Monday, March 31, 2008

Eating to Grow... or Something Like That

As soon as the whole picky eating thing reared up and started poking its annoying head into my life, my mom started quoting the pediatrician she took us to when we were little. "Kids don't eat to grow," she would say, every time we talked about it. "They eat to grow."

I totally did not get what she was talking about. But she said it in this blithe reassuring way that clearly meant she didn't think I should worry about my kids eating or not. I knew what she meant.

But then I came across this same line recently, this time phrased in a way that made sense. In the Gary Taubes book (yes, Good Calories, Bad Calories again, but it really does contain a wealth of information about the history of nutritional science), he talks about a scientist in the 60's who studied growth and metabolism. According to this scientist: Children eat because they are growing. They do not grow because they are eating.

Ahh, this is what my mother meant, and her pediatrician must have been quoting this guy.

This makes a lot of sense to me. It's like how breastfed babies go through growth spurts and because they are growing, they nurse like crazy. No one ever suggests that a baby is going through a growth spurt because the mom ate a lot of broccoli and the baby happened to nurse a lot because it was bored and so therefore it is going through a growth spurt.

It makes me think of a preschooler I know who is the tiniest, wispiest little thing.... just like her mom, who is barely five feet tall and probably weighs about 95 pounds. The parents are always freaking out that the little girl is not eating enough. They are convinced that she is so tiny because she is eating so little. I think it's the other way around. I think she is naturally tiny, and she is eating so little because she is so tiny. If they put an IV with thousands of calories a day, would she grow up to be 5'6" and 140 lbs?

So I looked up caloric needs of a four-year-old. Just like most nutritional advice, it was totally retarded. Four-year-olds, this one source said, need 1500 calories a day. Regardless, apparently, of the fact that they may be a wispy tiny girl who is quiet and gentle, or that they may be a sturdy, hyper, explosive little girl like my daughter, who runs, bikes, climbs, yells, screams, and barely sits still for the entire day.

Even then, I had a hard time picturing my daughter eat 1500 calories in one day. Is it possible? I'm going to compile a list.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh Great, Another Candy Holiday

Easter is upon us. Time to jack up our kids on more candy.

Every year I try to come up with ways to either give healthier candy, or candy alternatives. So our Easter bunny always brings a candle -- this year it's these cute beeswax eggs. Some art supplies, some good chocolate, chocolate-covered peanuts and we're good to go. The jelly beans were given to me, so I guess I'll hand them off to my kids. If I can get some pistachios or dried cranberries, I'll put those in, too. Ohh yeah, and I have a couple little Dover books with sparkley dinosaur tattoos. That's Eastery, right?

AND, don't forget the spring-like dish towels (the blue one is in the picture-- they're for lining the baskets, instead of the plastic grass). Kids love dish towels, right? Uh, yeah. Well, if they don't like them, maybe the Easter Bunny meant them for Mommy.

Happy Easter, Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More Yogo-Rama

Everyone I know is obsessed with this yogurt. Seriously, like 4 people have raved to me about it in the last week. Raved, like posessed lunatics. I guess it just hit the Brooklyn Fairway and the Food Coop.
But, it's true. I feel their obsession: It's AMAZING! I love it. I guess this is what the Stonyfield Farms Strawberry Yogurt -- which my kids love but I find disgustingly sweet -- tastes like to them. Just unbelievable.

It's creamy, thick, tangy, berry goodness.

Then, I had a Reeses moment this morning, eating my Traderspoint Creamery Yogurt next to my daughter, who was eating her usual morning ration of frozen blueberries. Delicious grassfed whole fat yogurt with frozen wild blueberries? Two great things, one great taste.

Wow, delicious.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What Kind of Parent Cuts the CRUSTS OFF?

Uh, guilty...
I do this despite the fact that before I had kids I was scathingly scornful of the all the morons out there peeling their kids' apples and cutting off their crusts. What was wrong with these idiots?

Well, now that I have kids I'm a little more humble and a lot more desperate. My 8-year-old comes home at least a few times a week with virtually nothing eaten out of his lunchbox. What am I going to do? Not only do I cut the crusts off, hoping to make it easier to take that first bite, I also give him a juice box. I used to put in a little water bottle, but turns out he was harassing other kids to trade a juice box for... I'm not sure what in his lunch might have constituted a cool trade (some carrot coins, perhaps? a black sesame rice cracker?), but you can't blame him for trying. Still, lunch remains a problem.

"They don't give us enough time," he says. Plus, the kids are in a rowdy lunchroom, set free for the first time in a few hours, and still haven't had recess to run off their energy.

Some schools give the kids recess first, then lunch. This makes more sense to me.

