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Mercedes Sanchez

Mercedes Sanchez

Mercedes is a registered dietician, who obtained her degree from NYU. She grew up in Spain in a very traditional family and food environment. She brings the love of fresh ingredients on which the Mediterranean diet is based to the FamilyCook philosophy and education. She’s been the Director of Nutrition for FamilyCook since 1998. Contact Mercedes with your inquiries about our book or the FamilyCook programs at Mercedes@familycookproductions.com.

Learn from the experts!!! Fast food and junk food brands spend millions of dollars searching for best strategies to attract children as customers. These strategies are, as you know, highly effective. Why not learn from them for your own benefit? In our book, Get Your Family Eating Right, Lynn and I identify some of the best strategies that marketers use with kids and give examples of how to turn them around to get your children eating healthy.

Collage My future customers

One of the big ones is ‘brand loyalty.’ Companies use it to recruit impressionable kids by building playgrounds in their restaurants and giving away toys and prizes. Marketers have learned that if they build an emotional connection with their brand with children, they will remain loyal to them as an adult.

So, how can we use this strategy to our advantage? By delivering special experiences, that create fun and positive memories around healthful food. First Lady Michelle Obama is on this track - she recruited Sesame Street characters for the the produce aisle. It will certainly help parents in the supermarket - read more.

So I decided to take my kids and their friends for a full day in of vegetable harvesting on a farm. La Ferme Viltain, just a few kilometers outside Paris, offers a wide range of fall vegetables for ‘pick your own’ arrangement. City kids are thrilled when handed awheelbarrow and full freedom to run in the fields. They love to play and explore, hand pick tender spinach leaves, or pull vegetable roots. I could see they were attracted to the shapes and vibrant colors of the red beets, purple cabbage, and gigantic black radishes. The youngest ones were delighted just to chase each other around the fields. But I had an ulterior motive: to create a fun, memorable, day associated with radishes, beets, cabbages and other vegetables. Quite the opposite from forcing or pressuring kids to eat them.

Does my nine-year-old son like to eat beets and radishes now? NOPE. Does he hate them? NOPE, but slowly he is associating them with a fun memories. Even if he rejects their taste now, he will be ready to accept them in the near future thanks to the emotional connection he made with them at the farm. This way, I am creating ‘future loyal customers’ within my family for seasonal produce

Read more about food marketing to kids:

Marion Nestle Blog

FastFood Marketing

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How about surprising your family and friends with a paella for Labor Day? Paella is a traditional Spanish dish and a great recipe concept to accommodate lots of people, all with one pot. Like many of our recipe concepts in Get Your Family Eating Right, paella can be adapted to what is in season as well as your family’s preferences. My Mom's favorite has artichokes, my aunt's rabbit, others add white beans or amazing shellfish. Every summer in Spain, my children are thrilled when eating paella together with our extended family. It is always delicious, and good looking; a guaranteed success!

Take your children to the farmers market and get some ripe tomatoes and seafood. You can easily buy a traditional steel paella pan online or at a department store. Whatever pan you use, it’s important that the rice cooks evenly. You can make great paellas on top of your round charcoal barbecue in the picnic area of many parks, or using a gas barbecue in the yard. Cooking a paella outdoors is fun and festive. Kids love to watch the process and help; especially with the final decorations, like placing muscles, shrimps and strips of red peppers on top. The beautiful colors always make a great photo-op for the family.

2013 8 paella 

Serves 5 people

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pound          mussels scrubbed, de-bearded

3/4 cup                olive oil

1 head                 garlic separated in cloves with skin, softly crashed

1 tbsp                  salt

4 small                 chicken legs and 4 small wings

1                         red pepper cut in strips

1/2 pound             pork loin cut in bite-size cubes

4 medium             cleaned squids cut in rings and the tentacles in small pieces

2                          tomatoes cubed

1 pound                Spanish paella rice (medium grain; alternative: risotto rice or brown medium rice, not long)

1/8 teaspoon        crushed saffron

15 shrimps           head and shells on

1/2 pound             small clams

1/4                       lemon wedge per person

 2013 8 paella1-001

 

