Monday, April 19, 2010

CHOCOLATE - The light and dark of it!

We all love chocolate and most of our kids are raised with the addiction too! Is it a bad thing?
Well, I believe that food is certainly about our health and nourishment but it is also about pleasure and enjoyment. That’s why quality is so important. How many of us would much rather enjoy a small plate of beautifully prepared and cooked food than one overflowing with cheap, ill prepared food?

Chocolate can be great, chocolate can be ok and chocolate can be awful. Again, it’s all about the quality.
Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted, and ground beans taken from the pod of the tropical cacao tree and is made primarily of cocoa solids and cocoa fat. The different flavours of chocolate are obtained by varying the time and temperature when roasting the beans, by adjusting the ratio of the cocoa solids and cocoa fat, and by adding non-chocolate ingredients.
The interesting factor in chocolate making (like much of food manufacturing) is that production cost is significantly decreased by reducing cocoa solid content or by substituting cocoa butter with a non-cocoa fat (such as hydrogenated vegetable oil). Therein lies the problem with most of the chocolate kids consume.

Most ‘kids’ chocolate (such as many Easter eggs, cheap chocolate bars etc) is this compound chocolate which is made from cheap hard vegetable fats and tropical fats such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil in place of the more expensive cocoa butter. It is this type of chocolate that our kids are exposed to more than any other. And its this type of chocolate that our kids think of when they think of chocolate.
When we are told chocolate is good for us it doesn't mean this type of chocolate!
The type of chocolate that is good for us has at least 70% cocoa. It is dark, has few ingredients besides cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter and sometimes vanilla and melts in your mouth. The added benefit of eating good quality, dark chocolate is that it is rich and difficult to eat too much of it! A little bit goes a long way and moderation is always the key!

So get your kids trying dark, finest quality chocolate. Most organic and fair trade chocolate is good chocolate and many small chocolate shops sell quality too.
If the taste is too strong for them, simply get them trying it a little at a time and exploring the flavours. Use it in cooking and keep away from the other stuff till they adjust! They'll soon be begging for more!

Do your kids love dark chocolate? Are you trying to switch them over or do you love milk chocolate yourself? Tell me your thoughts.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bread - nourishing, delicious and extraordinary? or cheap, tasteless and ordinary?

Bread can be nourishing, delicious, life sustaining and extraordinary. It can also be cheap, tasteless, toxic and ordinary. Which type do you give your kids?

For thousands of years man survived on bread – it has been an integral and pivotal part of our diet for ever and dates back to Neolithic times. But bread and bread making have changed…..

No longer do we dine on just flour, water, salt and sourdough. We have pesticide and herbicide controlled wheat milled into flour which is then bleached and oxidised. We have commercial bakers yeast, bleached and chemalized salt, toxic vegetable oils, food additives, genetically modified soy flour, fish oils, synthetic vitamins and often a whole list of other questionable ingredients. No wonder it tastes so bad!!

I am asked about bread all the time by anxious parents…
• But what about high fibre bread?
• But what if my kids won’t eat brown bread?
• Is multigrain better than wholemeal?
• Is bakery bread better than supermarket bread?
• But aren’t fish oils good for us?
• Isn’t soy good for us?

and so on

So how do we know when bread is good for us? How can we tell the good from the not so good? Here are some questions to ask before we buy..

