In this episode of Healthy Family Project, we talk to Dr. Peggy Policastro, RDN, who is an advocate for empowering kids and families with the tools they need to live healthier lives.
Peggy shares tips on cooking basics including how families can get started cooking at home, why cooking at home is so important and what basic skills to master.
Dr. Peggy Policastro, RDN, is the Director of Behavioral Nutrition in the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health at Rutgers University and the Director of Nutrition for Rutgers Dining Services.
In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she holds a master’s degree in Nutritional Science from Rutgers and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies-Nutritional Science and Psychology.
Her research interest is in the area of Behavioral Economics and the use of nudges to encourage healthy eating behaviors. She has numerous journal publications in the area of Behavioral Nutrition and during her tenure at Rutgers, has mentored hundreds of students on research projects investigating dietary habits of college students.
She currently is very active in the MCURC Research Group, leading multi-site projects and holding the position of Co-Chair of the Academic Committee.
As a professional in both the academic and dining services arenas, Dr. Peggy Policastro is uniquely suited to be a champion and researcher for healthy eating behaviors.
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Want to skip straight to a hot topic? See time stamps below. But of course, we recommend listening all the way through!
- 2:16 Meet Dr. Peggy
- 4:03 What is culinary literacy?
- 4:56 Tips for families looking to start their culinary journey
- 9:15 The importance of basic kitchen skills
- 11:23 Kid menu vs adult menu
- 17:24 Basic cooking terms
- Kids Cook Monday – sign up for the free Family Dinner Date Newsletter
- Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks for Every Age
- 5 Tips for Getting Kids Involved in the Kitchen
- Where to Start When You Don’t Like to Cook
- Connect with Peggy – https://njhki.rutgers.edu/
Other Podcast Episodes to Check Out:
- Episode 21: Meal Planning & Cooking with Kids
- Episode 16: Journey of a Picky Eater
- Episode 9: Quick & Easy Dinner Hacks
Healthy Family Project Podcast
Conversations covering hot topics in the world of health, food and family with a dose of fun. Helping families ease their way into a new fresh and healthy world.
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If you are interested in being a guest on the Healthy Family Project podcast, contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your topic idea for consideration.
Transcript for Episode 26
This transcript was produced by Otter.Ai. Please forgive any misspellings and grammatical errors.
Welcome to the healthy family project by produce for kids, covering the hot topics in the world of health,
food and family with a dose of fun. Today we’re going back to the basics of cooking and kitchen
fundamentals. We all want to eat healthier, and many families are looking to incorporate more home
cooked meals into their lives. But where do you start if you aren’t a master chef or get intimidated by
recipes you find online. So today we are talking to Dr. Peggy Policastro RDN, who has quite the
impressive resume and is an advocate for empowering kids and families with the tools they need to live
healthier lives. Our friends over at Monday campaigns you probably recognize kids cook Monday
connected us with Peggy because they are partnering with her and the New Jersey Healthy Kids
initiative which Peggy will tell us a little bit more about only began. Peggy is the Director of Behavioral
nutrition in the New Jersey Institute for Food Nutrition and Health at Rutgers University in the director of
nutrition for records dining services. In addition to being a registered dietician, she holds a master’s
degree in Nutritional Science from Rutgers and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies nutritional science and
psychology. Her research interest is in the area of behavioral economics, and the use of nudges to
encourage healthy eating behaviors. She has numerous journal publications in the area of behavioral
nutrition, and during her tenure, Rutgers has mentored hundreds of students on research product
projects, investigating dietary habits of college students. She currently is very active in the MCU RC
research group, leading multisite projects and holding the position of co chair of the academic
committee. As a professional in both the academic and Dining Services arenas. Peggy is uniquely suited
to be a champion and researcher for healthy eating behaviors. Now that is a resume. Let’s hear from
Peggy. Welcome to the healthy family project. Peggy before we dive in, can you tell us more about
yourself and all the wonderful work you do?
I’d be happy to. Right now my position at Rutgers is on the New Jersey Healthy Kids initiative. I’m on the
leadership team for this grant that’s supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And the goal of
this grant is to make New Jersey kids the healthiest of any children throughout the country, and to be a
model for other states. So that New Jersey Healthy Kids initiative based here at Rutgers is in
collaboration between two institutes here, the New Jersey food nutrition and health and the Children’s
Health Institute. So what the New Jersey Healthy Kids initiative is, it is an approach again to making kids
healthy. However, we’ve looked at a three prong approach, one being nutrition education, one being
physical activity. And the third, which I’ll elaborate upon today is culinary literacy. My background is in
Nutritional Sciences and psychology. Because after working as a registered dietician for many years, I
realized that nutrition education alone is not as effective as it can be changing behaviors. I think we need
to nudge people in the right direction. And this can be accomplished through developing culinary skills.
