UPDATED: HISD Students Are Cooking Up Change

Courtesy of Healthy Schools Campaign and HISD
Winning students from last year's Cooking Up Change competition
"Cooking up Change" is a competition for high school culinary students that challenges them to create school menu items that are healthy, compliant with USDA guidelines and within a budget of a mere $1.40 per meal. It's the same kind of budget constraint that food services programs in public schools face every day.

Updated 4/1/2015, 1:17 p.m.: A big "congratulations" goes out to Westside High School Students Jose Acosta, Jalien Noel and Alejandra Olivares (see photo below). They won the competition with their Cajun Chicken Drumstick with Black Bean Hoppin' John, Texas Cabbage and Greens and a Pineapple Dessert.

Photo courtesy of HISD
Westside High School students won the 2015 Cooking Up Change competition

The Houston competition is this Saturday, March 28, and seven teams from four Houston Independent School District campuses are participating. This year, the teams hail from Barbara Jordan, Davis, Milby and Westside high schools.

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6 Tips for a Parent Making Separate Meals for Everyone

Categories: Kids

Jef With One F
Spinach quiche keeps well for days and is a fun, easy dish kids can help you make
Maybe you're one of those people that makes the family dinner and says, "This is what we're having. If you don't like it, you don't eat." I admire that sort of fortitude, but I am paying a penance form being a picky pain in the ass as a child. Now I prepare three dinners every night. One is for me, one is for my wife, and one is for our five-year-old. It sounds like a chore, and it is, but with a little forethought and a few tips you can get used to maneuvering among several different dinners at once.

Rice Cookers
Rice cookers, and for those of you that like to get up early, crock pots, are a godsend to someone trying desperately to get several different meals going at once. You can make a dozen or more dishes entirely within a rice cooker, including sausage and rice, chicken and rice, and... well, you get the idea. The point is that it is a small device that can be shunted off to the side and forgotten while you deal with other things. That's part of the magic of multiple meal prep; finding shortcuts not for time, but for attention.

Stagger Leftovers
When it comes to my own fare I like to stick with things that I can make and eat for several days. Pots of turkey chili, chicken and potato combos, or even just broiled burgers and reheated sweet potato fries. You sacrifice one day of extra effort for three days of leisure where you just pop one entrée in the microwave and you're good to go. It can cut your workload by a third and keep husbanding that precious attention span. If you're carefully in how you plan your days, you might end up only actually cooking one dinner a night through staggering leftovers.

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DEFCON Dining: Whole-Wheat Pancakes are for the Birds at Buffalo Grille

Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a whole-wheat pancake to be a good decision.
Dining out with children is an exercise in situational awareness. Each experience is unique, with different variables leading to different possible outcomes, DEFCON-like in their escalating threat levels. Keen observation, forward planning and prior experience are critical in determining the proper strategy. Here at DEFCON Dining, we do the grunt work for you. It ain't always pretty.

Somehow, we became The Pancake Aunt and Uncle. I blame my wife, mostly.

It started innocently enough. We'd been pressed into emergency service to watch our soon-to-be four-year-old nephew one morning after dropping ours off at school. We hadn't eaten. He had. He's a picky eater at the best of times, and my wife really just wanted to get some breakfast. She baited him with pancakes. He took the bait. Since then, it seems that pancakes somehow find their way onto the itinerary every time we watch him. He doesn't seem to mind.

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Local Couple Seeks to Improve School Lunches With Wholesome Tummies Franchise

Categories: Health, Kids

Photos courtesy of Wholesome Tummies
Michael Alba and his wife, Donna, launched Wholesome Tummies in Houston in August 2013.
One of the most pressing issues concerning childhood obesity deals specifically with the lunches and snacks that are served to students in schools. For years, many people have fought to force schools to serve healthier lunches. In 2010, British chef Jamie Oliver began his "Food Revolution" in America, hoping to improve school lunches and educate children and parents about healthier diets. Although he faced obstacles in public schools when he attempted to bring in fresh foods, eliminate sugary chocolate and strawberry milk, and prove fresh food tastes better than highly processed and fried food, he sparked great conversation and debate about juvenile health and nutrition.

Houston has been deemed "the fattest city in America" by Men's Fitness, and that's nothing to joke about, because the problem doesn't begin and end with adults; it affects children of this generation and generations to come, as well.

This is where Michael Alba and his family come into play. In August 2013, Alba, along with his wife, daughter and sons, began operating Wholesome Tummies, a national franchise that provides healthy lunches to schools.

