From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jeri Ryan's Healthy Birthday Wish!!

Jeri Ryan’s birthday was yesterday. Jeri vaulted to fame with her role as the popular Seven of Nine on the Star Trek series Voyager. I rarely celebrate celebrity birthdays, but given my high level of respect for her acting and parenting abilities, this was a date I gave some importance to. Jeri, like our family, has 2 kids. She has a teenaged son and a younger daughter who is about to graduate from the toddler stages. The age gap between the two children is very much like ours, and it makes for an interesting meal event, as balancing the nutritional needs of 2 kids who may have very different tastes presents an every day challenge. Jeri has a considerable advantage when it comes to eating and feeding her kids a wholesome, healthy meal; she is married to Christoph Eme, head chef at Ortolan, a wonderful restaurant in Los Angeles which has since, sadly, closed. A typical meal for her might include crepes for breakfast, and lunch of lamb with kale.

Celebrity moms, and celebrity parenting in general have been generating a lot of attention lately. This may be due in large part to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, who has launched a major Healthy Eating Initiative for children called “Let’s Move” as she attempts to generate a platform to base her legacy on. Unfortunately, her personal eating habits demonstrate a bit of hypocrisy, as she has been seen repeatedly enjoying a high fat diet, the likes of which have included a meal of ribs and French fries, when a healthier diet was potentially a better option. The First Lady’s defense is that "She's never told people to cut out junk food; she's suggested they eat junk less and exercise more."

The root of the problem, as it applies to childhood obesity, starts not with a government mandate, but with the parents. Parents play a big role in shaping children's eating habits. When parents eat a variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, children learn to like these foods as well. It may take 10 or more tries before a child accepts a new food, so do not give up if your child does not like a new food right away.

Parents have an effect on children's physical activity habits as well. You can set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride after dinner instead of watching TV. Playing ball or jumping rope, or even taking the dog for a walk with your children shows them that being active is fun.

With many parents working outside the home, child care providers also help shape children's eating and activity habits. Make sure your child care provider offers well-balanced meals and snacks, as well as plenty of active play time.

If your child is in school, find out more about the school's breakfast and lunch programs and ask to have input into menu choices, or help your child pack a lunch that includes a variety of foods. Get involved in the parent-teacher association (PTA) to support physical education (PE) and after-school sports.

Your child's friends and the media can also affect his or her eating and activity choices. Children may go to fast food places or play video games with their friends instead of playing tag, basketball, or other active games. TV commercials try to persuade kids to choose high-fat snacks and high-sugar drinks and cereals. When parents help their children be aware of peer and media pressures, youngsters are more likely to make healthy choices outside the home.

Just like adults, children need to eat a wide variety of foods for good health.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently updated the food guide pyramid. Their new Web site,, now features food guidelines that can be customized for men and women of all ages, including children.

Parents can use the MyPyramid Plan box to enter their child's age, gender and activity level and receive an estimate of what and how much they should be eating.

When you help children build healthy eating habits early, they will approach eating with a positive attitude—that food is something to enjoy, help them grow, and give them energy.

I often surprise a lot of people by suggesting that Chinese food is a healthy option for a family. Some people will write Chinese food off as fatty and full of MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). Saturated fats and excess salts are considered bad for the heart and so it follows that Chinese food is unhealthy, right?

Wrong. Many Chinese dishes, corrupted to become popular to western palates, are breaded, fried, over-sauced and thus fit this bill. (I have written about this often…) Authentic Chinese food is not fatty, and MSG, if used at all, is used sparingly. In fact Chinese food has a long history of being directed towards promoting health; a much longer one than any local 'fad' in the west.

Although united 2000 years ago, China never developed a state system for healthcare until recently. Citizens had to take their own measures when sick, and since these were often too expensive, that meant avoiding sickness in the first place if at all possible.

The first principles of food therapy were established nearly 4000 years ago, though it was only during the Tang Dynasty (608-906 AD) that this form of knowledge became really popular. Four 'pillars' were identified as crucial to staying healthy: lifestyle, diet, exercise and mind. Of these diet was considered the most important, probably as it was the one over which people had the most control.

Food plays a central role in Chinese culture. Cooking healthy food for the family is a lifelong profession for most women. Children are brought up with some knowledge of the health properties of their food and dietary restrictions are commonly understood and observed. Eating healthily is almost an obsession and forms an unspoken bond between family members.

Traditionally, foods are classified in 4 groups:

Grains are for sustaining

vegetables for filling

fruits for supporting

meats for enhancing

Using modern terminology we can identify Grains as equivalent to carbohydrates, vegetables as roughage, fruits as vitamins and minerals and meats as protein.

A balance of 40:40:10:10 is considered ideal, with perhaps some variation in the balance between vegetables and meats.

Note that dairy products do not feature here. Most Chinese do not eat any dairy foods after childhood and, in fact, become intolerant to them as young adults.

Bearing just this little bit of knowledge in mind it is possible to order better and more healthy Chinese food. By definition that will also be more authentic Chinese food.

Steamed rice, preferably brown, is the staple of choice at any Chinese meal and if cooked properly should be tasty. Forget the various forms of fried rice and try it next time.

Avoid dishes in which meats have been coated and deep fried. The batter soaks up fat whereas fat used to stir fry meat and vegetables forms only a thin film. A little bit of fat is fine (and indeed necessary) but keep it reasonable.

Avoid dishes with sauces. These are laden with sugar and are often the culprits if excess MSG is being used.

Finally, watch what you are drinking. Boiled water and tea are traditional, though usually only before and after a meal not during the actual eating.

In honor of the Birthday Girl, here is a simple recipe that can be modified to decrease the level of spice.

Happy 29th Jeri!! And here is to many more…

Until Then, Good Eating, Friends...

Spicy Mango Chicken Stir Fry


1 almost ripe mango, peeled and cut into thick slices

4 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thinly

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

1 green chili (this can be substituted with a bell pepper), seeded and sliced thinly

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly

2 large garlic cloves, sliced

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

dash of salt and white pepper

1 Tablespoon rice wine

2 Tablespoons cornstarch with a like amount of cold water

1 teaspoon bean paste

1 Tablespoon thin soy

1 teaspoon sugar


1. Mix mango, chilies and sesame oil and set aside.

3. Saute garlic in the vegetable oil then add chicken and mango mixture and fry until the meat almost loses it pink color.

3. Add salt and pepper and rice wine, stir well and then remove from the pan and serve.

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