Adventures in Healthy Eating: Soup!

O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you… Holy Quran 2:172

If you follow Mommy Muslim then you know that I struggle with getting my kids to eat healthy food. I also struggle with eating healthy. Sometimes we do great and then other times, not so much. But as fall approaches, I know I can turn to a great healthy option, soup. Soup is a wonderful way to sneak in many healthy vegetables. This is great for my daughter who asks me when I serve multiple veggies; “Should I pick the vegetable I want?” She is convinced that a complete meal consists of just one vegetable.


Isn’t Raw food better for you?


According to Wikipedia: “Raw foodism, also known as rawism or following a raw food diet, is the dietary practice of eating only or mostly food that is uncooked and unprocessed.” Raw food enthusiasts believe that eating vegetables raw is healthier. Raw foods allow the body to consume all of the nutrients of the food. Nutrients that might otherwise be lost during cooking. However the Centers for Disease Control states on their website that: “…sometimes raw fruits and vegetables contain harmful germs that can make you and your family sick, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. CDC estimates that germs on fresh produce cause a large percentage of U.S. foodborne illnesses. The safest produce is cooked; the next safest is washed.” Some nutritionists also believe that eating some foods raw makes them harder for the body to process. Cooking also increases the antioxidant content of some foods. Foods like asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, legumes and potatoes are all better cooked. While foods like broccoli, onions, garlic and cabbage are better for you raw or cooked only minimally.


Any vegetables are better than no vegetables.


No matter where you stand on the raw vs cooked spectrum, you would probably agree that any veggies are better than none. I would love to see my kids eat a plateful of vegetables every day. But it doesn’t work out that way. They have their go-to-vegetables that they prefer. Broccoli, string beans, spinach, and corn are the only veggies that all three love. Any other vegetable, excluding salad greens, is going to leave someone unhappy. Usually two out of three will hate it! My goal at all times is to get them to expand their veggie palate.


Soup to the resuce!


When cool weather approaches, I turn to soup as a healthy alternative. Soup allows me to combine vegetables in a tasty mix that is generally appealing to them. It gives them the chance to eat a wider variety per serving. This means that, although it may have less nutritional value than its raw counterpart, they are eating more of it. Soup also retains some of the vitamins that are lost during the boiling process. (When we boil vegetables some vitamins can leach into the water. Typically we pour the nutrient rich water down the drain!) During the cooler months warm soup also acts as a comfort food.


Soup as medicine.


We have all heard of the folk remedy, take chicken noodle soup for a cold. Health experts believe that this soup actually does help!. The soup thins mucus, decongests, and has mild anti-inflammatory properties. A lemon rice soup with a little celery and spinach can give a boost of vitamin C. According to some studies; the ingredients ginger and garlic are anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. Mixing fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, sage and basil are easy ways to boost your soup’s anti-oxidant content.


But my kids don’t like soups with vegetables.


The beauty of soup is that you can hide the taste of the veggies with your soup base. My soups usually have one of three bases. The first base is a tomato base. This was my go-to base for a long time. The tomato covers a lot of complimentary tastes very well. And you can hide your vegetables by blending them into a broth that you mix into the base. String beans, carrots, spinach, and broccoli all mix very well into a tomato base. My good friend Zainab introduced me to the cream base. This base relies on heavy whipping cream, milk, coconut milk, butter, etc. This base mixes well with spinach, corn, potatoes, broccoli, and asparagus. My third base is a meat based broth. This is where I use my chicken or lamb stock to make a soup. Sometimes the meat is included, for example in lamb stew or chicken noodle soup. Sometimes I use the broth to make a vegetable soup. You can blend a soup as long as it doesn’t have any bones. This works well for children who are resistant to having a bowl of soup with visible chunks of vegetables. These kids enjoy slurping soup down from a mug.


Conclusion:


With fall approaching we could all use a healthy boost from our favorite comfort foods. When we cook these foods for our children we are serving them foods that will comfort and nourish them for a lifetime. May your soup be full of love, health and blessings – Ameen.