Wonderful. So I have to say, you know, when we talked about, about what we were going to discuss on
today’s episode, you brought up the term culinary literacy and I felt, you know, like, oh, I work in the food
world like this term. Why can’t I? Why isn’t it just kind of popping out to me what this means I had to say,
what exactly is culinary literacy? So can you tell us more about culinary literacy and why it’s so important
for living a healthy lifestyle?
Sure, you know, academics, we like to make things more difficult than they are. But some terms on
things that sometimes the public may not understand. But culinary literacy is really just understanding the
basics of cooking. You know, years ago, we had home ekend schools, we’ve moved away from that. And
we renamed it culinary literacy. And it’s really knowing the difference between what is baking and
Broadlink. Knowing how to use a knife, what to look for when you’re shopping for fresh fruits and
vegetables. This is culinary literacy.
Okay, yes, I appreciate that. And once you kind of explained it to me in that, that fashion, I was totally on
board and I said you do know what this is. So what are your top tips for families looking to start their
culinary journey and what basic skills should be first on the list?
know first and foremost, I don’t want anyone to feel that they need to be a chef or have expensive pots
and pans or equipment to cook a delicious unhealthy meal, you really want to just start with the basics.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of chefs. And one thing they told me was that if you have to spend
your money on one piece of equipment, you know, we’re all limited funds, spending on a good knife,
everything else you can get at a bargain. But that one good knife will get you further than anything else a
purchase for the equipment. Also, there’s tons of recipes out there and online. What I recommend to
people start with something very simple that you feel you can master, find a recipe that has few
ingredients, and doesn’t acquire doesn’t require you to have fancy equipment. You know, you shouldn’t
be scared of cooking. Everyone at every level, can make something, even children. You know, here with
the New Jersey Healthy Kids initiative, we look at culinary literacy, even as young as the preschoolers.
And looking at every recipe, there’s always something that someone in the family can participate in. So
what’s so great is that it’s a family activity,
we really have heard it time and time again, just how important it is to get those kids into the kitchen. And
maybe it’s just one day a week, you know, I know some people work late, we work different shifts. We
don’t want it to be overwhelming, but I promise just getting them in there one day a week will make a
huge difference and really bring that education about everything that has to do with being in the kitchen
to the forefront.
You know exactly how great is it when you know working mom and dad come home, the kids are
whining, because they’re waiting for dinner, but they’re cooking dinner, they can maybe snag a taste of
some lettuce as they’re ripping it up or cutting something up. And it’s just a way to have that bonding
time. You know what we find that when people work on a project together, there’s more bonding. So let’s
make that project making the family dinner or lunch or whatever the meal should be. But work it as a
Yes, my actually my younger daughter, she was writing an essay last night and the topic was not to get
us to off course. But the topic was why Lord, the prompt, why I should be present with my family. And the
first thing that came to mind was, well, you know, of course you start to like, kind of analyze why am I
present with my family? You know, how am I and I’m helping her along. And one of the things she said
was, well, we’re present when we’re in the kitchen together, you know, we’re we’re, we have to be
because we’re creating something. So we have to be present, we have to pay attention to what’s
happening at that moment in time. Because one, we don’t want to mess up the recipe. And two, we have
to work together, you know, to create something and I thought, oh, proud mom moment right there. I
didn’t even know that. I know, I was very impressed. But I thought, well, that is a great time to be present.
Because you don’t really have a you know, a choice to be of course you can get distracted, but you don’t
you have to be present in that moment. You know, and so I think that’s that was a really words from an
eight year old, you know, to really put it in perspective,
that’s amazing. Because for them to have that understanding at that young age of how important it is one
to be present. And then to think about the kitchen as a place to be present is very impressive. You know,
I think over a year, over time, we’ve moved away from that nuclear family unit. And it makes it difficult to
find those times we can all meet together. But for centuries, everyone is bonded over food. So if we can
get back to that again, and not only bond over food, the end product, but making it we will accomplish a
lot more than trying to have planned activities for our family to be together that maybe they have to pay
for or it doesn’t fit into their schedule.
Well, I think my next question we’ve kind of touched on this a little bit. Why do you think it’s important for
families to understand culinary terms and basic kitchen skills?
