Taste and smell. We could just be like plants and photosynthesize but instead we get to enjoy the experience of eating.
Variety and adaptability. We could just be like cows and just eat grass, or whales and just eat plankton. Our bodies are designed to be able to run on a wide variety of food sources. This not only means that we can enjoy a variety of foods, it means that a healthy diet can look different for different people and different cultures! There are so many delicious ways to be nourished!
I’m privileged to be able to access a really wide variety of healthy, safe, and fresh food.
I do not have any food allergies, sensitivities or medical conditions that keep me from eating certain foods. As much as I like to promote that all foods fit, I realize in some cases not all foods fit because they cause an allergic reaction or pain or dangerous medical consequences. I’m thankful that at this point in my life, I do not have to avoid any foods and can eat cheese without any problems.
This thin crust pizza recipe. (see below) We eat this pizza at least once a month, often when we don’t want to cook anything else and it is always a bright spot.
Pour 3/4 cup body temperature water into a medium-large bowl. Add 1 tsp yeast and let that sit for a little bit, until you can smell the yeast. Stir in 1 cup flour, then add 1 + 1/2 tsp salt. Then add 1 cup more flour and stir until you can’t stir anymore. Then either knead in the bowl or on a clean floured counter. (You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook). Knead 8-10 minutes or until the dough springs back when pinched. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but I just turn on the Great British Baking Show and pretend I’m on the show with them.
Spray a little nonstick spray in the bottom of the bowl (or pour a teensy bit of oil) and roll the dough ball around in it – this is just so it doesn’t stick or dry out while it rises. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for about an hour.
(You can freeze it at this point to be able to treat your future self to homemade pizza)
Preheat the oven to 500 F. Roll out the dough on a silicon mat or parchment paper until it is 1/4 inch or less thick. Place the rolled out dough and the lining onto a cookie sheet (I like to use the back of a rimmed baking tray). Spread on your sauce and toppings of choice. Avoid topping very thickly or the crust will not get crisp. Bake for 8-15 minutes or until the bottom is crisp (check by lifting with a spatula).
You can use either white or whole wheat flour for this recipe. You can even make it without the rising time if you are in a hurry – just let it rest for a few minutes instead of an hour and roll it out right away. Enjoy!
What are you thankful for?
*Coffee is good for you just as much as any food that has shown to be good for you. Coffee in moderation, in general, is not harmful, and there are multiple studies showing health benefits in regular coffee drinkers. Obviously there are exceptions and nuances (like: drinking coffee won’t solve all your problems, and if you also drink it with a TON of sugar it is probably not as healthy) so speak with a doctor or dietitian if you have questions or concerns and don’t drink coffee if it makes you feel bad.
Today we’re talking canned pumpkin puree (and then pumpkin pie).
The type of pumpkin that is usually used to make pumpkin pie and other pumpkin goodies. (Note that this is about plain canned pumpkin, not canned pie filling. There’s nothing wrong with canned pie filling, it’s just not the same nutritionally as it already has sugars and spices mixed in)
First of all, pumpkin is a vegetable.
No one would argue about butternut squash being a vegetable, right? Pumpkin is very close nutritionally to butternut squash. It goes in the red-orange vegetable group with carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. You can totally count pumpkin as part of your vegetable intake for the day. Now, the general amount of vegetables that the USDA recommends eating per day is 2 1/2 cups, so unless you’re sitting down to eat a big can of pumpkin, it won’t take care of all of your veggie intake, but it can certainly be part of it.
Pumpkin provides some impressive nutrition
The way canned pumpkin is processed means that some of the water has been taken out (via cooking) so its nutrients are concentrated!
1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin has:
3.5g of fiber (10% of the recommended daily amount for men and nearly 15% of the daily recommendation for women) – helps manage cholesterol and blood sugar, feeds good bacteria in our intestines, promotes regular bowel movements, helps us feel full
nearly 10% of the daily recommended amount of iron – vital for oxygenation of the blood
25% of the recommended amount of vitamin K – important for blood clotting
over 350% recommended daily amount of vitamin A (no, that is not a typo, it is super high in vitamin A) – acts as an antioxidant, important for skin and immune health, important for healthy vision
Most of us probably will not just sit down and eat 1/2 cup of plain canned pumpkin by itself. So how much of that good nutrition will you get in a slice of pumpkin pie? Well, of course it depends on the the recipe and the size of the slice.
