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Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
After writing more than 21 cookbooks and contributing to numerous national publications, mom-of-two Sally Sampson decided to dedicate her skills to the fight against childhood obesity. In 2010, ChopChop: The Fun Cooking Magazine for Families was born. The quarterly delivers lively food fundamentals for kids (and adults!) to doctors’ offices, schools, and homes across the country. Now, the clever cooking guide is available in book form. ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family features more than 100 recipes to get your kids in the kitchen. And if these fun ideas don’t inspire your little ones, Sampson has a few tips that just might do the trick.
ChopChop is dedicated to teaching children cooking skills and healthy eating habits. Why is this mission important to you?
Before I created ChopChop, I was writing cookbooks but didn’t feel that was enough. I knew I could do more than write recipes; I wanted to make a difference. Teaching nutrition and cooking to a child helps her understand that there’s a difference between an apple, apple juice, and apple-flavored products. Then she can make better food choices, and that results in better health. Plus, cooking is such a wonderful way to bond with your kids! I just think it’s the greatest, most important thing.
How did you come up with the name “ChopChop?”
You know, it’s the funniest thing: we spent days and days listing different names and none of them felt right. Then one day I just said, “ChopChop.”And it stuck.
I have to ask—what were the duds?
One of them was “Picnic,” another was “Nosh.” And there were a million versions with “Kids Cooking.” When I look at them now, they really just don’t fit.
How can kids get their hands on a copy?
Subscribe! Or find copies in your pediatrician’s office, hospital, or school. If your school doesn’t have issues available, you can visit our website or call us to set up a classroom subscription. Some schools have even gathered sponsors and created custom editions!
The magazine received the James Beard Foundation Publication of the Year Award for 2013. What was that like?
It was great! It gave us gravitas in the food world—Mark Bittman has written about us in the New York Times, and our readership has close to doubled in subscriptions. As the only kids’ magazine to receive the award, in addition to being a non-profit, we’ve really stood out.
Reviewers have credited the cookbook with teaching their own children math and measurements, science and chemistry through cooking, and nutrition. What other benefits are there to cooking as a family?
It’s such a great way to connect with your child as a parent. In some ways, that’s the most important thing about cooking. It’s creative, fun, and uniting. Food is also a really good way to understand other cultures. When I was growing up, we didn’t eat hummus or salsa. Through cooking together, new foods and tastes feel more familiar.
At what age should parents start bringing kids into the kitchen?
Immediately—it’s never too early! If you have an infant, bring her into the kitchen in her high chair and tell her what you’re feeding her. Say, “I’m cooking carrots. Carrots are orange.” Start a monologue with your baby. As she gets older, continue your monologue but start to ask questions. Ask, “How many cherry tomatoes are there?” And have her toss them into a salad.
Then as your child grows, gauge her ability. She will be interested in being part of it. Children want to be a success in the adult world and being in the kitchen is a great way to do that—just be sure to let her take the next steps and progress.
It might be hard at first for parents to get their kids in the kitchen—what do you suggest?
Start very small. Tell your child you need his help. Just say, “We’re having pasta tonight, can you pick out the shape?” Then give them more choices: “Let’s plan out your meals for school lunch.” To make it easier (and healthier) for my kids, I made a chart of acceptable options and they chose which lunches to have on which days. Tiny things like that can get kids very excited about participating.
How did you encourage your children to eat a variety of foods?
This was my point of view on dinner: I never made two meals and I never made them try anything. I never said, “You have to taste it.” Instead, I told my kids that if they didn’t like what I made, they could have cereal (non-sugared Cheerios), cottage cheese, or yogurt. If there isn’t an amazing alternative your children will eat dinner. Otherwise, if you make it appealing not to eat what you make – by offering chicken nuggets for example – why would they eat it?
As for picky eaters, don’t make it a big deal. Just keep putting other foods on the table that they might say they don’t like. Avoid defining your child as a picky eater and don’t give her pickiness a lot of attention.
