Pragmatic Mom

January 12, 2010

Visiting the Nutritionist Deja Vu

Is it me or is it weird to visit two different nutritionists for the same child — at age 2 because she is underweight and then at age 8 because she is overweight?  The first visit to the nutritionist, we were skeptical parents:  show me a growth chart for an Asian girl and THEN tell me she’s underweight.  We could be a little haughty … “she’s not underweight and we’re NOT adding oil back to her food!”   Instead, we  fed her more pasta.  She always well when it was spaghetti.

Time travel forward six years.  Now we are getting sent to a nutritionist by the same pediatrician whom we love.
When we refused to go to the first nutritionist again, he sent us to the nutritionist he used when his daughter drank a bad carton of milk at McDonalds and then went on an extended milk strike.  “How could this happen?”, we asked.  We eat exactly the same, if anything, we are eating healthier.  He says, “Well, maybe you overfed her because she used to be underweight.”  Ouch!  Nothing like setting off some mommy guilt.

But with the help of a food diary and those years of pre-med training to clinically observe and study my child’s behavior, I figured it out:  we are serving the same food, but she’s just not eating the same food she used to.  My daughter, over the past two years,  has systematically eliminated foods until basically only carbs remained.  Help was needed and help came the way of a great nutritionist.

Read on if you want $85 worth of great nutritionist advice  that is not reimbursed by your medical insurance! company.  But note that some of my own, unproven ideas are thrown in.

There were many impressive things about our nutritionist.  She looks  10 years younger than she actually is.  She had the most beautiful glowing skin I have ever seen.  She was leading researcher at Children’s Hospital on studies for underweight and overweight children and…ta da…they have the same issues:  too much screen time.  She is a mom and isn’t going to give crazy, advice no sane parent can actually execute.  She’s truly a testament for you are what you eat!

She gave some simple rules of thumb that had almost immediate results:

— Always pair a carbohydrate with a protein.

–3 dairies a day:  milk, cheese, yogurt

–3 fruits a day; more if you can’t get them to eat enough veggies

–1 flintstone vitamin a day

–After school snack should be a mini-meal; junk  foods don’t fill you up.  Her suggestions:  smoothies, soup, 1/2 grilled cheese sandwich, pizza, chicken sausage, warm applesauce.  These foods are satiating.  You can not starve a child; it simply won’t work.

— Increase veggies at dinner but not all in raw form.  Raw veggies throw off so much water they don’t make you feel full.  1 veggie needs to be cooked; portion size to shoot for is 1/2 cup.  She was totally flexible when I said, That ain’t gonna happen with this one here.  She won’t eat green stuff.”  She said the next best thing was to increase the fruit then.

— Have a no thank you plate which means you have to try it but you can reject after one bite.  Most children need food introduced 25 times before they will accept it.  One try should equal 1 tablespoon.

— A serving of carbs equals one fist (kid size not mama sized)

Eat Less:  sugary cereal, bagels (too dense), ice cream[especially at night as dessert], no Nutella [trans fats].


Sugary cereal:  try Barbara’s Puffins (they are not bad but my kids hate it), Kix, or put a handful of sugary cereal on top of good cereal.

Bagels:  try English muffins [Thomas Light Whole Grain].  That didn’t go over too well, but we did cut back on bagels.  Multi-grain toast.

Ice Cream:  try Tofutti cuties.  My kids like the vanilla flavor ice cream with chocolate cookie outside not the graham cracker one.

Snack food: try Kashi TLC Rule of 5 bars.  For bars, you want 5 grams of fiber and also check out the protein and sugar amount.  High protein/low sugar = good.  Try chips with mild salsa.  Popped pop corn is good; it’s a whole grain but watch the fat content.  Try hummus as a dip.

Realize that these foods are veggies with lots of starch:  peas, potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes so go easy on these plus go easy on rice and pasta.  Bananas also are not a fruit your child should eat regularly.

Smoothies:  make with 2% greek yogurt [try vanilla flavored].  Freeze leftovers to make smoothie pops.

Oatmeal:  make steel-cut oats and keep in fridge.  Microwave a portion as needed.

Brown rice:  soak overnight in water and then add to white rice  so it cooks at the same rate– I mix 50% each.  My mother-in-law taught me that trick. She also adds pressed barley which is a Korean thing and the kids will hardly notice.  You can get the pressed barley at an Asian store or at

Pasta:  switch white pasta for whole wheat, or try Barilla high protein/multigrain.  Overcook the whole wheat and the kids will barely notice the difference.  Use red sauce for the Barilla and the kids will not notice.  Try soba noodles made from buckwheat (recipe in Easy Dinners is child friendly).  Try Asian clear noodles, made from mung beans, so it must be higher in protein although I can’t read the label; it’s in Chinese!

