Category Archives: diet

How We Stopped Using the S Word at Dinner

Kid's diet needs to be filled with healthy food.

Spinach.  It’s just rude.

There’s lots of worry today about kids getting fat, eating unhealthy,  filling up on high calorie  snacks.  Sure.  But do you know what the real problem is?  Every year, the bad foods get sexier, more fun, and cuter.  Meanwhile,  all the healthy foods are hanging around just as ugly as they were at creation.

Think about it.  On the left, we have cheese stuffed rising crust artisan supreme five topping gooey extreme deep dish tastes like take-out pizza with free cinnamon sugary twist bread and butter soft sticks.  On the right, we have broccoli.  Seriously: broc co li.  First off, what’s with that name? It sounds like something’s stuck in the garbage disposal. And, just what the heck is it?  And, how’d we ever get the idea kids would sit up and salivate when they hear it’s for dinner?

Food companies know better.  They don’t call those yellowish poo shaped things in the foil bag by what they really are.   Cattle feed, ground and mashed in monster vats with truckloads of syrup and salt.  Laced with won’t-ever-go-bad chemical secret powder.  Then squeezed out wet, blown with factory air, hit with dayglow dust, and shoveled into bags by the tons.

If they called them what they are, they’d never leave the shelf.  Instead, whole teamloads of high paid experts are hired to pimp them up. They get completely phony names, like ‘itos’ or ‘ingles’.  They get put on TV with big production numbers,  cool cartoon avatars, and insanely happy snackers.  Really, look at the people in those commercials:  are they wolfing chips, or antidepressants?

Next to these, vegetables just look like shiploads of immigrants at the Oscars.

Isn’t it time somebody decided to re-brand and market the food we really want kids to eat? Why do we have to keep trying to push something past tightly pinched lips that sounds like number one?  Are we permanently stuck calling it peas?  I say, time for a makeover. To get the ball rolling, here are five Good Food 2.0 ideas.

1. Mean Green Bully Blast  –  Today’s kids want edgy, power loaded foods that will make a difference on the school bus or swing set.  Have you ever known any cool kid with a bag of broccoli? ‘Broccoli’ is something musty from the old country you find in grandma’s trunk in the back of the closet that’ll get you flattened and banned.

2. Shred Head with Shag –  Yeah, it’s still just salad – and isn’t that a really appealing food name to kids.  Does any other word in the English language  start with ‘sal’ except saliva?  Why would anyone want to put that in their mouth? And, even worse, stop calling them lettuce and carrots – seriously, they sound exactly like something you’d accidentally gag up.  Le-eh-eht-tuce.  Carrrr-rot. Yuck.

3.  Dragon Scales with Wizard Stone Clusters –  I don’t know who thought up the name ‘granola’.  I do know, not one of the top 500 popular kid’s cereals is called ‘granola’.  And, anybody who believes I’m going to sit over breakfast and convince my tykes they’ll poop better when they’re fifty if they eat lots and lots of fiber instead of magically delicious marshmallow shapes, has never been to my house.

4.  Sunsweeties –  Nature has done a bang up good job of taking pure sunshine, turning it into delicious flavored sugar, storing it in fragrant, bright colored, fun shaped packages.  Then, we started messing with things, calling them ‘fruits’ and whatnot, and put the kids right off.  So now, companies buy them up, boil them down, dilute the goodness and mix it with gluey, inky stuff and sell the same thing as treats.  There’s something funny about that.  I’m just not sure what.

5.  White Leopard NinjaMight –  You can tell just how long ago cottage cheese got its name from the fact that (a) nobody has lived in a cottage since Hansel and Gretel and (b) they stopped making cheese inside them long before that.  And what kind of cheese comes out of a dank  little hut in the forest in the first place?  I can tell you my kids won’t touch it, no matter how good for their bones, with protein and all.

Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.  Put your own marketing whiz to use, and stop calling healthy foods by names that doom them to the garbage bin.  And, do us all a favor, share some of your ideas here, for other dads.  Or, just keep shoveling the s and peas.

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You’re Possessed by Holiday Diet Demons and They Want You To Skip This Post

High calorie pecan and pumpkin dessert, diet busting Holiday Pie Fat image from maubrowncow

Can you decode the secret message hidden in this dessert?

