. Or, do a make-your-own salad bar with the ingredients. There is no extra work for baby-friendly, finger-foods – just place pieces on your baby’s tray.
Protein Food Ideas:
- Beans and lentils, canned or cooked from dry
- Tofu cut into cubes or fingers
- Grated or cubed cheese
- Leftover meat and poultry, e.g. shredded chicken, sliced steak
- Chopped or slivered nuts
- Seeds, e.g. pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts
- Hard boiled eggs
Whole Grain Ideas (Starch Foods):
- Cooked and cooled pasta
- Buckwheat (soba) noodles
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Pot barley
- Cooked and cubed sweet potatoes
For inspiration, here are two of my favourite full-meal salads. You’ll notice that there aren’t amounts listed for the salad ingredients – make as much or as little as you want.
Black Bean Salad
Bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange)
Corn (cooked from frozen or cut off the cob)
1 TBSP Vegetable oil (I particularly like avocado oil)
1 TBSP White wine vinegar
2 TBSP Lime juice
1/4 tsp Ground cumin
1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper (optional)
Farro, cooked and cooled
Green lentils*, cooked and cooled
Kale, cut into thin ribbons and massaged with a dash of oil, vinegar and salt
1 TBSP Good, extra virgin olive oil
3 TBSP Balsamic vinegar
Fresh cracked pepper
* Do you have difficulty digesting beans? Give lentils a try, they’re less “musical”, and check out my tips for making beans and lentils less gassy.
Every year students in the UBC dietetics program are required to write an article on nutrition for the public. I’m always happy to offer an opportunity for the students to write for you. They do a great job of researching a topic that you’ve been asking me about. This year I asked students Julia Chien and Raman Rattanpal to look into what foods can help improve the look of our skin. There’s been a lot of coverage in the media about nutrition helpers for collagen and I wanted to know the lowdown on what scientific evidence existed. Read on to find out what Raman and Julia discovered about foods to prevent skin aging.
How Does Our Skin Age?
Because skin is the largest visible organ, it is often the most noticeable sign of aging. Skin aging is affected by both genetic and environmental factors. Environmental factors primarily include chronic sun exposure, smoking, sleep deprivation, and inadequate nutrition. As women age, decreasing estrogen levels also negatively affects skin. These factors contribute to the development of skin wrinkles and reduction of skin elasticity through the breakdown of collagen and elastic fibres in aging skin.
I’m sure that you’re not surprised about smoking and sun exposure being on this list. Add the effect on your skin to the list of reasons why it’s important for you to get some sleep.
Here’s the details on foods and beverages:
- Vitamin C-Rich Foods
e.g. Bell peppers, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, strawberries
- Promote collagen synthesis: Vitamin C regulates collagen, an important protein necessary for stability of the skin and reduction of wrinkling.
- Act as a depigmenting agent: Melanin is a pigment that gives colour to skin. Higher intakes of Vitamin C foods help with reducing dark spots or hyperpigmentation of the skin by decreasing the formation of melanin.
- Improves skin thickness: A naturally occurring compound called isoflavones are found in foods such as tofu. Isoflavones promote cell growth by interacting with estrogen, resulting in improved skin structure and strength.
- Improves skin elasticity: Isoflavones also impact skin elasticity by increasing collagen and elastin fibres.
3. Bone Broth
- No scientific evidence: Although bone broth contains collagen, dietary collagen is not delivered straight to your skin after it is absorbed. Similar to other proteins, collagen is broken down into amino acids and is used by your body as building blocks for other biological processes. There is no evidence to support any anti-aging mechanisms.
- Provides UV protection: Antioxidants are compounds that help protect the skin from premature skin aging. Cocoa, the main constituent in milk and dark chocolate, is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich cocoa consumption has been shown to improve blood flow in the skin and increased protection of UV light. However, the exact mechanisms by which antioxidants promote these effects are still lacking.
5. Green Tea
- Provides UV Protection: Similar to cocoa, antioxidants in green tea have protective effects of the skin against UV light.
- Promotes collagen synthesis: Antioxidants in green tea inhibit collagenases, which are proteins that breakdown collagen in the skin, resulting in anti-wrinkle effects.
