Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Health Starts Here Challenge - Day 23 and Cupcakes

Hey everybody! Health Starts Here has been going really well and I've thoroughly enjoyed making dinner every night. It's so fun to play with ingredients, modify old family recipes to make them healthier and share my successes with you all.

On Monday, my friend Juliet (who has appeared in several cooking videos) and I got together to bake Health Starts Here cupcakes! It took us a few weeks of chatting on Facebook and lots of Internet research to finally create a tasty recipe that is free of refined sugars, refined oils, dairy, eggs or refined flours.

To create a recipe for these cupcakes, I went to the Health Starts Here section of the Whole Foods website to see if they had any recipes for cake. I found a recipe there for Banana-Cocoa Snack Cake. I made their recipe at home and it was AMAZING! It was like a cross between banana bread and chocolate cake. It was very dense though. Juliet's and my solution was to cut the amount of oat flour in half so there was 1 cup of whole-wheat pastry flour, 1/2 cup of oat flour and 1/2 cup of brown rice flour. Juliet also isn't the biggest fan of bananas, so we used two bananas instead of four. We added some zucchini and squeezed all the water out of it (although the excess water came in handy when we didn't have enough coconut milk). We added lots of dates and a cup of applesauce to give it some extra sugar. With a few extra modifications, the recipe became our own.

Then there was the frosting. Figuring out what to do for the frosting was quite difficult. We have a lot of vegan cupcake books at my house, but their frostings all use sugar. I was at a loss because there really is no healthy substitution for powdered sugar. I found a frosting recipe from a vegan cookbook (not especially for cupcakes) that is normally used for cake, and it followed the Health Starts Here guidelines! I modified it so that it would become a strawberry frosting and would be sweeter, and it turned out to be delicious. It wasn't quite the consistency of a normal frosting, but when you're working with cashew cream and dates, there's nothing else you can do.

I was pretty worried about these cupcakes being too bitter or just plain disgusting, but they were AMAZING! I normally get freaked out by vegan baked goods - I've tried lots of them and baking with dairy and eggs always tastes better - but these actually tasted normal.

While the frosting has an interesting mauve color, it tasted great!

My dad trying the cupcake
Juliet and a cupcake

 I apologize that I can't (more like don't want to) post the cupcake recipe. It will be in my cookbook, though!

Now that the 28-Day Challenge is nearing its close, I've been thinking about how the ideals of Health Starts Here will stick with me. I will be adding dairy, eggs, refined oils, refined sugars and refined flours back into my diet, but in very small quantities. I won't eat Greek yogurt every day anymore like I used to, and my snacks will always be smoothies, whole-grain crackers, fruits and vegetables from here on out. I'll be very cautious about how much oil I'm consuming every day and make sure that I never cook a cream sauce (except for the alfredo made with pureed cauliflower, but that's different) for my family again! I've also decided that I will treat myself to organic ice cream only once a month and a homemade cookie once a month as well. I'll try to incorporate whole grains into my diet whenever I can, but I will allow myself a slice of white artisan bread every once in a while. Everything in moderation, right?
As a kid, what can you do at home to improve your diet? I know I've said lots of things already and you're probably still confused as to what you should do. To start off, pick one thing that you want to change and find a way that you will be successful in changing it. For example, you might want to start eating a better breakfast. This might mean that every Friday you have oatmeal with fruit (or another whole grain option) and that the rest of the days of the week you have what you were used to eating. This might also mean that you completely forget about how you used to eat breakfast and have a healthy option every morning from here on out. You might also decide that you want to start cooking dinner. You could cook three times a week, once a week, once a month, or whatever is the right pace for you. Once you've accomplished your goal, then move onto another thing. Maybe you don't want to change the actual meals you eat, but instead you'd like to buy more high quality products and understand the source of your food. There are so many things you can do to become a more knowledgable consumer. Read through all of my posts and other bloggers' posts about healthy eating and find out what speaks to you based on what you read.

A few readers voted on whether I should change my email address or not. I've decided that after  summer is over, I will be changing my email address to "teenchef" instead of "tweenchef', which has been quite the inaccurate label of my age.

Follow this blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel (, follow me on Twitter (@MDchef_123), email me at if you have any questions, go to\healthstartshere to learn more abotu he 28-Day Challenge and tell your friends and family about Teens Can Cook, Too! Stay healthy!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Health Starts Here - Snacking Tips

Hey everybody! I'm almost halfway through the Health Starts Here 28-Day Challenge and I can't wait to experiment some more in the kitchen with Health Starts Here recipes.

I recently hung out with some friends at a birthday party and we were talking about Health Starts Here. Most of them didn't really understand why I'm doing this or why it even matters. I had an extremely long explanation about making every calorie count, but it didn't really sink in.