Holiday diet? Are you nuts? Mmm…nuts.

Quick:  have you recently  accidentally misplaced the bathroom scales, in the driveway, behind the car’s rear tire?  Have you been decorating all your large mirrors with thick flock?  Are your ‘lite cooking’ tips buried under stacks of colorful Christmas recipe calorie bombs?

If so, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not your fault.  The reason for this behavior is your home, like millions of others, has been secretly possessed by holiday diet demons. It’s a fact. Holiday diet demons (or HDD’s) are invisible, attracted to the colors red and green,  gravy, and appetites. They have nothing to do all day and night but try to convince men, women, children and dogs this is eating season, anything is game, and resistance is futile.

I have personally encountered these demons, and they’re not pretty. In fact, they’re quite crafty.  Inside your head, they sound completely reasonable and convincing. They are able to whisper seductive cooking and eating instructions directly into the part of the brain that’s responsible for stuffing the mouth full with both hands.

That is why, as a public service, I’m presently sitting outside, away from any possible snacking opportunity, to share some of my important findings and notes.  Use this list to check yourself for whether diet demons are secretly responsible for some added jolly at your house.

1.  One sure sign of holiday diet demon infestation, is having a cheery belief that foods with names ending in ‘itos’ are part of a trendy new hispanic healthfood craze.  This is actually false.

2.  If you’ve been celebrating because chocolate is busy curing cancer, you may have demons.  No, not even the really dark, rich, smooth expensive kind.  So, keeping a high level in the bloodstream at all times, actually is not necessary.

3.  Pie a la mode doesn’t really appear on the breakfast menu of any culture, ever.

4.  Deep fat fried food is actually not a method recommended by medical research to prevent pregnancy.  When you get right down to statistics and actual couples, it’s just not been found to be all that effective.

5.  A few extra pounds underneath the chin doesn’t really make you look more distinguished.  And neither does the scarf.

6.  Parents:  punishing your children, or teaching them a lesson, by finishing their desert for them, will send the message that all you really care about is getting their sweets.  Highly likely, some demons involved there.

7.  In spite of how good it sounds, that new strategy of reducing or completely eliminating the hours between meals will not simplify your life.  Not in a good way, anyhow.

8.  Joining Holiday Diet Clubs, whose members go into each others homes to eat their fattening foods for them, has not yet been proved to result in any significant weight loss.

9.  Most studies do show that people better survive cold weather, and colder months, when they add an extra inch or two of insulation to their door jambs.  Not their waists, as previously reported.

If you have any such signs of holiday diet demons at your place, be sure and pass them along to me in the comment box below, or twitter me @kitchenup    #dietdemon.

As for me, I am not curious about what the buzzards are circling over there.  I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat it.  But, maybe it’s worth just a quick check.

My Affair With A Star

Dark clouds with the sun's star light  burning throughSometimes we find what we’re missing, and can’t look away.

Every parent has those days.  When life starts to feel tied down by lost socks,  late starts, long waits and detours.  The kind of day that eats patience like a tornado, and spits out insults for fun.  The kind that makes some white beach barefoot and burnt somewhere look like a perfectly acceptable career move.

And after weeks like that, no matter how bright the nightlight at home, a man sometimes thinks about what could be over the horizon, and feels the lure of another’s warm caress.

I’ve got that, bad.  And I’m having an affair, with a star.

It started innocently enough.  A few months back, I finally accepted that I’d reached the last notch in the belt, and the only six pack I’d likely see for at least a year was in the fridge.  I thought about what I’d been eating.  Looked for any  sign of diet control. Couldn’t remember any exercise besides bench pressing kids. Time to burn pounds.

I thought I’d kill two birds – get some P & Q out of the house and see if my heart still pumped – by working out on the running path near home.  My legs protested, my lungs ached, but I started, and worked on steadily pushing my distance further.

And for the first month, I burned, all right.  With humiliation.  Grey haired women stroked smoothly past me with grandmotherly smiles.  Women with babies and diaper bags and prams flowed around me like a flood past an immobile rock.  I was enjoying how every single person coming the opposite way would raise a friendly hand, and ask, ‘how are you doing’, until I realized, they were asking out of concern.  Kids running high school track bounded past so fast I actually appreciated the breeze.