Finally, little by little, try to eliminate unhealthy habits such as sodas, juice or chocolate milk .  Substitute 2% milk (more satiating than 1% or skim) or water.  It is ok to use Ovaltine to flavor milk [the creamy chocolate tastes great!  my kids love it]  Drinkable yogurt is also good, but my IFF mom friend says to buy organic yogurt as the other stuff has scary additives that are not listed on the label for flavor and texture and she would know because that is her job!

And so, we embark on the world of healthy choices.  We talk about making healthy choices and recognize good choices but allow for treats.  It’s an ongoing educational process for the entire family and we all fall off the wagon like anyone,  but it’s nice to see the ownership shift from parent to child.  Note to self:  I need to call my pediatrician to tell him it’s not my fault!  I am now officially turning my mom guilt meter OFF!

Here’s a link  for food substitutions from less healthy to more healthy:

My go-to Pediatrician guru author has always been Dr. Sears.  I am reading his book on Lean Kids and find it to be very helpful.  Dr. Sears’ Lean Kids:  A Total Health Program for Children Ages 6-12 by Dr. William Sears, Dr. Peter Sears, and Sean Foy.

January 1, 2010

Easy Dinners

I confess to reading cookbooks like some people read good novels.  I like simple home cooking from different countries; as long as it has a lot of flavor, it will be a hit in my family.  Recently I tracked the career goals my children mentioned over the past year.  Two of them mentioned chef and the other, my little gourmand, said she wanted to be a food critic.  You can bet it’s difficult to cook a meal that pleases everyone!  These recipes have passed the test and I have included the cookbooks that were the inspiration behind the dish.  Enjoy and please share your favorite meals!

I have a few cookbook author favorites but Nigella Lawson is probably my favorite cookbook author of all time.  She can cook ANYTHING and she’s also a mom so her expectations are reasonable.  She has cooking show on Style network that is worth taping. 

I love her cookbook Nigella Express, 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast.  Now, she’s English, so she have a fondness for English mustard and peas that I don’t share but that is not to say that there aren’t great recipes that are easy and delicious.  To buy any book, click on the image of the book to purchase at

Steak with Lemon

1 1/2 pounds of steak, London Broil is great or Sirloin but any kind of steak is fine

1 lemon squeezed

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, bruised and minced.

Cook the steak on a grill pan on the stove until medium rare (or more if that is what you prefer.)  Let the steak rest for 10 minutes in the marinade made of remaining ingredients.  Slice the steak thinly and serve with marinade over white rice that you’ve made in a rice cooker. 

TIP:  If you want to mix brown rice with white rice, soak the brown rice overnight.  It will cook at the same rate as the white rice in the rice cooker.

Serve with fruit for the kids or sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.  Or a mozzarella, tomato salad would be nice too.  Just slice the mozzarella cheese and tomatoes and alternate slices on a plate.  Drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar (the best you can afford) and sea salt (Maldon is my favorite).

My kids have asked me to make this chicken pasta dish for them again and again. It’s just chicken piccata served with pasta.  I’ve modified a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe.  This is a great reference cookbook.  The good folks at Cook’s Illustrated have tried every variation to come up with the best, tastiest and easiest recipes.  Just follow the recipe to a T to get the same results.  Cook’s Illustrated has a great monthly magazine my husband and I love that we call the anal-retentive cooking magazine.

Chicken Piccata Pasta

1 package chicken breasts, boneless & skinless.  Organic is best.

1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil to fry chicken in

2 lemons, slice one into thin circles and squeeze the other

1 cup chicken broth; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 teaspoon corn starch

1 package whole wheat linguine

First boil water for the pasta.  Cook the pasta while attending to the chicken.  Fry the chicken breast in a little butter (about 1 tablespoon) and a little olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) on medium-high heat.  Remove when done, flipping once; about 5 minutes in total or 2 1/2 minutes on each side.  Remove to a plate and rest for a few minutes.  Add the chicken stock, garlic, the lemon slices and juice and a teaspoon of corn starch, and cook down until thickened.  Cut the chicken up into bite size pieces and add back to the pan with the sauce.  Serve over whole wheat pasta such as linguine. 

