If You Dip It, They Will Come

When all else fails, turn to the dip. That’s what my Registered Dietitian of a neighbor preaches when I moan and groan about my kids’ fruit-deprived diet. Fruit dips? Really? Is this what we’ve come to?

My kids’ idea of a fruit dip is powdered sugar, chocolate or caramel sauce, but apparently these are not on Mrs. Nutrition’s RD dip list. She brought a few better options for fruits and veggies, along with tons of trail mix ideas, to what’s become her annual “Healthy Eating” seminar for my daughter’s class. Thought I’d share here in case you have the time, need or inclination to whip up a dip …

(the kids ate them all, by the way)



  • 1 1/4 cups fat free Greek yogurt
  • 3 tbsp natural peanut or almond butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp- 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (two large dashes)

Mix all ingredients in a food processor or whisk together briskly.



  • 1 1/4 cups fat free Greek yogurt
  • 3 tbsp Nutella or other hazelnut chocolate spread

Mix and dip with your favorite fruit.



  • 1 package Knorr® Vegetable recipe mix or Hidden Valley Ranch Garden Herb
  • 1 container (8 oz.) nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup light buttermilk

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl; chill for an hour.

Note:  I did not use the whole package of the dry mix.  I added until I got the right flavor
for my taste, which was about half of the packet.

Makes around 3 cups



Mix ‘n’ Match The Ingredients


  • These pint-sized nutritional dynamos are loaded with healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamin E, and other essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Whether they’re raw or roasted, go for unsalted, unsweetened nuts to keep sugar and sodium under control.
  • Our healthy favorites: Almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, and walnuts. Higher-calorie macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and pine nuts are also good options in moderation.


  • For those with nut allergies (or just looking to mix things up), seeds provide many of the same nutritional benefits as nuts. Hemp seeds, for example, are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, gamma linolenic acid, protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium.
  • Sprinkle a handful of pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, or hemp seeds in trail mix for an extra boost of nutrients.


Dried Fruit

  • This sugary treat can easily become a dangerfood, so pay attention to the ingredient list and serving sizes. In moderation, dried fruit can be a great source of fiber, antioxidants, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K.
  • Look for dried fruit options with as little added sugar and preservatives as possible (some varieties, like cranberries, are naturally quite tart and almost always sweetened with cane sugar or apple juice). It’s also pretty easy to make your own dried fruit at home in the oven.
  • Our Favorites: Dried apples, cherries, cranberries, goji berries, blueberries, strawberries, apricots, raisins, banana chips, figs, pineapple chunks, mango, and dates.


  • Add some complex carbohydrates to your custom blend for extra fiber, which boosts overall energy and helps to keep you full [1].
  • Choose whole grains whenever possible and avoid highly processed cereals that add unnecessary sugar and sodium.
  • Shredded wheat cereal, pretzels, whole-grain cereals like Cheerios or Chex, bran flakes, whole-wheat crackers, granola, toasted oats, puffed rice cereal, and air-popped popcorn can all add a little bit of crunch.


  • Sometimes we all need a little something sweet to round out the mix. Just remember to add treat-like options sparingly (unless you’re making dessert instead of a snack).
  • Add a sprinkling of M&Ms, chips of various kinds (chocolate, peanut butter, carob, butterscotch), cacao nibs, yogurt-covered raisins, chocolate-covered coffee beans, mini marshmallows, or chocolate-covered nuts. When going the chocolate route, choose dark varieties for extra antioxidants.

Easy School Lunch Ideas for the Last-Minute Mom

Summer’s not even over but it’s back to school for us, along with the dreaded morning wake-up call … time to make the lunches! And the same questions every year … What to pack? What will they actually eat? How early do I have to wake up to get it all done? I figure if I (and you) have a quick school lunch go-to list that will make the mornings a little less chaotic, and lunches just a bit easier, healthier and generally yummier … then yay for all of us!

