New Initiative to Increase Fruit Consumption in Children

betta_7475In a push to increase fruit consumption in children, the United Kingdom’s largest grocery chain, Tesco, has implemented a program offering free fruit to children while their parents shop. Just like the United States Department of Agriculture, the UK government recommends everyone, including children, eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Unfortunately, like the US, children in the UK fall short of this recommendation with only 10% of boys and 7% of girls aged 11-18 consuming 5 fruits and vegetables each day; only 2% of American kids eat the recommended daily five servings of fruits and veggies. The Tesco initiative is being launched in over 800 stores and is already receiving praise from experts and charities. But, will it work?

Well, that’s hard to say. Last year, a study from the University of Vermont found that school children required by federal mandate to take either a fruit or vegetable with lunch actually consumed less of each. Digital imaging was used to capture student lunch trays before and after consumption, and more produce was actually thrown away. Does this mean we should stop encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption? Of course not. But what it does mean is that multiple approaches may be better at achieving increased consumption. The study authors suggest slicing fruit, serving fruit/vegetables with dip, or mixing the produce in with other portions of the meal. Likewise, encouraging fruit and veggie consumption from an earlier age and increasing access and positivity in the environment, such as farm-to-school programs, may help normalize eating healthfully.

Only time will tell how the UK initiative will fare. I believe we all agree, however, that the first step is always to offer healthful choices!

Read more about the study here:

Mulligatawny Soup with Chicken, Pears, and Coconut

mulligatawny-soupThis autumn inspired version of Mulligatawny soup is sure to delight. Colorful pears, tender chicken, sweet potatoes, and rich coconut milk star in this adaptation of a classic English soup with Indian origins. The recipe comes together in about 30 minutes for an easy weeknight dinner, and the leftovers taste even better. Top the soup with crunchy toasted coconut and bright, fresh cilantro leaves.

2 tablespoon butter, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into ½ inch pieces
salt and pepper
1 medium yellow onion, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 ½ teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
4 cups chicken broth
1 pound sweet potatoes, medium dice
2 firm USA Pears, such as Concorde or Comice, medium dice
1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk
¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves

In a large soup pot over medium heat melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the diced chicken and season generously with salt and pepper. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until just cooked through. Transfer chicken to a small bowl. Add the remaining butter to the same pan and saute the onion until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and all three spices and saute for one minute more. Next, add the chicken broth to deglaze the pan, stirring to pick up any browned bits. Add the diced sweet potatoes to the liquid, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 6 – 8 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender. Add the diced pears and continue to simmer for 5 minutes more. Stir in the coconut milk and season the soup to taste with more salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the soup between bowls and garnish each with the toasted coconut and cilantro.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 servings

Fuel Up

fuelupExercise is very important to me and to general wellbeing. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness, the average adult should engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 or more times per week – or at least 150 minutes each week. We often hear about which nutrients to consume for recovery after a workout, and I often see people pounding protein shakes at the gym, but we don’t talk as often about what to eat before a workout.

In college, I boxed and tried martial arts; now, I run, yoga and CrossFit. This month, to mix up my routine, I joined a kickboxing training program. We meet at 6:00AM to work on techniques, box, and do a variety of functional activities for strengthening – and after one hour I am bushed! I have a very hard time eating early in the morning, but according to data from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, limited intake of carbohydrate impairs training intensity and duration. I see these effects sometimes: I don’t eat after dinner and if I don’t eat before a morning workout I feel sluggish. Since exercise requires energy and carbohydrate has roles in multiple energy pathways, providing substrate for muscular work from quick carbohydrate foods is a good choice. Every body is unique, and different activities, intensities, and durations require different amounts of energy and nutrients. I know that I perform better in an intense one-hour class or run if I eat between 100-200 calories beforehand. This morning I grabbed a medium pear, approximately 100 calories, on my way out the door and I felt great during class. Fruit is an easy choice for me since it is portable and I can grab it on the go, but some mornings I have a little protein, nuts or yogurt, with it. It took trial and error to figure out what works best for me, but you can figure it out, too. If you don’t generally eat before exercise, why not give it a shot and see if you get more from your workout? If you’re starting on a training program, consult with a sports dietitian for personalized eating plans.


