Antidote for Strung Out Children

Halloween night.  The kids are as high as kites on candy and the intoxicating freedom of running out on the streets after dark.  Late night and, if you live in our school district, school the next morning. (What were they thinking when they came up with that calendar?!) 

Some parents limit candy consumption others not so much…  In our house, the sweets eventually get sucked into some black hole or other, and we can get back to life as usual–without all the sugar-coating. 

Several years ago we joined our home school group for a Halloween potluck before heading out for treats.  This is my take on the recipe given to me by the party host, and it has been a fall favorite ever since. 

Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup with Yogurt “Cream”

  • 2 Tb. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, halved and seeded
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp. coriander
  • 5-8 cups stock or water, whatever will just cover all the vegetables
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup plain, low fat yogurt
  • 1 Tb. water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • a good squeeze of fresh lime juice to taste

For simplicity’s sake (lazy cook that I am) I roast the squash in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes or until a fork slides easily into the flesh.  Put it cut side up in a roasting pan in an inch of water.  Then it is simply a matter of just scraping the squash out when it’s soft.  Doing this early in the day or even the night before will make things even easier.  If you prefer, you can peel and chop–or get the pre-cut kind at the market, and cook with the carrots in the next step.

Saute onion in olive oil until soft, maybe 5 minutes or so.  Add carrots and saute for 5 more minutes.  Add spices and saute for yet another 5 minutes.

Add water/stock and bring to boil.  If using water, I’ll often throw in a bouillon cube.  Reduce heat and add roasted squash at this time. Simmer until vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can safely blend soup. 

Puree until desired texture is achieved.  For me, that means slightly chunky. Transfer to a pan and thin to desired consistency with additional water if needed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in cilantro and lime juice.

For yogurt “cream” whisk water into yogurt and season with salt.  Add some  finely minced jalapeno for added flavor if you like.  To serve, ladle into bowls and drizzle with yogurt.  Garnish with more cilantro.

This beautiful, colorful soup is loaded with vitamins A and C and is a good source of beta-carotene, magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium.  Serve this, or any other wholesome, vegetable laden soup or stew, the night after Halloween to counteract the sugar demons.  A good night’s sleep wouldn’t hurt either.


How Real Are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out.

Food Day was celebrated last week, Wednesday the 24th, and I completely missed it!  In fact, I’d never even heard of it until it showed up as someone else’s link on the Facebook news feed.  Better late than never.

Food Day was created in 2011 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to promote a movement toward healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.  It’s about building the momentum to change and improve our country’s food policies and to educate people about real food.

Which got me to thinking.  Real food.  Isn’t all food real?  A Snickers bar is as real as a handful of peanuts, right?

Just a figment of my imagination…


Andrew Wilder from my new favorite blog, Eating Rules, defines real food as “any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.”

I call it honest food without an agenda.  You look at it and you know what it is.  Food that isn’t masquerading as something else.  Fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese, meat, nuts, grains…  You get the gist.

Real foods are as close to how they come from nature as they can be.  Processed food has been so transformed that it doesn’t necessarily look anything like it did to begin with. Many of a natural food’s inherent vitamins and minerals are stripped away through processing, not to mention the addition of unhealthy amounts of salt and calories in the form of added sugars and fats.

real: chicken

processed: chicken nuggets

real: potato

processed:  potato chips

real: corn on the cob

processed:  canned corn


Talk to your kids about the difference.  Play a game as you encounter highly processed food to see if they can identify the real food it came from.  Or the other way around going from real to processed.

Take the Eat Real Quiz to find out how real you’re eating.

As you go through your day, consider what you’re eating and ask yourself if it’s real or not.  Keep track of the amount of real food you have on your plate, and challenge yourself to add more of the good stuff and keep the frankenfood at bay.

Scary Halloween Story

When I was pregnant with Sam, I was filled with all the good intentions that every mother everywhere has for her children.  In particular, I was determined that Sam would grow up eating real, unprocessed food that supported and nourished his growing body and brain.  Whole foods of all colors and flavors.  I was following The Plan.

But then came Halloween.

Sam was three years old when I took him out to walk around the neighborhood for his first ever trick-or-treating experience.

Absolutely adorable, huh?   We navigated one whole block before I turned us toward home.

But wait!  He wanted to go on.  We did.  Just a few more houses.  Soon his little basket was overflowing.  It was definitely time to go home.

And to bed.  I’m not even sure he actually ate any candy that year.  That year (and that year only) it was all about the event itself.   But, my god, what was I thinking?

Where was the mother who had held such lofty ideals about healthy food for children?  I  was the one who taught him how to ring door bells and say the magic words that would induce people to throw candy into his bag.  I  was the one who was responsible for future cavities, cancers, and other nutrition related conditions and diseases.

In that wave of nostalgia for the “simple pleasures of childhood”, I had left the Path.  I had forgotten the Plan.