Be sure to share your favorite soup recipe in the comments or join the conversation at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/701687213752206
Pick up your copy of my blank recipe book, perfect for recording your favorite recipes. The book is divided by sections. The “Appetizers and Salads” section is the perfect place to save your delicious soup recipe! https://amzn.to/2SbsbxG

    

3 Sweet Potato hacks for those who don’t like Sweet Potatoes…

Salaams, Peace.  I must admit, I hate sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat.  Rich in all important beta carotenes, minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium, they are a good source of vitamin B6 and fiber.  Sounds almost too good to be true until you taste them.  Ugh. At least that was my opinion. I’m sorry a sweet potato french fry does not rock my world. Luckily, I found 3 simple recipe hacks that helped me fall in love with this healthy vegetable.

  1.  Mix with white potatoes.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I had the good fortune to dine with a West African friend and she served this delicious pale orange colored mashed potatoes. The texture, taste, consistency were perfect!  I had to ask her, what was the secret? She shared that in her home country they mash the white potato with 1/4 sweet potato and prepare as usual.  I have since tried this variation many times at home with great success!  My recipe: for every 4 medium sized white potatoes I use one medium sized sweet potato. (About the size of the potato in the picture above.) I boil the potatoes together and mash with butter, plain Greek yogurt, and season salt. Any other seasonings you can add to your particular taste.
  2.  Make it savory. (Season with tomatoes, onions, green peppers.) With sweet potatoes, cooks often make it sweeter by adding brown sugar, marshmallows, honey etc. However going the opposite direction should not be overlooked.   For breakfast we ALL enjoy sweet potato hash browns. Easy to make. (The hardest part is peeling and chopping the sweet potato.) I dice the sweet potatoes into small pieces. (Not too thin or it will turn to mush!) Saute in olive oil as the potatoes begin to soften, I mix in diced tomatoes, onions, green peppers. (To avoid chopping these veggies in the morning I sometimes add a bag of “southwest seasoning mix” available in most frozen food sections. It has these same veggies pre-chopped for your convenience.) I continue sauteing until  the veggies are nicely softened and seasoned with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, garlic and onion powder.  I also finely chop a handful of cilantro.
  3.  Drown it in spices. (Season with cinnamon, nutmeg and plain yogurt.) While I don’t enjoy my sweet potatoes, sweetened.  Some spices are undeniably a pleasant complement.  Cinnamon, and nutmeg bring this sometimes bland veggie to life.  For a baked sweet potato you can add the traditional salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc.  Or you can kick your baked sweet potato up by going with plain yogurt, butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Other spices that pair well are cardamon, ginger, smoked paprika.

I have not included specific recipes because I don’t use a recipe when I cook.  I love to get into the kitchen and experiment.  I cook to my/our tastes.  I encourage you to take these suggestions and come up with creations that your family will enjoy.  Feel free to share your suggestions and recipes in the comment section.  Meanwhile, I pray you and your family will be encouraged to try this healthy vegetable in new and healthy ways!

Adventures in healthy eating “It’s all about the sauce!”

Salaams (Peace) all,

I watched my children gulp down their pizza and hot dogs, our usual Saturday movie night meal.  I realized there was not a vegetable on the plate.  both of my kids are a healthy size and weight.  However with a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and worst of all cancer, I knew I had to do better.  How, was the only question I had.  My five year old runs screaming from the sight of anything green on his plate.

Taking the advice of mom-cooks like Jessica Seinfield, (author of Deceptively Delicious), I decided to hide the vegetables in foods that they will eat.  She assures moms that veggies like spinach and carrots can be successfully hidden in tomato sauces.  Great!  I thought, I’m going to try it!  Without purchasing the book or reading the recipes I tried to figure it out.