There comes a time when we re-view where we actually fit in the scheme of things, and mine came.  Definitely not the Nike athlete.  Definitely not built for speed.  So rather than be iphone immortalized like an Amish farmer on the freeway, one morning I decided to take the back route, the dirt trails that wound through the hills, out of traffic.  They were tough and steep, rocky, narrow, winding, but to my happy surprise, nearly unpopulated and a challenge I discovered I could master.  Just what the doctor ordered.  And that’s where the affair started.

Out on the dirt path, rising out of the wooded canyon, across a sloping hillside, into the wide open, I ran into star shine, into a blinding bright shot of sunlight.  Sunlight reached out to meet me, and I stopped short, heart pounding.  I don’t know how I’d forgotten what it felt like to be so hot, exposed, sweaty, and primally alive.  Wide sky, empty land, and the energy of our neighbor star beating down.  Strong, beauty like a pressure on the skin, irresistably tempting, but with a dangerous streak. It hooked me, by the cells, like an ancient craving.

Since then, my legs have hardened with some muscle, I count in miles, and I had to buy a new, shorter belt.  And I can’t stop thinking about our next rendezvous; now, in the semi dark at the keyboard, when I’m on the road, or doing homework with the youngsters, and it keeps me going.  I count time between visits. When we get together, I smile, and take an eyeful for as long as I can.  A good romance is like that.

Let The Chips Fall

These chips are down.  In a good way.

It’s January.  The month that makes climbing out of bed in the morning especially slow, and that first cup of coffee particularly welcome.  My youngest has learned January is named for the Roman god Janus, a guy with two faces, one looking right, one looking left.  It’s apparently a warning for this time of year.  Check both ways for chariots or disasters before crossing the street, going to work, leaving the house.  Those Romans knew a thing or two.

Even the dog hangs back before going out.  When she comes back in she noses round the kitchen floor, expecting bits of fallen doughnut or pastry.  She gives me a look.  It’s a diet, I tell her.

Foraging for snacks in the bag becomes very tempting, this time of year.  They were let in the house for the holidays, all the ‘itos’ and their relatives.  But they’re banished now, because if you let them stay, they’ll never, ever move out.

The kids complain to me, after school they’re hungry.  So one evening I go looking for some relatively healthy way to put chips on the table.

Now, you may not be aware, but in the UK, potato chips … alright, crisps … are a matter of huge national pride and culinary investment.  Their varieties put Americas’ to shame, with our paltry choice of BBQ, plain or ruffled.  The concept there is to get an entire meal onto the chip.

For the uninitiated, here are some current examples:

  • Builder’s Breakfast This potato chip has the flavour of eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and beans. It won a competition worth 50,000 pounds for it’s inventor (that’s money, not fat). Strangely, it’s recently been discontinued.
  • Cajun Squirrel This is reported to taste nothing like squirrel – I couldn’t tell you – but is nice and spicy.
  • English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding To reviewers this one apparently tasted more like beef stew than a true roast. To which I say, hey, what can you expect from a chip?
  • French Garlic Baguette, not too hard to imagine, is it?
  • Australian BBQ Kangaroo, which the company swears contains no marsupial, none.

 

  • Lamb and Mint, Steak and Onion
  • Smoky Bacon

Do we see a trend  here?

These are all sold by Walkers, which is owned by Lays, which apparently doesn’t have the guts to bring them to the states.  Not that I’m suggesting they should.  Or that anyone should eat them.  But as a diet concept, you have to wonder if maybe a meal in a bag has some potential.  To conduct a little research of your own, there’s a link on http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com to Amazon, where you can order a bag.  Strictly for scientific purposes, of course.

Anyway, with the kids still grumping about wanting to move in with the Pringles,  I came up with a dad’s-friendly way to turn that bland, healthy bag of corn tortilla chips in the cupboard into something far more interesting. The end result is a crisp bbq smokey hot wing – or if the kids don’t like the heat, you can scale back or drop the added chili.

