FOOD WISE: A fiber-rich diet doesn’t have to taste bad

Cedar Park Regional Medical Center Dietitian Jerrine Grey (left) and Chef Renee Morgan (right) spoke with Leander ISD parents April 19 about the importance of fiber in children’s diets. (Courtesy Photo)

Cedar Park Regional Medical Center Dietitian Jerrine Grey (left) and Chef Renee Morgan (right) spoke with Leander ISD parents April 19 about the importance of fiber in children’s diets. (Courtesy Photo)

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

There’s nothing quite as interesting and invigorating as a good, in depth, conversation about dietary fiber. Yes, I said fiber, and I’m not just talking about that terrible, powder stuff you mix with a drink in hopes of avoiding or remedying one of those unmentionable problems, shall we say….sluggishness, we all experience from time to time. You know the one. That white and orange canister you keep in the back of your medicine cabinet, hoping you’ll never have to actually consume its contents, but keeping it there all the while knowing the day will come.

Finally, you’ve put up with the, uh, sluggishness as you can stand it and the time has come. With a look of disgust, you try to hide the required amount in, say, orange juice, like that’s gonna work. You mix and mix and whisk and whisk, but it just won’t dissolve. Holding your nose and grimacing, you purpose to chug the stuff down as quickly as possible. The thick grainy texture nearly makes you toss your cookies. And then you wait. Nothing. How many times will you have to endure this concoction before there is, ahem, movement, if you know what I mean?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to work with the Leander Independent School District as a presenter at its annual event called Connecting U. The day-long conference, now in its fifth year, connects parents and community members from throughout the district with area resources and instruction. Strategically planned to help parents remain engaged throughout their children’s educational careers, breakout sessions focused on academic support; health and behavioral issues; college preparation; and strategic parenting. Sessions were led by subject-matter experts from the school district and the local business community. My session, in partnership with Cedar Park Regional Medical Center Dietitian Jerrine Grey, focused on the importance of getting fiber in kids’ diets and how to do it in a way that will actually sell them on eating these high-fiber dishes. Fiber! It’s not just for old folks anymore!

A fiber rich diet is important for all of us, including children, for many reasons. First, the obvious reason we all think of first, is that it promotes regular and frequent laxation, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at, if you’ve ever had trouble in that area.

Secondly, fiber helps our guts to feed and grow that all-important good bacteria that helps us stay healthy. Did you know that 70 percent of our overall body immunities is provided by bowel function?

Fiber in our diets helps cut the risk of certain kinds of cancers, slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, lowers blood cholesterol and keeps us feeling fuller longer. This is important for anyone working to lose or maintain a healthy body weight. As you can see, all of these points would be key in the fight against childhood obesity.

To insure plenty of fiber in your diet, and your child’s diet, add lots of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds to your food choices. Adults should consume 25-35 grams of fiber daily. For children, the formula is a bit different. To figure out the proper amount of fiber for the child’s age, add 5-10 grams to their age. For example, an 8 year old child should consume between 13-18 grams of fiber daily (8 + 5-10 grams). Here are some tips for adding (sneaking) fiber into your kid’s or even an childish husband’s diet:

 

Increase fiber intake gradually

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent constipation. Heaven, help you if you fail to observe this step. It’ll take dynamite to get things moving again.

Beans and bran have the most fiber per serving. You can sprinkle a tablespoon of wheatgerm on a casserole and your family will probably think it’s a breadcrumb topping.

Add fruit to breakfast cereal and serve two veggies with dinner as an easy way to increase fiber.

Add a high fiber vegetable to your favorite rice or pasta dish.

Read labels. Choose the bread, cereal, etc., with the higher fiber content. Most people won’t notice the difference.

Serve baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar with the skin still on. Its a tasty, easy dessert that is full of fiber.

Make fruit smoothies. Kids love them and you can easily hide a couple handfuls of spinach in there without it changing the taste. It will just taste like yummy sweet fruit. If you have a juicer, you can run the fruit through it, skins and all. You won’t taste the skin, but it will add a lot of fiber bulk to the smoothie.

I also like to open my vitamin capsules and dump them in. I hate taking vitamins so this is a good way to make sure I take them without tasting them.

Flavor dishes like rice and quinoa with coconut milk. Then add toasted coconut, and toasted peanuts or almonds. In fact, sprinkle toasted nuts on everything from salads to casseroles.

If you have diverticulosis, check with your physician about whether you can tolerate things like, nuts, popcorn, certain kinds of berries, peas, seeds and corn.

Here’s the thing. Most of the time, adults and kids alike say they don’t like this healthy, high-fiber stuff. The reason they say that is folks have the idea that eating in a healthier way, including adding more fiber to their diets, means eating stuff that tastes like tree bark and twigs. I say a healthy dish shouldn’t taste like “health” food. It should just taste like food. You shouldn’t be able to tell it’s healthy. You should just think, “Wow! That’s good food!”

That’s my challenge. I have to get attendees and clients excited about the fiber rich dishes I demo for and serve to them. You can teach folks all day long about the health benefits of a food, but at the end of the day, if it isn’t just really good food, they’ll never eat it. Not consistently, anyway.

I must’ve hit the mark. At the end of my presentation, a dad came up to me and explained that his wife had passed away and it was just him and his daughters. Before he left, he not only talked about how much he loved the food, how much it tasted like really good food and not health food and how much he thought his children would like it. He also hired me to give him and his girls cooking lessons. That is what it’s all about. Getting to make a difference in that family’s life is what makes cooking such a great career and this a great life. I do love my job!

 

Quinoa Stir-Fry 

with Chicken

(This dish has it all! Flavor, high fiber, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, high protein. Be sure to rinse the quinoa well.)

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 small carrot, thinly sliced

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

2 teaspoons grated ginger

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 small red chile, chopped (optional)

2 cups snow peas, trimmed

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 egg, beaten

4 ounces grilled chicken breast, chopped

2 scallions, chopped

1/2 cup cilantro

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Place quinoa in a small saucepan with 3/4 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook, undisturbed, until quinoa absorbs water, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and leave uncovered. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook carrot, stirring occasionally, until it softens, about 1 minute. Add bell pepper, ginger, garlic and chile, if desired; cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add peas, sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute. Remove vegetables and return skillet to heat; add quinoa, along with egg. Cook, stirring constantly, until egg is evenly distributed, about 2 minutes. Add vegetables, chicken, scallions, cilantro and soy sauce; cook 1 minute more. Divide stir-fry among 4 bowls; serve warm.