Friday, January 29, 2010

Does what you eat impact the environment?

Today is "Zero-Waste" lunch day at one of the schools where we teach cooking. The challenge is to serve up lunch which results in no trash - just compost and recycling. This is a great goal for the kids, their families and the school. The next step is to look at the actual food you eat and see how that food impacts your carbon footprint. Here are a few things to consider:

Where does your food come from? Eating foods that are grown locally reduces the carbon footprint significantly. Food that must travel from far-away places, like Mexico or Chile, has to travel by plane and truck to get to your grocery store. Planes and trucks use up a lot of fuel and emit a lot of carbon dioxide into the air. Buying your fruit and vegetables from the farmers market from farms within a 100 mile radius is far more earth-friendly. Buying foods that are only in season will ensure that you are buying locally. Eating a peach in the winter can only mean that peach was grown on a farm in a warm climate. Because it is summer in South America when it is winter here means you can bet the peach you are buying in February comes from South America or another far-away, warm place. In addition to local food, supporting your local organic farmer means that you are supporting his or her method of not polluting the soil and the plants with hazardous chemicals. Those chemicals are not only bad for you (it is impossible to wash off all the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed onto plants) but bad for the environment.

Is your food packaged?
Packaged foods have a number of hidden ecological costs. The packages (boxes, paper, plastic bags) must be made in a factory. The factory uses a a lot of energy, such as electricity. The packaging materials must be shipped to the final users, meaning that fuel is used and carbon dioxide emitted. Some of the packaging cannot be recycled and must be thrown away. Trash ends up in landfills, wasting our precious and every shrinking open land, which could be used for green spaces like parks. Trees absorb carbon dioxide. Buying less packaged and processed food means using less packaging. Also buying your whole food in bulk or buying your produce at the farmer's market means you use less packaging. Take a cloth bag or reuse a paper bag when going to the farmer's market or store to conserve even more!

How often do you eat red meat? People are eating more red meat today than ever before. In the U.S., people eat on average over 200 pounds of it! This may have a lot to do with people eating in fast-food places like McDonalds and Burger King. To raise cows, you must have land. As a result, many forests are being cleared for pastures, robbing the planet of trees, which (again) absorbs carbon dioxide. Cattle and sheep also release a lot of methane (yes, burps and farts)! Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. In a recent recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it was found that the animals' burps, the nitrous oxide gases from their decomposing poop and other factors, including the energy needed to store and transport meat, were responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions! WOW!!! We're not saying don't eat meat. We're saying you can maybe eat less of it.

Do you know the history of the fish you are eating?
Poor fishing practices in the last 50 years have threatened our oceans and caused near extinction of many fish, like shark, swordfish and cod. In response, fish farms have sprung up but even those can be hazardous to our environment if the right types of fish are not properly chosen for the farms or if the method of farming is not eco-friendly. Learn where your fish comes from that ends up on your plate for dinner. Ask the fish seller what he or she knows about the fish you are buying. Also, log on to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Food Watch page. There you will find gads of information about sustainable fishing practices and what fish are currently endangered and/or hazardous to eat.

Kuddos to those of you already paying attention to the impact your choices make on our environment. Keep up the good work! If you haven't taken the challenge yet, why not start now? Reduce the carbon footprint in your household by just making one of the above-changes. Gradually, you can incorporate more of these changes. If we each take one small step, we will make big changes!!

Take the challenge: To see how much of a carbon footprint you are leaving, go to the Zero Footprint Kids Calculator and fill out the questionnaire. See how you compare to the average child in other countries. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School mornings are annoying so how could I possibly eat a good breakfast?

School mornings are annoying. You've got to get up at an hour decided by someone who doesn't really, really understand how tired you still are; you've got to put on clean clothes, which might require that you find some clean clothes. You may be one of those unlucky kids who has to make his bed in the morning. Then, you've got to brush your teeth and comb your hair, maybe wash your face if you obey mom's shouting instructions, maybe help out a little brother or sister tie his or her shoes and finally, you've got to pack the back pack that mom asked you to pack last night all the while quietly running around in search of your Social Studies notebook which you find under the couch, thank god. So where's the time for a good breakfast, you ask. Moreover, why should I eat a good breakfast anyway?

We can't help you get ready for school in the morning (although we can tell you that some of that stuff can get done the night before, but I bet you've heard that a time or two, right?) but we can explain WHY it is important to eat a good breakfast and we can give you some good suggestions for breakfast on the go (let me guess, sometimes you have to eat breakfast in the car, right)?


In order to get the most out of a school day, your brain has to function at it's absolute best so that you can understand and absorb your teachers' lessons and your body has to have enough energy to get you through the day, because sitting still and listening to your teacher takes just as much energy as recess!

