I have a confession to make. I’ve been having quite a love affair with something (not someone besides my husband, mind you) since I was a child and that love keeps just growing stronger as I age. That would be my torrid love affair with food. As a kid, I was much more excited about reading recipes than books and daily being in charge of the grocery shopping for my family, was a dream come true for me! Fast forward to today: The doors of both nutrition and culinary opened for me and I ecstatically ran through them and never looked back! The grocery store is still my number #1 place to hangout, with it’s myriad of choices to allow me to create a plethora of healthy culinary dishes.
However, today let’s look at the many faces of food…
What is the one commonality all humans share without question? We all must have food and water to survive. From the beginning of time, different cultures and ethnicities have and still share the common bond of food. It’s also the medium for so many other venues like relationships that are formed and made stronger over meals. Witness Randy performing the “Opa!!” to our saganaki (flaming cheese) tradition before our yearly family Christmas feast:
This scene being replayed with different customs and traditions a billion times over across the world.
So you might ask me, “Why is this an important topic to explore?” And I will answer you, “Because, like so many other things in life, we take food for granted, like it’s a given. I’m going to give you some Food For Thought that will definitely change the way you look at your next meal…..”
I. Food As Medicine– I had no clue when I was growing up that the food you consume is actually medicine to your body, from the bones to the brain. I had an unhealthy relationship with food at that time in my life (like a bad boyfriend). Can you relate? It took Randy’s medical crisis in 1997 for me to get on the right page. My passion for food now includes making culinarily pleasing food, that happens to be healthy. I took that idea to my Kidz Can Cook classes where carrot fries, zucchini pizza and ginger carrot soup are the cuisine du jour:
The kids ate it up without reservation! My mistake was to actually say to the kids in one class that the food was healthy. That was after they prepared the food and pretty much licked their plates. I heard a lot of “yucks.” Last time I made that comment! Now I just call the food they prepare “energy/brain food”. That seems to be accepted “kidtalk”.
For it IS possible to consume AND enjoy food that is healthy, it just takes a little education. Enter the “Teaching Kitchen Collaborative”, a network of over 30 kitchens, nationwide, some on the drawing boards, some already in operation. Dr. David Eisenberg, Director of Culinary Nutrition at Harvard Chan’s Department of Nutrition heads this initiative and was recently (5/17) published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine for his work in this area. This was a study of 40 participants, with the study being conducted in a teaching kitchen. There were no restrictions on diet, just food, movement and mindfulness education along with full access to a gym membership. The results proved teaching kitchen education pays for after 16 weeks, participants saw a significant decrease in weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and total cholesterol. After a 12 month follow-up, weight circumference and blood pressure were still significantly impacted. So Mom was right (as I tell my kids AND my Kidz Can Cook kids)! Healthy food education can happen in a kitchen near you, maybe your own!
II. Crop to Cuisine Rules!-Nutrition and the source of that nutrition truly go hand in hand. Once you figure out that food is medicine to your body, then the next step is to question the source of that food and which source is the healthiest. We Americans are so blessed and cursed at the same time in the food society we live in for the abundance of food accessibility we have, unlike our ancestors. However, we’ve got to be smart about it! One answer to that conundrum is to be aware of the food source. One big reason I wrote my dissertation about the vilifying of beef, “Deconstructing the Indictment of Red Meat” was because I’ve been a part of raising cows as a kid. I had a connection! I just couldn’t believe red meat is/was the health villain that a large volume of scientific sources report. What I found was that the studies lumped unhealthy practices (i.e. smoking, lack of exercise) with red meat consumption to prove their point and healthier (grass-fed) options had not been extensively studied ( The Grass-Fed vs. Grain Fed Debate: You Are What You Eat, Eats! for further discussion). So yes, I say red meat can be part of a healthy diet, just be aware of the source and practice a healthy lifestyle with it!
My husband Randy (A/K/A Bee Man) has now embraced a new food source hobby:
I asked Randy today what it was about his bee hobby that excited him. The “Bee Man” said, “Bees producing honey is all about biology. How cool is it that bees have their own hierarchy that all work like a finely tuned orchestra to produce enough food to support themselves. The production result is honey. Enough for them, the excess for us. It’s like biology magic!”
Here are a couple of shots of Randy and Ted Seiler (one of Randy’s best friends who happens to be a Wildlife Biologist) harvesting that honey:
III. Bringing Home the Bacon!-The National Restaurant Association estimates 2017 food sales in the restaurant industry to top $799 Billion. That’s a 4.3% increase of 2016’s estimated sales of $766 billion!
Just to back up a little bit, the foodservice industry is the second largest employer in the United States, only second to government employment. The opportunities truly abound at the variety of choices a food-service employee has to choose from. Here is a sampling of food-service employment jobs projected through 2024:
Add to that new vistas being offered in the world of culinary like food trucks and charcuterie production and the current shortage of qualified chefs in full-service dining establishments (which has also seen a boom in growth).
So what is the point? It’s obvious that there are more slots for qualified and passionate food-service employees than can be filled now and in the near future. The answer? There needs to be an even greater supportive encouragement of the food industry to our young people as a viable career at very young ages. I believe it should receive the same homage as the career paths of doctors, lawyers, teachers, computer technicians and accountants. That is one reason I started Kidz Can Cook, coupled with the nutrition side of food. That is also the reason Randy and I started a non-profit called Midwest Ambassadors for the Culinary Arts (MACA), to support and raise awareness of the importance of culinary education for the vast number of crucial jobs available in the food industry after a culinary graduation for committed applicants. We’ve had a number of successful events since it’s inception last year, and have awarded a competitive culinary scholarship and a grant for equipment for a high school culinary program.
