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April, 2008

Organics for Health

By Mark Mulcahy

Recent reports and studies show that increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet can help reverse obesity, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. So how do we get kids to eat more produce now that we know it can make a significant difference in their lives and future health?

Organic Broccoli
There have been a couple of news items recently that really provide some food for thought. The first was on the Produce for Better Health website. It’s estimated that 1/3 of the children in the U.S. are overweight or obese and that scientists now believe that today’s children may actually have a shorter lifespan than their parents because of this. This ties in with the other startling statistics that show that the rate of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension have also reached epidemic proportions. The second item comes from recent reports and studies that are showing that increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet can help reverse some or all of these trends. So how do we get kids to eat more produce now that we know it can make a significant difference in their lives and future health?

The first may be to examine how we as adults model produce eating ourselves. Occasionally I’ve overheard these lines from parents when shopping in the produce dept. “Oh, you don’t like that”, to a kid asking for some broccoli, or, ”Would you like your cookie before your apple?”, to a tired child in a stroller. All of this gets your wheels turning doesn’t it? If not it should. First, let’s start with the broccoli comment. This may be true, but then again, the kid may not have liked it the way it was fixed that time or not liked it two years ago. Or perhaps they’ve never had Melissa’s Organic Broccoli! Take this example: one of my daughters doesn’t like steamed broccoli, but loves it sautéed or in Chinese food. And at a recent family gathering, Grandma made blanched broccoli with peanut sauce as a snack and the kids and adults alike chowed it down. The broccoli was cooked al dente so it was firm but not hard, and the peanut sauce was thinned with water and seasoned with cilantro, garlic, and a pinch of cayenne. Mmm, mmm.

Here is the recipe for you to try for yourself:

Mollie Katzen's Broccoli Dipped in Wonderful Peanut Sauce
Children love this dish! The broccoli can be cooked up to several days ahead of time. Serve it at any temperature, with room temperature or warm sauce. Serves 5

NOTE:
If you are using honey instead of sugar, add it at the beginning with the peanut butter, so it can be softened by the hot water.

INGREDIENTS:
1 large bunch broccoli (1-1/2 lbs)
1 cup good peanut butter (smooth, not chunky)
1 cup hot water
2 to 3 Tbsp. soy or tamari sauce 3
to 4 Tbsp. sugar or light-colored honey
1-1/2 tsp. minced or crushed garlic
2 tsp. cider vinegar
3 to 4 Tbsp. cilantro, finely minced
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

PREPARATION:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, trim and discard the tough stem ends of the broccoli, and slice the rest lengthwise into about 6 to 8 hefty spears.
  2. When the water boils, lower the heat to a simmer, and plunge in the broccoli for 2 minutes if you like your vegetables tender-crisp, and for 3 minutes if you like them tender-tender. Drain in a colander, and then run the broccoli under cold running water to cool it down. Drain thoroughly; dry the broccoli first by shaking it emphatically, and then by patting it with paper towels. Transfer to a zip top bag, seal it and store until ready to be used.
  3. Place the peanut butter in a bowl. Add the hot water, and mash and stir with a spoon or a small whisk until well blended.
  4. Stir in the remaining ingredients, adding salt and cayenne to taste, and mix well. Serve right away, surrounded by steamed broccoli of any temperature. (You can also cover it tightly and refrigerate for up to a week. Let the sauce come to room temperature before serving.)

The second assumption that a child prefers sweets to apples could be just a matter of learning what‘s in season and what tastes best right now and what Melissa’s has to offer. After all, a fresh peach, slice of cantaloupe or handful of Thompson seedless grapes is going to be just as welcome as anything else a parent might offer. So perhaps some small adjustments in our thinking as parents and a little meal planning could yield big results in the future.

So let’s go back to the broccoli. Why not make a dinner with lightly cooked Melissa’s organic broccoli, some fresh organic carrot sticks, organic cherry tomatoes, lightly steamed organic green beans and sliced organic red peppers, all placed on a platter in the center of the table, then passed around with bowls of the above peanut butter dip and other nut butters like almond, cashew and tahini? Have everyone name which is their favorite pairing with each different vegetable. Then make these available for lunch or as afternoon snacks. The next night have everyone join in making grilled zucchini pizzas. It would only take some sliced organic zucchini, a little pasta sauce, some cheese and your kids’ imagination. You could grill them outside or put them in the toaster oven.

With all the summer fruit coming into season, why not pull your blender out of the cupboard and have plenty of fresh berries and nectarines around so it is easy to make a smoothie whenever they feel the urge? Kids also like different food and small portions that are fun to eat. Cut your corn into cobettes before cooking them, and put a bowl of lemon slices or some mild chili pepper on the table when serving, for them to experiment with. (Young kids may need help with the chili, but make it part of the fun. And remember, a little can go a long way.) Really young kids can be taught their colorways with different produce items, eating each color as they say it. You could call it the “rainbow lunch”. Another terrific reason for them to “eat their colors” every day, besides the first fun idea, is for the pigments they contain, called anthocyanins that provide fruit and vegetables with beneficial blue, purple and red coloring. Anthocyanins are a group of healthful compounds that the latest studies show may provide cancer protection, improve brain function and promote heart health. And with all Melissa’s organic summer fruit and veggies coming into season, it is a lot better and tastier than taking a pill for these benefits.

Lastly, it is well known that if you have produce items precut and ready to go, that kids and adults alike will eat more. So an investment in some Tupperware bins for the fridge for precut items, can make it a lot easier for this way of eating to become a habit. Anything you can do will only make a positive difference, and who knows, you may find that you really like broccoli too! Can you think of a better Mother’s Day gift than raising healthy kids who’ll be that way for many Mother’s Days to come? If you’d like more tips on getting your kids to eat more produce go to www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

Serving note- Eating enough servings of produce each day is easier than you may think. A serving is any one of the following: 1 medium-size piece of fruit, ½ cup fresh of vegetables, ¾ cup of fruit or vegetable juice, or one cup of leafy greens.