Let’s take Libby’s recipe for example (that’s the recipe on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can). And we’ll say that we cut the pie into 8 slices because that’s easy math. In each slice, there will be about 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (half the amount we calculated before), so it will have:
1.8g fiber (about 5% of the recommended daily amount for men and 7% for women)
Nearly 5% of the daily recommended amount of iron
Over 10% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K
and 190% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A
Some of those amounts might seem small, but realistically, this is the way most people get nutrients from food. Small amounts from different foods that add up during the day. For comparison’s sake, one serving of Benefiber Original has 3 g of fiber, which is about 8% of the recommended daily value for men and 12% of the recommended daily value for women.
And it certainly has more vitamin A, iron, and fiber than many other desserts, like angel food cake or brownies.
Now of course, we must acknowledge that eating a slice of pumpkin pie (with ice cream or whipped cream perhaps too) also comes with more sugar, salt, and fats than just plain pumpkin, so if these are nutrients that you need to limit for a health condition, take those into account.
(and regardless, probably don’t make pumpkin pie the only way you eat vegetables)
However, a pumpkin pie having fats, sugar, and salt, doesn’t mean that you won’t get benefit from the fiber, iron, vitamin K, or massive amounts of vitamin A. You may also get extra calcium if the pie is made with evaporated milk, and extra fiber and/or B-vitamins if the crust is made with whole wheat flour
The bottom line: If you like pumpkin pie, enjoy it! (And know you’re getting a decent amount of fiber, iron, vitamin K, and a super amount of vitamin A!)
Imagine having your children by your side in the kitchen. You read the recipe out loud and they find the ingredients in the pantry. You show them how to carefully measure out ingredients. They stir the ingredients together, remarking about how good it will taste. Then you put it in the oven and you both excitedly clean up the kitchen waiting for it to be done. Then you laugh together as you eat. A picture-perfect scene.
It can happen. But let’s be real, sometimes it looks like this:
. . . like your toddler pulling snacks out of the pantry while you try to get them to stop so you can just get the ingredients you need. It looks like them dumping the ingredients into the bowl so enthusiastically that half of it lands on the table. It looks like your two kids fighting over whose turn it is to stir. It looks like you’re stressed because you’re trying to make this a positive experience, but your kid just licked their finger to taste the batter and then started stirring the sauce with their hand and the other kid keeps trying to touch the stove. Sometimes it looks like your kids not being at all interested in helping cook. It’s not always the warm happy Pillsbury crescent commercial. That’s for sure.
It’s often more work to have your kids “help” in the kitchen.
So why is it worth it? And how can you make it easier?
Why it’s worth it:
Kids who help with food preparation are more likely to try new foodsand eat more vegetables Research shows that helping to prepare a meal makes kids more likely to try new foods (1), more positive about unfamiliar foods (1), more likely to eat more vegetables (2), and more likely to eat more of the meal in general (2).
If kids are involved in the making process, they feel ownership and pride over the meal, so of course they want to try it and are biased toward liking it. Plus, they get to experience the food in an environment where there is no pressure to eat it. This can make new or disliked foods less intimidating. This does not mean they will magically like everything, but it will probably surprise you how much more likely they are to try something that they helped prepare.
If you have particular or picky eaters, this can be one way to help them be more comfortable in exploring new foods. If you’re worried that your kids don’t like “healthy” foods and only like beige and white foods, this is normal, BUT involving them in cooking can help expand their palate.
Kids who practice cooking are more confident in their cooking skills and are more likely to make healthy choices(3) The more kids cook, the more kids handle food, the more kids practice good food hygiene, the more comfortable and confident they are in their ability, and the more positive they feel around food(3). This seems pretty obvious. However, having confidence around food and cooking is a huge advantage toward choosing and eating healthy foods. It removes the barrier of not knowing how to prepare a food. And even if they don’t know how to prepare a specific food, they are more likely to feel confident that they can learn how. People who know how to cook and feel confident in this are more likely to choose and prepare healthy foods (3).
Practicing cooking and food skills doesn’t need to be learning how to julienne vegetables, sautee meat, or make a roux. It includes things like picking out foods at the store, washing vegetables, following a recipe, loading a dishwasher, measuring ingredients, learning what a spatula is, and using a microwave. It can of course include fancier skills as well, but you don’t have to and shouldn’t start there.
