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Cookbook Review: "The Eat-Clean Diet for Family and Kids" by Tosca Reno

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:05am
This excellent book was recently sent to me to review, which I was delighted to do. Tosca Reno is an inspiration to women everywhere; not only is she both a mother and a fitness model, but she also found her way after losing a significant amount of weight to be healthier and she writes a column in Oxygen magazine. On top of this, she has written several books to help people learn about nutrition and benefit from eating clean, describing her personal experiences to encourage readers of their abilities to adopt a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

The word "diet" always makes me a little suspicious, but Tosca recognizes the word diet as not necessarily associated with fads; she uses it the way that the word "diet" should be used: simply a way of eating (now, is there anything scary about that?). She emphasizes that eating clean is a way to treat your body the best way possible, so we're not looking at hunger pains or moodiness or harmful substances, which is what most fad diets seem to unfortunately promote. No: the Eat-Clean diet is primarily concerned with our greater health and well-being and focuses on really enjoying the food that we eat.

This book is of particular interest to me, because although I have no children, I do have the same problem from time to time of trying to encourage my family and friends to eat a little healthier (or at least to accept that when I'm eating with them, I'm going to want to eat healthier!). It is incredibly difficult to get kids to eat healthy foods when they adamantly refuse, so Tosca offers all sorts of useful tidbits of information and ideas to slowly ease your children into eating healthy and adopting it as a lifestyle. She also reminds the reader that it will take a while- about 10 tries- for a child to switch their habits and learn to like something, so you're going to have to be patient. But, if you've got small children in the first place, I imagine that you're already quite patient!

When this book was first sent to me, it was an unfinished copy. The editor in me was completely fascinated and excited by seeing a book in the middle of its production! My dream is to be in a room surrounded by incomplete health books for me to read and edit at my leisure, so as you can imagine I had fun with looking through this book. However, unfortunately the binding was not too good and about 1/3 of the pages fell out! But I believe that this is due to it being an unfinished copy rather than general poor manufacturing. I will be receiving the completed copy soon and am very much looking forward to it (one of the missing parts in the unfinished copy is the nutrition information for each recipe).

The book itself is lovely to look at, with lots of colour photographs and reader testimonials dispersed throughout. There are cute little notes every few pages, with sayings like "Mushrooms are funny looking vegetables":

Photos of really adorable children adorn the pages alongside the basic nutrition information that is offered. There is a chapter discussing the the nutrition situation at schools, a chapter about how to eat healthy at no great expense, grocery lists and nutrition ideas for special occasions, and suggestions on how to get the whole family involved in eating clean. Tosca also compares fast food to clean food and demonstrates the dramatic difference between the two. One of my favourite parts about this book is the comparison between breakfast cereals and chocolate bars; it is shocking to realize that many cereals out there are just as bad as a lot of candy bars circulating in the market. Even for someone like me, who loves to read nutrition labels, I hadn't thought about comparing candy to cereal. It's appalling to think of the number of parents who feed their children those kinds of cereals every single morning. No wonder children are getting diabetes and other harmful conditions and diseases (which Tosca also discusses at length).

There is a recipe section at the back of the book, which includes beautifully presented photos of the finished dish, nutrition information per serving, as well as helpful tips and a couple of vegetarian variations.

The first recipe from this book that I tried was the Ginger Spice Cookies, which everyone enjoyed immensely! These are quite cake-like with just the right amounts of molasses and spices, and the batter was also incredibly tasty (an important feature to have for a good cookie!). It only calls for 1/4 cup of fat (I used butter rather than margarine) and 1/2 cup of sugar (I reduced this amount to 1/3 cup and found that it still made for a delicious cookie, although if it had the 1/2 cup it would have a lovely amount of sweetness), so it is a very healthy cookie. The method of dropping them onto the baking sheet is very child-friendly- just take a large spoonful and slap it down! I like a non-fussy cookie like this.

I also tried the PB & J All Cleaned Up, which is the genius idea of having bread slathered with all-natural peanut butter and sliced fresh strawberries atop instead of jam. It's the simplest alteration to make on a great sandwich, yet for some reason this idea never occurred to me. I enjoyed it and I think it would also be good to just take those strawberries and mash them with a fork to get a more jam-like consistency, if desired. But I like the presentation of the sliced strawberries! Such a basic breakfast but it looks beautiful.

The Omelet Roll Up was yummy too (but not all of my eggs fit inside my little tortilla ):

All in all, these are fairly common, basic recipes that can be put together in a snap and which I think most children would enjoy without noticing them to be "health foods": sloppy joes, pizza, granola bars, burgers, chicken fingers, fish sticks and cupcakes are among these family staples. There are also recipes for homemade ketchup, apple butter, and yogurt cheese, which most cookbooks do not offer. The information that she provides is fundamental and for the average person who won't already know a great deal regarding nutrition, but it is all essential knowledge. Tosca has it all figured out when it comes to feeding children and I know that if I had kids I would definitely be putting this book to good use . If you have a tough time with feeding your kids or are looking for a nice starter health book for your family, this would be a great addition to the shelf!

*Update: It was my best friend Brian's birthday the other day so I made him the Birthday Cupcakes. These cupcakes call for no fats - instead, theres cooked pureed carrots! I had a little trouble with mixing the rest of the ingredients with the beaten egg whites, because I'd never dealt with beaten egg whites in baking before, and consequently over mixed them a little. This resulted in rather small cupcakes but once I frosted them (a mixture of yogurt cheese, vanilla, and sugar), you couldn't even tell. They were delightfully sweet and everyone who tried them asked me if there was orange in them. Somehow, you can't taste the carrots at all and instead they lend an orange flavour to the cupcakes. Its a very pleasant taste and was a successful venture overall!
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