You know, I find it really interesting. Over the years, there’s more and more food shows that show people
how to cook. So you would result people know how to cook more than they ever did before because it’s
out there. But the analogy I use is that if you watch the Super Bowl, do you become a better football
player? No, you have to get in. Right? Just watching something doesn’t give you the skills you need. And
I think it’s so important that we remember that and we cook together as a family. So much research is out
there about a healthier diet for the whole family is achieved when we cook at home. By teaching kids to
cook they shop differently. They fill their plates differently and they consider not only their own health, but
their impact on the environment differently. Kids enjoy what they cook, they like to taste it. And it makes
them feel really good about serving what they need for others. So it’s not just about a skill, it’s about
developing self esteem as well. Research also shows that kids that eat with their family tend to be less
obese than their counterparts that didn’t cook with their family or eat with their family. So there’s so much
involved in learning how to cook, corner literacy is not just about those skills that you will take on for
years. It’s also about other things dealing with self esteem, health, and feeling good about what you can
do to contribute to the family unit.
I love it that that makes a lot of sense. I think that self esteem is, you know, for kids, and for, you know,
adults who are getting into the kitchen, it can be intimidating. And, you know, as you said earlier, starting
with something basic and, and recognizing, you know, baby steps here, you know, it doesn’t, you don’t
have to be emerald, all and you know, this Master Chef all in one day. So I think that makes a lot of
Right. And you know, kids cook Monday, which we have collaborated with, offer some really great
recipes to start with. And even it’s cold kids, the recipes in it are appropriate for families. And these are
the types of things we’re looking at that require very basic culinary knowledge, and skills that the whole
family can be involved in.
Yes, and we love kids cook Monday. As you guys know, they introduced Peggy and I. And so, you know,
lucky to have this episode today. But I can appreciate those recipes, because I think sometimes parents
think they have to create something for the kids and then an adult dish too. And I think what kids cook
Monday does with their recipes, and then we try to do the same at produce for kids is to really meet
somewhere in the middle, where you’re not creating two different meals, and you’re able to enjoy the
same meals that your kids are enjoying. You know, and make them easy, make them healthy, but also
tastes good to everybody, you know, in the family.
Exactly, you know, over probably the age of two children can eat the same exact foods as the family
does just in smaller portions, there really shouldn’t be a kids menu and a regular one, it should just be
offering the same things in smaller portions. We have led kids to believe that if they’re a kid, then they
would get chicken nuggets and pasta without sauce and some other items. But there’s no reason for that.
The only difference again, between what adults eat and what children eat really is the portion sizes.
That’s it, everything else really trailed over to can eat.
Yes, and our listeners are probably tired of hearing me say this. But my my younger daughter, who is a
my my selective eater, I call her because she really I said picky one time and she really latched on to that
and wanted to, you know, own that picky eater title. So she likes she, most of the time likes what we’re
eating, but I have to kind of deconstruct it, which really doesn’t take a lot of time. So it’s the same thing,
just in a different just in the way that you know separated out that the way that she is going to eat it. And
so I feel good about that. It’s a little bit of an extra step. But it is the same meal that the family is eating.
You know, and it’s not easy. My children right now are 22. And they very well now, but that wasn’t always
the case. My son especially I always share this story with parents who are concerned and say how He’s
everything now. But I remember as a young child trying to get him to eat vegetables, and it was so hard
and there’s one day you know, you buy the carrot, the baby carrots, you put them on the table. And he
saw him and he’s like, Oh, I love these. I’m thinking wow, I’ve made strides. He picks up one puts in his
mouth, spits it out and says these are the worst cheese doodles I ever had. I’m like ah. But now again,
over the years keep introducing the same healthy foods and now they’ll eat everything but it’s a struggle.
Definitely a struggle.
It is and I say I put my younger daughter she doesn’t eat everything. But she could go into the produce
department and name probably everything there close to everything in the produce department. And
she’s comfortable in the kitchen. And so Wow. In the back of my mind, I think well today she’s not You
know, open to eating all of these things. At least she understands what they are, why she should be
eating them, and how to create them. So there’s a couple of things that are already going for her. So your
story gives me hope that in the future, it’ll all come together,
it will believe me, it will, as long as you keep introducing those foods, eventually, they will catch on. And
both my kids like to cook now. They’ve always kept in the kitchen as well.
That’s great. We have an episode, I don’t remember what episode it is, but I’ll put it in the show notes.
Our team of produce for kids team member we have she said, I need to come on as a guest because I
was such a picky eater, like, I gave my parents such a hard time. And now I eat everything. And so we
had her on. And she it’s like the journey of a picky eater. And she talked about how, what her journey
looked like and how she got to where she is today, which I think a lot of parents are so discouraged, but
hearing her story, you know, and just continuing to talk about it and continuing to, to cheer people on to
just keep introducing those things. It’ll it’ll pay off in the long run.