You’ll Need:

a small pastry or basting brush; cookie pans; bowl; measuring spoons

Ingredients:

  • Bag of plain corn tortilla chips (salted is best)
  • 1/3 cup catsup
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika (gotta be smoked; if you don’t have any, it’s really worth stocking anyway)
  • 1/8 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp chile powder, or 2 shakes of tabasco sauce (optional)
  • grated cheddar cheese (optional)

How To Make:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 F  / 149 C
  2. Mix the catsup with other ingredients (except cheese) using a fork or spoon til completely blended
  3. Spread tortilla chips in a single layer on cookie sheets
  4. Using the brush, apply a light, thin coat of the flavoring to the tops of the chips.  You don’t want to make puddles, or leave the chips wet. A light coating.
  5. Bake in the oven for 4 to 8 minutes, til the flavoring is dry, but before the chips cook.  If you want to add and melt cheese, take them out at 4 minutes, sprinkle the grated cheese, and return til the cheese is melted.

Champagne: Chic or Chicken?

Champagne chicken sauce recipeOne man’s champagne diet.

Now that the yearly New Years service is over, it’s safe to admit.  I don’t like champagne.

That will probably get my ticket yanked with a segment of the liquor industry, the high-stepping party crew and modern romance food aficionados, but there it is.  Sure, I raised my glass and drank with everybody else.  But, it’s kind of like clapping for the neighbor’s child’s recital.  Not to be confused with actual enjoyment.

Is champagne really the right New Year’s drink in the first place?  For a hearty sendoff of one year and the fingers-crossed hopes for a new one?  Seems to me the occasion deserves a draft Guinness, or a shot of  Bushmills, a decent merlot or the like.  A touch of bitterness, followed by a moment of impossible-to-ignore fullness of flavor, and a real loosening of expectations.

Champagne?

I  first got suspicious when I learned champagne was actually a  wine mistake.  Centuries ago in France champagne grapes were harvested so late, winter cold would sometimes stop the wine fermenting, only to restart in the spring. This caused the yeast to go nuts and produce more gas than usual.  Bottles exploded, the wine fizzed, that kind of mess.  Until one day, as they were dumping another ruined batch, some prince or another wandered in, tasted the stuff, and offered to pay good money.  They couldn’t unload it fast enough.

Now, I’ve got nothing against the champagne industry, who’ve carried on this lucrative tradition, or folks who enjoy bubbly white wines.  I’ll just suggest my favorite way to dispose of this French mistake and its domestic cousins is over shrimp, salad, or as below, to sauce a chicken.  It’s a delicious way to dress food, one pan, man-simple cooking.  And what were you planning to do with all the half-empties anyway?

You’ll need:

Large cast iron or other heavy skillet (big enough to hold the chicken), baking dish (to keep chicken warm)

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/3 – 1/2 bottle of champagne
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon tarragon

How To Make:

  1. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts.
  2. Melt the butter in the skillet, and when it starts to foam, add the garlic.
  3. Add the rest of the butter and heat for one minute at medium heat.
  4. Add the chicken skin side down and brown it, then turn it over, about 5  minutes for each side
  5. Add the champagne to the skillet and cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken broth and tarragon, and cook another 15 minutes.
  7. Take the chicken out, place in a baking pan, cover and keep warm (in the oven, set to its lowest temperature would work).
  8. Add the cream to the pan, raise the heat medium high to bring the liquid to a gentle boil, and stirring, let the sauce reduce in volume by about one half. This can take 15 minutes or more, depending on how much liquid you have at this stage.
  9. Return the chicken to the sauce, coat it well and serve, pouring the extra sauce over the chicken.
Some folks like to spice this dish up with red or cayenne pepper, add sautéed mushrooms, some shallot or onion, that’s up to you.  Great with rice.
Best of the New Year to you.

Dieting For the Holidays

There’s a reason it’s illegal to start any diet before January 1.

The other day dad was checking to see if he had the black or the brown belt on with the blue pants, to avoid the kind of fashion faux pas that gets wives wondering if they’ve married down in life.  To my surprise, this maneuver was nearly impossible without using the bathroom mirror.  The light by the bedroom mirror had gone.

I’m not exactly sure when I lost the clearance to see my waist directly.  And while there’s a small possibility my neck’s just gotten too muscle bound to reach the right angle, the holidays always seem to get me thinking about it.

