Cooking for Life

You can never be too educated, especially when it comes to what you’re putting inside of your body. Food can be really confusing, sometimes things that sound like they are good for you actually aren’t and let’s be honest, sometimes you just need to eat pizza. But then how many pieces are too many pieces? And what if when you eat the pizza you decide you want to wash it down with a smoothie? Wouldn’t it just be easier if there was a handbook that told you exactly what to eat, what portion sizes to make and how to make it? Well, I have some good news. One of my favorite Chicago non-profits, Common Threads released a Cooking for Life Handbook.

This 8-week, super budget friendly guide maps out exactly how to shop for ingredients, what to buy and how to make family friendly meals (mini pizzas included). It discusses the importance of the 4 P’s: Portion Size, Preparation, Paint Your Plate with Color and Participation. Common Threads has also teamed up with Art Smith, Gail Simmons, Fabio Viviani, Richard Ingraham, Magnolia Bakery, Frances Largeman-Roth and Chad Brauze to create short cooking videos that challenge you to download the handbook and cook a recipe.

I was lucky enough to chat with a few of these celebrity chefs and get the skinny — no pun intended, on their ingredient intel.


Photo Credit: Common Threads

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN

 As a health expert, what do you think the most important thing is for families to know about nutrition?

 A lot of parents get hung up on what their kids won’t eat. While we all want our kids to eat fruits, vegetables and other healthy things, we sometimes lose focus of the fact that it’s our child’s overall diet that is important—and it’s not a huge deal if a meal here or there isn’t ideal. Play up the things they do like that are good for them and build on that. For example, my son loves hummus and cucumbers.

To get even more plant protein into his diet, I might try serving him hummus sprinkled with chopped almonds. Also, the number one influence on what your kids eat is YOU! They really pay attention to what we put on our own plates, so make sure you’re loading yours up with a variety of healthy stuff. And there is no substitute for family meals—they are important when kids are tiny straight up to when they’re teens.”

What’s the most misunderstood thing about nutrition?

 “People are always looking for that magical new food or product that is suddenly going to change their lives and they spend a lot of money searching for it. What we should really be focusing on is getting more whole, unprocessed foods into our diets and cooking for ourselves more.”

The Beet & Pear Salad you create in your video couldn’t be easier to make! What types of beets do you recommend using and why?

“You can really use any beets, but I do love the color of golden beets. They’re just so sunny and gorgeous!”


Photo Credit: Common Threads

Bobbie Lloyd, Magnolia Bakery’s Chief Baking Officer

What inspired you to share the recipe for Mango Crisp Crumble?

“Families are always looking for healthier ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. The Mango Crisp Crumble is one of the kids’ favorite recipes to cook in Common Threads’ after-school cooking class.”

Is there a way for families to keep their sugar intake low while still enjoying dessert from time to time? 

“Moderation can help sugar intake! Additionally, Common Threads likes to promote desserts that are fruit-forward. These dishes have natural sugars instead of non-refined. This way, you are getting in some of your recommended fruit servings for the day while enjoying them in a dessert!”

Do you recommend using olive oil instead of butter in desserts? 

“I like to avoid using saturated fats, when appropriate. If butter needs to be used, I recommend it to be used in moderation. Everything in moderation!”


Photo Credit: Common Threads

Fabio Viviani, Celebrity Chef & Restaurateur

What makes the Turkey Meatballs in The Cooking for Life Handbook great for family mealtime? 

“They are easy to make, quick to execute and are budget friendly.”

What do you look for when you’re choosing lean meats?

 Flavor, definitely the flavor of the meat. Most flavor comes from fat so a completely lean meat will not have a lot of flavor. Also, where the animal was raised makes a huge difference. For example, a turkey raised organically is going to taste better than a non-organic turkey.”

If you had to eat one ingredient everyday for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?  

“One ingredient? It would be eggs. You can make them in a thousand different ways, they can be a full meal in itself and are delicious.”


Photo Credit: Common Threads

Richard Ingraham, Private Chef to Dwyane Wade

As the Private Chef for Dwyane Wade there must be a lot that goes into meal planning. What ingredients do you find yourself using the most?

“Yes, there’s definitely a lot that goes into the daily planning for his meals. I use a lot of fresh herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, garlic and ginger, just to name a few.”

What ingredients do you always stay away from? 

“When cooking for Mr. Wade I stay away from cilantro, mushrooms, asparagus and okra.”

What do you look for when selecting fish?

“The first thing I do is check the eyes of the fish for clarity.  Then, I check the gills to see if they are bright red. The darker the gills the longer the fish has been out of the water.  Next, I press on the flesh of the fish. If the flesh bounces back quickly into its natural shape it’s fresh. If it doesn’t spring back…then this is an indication that the fish is not fresh.”

Photo Credit: Food Arts

Photo Credit: Food Arts

Chad Brauze, Chef de Cuisine at Park Hyatt New York

What do you look for when you’re choosing leafy greens?

I look for bright green leaves with no wilting. I buy a lot from the farmer’s market. You can always ask them, “what’s tasty today?”. They know their products intimately – you can’t go wrong when the grower is telling you what is good!

What’s one cooking skill that parents and children can master together?

Shopping! I carry my little one around the market. She loves to grab at the bright colors and cool shapes. Though she is new to eating (7 months), I still find that the things she goes crazy to grab for are her favorites. Right now she has a thing for big bunches of carrots and sweet potatoes.

What’s your favorite snack to eat?

I love sunflower seeds, especially the taste of raw ones. I always keep them on hand for snacking.

Common Threads, 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1212, Chicago, IL 60654


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