The cookbook proves that you don’t need to be a “foodie” in order to cook well and healthfully. Instead, it presents cooking as a fun life skill that everyone should know and enjoy. Was this part of your goal?
Yes, of course. It’s really simple and easy to cook and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or esoteric. We need to help the generation of non-cooks raising non-cooks and get them into the kitchen. I’ve even had retirees and college students send letters, thanking us for helping them become better cooks.
So which recipes are best for kids when cooking for the first time?
Smoothies—they’re so adaptable: If a recipe calls for an apple, you could replace with a pear. If you can’t have milk, you can use soy milk. It’s also really fun to watch the blender—it’s like it’s exploding!
Sandwiches are also great to make with any age kids. Our Rainbow Sandwich recipe challenges them to fill their bread with as many colors as possible. For this, I suggest putting out a spread of cabbage, tomatoes, colored cheeses, and other options. It shows kids that a sandwich doesn’t have to be ham, mustard, and cheese.
What are your favorite family recipes?
Vegetable chili. You can make it spicy or not, and you can serve up little bowls of onions, avocado, hot sauce, cilantro, and yogurt to personalize it. It’s a great way to get kids to try new things. And they love putting together our other adult-like “Make It Your Way” meals.
And about the term “kid-friendly:” Why don’t you use it?
I don’t think there’s kid food and adult food. We don’t have anything in the magazine or book that’s not appropriate for an adult. I highly discourage having a two-meal dinner. Food is food. And you shouldn’t have anything in the house you don’t want your child to eat!
What else should readers should know?
If you’re trying to change the eating habits of your family, take really small steps. If you eat out five times a week, and you can cook one meal a week at home, that’s a good step. Really big changes really fast don’t work. Take baby steps. It’s okay.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
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Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
Both in the U.S. and the U.K., Annabel Karmel is the number-one name for moms who want to make their own baby food. The mother of three has written more than a dozen books about feeding babies and toddlers; her iPhone app is also a hit. Now she’s offering advice and delicious recipes for pregnant moms with her new book Eating for Two.
What inspired you to dive into nutrition, meal planning, and baby food?
About three months after my first child was born, I felt very uneasy—she didn’t look right to me. We took her to the hospital and were there for five days and nights. They believed something was wrong with her brain. On the last night, she died. I can’t even explain what that feels like. She was my first child.
I knew that having another child was the only thing that could bring me back to life, and so my son Nicholas is the reason I wrote my first book. I was quite adamant that he should eat well. I tried books on baby purees and they were all very bland. I tried commercial products and he wouldn’t eat them. I only got him to eat well with my own with herbs, garlic, and fresh food.
I was giving my recipes to all the mums around and they told me I should write a book.
So you did!
I spoke with many, many allergy specialists, nutritionists, and research bodies. It took me two and half years before my first book came out in 1991, The Healthy Baby Meal Planner. I thought that would be the only book I wrote, but so far I’ve written about one book each year on a range of topics: weekly meal planning, feeding fussy eaters, creating family meals, transitioning from puree to solid food, and cooking with your child.
What are good first foods?
I don’t believe in baby cereal. I like vegetables and fruit, preferably sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash. Simply steam it to preserve the nutrients, or bake it, which will caramelize it. Then mix it with your baby’s usual milk. Apple and pear are also great choices because they are slightly sweet, similar to breast milk. Then start branching out and introduce mashed papaya, peaches, banana, and avocado.
When making purees, stick to a single ingredient and keep it as close to liquid as possible. Babies are used to breast milk, and you need to mimic that consistency to start. Then work up to mixing a fruit and a vegetable together and creating thicker purees. Try introducing your little one to broccoli and spinach by mixing them with root vegetables.
What if my child is picky and won’t eat a lumpy sweet potato puree?
