January 31, 2014

Continuing my topic about the harmful effects of artificial colors and dyes in our children's diet, I'd like to welcome guest Troy Ampalayo from Organic Superfoods and his helpful insights:

The public know that our bodies are affected differently by several food products, especially with preservatives and colors. Some of the common effects might include caffeine that is known as energy booster; red wines and aged cheeses triggering headaches; or high fat or even acidic foods that cause heartburns. But what is worse about this scenario in which most people don’t know is how these preservatives, artificial food colors and flavors affect our growing children. It is also a reason why organic superfoods advised to be part of our children’s diet. These superfoods can actually preserve a healthy lifestyle.
There are studies conducted in the year 2007 by a team from known university proves that a variety of usual food colors and the preservative sodium benzoate – an ingredient found in many soft drinks, salad dressings, fruit juices and other foods – causes some of the children to be more hyperactive and distractible than usual.
The research discovered that children aged three, eight, and nine-year olds were practically more hyperactive. They showed shorter attention span if they drink or eat foods containing preservatives and colors. However, this study didn’t point out that such preservatives and artificial colors and flavors cause ADHD or that the impact of these foods is only children with ADHD. In response to the raised questions about the matter, research points out that there is no exact evidence that the food additives cause attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but there are a number of studies which show that certain food preservatives and colorings may worsen the behavior of hyperactivity in some of the children.
Given recommendations include the consumption of foods with health benefits such as superfoods. Organic superfoods are now commonly produced in local organic farms. Children can benefit from these foods for they are full of vitamins and minerals that could help them in their daily activities.

Train the children to practice a healthy lifestyle with organic superfoods as part of their diet. You can organize healthy fruits such as blueberries with a glass of lemon juice as part of their recipe. We know that children love colorful set up. You can read some superfoods so that you can serve it with style in their plates. Be more aware of the benefits as well as the taste. Keep in mind that children also observed the taste of the foods they are eating. They really love the taste. Be passionate in serving them.

January 27, 2014

I'm a big advocate of eliminating artificial colors (aka food dyes) from our children's diet. Why? Well, it's because I have first hand experience with the negative effects on my two sons' behavior and attention span. It started when my oldest son was only two years old. I noticed how he would go from cooperative and having an active (i.e. busy but not atypical for a 2 year old child) behavior, to bizarrely defiant and hyperkinetic behavior for the next two or three days. At first I thought that too much sugar might be the culprit; however, after eliminating sugar from my son's diet for a month, I couldn't see any positive changes in his behavior. Then, I started doing my own research and found out how artificial colors and dyes (such as Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, etc.) were banned in Europe due to their adverse effects on children's health. In addition, food products containing artificial colors are required to have a large warning label in the U.K. They are even getting rid of artificial food dyes and replacing them with natural colors (anatto, beet, carmine, etc.).
So, I decided to do my own test. I eliminated all foods containing artificial colors from my son's diet, and the results, although unscientific, were amazing. After about a week without food dyes, my son was more focused, stopped throwing unreasonable tantrums, and had the typical energy level of a 2 year old (instead of bouncing up and down nonstop). My son was a different kid! His attitude and behavior had changed tremendously! From that point on, my husband and I took label reading at the grocery store very seriously, and wouldn't buy any fruit juices, yogurts, snacks, or even marshmallows(!) that contained artificial colors. We still permitted caramel color, anatto, and other natural colorings.
Now, you may be wondering... How do you know if it is really the artificial dyes causing the behavior problems? Your son might really have ADHD! Right? Hold your horses! The symptoms of ADHD don't come and go as they please... My son was fine for days or even weeks at a time, and then he would suddenly change his behavior. It was odd. Even nowadays, I can easily tell when my son eats something with artificial color at school or special events (it's hard to monitor every food he consumes at other places besides home). For example, my son, on a regular basis, is focused, does his homework without any problems, obeys, plays outside like any other boy at his age would play, etc. Then, all of a sudden, after consuming a product with food dyes, he comes home extremely defiant, can't concentrate, can't stop moving, etc. Suspicious, I ask him what he ate at school for lunch and bingo! Usually a dessert or cupcake containing food dyes. It usually takes a few hours for the food dyes to affect his body (usually 2-3 hours after consumption), and it also takes about 48 hours for the artificial colors to get out of his system. After 2 days, my son goes back to his normal self again. The same is also true with my youngest son. It's even more strange because normally, my youngest is even more focused than my oldest one. However, as soon as he eats something containing food dyes, his behavior is also altered.
I have discussed the issue with many mothers who come to me presenting a similar case, and I even have some of the mothers agreeing with me and seeing a positive result in their children's behavior after eliminating food dyes from their diet. I'm not here to say that artificial colors affect every child, but we ought to think, why are dyes banned in Europe but not here in the US? Money perhaps? Dyes may be cheaper than natural coloring...
The FDA keeps insisting on the need for more research... Ok, we will be here waiting patiently for the results. Meanwhile, if you are experiencing a similar situation with your child, do an experiment and remove food dyes from your child's diet. Read the labels of the products. Find alternatives for products that contain dyes. Now, don't expect miracles happening in one day... it might take more than a week to notice any difference in your child's behavior. And even if the the smallest colorful candy containing Red#40, Yellow#5or#6, Blue#1or#2 gets eaten you'll be back to square one. But, if it means raising a healthier, happier child, it's worth the effort!

