I have reviewed a lot of cookbooks over the years, but this one is really special..a must have for all families (and it is free!) Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles all want to see kids eat well. Many kids (and, some parents) don’t know what do to in the kitchen besides open the Styrofoam box from the drive-through fast food or reheat leftovers in the microwave. I grew up in a time when mom and dad cooked and kids learned basic cooking skills in home ec. It is no surprise that many parents’ favorite kitchen appliance is the phone to call for delivery pizza.

This book can bring back those lost culinary skills. As part of the “Keep the Beat” program from US Department of Health and Human Services (NIH) and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, this colorful, kid-friendly book is more than a cookbook (although all of recipes will appeal to the whole family)…it is part nutrition primer and learning-t0-cook helper. I especially love the photos in the appendix that show what the various cooking terms mean…to those of you who cook, dice, chop, mince, slice mean something, but to the cooking challenged, decoding a recipe can be a frightening experience.

Recipes are easy to make, delicious to eat, and good for you. Symbols (“Healthier Classics, Leftover Friendly, Chefs in Training, and Healthy Eating Two Ways”) steer the cook to making mealtime fun and functional.

Last week, I gave college athletes the recipe for Bowtie Pasta with Chicken, Broccoli, and Feta and even the most skeptical among them took the recipe back to the dorm for a tryout.

Check it out at the website http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/healthyeating for recipes and information on ordering one free copy…you will be glad you did! This is one government publication that is steering kids down the healthy lane…with tasty kid-friendly recipes that everyone will love.

Chicken Myths

At the 2011 Food Media Seminar, sponsored by the National Chicken Council and US Poultry and Egg Association, I got the chance to eat a lot of great chicken dishes (see picture of Charlotte Jenkins Gullah Jerk Chicken–a Lowcountry Cuisine classic). I also thought about some of the myths about chicken so let’s set the record straight.

Myth 1: Always buy chicken labeled as “hormone free” or “natural” to get the healthiest bird for your family.

The truth is that the word “natural” means nothing on a food package and no hormones are used in any chicken products. So, saying a package of chicken breasts is hormone-free is like saying that bag of potato chips has no cholesterol–no potato chips contain cholesterol (cholesterol is found only in animal foods) and no chicken sold in the US is fed hormones to fatten it up. You may prefer to buy organic poultry but you don’t have to spend extra money to get hormone-free chicken.

Myth 2: All chicken is pumped full of sodium-containing liquids.

Some chicken does contain liquid that can increase the sodium content, but not all. If you are reducing sodium look at the label to find out if the product is “enhanced” or “marinated” which might indicate there is added sodium. Choices abound in the meat counter of the grocery store so read labels to find sodium content (make sure to take your reading glasses as all food labels can be hard to read for those of us over a certain age!)

Myth 3: Boneless, skinless chicken breast is the healthiest of all chicken parts.

It might be the lowest in total fat, but, to steal line from presenter and registered dietitian, Colleen Pierre, “don’t be afraid of the dark.” Chicken thighs are popular with chefs as they are more flavorful than white meat; nutritionists like dark meat because it has 24% more iron and 3 times the zinc as white meat. Iron and zinc are two nutrients that are often low in the diets of children and adolescent girls so break out of the white meat chicken rut and try boneless chicken thighs or drumsticks. Kids love drumsticks–they come with their own handle.

Myth 4: Chicken skin should always be removed before cooking.

Cooking chicken with the skin on helps seal the juices and makes the chicken meat more tender and flavorful. More than half of the fat in chicken skin is monounsaturated fat–the healthy kind of fat. So, leave the skin on when cooking and remove the skin at the table to cut extra calories while saving flavor.

Myth 5: Wings are always a high-fat choice in restaurants.

Ever see “boneless” chicken wings on the menu? Turns out the “boneless chicken wings” are not really wings–boneless chicken breast is used and just called wings. So, if you really want wings…look for boneless wings (preferably baked, not deep-fat fried!)

For more information on chicken and some great recipes, visit http://www.eatchicken.com

April Fool’s Day Fun with Food

The Evidence Analysis Library of the American Dietetic Association has a section on pediatric overweight and recently I was give the opportunity to translate the science into section for the consumer side of the ADA website (http://www.eatright.org/)

One thing that struck me was the behavioral science of raising a child to have a healthy weight and a positive body image. Family function can have many positive effects on a child’s eating behaviors and weight. Some of the patterns most related to healthy body weight include family closeness, support, and mind-stimulating activities.

My niece, Angela, has all that (and more!) covered in raising her 2 daughters. This April 1 she surprised her oldest daughter with some fun (definitely mind-stimulating!) creative lunch choices. The pictures show Cheez-Its replaced with marshmallows (re-sealed with double sided tape to make it authentic), “Sushi” made with rice krispies, fruit rolls, jelly beans, and black sprinkles, “grilled cheese” from toasted pound cake and yellow icing, and of course, an apple complete with a gummy worm. How much fun is that? What a wonderful way to have fun with a child…OK, the actual substitutions were not as healthy as the original foods, but can you image how the April Fool’s surprise from mom’s April Foods delighted her elementary school-age daughter??!!