When you are thrown a lot of information and all sorts of things, it's difficult to sort out fact and fiction. What I think is that you have to pinpoint the facts you can't argue with and make a change, but do it in steps.

The biggest step for teens in America is to quit snacking on junk food. I have been guilty of this myself (but because I don't eat anything artificial, I ate things like Newman-O's and those Kashi granola bars that have a thick layer of chocolate on top), but I'm committed to snacking on foods that are high in nutritional value now. You may know how to cook or your family may cook many meals, but when it's snacktime, you've got to fend for yourself. Most people walk to the pantry to see what kinds of granola bars, chips, sweets and popcorn to eat. This is exactly what needs to stop.

Think about potato chips. They are fried, so that means there will be a few grams of saturated fat. Potato chips are salty, so now you're eating a large amount of your daily value of salt. Potato chips are very starchy too, but since they don't have very many nutrients (especially when you smother them in oil and salt), those carbs aren't really doing much except giving you a bit of energy until dinner. Are there any vitamins in potato chips? Nope. You may be thinking, "Well that's what vitamin supplements are for!" I take vitamins myself, but most people only take a few specific kinds of vitamins. Vegetables and fruits have all sorts of vitamins and minerals that you probably don't take in your supplement and a lot that you do.

Once you eat those potato chips, you waste some of your calories for the day. Remember that as a growing teen, you body needs enough calories every day; don't undereat or overeat. But because you are growing and developing, those vitamins and minerals count even more.

The simple solution is to eat something high in nutrients. Have fruits and vegetables for snacks. They have lots of phytonutrients (phyto means "plant" and "nutrient" speaks for itself), vitamins, minerals, fiber, water and energy (sustainable carbs). Phytonutrients are created by plants for protection and survival. Phytonutrients also prevent disease and promote health in human bodies.  Instead of having potato chips, you could have 2 fruits for the same amount of calories (if you follow the serving size on the potato chip bag, that is) while eating all of that good stuff that plants give you. Potato chips can't do that.

Another thing about phytonutrients is that the darker and/or richer the color of the fruit/vegetable, the more phytonutrients you'll eat. Instead of constantly eating iceberg lettuce, potatoes and corn to get your veggies for the day, you could eat plums, red chard, nectarines with bright yellow flesh, beautiful bell peppers, red cabbage, dark green kale, bright citrus fruits and rich red tomatoes. Plus, there are so many fruits to choose from that if you get tired of one, there's always going to be another amazing taste to try. The seasons bring in varieties of plants every three months so you won't get bored, too.

I love fruit and vegetables, but sometimes I don't feel like eating that. Whole grains are the perfect snack when you aren't in a fruit/veggie mood. My favorite whole grain snack is a rice cake with all-natural peanut butter (with no added oils; peanuts have so many naturally occuring oils that adding more is unhealthy). Of course, you could make homemade hummus and dip a whole-grain pita in that or make yourself a mini-wrap with a whole-grain tortilla.

Finding a true whole grain product is confusing, and most people don't know exactly what a whole grain is. There are three parts of a grain: the bran (the protective coating, which also contains most of the grain's minerals, including B vitamins and fiber), the endosperm (a concentrated energy source in the middle which contains a lot of the things you'll find on a nutrition label) and the germ (a small core that contains unsaturated fats, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamin E and more). When only a certain part of the grain is ground into flour, it is no longer a whole grain and is lacking many nutrients. To supplement for the lost nutrients, most flours are "enriched", meaning that the nutrients that weren't ground in get added back. To determine whether the product you're about to buy is a whole grain product, look for the red flags that tell you that it is a refined flour: bleached flour, unbleached flour, enriched flour and fortified flour. A sign of a whole grain is "cracked", "crushed" or "sprouted". Brands like Ezekiel 4:9 and 365 have a few types of whole-wheat pasta that are whole grain. You can also find lots of whole-grain breads at natural markets, like Dave's Killer Bread and certain types of Rudi's bread.

Information overload! I'll summarize so your brain can calm down. Make every calorie count and think about the vitamin, mineral, fiber, protein, fat, sugar and phytonutrient content of every snack you eat. Instead of going on Health Starts Here tomorrow, try ditching the Doritos for good and eating some fruits and veggies instead. Once that becomes a habit, make another small step towards health.

Ditch these...

And try these!

By the way, I got all of this information from the people at Whole Foods who are helping us out with the 28-Day Challenge. Thanks for all your informative packets and emails!

Please follow this blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, follow me on Twitter (@MDchef_123), tell everyone you know about what I'm doing and email me if you have any questions, comments or recipes. Stay healthy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Health Starts Here Challenge - Day 10

Hey everybody! It's the 10th day of the Health Starts Here 28-Day Challenge and I'm feeling pretty good. It is growing increasingly harder to quell my cravings for dark chocolate, artisan bread and gouda cheese. Thankfully, there is something out there for me that has a similar texture that will satisfy me until the end of the 28 days.

