Friday, May 1, 2020

Pandemic Pizza

Pandemic Pizza

Who of you knows that many tomato-based sauces have a pinch of sugar in the recipe? Why is that?! I believe it is to cut down on the acidity from the tomatoes. What follows is a recipe modified from a good friend of mine - with a pinch of sugar in the sauce, you can leave it out!... So gather your family 'round and modify it still! - It's not so much about pizza (or pandemic..), but about having your loved ones near and dear to you while working on a fun cooking and learning project together. 

This is a simple margherita style pizza: fresh mozzarella and quality homemade marinara sauce on a soft focaccia crust - but mix it up as much as you like! Simple, but quality ingredients. Together with your family, divide and conquer tasks. Someone can measure the ingredients into smaller bowls.. someone else can slice tomatoes and gently cut fresh mozzarella into slices. 

The Sauce

Suggestion: create this sauce a day in advance to let the flavors develop... You can of course use pizza sauce from the store.

You will want to use extra virgin olive oil in the sauce and for the focaccia crust; as well as fresh garlic and basil.

Use a large saucepan to heat 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Add 3 peeled garlic cloves, cut in half and cook until golden brown for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add a 35 ounce can of whole Italian tomatoes and crush with the back of a spoon. Season with salt, fresh ground pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Add a couple of fresh basil sprigs and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the sauce has thickened and reduced (about 30 min), then discard the basil sprigs and garlic halves. 

Let this quality marinara sauce wait in anticipation for your pizza making the next day!

The next day:

Pandemic Pizza


1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon (1 package) rapid rise yeast

1 cup of yesterday's marina
Fresh tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella: 4-5 pieces or about 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
Fresh basil - don't have it? Grow it (*see epilogue).

Use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to liberally grease a metal baking pan, 13x9 rectangle or 15" round pizza pan. Then load up the bowl of your standing mixer - and if you don't have one, a regular large mixing bowl - you can take turns mixing - with the warm water, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and the salt, flour, and yeast. Beat on medium for about 1 minute until just combined, or use your own elbow grease, taking turns, until just blended. Scoop this batter out into your oiled pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature for 1 hour. 

During this hour head on over to BuzzFeed presents: The History of Pizza, as Told by Pizza

Pop quiz: 

1) How did the "Margherita" Pizza get its name? 

2) How did pizza come to America?

3) How did tomatoes make it over to Italy? (They come from America.) Trick question. Not told in the BuzzFeed video. Let's see who can find the answer the fastest. Hop on devices. Whoever gets to the answer the fastest gets the first pizza slice!

And if you still have time: 

Find out more about the origins of pizza with a virtual tour of Naples 
Visit Venice. (Not having to do with the origin of pizza, but just a really incredibly beautiful city.)

Ok, enough stalling... After an hour left to rise the dough will be ready for poking. Poke it all over with your fingers and then drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to another baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread your marinara sauce over it using the back of a mixing spoon, add sliced fresh mozzarella (or shredded mozzarella), fresh sliced tomatoes, break up the fresh basil and scatter over the top. Return to the over for another 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. Slice and serve first to the winner of Question #3 of the pop quiz. A good side for this meal is a tossed green salad and fresh fruit for dessert. 

During this Pandemic Pizza meal you can review your virtual trips to Italy and brush up on your Italian:

Buon appetito = enjoy your food 
Molto bene = very good
Deliziosa = delicious
Per favore = please
Grazie = thank you
Prego = you're welcome

Buon giorno = good morning
Buona sera = good evening
Buona notta = good night

Ti amo = I love you

If you still have time for discussion plan your next food trip as a family. What food will you make? What are it's origins? What can you learn from cooking together as a family and finding out new things from the world? 

Stay safe and healthy ~ 

Eat well and be well. Buon appetito! 

Written by Christopher Libby

Founder/CEO Healthy Organic Kids

*Epilogue project: go to your local home improvement store; hit the gardening section. Plant some tomato seedlings in pots your backyard and some basil plants either indoors or also in your backyard. Let these grow and be ready for another round of homemade pizza night - this time pandemic-less pizza! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How to Stay Healthy (and Happy) During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

This is definitely not a "sweet" topic, but nonetheless important, if not crucial during this current challenge being faced by the world. How do we stay healthy, albeit at home, during a pandemic?

News and social media are flooded with scary statistics, political and business related stories about how the pandemic is affecting the world. But concerns of a day-to-day basis, with a growing number of states issuing lockdown orders banning all non-essential travel and people self-quarantining at home, are how to stay healthy (and happy) during such uncertain times - particularly families with children at home needing to continue life and learning as usual, or unusual.. Thankfully communications technology allows us to stay in touch with classrooms and loved-ones, and many people are able to work remotely from home. Nevertheless it can definitely be challenging to live and maintain healthy habits under lockdown circumstances. There are beneficial ways of dealing with the current situation and not so beneficial ways of dealing...

