Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recipe: Collard Greens with Beans and Barley

This week my grocery store is having a sale on collard greens, and they looked really fresh, so I bought an enormous bunch of them, about 2 pounds. This afternoon, trying to figure out how to prepare them, it was getting late so I decided to make a one-pot meal with whole grains and beans.

I love white beans with greens, so I fetched a can of cannellini beans. Next I had to choose a grain. I was not in the mood for rice, and kamut takes too long. I had about 2 cups of barley left, so I decided to make that. It takes about 50 minutes to cook (and the grain/water ratio is about 1:3). Once I had the barley simmering, I went to work cleaning the greens, which is, to me, the least fun part of cooking greens but a necessary evil. After they were rinsed, I chopped them and dropped them into boiling water to blanch them and reduce them to a reasonable volume. I gathered the rest of the ingredients and, in less than an hour, dinner was on the table.

The beauty of this dish is that you can substitute the collards for any green, the white beans for any bean, and the barley for any grain.

Of course, this is an extremely nutritious meal, absolutely packed with both kinds of fiber, protein, calcium, iron, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Omega 3's from the greens are a welcome component, and you can boost the content by sprinkling on a little flax oil or ground flax seeds just before serving.

It's also a very economical meal; barley is just pennies a serving, and the greens (which were pre-trimmed and in good shape) had no waste and were on sale for 79 cents a pound. The whole dinner (which made enough for 4 adults) cost around $5 (if you make your own veggie broth, you can do it for less than $4).

Dina's Collard Greens with Beans and Barley
  • 1 big bunch collard greens, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced (or 1 tbsp crushed jarred)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-5 cups cooked barley (start with about 1 1/2 cups dry)
Cook barley in salted water using a ratio of 3:1 water to grain for about 50 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. (It's nice to cook extra so you can have a nice hot cereal the next morning.)

Bring a few cups of water to a boil. Add the collard greens and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they're cooked down and starting to darken in color. Drain.

In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in heated olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Whisk the flour and broth and add the mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil. Add beans, salt, and pepper and simmer, stirring around for a minute.

Add the blanched greens and cooked barley. Simmer, stirring frequently, until flavors are melded and much of the liquid is absorbed.

Serve with vegan parmesan, if desired, or any seasonings you like. I spiced mine up with a bit of red pepper flakes and Fakin' Bacon bits.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Getting kids to eat vegetables and other healthy foods

People tell me that I'm lucky that my 3-year-old son eats vegetables. (Well, not all veggies, but most.) I think it's more than luck; I use a few techniques that I think work really well. Here are my top ten success secrets.

1. Make it fun. See this photo? Ben loves letters and numbers, and he was thoroughly delighted with the 10 carrots and the "10" written in vegan Ranch. And don't do this ONLY for the picky ones -- Ben would have eaten these carrots regardless, but making it fun reinforces positive associations with healthy foods. Some other ideas: a smiley face on oatmeal with raisins and nuts; sandwiches cut with a cookie cutter; anything that contains their name (ever try to write your child's name with string beans?), a flower out of apple slices... really the possibilities are endless. Once I sliced a banana into coins and arranged them around a plate with a big strawberry in the middle. It didn't represent anything but it was fun to eat!

2. Try not to engage in a power struggle. I have never, ever forced Ben to eat anything. But he knows I love it when he tries new things and enjoys his food. So every once in a while he's in a surly mood and declares, "I'm NOT going to eat this" in attempt to get a rise out of me, and I say, "OK!" with a big smile. Nine times out of ten, he eats it a few minutes later, because he realizes I really don't care if he eats or not (well, I DO, but he does not know that!). Because I am a dietitian, parents are often surprised to see how I handle mealtime issues. For example, when Ben takes one bite and tells me he is no longer hungry, I excuse him and that's that. The kid knows he's full; who am I to force him to overeat? Children are born with an acute sense of satiety. We need to nurture that instinct, not destroy it by forcing them to eat "three more bites" when they're not hungry. (Obviously, this goes for healthy children of normal weight; children with growth or weight or serious food issues need special care.) Every now and then, 10 minutes after the meal is over, there will be a request for food, and the answer is NO -- mealtime is over. After 2 or 3 of these episodes, children learn that you mean business. And if they go hungry for an hour or two before the next meal or snack, it's ok; they won't whittle away to nothing. Because of this approach, there is no stress or anxiety associated with our mealtimes, and they are usually quite peaceful.

3. Resist the temptation to reinforce the notion that vegetables taste bad but they have to be eaten. As hard as it is, try to treat all food relatively the same (except of course for special occasional treats like candy). That way, if you put all healthy foods in front of your child, they will pick and choose based on color, flavor, texture, and desire for variety -- not what is "good" or "bad."