No, it’s all about modeling. Parents don’t realize sometimes that everything that they’re doing, their kids
are looking at. And regardless of how kids may act out their biggest influence are their parents. So if the
parents continue to eat well, and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, the kids eventually will as well. But if
the parents are expecting that they don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and somehow the child’s going
to it’s not going to happen. The best thing a parent can do when the kid refuses to eat fruits and
vegetables, is just continue to eat them themselves. And one day, it’ll all catch on.
Yes, that’s that’s the goal. All right. So let’s talk about a few basic terms we should recognize in the
kitchen. I know when we first spoke and earlier in this episode, you talked about knowing the difference
between fried, baked and broiled. These need to know terms when it comes to food, what are a few
One thing I’ll say too, if you don’t know terms, you can always look them up online. And that’s what’s so
great today, the internet has a lot of information. But some things that I find are confusing to people
sometimes are the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, not only the ones that you find with
your other civil ware and a draw, but the measuring teaspoon, and tablespoon, they’re different. You can’t
just pull out one of your silverware and use that in any recipe, you really need to get the measuring ones
and you can get them very inexpensively. Also, the difference between measuring cups, many people
don’t know there’s a difference in a measuring cup between solids and liquids. So sometimes not
knowing these things can affect your recipe and feel like you’re an awful cook. That’s not the case, you
just you’re using the wrong equipment at that point. You know another one maybe know the demonstrate
a chop and amends a chop as a larger cut a minces a smaller the reason I say this, again, you may not
get the same type of end product in your recipe, if you’re not aware. So one thing I recommend is if
you’re reading a recipe, and there’s something in there that you’re not familiar with, hence chop or men’s,
look it up and see what that means. But to be aware, too, that even if you have an idea of basic things
like teaspoon tablespoon, in cooking, it may be different than what you’re used to and what you’re using
in your silverware.
Those are all really good, good examples of you know, those terms, those basic terms. And I just said
this yesterday, when you talk about searching for something I said where I lived without Google, how did
I live without Google? Like many years without Google and now you know, my kids are even the Alexa in
our house. She helps us in the kitchen with many things, but we are lucky to have those, those sources.
But yes, good advice. Don’t just I know so many people, and maybe sometimes myself, you know, you
get to a point in a recipe where there is something that you’re like, Well, I think it means this so I’ll just go
with this instead of taking a second and, and I have have witnessed that those recipes don’t turn out the
way they’re supposed to or tastes. You know, there’s some things off and then it’s that one little step you
know that that I just took a guess on so searching and understanding those terms are, are definitely a
good, a good thing to know.
Especially when it comes to spices and seasonings. Because there is a difference there. You put too
much salt in something, it’s not going to taste good. Or if you’re putting too little you’re going to lose that
flavor. So especially with those spices seasoning, you want to make sure that you have those great
Wonderful. Well, thank you for taking the time to chat today. We certainly can’t close out without giving a
shout out to our friends from kids cook Monday who made today’s podcast happen. So be sure to check
out kids cook monday.com and follow their hashtags. Meatless Monday and kids cook Monday. We have
lots of great things going on on those hashtags. And then Peggy, if listeners would like to know more
about you and what you’re doing, where can they connect,
the best place for them to go to would be to our website, which is n JHK i.ruckers.edu. From there, you’ll
find all our social media platforms and lots of information on how you can make your kids healthy.
Wonderful. And we’ll link up to that in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to
talk to us today.
Oh, thanks, man. It was great. Thank you so much kids got Monday for putting us together.
A big thank you to everyone listening to today’s episode. And a special thank you to Peggy and kids
hook Monday for making today’s episode happened. We are so lucky to be able to align produce for kids
with organizations like kids cook Monday, who share in our mission to create a healthier generation. Be
sure to check them out at the kids cook monday.org We are continuing to grow. Yay. Every week, it’s just
amazing to see new people listening, the numbers going up and people from all over the world are tuning
in to find out how to live a healthier life. And believe it or not, we are approaching our one year
anniversary of the show. It’s truly humbling to look back at the journey. And think about all of the amazing
people who have been part of the healthy family project. Some I knew before having them on the show
some I didn’t know until they were guests on the show. But all of them you know are connected with us
and with me and have become a special part of my world. So hopefully, in our next season we’ll be able
to have some of those folks back on. And then we have a special anniversary episode coming up next,
and then a stellar episode I really cannot wait for you guys to listen to our food as medicine with Jessica
delouis of eat your way to wellness. So be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already so you don’t miss out
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