By helping your kids have food literacy, you are equipping them with vital tools they can use to be healthy which leads to the next point:
Cooking helps improve self-confidence and independence. Do you remember the first time you made a recipe all by yourself? My first memory of this is making the Kraft boxed mac and cheese. I was so proud! A kid helping with dinner feels like they are a contributing part of the family. As they get more comfortable with a skill and learn new skills, they gain confidence and independence.
This helps them grow in confidence while they still live with you, and equips them for when they are on their own as adults. Interestingly kids in a focus group about cooking at home counted learning cooking skills as a valuable part of helping in the kitchen, because they knew would need to be able to cook later in life (4). Future cooking skills is one thing at least on some kids’ minds.
Also, with enough practice, kids will eventually be actually helpful in the kitchen! It’s a long term investment – but it can pay off.
So, why is it worth it? Because even though it will be slow and difficult and stressful at times, you’re equipping them with really valuable life skills: not just cooking, but exploring new and different foods, the ability to choose and prepare healthy foods, and the confidence builder of mastering new things.
So, how can I make it easier? (and not want to shut everyone out of the kitchen forever)
I could talk forever about this because introducing kids to the kitchen is what I loooove to do. But here are a few ideas to start out:
Choose the right time. Don’t try this at a time when everyone is cranky and hungry and/or rushed. Choose a time when you can give your full attention and have no time pressure.
Make breakfast on a quiet weekend, do some prep work with them when they come to you bored (read the recipe and collect the non-refrigerated ingredients, wash and tear up lettuce leaves, mix spices, bake some rolls or biscuits), choose one afternoon a week when one kid goes down for a nap or is at school so you can focus on one child at a time, etc.
Start with hand washing This should always be the start of any cooking session. It teaches food safety and hygiene right from the start and can make them feel like they are really cooking (because everyone, even a chef, needs to wash hands before cooking). Be sure to model this behavior as well as speaking about it 🙂
Use an easy recipe you are really comfortable with. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to involve kids with a new or tricky recipe that requires brain space. This might mean that they help you make box macaroni and cheese – this is perfectly fine! After washing hands, and before you start, read the recipe out loud together. This is a good cooking practice to establish and it makes sure you know what you’re doing, and depending on the age of the kids, helps them get a big picture as well.
Start small. It may be overwhelming and taxing for you and your kids to expect them to help you with a whole recipe or a whole meal, especially if they are small. Involving them in meal preparation can start with as little as having them put silverware on the table, having them help you wash vegetables, helping you get out ingredients, or having them shuck an ear of corn.
In the mac and cheese example, this could be that they get to use a measuring cup to help fill up the water to boil or dump in the cheese packet. Keeping it short at first makes it a positive experience even with a short attention span. Obviously if they want to keep helping, that’s great, but if not you can build up little by little.
Repeat Kids thrive on routine. If you have a weekly repeating meal (Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, etc.) this is a great time to involve them because you and they know what to expect and you will both get lots of practice making it together. Kids can get familiar with the steps and gradually grow in their abilities.
My earliest memories of cooking are making pancakes or waffles on Saturday mornings with my dad. I grew from helping him mix to proudly learning how to flip pancakes (this was over a matter of years, I was not a preschool pancake flipping prodigy)
Narrate If they’re with you in the kitchen (even if they’re not actively helping), just talk about what you’re doing like you’re on a cooking show. If they ask questions, answer them. Offer to let them help with a specific task or to let them taste or smell an ingredient. You can also talk about where the recipe is from or tell a story related to the recipe.
Let them help you pick what to make This is especially good if you need help getting your kids interested in the first place. With your guidance, kids (especially older kids), can help choose foods to make. Use cookbooks, or magazines, Yummly, or Pinterest to find a recipe that looks interesting to them. Sources with pictures are really great, because we eat with our eyes, and for a kid not familiar with many foods or cooking techniques, it may be hard to image what a food would be like from just a text recipe. Start with a category that you choose (soup, breakfast, broccoli, chicken, etc.) to narrow down options and make sure you aren’t always making desserts or pizza rolls.