Tomato based spaghetti is a staple in our house so that is where I started.  I took a package of frozen spinach, I wasn’t ready to start raw,  and zapped it in the microwave.  I used a few carrots, (they don’t come frozen), and softened them in boiling water.  Smiling and humming as I worked happily in the kitchen.  I thought, what a great thing I’m doing for my kids.  When the spinach thawed and the carrots softened I added both to the blender and pureed.  My first inkling that I probably should have bought the book came when my puree ended up the consistency of baby food.  The spinach completely took over the carrots and my mixture looked like a dark green mess!  Undaunted I dumped it in the spaghetti sauce.  The conquering spinach quickly took over that also!  Now my sauce was this ugly dark green color.  Oh no, that’s not hidden I thought.  To hide the spinach I added another jar of sauce.  No luck!  Two more jars and a can of diced tomatoes later it was was a dark and muddy brown with a very slight tint of red.  It tasted only mildly appealing to me as an adult.  The look was so strange, I knew it would have to taste spectacular to get the kids to eat it.  I started adding extra spices.  I ended up with nearly two gallons of sauce!  Sauce that was only barely appetizing.

I was determined we would eat it!  It took some convincing along with a promise of dessert to get them to try it.  They did finish what was on their plates but they didn’t ask for seconds.  Seconds are my usual indicator of how much they liked something.  Three experiments and another gallon of sauce later, it has gotten a little better.  I’ve learned that you only need a quarter bag of frozen spinach if you are going to puree and hide it.  But you can use a half bag if you don’t puree at all!  The spinach wilts down while cooking in the sauce and it barely noticeable at all!  One or two carrots pureed blend in nicely as well.

Once you have your sauce perfected its’ extremely versatile.  I use the sauce to make our pizza from scratch and I feel good knowing that I served a healthy junk food that they love.  ( I use a whole wheat pizza crust and I promise you cannot tell the difference!)  The sauce is good for sloppy joe, pizza, spaghetti and even lasagna.  They love it and always ask for seconds!

Adventures in healthy eating…fruit!

Salaams (Peace) All,

Saturday night in our house is pizza and a movie night.  As we sat down to our usual fare, I looked at the meal I was serving my children.  For dinner that night we had pizza and hot dogs washed down with “fruit punch.”  I looked at our meal and felt deeply ashamed.  What kind of mother feeds her kids this junk?!!

I told my children, “you have a terrible mother?”

“Why,” they asked.  I explained how I had a wonderful mom.  (May Allah be pleased with her.)  For dinner we had at least two vegtables at every meal.  Veggies that were cooked fresh, not canned or frozen.  Some meals were all veggie, “you don’t need to eat meat everyday” she’d say.  We lived in Chicago and didn’t have a garden.  But in the summer she would drive to “u-pick” farms in Indiana and pick her vegetables fresh.  She was committed to a healthy lifestyle for her children and didn’t mind the hard work.  Or if she did she didn’t complain to us about it.  Having grown up with such a paragon, you can understand, why I felt so guilty.  I do understand that eating these fast food quickie meals are necessary sometimes.  Busy moms can’t do it all.  And if you have to do it saying you are a terrible mom is a bit harsh.  However, I wanted to do better!  Since I believe that it is never too late to make a change, I decided to make the commitment to eat healthier.

On Sunday, I took my children with me to the grocery store.  A store with a very large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I let them select the fruits and veggies they wanted to try.  They were excited about all of the fruit.  So we bought a very nice variety.  Usually I keep the fruit out of sight in the kitchen.  On this day we went home and made a beautiful fruit basket to sit in the middle of the table.  I told them whenever they wanted some fruit they could just help themselves.  I  knew the attractive arrangement and easy access would encourage them to remember to actually eat the fruit.  We also made fruit kabobs.  Or as we called it fruit on a stick.  We played with the cookie cutter to make flowers out of fresh pineapple with melons, grapes, and strawberries as garnish.  I then arranged them in a pitcher to keep in the refrigerator.  (By the way, I learned that if you plan to keep in the fridge, don’t add the strawberries.  They don’t keep as long after washing!)  The whole process of getting them involved, and keeping the fruit in attractive ways to remind and encourage eating really worked!  I can honestly say they ate more fresh fruit and a wider variety than ever before.

I’m trying also to integrate veggies in a healthier way as well.  I’ll keep you posted on how that is going.  For right now it warms my heart when I hear them say, “can I have more fruit sticks!”