Raman & Julia:
We believe a diet containing a variety of fruit and vegetables is the healthiest way to maintain overall health and the appearance of youthful skin. A diet with ample vitamin C-rich foods and tofu benefits not only your skin, but it is also an excellent source of other nutrients and health benefits. On the other hand, there is little evidence in regards to the benefits of consuming bone broth soup for building collagen for the skin. As this is a relatively new food fad, more research is required. For those chocolate lovers out there - it is easy to overindulge while snacking on chocolate, but we recommend enjoying dark chocolate in moderation. Lastly, green tea has been linked to several health benefits including anti-aging effects on skin and it is also a great way to keep hydrated. More research needs to be conducted to draw concrete conclusions about particular foods and aging skin, but it does not hurt to incorporate these foods into a healthy diet.
I agree with Raman and Julia. The evidence is interesting (and hopeful) but far from conclusive for the effect of vitamin C, tofu, chocolate, and green tea on collagen. We know of a whole slew of other positive health effects for fruits and veggies so there’s nothing to lose by eating them. If you enjoy tofu and green tea, I recommend continuing to enjoy them. Maybe they have a positive effect on your skin. I don’t know if we can call chocolate a health food yet, but it certainly is a source of pleasure, so continue to enjoy it. I’m not buying the benefits of bone broth. But if you enjoy drinking it, it’s at least a source of hydration without any sugar or preservatives.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of the classics. Carrot salad is perfect for this time of year - when we're tired of eating Winter fare but we're still waiting for Spring and Summer's local bounty.
Naturally sweet, this is a salad that many non-salad eating picky kids will actually eat.
It's also a very forgiving recipe - make more or less salad as you wish. Reduce the honey if you find it too sweet, or reduce the amount of dressing if you prefer your salads lightly dressed. Enjoy!
Carrot Salad Ingredients
3 cup grated carrot
1 cup raisin, seedless (sultana)
1 tbsp honey (wait to offer babies honey until after 12 months)
6 tbsp mayonnaise (plain yogurt works well too)
1 tsp lemon juice (fresh is best)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
Carrot Salad Directions
- In a large bowl, combine grated carrots and raisins, tossing lightly.
- In a separate bowl, stir together remaining ingredients.
- Pour mixture over carrots and raisins. Stir carefully until well combined.
- Chill thoroughly before serving.
Deconstructed Version (for kids who don't like their foods to touch) :
- Set aside some grated raw carrot and raisins. Serve in their own small piles on the plate.
- Set aside a small amount of the dressing in a small dish.
Get more healthy, easy, tasty recipes here.
Fibre. It’s not exactly the sexiest topic. But it actually is a NGC* if you want to love your body. Which really is sexy, isn’t it? It’s recommended that adults eat 25 – 38 grams of fibre each day. But most Canadians don’t get nearly enough (usually only half the recommendation). Here’s why you will want to get enough and what foods to find it in. And, a couple of words of warning when it comes to increasing your intake.
Why You Want Fibre:
There are two main reasons why it's is a NGC: 1) steady blood sugar; 2) large, regular bowel movements.
Fibre helps to lower blood cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels steady. Yes, these both help prevent and manage heart health and diabetes. But there’s also a more immediate reason why you want this. Steady blood sugar means consistent energy levels. No more roller coasters of highs, followed by crashing lows. This means no “hangry” feelings and less cravings for junk food. It means that fibre fills you up and helps you stay feeling full for longer.
Fibre also helps keep your bowels regular and may protect against colon cancer. It binds bile secreted by your liver. Large, easy to pass, bowl movements remove toxins and waste from your body. You don’t want tiny little pellets. In other words, yes, it's the original “detox”. We’re learning more about the role of having a healthy microflora in our digestive tracts. Fibre is considered a “pre-biotic” in that it creates an environment that supports the healthy bacteria.
Words of Warning:
I have two important words of warning when it comes to increasing the amount you eat:
- Drink lots of water! Lots of fibre without fluids will have the opposite effect of what you want (namely: constipation). I recommend that we women drink 2.5 Litres of non-sugary fluids each day. Men: drink 3.5 Litres of non-sugary fluids each day.
- Increase your intake slowly. Think of fibre like exercise for your digestive tract. If you’ve been eating highly processed foods with little fibre, your digestive tract has been a couch potato. Increase your fibre slowly and steadily. Think of it like an exercise training regimen. Going too fast too soon will result in constipation.