According to a recent interview at, many of us are eating (you obviously don't need a CNN account to tell you about your own habits if you in the grazer category). As stated in the interview (and common sense) it can be challenging to be at home for most, if not all, day and be outside of one's normal routines. While gyms have closed and people have become very innovative with working out at home and/or taking up running or power walking outside, it nonetheless can become very easy to get into the habit of snacking or stress eating - or screen watching - with not a lot else to do. Here is a great article from the American Society for Nutrition with some common sense ideas and helpful ways to maintain healthy eating and physical activities during this time.

In addition to focusing on good nutrition and ways to keep active and engaging your mind here are some project ideas to do with your kids:

Start an Indoor Container Garden

Upcycle your recyclables into containers to start seedlings in your home. This is a great way to talk about gardening, plant life-cycle, reusing containers and helping the environment - upcycling, with your child. Plant herbs that will be used for later cooking projects with your child, or seed vegetables and flowers to plant outdoors when the weather gets warmer. It is a great way to get dirty and bring nature indoors while understanding the importance of sunlight for plant growth - as well as for yourself: sunlight is key in the creation of vitamin D in humans, a mood enhancing vitamin, which also boosts our immune system. 

Some fast growing seeds with high impact are peas, beans, wheatgrass, and sunflowers.

Create a Gratitude Board

-A take on a Vision Board - a visual tool for planning one's goals/dreams. Use a poster board or bulletin board to glue/pin images of things you and your child are grateful for. Write lists, draw things, cut or print out pictures from magazines or online, print out pictures of family members, pets, favorite places and activities.. Place it in a prominent location and add to it daily. Make it a conversation piece. Ask your child questions about what s/he loves and feels grateful for.. Practicing gratitude is a proven way to combat stress, redirect negative thinking, and connect people with each other.


Engage in conversation. There is definitely an art to asking open-ended questions

Encourage your child to talk about what is happening right now. Here is a great resource from National Geographic for parents to help you to talk to your kids about Coronavirus and staying healthy together, additionally this article. Talking about the virus will help to assuage fears about the pandemic, and encouraging your child to talk about her/his feelings will aid in reducing anxiety, which is definitely common during times of crises.

These are challenging times for us all. Focusing on various ways to connect with our kids and loved ones is a wonderful way to stay mentally healthy during this period in time. Now is the time for innovation and testing the boundaries of our own resourcefulness. Lastly, I leave you with information provided by Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City, who works in the ICU seeing incoming patients infected with the COVID-19 virus. He offers some great advice based on his own experiences on how to protect yourself and your family. 

Stay safe and healthy ~ Eat well and be well!

Written by Christopher Libby

Founder/CEO Healthy Organic Kids

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sugar and Spring Cleaning!

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH!!! (Shakespeare quote, can't remember which play..) Macbeth? Oh.. Julius Caesar ... hinting of an ultimate act of sabotage to occur in the play around mid March (the 15th to be exact).

Anyways. March is chock full of holidays, much more festive than an act of treason resulting in the fateful demise of Julius Caesar...

Some commonly known holidays in March:

St. Patrick's Day (17th)
1st Day of Spring, Spring Equinox (19th)
Earth Day (20th)

National Read Across America Day (2nd)
International Women's Day (8th)
Daylight Savings begins (8th)

Spring Break! (not a national holiday - and schools and universities have a broad range of schedules for their spring breaks, spanning from late February to mid-April... the peak period for Spring Break is definitely March)

One more fun fact!

March is also National Celery Month!

Why do I know that?? Well the internet...

Working to get to the point here... What IS the point?! Good point. Inside of March is the first official day of Spring. And spring denotes the notion of spring cleaning. And when it comes to sugar... Here are some interesting facts about sugar and the new year 2020:

Sugar trends for the new year/decade don't look good for sugar: since the start of the new year the FDA has required all large food manufacturers to include a discrepancy in their labelling of "Added Sugars" - vs natural sugars. Before this year food ingredient labels were not required to decipher between naturally occurring sugar in food and added sugars. Now consumers will be able to see just how much processed sugar is being added to their packaged and prepared food.

Increased awareness of health issues arising from excess of processed sugar in our diets is cause for concern for people as we strive to live longer, healthier lives. With clear transparency about how much processed sugar is in our food we have more ability to make healthy choices - even with so-called "gray area" foods such as salad dressings, sauces, cereals, and certain snack foods labelled as "healthy," low-fat," and "light."