Pear Sweetened Spiced Molasses Cookies

pear-cookies-crop-1These delightful fall cookies are reminiscent of a classic soft molasses cookie, but are made with less than half of the sugar in a typical recipe. Pear puree stands in for much of the sugar, adding a wonderfully unique pear flavor to the cookies, along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Bake off a batch of these tender cookies and store the extras in the refrigerator for packing into lunches or for after school snacks.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup pear puree (from about 2 ripe USA Pears, such as Red or Green Bartlett, diced and
pureed in a blender until smooth)
¼ cup molasses
2 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
granulated sugar, for rolling

In a large bowl, combine melted butter and brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add egg, one cup of the pear puree, and molasses and whisk again until smooth. In a second bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking powder, and salt, and stir to mix. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least one hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a small bowl of granulated sugar for rolling the cookies. Roll the chilled dough into 1 ½ inch balls and roll in the granulated sugar, placing the cookies onto greased baking sheets as you go. Lastly, flatten the cookies slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass that has been dipped in the remaining sugar to prevent sticking. Bake the cookies for 11-13 minutes, rotating once during cooking. Allow to cool before removing from pans.

Stuffed Avocado with Bay Shrimp, Pear, and Mango

This stuffed avocado recipe is both simple and elegant. Begin with sweet and salty bay shrimp, and add crunchy pears and tropical, ripe mango to provide great texture and flavor. Bright, fresh lime juice plays perfectly with the creamy, rich avocado, and a pop of fresh mint will bring it all together. Serve this salad for lunch on a warm day, or alongside some grilled meat at your next barbecue.

Stuffed AvocadoIngredients
8 oz. bay shrimp
¼ a red onion, finely minced
1 firm ripe USA Pear, small dice
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, torn
2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted

In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, onion, pear, mango, and lime juice and gently stir to combine. Add the oil and salt, and toss to coat. Gently mix in the torn mint at the last moment. Divide the mixture between the four avocado halves, filling the cavity and allowing the extra shrimp salad to overflow onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Smoky Red Pear and Grilled Corn Salsa

USA Pears are back in season, and this unique late summer salsa is the perfect way to show them off! Adding a few pinches of cumin lends the salsa a gentle smokiness which balances the honey-sweetness of the pears. Serve this salsa with your favorite tortilla chips or use it to generously top grilled chicken or pork.

red pear salsa
2 ears of corn, shucked
1 tsp. neutral flavored oil, such as grapeseed
½ a medium sweet onion, small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 firm ripe red USA pears, such as Starkrimson or Red Bartlett
1 lime (for zest and juice)
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat your grill to medium. Drizzle the oil over the corn and rub to coat with the oil. Once the grill is hot, cook the corn for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until hot and blistered in spots. Set the corn aside until cool enough to handle. Once cooled, cut the kernels from the cobs using a sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, sweet onion, jalapeno, and pears. Zest half of the lime and add it to the salsa, then halve the lime and squeeze the juice over the ingredients. Add the cumin, salt, and cilantro, and gently toss to coat. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and serve.

Prep time: 35 minutes
Yield: 3 cups salsa

Grill Master

grilled pearsTo me, summer means sunshine, farmers’ markets and grilling. I personally love the flavors of grilled foods and regularly grill veggies as a side or base for meals. One of the greatest challenges I have faced in my years of counseling and teaching is that people have been trained to think they don’t like fruit and/or vegetables, and they don’t venture outside the norm for ingredients or culinary techniques. The remedy is simply to get a little creative in the kitchen – or backyard – and be okay with failing once in a while. I base most of my meals on produce, and in the summer that means adding a treat of grilled fruit at the end!

Grilling is probably one of the simplest culinary techniques for fruit and veggies. In the beginning, it’s a good idea to stay close to the grill to keep an eye on your food; err on the side of slightly lower heat so it doesn’t burn, then turn up the heat at the end for beautiful grill marks. Grilling infuses fruit with smoky and savory flavors and causes caramelization of sugars, leading to more color and flavor changes. It’s a whole new way to experience fruit! In my food science lab, we talk about how sugars in fruit, when exposed to high temperatures, start to melt: The sugars are inverted and water is released, resulting in sugar molecules rearranging and binding together to form chains. Organic acids and other flavor compounds also accrue, resulting in different flavors than the original sugars. Basically, the compounds are altered so we sense a unique flavor on our taste receptors.* Science is fun!