If you’re looking for some creative lunch recipes with cute presentation and fun packaging … this is not it. It’s all about simple, fresh, healthy foods that appeal to your kids, and that you can make on the go.


I’m usually last-minute myself when it comes to lunch-packing, so I generally stick with pretty basic, easy-to-assemble items that can be put together ten minutes before they’re out the door (but are still nutrition-packed). But I’ve found that a little pre-planning can take some of the dread out of the whole lunch-making process …

Get the kid(s) involved. Now that my kids are a little older, it’s time they took on some of the lunch-packing responsibility. Even if your child can’t pack a lunch herself, you can let her in on the selection (from your list, of course). Martha Stewart has a great magnetic lunch chart that you can assemble together, mapping out meals for the entire week (don’t worry, it’s incredibly simple for a Martha project!). This also helps cut down on the morning haggling about what to pack, and gets your little one more excited about eating, when she’s “chosen” it herself.


Post your own school lunch go-to list. The idea is to take the lunch list below, tailor it to your child’s tastes, add in his or her personal favorites, and post it to the fridge or upload it to your phone for planning and shopping. (I use the Our Groceries app, which is awesome, if you haven’t tried it. You can itemize favorite recipes, share your shopping list with others in the family so they can add to it when you run out of something, and easily delete items on your list as you shop — no more fumbling pencil and paper!)

With this go-to lunch list, you can rotate items when things start to get stale and you need to find some new foods that won’t actually come back home — warm, soggy and sad — in the lunch box.

School Lunch Ideas

1. It’s a wrap. So much you can do in a wrap (preferably a whole-wheat tortilla wrap), which helps when the sandwich thing gets old. My kids like the idea of assembling things themselves, so I usually pack the items individually, and let them do the work. This also keeps the wrap from getting soggy by the time lunch rolls around. (Note: Look for an upcoming post on good quality packing “tools,” which also makes everything a heck of a lot easier.)

Here are some options:

–      turkey and cheese

–      cream cheese and black olives (one of my kids’ favorites)

–      black beans, lettuce, shredded cheese and/or salsa

–      hummus with cucumber slices, tomato, lettuce and/or black olives

–      chicken Caesar – grilled chicken strips, lettuce, Caesar dressing and grated parmesan

–      tuna fish, plain or with tomato and/or lettuce

–      egg salad

–      even just a plain wrap with salsa for dipping


2. It’s a lettuce wrap. What’s healthier than wrapping things up in a whole-wheat tortilla? Wrapping them up in a vegetable! Pack a nice big leaf of romaine alongside any of the above options.

3. Meat & cheese roll-ups. We use faux turkey with Havarti or Muenster in our house, but you can layer your kid’s favorite cheese on his or her favorite meat and roll it on up. Stick a toothpick in, and you’ve got the easiest sandwich you ever made (and they can eat it right off the stick!).


4. All about the snacks. My kids are definitely all about the snacks, so I pack what looks like just a bunch of snacks or sides (i.e. no “main course”), but is really a pretty well-rounded meal.

– Black olives

– Chickpeas w/ olive oil and salt

– Plain lettuce with favorite dressing (packed in separate containers)

– Frozen raspberries (or any frozen fruit) with a little raw sugar sprinkled on top. (The berries melt into a nice sweet-n-sour slush by lunchtime.)

– Greek yogurt with honey and granola or berries

– hummus with a tortilla, tortilla chips, pretzels or carrot sticks for dipping

– celery, carrots or cucumbers with ranch dressing (try mixing greek yogurt, a little mayo and ranch seasoning  — delish!)

– edamame

– hard boiled egg

– string cheese or other cheese sticks with whole-wheat crackers

– favorite fruit or dried fruit

–  granola or Z-Bars

–  fruit pouches or crushers, or “squeezers” as well call them  (Happy Squeeze pouches are a top choice, packed with vitamins and minerals. They’re great to mix in baked goods or other recipes, too).


