Sunday, August 30, 2009

Eat Your Peas, like Mom and Dad

Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic who recently came out of the closet about being a child bulimic writes a good article in today's paper about children modelling their parents' eating habits.

There are so many studies being done now to try and determine how today's kids are ending up with so many eating disorders. This article suggests that the best predictors for your child having a healthy relationship to food are:
- regularly having family dinners (we see the importance of this lauded everywhere from nutrition papers to child-rearing tomes),
- going grocery-shopping and cooking with your kids, and
- being good role models by exercising and eating well yourselves

It's not rocket science. A little bit of "monkey see, monkey do", and a dash of common sense. My little monkeys have had a fun summer - which definitely included ice cream - but we've always made time for being active, and eating our peas.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Diet, not Exercise, for Weight Loss

We've been on vacation, so I'm a bit behind on the blogging. A couple of weeks ago TIME Magazine published an article summarising what I've been trying to explain to people for years. Exercise won't make you thin. It what you eat that affects your weight.

I'm going to let the article do the explaining this time, however, let me state unequivocally that I highly value exercise. I've had a hard time fitting regular exercise into my life for the past 22 months, since the last couple of months of my pregnancy. I've had sporadic bursts of energy and time, where I walked 10 km per day, or swam a km or two, or had the pleasure of doing yoga twice per week. But it's not been until the last month that I've had time to regularly dedicate to exercise. And I've been feeling great because of it.

I've been biking to work at least 2 times per week, and getting in the odd 30 minutes exercise class there. I've been doing yoga at least once per week at home, and occasionally participating in my husband's latest obsession, the P90X exercise tapes. I'm starting to feel more toned, and less jiggly in my bits. But I'm not losing weight. I've been the same weight since a week after I gave birth. My weight might fluctuate a few pounds up or down from this setpoint, but when it does, it's almost always due to what I eat. Or, to be more specific, what I overeat. When I come back to normal, or eat piously for a few days, I return to my standard weight.

The best way to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life is to eat a moderate amount of a variety of foods: tons of vegetables, fish and beans, some fruits, and not too many flour-based or starchy foods. That's how our bodies were designed to operate, on a steady flow of healthy fuel. Go out and exercise a bit every day if you can, and push yourself athletically if you're in great shape. But don't expect exercise to solve your weight issues. More often than not, starting an exercise program will create a ravenous appetite that leads us to overeat. And then we're back to square one.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Getting Greens Back on your Dinner Menu

A friend sent me an interesting link to a story about Washington State chef Sabrina Tinsley who "sneaks vegetables" into her picky daughter's meals. It's not so sneaky; she does get her son and daughter involved in the process of making a vegetable soup with pasta stars. They help shell peas for example which we know is fun and piques kids' interest. But the key step is she purees the soup right before serving so that most of the vegetables' texture is made very bland, but all the delicious flavour is still there. And of course, then she adds in the cute pasta stars.

I think this is a fine idea. My stepmother served me delicious cream of cauliflower soup for years before I clued in to what it was; and was subsequently horrified. But it never gave me an appreciation for vegetables, because it had the boring consistency of all my favourite foods of the time, like rice pudding. It wasn't until I started eating out at nice restaurants during university that I developed an appreciation for vegetables in their natural, un-pureed state.

But I think a better strategy than disguising veggies, is to serve them unapologetically, and routinely at every meal. Tonight we had penne pasta that boiled along with shredded kale. The kale tasted yummy in the tomato-basil sauce and went well with the shredded cheese topping. We also had cucumber slices on the side. Vegetables are all over at plates in this house, and we don't try to disguise them or apologise for their fibrous texture. We like to dip them in dressings, mix them in salads, add them to soups or stews, eat them drizzled in butter. Even a canned soup can get jazzed up by adding spinach, kale, chard or broccoli. It's simple to cook and that's just what we do.

Many people I've talked to whose children "don't like vegetables" often reveal that they are not eating vegetables at lunch and dinner, or they do so rarely. The vegtable choices are often standard: carrots, peas, broccoli, and often are served in a bland way each time. Boring! No wonder kids don't like them. Kids learn by example and if Mom and Dad are uninspired by their veggie portions, then kids are not going to make the effort to like them either.

Go to the grocery store and find a new vegetable you don't typically eat. Serve it with a favourite, tried-and-true sauce or dip. Make it a bit of an adventure: "I wonder what this will taste like!" Or don't even mention it unless somebody asks "oh yeah, that's broccoli rabe with your favourite Naam Miso Gravy". Enjoy it and make it something you look forward to when it makes its way back to your dinner menu every other week or so. Vegetables are just another form of food: neither intrinsically good nor bad. It all depends on how they're prepared and served. Preferably with passion!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dish of the Day: French Lentil Salad

French Lentil Salad
French Lentil Salad,
originally uploaded by follepourchocolat.
Back in the 90s I worked at a fancy restaurant in Paris owned by the ex-wife and son of Mr. Eddie Barclay. Perhaps it's more appropriate to say that I ate daily for free at this restaurant, because I did very little work. However I did learn a lot about French cooking and one of the recipes I took home with me was for lentil salad. At "Marie et Fils" they served this with salmon that was lightly cooked - still raw in the middle in fact - but I think the salad does fine all by itself.

This is adapted from the chef's recipe and the main ingredients are, of course, lentils with chopped tomato and cucumber and chives. The lentils are canned (no shame here) and the rest was from my garden. The dressing is olive oil and a mixture of apple cider and white vinegar with a ratio or 3:1 oil to vinegar. I would like to try some white balsamic vinegar next time. And the special ingredient is 2 pieces of cooked crispy bacon. It's also seasoned with salt and pepper. Pretty simple, and very yummy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let's All Cook! Our Lives Depend on It.

Once again, the amazing Michael Pollan has written a highly compelling piece about how our relationship to food must change. The article, titled "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch" ponders how it is that most Americans spend less than 27 minutes per day on food preparation, and instead spend hours watching cooking shows on TV. As he puts it: "What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for."

Another shocking tidbit from his lengthy article is "the more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower it's rate of obesity....the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force...income levels or class." This is the kind of stuff that makes my blood boil, when I think of all the McDonald's or KFC advertising targetted to low income families. Their malevolent promise is: "we'll save you time and money so you can give your family delicious comfort food." Meanwhile, these fast food companies are serving up empty calories while leading small children down the path to obesity.

Here at BEYG we make no apologies for being lazy - and not terribly talented - in the kitchen. We won't win any awards when it comes to style or diligence in the kitchen. But our message is always the same: if you want to be healthy, you need to eat meals made from fresh, whole ingredients, as opposed to pre-packaged, convenience foods. You don't need to spend hours in the kitchen to serve up a healthy meal; but you do need start with real food, and some effort will be required.

I'll defer to Michael Pollan's words: "the path to a diet of fresher, unprocessed food...passes straight through the home kitchen." This message is becoming urgent now and we at BEYG want to shout it from the rooftops. Eat food, real food, as much as you require. Take the time to prepare it in a way that is enjoyable, and digestible, for you and your family. But make sure that food came straight from a tree, from out of the ground, from the sea, from a real chicken. That's how we were designed to eat, and eating that way is the only way we will survive.