Real Food Nutrition for 7th graders

Since we're not with our kids 24/7, we must help them make good food choices all on their own.  And you can start early!  My upcoming talk about how to Optimize Your Child's Brain and Body Through Nutrition reminded me about an experience I had teaching Real Food nutrition to 7th graders last year.  

I had a wonderful opportunity to spend time with four 7th grade classes at a local middle school.  Mrs. Broussard, the 7th grade teacher, invited me to teach her students about Real Food nutrition.  She had already included nutrition education from a mathematical point of view (how to count calories, how to burn off calories based on exercising, how many hours to burn that off, etc.)   Mrs. Broussard is also a Real Food advocate, and wanted me to teach a more holistic perspective to eating and nutrition.  So I came in with a very interactive lesson plan.  I incorporated several videos, posed questions to students to elicit feedback, showed them a healthy lunch box and the breakdowns of each food category.  I also talked to them about how to shop for Real Food and the major differences between processed, convenience food versus real, homemade food.  We covered the dangers of sugar addiction, being aware of different colors on their plate, the 5 flavors of food, and the meaning of being hungry as opposed to eating out of an emotion or an addiction.  

The students all had wonderful answers, questions, and feedback.  One child was devastated to find out that mac and cheese had pasta in it.  I was explaining that eating all "white" foods all the time, like mac and cheese, pizza, and bread doesn't provide you with a balance of nutrients and flavor.  And to that, students were incredulous that I would consider mac and cheese "white" and corrected me that it was "yellow".  I was perplexed, so I told them, "Well, there's white pasta underneath the cheese, right?"  (Sort of tells you how important it is to educate our kids about what's in their food.  Mac is "macaroni", a definite pasta product!)  What I was shocked to find out was that if you eat mac and cheese from a box, it's all yellow.  (Explanation: I'd never eaten mac and cheese from a box, having grown up in Japan, and on the rare occasion that I make mac and cheese as an adult, I grate my own parmesan cheese onto pasta, so it's all "white" in color to me.)  On top of that, in boxed mac and cheese, the yellow is super-yellow.  Not usually an indication of healthy nutrition!  So students and I both learned a lot about nutrition.

I taught the children to shop the perimeter of the supermarkets because that is where you find "real food".  Kids again were perplexed, so I broke it down further for them.  "Real food is food that needs refrigeration, that actually starts to mold if you don't refrigerate it.  Anything that can last on a shelf in a box for years is processed food."  The aaahs and the lightbulbs that went on after this revelation was music to my ears.   

In regards to the 5 flavors,  I taught them that they should have 5 different flavors on their plate: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter.  This will guarantee that a child is eating foods from many different food groups as well as even food processing styles, like sour will most likely be a lacto-fermented food (like sauerkraut or kimchi).  These foods are incredibly high in naturally-occurring probiotics and lactic acid, which both aid in digestion of foods.  Same goes with eating a colorful plate.  We can learn something from the Japanese here.  I remember growing up as a child, my Japanese aunt (I lived in a multi-generation house at one point) used to count on her fingers as she thought about how many colors of foods were on the plates for our dinner.  She'd be counting "green from the spinach, purple from the eggplant, red from the chicken, white from the rice" and so forth.  She always made sure there were 5 colors represented.  So if you follow this, like with the 5 flavors, it will help to ensure you and your child are eating a variety-filled meal each time.  

I know I only came in for one day, teaching 50 minutes of nutrition per class.  These students learn all kinds of important things the rest of the year.  But my hope is that I was able to plant even one new seed, nurture one new outlook.  That's all I ask.  By looking at food differently, our children will follow a different health trajectory than the one of deterioration that an alarming percentage of Americans experience today.  

Thanks Mrs. Broussard and the 7th graders for letting me come and teach your wonderful class!  And a major kudos to all the teachers out there.  They teach day in and day out with very little recognition, often under immense stress from administration as well as from students with behavioral issues.  But they do it because they love what they do and they too want to make a major difference in the lives of our children.  Big hats off to teachers!!

Divine Homemade Choco-licious Jello

These adorable hearts, robots, animal faces, and stars are homemade chocolate jello made by yours truly!  And not only are they super cute to look at and choco-licious to eat, but it is as wholesome goodness as it can get!  It's made from grass-fed gelatin, a highly nutritious food element, and in my case, with panela as well, an unprocessed cane sugar that maintains a large amount of nutrients.  And it's so easy to make!  