5. Double-up soup. When the weather gets cooler, we make a lot of soups, and I usually double the recipe so we have plenty left over for lunches. If you want to wait several days or weeks before serving it again, freeze some in individual containers, and you can thaw overnight for school the next day. Try our favorite minestrone soup (add a piece of bread or crackers, and you’re done).

6. Pasta a plenty.  Pasta leftovers are always easy, too. Like the soup, you can put it in a good insulated food container to keep warm. I’ll make a big pot of whole wheat pasta on Sunday night and use it for a couple days worth of lunch. My kids like it with tomato sauce, olive oil and Parmesan or Ginger dressing.

7. The added treat. We generally try to eat healthy, but I’m all about the occasional treats or sweets to keep everyone from feeling too restricted or “deprived.” So I will throw in some chocolate, cookies or other sweet once or twice a week. And maybe scribble out a quick note from mom. If I can find an extra minute. Or remember.

Got your own school lunch favorites?  Please share so we all can grow our lists!





Pizza Popcorn — 2 Kid Favorites, 1 Awesome Snack!


When I was a kid, my dad used to make popcorn on the stove – the old-fashioned way with just some kernels, some oil and a pot. I never realized just how easy this was until I made it for the kids and their friends one day.

I used to buy microwave popcorn or Smartfood, but I’ve found that most kids love the pot popcorn (ok, that didn’t sound so good). Really though, with a little melted butter and salt, it’s pretty tasty.



 AND the popcorn itself is made up of just that — kernels of popping corn — as opposed to the 10 or so ingredients found in the store-bought boxed varieties (and is a fraction of the cost.)


Microwave Popcorn

Just Popping Corn

Of course, you can do all sorts of things with this basic popcorn (sometimes we add cinnamon and sugar), but one of my favorite recipes is a creation by chef Cat Cora. It combines two of my kids’ (probably most kids’) favorite food flavors — pizza and popcorn — and works great for a family movie night or as a surprise gourmet-esque appetizer.




Pizza Popcorn 

Serves 4 (makes about 10 cups)


  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 10 cups popped popcorn (from ½ cup unpopped kernels; see “Popcorn Basics”)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan (freshly grated is really good)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1  Tbsp. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (I like up to 2 Tbsp)
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (I use a little less, or you can omit)
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder


Total time: 10 minutes

In a large bowl, toss oil and popcorn. Add remaining ingredients and toss again.
(Best served fresh, right after making.)


What’s your favorite popcorn recipe? 



Twist on the Tomato for Your Salty Tooth (Adult & Kid Versions)

Is there a more perfect fruit than a tomato? Well, maybe, but I can’t think of one. Probably because I prefer salty over sweet, so when it comes to a quick snack that’s as satisfying as it is healthy, this fruit (disguised as a veggie in cooking) is hard to beat. A drizzle of olive oil and some big chunks of sea salt on a nice ripe, rich tomato — it’s almost better than a handful of chips for me. But even better, throw on some good blue cheese and now, really, it’s just about the perfect snack.



Now a slice of tomato is not exactly my kids’ idea of a great snack (or a snack at all), much less with blue cheese, so I had Riley come up with her own twist …

Shredded mozzarella … Voila!  NOW it makes sense.


We used some kumatos* from Trader Joes, which were incredibly flavorful — a good ripe tomato makes all the difference. And lucky for you, ‘tis the season for tomatoes so you can find some nice rich ones out there.

This mozzarella idea led to what seemed like an even better (kid-friendly and kid-sized) idea …



We hacked off the top and bottom of a grape tomato, threw on some mozzarella “hair,” and cut two wide slits for the eyes (diced black olives).

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Don’t forget a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt to seal the deal.

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Roman wasn’t too sure about “Tomato-Man.”

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But Riley and her friends gobbled him up.