My favorite treat is to slice pears in half, set them on the top rack to soften, then pop it onto the heat for a bit at the end. I serve them drizzled with honey or chocolate sauce, then sprinkle with walnuts or a dollop of whipped cream. Delicious and a pretty presentation! Want more ideas? Check out a few of my favorite grilled pear recipes, including grilled pears stuffed with mascarpone and bacon, at USA Pears.
*McWiliams, Margaret. (2012). Foods Experimental Perspectives. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Pear and Fresh Vegetable Summer Rolls

summerrollsThese colorful and refreshing summer rolls aren’t just beautiful, they are absolutely delicious! You can use any variety of vegetables and herbs to fill the rolls, not just those I’ve mentioned here. Use firm pears for filling the rolls – they add just the right amount of sweetness along with a unique crunch. It takes a little practice to get the hang of working with the spring roll skins, but once you’ve got it down, you’ll be wanting to make fresh rolls all summer long.

several handfuls spinach leaves, stems trimmed
half an English cucumber, cut into long, thin strips
1 large carrot, grated or cut into a fine julienne
1 sweet pepper, cut into long thin strips
2 firm USA pears, such as Anjou, sliced julienne style
several sprigs fresh basil
12 spring roll skins
your favorite peanut sauce or sweet chili sauce for dipping

Prepare all of the vegetables first and place them in small dishes around your work area. Julienne the pears last to delay browning, and place them at your workstation as well. Moisten one spring roll skin by running it under cold water for about 5 seconds on each side. While the skin is still firm, transfer it to your work surface. Do not allow the skin to get too flexible before you place it on your work surface or it will be difficult to work with. Fill the roll by layering several spinach leaves across the center, leaving about one inch of open space on both sides. Top with the sliced vegetables, then the pears, and finally with a few basil leaves. By now the wrapper will be pliable. Starting at the bottom, carefully roll the summer roll up like a burrito, wrapping the ends in about halfway through your roll. Place the completed roll on a platter, and repeat the process until you are out of ingredients. Do not stack the rolls, as they can become quite sticky. Once all of the rolls are completed, slice them on a diagonal with a serrated knife, arrange, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 rolls

It’s What is on the Inside that Counts

more bruised pearsWe’ve all done it – picked up a slightly speckled piece of fruit and put it back in search of a more cosmetically appealing piece. Just like meat and eggs, produce is graded, and most grocery retailers purchase and profit from higher grade produce. According to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, U.S. Number 1 fruit must be “carefully hand-picked, clean, well formed” and free from injury, including bruising. Produce items that don’t make the gradearenow being called “ugly fruit and vegetables” – those that are imperfect and less/not profitable – and often end up being discarded. According to the USDA, food waste is the greatest contributor to landfills, 31% of edible food is wasted, and food waste accounts for an estimated annual loss of $161.6 billion.

Interestingly, recent studies suggest that blemished fruit, the stuff not pretty enough for consumption, may have increased antioxidant content and actually be better for us. Antioxidants, such as polyphenols found in pears and other fruit,1-3 molecules that prevent damage to human cells and may play a protective role against disease and illness,4 act as part of a plant’s immune system fending off pests, fungi, and disease.5-8 When a plant is injured, polyphenol amounts increase in the affected area to protect and heal the injured tissue as seen in studies on apples, strawberries, green beans, raspberries and walnuts: If we eat these affected areas, we may consume more antioxidants than just consuming healthier portions of the plant.6-8 Some organizations are already onboard with collecting and distributing ugly produce, including California-based Imperfect Produce who recently partnered with Whole Foods to increase sales of ugly produce. And this trend isn’t going anywhere – this is the first time the USDA has issued food waste reduction goals.

For fruit, just like humans, perhaps the perfect body doesn’t exist – what matters is what is on the inside. Not sure what to do with that bruised pear? Slice it, bake it, or throw it in a smoothie for a delicious meal or snack!