My husband created this easy and delicious teriyaki sauce recipe by combining a few different recipes.  You can store the leftover sauce in the refrigerator for a very long time and it’s great for chicken or salmon.  We frequently have play dates over for this dinner and everyone seems to like it.

Teriyaki Sauce

1/2 cup sake

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce (we use Kikkoman brand, low sodium)

1/4 cup mirin (a sweet sake; available at

Put the sake in a small sauce pan on medium-high heat and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. (you are burning off the alcohol).  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Simmer for 5 minutes and it’s ready to use.

Chicken Teriyaki

This meal idea came from the Bento Box cookbook.  It’s very simple:   to one package of chicken thighs (bone-in or boneless, skinless), add 1/2 cup of the teriyaki sauce , two handfuls of baby carrots and 1/4 inch slices of potato into a skillet and cook on medium heat, flipping a few times, until the chicken is done and the sauce has reduced to a nice, glossy consistency.  Boneless chicken thighs will take about 10-12 minutes and bone-in will take an extra five minutes or so.  Serve with rice. 

Salmon Teriyaki

1 pound salmon steaks or fillets

Lightly salt the salmon and cook in a 350 degree oven for about 7-10 minutes for a thin fillet or about 15 minutes for a thicker salmon steak.  Remove from oven and pour about 1/4 cup of teriyaki sauce as the fish cools.  Serve with rice or, if you want to get fancy, try this soba noodle salad.  The soba salad is perfect for warm weather.  My kids love it but they remove most of the veggies.  No matter, soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are a good source of fiber.

Soba Noodle Salad

12 ounces soba noodles

Julienne (cut into match sticks) the following:  1/2 English cucumber, 1 red bell pepper, 1 or 2 carrots

sauce:  1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sesame oil (toasted Asian kind NOT clear kind), 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Follow the package directions and cook the noodles.  Drain and run under cold water.  Add to bowl with the julienned vegetables.  When you are ready to eat, toss everything with dressing and eat immediately.


One of my closest mom friends is Cuban and we’ve been enjoying Cuban food since we’ve met her.  We both cook from In a Cuban Kitchen, by Alex Garcia, a well-known food channel chef and host.  Everyone in my family loves it when it’s sandwich night.  These are no ordinary sandwiches…they are Cubano style.  The reason why this is an easy dinner is that you can marinade several pork  loins on the weekend and freeze them.  For a weeknight dinner, simply remove from freezer before you go to work and roast in the oven for an hour.  Pick up a few baguettes on the way home (our family of 5 needs two), and dinner is a snap.  I have added some fancy condiments that you can either make in advance, buy a jarred version or forego.  This particular recipe is inspired by the Pernil Asado recipe.  This recipe is for one pork loin, so double or triple if you want to make ahead and freeze.  I usually make three at a time; one for now, two for later.

 Cubano Sandwiches

1 pork loin (I buy them from Trader Joe’s because they are the right size)

marinade:  1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, 1 large orange (or substitute three or four clementines if you have them lying around going bad), 1 lemon, 1 lime (or use 2 lemons or 2 limes if that is what you have in your fridge), 5 cloves garlic minced fine, two pinches of cumin,  1 tablespoon salt and freshly ground pepper, 1 bay leaf crumbled.

Rinse and dry the pork loin and put in a large zip lock bag.  Add the marinade and leave in the refrigerator overnight.  RESERVE the marinade, drain the roast and place on a baking sheet covered in foil.  Roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.  Rest for 10 minutes then slice thinly.  Put the marinade in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Cook for a few minutes then pour over the sliced meat.  Serve with a baguette, cut into “subway” sandwich lengths.  Condiments include Dijon mustard, roasted & marinated red bell peppers, and carmelized red onions. 

 I do love Suzanne Goin’s cook book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  The recipes are not easy dinners but they are delicious.  This is a riff off her Roasted Bell Peppers.  My version is easier.

3 red bell peppers, broil until charred on all sides (keep flipping).  Put in a covered bowl, then remove seeds and skin but reserve juices.

Put roasted bell pepper slices in a glass container with the reserved juices, 2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a slug of good, aged balsamic vinegar and about 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar.  You want enough liquid to cover the peppers.  Add salt to taste.  Keeps in the refrigerator for a week or so.

Carmelized Red Onions

Slice a large red onion into fine circles and place in a saute pan.  Add about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and cook over medium heat until the onions soften.  Add the juice of a lime and lower the heat until the onions are a carmelized brownish color.  This takes about 12-15 minutes. 