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* The colour of Kumato® tomatoes varies from dark brown to golden green. This is its natural appearance. Although they may look as if they are unripe and they will be bitter to the taste, this family of tomatoes has an authentic and intense flavour. 
They are sweeter than normal tomatoes, with a contrasting slightly sour note, which makes for a unique and clearly defined taste sensation. Furthermore, Kumato® tomatoes are very juicy and firm in texture, which means they are an excellent choice when preparing delicious salads and many tomato-based recipes. From www.kumato.com.



Pumped-up Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Muffins (Fit for a Soccer Team)

This is my reduced-sugar (but plenty sweet) take on a banana-bread recipe my college roommate used to make. I decided to try it as a snack for my son Roman’s soccer team, mainly because: 1) I’ve never found anyone who doesn’t love it, and 2) it’s just so dang simple.

It literally took me 10 minutes to throw everything in a bowl and then throw them in the oven. AND because I had most of the ingredients in the pantry already, it was about half the cost of a store-bought snack (score #3).





Since my kids won’t come within ten feet of a banana, I decided to substitute pumpkin for the bananas. I also wanted to “wholesome” it up a bit for the little athletes, so I added some cinnamon applesauce and rolled oats, and cut the sugar almost in half. Then I threw in some chocolate chips (to sweeten the deal) because, let’s face it, I knew homemade, straight-up pumpkin muffins weren’t going to go over well when the boys found out they weren’t getting their goldfish or sun chips.



Not that I’m above goldfish and sun chips (believe me, I’ve bought my fair share).



But this time, as one mom put it (“Look at you raising the bar!”), well … I thought it wouldn’t hurt to raise the bar. Along with the energy level. At least slightly.

There were a few kids who, expecting the fish or chips, were a little thrown by the baked goods. But they ate ’em all up.




minus one that got away …



Here’s the recipe:

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Muffins

1/2 cup butter or vegetable oil
1/2 – 3/4 cup raw cane sugar (normally calls for 1 cup)
2 eggs
3/4 cup organic canned pumpkin (or, if you prefer, smashed ripe banana)
1/2 cup organic cinnamon applesauce
1  1/4 cups sifted whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 – 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9 x 2 inch pan. Cream butter and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each. Stir in pumpkin and applesauce. Sift together dry ingredients; add to pumpkin mixture and mix well till blended. Stir in oats and chocolate chips. Fill 20 – 24 muffin liners about 3/4 of the way full. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

“The Most Delicious [Breakfast] Parfait on the Whole Damn Planet!”

I have the neighbor, and friend, everyone wishes they had. The kind who will let you rummage through her pantry for paprika when she’s out of town. Or good-humoredly agree to sample your child’s latest homemade “super-sour gum” that looks like it’s been chewed up and spit out already.

So I wasn’t surprised when Ingrid, who’s a registered dietitian and health coach, generously agreed to give a presentation to my daughter Riley’s 2nd-grade class.


It was a fairly casual, interactive discussion about making healthy food choices, but the highlight was a DIY breakfast parfait table with a pretty impressive spread of ingredients.

Here’s what she brought for the kids to choose from and layer upon layer:


Stoneyfield Organic low-fat French Vanilla yogurt
Fresh pineapple, diced
Frozen wild blueberries, thawed
Fresh organic strawberries, diced
Fresh yellow mango, diced
Cascadian Farm Oats and Honey granola
Carrington Farms chia seeds
Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened shredded coconut
Agave nectar


I would say just about every child in that room finished his or her colorful little parfait cup.

And had a load of questions for Ingrid. So I thought I’d interview her about this simple, but brilliant, parfait making idea and what makes it the perfect breakfast food for kids.

So, Ingrid, you know that Donkey from “Shrek” says, “parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!” Obviously a healthy breakfast parfait isn’t exactly what Donkey had in mind, but was this your line of thinking here?