I sat there all alone with a basket of Halloween candy on my lap, picking out and eating all the Skittles and Tootsie rolls, as I contemplated what I had just done.  I had to save myself before things got out of hand.

I dumped all of the candy into the big bowl we had used earlier to pass out treats to the little pirates, ballerinas, and cowboys that had knocked on our door.  I stepped out, set the bowl on the bottom step and quickly retreated inside.

The next morning, the bowl was empty.  Problem solved.

How do you deal with Halloween sugar consumption and the ensuing frenzy?

3 Ways to Ensure Your Child Doesn’t Have a Drinking Problem

We all probably identify fast food, potato chips, and candy as some of the bad boys contributing to the current obesity epidemic.  But would you believe juice?  Really?

A genuine wolf in sheep’s clothing, juice has a lot in common with another oft consumed beverage, the much maligned soda.  Juice and soda.  Soda and juice.  What could they possibly have in common?

Sugar, that’s what…

Pediatric obesity specialist, Robert Lustig, said in the HBO documentary Weight of the Nation, “There is no difference. When you take fruit and squeeze it, you throw the fiber in the garbage. That was the good part of the fruit. The juice is nature’s way of getting you to eat your fiber.”

Right about now you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief.  We were raised on the stuff.   We believed it to be a nutritious alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks–health in a glass.  Full of vitamins and minerals…  Well, some anyway. Still skeptical?

An 8 ounce glass of either this root beer or this apple juice contains nearly the same amount of sugar–the juice edging the soda by a gram.  That’s almost 8 teaspoons of sugar.  Yikes!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • 0-6 months: no juice
  • 6 months-1 year: 1-3 oz
  • 1-6 years: 4-6 oz
  • 6-18 years: 8-12 oz

It’s really easy to drink way more sugar than you think so pay attention to amount.  Calories add up quickly.  Choose 100% fruit juice and beware of “cocktails”, “punches”, and “drinks”. This is a good indicator that sugar has been added to the mix. In other words, read the label!

And 100% or not, try diluting your juice with some plain or carbonated water to make a real thirst quenching drink with less sugar.  Have you heard of the Sodastream?  It makes sparkling/seltzer water in seconds.  It’s going on my Christmas wish list this year.

Answer the following questions to find out if your child has a drinking problem.

Does your child eat a well-balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables?

Is your child’s mouth generally free of cavities?

Is your child at a healthy weight?

Hopefully, you answered yes to each question. If so, then just follow the juice guideline recommendations.  If the answers were no, then it might be time to go on the wagon.  Cutting way back or even eliminating juice would be a good idea.

Bottom line. Should you eat an orange or drink it? Given a choice opt for the real deal. A piece of fruit will give you more nutrition and fewer calories. Treat juice as a treat and not as a liquid replacement for water.

He’s No Hood Ornament

Cooks use math, science, reading, hand-eye coordination, and creativity among other things. Because of this, cooking is a terrific educational activity to do with children.

It’s also a great way to get kids to try and appreciate new foods–expanding their gastronomical horizons.

When my son was twelve, he  became my vegetable sous chef.  He’s  learning all of the above skills and academics, but let’s get to the good part.   It’s  a huge help in getting dinner on the table.  Talk about win-win!

Did I mention he wields a knife?

It’s sharp and pointy and comes straight from the knife block.  It’s a real grown-up knife.

At this stage in his culinary career,  I have no worries that he’ll hack off a hand or finger or other body part.  An old pro at chopping and cutting, he started with a banana and a butter knife and worked his way up.

What your children chop, and how old they are when they begin to do it, is totally up to you and your comfort zone.  In my humble estimation, kids are a lot more capable than we think they are.

For a pretty thorough article on knife skills for children check out this site by Michelle Stern.

One of his specialties is pan cooking vegetables.  Simple.  This particular recipe also works with other vegetables like cauliflower, bok choy, or green beans.

Pan Cooked Broccoli

1 head of broccoli

2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

1 Tb. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste.

1/8 cup water

Wash and chop broccoli into bite sized pieces.  The stalk is good too so chop off the very bottom and then peel what’s left and chop it up.

Add oil to the bottom of a 12 inch skillet and heat to medium.  Toss broccoli into hot pan and let brown a little, stirring occasionally.

Add garlic and grind salt and pepper over the broccoli. Stir.

Pour in water and cover.  Turn heat down to low and let steam.  Check after a few minutes with a fork for tenderness.  When close to being done but not quite cooked, turn off heat and let sit with lid on until ready to eat.

This broccoli is delish.  Sam is living proof that a kid can be useful as well as good-looking, and he takes pride in creating dishes that we love to eat.  This kid really knows his way around a chopping block!

This Medicine Will Make You Better….

