Over the next few weeks I am going to do a series of blogs on food. No surprise, I imagine, but by “food” I mean “ingredients”.
At Kartini Clinic we spend our lives restoring the health of our young patients. Their families look to us for advice, sensible advice, about food and eating and this series is part of that. Our therapists turn out to be (almost) as interested in food and good food as our kitchen crew, and our parents often equally so. But in the case of our parents they have a greater challenge: they find themselves in the middle of a battle for the life of their son or daughter while trying to hold down jobs, care for other children and stay healthy themselves. They need sensible advice, so we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very good.
So these little food blogs will have three sections:
“Your Grandmother’s” – fast, easy but still largely homemade
“A Cut Above” – for those who are really into being as healthy as possible, inconvenience be damned
“Portlandia” – for those of us – whether from Portland or not! – who are fanatic foodies and want only local and organic home cooking
I will include some citations at the end of each blog for those who wish to read further, or to challenge me (which I welcome; happens all the time).
I’m going to start with corn.
I’ll spare you the history, archeology and genetics of corn (maize) in favor of a short sweet summary: corn came originally from an unrecognizable Mexican ancestor we call Teosinte whose small, few kernels were contained within a rock-hard case and which was definitively not sweet. It has been genetically modified in a big way over thousands of years by Mother Nature, American Indians and generations of farmers. Most of these modifications have been in the direction of “sweeter” and “whiter”, which, carried to extremes, has not served us exactly well nutritionally. The really sweet kinds have a lot of sugar and fewer nutrients.
I am starting with corn because years of taking dietary histories among our patients have taught me that even those children who “hate vegetables” (a lot of them) still like corn. Hating vegetables is likely related to a strong genetic ability to taste “bitter”, so you can probably save the lectures and just go with the flow.
Section I: Your Grandmother’s
Your grandmother knows that when push comes to shove and your child refuses to eat the healthier, darker yellow varieties of corn and insists on the sugar-sweet white kind, all you can do is cook the white kind so that the nutrients it does have are retained and not, for example, lost in the water you cook it in. In other words, don’t boil it unless you plan on drinking the water it is boiled in (as in soup). Here your microwave is your best friend.
Fortunately and contrary to what you might think, the phyto-nutrients are retained in canned corn. “Phyto-nutrients” are beneficial chemicals which, in the case of yellow corn, can protect your eyes and vision. So don’t feel bad about canned corn; just try to buy it in cans that say “BPA free”. Annoy your grocer who doesn’t carry BPA free cans and let them know you expect them to get with “the program” if they want your business. If they don’t have such cans, you can always buy corn fresh or frozen. For “quick and sensible” frozen works well, just cook it in glass (not plastic) in the microwave.
Apparently corn is # 2 on the list of the “clean fifteen” when it comes to pesticides, although super sweet varieties may have more pesticides used to keep them perfect looking. So if you can, choose yellow corn over white but you shouldn’t need to spend money on more expensive “organic” corn. If you are able to get whole corn on the cob, the way to cook it in order to retain its nutrients is to microwave it in its husk, or grill it.
Section II: A Cut Above
Well, clearly you want to steer clear of the super-sweet corn and go for the deeper yellow, organic varieties in BPA free cans. Or go for organic frozen, or buy it fresh on the cob, steam it in its husk and cut the kernels off (or let the kids bite them off). If you make cornmeal bread, use the whole grain variety and keep it fresh in the freezer.
Section III: Portlandia
As above, only grow your own — or if that’s not possible, buy local, which of course means in the summer only (if you live in Oregon or Washington). You may wish to familiarize yourself with the less well-known varieties of corn such as flour, flint or dent, as some of these may not be as good for polenta or cornbread, for example. However, there is a Cascade flint corn bred locally that some claim is superior in taste.
But even if you are a foodie and determined to be as natural as possible, and you are one of our parents, you are likely to be very busy and pressed for time when making home cooked meals. You are also likely to be offended if your child is one of those who refuses lovely green vegetables no matter who grew them — but not to worry! You can make a vinaigrette dressing and add cold canned corn into their salad. Perhaps they’ll even let you put in some cut up bits of an orange? Now we have vitamin C, olive oil, and nutrients from the corn.
Finally, whichever category you may belong to when making dinner, remember the most important thing is to eat your dinner together. Get your kids to clear the dining room table (you know, the one that disappeared under a pile of computers, papers, homework, mail, etc). Have the kids set the table. Then bring the food to the table, sit down, close your eyes, and begin. You did a good thing.
For further interest try:
Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson, Little, Brown and Company 2013
The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, Chelsea Green Publishing 2010
And there’s an app for that! Try EWG’s (The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15)