  1. Place mussels in large pot of water (water level halfway up the volume of mussels you have) and bring to a boil, cooking until the mussel shells open wide.
  2. Drain, reserve water, and set the cooked mussels aside.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the bottom of the paella pan, coating with a thin layer.
  4. Add garlic and cook until lightly golden.
  5. Remove all the cloves from pan.
  6. Next add the chicken and start browning it over medium heart, turning them over to evenly brown.
  7. Add peppers and cook 4 minutes; stirring as necessary to cook evenly.
  8. Add pork and cook for 5 minutes; stirring to cook evenly.
  9. Add salt evenly.
  10. Add squid, shrimps, and tomatoes; stirring as they cook.
  11. Add rice and stir it until each grain of rice is coated with oil.
  12. Add liquid (water plus liquid from mussels) all at once: three times the amount of rice.
  13. Add saffron (if available).
  14. Bring to boil for 5 minutes, then simmer and stir slowly until broth is almost absorbed.
  15. Taste to adjust salt and control the texture of the rice. Usually, the rice should be a bit more cooked than al dente.
  16. Add clams evenly around the paella.
  17. Arrange shrimps and mussels attractively on top.
  18.  Remove the pan from the fire, and let rice rest for 5 minutes covered with a clean cloth towel or aluminum foil.
  19. Arrange lemon wedges on top of paella before serving.
  20. Enjoy the paella with a nice peach sangria!

 

 
 

 

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Sardine Collage

Vamos a la playa a comer sardinas!!! Sardines at the beach are a summertime fun in coastal Spain.  We love them just grilled and sprinkled with sea salt and lemon. Traditionally, many beaches have shack-like open air restaurants right at the shore where one can enjoy local wild catch in between swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing. In Southeastern Spain, where my parents are from, sardines are abundant and cheap and the favorite food of locals and tourists. 

Even children learn at an early age to detach the juicy body flesh leaving head and tail in one piece united by their bones. Most will eat the crispy skin as well, and even some of the bones. These shacks limit their menus, mostly to seasonal fish, which makes it easier to fight picky eaters. Nature was wise to create the season of sardines around summer when there are more opportunities to cook them outdoors. Their pungent, strong odor will stay for days in your kitchen. During the winter, these pleasurable summer memories are recalled while opening a can of sardines in olive oil and eating them with bread and other vegetables.

Sardines are an acquired taste, especially if you didn´t grow up eating them. My daughter Sofia would not touch them yet; she is scared of mistakenly eating the tiny bones. She also thinks it is too much work deboning the animal for such little flesh. She grew up in New York eating fish that has no head, tails or bones. It may take her until her adult life to accept sardines. What´s important is that every summer when she is in Spain, she is building these memories associating a good time at the beach with parents, cousins, aunts and uncles devouring sardines with pleasure. Keeping fun family traditions entwined with real healthy food is key for assuring lifelong healthy diets.

What about where you live? What traditions have you followed that associate real food with family traditions and fond memories? How do you and your family connect with seasonal summer food in your hometown or the places you escape to?

Tell us your stories by entering our contest here for a chance to win a free copy of Get Your Family Eating Right

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When we were wading through reams of material to share in our book, we knew that tips on shopping smart would be essential. It took us a long time figure out cost effective strategies for our own families and translate them into steps for our educational programs!  

Farmers Market

Everyone wants the highest quality food for the best price! 

We have shared our secrets and strategies on how to prioritize where to shop and what quality to look for among different food categories (dairy, meat, fish, produce etc.).  Of course when it comes to produce, shopping by season is key and trying to shop local and support local agriculture brings many benefits.

Still, some people argue that fruits and vegetables are very expensive and even unaffordable. But we have found that cooking at home with fresh ingredients, adding more plant-based  proteins result in VERY affordable meals.

So we were thrilled with the release of this new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The report demonstrates that buying fresh produce can be even more economical than packaged and fast foods! It supports the shopping strategies we laid out in our book. Check out the study and learn more

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Since returning to Europe from Brooklyn 2 years ago, we started a new summer tradition to spend two weeks with my two kids together with their four French cousins in Saint Malo, a beautiful town on the cost of Brittany, France, where their grandfather lives. For part of that time, I am by myself in charge of the kids, three of them in their mid teens. The idea was for them to go to a day sailing camp and spend time together. 

The first year, the children had a great time. I didn’t. Meals were the culprit. Cooking from scratch by myself was a lot of work that went totally unappreciated.  The kids were too busy playing. Cleaning up was a battle if I expected them to help.  After each meal, they magically disappeared. Who to ask to clear the table? Clean the kitchen?  If I caught one and asked for help the eternal question came out: 'why me? What about the others?‘  In the end, it was I who did it.

The transformation occurred the second summer, when I organized a cooking camp for dinners.

To my surprise, we all bonded and enjoyed every minute of our time together  for our last two summers.  We laughed a lot and enjoyed delicious food (better than I expected!) and future family chefs were born. 