Foods to Eat:
A good general rule is that foods that need lots of chewing contain lots of fibre. The first step in digesting fibre is a thorough chewing (see warning #2 above). If you don’t have to do much chewing of a food, it’s a sign that the fibre has been removed by machines (i.e. processing). Of course there are exceptions to this, but it’s a good general rule when looking for fibre-rich foods.
Great sources of fibre are:
- Vegetable and fruit. Eat 7 servings a day. As often as possible, eat the peels of your veggies and fruit – there’s lots of fibre in those peels. Juice, including fresh press juice, doesn’t have the same fibre as eating the whole vegetable/ fruit.
- Pulses: beans, lentils, and peas.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Intact whole grains. Examples include brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, and pot barley. Look for breads that are heavy when you lift the loaf and need lots of chewing. Light, fluffy “whole wheat” bread really isn’t an intact whole grain. There are lots of bakeries and brands out there making bread from intact whole grains. One brand that’s widely available is Silver Hills.
The best way to get fibre is to eat foods closest to the way nature made them. Be wary of “high fibre” or “fibre added” foods that are highly processed (e.g. many “healthy” bars, some yogurt) because it hasn’t been scientifically proven that adding fibre to highly refined foods has the same results in our bodies as eating the fibre that was present when mother nature made the food.
*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.
Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.
This squash soup, with its bright orange colour and warming ginger is my “chicken” soup that I eat when I have a cold or the flu. Or when I’m looking for comfort food to warm me on a cold day.
This is a “Kristen” recipe – very imprecise but also very flexible. It takes some time with all the chopping. I recommend making a big batch because it freezes well.
Squash Soup Ingredients
- Vegetable oil (preferably olive oil)
- Member of the allium family (onion, garlic, leek, shallots)
- Ginger (I like about an inch)
- 2 or 3 kinds of orange vegetables like winter squash (my favourite is butternut but any kind will work including pumpkin), carrots, yams, sweet potatoes
- Vegetable stock, chicken stock or water (water will make the blandest soup – use as a last resort)
- Orange juice
- Salt or seaweed
- Fresh ground pepper
Squash Soup Directions
- Finely chop the members of the allium family.
- Grate the ginger.
- Peel and chop the orange veggies. Cut squash, yams, and sweet potatoes into ½ to 1 inch pieces. Cut the carrots into coins. Carrots take longer to cook than squash and yams/ sweet potatoes are in the middle. So, you will want the carrot pieces smaller than the squash pieces and the yam/ sweet potato pieces middle in size.
- In a large, heavy bottomed pot, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot. Heat it over low-medium heat. Add the allium family members and cook until onions/ shallots are translucent or the leeks have softened.
- Add the ginger and orange vegetables and sauté for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add enough stock to just cover the veggies. Add seaweed or salt. Cover with a lid, turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil gently until the orange veggies are soft, stirring periodically. Add stock/ water while cooking, if needed.
- Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
- Using a blender or hand-held mixer, puree the soup, adding orange juice one splash at a time until you reach your desired consistency and flavour.
- Return to the pot and re-heat. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.
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These versatile root veggies are one of my favourites! A classic storage, root veggie, you can find local ones throughout the winter. Beets have been making headlines lately because they may help boost exercise performance. Many kids like them because of their naturally sweet taste. However, people often wonder what the heck to do with them. So I’m sharing a couple of my favourite ways to use beets.
Grated – Raw Beets
Beets don’t even need to be cooked. Simply wash them, peel off the outer skin, and grate them into a salad.
It doesn’t get any easier than that!
When I’m turning on the oven to cook something, I often pop a few beets in at the same time – either for a warm side-dish today, or for chilled as a salad in the future.
- Wash beets and cut off any long tails or furry top bits.
- Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to wrap the beet in. Lay it on the counter, shiny side up. Pour a dollop of olive oil in the centre.
- Roll the beet around in the oil to coat it. Wrap the tin foil tightly around the beet.
- Repeat for each beet.
- Place wrapped beets on a cookie tray or in a baking dish.
- Roast until tender, how long this takes depends on the size of the beets and the heat of your oven – at 350 degrees F it may take as long as 2 hours; at 425 degrees F it may take as short as 45 min.