4. Never use food as a reward. There are books written about this, but I'll try to sum it up with three points: one, using food as a reward ties behavior in with foods, which might lead kids to all sorts of parental manipulation using food. Two, if reward foods are a special kind of food, then non-reward food might feel like a punishment. Three, if reward foods are associated with parental pride and acceptance, then those foods might be later abused as a way for the child to feel accepted and loved.

5. If your child declares s/he does not like something, do not make a big deal out of it. For example, when I first gave Ben almond butter, he turned his nose up at it. I said, "Thank you for trying it." About 3 months later, he saw me eating almond butter on a cracker, and he asked to taste it. I gave it to him and he LOVED it! I didn't remind him that he didn't like it before, and now almond butter is a regular part of his diet (which thrills me, since he's allergic to most nuts). Another example: Ben used to love raw peppers, then for a while refused to touch them, and the other day he put away almost an entire red pepper cut into strips. I never said a word about it. I think if you "call" kids on their former likes or dislikes, they feel threatened or embarrassed or have hurt pride, and will continue to refuse food. Once we recongize that kids' food preferences change like the weather, we accept their "pickiness" as normal.

6. Once you find a veggie your child likes, go out of your way to prepare it. I discovered Ben's affinity for raw cabbage when he tried a piece of pickled cabbage at Veggie Heaven, our local vegetarian Chinese restaurant. So the next week I made him vegan cole slaw (I call it "cabbage salad") and he is addicted to the stuff. I use different dressing combinations, and I vary the veggies (I have mixed shredded cabbage with broccoli slaw, carrot slaw, and other shredded veggies, even very finely shredded raw kale.) You would not believe the portions of cabbage this kid puts away.

7. From as early as possible, make mixed dishes. Ben fully expects pasta, rice, tofu dishes, soups, stir fries, and even sandwiches to contain bits of vegetables. We don't usually have a blob of vegetables as a side dish; they're often incorporated into the main dish. I think this shapes the way kids think about food; they don't see vegetables as a pile of evil; they see them as a normal part of the meal at large. In addition, the veggies used in a main dish will be seasoned well, which is welcomed because oftentimes the flavor of plain vegetables is too bitter. I, myself, don't like plain steamed cauliflower, but I'll eat it in a curry. I do the same for my family.

8. Keep healthy snacks visible and accessible. When hunger strikes, Ben knows he can reach into the fruit bowl and always find something fresh, sweet, and delicious. Or he can open the fridge and see, at his eye level, containers of cut up veggies, cut up fruits, soy yogurt, almond butter, etc. What he sees is what he wants. (By the same token, if you don't want your child to ask for junk, then don't have junk in the house. They can't argue with, "We don't have any.")

9. Don't encourage a sweet or salty tooth. There is no reason for toddlers, or older children, to eat surgary cereal, sweetened oatmeal, or salted chips. Salt belongs in savory foods, and sugar belongs in desserts and sweets. Once a child gets used to overly sweet or overly salty foods (which are perfectly acceptable in their natural state), they will begin to reject the plain versions. And of course, it's less than ideal to overindulge in sugar and salt.

10. Relax. I think this is the most important thing. Food is not supposed to be a weapon or threat or reward or punishment. Provide delicious, natural foods to your family every day and they will thank you with big smiles... and optimal health.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Move over, soy ice cream!

There's a new kid in town. In Manhattan town, that is. I know, I know, I keep writing about these fantastic places to eat in NYC, leaving non-New Yorkers cranky. Sorry -- now you have even more reasons to visit the Big Apple.

What am I raving about this time? An all vegan ice cream parlor, that's what. Lula's Sweet Apothecary, located at 516 East 6th Street (at Avenue A), is a scoop of heaven smack dab in the center of Veganville, NY (AKA the East Village). A cute little place that gets crowded quickly, Lula's sells frozen desserts (sundaes, floats, malts, etc. too, of course) with all the toppings (marshmallow, hot fudge, you name it), candy, and other sweets. Did I mention everything is vegan? Fortunately they're open late; check out their hours on their site, but don't plan to go on a Monday, because that is the one day they are closed.