THE SECRET? Writing rules, assigning roles and expecting each child to bring their favorite recipes. Dinners were planned in advance, each child took responsibility for their own recipes, and I shifted my energy to make sure the kids were enjoying themselves. What a difference! The rewards far outweighed the couple of hours I invested in advance planning.  Not to mention late dinners (kids cook slowly), and some raucous cooking sessions with loud music!

Benefits far outweighed any inconveniences

As we share in our book, food has a special meaning when it is shared, appreciated and valued. When kids cook they quickly learn to appreciate their home-cooked meals. Kids were empowered by the experience, and got a feeling of accomplishment.  They now know where meals come from and that they can cook them. Additionally:

  • The kids were exposed to wider range of foods. To my children’s surprise, their cousins chose to cook some of their least favorite vegetables. I made sure my kids were the sous-chefs of those recipes to expose them to those foods. I loved how they were watching their cousins eat those vegetables with so much gusto.
  • They became adventurous to try new foods because their peers cooked them. 
  • Children begin to appreciate a clean, organized kitchen (when they are the ones mopping the floor, they´ll complain if you step on it with dirty shoes!)
  • Cooking reveals previously-undetected skills in children!  Who knew Sofia would lead many dinners during the following year, or that David would ever be willing to chop onions?         

Top winning strategies for my successful summer cooking camp

  1. Writing a plan for the whole week, with assigned roles for each kid.  To my surprise there was no need for negotiation. Once written and agreed upon it was sacred. Note: if you leave anything off accidentally, you´ll have to do it.  Note to self: I forgot to assign who empties the dishwasher. Result: too much whining about it – I did it!
    Chore Schedule
     (I did not help cooking but was there at all times giving advice and encouraging.) 
  2. Daily celebrity Chef ‘star’ designation, taking turns: I did this by filming them. Using my smart phone, I recorded snippets of them prepping, cooking and cleaning. Suddenly, when they were in front of the camera,  they wanted to do their best job even if it was dancing and being silly.
  3. Bringing my iPod and player in the kitchen: Listening to their favorite music made them happy to do even the most tedious tasks: chopping onions, washing pots and cleaning. Amazing!
  4. Taking the kids food shopping on day one: Each child was assigned the ingredients from their recipe to find in the market, plus we assigned other foods for breakfast, etc.
  5. Implementing everything the first day: The learning curve to establish and then keep them on task takes a lot of effort. The first day, there were a couple kids who ‘escaped’ to the TV; reinforcing assigned cleaning made me unpopular that night, but it made all the difference to keep everything on track.

And what about the menu?

Risotto, tomate farsi (tomatoes filled with ground meat), ratatouille with chicken au citron, pizza made from scratch topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions and zucchini, pasta with spinach and more. I have to admit that our French cousins impressed me with their adult palate. They do eat almost everything as Karen Le Billon claims. Can't wait to next summer and to next menu!!

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My friend Anita’s kids know what’s cooking in Paris! She planned their trip to include visits to the fantastic open markets of this magical city interspersed with the more typical sights.  Before leaving New York, she read about the famous marché at Ave. President Wilson where hundreds of people, mostly Parisians, prefer to buy their groceries rather than in a supermarket.  But you don’t have to visit a world city, like Paris, to make your destination an opportunity to introduce the foods and flavors of a city or town to your children.  Just make an effort to include local food culture as part of your travel experience, so your kids associate fresh ingredients with the pleasurable experience of cultural discovery. This is key to ensure an open attitude about new and healthy foods for life.

Day in paris collage

Parisians flock to the marché - for lunch!

Parisians break for lunch between 12 to 2 PM.  When we arrived just after 12, many people were already waiting in line for fresh, hand-made Lebanese pizzas with zahatar (aromatic herbs from the Middle East similar to thyme and oregano).  We found hand-made artisanal products and various types of meat and chicken on the grill. In additional to seasonal produce, an array of Artisanal breads of every shape and size were on display, perfect for pairing with a wide variety of cheese from across France.  

 

Ask the farmer and the regulars for their food and cooking secrets

We let our kids choose the foods they wanted to try. Their favorites were the summer fruits: apricots, figs, and cherries. I could not resist the white asparagus as Anita had never tried them before, and the season was nearly over.  A cute, elderly French woman shared with us her secret to prepare them:  she recommends using only the tips and serve them with a delicious mustard. When you go to the most touristic places or restaurants you meet tourists. The real Paris is here, at the marché. One meets French mothers, old women, workers and executives all mingled with the same purpose, good fresh food.

 

 The Parisian marchés are not saturated with tourists - yet!  So, take advantage!

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