Carne Picada Burritos

This recipe is from my all-time favorite magazine, Saveur.  I think I clipped this recipe more than 10 years ago.  It’s from the H & H Coffee Shop in El Paso.  My kids love meals where they can make it themselves.  Getting good tortillas is difficult in the North-East where we live.  Try the handmade flour tortillas at Whole Foods.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 diced peeled yellow onion and cook until translucent, about 15 minutes.  Trim 1 pound of tri-tip steak and cut into 1/2 inch dice.  Add to onions.  Increase heat to high and brown meat for 2 minutes.  Add 2 diced tomatoes (canned is fine; freeze remainder for another use), and add 1-3 cloves of minced garlic (we like it garlicy).  Crumble in 2 cubes of beef bouillon (secret ingredient!), and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Serve with warm flour tortillas.  Makes 4-6 burritos.

Here are some Saveur Cookbooks.  I don’t have these cookbooks because Saveur is the only magazine I save so I already have all the recipes.



 Marinated Rib Eye Roast

This will be our Christmas dinner.  It’s from an out-of-print Junior League California cookbook; I think from the Los Angeles area.  Our holiday cards are little recipe books and this recipe was in our first one about 10 years ago.  We still have friends that will call, years after receiving our card, and say they are making this recipe.  It’s easy because most of the time is not active time, but sooo delish!

1 5-pound boneless rib eye roast; we also like bone-in, we get 3 bones to have yummy leftovers

1/2 cup coarsely cracked pepper (sadly, you must crush in mortar and pestle; we tried other methods but it’s not the same)

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon

1 cup soy sauce (Kikkoman brand, low sodium is fine)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon paprika

4 cloves garlic, minced

Place roast in a large zip lock bag.  Combine pepper and cardamon and press firmly all around roast.  Combine soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, paprika and garlic. Pour over roast and marinade overnight, turning occasionally.

Remove roast from marinade and discard marinade.  Be sure to scrape off the pepper.  Place roast in a roasting pan.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Roast for 1 hour & 15 miutes  for the 5 pound roast or until meat thermometer registers 140 degrees for rare or 160 degrees for medium.  Rest for 15 minutes and then carve.


 Vietnamese Grilled Chicken or Beef (a.k.a.  Vietnamese Burritos)

This is another kid pleaser.  We had playdates who are a little picky try this and they all loved it.  I think it’s because it’s a do-it-yourself meal so it’s fun for kids to make their own wraps.  I clipped this recipe a long time ago, but I suspect it’s from Bon Appetit Magazine. It’s actually a riff off Lemongrass Beef or Lemongrass Chicken, but I never seem to have fresh lemongrass.  No one seems to notice it’s missing either.

2  tablespoons sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 teaspoon corn starch

1 pound flank steak, thinly cut OR 1 package chicken breasts, thinly cut into strips

1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce

Combine everything and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.  Discard marinade and fry in a saute pan on medium-high heat, about 1-2 minutes per side.

Serve with:  1/2 head bib lettuce; 1 English cucumber, julienned; 2 carrots, julienned; sprigs of fresh mint leaves; sprigs of fresh cilantro; and 16 rond rice-paper wrappers, 6 inches in diameter.

To make:  put a large bowl of warm water on the table.  Take the rice-paper wrapper which will be still like card board and dip into the water making sure the wrapper gets completely covered in water.  Drain excess water and put on your plate.  In a few minutes, it will be soft and pliable.  Add whatever combo of things you want to eat.  Roll up like a burrito and eat. 

If you would like a Vietnamese dipping sauce, then combine 1 tablespoons of sugar, juice of a lime, and 1/4 cup fish sauce.  Stir to dissolve.

This is a great reference for Vietnamese cooking; the  cookbook author is an editor for Saveur Magazine






Panko-Breaded Pork Chops or Chicken Tenders

A mom friend gave me this recipe and the spinach lasagna recipe; both are easy and delicious.

1 large egg

1 cup Japanese bread crumbs (panko), in the Asian section or

2-3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  A wonderful source of the best Parmesano Reggiano is

1/2 tsp salt and freshly grated pepper

1 teaspoon minced sage (if your kids don’t freak out about green stuff) for pork; 1 teaspoon minced thyme for the chicken

Four 3/4 inch-thick pork chops; about 1/2 pound each and pounded flat to about 3/8 inch thick. 


Beat the egg in a shallow dish.  Mix the panko, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and herbs in another shallow dish.  Dip the pork or chicken first into the egg and then coat with panko mixture.  Bake in an oven, preheated to 350 degrees, for about 15-17 minutes until golden.  Serve with a wedge of lemon for adults and ketchup for kids.

