How to Cook with Sweet Potatoes

Despite what some commercial diet plans say, or what people have been led to believe—not all carbohydrates are "bad".  Just like not all calories are created equally, carbohydrates are not either.  They provide energy for activity and they aid in the functioning of our muscles and internal organs, so we cannot live without them.  When looking for high-quality (i.e., highly beneficial and healthful) carbohydrates, choose a nutritional super star, like sweet potatoes!

Whether child or adult...we all like to enjoy something sweet! That doesnt mean it has to be something full of added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. A sweet potato is a healthy whole food, sweet all on its own.  When eaten in moderation, in proper portion size and prepared healthfully, it’s one of nature’s best bets.  Besides their fun bright orange interior, sweet potatoes lend themselves to being seasoned by a variety of ethnic and flavorful spices, making them a “go to ingredient” no matter what the season.

 Ounce for ounce, white potatoes and sweet potatoes contain about the same amount of carbohydrates (1/2 cup = 15 grams). However, sweet potatoes are a better source of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and calcium than white potatoes.  In addition, sweet potatoes have more fiber and therefore a slightly lower glycemic index than their white counterparts. 

For this reason, blood glucose will rise a little more gradually with sweet potatoes than with white potatoes. The rate at which your body breaks down a specific type of carbohydrate influences how quickly the food raises your blood sugar levels and in turn lowers them and potentially causing you to be hungrier faster.   It is also a better choice for someone with diabetes or diabetic tendencies because of its composition.

Although not the same, the USDA requires the other typically orange- colored vegetable of a softer variety and a cousin of the sweet potatothe yam—to  be labeled as a sweet potato, to avoid confusion.  So, yams purchased in the United States are almost always sweet potatoes, no matter what color and shape they are. 

At Red Rabbit, we incorporate sweet potatoes into many of our signature menu offerings: baked sweet potato wedges, sweet potato mash, sweet potato bread, baked sweet potato crisps, and more.  We are constantly looking for ways to introduce kids to healthful ways to prepare vegetables for maximum taste and nutrition! 

 The key to making them a healthy part of any diet is to enjoy them with the skin—baked and not fried, without a lot of added extras, like butter and sour cream, on top!  Let us know what your favorite RR sweet potato recipe is…or recommend one of your own!

Enjoy,


Shari Mermelstein, RD
Program Development Director

Curious Vegetable of the Week: Romanesco

This beautiful vegetable is romanesco.  Admired by architects, mathematicians, and foodies alike, this complex veggie is most closely related to cauliflower. Originally from Italy, many botanists believe this veggie first appeared during the days of Julius Caesar as the result of selective breeding by Italian farmers. Romanesco became prominent in the international market around the 1990s, and has since been enjoyed by those looking for a fun, healthy alternative to typical veggies.

Fun Fact: Known as the ‘ultimate fractal vegetable,’ the number of spirals on a head of romanesco is a Fibonacci number! For those of us who don’t quite remember our days in high school math class, fractals are patterns where when you divide a fractal pattern into parts, you get a nearly identical, smaller version of the original. The Fibonacci sequence is a pattern where, after the numbers 0 and 1, each subsequent number is equal to the two numbers before it added together (for example: 0+1 = 1, 3+5 = 8, etc.). The fruitlets on pineapples and the flowering of artichokes are also examples of naturally occurring Fibonacci patterns.

How can we use it?

Try this veggie raw to experience its fresh and slightly nutty taste. Romanesco is crunchier and more flavorful than cauliflower, and can be prepared as you would normally prepare broccoli or cauliflower. Cooked romanesco has a sweet and mild flavor, and steaming is a great method to soften this vegetable while retaining more vitamins than through boiling. Romanesco has a denser texture than its relatives, so it holds up better in a wider variety of cooking techniques. Romanesco pairs perfectly with pasta or can be dressed up in a simple mixture of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.

How is it good for me?

Like cauliflower, romanesco is low in calories (a mere 25 per cup!), fat and sodium. Romanesco is high in vitamin C and a good source of potassium, folate, vitamin K, dietary fiber and carotenoids.

How to buy it

Delighted by a veggie that is as equally enjoyable to eat as it is to admire? When purchasing romanesco, look to your local farmers’ market for firm heads that are heavy for their size and do not have any discoloration. Store this veggie in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed bag and enjoy!


Cheers,

The Red Rabbit Team

Trick Out Your Treats!

Halloween is nearly upon us and the shelves are stocked with tricks and treats everywhere we turn.

No need to shriek in fear of sugary treats or screech in terror at long lists of ingredients! There are plenty of ways to enjoy treats in healthy ways and create festive goodies at home. However, with the plethora of candy many trick-or-treaters receive, it can be difficult to monitor how much and what your child may be eating.