So, what foods will help you perform your best and why:
  • Whole grain foods. Whole grain toast, muffins or tortillas, brown rice, sweet potatoes. These types of foods give you sustained energy. What that means is that, unlike sugary pastries or commercial cereal, these foods release sugar into your blood stream slowly, giving you energy throughout the day. Technically said (in case you want to impress your parents), these foods help regulate your blood sugar.
  • Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds provide your body with good quality protein and fat, both essential for regulating blood sugar and essential for muscle and brain development. You should always try to eat some protein and fat in the morning with your whole grains so that the sugar is evenly and slowly released in your body. Again, that translates to sustained energy. In other words, you won't feel ready to take a nap during 3rd period Science and you won't feel like you will absolutely keel over when you have to run the mile in gym class. Also, sesame seeds are a great source of calcium. Don't want to drink milk? Sprinkle sesame seeds on your toast or on a bowl of brown rice.
  • Omega-3 fat. You should definately have some of this in the morning. It's brain food, pure and simple. BRAIN FOOD! Yes, they sell Omega-3 gummy bears and that's fine, but you should also get this from your food, because after all, that's where Omega-3 comes from. Eat a handful of walnuts in the morning. They have lots of Omega-3. If you remember that walnuts look like brains, you'll remember they're brain food. You can also add flax seeds or flax seed oil to your smoothie in the morning or even chia seeds! Ask your mom or dad to buy flax oil or flax and chia seeds at a healthier food store like Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl.
  • Fresh fruit. Fresh fruit can help satisfy your desire for sweets and it's whole and natural. Fruit contains vitamins and minerals which help prevent you from getting sick, and which help make you think clearly and calmly (aka BRAIN FOOD). Again, eat your fruit with some protein and fat so that you prevent the sugar in the fruit from going into your blood stream too quickly.
  • Veggies. No one said veggies are off-limits in the morning!! Like fruit, they provide great vitamins and minerals. In many cultures, last night's dinner is this morning's breakfast. Try it out next time you have leftover fried rice or chicken noodle soup. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  • Whole wheat tortilla with peanut or almond butter and banana
  • Slice of whole grain toast, 1/2 an apple and cheese
  • Quesadilla with a side of sliced fruit
  • Yogurt and homemade granola (see recipe for granola below)
  • Egg and cheese sandwich with whole wheat English muffin
  • Hard boiled egg, whole grain crackers and handful of berries
  • Protein-rich fruit smoothie with flax or chia seeds

2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup coconut flakes
1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
1/4 cup raw almonds, rough chopped
2-3 Tbsp honey (depending on your sweet tooth) or maple syrup
2 Tbsp coconut butter, melted
Zest of one orange
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a bowl, add all ingredients except for coconut butter and dried fruit.

In a pan, melt coconut butter, making sure not to burn the pan or butter! Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add to bowl with mixture and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula. If the butter is cool enough, you can mix with your hands, which is alot of fun.

Put granola on a cookie sheet and spread out evenly. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes or so. Pull out, add the dried fruit, toss evenly and spread out again. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Let cook before eating (the cooler it gets, the crunchier the granola).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We're excited to start blogging!

Finally, we're going to blog! We started this blog a year and a half ago, as you can see from the one and only entry from 5/08, but it never got off the ground. I should say, I started that blog before Christy and I even partnered up to start Small Steps Cooking. Christy shouldn't have to shoulder any blame for that. But now that we are officially a business, Christy and I want to use this blog as a way to connect with the children and young adults we teach, their parents and the many, many, many family members, friends and fans across the globe who want to vigilantly follow us here. We promise to mention you all when we receive our Academy Award for Best Picture...oh, that was another food blog. I digress.

We hope that this blog will supplement our classes because, as much as we'd love to, we cannot cover everything we want to teach in a 1-1/2 hour or 2 hour class. Information about the health benefits of a key ingredient flies about the kitchen while the students are chopping, slicing, roasting and whipping, all the while, we keep an eye on the clock to make sure our dishes are ready on time, just as a chef in a restaurant kitchen would do. We also include a great deal of interesting historical, cultural and nutritional facts about ingredients on our recipes but again, the question becomes when to find the time to digest it (pun intended)! We hope that this blog becomes the go-to place for adults and kids alike who want to go beyond the classroom-kitchen and cook from the many other recipes we offer or who want more information about food, health and what we call food politics (i.e., what are our legislatures doing about food safety, school lunch programs, bio-engineered foods, and many other issues which affect our right to clean, sustainable and nutrient-dense food).

We especially invite kids to post comments or questions on our blog related to food and health. The computer is the new generation's pencil and paper. We hope you will engage in our discussions about wholesome cooking and eating. Perhaps there is a food you love but know isn't good for you? Maybe we can offer suggestions as to how to make it better for you by exchanging the unhealthy ingredients for healthier alternatives. Just a thought...

In sum, we are excited for this new venue. We hope you will share this experience with us.

Marirose and Christy