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/broterham/38615433/">broterham</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

January 21, 2014

REALITY CHECK: According to Forbes, only 8% of people achieve their New Year's resolution... So, when our commitment to those New Year's diet and fitness resolutions seem to waiver and fail... How about a second chance by adding these 5 healthy foods to your diet? This list was created after much research and includes many notes from the time I was a university Fitness and Health instructor. There are, of course, many other healthy foods besides these five. This is just a short list to get your New Year back on the right track.
  • FISH Preferably fresh, contains a large amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the amount of plaque that builds up inside the walls of your arteries. Plaque comes from bad cholesterol that sticks to your arteries. Both the FDA and the American Heart Association recommend eating fresh fish at least twice a week.

  • NUTS (mainly almonds and walnuts) - Nuts have flavonoids, an antioxidant that raises the levels of your good cholesterol. They also have a large amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E (antioxidant), fiber, *folate, and magnesium. Moderation is the key: It's recommended only a handful of nuts every day. Blue Diamond brand has tasty dark chocolate covered almonds. Dark chocolate also has antioxidants. *Benefits of folate: (a) support red blood cell production and help prevent anemia, (b) allow nerves to function properly, and (c) help prevent osteoporosis. 

  • BEANS (any kind) - They're full of protein, fiber, iron, calcium, and potassium. They also don't contain any cholesterol. Among the health benefits of beans are (a) lower cholesterol levels, (b) lower blood pressure, (c) reduce risk of many cancers, (d) regulate functions of the colon. 

  • TOMATOES They have lycopene, a vital anti-oxidant that helps in the fight against cancerous cell formation. *Note: Research studies show that by cooking the tomatoes, we can actually increase the lycopene levels; however, Vitamin C content decreases when compared to uncooked tomatoes. 

  • BLUEBERRIES (raw) - Ranked in the U.S. diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits and vegetables. Some of the health benefits of blueberries are (a) reduce bad cholesterol, (b) help control blood sugar levels, and (c) improve brain health. A low calorie food (about 84 calories in 1 cup), it's recommended 1 to 2 cups of blueberries per day.  
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mairag/6419364999/">maira.gall</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

January 14, 2014

Looking for a quick, easy, and delicious Super Bowl/game day party food? Or maybe just a fun afternoon snack for your kids? This yummy treat is super easy to do! Start with salty, crunchy, and buttery RITZ crackers, topped with both mozzarella cheese and delicious, warm caramelized apples with cinnamon. I call it the "Apple Pie" and Cheese Bites. It takes about 15 minutes to do and serves 6-8 people.

  • 1 Gala apple (peeled) 
  • 1 Tbsp of butter
  • 1 tsp of raw sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp of cinnamon
  • 16 RITZ crackers
  • 4 slices of mozzarella cheese (cut each slice into 4 squares for a total of 16 small squares)
  • Cut the peeled apple in cubes and put it in a pot. Add the sugar, butter, and cinnamon, and sauteed until soft and golden (medium heat for about 10 minutes-keep stirring).
  • Heat oven to 350F
  • Place crackers in single layer on baking sheet and top with cheese and about 2-3 small apple cubes.
  • Bake for 4 minutes. 
  • Let it cool for about 1 minute before serving.
  • Have fun! :D

January 9, 2014

A great friend of mine just had a beautiful baby boy, and BOY OH BOY, I know how tough it is to make dinner and take care of a newborn! So, I offered to prepare her favorite meal. She told me that her favorite dish was lasagna, even joking how she must be related to Garfield somehow... "Lasagna...", I said, thinking that I actually haven't had my mom's wonderful lasagna for a long, long time. I think the last time I ate her lasagna was 8 years ago, when she came to visit us to see her new grandbaby (my first son).

Don't get me wrong, I have eaten lasagna many times in these 8 years, but not her comforting, home cooked, hearty lasagna, filled with both red meaty tomato sauce and a cheesy white Parmesan sauce, layered with slices of ham and mozzarella cheese, and topped with melted Parmesan cheese. Her recipe is very different from the recipes I have seen in the US. My mom doesn't use ricotta cheese or some veggies, instead, she uses both ham and mozzarella, and she also adds two sauces to make the lasagna noodles extra tender.

