Come Into My Kitchen

Ann Davis’ Oatmeal cookie recipe contains lots of flavor

The Kansas City Star

How prevalent is childhood obesity? Recent data clearly indicates more overweight pediatric cases than ever and that this is the first generation expected to have a shorter life span than their parents, due to, at least in part, this devastating problem. The combination of children being more sedentary, along with access to processed and fast foods have contributed to this epidemic.

So what can we do to help raise healthier children? The most important thing is to involve the entire family. If parents, along with children, are eating more fruits and vegetables and being more active, everyone benefits.

Also, as a family, you need to set realistic goals for health. That means tracking behaviors, such as physical activity, or exactly what you’ve eaten in a day.

A number of apps or electronic devices can help track these behaviors, but the key is to be mindful of what you’re doing and record it. That can also be done using a simple paper and pencil.

Start small by committing to decrease the time you’re sitting every day — the goal is to have at least 60 minutes of physical activity — or to make sure you’re getting your five servings of fruit and vegetables. The message of “eat less, move more” doesn’t really provide a structure for specific behaviors to change.

Is it important to share meals as a family, as part of a healthier lifestyle? Absolutely! Research shows that children who engage in family meals on a regular basis are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, have better grades and attain the job of their dreams.

Also, limiting the times you eat out and placing a priority on breakfast. Again, choose one behavior to change — such as having a family meal together at least five times a week — and work on that. Once that’s part of your routine, then tackle your next goal of, say, being more physically active during the day.

So many say it’s too hard, with busy schedules, to have family meals regularly. How do you do it? We make the time. It’s not always easy, but it’s a priority. Between our jobs and the boys’ schedules, sometimes we only have 10 minutes to sit down, but we do it.

As Stephen is a firefighter, he’s also a great cook and can create great meals on the fly, using fresh ingredients. He doesn’t need a recipe like I do.

Your kitchen is a powerful place to start to achieve a healthier lifestyle. It is the center of the house, and the meeting place for family and friends. No matter your income or nationality, people need to eat.

The key is to try and harness the power of the kitchen for good, to not only feed people physically, but to also support our children emotionally when they come to the table.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Email her at to nominate a cook.

Ann Davis

Residence: Kansas City

Occupation: Pediatric psychologist and director of the Center for Children’s Healthy Lifestyles & Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center/Children’s Mercy, Kansas City. For help or information on programs, go to:

Family: She and her firefighter husband, Stephen, have two sons, Owen, 9, and Eli, 8.

Special cooking interest: Creating nutritious and delicious dishes.

Thyme-infused Cardamom-Orange Oatmeal Cookies

“When talking about a healthier lifestyle, you can not deny yourself a sweet treat,” Ann Davis says. “That’s why I love this cookie recipe: oatmeal with an explosion of aromatic flavors. These are better for you than packaged cookies and, of course, you can involve your children in the process of making them with you.”

Makes 2 dozen

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 cup unbleached flour

3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

2 teaspoons orange juice

Into a mixing bowl, whisk sugars, thyme and orange zest together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the sugars to become infused for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together flour, rolled oats, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, cream butter with infused sugar mixture. Beat in egg and orange juice until well combined.

Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into creamed butter mixture until a soft dough forms.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.

Per cookie: 67 calories (40 percent from fat), 3 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 44 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.