Friday, April 6, 2007

Create happy meals

Molly Peppo

Creating meals and snacks with kids can be an amazing way to add taste, color and nutrition to their daily diet. Wholesome foods rich in minerals and vitamins are essential to support the energy levels and structure of developing brain and nervous systems.

Organic foods can play a big role. Without them, we can be exposed to pesticides in our diets. According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, "One of the most important pathological effects of these toxins ... is the varying levels of neurotoxicity to the brain and the rest of the nervous system. These have more subtle symptoms such as reduced mental functioning, decreased mental clarity, poor concentration, and I believe hyperactivity and ADD."

This is serious news, but there is an optimistic counterpart to these studies. Some research has shown that approximately half of kids, when they eat organic foods, stop being hyperactive and dysfunctional. Math and English scores improve. Eating organic foods can give the body a chance to rid itself of the toxins, as cells are constantly regenerating. Children's developing nervous systems are more susceptible to pesticides.

It always amazes me that even when a refrigerator is full of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and nuts, some kids light up and express over bottles filled with neon-blue liquid.

I cringe if I see anything fluorescent in the refrigerator. Dyes and unnatural colors act as excitotoxins and are irritants to the system. Try to reprogram your kids to enjoy naturally sweet, juicy, ripe fruits and vegetables rather than toxic neon substances and fluorescent orange chips. It's hard to beat a ripened juicy, organic mango or watermelon in season.

Most people like sweet tastes. There are ways to make sweet foods that are delicious and packed with nutrition. Fruit is always a favorite, but can be high in sugar, so gravitate towards low glycemic choices such as berries, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Dried fruit is tasty and easy to pack in lunches. To help regulate blood sugar and appetite, add a higher fat and protein source. For example, top dried fruit off with almond or peanut butter.

Another incredible dessert ingredient is raw chocolate, or "cacao." Raw chocolate is high in magnesium, vitamin C, minerals, super high in antioxidants (great for athletes) and promotes good mood while regulating appetite. Because it isn't highly heated the nutrients are intact. Without the cream, butter and sugar, chocolate in its true form is an incredible food. Raw chocolate can be found in health food stores and on the Internet. It can be added to smoothies in a powder form, and pairs well with coconut, vanilla, goji berries, or agave nectar.

A great way to slip in some nutrition for breakfast or mid-afternoon is to blend whole foods into smoothies. Smoothies are easy to digest, quick, filling, and can be quite nutritious. However, they can also be highly caloric and extremely sugary, so choose ingredients carefully. There are endless possibilities for recipes. Use a base of almond or rice milk for a creamier smoothie, and mix in bananas, flaxseed and frozen organic berries. Each ingredient adds texture, color and flavor, so be creative. For a lighter, juicier smoothie, start with a base of freshly squeezed fruit juice, and blend in strawberries, kiwi or whatever fruit is in season. Adding two tablespoons of ground flaxseed is a great way to add protein, fiber and a daily dose of Omega 3.

Allowing kids to choose the ingredients, help create the food, and experiment with new flavors, colors and smells will definitely create a little excitement around mealtime.

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