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This is the time of year when food is front and center in our lives. For some, it's a license to indulge. For others, the focus is about their culinary traditions that reflect their heritage through time worn recipes. We connect with our family and friends through gatherings with celebratory food. Then, when the holiday season is over, we make New Year resolutions to become more fit and lose a few pounds. But, could we use this time to be more intentional around the role that food plays in our holiday celebrations, and in our lives? Can this festive season be approached as a tool to bring our family -  or our educational program participants, together to celebrate with local, seasonal, and healthful food?

What does it mean to be intentional around food? Let's explore some ways to approach meals more meaningfully this holiday season.

1. Consider the menu items critically.
You don’t have to serve dishes just because you have ‘always had them at the holidays.’ Take a moment to pause and consider whether you honestly love every dish. Do your holiday recipes represent what your region has to offer in terms of seasonal, fresh food? Do they reflect the health profile of how you like or would like to eat at this point in your life?  Asparagus on the menu?  It’s really a spring vegetable, so why not swap with winter greens or root vegetables that will offer a more seasonal approach. Do those sweet potatoes really need marshmallows? What is a way to enjoy these sweet and lusciously textured vegetables?  The youth from our Teen Battle Chef program are often asked to help prepare Thanksgiving feasts for the elderly or other group settings. Our policy is to ensure that they are also helping to re-interpret ‘typical’ dishes enjoyed over the holidays by providing one or more recipes that has a ‘twist’ on tradition, such as a delectable butternut squash and apple cider soup with feta and dill. 

2. Who will prepare what?  
Do you take on too much when the holidays come along? Are you tempted to just ‘order out’ because it’s so much work?  Or from a program perspective, does making a group feast before the holiday vacation seem too daunting?  This only has to be the case if you are taking on too much yourself and not involving other family members or young cooks in your program. When our founder, Lynn Fredericks’s children were young, she re-evaluated the holiday menus and offered each of her two sons an opportunity to create their signature dish. She helped them select and cook it. This became their new tradition that continues to this day. It was their special ritual and having her boys’ participation took the pressure off of Lynn to do all the cooking by herself.better and in season during the months of April and May, so why not swap traditional vegetables with winter greens or root vegetables that will offer a more seasonal approach.  

3. Establish new traditions.
In addition to new recipes, what new traditions  could you create around cooking or eating together?  Does one child or age group in a program take on table decorations? Can someone take the lead in planning music and songs to be apart of your celebration? What about shopping? Can your students (or children) help you make the shopping list and then go with you to the farmers market and/or the grocery store? Offering ways to enhance your meal with creative additions that make it festive and special can also add to your enjoyment.  Whether it’s Kwanza, Christmas or Hanukkah, you can find special paper decorations to make from snowflakes to dreidels to paper mkekas.

Use the time of the holidays for everyone in your program or family to: make conscious decisions about what’s important for your celebratory meal. Set goals together about your food priorities for taste, budget, as well as health to ensure your meals this holiday season reflect something that everyone feels great about cooking, serving and eating!

For more thought provoking best practices, sign up for our mailing list. And - click here to learn more about our award-winning programs. 

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I have been so lucky as to be a part of the FamilyCook Productions team through my nutrition internship, and what an experience it has been. Today I went to Hammarskjold Plaza farmers’ market, and I literally felt like I was 7 again and walking into the biggest candy store. From a Danish viewpoint the variety of vegetables was an incredible experience. I had never seen so many different types of kale or squash in my life! There were so many different colors and shapes, and I felt so inspired to make a delicious kale salad with my very new friend the beautiful Russian kale. 

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It is so easy to get inspired when you go to the farmers’ markets, there is something magical about shopping your produce from the hands of the farmers that have nurtured these fruit and vegetables to growth. I feel like I was shopping for delicious vitamins that would fill my body with all the energy and excitement we all need for life. The greatest gift you can give yourself is good nutrition from these amazing fruit and vegetables. 

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The vegetables and fruits that made the biggest impression on me were the different kales, so I made a salad of russian kale, baked red Bartlett pears, and yellow cherdlee tomatoes. 

Kale is not a favorite dining for many, but this vegetable has some amazing characteristics that you can get great pleasure from.
  Kale is very rich in vitamin C, which strengthens our immune system, and it is very high in fiber. Try to experiment with your kale and if you want all the wonderful vitamins and dietary fiber avoid cooking the kale.

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So for this recipe you will need: 

(Serves 4)

  • 1 bunch of russian kale from the farmers' market
  • 2 big Yellow Cherdlee tomatoes
  • 3 red Bartlett piers
  • 1 bunch of Rainbow chard
  • 1.5 cup Quinoa
  • Almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Soy 

Directions:

  1. First cut your pears into small wedges and put them in the oven at 300 °F for approx. 15-20 min.
  2. Next set the quinoa over to boil for 10-15 minutes until it has the same consistency as boiled rice 
  3. Roast the almonds with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and remove when golden and put them on a plate to cool down.
  4. Rinse all your vegetables and role up your kale and chard to ribbons, so you can cut them in fine strips. Combine 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil together and mix it with the kale
  5. Cut your tomatoes in your desired shapes
  6. Now mix all your ingredients and top with, baked pears, roasted almonds and currants

A great tip is to make a big portion, so you can take it to work or school the next day.

Enjoy!

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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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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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