dirtydozen1Organic…non-GMO…pesticide free…free range…locally grown…who know grocery shopping could be this complicated?  My mother surely did not anticipate this.  As a young child, she would take me to the farmers markets.  “This is how you pick a “good” one,” she would say.   She chose fruits and vegetables based on how they looked or smelled and how they fit into her menu for the week.

One topic we never talked about was organic versus inorganic.  Amazingly, this question is now part of the mainstream parental consciousness.  Being one of these parents, I have reached several conclusions (for now).

One, eating fresh nutritious food is more important to me than only eating organic foods.  So if that means I am preparing non-organic green beans for dinner, I will live with that.

Two, when possible, I try to reduce the pesticide and chemical exposure whether in my food or in my environment.  I do this by reviewing the “dirty dozen” list of produce, while I am shopping.  The Environmental Working Group ( has a great foldout card (included in the post) that helps me choose fruits and vegetables with lower pesticide content.

A few years ago, an apple was an apple (with or without wax/pesticides).  Fortunately, now we know better (although we have a long way to go).  Finding good resources of information is important.  Two resources of mine are and  What resources do you use for nutrition-related information?



food imageBefore I became a mom, I pictured my family gathered around the table, enjoying my freshly cooked meals.  Yeah, I imagined I was a modern-day June Cleaver.  Then I had a reality check.  My kid was not enjoying the food.  In fact, I began to dread meal times because that meant having to listen to hours of whining, spitting, crying, and gagging.  After two to three bites, she was done with her meal.  One day she would eat something, the next day she wouldn’t even touch it.  I have never been the “you-better-finish-your-plate” type.  But, wasting food was not acceptable to me.

I decided I had to be creative, and that is when I came up with a list of super-meals that give a lot of nutritional bang in tiny portions.  Of course, every kid’s palate is different and it changes with age, so we have to roll with it.  Getting a variety of vegetables and proteins into their diet is the hardest part.  Here’s what I came up with:

Finely dice the following vegetables: 1 onion, 3 garlic cloves, 1 squash, a handful of green beans, 2 tomatoes, and 2 carrots.  Pan cook or bake two chicken breasts and shred or dice chicken into very small pieces.  Boil your kiddo’s favorite pasta.  In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium heat and saute onion and garlic lightly and then lightly saute the rest of the vegetables.  Pour 6 cups of water or stock.  Simmer the ingredients and cover until well cooked.  Put in already boiled pasta and cooked diced chicken.  Add more liquid to get the consistency desired.  If you are vegetarian, you can substitute chicken with lentils, beans, or diced tofu.

One thing I have learned is that there no competing with fresh non-processed food.  Soups and stews work because they can be made freshly, quickly, and easily.  Children have a small attention span, and one bowl of soup is way less distracting to them than a plate full of food items.  I think there is something satisfying in the slurping of soup (for all ages).  Don’t you think?


As I grow older and hopefully wiser, I don’t know why, but I think about my grandmothers a lot. They were strong women. Their spirituality, beauty, and earthiness strikes me to this day. Theirs was a life full of ritual. The rituals could be as simple as picking fresh herbs from the garden, separating each leaf, grinding them in stone, and then making an amazing healing salve or a yummy chutney out of it.

Every single day, they cooked fresh healthy meals. Cooking was an important part of their persona. Eating local was important as was eating seasonal foods. They knew that variety in diet mattered for their kids’ health and it would provide the anti-oxidant, vitamin, and mineral protection that was needed. Food was not just food. It was a ritual. They knew which vegetable or fruit was digested better with which grain or lentil. Preparation of spices had umpteen steps. I can’t believe how hard they worked!

The thought I put into the family meals is no-where close to grandma’s, but I do consciously try to follow some of their rituals. One is to prepare “ghee” or unsalted clarified butter. Ghee is a gorgeous, nutty, golden, liquidy version of butter. The French call it “beurre noisette” and they use it in pastries and sauces. I like to cook with it or add it to cooked foods. I find that it has a high smoke point and does not burn fast when heated. Adding small quantities to soups, lentils, rice, and homemade bread takes the palate to a different level. I make pasta and curry sauces with it as well. I prefer making ghee from fresh butter from local farms or organic butter if available. Preparation instructions are available on YouTube, Food Network, and many other sites. You can easily store and use it for two months at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Ghee is well known in Ayurvedic medicine as a digestive, an anti-oxidant, a burn salve, and a memory booster. Of course, just like butter, it is high in saturated fats. So moderation is important. Use it as a substitute for butter or oil, not an addition. And margarine…no thanks. When cooking for my family, the more natural ingredients the better. The grandmas knew that. And I am slowly learning that as well.

Tell me, what are your family rituals pertaining to cooking? Share your thoughts.


“She’s so skinny. Why don’t you feed her?” I can’t count how many times I heard this about my child. Every time I heard it, I would take a mental step back as if I was slapped. Sounds extreme? No really, that comment hurt. If only they knew how much thought and work I put into feeding the kids.

“Maybe it’s genetics,” I thought to myself. I used to be a finicky eater myself in childhood. Maybe it was the toddler appetite slump. This is real and most young kids go through it. My fear, however, was that my child would never grow out of this slump. So what did I do? First, I reconciled myself to the fact that my child was not going to gobble down food (like many of the other kids we knew). Second, I had to force myself to stay focused on one goal. And that was “to create healthy eating habits for life.

Today I am sharing one of my successes with you. The success is in my own realization of one very important fact. The fact that children like structure in their life. They need it and they respond to it. This structure should most definitely be extended to the dining table.

Set the meal times and snack times. It will simplify your life and it will allow your child to learn that food should not be grazed on all day.

Structure the plate. At every meal, create a plate with three different components. For instance, let’s say, you prepare a plate with green beans, cut apple, and baked breaded chicken nuggets. Have your child rotate taking bites between each component. In this case, first one bite of beans, then one bite of apple, then one bite of chicken and so on and so on. Treat it like a game. This will keep them focused on their task (or game) of eating and they get the variety of foods they need (without realizing it).

It takes a couple of weeks for the kids to get used to this routine, but they will respond positively to it. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as well. What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you?

Photo courtesy: Stuart Miles /