This is the time of year we may find ourselves doing a double-take before recognizing the guy walking by in the mall store window reflection.  Who at first looked like they may have been shoplifting things under their shirt. The time of year we notice there’s just not enough suck-it-up left to make a difference when the saleswoman gives you a smile over the clothes she’s folding.

‘Can I help you find something’, she says, surrounded by pre-teen fashion and accessories, and somehow suddenly making it obvious that I’m the only male in the entire crowded department.  Just standing, and watching.

‘Just here with the wife,’ I say, taking a look around to find my wife, who is no longer anywhere to be seen in teens wear.  ‘To pick something out for the kids,’ I say, and watch as her eyes make the same circuit of the store mine did, and then come back to settle on the front of my shirt.

‘What do you think,’ my wife says from my six o’clock.  She’s arms upstretched, holding out pink and purple bangled quilt jackets, looking from me to the saleswoman and back.

‘I’m going to go check power tools,’ I say.

‘Stairmaster’s on sale’, my wife says, checking the color of my belt.

With four women in the house, weight is always on the menu.  It’s been decided that everyone gains it when I’m home, and loses it when I’m traveling.  Apparently dad’s gravity attracts stray calories into the house, which stick to the entire family.

And at no time is this more true than in the short cold days and long nights between Thanksgiving and New Years.  A stretch that for almost all of human existence has also been the start of the season most short on food.  With the kind of dieting no one would ever choose, an annual trial, forced and irresistable.  A season not of overeating, but one that culled the thin and weak from the herd.  And part of the reason, I suspect, we all still today have a hard-wired pull to feast and reach for the sweets and fat.  To hold the ancient fear of famine, and death, at bay.

These days, its clear, there’s too much of a good thing.  And, I intend to adjust my intake to resemble my expenditures. It’s time to lose some weight.  Try and reverse the slide from six pack to keg.

Just as soon as we eat ourselves into the new year.

Because while I’ll be careful to keep from overdoing this year,  I’ve decided the best diet to apply isn’t the one between Christmas and January 1.  It’s the one between New Year’s and Christmas.

Sweet Little Lies Too

General Mills just said they’ll be adding less sugar to it’s kids cereals, and I’m trying to feel excited.  Isn’t that like, I dunno, UPS saying they won’t be driving as fast when they take shortcuts through the schoolyard?  Should  they really be doing it in the first place?

I figured I’d better break it to the kids gently. The Trix rabbit,  “C00-C00” Cocoa Puffs and Lucky the Charms leprechaun are plotting to secretly wean them from some of their breakfast sugar.

Not all at once.  Not too much, or too fast, I explained.

The plan is to lower the sugar in small steps, and hope kids won’t notice and switch cereals.  It’s a fear that grips the industry: if kids don’t get their fix from one dealer, they’ll find another.  Jeff Harmening, president of General Mills’ Big G cereal division, summed in up: “…if you change the taste dramatically or suddenly, they’ll walk away from the brand,” he said.

After working for decades to supply America’s kids with all the sugar they want, it’s a hard change for the industry.  But apparently, loading children with the sweets they crave may in fact be bad for them.  Recent studies from the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s and the entire latest decade suggest the explosion in childhood obesity, diabetes and other health issues may have something to do with all that sweetener in the diet.

Given sugar is now the single largest additive to processed foods, and breakfast cereals are the number four most often purchased food in America, some have begun to think there might be some connection.

Clearly, not all parents are going to be concerned.  Those who may be upset with the cereal sugar cutbacks can add back about a quarter teaspoon of sugar per serving, the amount the company is taking out.  That will keep the sugar level up at it’s current total of two and a half teaspoons a bowl.

To its credit, General Mills’ goal is to reduce the single serving of sugar to less than 10 grams in cereals targeted to children.  But studies and new national dietary guidelines for children say they shouldn’t be eating more than 48 grams of sugar per day.  Which means just one bowl of cereal and one can of soda (39 grams of sugar) would more than do it for the whole day.

Adult cereals won’t be affected. Unlike those made for kids, ours typically only have 1 to 3 grams of added sugar in the first place.

But, my kids weren’t listening.  They were polishing off the slices of fresh dense bread I’d turned out of the breadmaker that morning.  With one-third the sugar, and twice the protein, as the cereals.

Trix Rabbit my eye.

For my take on why Dads should own bread machines,  see my post, Winner By a Nose.