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!!

Bai Mu Er soup - Cooking with Herbs

Here is my video on how to make my delicious Bai Mu Er ("bigh moo er") soup, a chinese herbal soup that is very beneficial for maintaining youthful skin, strengthening the respiratory system and stopping cough, and calming the nerves.  It's a wonderful sweet soup that you can drink first thing in the morning to open up your appetite, or before you got to bed to help soothe your nerves and melt the stress away.  This video was taken at the Cooking with Herbs event at Bird Pick Tea and Herb, Culver City.  Bird Pick and I are doing a joint collaboration on educating the public on the health benefits of Chinese herbs.  We have our next Cooking with Herbs event scheduled for February 2/17.  For more information, click here .  For more information on this event series, go to Cooking with Herbs.  To sign up to be informed of this series or other Iyashi Wellness events, please go to my homepage.

Cooking instructions are provided on the soup kit I sell, but here are the instructions as per in the video provided above, which uses a crock pot.

  1. Soak Bai Mu Er in hot or cold water.  Hot water will make the mushroom expand faster, but cold water works just fine, too.  Wait until the mushroom expand.  
  2. Once expanded (color of Bai Mu Er will lighten), cut out the core of the mushroom (darker yellow core found underneath the mushroom) and discard.  Tear Bai Mu Er apart into small, bitable sizes, as the mushroom will expand during cooking.  Rinse and put aside.
  3. Rinse the remaining ingredients - longan fruit, go ji berries and Chinese jujube (or dates).
  4. Throw all 4 ingredients into a crock pot, add enough water to cover the pot and natural sweetener to your liking, set crock pot on low heat, and leave overnight (or set in the morning before you leave to work).  Voila!  Now you have a delicious porridge ready for you to eat in the morning, or an evening "snack" ready when you come home from work!  Mmmm!  And with so little effort!
  5. Store in fridge once it cools down, and it will keep for several days.
  6. My soup kit serves 6-8 servings.

Tip: During the cold winter months, add some slices of ginger to the recipe to give it that well-known spicy, warming effect of ginger.  Add grains or legumes to make it a heartier meal, too!

Drink this on a regular basis, and you will feel the long-lasting nourishing, calming, beautifying effects of the soup.   Safe for all ages to consume, including breastfeeding moms as well.

If you would like to purchase the soup kit, they are available through Bird Pick.

 

Foods You Should Be Eating

There was recently a wonderful article in Well, a New York Times Healthblog. It talks about 11 foods people should be eating but most likely aren't. Luckily, all of the listed foods are easy to find at your local markets, and especially farmers markets.

Since the article already lists what the foods are good for and how to prepare it, I decided to do a twist on those foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective. So here it goes:

Beets: these pee-staining (and you know what I mean if you've eaten them!!) roots nourish the blood, strengthen the heart, calm the mind, lubricate the intestines and cleanse the liver. What does that mean? It's excellent for anemia, restlessness, constipation and for liver intoxification from drugs or alcohol. I like to eat it by boiling the beets in water until tender, peel skin and then eat as is with no seasoning. It comes out so sweet, you don't need any seasoning! I also like to cook the beet greens in a sauté, whether stir fried, or water fried with other hardy greens. Caution when consuming it raw. I one time drank a cup of raw beet juice with nothing else, and I immediately threw it up! Its detoxing abilities are so strong, you have to consume it mixed with other fruits and veggies juices.

Cabbage: it's excellent in clearing heat, lubricating the intestines and stopping cough. When we say clearing heat in Chinese Medicine, it means heat symptoms present in the body, from constipation (you're all dried up, right?), thirst, fever, acne (it's usually red like fire, right?), body odor (fetid food has smell, right? so if you're consuming heat-producing foods, you're more likely to have B.O. than not), hypertension, hot flashes, to anger (that's a form of emotion rising up onto the surface, exploding, like a volcano, right?), and so forth. I like to eat it by julienning it and then sprinkling a little bit of vinegar and salt to it. I then mix it really well until it become a little like pickles. In Japan, there was a craze for a while of the Cabbage Diet. All people ate was cabbage to help them lose weight because of it's high fiber content and aid in promoting bowel movements.