I recently watched the documentary Forks Over Knives. The movie was recommended by the people at Whole Foods who run the 28-Day Challenge. The film is about eating a plant-strong diet instead of the Western diet of animal-based products, which is quite similar to Health Starts Here. The movie was incredible and showed me how important it is to eat your vegetables to avoid problematic/fatal diseases. The term "forks over knives" doesn't mean vegetables and fruits (fork food) over meat (knife food); it rather means that food should be used to reverse and prevent health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Forks Over Knives is an impactful movie for many adults, but for kids, it's different. It's all about the health issues 30-year-olds and over have and how we can reverse them. My take on it is that kids and teens must watch this movie. We may not have to worry about heart attacks and other diseases yet, but we will in just a couple of decades. As a kid or teen, you have time to gradually build a healthy foundation for adulthood. It's never too early to start.

In the movie, the Western diet of animal-based products was often compared to a diet eaten by people in rural areas outside of the country. In those rural areas, they ate more vegetables than in the United States. Their risks for a plethora of diseases were drastically lower than those of people in the United States. The only problem with these studies is that the comparisons were so dramatic. What about people who eat in between the grease-laden Western diet and the vegetable-laden rural diet?

What I take away from the movie is that kids should be eating healthier and consuming their 5-9 servings of vegetables every single day. I'm not going to stay on a completely plant-strong diet, cut refined sugars out of my life forever, modify all my recipes to not have oil, and turn my back on dairy and eggs for good! I'm going to eat how I normally eat with a few changes. Kids and teens need to know and follow the following things:
  • You can eat oil, but be conscious of how much oil you eat every day and remember that every tablespoon of oil is 120 calories.
  • Instead of snacking on cookies (which I often did, only I'd eat the organic kind), snack on a sweet fruit. My favorites are mangoes and nectarines.
  • Learn how to cook so you can have an appreciation for real food and set aside the desire for processed junk.
  • Read the nutrition labels on everything you buy, and start buying more things that don't have nutrition labels (vegetables and fruits don't have nutrition labels - buy more of them).
  • Remember that every 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable is one serving, and try to imagine how many servings you are eating and how many more you need to eat to get into the 5 - 9 range.
  • You can eat meat, but eat lean meats (chicken, fish, turkey, 15% fat beef, etc.). Make sure that the animal was humanely raised. If you do eat meat, only eat it 3 - 4 times a week.
  • Beans, nuts and tofu have lots of protein! Meat only gives you protein, but these ingredients (especially beans) give you protein and other nutrients that your body needs.
  • Limit your dairy intake. I used to eat lowfat/nonfat Greek yogurt every single day because I thought I'd be getting extra calcium (I tak calcium supplements), but vegetables have just as much - if not more - calcium than dairy. Find out which of your favorite vegetables and fruits have the nutrients you need.
  • Eat whole grains. They contain so much more fiber and nutrients than an enriched white flour. To ensure your whole grain intake, have a variety of grains in your pantry and cook them for breakfast. My favorites are rolled oats, quinoa (sounds weird, but if you put mangoes and vanilla extract in there it's delicious) and millet. Remember that a slice of artisan bread or a homemade cookie every once in a while is not going to kill you!
  • Calorie count a little. As kids and teens, we are still growing and developing, so cutting down on calories is not the objective. By having a rough understanding of how much you are eating, you can make sure that you get your 2,000 calories a day. Girls don't need as many calories as boys do, but you should still keep your weight, age and height in mind when eating.
  • Pack your own school lunch. You can control what goes in your lunch this way and eat something far more nutritious than what your school's reheat kitchen can serve you. Even if your school has a cooking kitchen that serves good food, try to pack your own lunch at least half of the time.
I know that's a lot of information to soak in, and there's a ton more out there. A bunch of different resources tell you to do different things. If you don't do any of this or just do a little bit of it, then pick one thing you'd like to change. Once you've changed and it has become a firm part of your routine, pick another thing and gradually change your habits. Transitions are always easier for kids than gigantic, immediate changes.

My dad found a review on Forks Over Knives that points out the other side to the story. It is quite interesting and shows you that the ideals of a plant-strong diet are still very premature. Because of this review (which is really long, so you don't have to read the whole thing), I realize that eating animal-based products and sugars in moderation is a perfectly acceptable way to go. You can stream Forks Over Knives on Netflix, watch it on Hulu, or do it the old-fashioned way and actually purchase the DVD. The review of Forks Over Knives will make much more sense if you watch the movie first.

Please follow this blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel (, follow me on Twitter (@MDchef_123) and email me if you have questions or would like to share a recipe with me ( Stay healthy!