The transparency created by mandated reporting of added processed sugar to foods coupled with greater knowledge about the negative effects on overall health of a diet high in processed sugar is predicted to cause the processed food industry to make healthy changes in its ingredients - eventually a cleaning out of unnecessary sugars - a spring cleaning, if you will. How will this affect families and kids? You will still have the ability, if not the desire, to splurge on occasion with sugary treats. But with knowledge being power you will have the ability to make healthier choices - on a daily basis, with the increased awareness into just how much sugar you may be consuming daily - and with that ability to go for the treats that treat you right.

I personally challenge you to celebrate the Month of Celery with you family. Celery, an important ingredient in many sauces, stews, and hearty soups - is also a crunchy snack that many kids love and appreciate with low fat ranch dip, humus, or peanut butter. You probably already know that classic recipe: Ants on a Log: celery, peanut butter, "ants" (raisons), but do you also know its wintery version: Ants on a Snowy Log: using cream cheese in the place of peanut butter. Also try with "golden ants." Crunchy, creamy, chewy, and naturally sweet (if you use sugar free peanut butter)!

One last note: March is also National Nutrition Month. Practice good nutrition now and all year for yourself and your family. There are more and more ways of doing so as the year opens up into spring and the coming summer... Food trends are on the rise fo this year with healthy choice-making and hopefully will continue for the new decade and beyond. Families that eat together stay together. And families that eat healthy have longer to stay and play together.

Written by Christopher Libby

Founder/CEO Healthy Organic Kids

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Chocolate-less Love for Valentines

Ah February! The Month of Love! What does Valentine's Day make us think of? Yes... chocolate. And why is chocolate so alluring.. so addictive..? Its dark creamy smooth texture, its scent.. its various forms and fittings into so many foods and celebrations of our lives.. Why does chocolate mean "I love you" when presented to a lover, friend, or family member...?

Chocolate eating is associated with the release of dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter in the brain, as are other tasty foods, particularly those laden with fat and sugar. The consumption of chocolate has also been linked to the release of enkephalin, an endorphin-like substance in the brain, also contributing to a "high."

We are also aware of the positive benefits of eating chocolate. In an article from Healthline, various studies have proven that dark chocolate has many positive health effects (in addition to the release of feel-good neurotransmitters and endorphin-like substances). It contains a healthy dose of iron, magnesium, and other essential minerals that the body needs. It is filled with antioxidants - more than blueberries and acai berries... It can improve brain function with improved blood flow to the brain. It is good for the heart, improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, increases "good" cholesterol while lowering "bad" cholesterol. And it may also protect your skin from the sun. So we should be living on a diet rich in chocolate, right?! Wrong! - This is dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content that we are talking about - that means reduce sugar and fat infused into typical "milk chocolate," and consume in small doses. 

And with the increases in brain functioning and healthy minerals we would think it would be great for our kids to consume daily... but do kids like dark or bittersweet chocolate? Some do, but we would agree that most prefer the more common forms of over the counter grocery store chocolate in its various forms: M&Ms, Hershey bars, Kit Kats, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, to name just a few.. And these candies are high in emulsifiers, sugars, and additives - actually containing very low amounts of pure cocoa per the amount calories provided in an average 230 calorie unit of the candy.

So how about we focus on feel good ways to celebrate with our kids or ourselves that don't involve chocolate (gasp!), large amounts of sugar, or even food in general..?

Here are my personal 4 Things You Should Do Every Day to Take Care of Your Heart:

1. Laugh Hard Every Day

Interestingly enough there are similarities to eating dark chocolate and laughing. Both release feel good neurotransmitters in the brain; laughter also releases endorphins. Laughter is good for the heart, but while eating chocolate adds calories, laughter burns calories. So maybe it's good to have a dose of both.. Laughter is also socially connective, it's contagious and forms social bonds. It is a central part of relationships. Countless people, including medical practitioners truly believe that Laughter is the Best of Medicine. Laugh with your child every day. Life is good. This is why this is #1 on my list.

2. Think About Something Important To Be the Best Version of Yourself

First of all, define what is important to you. Is it spending time in nature, with friends and family, being the best parent you can be, exercising, doing acts of service, engaging in learning..? What do you feel makes you the best version of yourself? Spend some time thinking about it and write down your thoughts. Take the time to explore your options. Talk to people about them. Figure out your goals and do them. And that is the hard part - how to keep on track with your goals, how to remain accountable to yourself and keep moving forward to shape yourself to be the best version of yourself.. January is over, new year's (new decade) resolutions are over.. My suggestion is to connect with others, through your goals. If it's exercising, doing acts of service, or learning something new, find others who are engaged in the same or similar things. Join a class, sign up to volunteer in a group project, seek out a meeting forum based upon your goals. Talk to people about your goals. You may be surprised at how many people are thinking of doing the same thing as you and how inspiring it is to talk about these things with friends and join a group. In the process of becoming the best version of yourself you may just find yourself with new friends, not to mention new and exciting experiences. Speak with your child about goal setting and share with her/him about your journey of becoming the best version of yourself.