According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend close to $2.08 billion on Halloween candy this year. The average trick or treater could receive hundreds of pieces of candy containing thousands of calories, as well as sugar, additives, dyes and other mystery ingredients.

Swap out those scary snacks for some healthy goodies. Here are some helpful hints and tips for this year’s Halloween adventures!

  • Eat before you trick-or-treat! If kids are hungry while they are running from doorstep to doorstep, they will want to dig into their sugary candy en route. Eat a protein-rich meal or snack before you head out.
  • When you arrive home with your candy, allow your child to eat a few pieces and then divide the candy into what they like and don’t like. When their pile of candy is whittled down, devise a system to enjoy the candy in moderation over a period of time.
  • Offer a special gift or prize in exchange for this year’s loot! A child can trade you all of their candy (they can keep a few pieces if they’d like) for a special treat and you can donate the candy to your office or place of work.
  • Don’t worry about waste! You can send leftover candy to the troops via Operation Gratitude or call local nursing homes, food pantries, women’s shelters or a children’s hospital. If you’re feeling brainy, you can turn your remaining sugary treats into a science experiment!
  • When handing out treats to “boys and ghouls” at your home, go for some healthier options. Try whole grain granola bars, whole wheat mini pretzels or real fruit snacks. Figamajigs offer tasty fig and chocolate bars and KIND bars are packed with yummy grains and fiber.
  • Think you can spot which Halloween candy is the better option? Take this quiz to find out!

When it comes to sweet treats, making them in our own kitchens is the healthiest way to go. This way, we can control what goes into them and avoid additives and preservatives. You can even try making your own version of Halloween candy!

Twix candy bars contain over 25 ingredients, many of which are very difficult to pronounce and are not healthy for us. Try making “Twix” bars in your own kitchen! This recipe from Food52 makes 18 candy bars, each with just a handful of ingredients.

Homemade Twix Candy Bars

Shortbread Layer

·         ¾ cups butter, room temperature

·         ½ cup powdered sugar

·         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

·         ¼ teaspoon salt

·         1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 9-inch pan and set aside.

2.     In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt until the mixture looks like a coarse sand. Mix in the flour until the dough comes together.

3.     Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until the surface of the shortbread looks completely dry. Cool in pan for 15 minutes.

 

Assembly

·         10 ounces soft caramels (or caramel bits)

·         6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1.     In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the caramel candies until completely melted and smooth, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Using an offset spatula, spread the caramel evenly over the shortbread layer. Allow to cool for 15 minutes to set.

2.     Turn out shortbread onto a cutting board and cut into 9 1-inch wide pieces. Then, in turn, cut those pieces in half, creating 18 1-inch wide and 4 1/2-inch long candy bars.

3.     In another microwave safe bowl, melt the chopped chocolate for 15 seconds at a time, stirring between each interval, until smooth. Dip each candy bar into the chocolate, remove any excess chocolate, and set on wax paper to set completely (about 1 hour). Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

 

Feel free to experiment and make other yummy treats to give to friends at a Halloween party or to share at school. See some ideas below and visit our Red Rabbit Pinterest boards for some other inspiration!

           

            - Local NY apples drizzled in chocolate

            - Homemade air popped popcorn

            - Yogurt dipped pretzels

 

There are lots of tricky treats out there and making educated choices about our snacks is very important during this festive fall season.  We hope you’ll try your hand at making a few of your own treats this year. 

Have a happy, healthy Halloween!

 

Alexandra Roem

Account Coordinator

Creating Healthy Kids: Being the Biggest Influence

Reality television is big business these days.  Shows about weight loss are particularly popular, with “The Biggest Loser” leading the pack. Every week, millions of people tune in to watch contestants who are severely, dangerously overweight struggle to overcome not only size-related physical limitations, but also deconstruct the emotional and mental obstacles that contributed to their weight gains in the first place.

As an overweight child who grew into an obese teenager, I can personally testify to the role parents can play or not play in the prevention of obesity in adulthood: sweets were always readily available in my household, along with some healthier options, but as long as I had those sugary foods at the ready, it was my snack of choice.  My Midwestern diet was full of meat, dairy, canned vegetables full of sodium and lots of bread and butter – all of which seemed to fit the conventional wisdom of the time and culture. I was tall for my age, so my heaviness was often written off as “baby fat,” and I can even recall doctor’s appointments when my pediatrician dismissed my mother’s concerns by saying, “She will simply grow into it.”  As with most parents who love their children, she did the best with what she knew and followed the advice of my doctor.

Granted, this was the early 90’s, before obesity had reached the near-epidemic proportions it has now, and long before doctors started seeing Type-2 diabetes pop up in grammar-school-aged children.


What, then, can we do if we suspect our child might be developing a weight problem?  