Have them help with clean up It is good for them to learn to clean as they go and really good for you to have them clean as they go. You can start small with this too. Kids can help put wrappers or food scraps in the trash (you can also use a garbage bowl on the table to reduce trips to the trash can), they can put dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher, help put ingredients away, and wipe off a table when they are done.
This obviously isn’t comprehensive. How you involve your kids in cooking will depend on them and you and that’s fine! But I hope these ideas provide some comfortable ways to get started and some encouragement to keep going if you already have.
If you are you reading this and going, wait, I don’t even feel comfortable in the kitchen myself. How can I teach my kids? I don’t feel confident in my ability to prepare balanced and meals, but I want to, and want my kids to have that ability. I wish I just had somebody who would just walk me through the process, make it a little less overwhelming, who could be my coach and cheerleader
That’s me! I can do that! I would love to work with you at your current level of cooking/food comfort to develop a tool kit of meals, skills, recipes, so you can feel confident in the kitchen and pass that along to your kids. If this sounds like something you want, learn more here
These are meals that literally require throwing ingredients together. No quick sauteeing, no slicing, no chopping, no measuring. This is for you if you want to make a meal but don’t have access to a kitchen. This is for you if you don’t know how to cook but want to eat more at home. This is for you if you don’t want to cook because you’re too exhausted or busy or just have other things you’d rather do. This is for you if you’re struggling with your mental health and you just need some fuel for your body on days when you have no motivation to do anything.
Most of these salads are a balanced meal in themselves. They have veggies, protein, and some sort of carbohydrate. Most of them are lower on the carb side (especially carbs from grains), so if you like bread, a whole grain bread makes a good compliment to the meal. I personally feel like a salad meal isn’t complete without bread. 🙂
Anyway, on to the salads
pre-washed lettuce/greens OR sliced cabbage/coleslaw mix + can of beans + (optional can of corn) + shredded cheese + salsa + (optional guacamole and/or sour cream) + chips
Cheese Apple Walnut Salad
pre-washed lettuce/greens + apple slices + walnuts + shredded or crumbled cheese+ vinaigrette dressing + optional pre-cooked chicken OR deli turkey OR deli ham
No-Chop Cobb Salad
pre-washed lettuce + pre-cooked chicken OR sliced deli chicken + bacon bits + blue cheese + cherry tomatoes + pre-cooked hardboiled eggs (crumbled by hand or squished with a fork) + scoop guacamole + vinaigrette + optional dried chives sprinkle
Cherry or grape tomatoes + sliced mozzarella or mozzarella balls + olive oil + fresh basil or dried basil + optional extra pre-washed greens
Washed leaves of Romaine/Green leaf/Red leaf/Butter/Iceberg lettuce spread with hummus/tuna salad/chicken salad/egg salad/peanut butter (sounds weird but actually not bad) or use them to roll up deli meat and/or cheese with whatever condiments you like
Chicken Caesar Salad
pre-washed lettuce/greens + pre-cooked chicken OR sliced deli chicken + Caesar dressing + croutons + (optional cherry tomatoes)
sliced cabbage or coleslaw mix + pre-cooked chicken + sliced almonds + canned mandarin oranges + Asian dressing or soy sauce and honey + (optional crunchy chow mein noodles)
Pear Spinach Salad
Canned sliced or cubed pears (drained) + pre-washed spinach + pre-cooked chicken + pecans, walnuts, or sliced almonds + dressing of your choice (blue cheese and pears is a winning combination I think)
You can actually buy cans of this already made, or make your own: canned kidney beans + canned garbanzo beans + canned green beans (or add whatever beans you like) + vinaigrette dressing. Eat with whole grain bread for the most complete protein
I have done my best to make sure that these recipes require as little preparation as possible. The most that will need to be done is opening a few cans, maybe tearing some lunch meat, spreading some stuff on other stuff, and mixing stuff together. The items mentioned as pre-cooked can be something you have pre-cooked yourself, but I have tried to choose things that you will be able to buy at a typical grocery store pre-cooked to truly minimize the work and need for a kitchen. I do realize not everyone has access to a grocery store or a grocery store with a wide selection of fresh ingredients. I’ve tried to include salads with a variety of ingredients, many of which are shelf-stable or last a long time.
Do you have any go-to recipes (salad or not) that don’t require any cooking? Feel free to share in the comments