The store's wonderful and charming wife-husband owners, Blythe Boyd and Derek Hachett, thought nothing of our request for one small scoop of each of their NINE flavors because we couldn't decide which ones to try. So my husband and I were presented with dishes of tiny (we're talking melon scoop sized) samples of each and every flavor. (See photo above) Literally, a bite of each flavor for each of us. What a treat, and what a great idea! My favorites were the Cake Batter (yup, it really tastes like the stuff you used to lick off the spoon when you were a kid) and Cinnamon. Dan particularly enjoyed the S'mores and Peanut Butter Chocolate. Truly, the stuff had no soy aftertaste or weirdness that some nut-based ice creams have. The flavors are beautifuly balanced and the texture is just right -- creamy, without coating the tongue, and deliciously sweet without being syrupy. They had some really interesting flavors, most of which rotate (so it's best to visit frequently!). We had a lovely time chatting with Blithe and Derek, and left with a naturally sweetened pomegranate lolly for my 3-year-old (who told us the following day that it was his "favorite candy ever.")

This was the perfect dessert after our light dinner at nearby Pukk, an all-vegetarian Thai restaurant with fabulous prices and gorgeous, wholesome food (subject for another day).

Wondering why a dietitian is writing about ice cream? Because I truly believe that sweets in moderation are OK. They are an indulgence, a celebration, a treat. There's a place in the vegan diet for sweets now and then. And the best sweets are those made with love and care, and that's what you find at Lula's.

If you're going to indulge in ice cream, make it natural, make it dairy-free, make it organic, and make it Lula's. Gone gluten-free? All GF selections are highlighted. Avoiding soy? Try their nut-based frozen delectibles. Into raw? They've got that too. There is truly something for everyone.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The New Trend in Fast Food

Yesterday the family took a day trip to Manhattan and went to the top of the Empire State Building, wandered down 5th Ave, and had a lovely time overall. When 6:00 struck we were all in the mood for a veggie food fix -- would have loved Candle 79, but not with a tired 3-year-old! So instead we hoofed it over to Better Burger on 3rd Ave. Better Burger? You'd Better Believe It! Next to Josie's (a mostly veg, beautiful restaurant and owned by the same folks), Better Burger is just that -- they offer traditional beef and turkey varieties (hormone- and antibiotic-free) as well as 2 vegan varieties: veggie grain and soy. Other vegan offerings include soy hot dogs, chili, and smoothies.

We tried the spinach salad with tofu, grain/veg burger, and hot dog. With air-baked fries, of course. We shared everything and really enjoyed it.

Better Burger has 3 locations in NYC; visit their web site to find out more.

Interested in more such places? They're starting to open up everywhere! Here are just a few I know of; do you know of any more?

Veggie Grill
Elevation Burger (opening a location in my town soon!)
vg burgers

Hopefully these new places will redefine Fast Food as we know it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Shop the Perimeter": My Theory

If you're a reader of health magazines and such, no doubt you've come across the grocery shopping advice to "shop the perimeter of the store." In a nutshell this implies that the healthiest foods in the store are the ones found in the outer border of the grocery store.

I've heard this "tip" about 4000 times over the course of my career and I am making it my mission to toss it out the window. It should have been rendered obsolete right along with the 4 food groups! But just today I saw it discussed as a good tip by the dietitians in my professional email list.

I don't know about your local grocery store, but here's what I find at the perimeter:

  • dairy products (cheese has the highest amount of saturated fat of any food, and don't forget the butter, cream, etc.)
  • canned dinner rolls and refrigerated cookie dough
  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • hot dogs
  • cold cuts
  • bakery
  • deli
  • eggs
  • fruits and vegetables (yeay!)

Are these really the healthiest foods in the store? Well, yes to the fruits and vegetables, but the rest? I smell a rat.

Here's my theory. It's one of the most successful nutritional conspiracies of all time. I think the USDA made it up! After all, their job is to promote and protect the interests of animal agriculture, and they're all placed at the perimeter. Consider this: all of those things need to be refrigerated, and it is most cost-effective for stores to house their refrigeration cases against the walls. How convenient for "experts" to advise folks to shop the refrigerators--meat, dairy, eggs, (and produce).

Even your average nutritionist would agree that the following foods are an integral part of a health-supporting diet:

  • whole grains like brown rice
  • products based on whole grains (cereals, breads, crackers, etc.)
  • dried and canned beans
  • nuts and nut butter
  • seeds

If we shop the perimeter and ignore the aisles, we miss out on nature's healthiest foods (in addition to fruits and vegetables). So ignore the "perimeter" advice and rely on your common sense!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A new twist on oatmeal

I came across a nifty product at Whole Foods today. Uncle Sam now sells instant oatmeal in single serve packets. One kind has with flax seeds and crunchy whole wheat flakes. It contains only 130 calories, 5 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, no sugar, no trans fat, 3 grams of total fat (from the oats and flax seeds), and only 20 little milligrams of sodium (most plain oatmeals have more). Top with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts and fresh fruit, and you're good to go 'til lunch!