Swiss Chard: Like all dark green leafy vegetables, it has a cooling ability, so like the cabbage, and similar to spinach, it can clear heat. It also nourishes the blood. So it's excellent for anemia, blood disorders, constipation and detoxing. I like to water-fry it with a little bit of garlic and salt, or mix it into some quinoa with kale and salt. Simple but delicious!

Cinnamon: Cinnamon, or rou gui, is used extensively as a medicinal herb in Chinese herbology. It is a warming herb, so we use it for conditions like the common cold, abdominal pain that gets better if you put warmth to it, PMS cramping and low back pain. Think about it, when do you usually use cinnamon in your cooking? During the Fall and Winter right, for that yummy pumpkin pie, in soups, in hot cocoa or hot coffee. Why? Because it's warming, and for Americans, it reminds them of feeling all cozy on a cold winter day. I like to throw a whole cinnamon twig into the boiling water that I use to prepare steel cut oatmeal. Not only does it make it fragrant, but it sure adds that punch of core-warming heat to my oatmeal. For PMS cramping or stomach pain, drink cinnamon tea.

Pomegranate Juice: pomegranates promote urination, reduce inflammation (especially of the throat, mouth and urinary tract), and is mildly nourishing to the blood. It's good for urinary tract infections, like cranberry juice, because its sour and cooling, and like aforementioned, promotes urination and reduces inflammation in the urinary tract. I like to drink pomegranate juice, but like with any fruit juices, because of its high sugar content, I usually dilute it with water. It's best, like with any juices, to eat the real fruit, so if you can find it in your market, buy the real fruit. It's time consuming to get to the seeds, but well worth the effort. Just be careful staining your clothes.

Dried Plums: ok, I don't eat dried fruits, again, because like fruit juices, they are high in sugar content. So if I'm going to eat dried plums, I'm going to choose the real fruit. They are the yummiest during the summer. It's excellent at supporting the healthy functioning of the liver, and helps to keep the qi ("energy source" in Chinese medicine) flowing smoothly throughout your body. Some expressions of stuck qi is irritability, moodiness, PMS, easy to anger, and menstrual problems. Plums are also a digestive aid and relieves thirst.

Pumpkin seeds: it's an anti-parasitic and diuretic, so it's excellent for intestinal worms, diabetes and prostate problems. The raw seeds are excellent at calming nausea and bloatingduring pregnancy.

Sardines: like with fruit juices and dried fruit, I like my fish fresh. In Japan, we eat sardines all the time, broiled. Because it can be quite bitter, we like to eat it with some grated daikon and soy sauce to cut the bitterness. Sardines are wonderful qi tonics and yin tonics. What is yin?, you might ask. It encompasses the notion of body fluids, cooling energy, female energy, night, sleep, calmness and so forth (as opposed to yang energy, which is aggressive, explosive, muscles, male energy, and day). It also nourishes the tendons and bones. So sardines are great for menopause, thirst, bone fractures, osteoporosis, tendonitis.

Tumeric: like cinnamon, this is an herb we use extensively in Chinese herbology. Known as jiang huang, we primarily use it for menstrual disorders like amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, cramps, and for arthritic conditions.

Frozen Blueberries: ok, frozen fruits and vegetables are my exceptions. I do keep frozen blueberries in my freezer to use in my smoothies or oatmeal -- if I can't get access to fresh ones, or if it's not summer. Blueberries nourish the blood and tonify the qi, so it's good for anemic conditions, amenorrhea, and fatigue. Like with cranberries, it also aids in relieving urinary tract infections. I love to eat fresh, sweet blueberries also with some home-made whipped cream! Mmmm!

If you want to learn more about food from a Chinese Medicine perspective, a wonderful book to own is called The Tao of Nutrition by Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease. Much of the information in this particular post came from this book.

And one last thing I'd like to say about eating these and other foods is to choose organic, locally grown foods as much as possible.

Enjoy healthy eating!!