Beet and Bean Borscht
From: Pulses: Cooking with Beans, Peas, Lentils and Chickpeas
This is a fantastic, hearty and tasty, full meal in one pot, vegetarian borscht (perfect for Meatless Mondays). While the recipe takes a little longer to cook, it makes a lot of soup. And, this soup tastes great re-heated. Freeze leftovers (without the yogurt or sour cream topping) in small batches.
Makes 6 Litres
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 3 celery stalks
- 3 cups green cabbage, shredded (a Cuisinart or food processor makes shredding quick work)
- 3 cups beets, peeled and chopped
- 10 cups vegetable stock (home-made or lower sodium)
- 4 cups beans such as navy beans or white kidney beans (canned or cooked from dry)
- ½ cup canned or fresh tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 1 bunch fresh dill (or parsley)
- plain yogurt or sour cream
- In a big soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in oil until softened.
- Add carrots, celery and cabbage and sauté for about 3 minutes.
- Add beets and stock and cook for about 1 hour or until beets are slightly tender.
- Add beans, tomatoes, lemon juice, pepper and dill. Warm thoroughly.
- Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.
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Sometimes the classics are a classic for a reason. Bananas and peanut butter simply taste great together. Here's a fun way to bring this classic duo together in a healthy kids snack. I'm choosing to share it today because it's easy for young hands to manage. Perfect if you're gearing up to pack snacks or a lunch for little ones with back-to-school next week. This works well with peanut butter, other nut butters (e.g. almond butter) and the non-nut butters if your child attends a nut-free facility.
Hey, it's also a delicious idea for those of us who are young at heart :)
Banana Roll-Ups Ingredients 2 small tortilla wraps, whole wheat ¾ medium banana 1 tbsp natural peanut butter, nut butter or non-nut butter ½ tsp honey (optional) 1 dash cinnamon, ground
Banana Roll-Ups Directions
- Slice banana.
- Spread nut butter or non-nut butter on wraps.
- Top with bananas.
- Drizzle honey and add a dash of cinnamon.
- Roll (pack in lunch boxes) and enjoy.
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Last month I introduced the concept of nutrition game changers. Nutrition game changers are foods or simple habits that can make a big impact in your health. Some might use the term ‘nutrition hacks’. Today, I had planned to share with you a different habit. But I noticed that, with the nights cooling off again, I’ve been using this habit again. I do it a lot myself. And, it’s helped a number of clients too. I realized that this one simple habit can have a big impact on your health because it makes it easy to eat a lot of healthy foods that you might not otherwise eat. So, what’s this simple habit? Cook the night before.
Cook the Night Before
It’s a nutrition game changer for two huge reasons:
- It lessens the stress of getting dinner on the table.
- It makes it possible to eat healthy foods like whole grains, beans cooked from scratch, and longer-cooking veggies.
I’ve heard it called the witching hour. You know, that window of time between finishing work, commuting through traffic, picking the kids up from daycare, and making (and eating) dinner. For many people, it’s the most stressful time of the day. No one I know has an hour (or more) to cook dinner. Most people have somewhere from 20 – 30 minutes. Our modern lives have squished this time so much that it’s no wonder that take-out, drive-throughs, and pre-prepared food sales are through the roof. They’re survival techniques. You always ask me for help to get from survival to thriving. Cooking the night before can be a huge help.
No, I’m not talking about spending hours in the kitchen in the middle of the night! I’m talking about multi-tasking. You are likely home for several hours in the evening, after dinner but before you go to bed. Use this time to cook.
There are lots of healthy foods that take almost no work, but they take a long time to cook. Take a few minutes for prep, get the food cooking, set a timer, and then set off with your other evening activities. I personally do the prep while I’m already in the kitchen cooking my dinner for this evening. I don’t have kids so that works. If doing anything else besides preparing tonight’s dinner will take you over the edge, then do the prep later.
When the food is cooked, simply allow them to cool at room temperature and then store them in the fridge. They’ll store for several days in the fridge. On the day that you want to eat them for dinner, simply re-heat them in the microwave or steam them. (Place at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place your food in a bowl inside the double boiler. Steam until heated).
What Healthy Foods Can You Cook the Night Before?