• Where is the bread made? A cheap supermarket line will almost certainly not offer as good a quality as a bakery which in turn will not offer as good quality as an artisan bakery.
• How many ingredients are listed? A long list of ingredients often signals poor quality breads.
• What flours are used? Organic? Unbleached? Wholegrain? Wheat? Rye? Soy? Spelt? Organic rye for example is far better for us than bleached white. Be wary of some soy flours as they are sometimes from genetically modified soy.
• What type of salt is used? Sea salt is far superior to the refined, bleached cooking salt used by many food manufacturers.
• Is it sour dough? Sourdough culture has been used since ancient times to leaven bread and has greater health benefits and is easier to digest than commercial yeast.
• Is there any oil used and if so, what type? Cheap, toxic vegetable oils are widely used in commercial breads, so beware.
• Have any food additives been used? The mould inhibitor 282 is a prime example of a typical food additive in bread. Amongst other things, this additive has been associated with behavioural problems in children.
• What about synthetic vitamins and fish oils? Yes, kids who are poorly fed may be getting some benefit from these additives, but for the most part, we need to get our vitamins and minerals from the food they originated in. Fish oils from fish, vitamins from fruits and vegetables etc.
• Does it take a long time to toast? This is often a simple test of bread quality. The more refined the bread the higher the concentration of sugars. When bread is exposed to heat during toasting the sugar caramelises and turns the bread brown. This will happen far more quickly in highly processed breads than traditional breads.
• Is it a pure natural loaf made with simple ingredients or is a highly processed loaf made with ingredients far removed from their natural source?
• Is it homemade? Bread made at home is delicious and you know what is in it!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

THE SCHOOL LUNCHBOX - 7 Ways To Make It Better!

School’s back and once again we are faced with the challenge of filling up those lunchboxes with interesting, delicious, simple and healthy things for hungry tummies. Sometimes it can be tricky to keep a rein on the packaged food, particularly under pressure from wily young ones or determined teens! But it is important to remember that if we fill their lunchboxes with good food they are much more likely to be settled and focussed at school and be able to concentrate more easily. This means learning is easier too! Making some simple changes can mean a big difference in their learning potential and outcomes.

Lunchboxes and good food at school can be as simple or as difficult as we choose to make it. It's not necessary to make elaborate, gourmet lunches but neither is it necessary to fill the lunchboxes with packaged convenience food. A balanced approach is the way to go with the main focus on fresh, clean tastes for healthy brains and bodies.

Here are 7 ways to make that lunchbox better! :

1. Switch to wholegrain bread and forget the white. Brown, rye and wholegrain breads and rolls will give your kids the brain power they need at school. And remember to make the sandwiches interesting! Try wraps, pita pockets, mountain bread, triangles or finger sandwiches for something different.

2. Fill that delicious bread with anything fresh they like - tomato, cucumber, avocado, celery, salad, grated carrot & beetroot, sprouts, pesto, hummus, cheese, egg, tuna, fresh chicken......

3. Make a salad tub or give them last nights dinner. Pasta, corn on the cob, hard boiled egg, chicken salad or casserole. Kids love cold leftovers! For the foodie, add some felafel, a wedge of brie, spicy dolmades and olives or some sushi!

4. Pack your own dips and wholegrain crackers instead of buying the cheap pre-packaged ones which are loaded with food additives and, instead of chips, try home popped popcorn or a bag of muesli.

5. Leave out the chocolate bars, roll ups and all the processed and pre packaged foods that are marketed to children and give them a bag of sultanas and almonds, yoghurt and fresh fruit or home made muffins, biscuits, slices, scones or pikelets.

6. Change over to lots of fresh fruit instead of sugary fruit bars and swap the boxed juices or flavoured drinks for water. Lots of water will keep their minds alert and focussed.

7. Get your kids involved, keep it fun and as simple and fresh as possible and you are on a winner!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Smart Summer Cooking

Summer is here and with the great outdoors beckoning we want to spend as little time as possible slaving over a hot stove. Saving time in the kitchen is always a priority when the mercury soars! Simple, nutritious meals that are a snap to prepare are the answer – to keep us cool and the kids happy and healthy! Here are 9 quick tips to staying cool and keeping smart over summer as well as some simple summer recipes.

1.Use the freshest ingredients possible as that heat will render fruits and vegetables limp and lifeless very quickly. The fresher they are, the better they taste.

2.Make use of sensational seasonal ingredients, such as tomatoes, basil, mangoes, eggplant and asparagus to prepare delicious salads.

3.Dinner doesn’t have to be a large cooked meal. A huge platter of summer fruits served with some cheese and nuts can be a wonderful evening meal on a hot day.

4.Keep cooking to a minimum and aim to prepare as many raw foods as possible.

5.If possible do some simple preparation early in the day to avoid cooking in the heat of the evening.