The dryer was dead.  There I was with a hamper full of wet clothes and an appointment to keep.  It always seems like these things happen when we simply don’t have the time or energy to deal with them. The absolute worst timing but not something I could just ignore…

So I did what I always do when I have a “situation”.  I googled it.  And I got the answer.  I’m  always confident I’ll find the answer on the internet if I look.  Lucky for me it was a simple fix…

On the other hand,  we don’t  have to go looking for the latest health scares.  The news finds us–sugar is toxic, dangerous levels of arsenic in rice, an epidemic of diet related diseases affecting two-thirds of all adults, the first generation of children who may not outlive their parents.

What do we do?  Often times, nothing.  Because sometimes it seems like all we can manage is the status quo. Between work, school, and all the other activities in our busy lives, feeding our families is a ginormous task.


But we can’t afford to play the ostrich. The cost is too great. Our children deserve better.

What can we do?  We can start somewhere.  Here, for example.  We can make changes that make a difference. Educating ourselves and taking action.  A little at a time.  We can make responsible decisions that will help keep our families healthy and strong.

What will you find at Table Talk?

Make more conscientious food choices to encourage a household of healthy eaters… 

Teach your family about the basic food groups and why eating a balanced diet makes our bodies grow and learn. 

Become a savvy consumer.  It is possible to spend less and still buy healthy foods. 

Find easy recipes, tips, and resource links that will make mealtime a cinch.

Get a dose or two every week.  It’ll go down easy.  I promise.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Pesto (?)

First cold day of the season.  Gray, overcast.  The kind of day I love after seemingly endless summer.  When I walked into Outer Aisle, our locally farmed produce market, I was bowled over by the colorful abundance of all the new fall fruits and vegetables.  I take serious inspiration from a fresh picked farm carrot.  After all, as much as I love bell peppers and tomatoes, eating them day in and day out can cause major food burnout.

I passed by our garden as I staggered into the house carrying three jam-packed bags of store goodies.  The basil plant was looking somewhat long in the tooth.  So I did the only humane thing I could think of….  Rip it out.  Time to put it out of its misery.  Time to make some serious pesto.

About as simple a recipe as you’ll ever find.  Less is more as is often the case…


  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves of peeled and roughly chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup broken walnut pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • several grindings of fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil

Whirl in blender or food processor.  Spoon into bowl and mix in 3 ounces of finely grated Parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese).  Use right away or freeze for use over the dark days of winter…

This is about just the right amount of pesto for one pound of pasta.  Make it whole wheat pasta for more fiber and nutrition.  Think you don’t like whole wheat pasta?  Try different kinds until you find one you can live with.  Then keep trying it.  Whenever you change how or what you eat, there’s a learning curve.  Stick with it!

For the top 5 ways to use pesto look here.

For the Freezer:  A great way to have garden pesto all winter.  After blending, and before adding the cheese, spoon pesto into ice-cube trays.  I love the silicon kind.  When completely frozen, pop them out of the tray and into a dated zip lock freezer bag.  Add cheese only when thawed and ready to serve.

Now what to do with all those green tomatoes…

Don’t Supersize Me

Have you ever measured out a serving of ice cream? It is equivalent to one half cup. It came as quite a shock to me when I read the label on the carton to discover that I was eating enough servings for at least 4 people.

My portion size, what I chose to eat, was considerably larger than the actual serving size which is the recommended amount for a specific food–in this case, ice cream. Big scary difference…

Serving size, along with a high quality diet and exercise, is an important part of the holy trinity of good health. The three work together to keep our weight in check and our bodies healthy. Portions need to scaled down to avoid overeating and weight gain.

WedMD has an easy to understand, printable guide to help us visual learners put it all in perspective. Serving sizes for various foods are compared to actual objects. For example, a serving of chicken would be about the size of a deck of cards.

TIP: Gather up as many of the objects as possible to keep in a basket in your kitchen to teach your kids (and yourself!) how to estimate serving size as you prepare and serve meals.

Once you have a handle on estimating serving sizes, you can compare them to the portions you consume and adjust amounts as needed.

So, enjoy your food. Just less of it! Here are three ways to do that at meal times…

1   Use smaller plates. The truth of the matter is that plate sizes have expanded in diameter over the years. According to Nutrition Diva, Monica Reinegl, the ever growing size of our dinner plates correlates almost exactly with rates of obesity. And for most of us, if it’s on our plate, we’ll eat it!

2   Don’t go back for seconds. Take what you need the first time around. Wait at least 10 minutes before you decide you absolutely have to have more. Chances are your brain will have received the message from your stomach that it’s had enough…

3   Alright, this tip is an extension of Tip 2. If you don’t already do it, try mealtime conversation. No t.v., no texting or taking phone calls. No reading either (yes, it’s a good habit but not at the table). It’s a great way to mindfully enjoy food, connect meaningfully with family members, and slow down to give yourself time to recognize that yes, you are full. It works–and it’s fun too.

For the kiddos, things are a bit different. Smaller helpings work well to help teach them to recognize when they are full, but if they’re still hungry, they can ask for more…

So, careful with those servings.  Especially with ice cream.  But in the case of vegetables (I’m such a nag)….More is better!