- Whole grains. E.g. pot barley, brown rice, wild rice, farro. They all take 45 – 60 minutes to cook. But the prep is easy. Just add them to a pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
- Winter squash. E.g. spaghetti squash, butternut, acorn squash. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. For all but spaghetti, cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds. Pour a splash of water in the seed cavity. Place in a baking dish. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 45min-1 hour (until the flesh is soft when you test it with a fork). For spaghetti squash: leave the squash whole, pierce all over with a fork. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 1 hour or longer (until the squash gives easily to your touch).
- Root veggies. E.g. beets, yams. There are lots of ways to bake these veggies. Techniques vary by veggie. But unless you take a long time to prep them by cutting them into small pieces, they’re going to take 45min – 1 hour to bake. Here’s one minimal prep time technique each for beets and yams: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Wash but don’t peel the beets. Remove any stems or skinny roots. Rub with olive oil. Wrap in tin foil and place in a baking dish. Roast until soft to the touch. The time will vary based on the size of your beets. Yams can be cooked at the same temperature. Wash but don’t peel the yams. Pierce all over with a fork. Wrap in tin foil. Bake for 45min- 1 hour.
- Dried beans. Cooking beans from dry is not only cheaper, but it avoids the exposure to BPA in the liner of most cans. Beans take 2 simple prep steps – one the morning before and one the night before. In the morning, measure out your beans, place in a bowl, cover with water (at least 1 inch above the beans), and sit at room temperature all day. At night, drain the beans, place them in a large pot, add fresh water to cover at least 1 inch above the beans, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
Extra Tip: All of these foods make fantastic whole-meal salad ingredients. Cook extra the night before and enjoy them both (cold) as a whole meal salad for your lunch and warm as a part of dinner.
Looking for new recipe ideas? Find lots of great healthy recipes here.
It’s the height of summer and farmers' markets are approaching their peak. Perhaps you already shop at your local farmers’ market. Or, you’ve been meaning to check out the one in your neighbourhood. I’ve been a big fan of farmers’ markets since before the locavore movement made it cool. I have fond childhood memories of waking up early, piling into the car, and driving out of the city to the big farmers’ market in the country. Shopping at farmers’ markets supports your local economy, builds food security, and promotes community. Farmers’ markets are also a fantastic opportunity to get your kids excited about vegetables – from toddlers to pre-teens. Here are 3 fantastic activities to harness the opportunity at the farmers’ market to maximize your picky eaters’ enthusiasm for veggies and fruit.
- Helping Hands. Let your little one pick your produce. For example, tell her that you need 10 potatoes (or 1 head of lettuce, or 5 pears, etc). Then, let her pick and bag the 10 potatoes. Encourage “help” from the vendor – ask him questions like “How do you pick the best potatoes?” or “How do you know that a watermelon is ripe?” This is a great way to engage the pickiest eaters because it doesn’t even involve tasting the food. However it gently gets them to explore and feel ownership for the veggies/fruit. Both of which help them move towards trying it.
- Different Varieties, Same Food. Another gentle way to help kids be open to trying new foods is to have a taste testing of different varieties of the same food. Choose a food that your child already eats. Then choose other colours and shapes of the same food from the farmers’ market. Prepare all the varieties and try them all, comparing them. Take cucumbers for example: pick up one each of field cucumber, lemon cucumber, long English cucumber, pickling cucumber, and any other variety that you can find. When you get home, cut slices of each variety and lay them out on a plate. Gather your family. Try each one. Describe all your senses – how do they look, smell, taste? Is one sweeter, one more sour, one have a thicker skin?
- Kids’ Choice. Let your child choose any one vegetable or fruit at the market. Let kids pick themselves, or have them talk with the vendors to get recommendations such as “what’s especially yummy today?” or “My favourite vegetable is broccoli and I don’t like radishes, what would you recommend that I try?” Prepare your child’s choice together later that day. Older kids can help research and choose recipes. This will inspire pride and ownership of this food which helps many kids be open to taste it. You may want to set a budget ahead of time – otherwise your child may choose the giant, $30 hubbard squash, LOL!
One final (and important) note: It’s all in the attitude. Yours. Do these activities with your kids in the spirit of fun and exploring. Not in the spirit of forcing. Their enthusiasm will soar. And, with their new-found enthusiasm, they may feel brave enough to try the veggies (and perhaps even like them).