I was in Colombia earlier this year to visit family, and among other delicious foods, I got to imbibe on one of the national treasures, the chocolate caliente, or hot chocolate.  Drinking chocolate ("chocolateh") always brings me so many good, happy memories of Colombia, so when I was there this winter, I decided to buy the ingredients to make the drink back home in Los Angeles.  So I stocked up on unsweetened cocoa powder, panela, and a molinillo.  I still needed a hot chocolate pitcher to make the chocolate, so back home in LA, I purchased a traditional handmade ceramic chocolate pitcher (similar to this) at one of the stalls that sells artisanal Mexican goods while visiting Mercado La Paloma.   (You can also use this in its place too).  With all the necessary ingredients and tools on hand now, I started making my chocolates and choco-licious jellos for my 4 year old son.  It was a hit (but of course).  To make it more fun for him and I, I just recently purchased these molds - the jellos in the photo are from them, but you can just as well use a glass pan or baking pan to pour the chocolate goo, and then just cut them in to pieces when they've firmed up in the fridge.  That's how I started out. 

So without further adieu, per patients and friends' request, here is my recipe:

Just 6 simple Ingredients:

Gelatin powder - (I like this brand and this brand)

Goat milk

Unsweetened coco powder

Panela (aka Jaggery or Piloncillo) 




Now that it's getting cooler even here in Los Angeles, I like to start my morning with something warm to drink to gently encourage my digestion to wake up and have a good appetite :-).  So I have homemade bone broth, soup, tea, or when I'm feeling decadent, like this past weekend, homemade chocolate caliente.  I'll make enough chocolate so that I can also make the choco-licious jellos from this batch.

I pour about 3 cups of goat milk* in the hot chocolate pitcher and start to heat it. (Or 1 cup of milk per cup of hot chocolate).  Don't let it boil, just warm up the milk nice and hot.  With the molinillo inside, I pour in 3-5 tablespoons of the unsweetened cocoa powder and start to whisk it.  (The more chocolate, the thicker the chocolate.) (You can also of course use a regular whisk or blend the milk and chocolate in a blender.  I just like this ritual of using a molinillo and making chocolate in a ceramic pitcher.)  I throw in a stick of cinnamon and maybe 2-3 pieces of cloves for that added delicious hot and fragrant spices.  I break apart the panela and start throwing in pieces, stirring and taste-testing constantly as I don't like my chocolate sweet.  I'm actually not a "chocolate" person, but when I do eat (or in this case drink) it, I like mine more bitter, so the less the sugar, the happier me.  I keep whisk/stirring.  Once the cocoa powder and panela have melted completely, the spices are nice and fragrant, and the milk has frothed up from all the molinillo whisk/stirring, I then pour the steaming chocolate caliente into two mugs - one for me and one for my son - and set it aside to drink later.

Now, while the hot chocolate is still hot in the pitcher and heat on medium-low, I then pour in about 2-3 tablespoons of grass-fed beef gelatin powder, slowly, stirring constantly so that the gelatin doesn't clump up.  I keep whisk/stirring until the gelatin has completely melted into the hot chocolate.

To the side, I have my molds all laid out.  The molds are on wider baking pans or even a cutting board so that I have a flat, hard surface under the molds for easy transport from counter to fridge.  

Once the gelatin has completely melted, I turn off the fire and pour the hot chocolate into the molds.  Be sure to remove the cinnamon and clove while pouring into the molds.  

Place the filled molds into the fridge, and in an hour or two, the jellos are, voila! ready!!  Remove the jellos from the mold and replace in airtight container so that the jellos don't dry up.  

Lasts in fridge easily up to a week (though with something this delicious, they rarely last that long!).  

This treat, I let my son eat a good amount (up to about 6-8 pieces) a day because I know he's getting so many wholesome nutrients from these little jellos.  And I know how much sugar has gone into it, which is minimal, so I don't fret about the sugar content.  Now that's he's a little older, he helps me make it, too, so he's learning measurements, cooking, pouring, whisking, taste-testing, and being patient until they are ready (though he gets to drink that little mug of chocolate too!) What a win-win combo!

And just in time for the Christmas festivities.  If you buy Christmas-theme molds, I bet your jellos will be a hit at the next holiday party!

If you try it, let me know how it goes!  

*You're welcome to use cow's milk if you're not sensitive to cow's milk.