3. Be Kind to Somebody

I think I've already alluded to this in my last suggestion - as considering doing acts of service, which could be as big as choosing to work in a helping profession to becoming a full time volunteer. It can also mean simply holding the door open for someone - or exchanging a smile with a passerby on the street, asking how your grocery clerk's day is going, thanking someone for something they did a while ago... Completing acts of kindness makes us feel good - so now there's chocolate, laughter, accomplishing goals, and now acts of kindness - which can help us to live longer - creating physiological effects such as boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, and yes, releasing those feel-good neurotransmitters. Perhaps one of the best effects of acts of kindness towards others is that it's a connective action - kindness connects people. Being positively connected with others has countless benefits for our hearts.

4. Cry

I believe that the act of crying is good for our hearts because it allows us to love ourselves. It also relieves stress, gives us a lift - after moments or days of feeling down, troubled, and is another thing that releases endorphins and also oxytocin, a hormone that is released during touch and contributes to feelings of well-being - and love. Crying can be connective - many people want to connect with and support someone around them who is in tears. A crying child is often asking to be loved through the act of shedding tears. Comforting a crying child, other family member, or even a stranger releases oxytocin in both parties and connects the two people.

And here are a couple more (mostly) non-chocolate ways to celebrate Valentines with your kid:

Since many schools have banned the sharing of sugary treats during typically candy laden holidays, here are some great ideas for handmade valentine's to make with your child on Pinterest

If you and your child love making treats in the kitchen together, here are some heart smart treat ideas to celebrate the month of Love together.

Written by Christopher Libby

Founder/CEO Healthy Organic Kids

Friday, January 10, 2020

How Sugar Feeds Addiction - Even in Children

Mmmm..........Sugar! Why is it so good?! Humans are designed to love the taste of sugar - as are many other animals (including many species of insects). From the beginning of time up to present day, this has been the fastest way to transform calories into energy - by consuming sweet foods in the form of fruits - and honey (as well as a way to store food - bees), if the humanoid was able to find it! And since the Industrial Revolution - white sugar!

But what about the effect on our brains? Consumption of sugar stimulates the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, both "feel good" neurotransmitters which can leave us feeling calm, relaxed, even "high." And as we all know large doses of sugar can create a sugar rush making us feel a surge of energy, physical and even mental -- followed by an inevitable crash...

Sugar is added to processed foods to increase their palatability, resulting in an addictive quality to many snack foods, sugary cereals, and obviously sweet desserts. Many foods that do not taste noticeably sweet have added sugar, such as whole grain bread, spaghetti sauce, crackers, and other savory snack foods. Why is that? While these foods may not taste noticeably sweet the added sugar increases their flavor nonetheless as well as their "addictive" qualities. Ever wonder why it's hard to stop eating junk food? Food scientists diligently study the perfect balance of sweet to salty, crunchy to soft and fluffy... to create the perfect storm of goodness which will have us reaching for more. Obvious why it is hard to stop eating candy and other sweet things... And a lot of candy and some snack foods are not actually high in fat and calories, but they definitely can be hard to stop eating for their addictive nature -- even snacks which are marketed as being "low cal," "nonfat," and "light."

Most of us by now are well aware of "healthy choices." Reduce sugar, white carbs, and fat. Increase fiber, veggies, and lean protein. "Mediterranean diet," "Japanese diet," and eat "junk food in moderation..."
The question is how do we get our kids to follow suit?? They are glued to their screens.. talk about addiction.. And junk food and sweets are equally created to be addictive. How can they stand a chance against the science behind junk food creation? How can we help our children lead healthy lives, beginning with healthy food choices?

One of the main things we can do - is to make healthy food choices ourselves. We know that our kids learn by observing what we do and by the examples we set. In addition to setting a healthy example of how to eat is to make sure our kids have plenty of healthy food choices around them. While skipping out on fast food restaurants may be challenging at first if they are accustomed to them, there are countless places that offer healthy food choices on the menu for kids and adults alike. Stock fridge and pantry shelves with bright and colorful fruit and produce as well as interesting pasta shapes and legumes. Include your kids in the meal prep and grocery shopping. Make it a family event. Making healthy choices, healthy changes, is an opportunity for bonding and for creating family traditions which will endure beyond the quick fix of a sugar "high."

If you are interested in finding out more about the effect of sugar on kids check out the following articles:  

Written by Christopher Libby

Founder/CEO Healthy Organic Kids

Pandemic Pizza

Pandemic Pizza Who of you knows that many tomato-based sauces have a pinch of sugar in the recipe? Why is that?! I believe it...