Another, Uncle Sam's Instant Oatmeal with Soymilk (in French Vanilla and Cinnamon Raisin) is made with dried soymilk and a bit of sugar (evaporated cane juice). Yes, soymilk! Now, I'm not a big fan of added sugar, but a serving of the Vanilla has just 1 1/2 teaspoons (2 1/2 if you opt for the raisin flavor, since raisins are a natural source of sugar). Better without extra sugar? Of course. BUT -- some folks just LOVE flavored instant oatmeal packets (you know the brand I'm referring to) and for them, this is a vast nutritional improvement. Plus, if you use soy milk in your oatmeal, you're getting at least this much sugar in your bowl. These soymilk flavors have only 160 calories, but also include the wheat flakes and flax, so they provide 3 grams of healthy fat, 5 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein, and 50 mg of sodium. Not bad!

Now, can you DIY (ie make plain oatmeal and add ground flax and whatever else) and save a bunch of money? Sure. But some people are happy paying for convenience, and for them, this is a great choice.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You Are What You Eat

Recently, a new product came to my attention. It's not vegan, so this is a bit off-topic. But I couldn't help but write about it.

It was discussed at length on a dietitian list serve that I'm a member of, and it originally came from a blog post by Gail Shepherd of the Miami New Times. Before you click on that link, read this list of ingredients. What do you think this "food" could possibly be?

Ingredients: reduced fat milk, heath bar crunch ice cream (cream, nonfat milk, caramel ribbon (corn syrup, sweetened condensed whole milk (milk, sugar), water, high fructose corn syrup, butter (cream, salt), propylene glycol, sodium alginate, salt, natural and artificial vanilla flavors, potassium sorbate (preservative), soy lecithin, annatto color, sodium bicarbonate, propyl paraben (preservative)) , heath® bar candy pieces [milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, nonfat milk, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin (an emulsifier), salt, and vanillin (an artificial flavoring)), sugar, palm oil, dairy butter (milk), almonds, salt, artificial flavoring, and soy lecithin], sugar, corn syrup, toffee base (sweetened condensed whole milk, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, natural flavor, disodium phosphate, and salt), whey powder, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, carrageenan, polysorbate 80), fudge topping (corn syrup, sugar, water, hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, cocoa (treated with alkali), modified corn starch, salt, sodium bicarbonate, disodium phosphate, potassium sorbate (a preservative), natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin), jamoca ice cream (cream, nonfat milk, sugar, corn syrup, jamoca extract (coffee extract, sugar, potassium sorbate and methyl paraben (as preservatives)) whey, caramel color, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, carob bean gum, guar gum), caramel praline topping (corn syrup, sweetened condensed whole milk, water, sugar, modified food starch, butter, salt, propylene glycol, natural and artificial flavor, sodium citrate, xanthan gum, lecithin, potassium sorbate and propyl paraben as preservatives), Hershey’s® Heath® Milk Chocolate English Toffee (milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, nonfat milk, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin [an emulsifier], salt, and vanillin [an artificial flavoring]), sugar, palm oil, dairy butter (milk), almonds, salt, artificial flavoring, and soy lecithin), whipped cream (whipped cream (cream, milk, sugar, dextrose, nonfat dry milk, artificial flavor, mono & diglycerides, carrageenan, mixed tocopherols (vitamin e), to protect flavor, propellant: nitrous oxide).

Do you REALLY want this stuff in YOUR body? Think about it! When we buy something as seemingly innocent as a Baskin Robbin's Shake (which is what this is, and by the way, contains 2310 calories, 64 grams of saturated fat, and 1/2 pound of sugar), do you actually think of the components that are becoming an actual part of your body? That's what making smart choices is all about. We tend to make food choices based on what we're in the mood for. But our taste buds aren't the best judge of what we really need... we have to introduce our taste buds to our brains.

Taste buds: "I want a cold, sweet, creamy dessert."

Brain: "Throw some frozen fruit and almond milk into a blender."

Brain would never reply: "Whip up some disodium phosphate with jamoca extract and an additional 114 ingredients."

No one wants to walk around sluggish, fat, tired, and in a haze. But when we eat junk, we become junk. When we eat Real Food, that's when we can start to look and feel Real Good. And that's the foundation of a healthy diet, vegan or not. Want processed foods now and then? Fine. But at LEAST 75% (more is ideal) of our food should be something that we recognize as a plant part that grows on a tree, in a flower, in the ground, on a vine or bush, or underground.