Friday, March 4, 2011

A New Guide for Healthy Family Eating

Partially hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, food coloring...  There are so many things that we have to watch out for in our food today.  Sometimes it's hard for me to keep all the information straight in my head.  My husband and I strive to feed our kids a healthy diet of fresh, prepared from scratch meals rather than frozen and prepackaged meals.  In our efforts, we have hit a snag.  Actually, it is a big snag.  We have one very picky eater.

Our first daughter was such a good eater--she even ate mushrooms when she was two years old!  Then, along came our second daughter who's refusal to eat most fruits and vegetables became more pronounced as she has grown older.  Did we do anything different?  No, not really.  Did I introduce the veggie baby foods first?  Yes!  Then our third child came along and thankfully he has turned out to be a good eater so far.

I thought maybe my picky eating daughter would grow out of her picky habits.  I have deep fears that she will become an adult who doesn't enjoy the wonderful world of food because she doesn't like the name of things.  In my quest for help, I began a search for helpful advice.  One of the books I discovered is a book titled The Cleaner Plate Club, by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin. I read the description of the book and it sounded like it would be right up our alley...

When you open up this book, you'll find a large section with all the nutrition information you've been looking up on the internet and haven't been able to easily find--at least I haven't.  I love books because they save me so much time!  They have all the information I want in one place.  And that is definitely the case with this book.  I can't count how many times I've looked up the ratios for sugar substitutes and definitions of kind of fats--and how many times I've looked up the different types of cooking oils.  Among the chapters in this book, you'll find a list of all the types of oils and fats, a list (with descriptions) of the sugar substitutes...  But, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin wrote The Cleaner Plate Club out of a desire to share what they've learned as they've sought to feed their own families healthy meals and raise healthy children.  The first part of the book is about nutrition.  Included in this section is a discussion of how to cope when they don't eat and how to feel about it.  The authors are not psychologists and wisely don't try to deal with the nonfood aspects of this--they don't deal with the aspects of obedience and discipline.  Instead, they focus these two pages on the nutritional aspects and how to view it.  The next chapter is about shopping for food.  I thought their list of ingredients for a well-stocked pantry was really pretty good.  There's a few that I might substitute or say are optional, but for the most part, I think it's a very affordable, well rounded list.  The next section explains CSAs and farmer's markets.  If you've wondered how a CSA works or what the benefits are, the authors do a good job of explaining them.  The remainder (and bulk) of the cookbook is about vegetables with recipes for your family.  The recipes I've made have all come out except for one.  My husband (and two of my children) loved the chicken chili, the fig balsamic salad dressing (which is about as simple as you can get), and the kale salt and vinegar chips.  The kale chips were truly one of the most surprising recipes in the book.  I made them on a whim not thinking anyone in my family but my husband would eat them--and all but one of my family loved them!  I did also make the tomato and bread soup, which did not turn out to be a hit with my children because  they love their Trader Joe's tomato soup and couldn't quite get used to the new texture of this soup.

So, here's my very honest opinion, I do love this cookbook.  But, though these recipes are family friendly, they may not be eaten by your picky eaters.  I think children who normally eat vegetables will love the recipes in this cookbook.  I was pretty shocked when my oldest daughter, a non picky eater, gobbled up the kale chips.  I hadn't even tried to get her to eat kale.  And some picky eaters may grow to love these recipes.  At the very least, the recipes in this cookbook are a great place to start.  They aren't too spicy, but they are flavorful dishes (just go light on the salt the first time you make the kale chips).  I don't have especially high hopes for my middle daughter, but I hope that she will eventually grow to love other foods.  She has been more willing of late at least to take a few bites and has been able to swallow them--I know that sounds extreme, but I am sincere when I say that I really do have a picky eater.  I think it's a trap that we as parents can begin to fall into when we cater to our picky children and stop cooking dishes that we enjoy.  I've heard from several moms that they just can't do it anymore so they just start feeding their kids nuggets and mac and cheese every night.  I don't want to go down that road.  I love food.  I especially love good food!  If 2 of my 3 children will eat a dish, then I consider it a successful meal.  So, if majority rules, this cookbook is a winner in our house.  It doesn't have all the answers for your picky eaters, nor does it pretend to.  But, it will be a good guide to help you know what to feed your children, how to shop, and give you some yummy recipes to cook for your family.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking of Simply in Season and I was so pleased to find that it is listed as one of the authors' favorite cookbooks at the back of the book.  Simply in Season is probably one of my most favorite cookbooks and I've written about it several times on this blog. Many of the recipes in Simply in Season are simpler than in this cookbook, but I think the two would compliment each other well if you are looking for cookbooks that will help you bring more vegetables and healthy dishes into your family's diet.

As I've reread this review, I've realized that I've really put this book in a box.  I have made it sound as if this is a cookbook that is best suited only to families.  I didn't mean to box it in that way.  So, who would I recommend this cookbook to?
1. Anyone who wants a cookbook with good, solid information about nutrition (but isn't ready to wade through a thick book devoted solely to nutrition).
2. Anyone who wants to cook more vegetables and eat healthier dishes at home, but isn't sure where to start and doesn't want to make any more casseroles.
3. And finally-- Anyone who loves yummy, healthy, food that doesn't include canned soup, ranch dressing, or another prepared food item as an ingredient!

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of The Cleaner Plate Club for review from Storey Publishing.  

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