Stick with it! In the first year, you must introduce to as many foods as possible. Withholding certain foods has nothing to do with developing an allergy or not, but rather it can make children quite fussy. It’s really about trying to train kids to like good food. It’s hard to transition from commercial, processed food to homemade family food. Start them on fresh family food and you shouldn’t have much of a problem.
What are the best first finger foods?
Steamed veggies and soft fruits like peaches, broccoli, pears. I also love serving fingers of toast with real cheese, mini meatballs, and sautéed grated onion and apple.
How can moms be sure their babies and toddlers are getting the nutrition they need?
Follow my books and meal planner—it takes all the worry out of it. Once you’re past the simple foods, bring in eggs, fish, chicken, and other meat. I like putting things like dried apricot into beef casserole or fresh fruit into a savory puree to get babies to like it.
Other key points to remember: variety and food groups. Serve fish or meat twice each week or add cheese to a veggie puree. Do not stick to smooth purees for too long. To avoid this, blend half and chop the other half or keep it lumpier.
Don’t be discouraged or frustrated when you’re baby becomes independent, experiments with food, and then makes a mess. Mums need to accept that and take a deep breath.
Sometimes introducing the same food over and over doesn’t work for me. So I make something else. Is this the right thing to do?
It’s actually important for the child to feel hungry. Otherwise he will carry on and on and get fussy with food whenever he doesn’t feel like eating something. Give him no attention for not eating. It’s a hard thing to do, but focus on the good and not the bad. We’re all guilty of going to the cupboard and trying to appease our children, afraid they will be hungry. But when they’re hungry, that’s the time they will eat something different. Otherwise their diet won’t be varied and that’s the worst thing.
What is the best way to store baby food?
I loved cooking for my children on the weekend and freezing purees in ice cube trays. You’re better off making it in bulk.
Can parents just blend up what they’re eating for dinner?
Yes! But be mindful that no salt or strong seasonings are added.
Do you have a favorite go-to recipe when you’re in a pinch?
My mini-meatballs. I bake them in the oven and then freeze the extra. I also love chicken balls and salmon balls—all are made with breadcrumbs, tomato, and spring onion.
Any tips for mom’s diet?
While pregnant, try not to gain too much weight. You don’t need any extra calories, not until the last three months anyway, because your body is great at using all of the calories and nutrients you already provide. Eating many small meals is best, and good snacks are sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
After your child is born, you must continue to eat well, especially when breast-feeding. You don’t think about storing up food in the freezer but it is such a help to plan ahead for when you’re back from the hospital. If you eat well and rest, you will feel so much better. And it will be nutritious for baby.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Want your kid to eat broccoli and brussels sprouts? Paul Lindley, a British father of two, created Ella’s Kitchen in 2006 to do just that. His goal was to encourage his daughter to explore new foods and, hopefully, banish picky-ness. The organic baby food creator just released The Cookbook: The Red One, which just might get your kids to like their veggies, too.
Q: Why did you write this cookbook?
A: Involving children with cooking and food at an early age can help shape their future relationships with food. The Cook Book: The Red One features fun ideas and creative activities that allow little ones to experience healthy foods outside of mealtimes, from getting creative with vegetable prints to playing at a “Cool Kiddie Café.” We offer ways for children to learn more about fruit and vegetables using all their senses, to help them develop healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
Q: What is Ella’s Kitchen? What products do you offer and how did you get started?
A: I launched Ella’s Kitchen in 2006 to help babies and toddlers enjoy eating healthy food. I had an understanding of what makes children tick from being a parent myself, as well as from my experience working at Nickelodeon.
I was inspired to set up Ella’s Kitchen by my own experiences in weaning Ella. I passionately believe that all kids should have the opportunity to discover that healthy food can be fun, tasty, and cool.
At Ella’s Kitchen we believe that little ones eat using all of their senses, and therefore it was important for us to produce foods that not only taste great, but are bright, tactile and fun. We always approach healthy eating from a child’s perspective and take simple, natural ingredients to create foods and packaging that really connect with kids and their parents – helping them through the entire weaning process.