If you're interested in joining the fight to improve school lunch, come to the Baum Forum's School Food Conference at Teachers' College on April 11 and 12.

Believe it or not, despite the fact that I cut my kids' crust off and give them juice boxes, they've asked me to talk about starting a school food committee. Don't tell them about the juice boxes, okay?

Hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Soup is GREAT Food

About a year and a half ago I started working two days a week in the Times Square area in Manhattan. At first it was so exciting to be right there by 9th Avenue (forget Times Square -- all I cared about were the restaurant options), with lots of great food, and an hour all to myself to go out for lunch.

My friend Nick and I went out for Ethiopian, sushi, burritos at Chipotle or at the smaller family-run Mexican place, curried rice noodles at Zen Palate, Indonesian, the healthy Korean place and more.

But after a while, even just lunching out two days a week, the options got boring. And it stopped being worth it to pay $10 for a lunch that tasted good but had lots of stuff in it I didn't want to eat. It's all factory-raised meat, non-organic produce, and white flour or white rice, everywhere you go. And -- who knows what else?

So I went crazy and started bringing my lunch. I was totally inspired by Lunch in a Box, but even if I never achieve the level of Biggie's morning masterpieces, my lunches have been great.

At first I was making sandwiches and quiches and elaborate salads. I still do these sometimes. But increasingly I've been happy with soup. By now, it's become part of my Sunday routine, to make soup. From scratch. Stock and all.

I think everyone should make stock. First of all, isn't there something weird about how normal it is to throw away meaty chicken bones, and then go and buy boxed chicken stock? And, have you ever you looked at the ingredients on those boxes? It should say "Chicken bones, onion". Or "Organic chicken bones, dried shiitake mushrooms". What else is there to put in chicken stock? But the list is always longer than that.

Second of all, there is no comparison between boxed stock and homemade stock, in terms of flavor.

Third of all, how else are you going to manage to eat rutabaga, turnips, cabbage, squash and all those other things that are basically the only local foods you can get in my part of the world, during this time of year, and that make incredible soups?

This is my process:

1. Save bones. Everytime I roast a chicken, I save the carcass. This is easy: I put it in a Zip-loc bag in the freezer. It's a lot easier than taking out the garbage, which I would have to do if the carcass went into the garbage, since we have a very clever dog in the house.

2. Make stock. Some Sunday morning, when you feel like you should get something done, but also feel like sitting around, empty the bag into a giant pot of cold water, turn on the burner, and go sit on the couch with a good book. Making stock satisfies the same lazy work ethic that getting a sun tan does. You're just sitting on your butt reading a book or listening to the radio; but actually you are hard at work, preparing for the week. Sometimes I add dried shiitake mushrooms, or a piece of kombu seaweed, but it's not necessary. I let my stock simmer for hours (and sometimes overnight), but you can make an okay stock in an hour or two, if you have to.

3. Skimming. This is my favorite part. It's like cleaning without actually getting down on your hands and knees and going behind the couch. It helps that I have this great tool -- my handy dandy skimming spoon. I don't actually know what this is called. My mom brought it back from Taiwan, and I eventually figured out it was amazing for skimming stocks. They sell them here, too.

3. Straining. This is my least favorite part. It takes about 1 minute, but I find it really unenjoyable for some reason. I think I just hate throwing away the bones. Can't I find one more use for them? The thrifty Puritan deep in my DNA would love to grind them up and make bricks or something like that. (Sometimes, if there is a lot of chicken meat left over on the bones, I pick it off and feed it to my dog for dinner, which does satisfy my inner-Puritan for long enough that I can sneak the bones in the garbage.)

4. Dealing with the fat. Sometimes I chill the stock and then cut off the cold fat. But after reading Nina Planck's book Real Food, in which she talks about the anti-microbial action in chicken fat, I don't always do this. Plus, I need a hearty soup that is going to get me through a long work day, not some anemic diet soup.

5. Do your own thing. When the stock is strained, you're ready to make soup. Classic mediterranean soup-making calls for the essential trinity: celery, carrots, and onion. You can play around with this: the onions can be leeks, the celery can be fennel, and the carrots can be some other sweet orange root vegetable. But except for mild subs like that, the trinity should not be messed with. It's a solid foundation for an excellent soup. Once the foundation is down, do what you want. Lately I have been using a mix of chickpeas and green lentils, and lots of root vegetables like rutabegas and turnips. Love those spicy turnips. Last week I put a small handful of butternut squash in with the usual root vegetables, which was exquisite. I almost always add a little bit of ham or chicken.

6. Bright green stuff. Soup can get a little dark, so I like to add green beans or zucchini at the last minute. They give a great bright snap to the soup. Of course, they are not seasonal just yet, so I add a little pinch of guilt, and then it's all good.