Monday, January 30, 2012

Cooking with rice: an affordable and healthy side dish! #BensBeginners

As a mom of a 10 year old who is interested in helping with meal preparation, I was really excited to hear about Uncle Ben's 'Ben's Beginners' contest, where cooking and filming you and your child making a rice-based dish making healthy choices, and then uploading that video can net you $20,000 in cash, an appearance on Rachael Ray, and, perhaps more importantly, $50,000 to your school for a cafeteria makeover.  Having seen our school's cafeteria, I should recommend that everyone in our town enter this contest!  My little 10 year old ham would love to mug for the camera and cook a yummy dish for the family dinner and the chance to win is very enticing!

As someone with a wheat allergy, we eat a fair amount of rice in our house, often using it as a base for meals like chili (we pour the chili over the rice), rice with veggies with gravy on top (good with beef or chicken sliced up and matching gravy), or even just cook rice in chicken or beef broth as a quick and easy side dish. My favorite is chicken, mixed veggies (broccoli, water chestnuts, and carrots) with chicken gravy poured over top.  This can easily be made as a casserole too with a bit of bread crumbs (gluten free ones for me) sprinkled on top.  Quick, easy, and healthy!  Rice is also very affordable, particularly nice as the cost of virtually everything at the grocery store has gone up.  If meat is super expensive, cut back on that and fill your meal with more rice.

As I see more and more children that are pudgy, I worry about my own kids.  I strive to make dinner a healthy meal for them, hopefully providing more of the vital nutrients and minerals that they may have missed at a previous meal.  And because my two kids can be a bit picky about veggies, I tend to choose vegetables that they love because I know they'll eat them.  Here are some of my tips for cooking healthy meals with kids.

1.  Know what's healthy yourself!  This may sound like a no brainer, but we parents should be able to help point out healthier choices to our kids.  I stopped cooking my rice with butter and now substitute just a small dash of olive oil in the water when I put it on to boil.  The Mayo Clinic explains why olive oil is better than butter in this article.  If your kids see you choosing healthier ways to cook, they will learn from that, particularly when you explain your healthier choice to them.

2.  Offer a variety of vegetables.  My son won't eat broccoli, but he will eat carrots.  We allow him to have just carrots, even if the medley has other vegetables in there that he won't eat.  We still offer him the variety because tastes do change as you get older, but we want him to feel that he gets a choice.  If I am making a dish, I'll name off some vegetables and let the kids choose which ones they want included in the meal. 

3.  Fried foods are the exception, not the rule.   My kids love things like nuggets and french fries and I swear they could eat them every day.  However, I don't heat up the Fry Daddy very often, though I know they want their food to taste like McDonald's.  The reality is that fried foods aren't a healthy way to cook.  Baking foods that are typically fried is a healthier choice.  It's OK to say no to an unhealthy way of cooking.

4.  Read labels and buy lower sodium vegetables.  While I don't normally buy vegetables in a can, except for a sweet corn variety that I love, I do look for labels and try to buy lower sodium canned vegetables.  I would rather add my own salt, thank you very much!  And since the kids are with me when I shop a lot of the times, I ask them to pick out the lower-sodium foods and put them in the cart.  I hope that this action reinforces the need to choose less processed foods and that when they are off on their own years from now that I have taught them to make a healthier choice.  These vegetables make it on to their dinner plate and unnecessary salt intake can lead to health problems down the road.

5.  Which is a healthier choice?  This is a question that I ask my kids a lot, particularly when they bring a snack to me and ask me if they can have it.  I am not afraid to send them back and make them choose a healthier snack that I will say yes to!  I don't want to think of myself as a nagging mom, but sometimes kids just need to hear that their choices aren't healthy, or aren't as healthy as they could be.  I might say, "That's a lot of butter you've got there, maybe half would be better".  If I'm cooking with my daughter, I will explain why I choose oil over butter, or rice instead of noodles, or why you can't eat cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Kids want to know why you do certain things and every moment in the kitchen making dinner with them is a teachable moment to help them learn how to eat and cook healthy.

Ben's Beginners --- Enter your video to win $20,000, 
a Rachael Ray appearance, and a $50,000 cafeteria makeover for your child's school.

Do you have a child between the ages of 5-12?  Make a video of them cooking a rice dish with you and enter it to win the Ben's Beginner's contest.  You can find out more about this contest and enter to win by Liking them on Facebook.  Browse the Official Rules to make sure you meet the requirements.

Ben's Beginner's contest ends 2/26 at 11:59 PM, so you have about a month to get your 2-3 minute video uploaded and entered to win.  What type of rice dish will you make with your child?  Leave me a comment letting me know (I'm always looking for inspiration!) and be sure to check out some recipe ideas if you're looking for a dish to complete with your child for the contest.  Good luck, and if you enter, be sure to come back and comment so we can all go check out your video.

About Uncle Ben’s
Uncle Ben’s®, the number one rice brand in America, is proud to offer a wide range of rice dishes with flavors and textures that will help bring more to your meals, both for convenient side dishes and savory main courses. Uncle Ben’s® offers a wide variety of white, whole grain brown, and flavored rices in cook times ranging from 30 minutes to 90 seconds, as well as rice for food service operations such as restaurants, schools and hospitals. The first mass-produced parboiled rice, Uncle Ben’s® is the top-selling branded rice in the United States and products can be found in more than 100 countries worldwide. Uncle Ben’s® Brand products are manufactured by Mars Food NA, part of Mars, Incorporated. For more information, visit

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Check out recipe ideas from Uncle Ben’s.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Uncle Ben’s blogging program, for 8,000 My SocialMoms Rewards Points. For more information on how you can participate, click here.
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