Q: There is a large element for children in this book. The illustrations are playful and fun and there are drawings to color. Why was this important to include?
A: We always approach everything we do from a child’s perspective and our cookbook is no different. The book is for the whole family and the easy instructions, clever shortcuts and fun activities allow little ones to engage with healthy foods outside of mealtimes. It’s all about getting children hands-on and messy in the kitchen from a young age.
Q: Why is organic, fresh, and homemade so important to you?
A: Organic food is better because it comes from carefully monitored sources with high standards in quality but habits—both good and bad—are formed in the earliest years of a child’s life. It’s crucial to start a healthy diet from a young age. Develop healthy eating habits by getting your little one involved in food; let her help during the cooking process and make yummy homemade dishes together.
Q: How and why did you get into food and cooking?
A: I’ve always loved cooking. Even as a child of 6 years-old, I used to help my mum make surprise birthday cakes! Then when Ella was born, I—like any parent—struggled at times to get her to eat certain foods. So I designed games to make mealtime fun. In our home, meals have always been messy, noisy, interactive events. The whole family enjoys the experience of creating dishes together. Sitting down to enjoy them always makes me smile.
Q: Your personal inspiration came from your children, Ella and Paddy. Did they help in the creation of the book? Did they create any recipes?
A: Two of the recipes in the new cookbook are my family’s own, including Ella’s Dad’s Sweet + Sour Prawns and Ella’s Mum’s Easy Chicken Curry. We first made the chicken curry when Ella was just three years old and she’s loved it ever since, as it’s mild, sweet and creamy. Ella and Paddy were involved in tasting lots of recipes when we were experimenting with ideas!
Q: Ella, now 13, wrote the book’s Foreword and has been in the kitchen since age 4. Does she have goals to pursue cooking professionally in the future?
A: Ella’s favorite school subject is Food Technology, so you never know! At this stage in her life she’s busy having fun with her friends. All we wish is that when she grows up, she does something that she’s passionate about and believes in.
Q: Your recipes are family-friendly, but some have unexpected flavor combos—do you have certain chefs or books that you look to? Where do you find culinary inspiration?
A: The inspiration for our recipes came in lots of different forms; from real mums and dads, friends and family, and our ever-so-clever recipe developer Emma Jane Frost. Our team of nutritionists selected and approved every recipe to ensure that kids have balanced meals to help them grow.
Q: You have tips on preventing picky-ness, but what advice do you give parents who already have picky eaters?
A: Help your kids use all of their senses when exploring new foods—this will teach them to love healthy food from the start! The key is to be patient and persistent. Little ones have three times as many taste buds as adults, which leads to a taste intensity of up to 10 times that of an adult. As a result, both sweet and bitter tastes are exaggerated, often leading to immediate rejection of brussel sprouts and broccoli. It can take 10 separate experiences of a new taste before it’s accepted, so don’t give up after the first couple of times! Keep going and your little one will eat up their vegetables in no time.
Q: Growing up, who did most of the cooking in your family? What was a typical weeknight meal like?
A: I grew up in Sheffield, England and it was my mum who did most of the cooking. Her crispy Yorkshire puddings were a big favourite in our house – whether filled with sausages and gravy during the week or as part of a family roast with meat and loads of veg at the weekend. I can still hear the crunch they made when I close my eyes now!
Q: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
A: It’d have to be my mum’s Yorkshire puddings now that it’s in my mind – Mmmm! There are so many different things to fill them with that I’d never get bored. Ella and Paddy love them too and I’m sure we’d have fun experimenting with new things to put in them!
Q: What other important things should our readers know about you or the book?
A: At Ella’s we always try to look at life from a child’s point of view: with an open mind and with all our senses. My strong belief is that the more a young child is involved with his or her food, whether that’s choosing it, preparing it, playing with it or eating it independently—the more likely he or she is to give it a try and go on to enjoy it!
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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