Come Into My Kitchen

KC mom and nutritional expert Leah Solomon strives for a colorful dinner plate

Leah Solomon with her Brussels Sprouts With Feta and Cranberries dish.
Leah Solomon with her Brussels Sprouts With Feta and Cranberries dish. Special to the Star

You don’t have to encourage Leah Solomon’s family to eat their vegetables. A pharmacist by trade, Solomon is also a Kansas City nutritional consultant who first considers food’s effect on the body, as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Solomon was overweight as a child. Now she is determined to pass on a leaner legacy to her two children — Anthony II, 13, and Layla, 10. With the support of her husband, Anthony, she requires that a healthy dinner plate be at least half-filled with fruits and vegetables.

Q: When it comes to cooking, are you edgy with veggies?

A: I have been known to sneak vegetables into dishes, such as my breakfast quiche. I enjoy cooking and finding new recipes that utilize vegetables, which my family wouldn’t typically eat.

I want my kids to have a good impression of vegetables, so I work hard to ensure they taste good. That means spending time in the specialty shops that sell spices, oils and vinegars, but it’s worth it.

One of my kid’s favorite vegetables is Brussels sprouts, and they request them often. Other favorite dishes are my spinach and mushroom quiche, roasted sweet potatoes and rutabagas, and sautéed greens that include Swiss chard, collards and kale.

Q: Brussels sprouts can be a hard sell at dinnertime.

A: You can’t boil them and expect people to enjoy eating them, because they become sort of slimy. I’ve found that cutting them in half and roasting or sautéing them brings out their sweetness. When it comes to preparing a meal, I challenge myself to have at least three colors on the plate, with half dedicated to fruits and vegetables, and the other half being a lean source of protein and a whole grain, such as brown rice. An example of a healthy, colorful meal could include salmon, Brussels sprouts, and quinoa with peas and carrots.

I am also a firm believer in eating foods that are in season, as much as possible. Winter months are tricky, but we always have access to leafy greens, but now asparagus is the vegetable of spring. There’s no reason you can’t substitute asparagus for the Brussels sprouts in this recipe.

Q: Did you learn to cook from your own mother?

A: My mother, JoAnn Owens, shows her love by baking wonderful cakes, cookies and breads. When we go back to St. Louis to visit her, it’s easy to forget what that healthy plate looks like.

I like to call it “intentional eating,” when you are mindful of everything that you’re putting into your mouth. Go ahead and have a cookie or a small piece of cake as a treat, but know that a healthy lifestyle includes exercise and feeding your body whole, nutritious foods. This is especially true when you’re hungry, because there’s a temptation to eat packaged foods that are easy to grab and less nutritious. I have found that it’s good to have a plan in place — so when you’re hungry, you know that you can have a piece of fruit and some almond butter to tide you over until dinner.

Q: As women, sometimes I think we can become obsessed with weight as a number on the scale and think of that as achieving a healthy body.

A: My body is just naturally thicker, so being healthy is not about weighing a certain number. I’ve also found, after working with a variety of women, many seem to want attributes that their bodies don’t naturally possess.

Healthy living is about living your best daily — not about being in crisis mode and crash dieting to be able to wear a certain outfit by a certain day. To have a healthy lifestyle, you want to feed your body the best foods possible and treat it with respect by exercising. It’s more about viewing your body as a temple and really loving this vehicle with which you move through life.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Brussels Sprouts With Feta and Cranberries

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 pound bag Brussels sprouts, trimmed, rinsed and cut in half

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon fig balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup dried cranberries

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat on stovetop. Add onion and sauté until translucent.

Add Brussels sprouts to pan, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the outside of the sprouts are lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Turn heat down to medium and cover pan tightly with lid, allowing Brussels sprouts to soften. If pan is dry, add  1/4 cup water, and sauté for about 5 to 10 minutes until Brussels sprouts are fork-tender.

Drizzle vinegar over all in pan and stir to coat. Turn out vegetables onto serving platter and sprinkle feta cheese and cranberries over all. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 125 calories (49 percent from fat), 7 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 264 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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