This is a picture of a MACA lobster event we had recently. Live lobsters were transformed to culinary menu delights by culinary staff and students from Indian Hills Community College:
IV.Staying on the Cutting Edge-Let’s not forget about innovation in the food world. Note that the largest increase in 2017 food sales was in the off-premise and carryout part of the restaurant industry. So the battle cry for food preparation remains convenience in 2017 and beyond! The microwave process MATS from 915 Labs answers that need to a tee. MATS, or Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization is a safe and effective process of sterilizing food coupled with the elimination of unhealthy additives like sodium, chemical preservatives and enhancers (so it’s a healthy too). This process was born out of the need to make our service men and women more healthy food that could be stored for long periods of time. It’s not quite ready for prime time yet, but soon, you will be able to buy entire healthy meals for your family from a shelf at the grocery store near you. All you’ll need is a microwave! :
V. Food As A Palette for Learning- The education received in the kitchen is truly priceless because the food aspect can not only be the main subject, that is preparation of food for sustenance and nutrition, but it can also be used as a valuable tool for character that can lead to excelling in job performance.
This past summer I studied at the ProStart Educator’s training conference at Brightwater NWACC Culinary School in Bentonville, Arkansas headed by Chef Phil Dreshfield. ProStart is a two-year program for students sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Educator’s Foundation. It focuses on teaching culinary arts and restaurant management skills including real-life experience in the food industry, middle and high school students being excellent candidates for this program. Members of the restaurant industry embrace this program because it gives much more than the basics of the food industry, it gives job experience that can translate into a prime culinary position upon high school graduation.
The educators that attended the conference were from all over the United States. The goal for the week was to learn food industry basics, culinary skills, restaurant management knowledge, food safety and kitchen essentials and then bring that knowledge home to our students.
What I learned was priceless; both from the classes and the other educators themselves. We all attended classes daily and were held to the same standard as our students; punctuality, dress uniform, learning and sharing, organization, studying for the final exam, teamwork and an on-the-job practice run.
This is Veronica Hunnicutt, a former restaurant employee and now a dedicated FCS teacher from New Mexico (who was a terrific culinary teaching model to us all) showing off her excellent Mise en place skills:
That culinary scenario all the attendee educators experienced was revealed just like the real thing in the restaurant industry. We didn’t know for sure what we had to cook or for how many people until the last day, right before we took our final written exam. We all pulled together to create savory and sweet dishes within a 2 hour time frame for our special guests, the creators and crew of the Chef’s Table (An Emmy award winning NetFlix series) and (of course) ourselves:
What the other educators taught me was just as important. We sat around and talked about the challenges all the teachers faced in the classroom with their students in tandem with brainstorming about how to help them with those challenges:
What got me jazzed about those sessions was the other teachers were all talking about how to instill responsibility, inspiration, teamwork and just good all around work ethics in their students. Those are skills are kids all need to know to thrive in life, no matter what the profession they choose!
This is a picture of a “Food Truck” one of the FCS teachers (Amy Cathey from Kentucky, MCHS Culinary and Foods/Nutrition) shared with us:
These trucks are “powered” by Amy’s culinary class students. Amy created the idea of food trucks to offer the teachers in her school another alternative for lunch AND a revenue source so her students could go to challenging competitions and field trips. I would call these food trucks the epitome of entrepreneurship! What a terrific lesson for our youth!!!
So the next time you sit down to a meal and look down at your plate, just know there is so much more there than sum of the macro-nutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein…
There is also, food for thought…….
Recap of Food For Thought:
I.Food As Medicine
II.Crop to Cuisine Rules!
III. Bringing Home the Bacon!
IV. Staying on the Cutting Edge
V. Food As A Palette for Learning
I just had to share this with you all! I just made it for my daughter Shannon’s wedding shower. We had a Mexican Fiesta wedding shower and this was a huge hit! I lightened it up a little by replacing corn tortillas with butter lettuce and remoulade sauce (traditionally mayonnaise based) with a tahini yogurt rendition. My husband Randy gave it his stamp of approval too!
BLACKENED SHRIMP WRAPS
1 ½ lb. large to medium deveined uncooked shrimp
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. onion powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup non-fat greek yogurt
½ cup tahini (that’s sesame seed paste)
2 minced garlic cloves
1/8 cup of water
2 T. Olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
1 bunch green onion, white and light green only, sliced thinly
2 tsp. capers
2 tsp. Dijon ground mustard
1 T. finely chopped parsley
Butter lettuce leaves
1 avocado-peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
1 lime cut into small wedges for serving
- Preheat a cast-iron skillet to high heat.
- Dredge the shrimp in the mixture of the following dry ingredients: red pepper flakes, garlic powder, smoked paprika, dried oregano, dried thyme, onion powder, kosher salt and pepper. Shake off the excess.
- Mix the non-fat greek yogurt and all ingredients through mustard and set aside.
- Add olive oil to the skillet. When the oil shimmers, add the shrimp. Cook 2-3 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove it from the heat.
- Assemble wraps using the lettuce as the base, ladle 2-3 shrimp per lettuce leaf, add a dollop of sauce, avocado and squeeze a lime wedge on each wrap. You can also serve it (as I did) was a side of pico de gallo! Enjoy!
Note- You can also use corn tortillas (corn tortillas have a lower glycemic index than flour) instead of butter lettuce. The lettuce just yields a lower carb option.
*This recipe was adapted from The Chew.