To make this a fun dipping dinner, serve with sliced English cucumbers, baby carrots and ranch dressing.  My kids also like sliced apples that they dip into a mixture of cinnamon & sugar.


Easiest Spinach Lasagna

Barilla brand baking sauce, one jar

No cook lasagna noodles

1 package pre-washed baby spinach leaves, uncooked

1 tub marscapone cheese

1 tub cottage cheese


In a large baking dish, pour a generous layer of baking sauce and add a layer of lasagna noodles.  Add another layer of sauce, and spread a thin layer of both the cottage cheese and marscapone cheese.  Squish down a layer of the spinach.  Do this again until everything is used up ending with lasagna noodles with sauce on top.  I get 3 layers of lasagna noodles.  Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about an hour.


Pork Chops with Roasted Parsnips, Pears and Potatoes

I clipped this recipe from Vogue a long time ago.  It’s a Jaime Oliver recipe, a.k.a. The Naked Chef.  If I recall correctly, he made this for Tony Blair, then the Prime Minister.  The original  recipe is for 8 so I’ve halved it for 4.  I haven’t read Jaime Oliver’s recent cookbooks, but I used to watch The Naked Chef religiously.  He’s a disciple of  The River Cafe, so I’ve included their cookbook as well because I believe they are the “grounding” behind Jamie’s stripped down but amped up Italian style.  I tend to like the first cookbook that each chef puts out the most — I have a feeling the first cookbook is the hardest to get published so it tends to be their best effort —  so  I’ve included The Naked Chef even though this recipe is not in here.  I’ve also included The River Cafe’s Italian Easy Cookbook; it’s not their first cookbook but unlike their other cookbooks, you don’t need a wood-fired oven to make some of their recipes.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed

2 large branches of rosemary, cut into 2-inch length sprigs

zest and juice of a lemon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

four 8- to 10-ounce pork rib chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick

3 parsnips, quartered lengthwise

3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, quartered lengthwise and cored

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into  1/3 inch thick wedges

 Combine olive oil with garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and juice, and pepper in large roasting pan.  Marinate pork chops for 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.   Scrape marinade off chops and set aside on a platter but return marinade to roasting pan.  Add parsnips, pears and potatoes to roasting pan and turn with hands until everything is covered in the marinade.  Season with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.  Roast for 40 minutes, stirring occassionally until the vegetables are tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan, and season the pork chops with salt on both sides.  Cook over high heat until golden, about 5 minutes total, then return to roasting pan, setting on top of the vegetables and roast an additional 5-8 minutes until pork is cooked through.


December 12, 2009

Recipe for a Good Marriage

I clipped out this article years ago and saved it in my scrapbook of recipes.  The article, and I have no idea where I clipped it from, suggested that you cut out the list and keep in your wedding album.  This is from psychologist Judith Wallerstein’s book The Good Marriage:  How and Why Love Lasts.  She considers this set of tasks essential to maintaining a strong marriage.  To buy the book, just click on the image of the book to purchase at

Recipe for a Good Marriage

– Separate emotionally from the family of your childhood so you can fully invest in your marriage.

– Build intimacy while also respecting your partner’s autonomy.

– Embrace parenthood and absorb the impact of children on your life while working to protect your privacy.

– Strive to confront and master the inevitable crises of life.  Provide nurturing and comfort to each other in times of adversity, satisfying each other’s need for dependency and offering continual encouragement and support.

– Create a safe haven for the expression of anger and conflict.

– Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship, and protect it from intrusions of the workplace and family.

– Use humor to keep things in perspective, and avoid boredom by sharing interests and friends.

– Keep alive your early, idealized images of falling in love, but accept the reality of changes wrought by time.

October 12, 2009

Playdough Recipe

Filed under: Age: Preschool,Recipes — Pragmatic Mom @ 11:50 pm

This is an old recipe from my first preschool.  My middle daughter used to LOVE to play with playdough but she didn’t like the stinky smell of purchased playdough.  Mix a batch and store in an air-tight container for hours of fun.

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

4 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 teaspoons cooking oil

2 cups of water

food coloring

Combine everything except the food coloring  in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently.  It should be done in about 3 minutes; the dough will start to come together and pulls away from the pan.  Add food coloring a few drops at a time until you are happy with the intensity of the color.  Dump out and knead about 10 times.  Give the warm playdough to your child.  Warm playdough is the best!

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