Well, like you said, the word parfait conjures up images of a fun dessert with layers of color and delicious toppings.  My thought was that if kids were allowed to put together their own parfaits they would be more apt to eat them, so why not provide a lineup of colorful healthy fruit with some fun and interesting add-ins like coconut, chia seeds and granola and let them create their own personal parfaits.


Do fresh fruits really make a difference (over frozen — to save time in the morning rush)? What’s the difference between fresh and frozen in terms of nutritional value?

Both fresh and frozen fruits (and vegetables) are nutritional powerhouses.  However, when deciding which version to choose I usually ask myself the following question: Is it currently in season?  If yes, I choose fresh. Seasonal produce always tastes better and is usually a better value. And more grocery stores are starting to purchase produce from local sources, which cuts down on travel time.  The shorter the time between harvest and retail, the more nutrients are retained.  That being said, frozen fruits and vegetables are an excellent choice any time because they have been picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen shortly thereafter, which retains all their nutrients. The important thing to pay attention to with frozen produce is the ingredient label. Nothing but the fruit itself should appear on it.


What’s up with the chia seeds — are these really good for us?

Yes they are! Chia seeds are high in fiber, contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to human health, and are also an excellent source of protein and calcium.

And what does coconut have in it?

To be honest, coconut (the unsweetened kind) just tastes good! It has a little bit of fiber and iron, but should be eaten in moderation due to its high saturated fat content, although this type of saturated fat is not as bad for you as the animal-based sources of saturated fats.


I heard you tell the kids they should “eat the rainbow.” Can you explain?

Foods with deep colors, the kind that fruits and vegetables contain, are concentrated sources of phytonutrients. For example, the blues and purples are flavanoids, and the reds, yellows and oranges are carotenoids. There are thousands of phytonutrients in plant foods, many of which have been shown to protect against diseases like cancer, high blood pressure and eye disease. I think they will be linking phytonutrients to many more health benefits in the future, as well. So eating the rainbow is eating for health.


Can you suggest a few other healthy, and quick, breakfast ideas for kids?

Sure, I love peanut butter on toasted whole grain bread with banana slices, and fruit smoothies, especially if you can sneak in some greens. In the summer, I like to make overnight oatmeal.  Just mix together a cup of vanilla yogurt, a cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, a cup of rolled oats, 2 cups of fresh or frozen mixed berries, ¼ teaspoon of vanilla and some honey to taste.  Refrigerate overnight and you have a great-tasting cold oatmeal ready to go in the morning.  If you have time, toast some chopped almonds or walnuts to sprinkle on top. I also like Meal Makeover Moms.com; they are a great source for kid-friendly recipes.

What if someone wants to have a dietitian visit his or her child’s class and do a similar food demonstration? Where would be the best place to find a willing soul like you (assuming you’re busy)?

Contact the Greater Atlanta Dietetic Association at eatrightatlanta.org.

Ingrid Hill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in corporate wellness and private consultations.

Are You Eating What You’re Telling Your Kids to Eat?

I’ve never been much of a fruit eater. As a kid, I don’t remember a whole lot of fruit making it to the table. Don’t get me wrong, we ate our fair share of well-balanced meals with vegetables and the like, and I’m sure fruit was in there somewhere, but we were also the family in the 70s and 80s who had Pop-Tarts for breakfast and huge cans of Charles Chips delivered to our door. No one was exactly clamoring for fruit.

Fast-forward to adulthood where I have been known to enjoy a really good strawberry or orange and some other fruity things now and then, but if I had my choice, I’d take a salad any day. And my kids, who are pretty good veggie eaters as far as kids go, well, not so much with the fruit either. Oh, I’ve tried. In baked goods, on sticks, in fresh and dried form, and dipped in chocolate and powdered sugar. They tolerate it, at best, but definitely aren’t gobbling it up as a snack or an after-dinner “treat.” I’m always bewildered by the kid I see in the preschool class or lunchroom, munching on his sliced apples or grape bunch without the slightest nudge from an adult.