When I called my mom to get her delicious recipe, she gave me three important tips about the noodles. First she said that I should go ahead and buy the 'oven ready to bake' noodles, since the ones that must be boiled first are harder to deal with and break easily. The second tip she gave me was to prepare the lasagna dish the day before, cover it, and let it set in the refrigerator for a day to allow the sauce to sink in and moisten the noodles (since we are using the 'oven ready to bake' ones). She also told me to make sure to really add extra sauce on the edges of the dish to avoid the noodles from becoming hard and chewy. The last tip she gave me (which came in late, a week after I had already prepared and eaten the lasagna) was to cover the dish with parchment paper instead of aluminum foil. According to my mom, the aluminum from the foil is released into the dish when baking due to the acidity of the tomato sauce. So, we're actually eating aluminum. I don't know about this for sure, and please don't hold me responsible for it. :) Do your own research. But I believe my mom because she has about 45 years of cooking experience... and some of the tips she gave me in the past I saw, years later, in cooking shows like Martha Stewart and Food Network.

By the way, about my friend, I just received a wonderful thank you note from her saying how she loved it, and how her picky-eater son (he's about my oldest son's age) had three servings of it! :D

Here's the recipe. My mom likes to go the extra mile and makes her sauces and seasonings from scratch. I, on the other hand, like to take short cuts. So, this is my "short cut" version of my mom's recipe. This savory lasagna dish serves about 6-8 people and takes approximately 45 min to prep and 1 hour to bake (better to do it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight):

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef 
  • 1 Tbsp meat seasoning (I like Chef Paul Prudhomme's Meat Magic)
  • 26 ounces of tomato sauce (I like Ragu Traditional tomato sauce)
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 Tbsp of flour
  • 1 Tbsp of butter
  • 2 1/2 cups of shredded Parmesan cheese (1 1/4 cups for the sauce and 1 1/4 cups for the lasagna layers and topping)
  • 1 can of table cream (Nestle Media Crema)
  • 18 'oven ready to bake' lasagna noodles
  • 18 slices of ham
  • 18 slices of mozzarella cheese
  • Warm the canola oil in a large skillet at medium heat for a few minutes (2-3 minutes). Add meat and sprinkle the seasoning on top. Cook the meat until brown. Drain the fat.
  • Add the tomato sauce, stir, reduce heat to low, and let it simmer until you're ready to assemble the lasagna. Stir occasionally.
  • In a saucepan, add the milk and butter and cook at medium heat for about 1 minute. Slowly add flour into the saucepan and stir with a whisk. Keep stirring and cook the sauce until the flour dissolves and the sauce thickens (3-5 minutes).
  • Add the Parmesan cheese (1 1/4 cups) and keep cooking for 2 additional minutes (or until the cheese dissolves into the sauce).
  • Reduce heat to low, add the table cream and cook for one more additional minute. Remove from heat.
  • Spread 1/3 of the meat sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  • Arrange 4 noodles lengthwise and 2 on each side (you might have to break a few inches off of these 2 noodles to fit better) over meat sauce.
  • Top with 6 slices of ham (3 on each side).
  • Spread 1/3 of the white sauce.
  • Top with 6 slices of mozzarella cheese.
  • Top with a 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese.
  • Repeat layers 2x, topping with remaining 6 mozzarella slices and Parmesan cheese. 
  • Cover with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge overnight.
  • The next day, remove the plastic wrap and cover with parchment paper, making sure the paper does not touch the Parmesan cheese. 
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and let stand for about 10-15 minutes before serving (remove paper of course).
  • Enjoy! :D

January 6, 2014

Looking for a delicious, quick, and easy dinner? Or just craving some Italian food tonight? This recipe is super easy and can be made in about 30 minutes! It serves about 6-8 people.

  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 Tbsp of flour
  • 1 Tbsp of butter
  • 1/2 bag of Penne Rigate
  • 1.5 lbs of chicken breast tender loin (boneless)
  • 2 Tbsp of Olive Oil
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1 1/4 cups of shredded Parmesan cheese 
  • 1 can of table cream (Nestle Media Crema)
  • 1 green pepper*
  • 2 large tomatoes*
  • *You can replace the peppers and tomatoes with broccoli
  • Slice the chicken into cubes and season them (about 3 pinches of seasoning over the chicken cubes).
  • In a skillet, add the olive oil and the seasoned chicken cubes and cook them at medium-high heat until completely cooked throughout (take skillet with chicken off of the heat and set aside on an unused burner).
  • In a saucepan, add the milk and butter and cook at medium heat for about 1 minute. Slowly add flour into the saucepan and stir with a whisk. Keep stirring and cook the sauce until the flour dissolves and the sauce thickens (3-5 minutes).
  • Set the sauce aside.
  • Cook the pasta following the instructions on the package ( I usually boil water in a quart size pot, add the pasta into the boiling water, and cook for about 12 minutes).
  • Remove the seeds from both the green peppers and tomatoes, slice them into strips, and add them into the skillet with the chicken. 
  • Cook the veggies with the chicken for 1 minute at medium heat. 
  • Add the sauce into the skillet and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese and keep cooking for 2 additional minutes (or until the cheese dissolves into the sauce).
  • Reduce heat to low, add the table cream and cook for one more additional minute. Remove from heat.
  • Remove pasta from the pot and put it into a serving bowl.
  • Pour the chicken and veggies with sauce over the pasta and serve.
  • Buon Appetito!