6.Barbeque as often as possible. Fresh fish or chicken with simple salads, barbequed vegetables with haloumi cheese and dips. Try corn fritters and vegetable kebabs. Even some BBQ'd bananas with chocolate! Throw on some capsicums and potatoes for use the next day in pasta or salads.

7.When you are cooking, double the recipe and freeze half for another day and use leftovers as often as possible. Barbecued vegetables, and cold chicken are great the next day.

8.Summer makes us naturally want to eat less so take it easy and keeps meals small and light.

9.Remember to keep it simple, fresh and light and be lazy this summer!

These burgers are so easy to throw together and are perfect for a summer barbeque. I have kept them quite plain for young taste buds but can easily be jazzed up for adults. Try adding chilli or fresh coriander, or some grain mustard. Serve in a crusty brown roll with salad for a simple meal that the kids will love. These are also wonderful with tzatziki or hommos.

Makes 12

500g chicken mince
1 carrot, grated
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g fresh breadcrumbs
½ tsp lemon zest
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Olive oil

Step 1: Combine all ingredients except flour
Step 2: Using wet hands shape into 10 patties
Step 3: Roll in a little flour and cook on the barbeque in a little olive oil
Step 4: Serve in a wholegrain roll with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise or chutney

Monday, November 16, 2009

Frozen Summer

Summer school holidays – kids, fun, laughter and relaxed lazy days. Oh, and endless demands for ice creams! I’m sure we would all be happier giving in to the demands if ice creams were only made like they used to be. Cream, milk, eggs and sugar and maybe some fresh strawberries or a handful of nuts thrown in. Kids are so used to modern ice cream with all the colours of the rainbow, available anywhere and everywhere, that it is a real treat to have the home made stuff. In fact, in a kids world frozen treats in any form are a delight and at any time of the year! My mother used to make a divine lemon sorbet from lemon juice, egg whites and sugar. I can still bring to mind the excitement we felt when she would pull it from the freezer and scoop it into cones for us. She sometimes simply froze giant blocks of cordial and we ate those from square cones, too and thought we were in heaven. I always tell my kids that the best freezer is at home and so we freeze mango pips, grapes, orange quarters, bananas and fresh pineapple. Even bowls of frozen blueberries or raspberries are greeted with glee on a hot day! It is simple to make ice cream even without an ice cream maker and homemade icy poles take minutes. Even the kids can do it. Here is one our favourites – kids love these as much as anything you can buy.


Warm water
Shredded coconut

Icy pole sticks
Freezer or cellophane bags and ties

Soften the honey by adding a little warm water and mix through. Peel the bananas and cut in half. Carefully insert an icy pole stick through the cut end. Using a pastry brush, brush warm honey over the banana. Quickly roll in the coconut, covering completely. Place on a waxed paper lined tray and freeze until firm. Once frozen place in cellophane bags and secure tightly.

Try rolling them in crushed nuts or melted chocolate or both!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Smoothie Heaven

Who loves smoothies? Kids sure do! The blender is never put away in our house and is often grabbed for breakfast, after school or even after dinner! Milk, fruit juice, vegetable juice, yoghurt, ice, fresh fruit, frozen fruit, wheat germ, ice cream, honey, vanilla, maple syrup, cocoa, carob, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg........the list goes on.

Great for kids to experiment with new and exciting flavour combinations - brilliant for value adding all sorts of healthy treats no-one knows about - ideal for using ripe fruit - perfect for a fast and healthy breakfast - terrific for an after school 'I'm starving!' snack.......

Here are my hints for making great smoothies:

Use frozen fruit for a creamier, thicker and colder smoothie.

Add the liquid to the blender first as this prevents the fruit from sticking to the blades.

The riper the fruit the sweeter the smoothie.

Freeze freshly squeezed juice in ice cube trays and add to smoothies. Try watermelon, orange, lime, apple or even carrot.

Freeze yoghurt and add to smoothie for a colder and thicker drink.

Serve smoothie immediately as it will separate on standing.

To make it more appealing to kids, serve in a tall glass and add a straw and some garnish.