One of the first things to do is talk to your pediatrician, who can confirm whether or not actions need to be taken. With younger children, it is recommended to maintain weight rather than lose it, and closely monitor growth and weight gain to make sure they are in proportion with each other. It is not recommended to reduce calories, as children are still growing and have a lot of energy!  Instead, make sure there are a lot of fresh fruits and veggies within easy reach of little hands, and be sure they see you eating your daily doses of produce as well! The Biggest Loser contestants who are parents are right to strive to be better role-models for their children, as kids are known to mirror the behavior of the adults in their lives.


What if our kids refuse to eat their veggies?

This is some of the most common feedback we receive at Red Rabbit.  If your children are already insisting on a diet consisting of chicken nuggets, cookies or macaroni and cheese, fear not!  Young children are very adaptable and open to new things. Because they are learning how to voice their opinion and exert some control in their life, making food choices is often their first doses of independence. At Red Rabbit, we encourage children to try new foods in our cooking labs by talking about the food and where it comes from, followed by preparing a simple dish together and then sharing it.  The excitement children have when they are invited to participate in meal preparation tends to overshadow any initial skepticism.  By encouraging kids to eat their veggies and fruits by involving them in the cooking prep, we lay the groundwork for the wholesome eating habits needed to maintain a healthy weight well into adulthood!


What if my child is older, is overweight and has voiced concern about it?

Talking to a pre-teen or teenager about their weight can be a sensitive topic, and it’s very important to keep communication open and encouraging. A benefit here is that the older a child is, the more involved he or she can be in having a dialogue about how to be healthier. Sometimes, this can mean us adults taking a closer look at our own habits and adjusting how we eat as family.  The more support a tween or teen feels, the easier it will be to talk about making changes to support weight loss if needed. 


When I was 13, my height had reached my current 5’3,” but my weight had risen to 207 pounds. By that point I had matured enough to ponder what my future would look like if I continued to eat the things I was eating. The thing that ultimately helped me was education: I took a health class in school that talked about the nature of calories in, calories out as well as the importance of eating fresh vegetables – not the canned kind to which I was accustomed.  It also introduced to me the concept of serving sizes.  My dad bought me a calorie counting book, and instead of going to our favorite fast-food place on Saturdays for our daddy-daughter dates, we visited the local sandwich shop that supplied an array of fresh ingredients. Having my parents show such support as I endeavored to improve my health was the key to my success, and ultimately I lost 100 pounds – the majority of which I have kept off to this day.


Exercise is also an important factor for teenagers who are looking to lose weight, and playing sports is a great way to complement healthier eating habits.  The more weight I lost, the more active I was able to be. I joined the tennis team, track and softball team.  Those of us who play sports can attest to its benefits: it instills confidence, builds social skills and fosters a sense of belonging.  It can also shift the focus away from weight in general, and onto meeting performance milestones and achieving a goal as part of a team. If playing team sports isnt an option, then making exercise a part of family time by hiking, going for a walk after dinner or for bike rides on the weekends will reinforce to a teenager how important it is that she not only meet her goals, but that fitness plays a factor in our lives, too!


There are plenty of ways to stop the spread of obesity in children, and as the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" have found, it all begins with us adults!  As the parents and educators, we have the power to positively influence the choices kids make in their eating and activity habits.  The more healthy choices they see us making, the more likely they will make these same decisions for themselves. The more excited we are about trying new foods and eating our fruits and vegetables, the less skeptical they will be! At Red Rabbit, we are proud to be a part of this exciting journey of providing access to fresh, wholesome meals to kids and fostering an interest in healthy eating for a lifetime. 


Here’s to health!


Hayley Lutz 

Red Rabbit Client Services Coordinator/Account Specialist

Curious Food of the Week: Starfruit!

Curious Food of the Week: Starfruit!

Whew, it sure is hot out! At Red Rabbit, we like to eat a lot of fruit to provide a quick nutritious sweet treat, as well as some relief from this classic July heat!

Every week, our Education Team likes to feature a curious food for our offices to try, and this time were excited about the star fruit.

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Welcome to 2012! Exciting News from Red Rabbit

Welcome to 2012! Exciting News from Red Rabbit

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year!  Hope this finds you well and ready for 2012!  I am pleased to share lots of exciting changes and additions happening at Red Rabbit this year with you... we have a new look, a new website, a new blog (yes, this is my first posting!) an improved weekly newsletter we call “Notes From the Patch”, and the addition of more staff with super qualifications and a commitment to not only improving Red Rabbit’s menu and service offerings but also sharing Red Rabbit’s mission and dedication to education.  We are creating new programs for educators, parents and kids—in school, after school, on Saturdays and even summer camps and field trips.  In short, we have lots and lots of really exciting new things happening that we are all very grateful for. 

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