By Sylvia Geiger, M.S., R.D., "Family Table: “Please Rejuvenate Our Dinners”,"August/September 2006
“Tell her that we don’t eat any hydrogenated oils,” said the note Sam Hemphill, 10, of Newton, Massachusetts, slipped to his mother while she and I chatted on the phone. Sam wanted me, an EatingWell nutritionist, to know about his family’s healthy diet. He even, his mother says, spelled “hydrogenated” correctly.
“Next on his hit list is high-fructose corn syrup,” said Sarah. “We’re all trying to eliminate that from our diet.”
Nutritionally speaking, the Hemphills—parents Sarah and Daniel, Sam and his sisters, 8-year-old Ruby and 3-year-old Lillian—are one enlightened family. Their diet abounds in fresh fruits and vegetables, and the older children are exceptionally savvy in the ways of processed foods. For that, Sarah credits a family visit to a registered dietitian. “I was tired of being the ‘food police,’’’ she says. “I figured that I’d let them hear this stuff from someone else.”
Sam and Ruby recount the things they learned from that visit. “She told us how partially hydrogenated fats can clog up your arteries,” said Sam. “Now, we’re freaks about it.” Ruby was shocked to find corn syrup as the third ingredient in one of her favorite breakfast cereals. The pair have taken on a bit of the “food police” role themselves, scrutinizing every label in the supermarket before the food hits the cart. They even volunteered to forgo most of their Halloween candy (they donated it to a local shelter) after they read the labels. The siblings keep Active with organized sports and the bikes, scooters and balls that litter their driveway. TV is limited to a once-a-week viewing of American Idol. Even their dad, Daniel, an assistant school superintendent, has nutrition and health front and center as he struggles daily with revamping his district’s wellness and school lunch program.
So it’s no wonder that when Sarah Hemphill contacted us for a “makeover,” she didn’t ask us how to make her family’s meals more nutritious.
She was hoping, instead, for a “rejuvenation” of the family menu. “I need some new and fresh meal ideas that fit into our schedule.” Though dedicated and knowledgeable about good nutrition, even Sarah finds creating nightly meals “daunting.” One child finds most meat “disgusting and repulsive,” another “hates broccoli and could live on cheese alone.” The whole family is “reduced to the lowest common denominator, the palate of a 3-year-old.” So putting a healthy meal on the table every night without cooking different foods that cater to each family member’s individual preferences is no easy task.
For years, Sarah has been reworking family favorites to make them more nutritious: she’s been sneaking chard into the spaghetti sauce and has already made the conversion to whole-wheat pasta as well as other whole grains. Yet vegetables remain a challenge, and certain favorite meals, such as pizza, seem impossible to make healthily. Dessert is also an issue: “If the kids know I’m making one, then the whole meal focuses on ‘How many more bites do I have to eat before I can have a brownie?’”
While Sarah was making the pizza, the kids devoured the veggie platter; Lillian attacked the cauliflower with the enthusiasm most kids save for candy. The dill in the dip threw Ruby for a loop, however, and she requested that the next time her mother makes it, she leaves it out. Easy enough.
The pizza was also a big hit and everyone agreed that it was “very good!” But when the discussion turned to the stealth vegetable, the pumpkin puree in the sauce, the gusto of Sam’s bite came to a screeching halt. But only momentarily. Ruby, on the other hand, was not fazed by the unexpected pumpkin and just commented that she liked “the thick crust.” Lillian’s serving disappeared.
Dessert got rave reviews. Daniel thought the “baked peaches seemed to have a sweeter and an intensified peachy flavor—the perfect complement to the vanilla frozen yogurt.” Sarah liked the crunchy ginger-cookie topping. And the kids? Well, they were too busy scraping their bowls to answer, but spoke up a moment later, asking, “Is there any more?”
Goal: A heart-healthy pizza dinner, low in saturated fat and loaded with fruits and vegetables.
- Veggies first. Plan for and appease your child’s voracious appetite with a make-ahead platter of assorted vegetables.
- Boost fiber by 50% simply by using a whole-wheat pizza crust.
- Lower saturated fat and cholesterol by two-thirds when substituting low-fat mozzarella for regular cheese.
- A fruit-based dessert fits into healthy eating and adds vitamins A & C, fiber and antioxidants.
Fruits & Vegetables:
Crunchy vegetables, 6 cups assorted
Peaches, 3 ripe
Refrigerated & Freezer Aisles:
Whole-wheat pizza dough, 1 pound
Shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, one 8-ounce bag
Turkey pepperoni, 1 package
Nonfat buttermilk, 1 quart
Reduced-fat mayonnaise, 1 jar
Nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt, 1 quart
Unseasoned pumpkin puree, 1 can
No-salt tomato sauce, 15-ounce can
Gingersnaps, 1 package (optional)