It’s become kind of a joke. Me, the health-minded foodie, has a couple of non-fruit eaters. I used to put fruit out on the table at mealtime, and talk up its deliciousness like it was a Barefoot Contessa double fudge chocolate-chip brownie. When that didn’t work, I pulled the nutrition card, with a lesson on the food pyramid and the energy crisis that will surely attack their growing little bodies if they don’t get their daily servings. But alas, another fruitless day.

I guess it’s no big surprise — if truth be told, I haven’t set much of an example. (My husband must share some of the blame. Though I’ve never heard him ask for or suggest it, he ranks just slightly higher on the fruit intake). I do have better weeks than others, but more often, I buy the stuff, it sits on the counter, grows spotty by the day and, sadly, gets tossed. In other words, I knew I wasn’t walking the walk. How could I expect good fruit eating from my offspring when I wasn’t doing it myself?

Recently, though (at the risk of jinxing myself), that’s all started to change. It could be that my general persistence is just beginning to make some headway in the house, but more likely, it’s the fact that I’m not only eating fruit in front of the kids, I’m really loving it.

I’ve said it before, and you’ll probably hear it again in this blog, our local produce delivery service has changed the way we eat. Fresh Harvest, a little company in Clarkston, GA, partners with local, organic farmers to deliver fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies (some common, some I’ve never heard of) right to our door. These are like nothing I’ve ever gotten at a grocery store. Ever. They are just richer, deeper in flavor, as fresh as it gets. And because their stock is always changing, it forces us to try new things and be creative in the kitchen.



Now, it’s not unusual that my husband and I will dig into a grapefruit with noises like “mmmmmm, soooooo good,” or say something like, “Honey, you HAVE to try these strawberries. OMG!” I think the kids got curious. Just the other day, Riley reluctantly tried a piece of my grapefruit and then asked for four more bites. And Roman is eating apples pretty regularly (with honey mind you, but still).

We may not have turned the fruit corner just yet, but there is hope and a good reminder about “doing as I do” with kids who are always watching. Just the other day, Riley, whose class is discussing healthy eating, told me that sugar is really, REALLY not good for you. Yes, I said, sugar is definitely something you want to eat in moderation. “But Mom, she said, you put sugar in your coffee every day.” Yep, they’re paying attention.

Easy Ways to Up Your Water Intake, and Enjoy It!

I recently taught my kids a catchy catch phrase about drinking water that I heard from a former P.E. teacher:

“The best solution for pollution is dilution.”

They love saying this. And I admit, I find myself silently chanting it every now and then. After a late-night cheese-dip binge. A particularly rough weekend. Seriously, it’s a handy little reminder, and it really does make me feel better (the water, yes, but also the thought of cleansing away the impurities…along with the shame). Plus with the kids, I think the idea of “pollution,” conjuring up images of filthy, plastic-ridden water or toxic gas swirling around their insides, helps to get their attention.


It’s pretty powerful stuff, water. It’s good for the skin, cleanses the body, helps fight fatigue and boosts energy. But we know this. And we know we’re supposed to drink it, like all the time. So why is it that so many of us don’t? Is it really that bland, boring? Or does the daunting “eight-8-ounce-glasses-a-day” recommendation have us quitting before we even start?

It seems there’s a lot of confusion around this “8 by 8” rule. The Institute of Medicine recommends 13 cups of total beverages per day for the average healthy man living in a temperate climate, and 9 cups for the woman. As it turns out, you don’t have to ingest an entire pitcher of water to get your eight glasses. You can eat it! That’s right, fresh fruits and veggies (watermelon, strawberries, cucumber, broccoli, the list goes on) can give us 20 percent of our daily dose. Other drinks like milk, coffee and tea count in the total tally, too, though some artificial drinks like soda have chemicals that make us release water, in some cases releasing more water than was in the drink in the first place.