Give the kids free reign!

1½ cups freshly squeezed orange juice
500g frozen berries
½ cup natural yoghurt

Pour the juice into the blender and add berries and yoghurt. Blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses to serve.

¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup natural yoghurt
6 strawberries
1 banana, frozen and chopped

Pour the juice and yoghurt into blender and blend gently. Add the strawberries and banana and blend until combined. Pour into tall glasses and top with a strawberry.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Your Little Foodie

Several years ago my husband and I stayed at a little boutique hotel with our 2 children, then aged 10 and 7. It was a wonderful place and we expected no less than the menu that was offered to us at breakfast next morning. Bircher muesli, porridge with banana and honey, poached eggs and sourdough toast, home made jams…… know the sort of thing! However my blood boiled when the waiter offered our children the ‘kids menu’ - coco pops, rice bubbles, white toast and vegemite!

My kids are more than happy to sample the offerings on the ‘adults’ menu and in fact are quite at home ordering from a whole range of culinary delights. Kids are more sophisticated than we give them credit for and restaurants need to know they are insulting the foodies of tomorrow by offering them the cheap and tasteless fodder of the typical kids menu.

Or will there be any foodies? How can children ever learn to value and appreciate good food if they are only ever treated as an afterthought? If they are time and again offered the oh-so-exotic fare of chips, sausages, nuggets, pizza and burgers and the bonus of ice cream for dessert!!(or coco pops instead of Bircher muesli!) A foray into the world of cheap fats, sugars, high salt and inferior flavours. All this while their parents are offered the pleasures and enjoyment of a cordon bleu meal at the same time.

To understand and appreciate good food now and for the rest of their lives, children need to be exposed to the genuine article as much as possible. That is, food that is fresh, delicious, appetizing and exciting to their taste buds. It is often wondered why kids don’t recognize, let alone want to eat, fresh food, or why they assume there is ‘grown up food’ and ‘kid’s food’. Yet given what is on offer most of the time it is totally understandable.

When I compare Australia with Europe, and their customs and traditions of unquestioningly including children at the meal table, I can’t help wondering why we are so inadequate at catering for kids. In France, for example, children just eat smaller serves of what the adults do - a ‘portion enfant’ of anything from terrine of rabbit, boeuf Bourguignon and exotic vegetables to pate de foie gras and a dozen varieties of cheeses. In Italy, the dining table simply would not be complete without the children.

We need to give kids the respect they deserve and acknowledge that even the most intractable junk food eaters can learn to dine well if given the chance. One of the suggestions I offer to families who want to stake their children’s claim for good food is, if you’ve never tried ‘real’ dining with the kids, start out slowly. Avoid sophisticated restaurants and try local cafes first. Many Asian restaurants - the local Thai, Japanese or Chinese for example - are often a good starting point, as they rarely if ever will offer ‘kids menus’ and have a wide variety of flavours and tastes to try. They are also less likely to frown or fret when they spy your children in tow.
Another good idea is to leave the ‘family’ restaurants, where children are usually offered cheap and flavourless meals, out of the picture altogether. Search for restaurants that offer ‘tasting plates,’ such as Middle Eastern, Spanish, Turkish and Greek. This is a great way to introduce new foods and flavours to kids and everyone sampling a little of everything is always fun.

Trying different cuisines can be enjoyable for kids and adults alike and a quick flick through restaurant guides in our major Australian cities produces an extensive list featuring a diversity of fare from around the globe. On offer is an A to Z of anything and everything from Afghan and African to Vietnamese and Sri Lankan. Recently we took our children to an Ethiopian restaurant where they were licking their fingers, and almost their plates, in delight! We shared an incredible platter of vegetable curry, creamy spinach, pumpkin, spicy chickpeas and lentils with steaming bowls of rice and heavenly bread and the kids loved it. No such thing as a kids menu here!

Taking the kids to ‘real’ restaurants, where they are acknowledged and respected and their palates given as much attention as an adults, can be the beginning of a life long love affair with real food and what better way to get the kids to eat their veggies!!