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Top Five Reasons Kids' Cooking Shows Are Awesome

Photo from MasterChef Junior Facebook
These kids know how to cook; let them inspire your children to get in the kitchen.
When I was a little kid, I never wanted to go into the kitchen and help my mom make dinner. Sure, I would do the dishes and clean up the kitchen afterward, but there was no way I was going to stop watching what my father calls "squeaky voice television" to chop vegetables. I saw it as work, not pleasure.

It wasn't until I finally stepped into the kitchen and helped my mom make dinner that I realized just how much fun cooking can actually be.

If you have children and want them to learn how to cook but can't get them interested, turn on the recently aired MasterChef Junior show on FOX, where kids ages 8-13 are showing off their cooking skills in challenges similar to the original adult format.

Here are five reasons why kids' cooking shows rock and why children need to watch them.

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Ten Easy and Healthy Before-School Meals

Photo by grongar
Cinnamon, raisins, butter and bread; that's all you need to make this breakfast.
The first meal of the day for kids is the most important meal of the day, but it is hard to whip together a nutritious breakfast for your kids when they are running out the door to catch the bus or drive to school. So you resort to just cereal, a granola bar, something from the drive-through or nothing at all.

But making a nutritious breakfast that will jump-start your child's day and send him or her out the door feeling full, energized and ready for a day at school is not as hard as it seems. Sometimes the most simple meals are the best ones. Here are ten easy and nutritious breakfast recipes you can make the night before or the next morning for your kids. They are full of flavor, simple to make and better than anything you'll get from a drive-through.

10. Cinnamon Toast

Making this sweet toast is so simple and uses only three or four ingredients. Toast two slices of whole wheat bread, then once the bread is hot and toasted, spread each slice with about two teaspoons of butter and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar (or Splenda) on top. Add a few raisins to the bread, or slices of banana to incorporate a healthy fruit. Your kids can easily eat this on the go or quickly at the kitchen table. Serve with a glass of milk for extra nutrients.

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10 Back-To-School Lunchbox Recipes

Photo by USDAgov
What is your kid going to eat for lunch this year?
Last week we gave you ten back-to-school snack ideas to serve your hungry kids when they get home from school. This week, we are helping you pack a healthy and filling school lunch with ten recipe ideas.

School lunches typically are boring, mundane and not as nutritious as they can be. However, you can easily transform a plain PB&J sandwich or salad into something tasty and nutritious that will give your kids the energy they need to finish the school day. We all know that transitioning back to school after a fun summer can be draining, so pack your kids a lunch that will get them through to the 3 o'clock bell.

Kids need to eat at least the recommended daily amount of nutrients, so these lunchbox ideas include a lot of fruits, vegetables, healthy starches, fiber and protein, and don't include a lot of unhealthy fats, sugars, simple carbohydrates or sodium.

Here are ten recipe ideas your kids are sure to love. Granted that some of them will require a sprint to the microwave -- if one is available -- but that fosters a streak of healthy competition in the cafeteria.

10. Sandwich Stuffed Pita

Rather than placing the usual meat-cheese-lettuce combo between two slices of white bread, stuff your kid's favorite sandwich ingredients into a pita half. Opt for the high-fiber and whole-wheat pitas to ensure your child gets a more complex carbohydrate. Make a regular turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato stuffed pita for the plain, picky eater, and include hummus, guacamole or pesto for the more adventurous eater. You can certainly stuff that pita with a chicken salad or tuna salad as well.

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Gina's Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria Makes Urbanspoon's Most Popular Family-Friendly Restaurants List

Photo courtesy of Gina's Italian Kitchen
Gina's Italian Kitchen represents Houston on Urbanspoon's "Most Popular Family-Friendly Restaurants" List.
Summer has started for most kids in Houston, which means more time spent with family, especially when it comes to eating out.

Urbanspoon released its list of "Most Popular Family-Friendly Restaurants" and guess what? One Houston location made the list. Gina's Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria is one of 100 restaurants throughout the country featured on the list of family-friendly restaurants selected from the most positive reviews from professional food critics, Urbanspoon reviews and bloggers.

Seven other Texas restaurants made the list as well, just four entries behind Florida which had the most.

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Summer Entertaining: Movie Night & DIY Popcorn Bar

Photo by Rosana Prada
Summer entertaining doesn't have to be limited to the grill. Escape the heat with a movie marathon complete with a DIY Popcorn Bar.

All you'll need is freshly popped corn, paper bags or popcorn buckets, and a few fun toppings. Use chalkboards or cardboard to make your own signs, and let guests top as they please.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

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Where to Brunch on Easter Sunday 2013

Photo by Jon Mountjoy
From holiday classics like the Easter bunny and roast leg of lamb to Mexican-style brunch buffets and live bands, here's where to eat this Easter:

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