What about sparkling water? That’s a biggie in my house, so I checked that one out, too. Though it’s not considered “pure,” most experts say it’s just as hydrating and has no real health drawbacks (as rumored), but to steer clear of the ones with added sodium and sugar (like the flavored varieties, tonic water and some club sodas). It’s also a great way to wean off sugar-laden or diet sodas.

Truth is, we can probably convince ourselves to enjoy a non-sugary, non-caffeiney drink a little more often, but getting kids to take in enough of the pure stuff is another story, especially if their diet is already lacking in fruits and/or veggies. But there are a few good places to start:



• First, cut back on the more popular poisons like juice and sports drinks (gradually diluting them), and soda (try replacing with sparkling water). Expect some push back, but hold steady and your child, too, will adjust to the taste.

• Make water the most accessible drink in the house — keep a pitcher on the counter at all times (throw in some lemon, lime, orange or mint), or have cups handy if you get water from the fridge.

• Keep an aluminum bottle filled with water in the car. You’ll be surprised how often kids will drink it when you’re sitting in traffic, and it’s all you’re serving.

The Naked Truth

I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but I have a bit of a Jamie Oliver crush. When my husband and I were engaged, we started watching “The Naked Chef” (a nickname for the way he strips food down to its bare essentials) on The Food Network, and my husband gave me a couple of his cookbooks for Christmas. I have some really fond memories of us in our little condo, side-by-side, cooking our way through the books. Jamie’s style is kind of raw and laid back, so his recipes aren’t fussy, and there’s room for error and creativity (both of which I can always use). When he started his mission to turn around the school food system (The Food Revolution), I fell in love just a little bit more. Sure he’s charming and adorable, and in the media spotlight now and again, but make no mistake, this guy’s the real deal. If you want to clean up your diet, without losing major flavor, Jamie’s your man.

Jamie’s put out a slew of cookbooks since his Naked days, but 10 years and two kids later, I still go to some of those early recipes. His Minestrone Soup is one I make several times a year, all year round. I like it because it’s beefy (without the beef), easy, really tasty, and both my kids will eat it. Well, parts of it. My 8-year-old likes most of it, and my 5-year-old kind of weeds through the veggies to get to the good stuff (the beans and pasta). I figure it’s still pretty good, since the soup is chock full of nutrients, he’s slurping them up somewhere in between.

The other thing that’s great about this soup is you can throw in just about whatever you want, preferably what’s in season, and it will turn out pretty much the same. I’ve put my own spin on Jamie’s, substituting beans, chickpeas and a sampling of other veggies my kids like for the ones he uses. To save time, I use a large can of tomatoes instead of scoring fresh ones like Jamie does – works just fine. (Note: the olive oil and parmesan on top is key!)

Serve with some good, crusty bread and a simple salad. Our favorite is just arugula with a basic balsamic dressing – equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. (Something else I’ve discovered: veggies doused in vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, go down easier!)

20140212_173640new1 large can of whole tomatoes (28 oz)
3 medium carrots
1 medium red onion
3 stalks of celery
1 head of chopped cabbage (or 1 cup fresh corn)
1 14-oz can chickpeas
1 14-oz. can northern white beans or kidney beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
3 good handfuls of fresh basil
1/4 – 1/2 cup of your favorite small pasta (macaroni, orzo, etc.)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
parmesan cheese, grated

Chop carrots, onion and celery in bite-size pieces. Wash and roughly chop the cabbage. Sweat the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and rosemary over medium heat until just tender (about 15 minutes).
Add the canned tomatoes and cook for 12 minutes.
Add the stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, skimming if necessary.
Add the cabbage (or corn), cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the torn-up basil and the pasta, which will absorb the flavors of the soup.
Simmer for a further 5 minutes or more.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.

The soup should be quite thick and full in flavor, and the cabbage shouldn’t be overcooked; you want to retain its deep color. Serve with a few drizzles of peppery extra virgin olive oil and fresh parmesan.