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Fall’s Beautiful Sunlight

October 30, 2016 by  
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by Mommy MD Guide Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD

vegHave you noticed fall’s beautiful sunlight filtering through the trees? Take it as a reminder to be kind to yourself this season.

As colder weather sets in, immerse your body in vegetables and fruits throughout the day, so it’s teeming with antioxidants, plant-based nutrients and more.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Try Meatless Monday
  • Try vegetarian before 6: Eat fruit & veggies, whole grain and unprocessed until dinner, eat as you normally would in the evening
  • Shift your meat-to-plant ratio in favor of plants

My Magic Spice — coming soon — will help make your plant-based dishes sing and dance. Stay tuned to be the first to receive a free sample.

In the meantime, here are a few plant-based recipes, with love, from my kitchen.


Dr. Ayala

The Ikea Effect of Cooking

August 6, 2016 by  
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by Mommy MD Guide Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MDIKEA

You’re never too young — or too old — to start cooking; Standing on a stool my kids barely reached the faucet when they started. Our first kitchen adventure involved making a good green salad, and included the basics of how to wash and dry lettuce, and the simple principles of mixing a good salad dressing. The second lesson’s product was a nice bowl of lightly salted edamame in their shell, which my kids still think of as “addictive food.”

We didn’t get into brownies and cupcakes until much later. I figured that creating a dish makes its creator treasure it, and why waste a lesson of love on brownies, which any kid’s bound to fancy anyway.

In his book The Upside of Irrationality Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics, devotes a chapter to the well know phenomenon of falling in love with the things we make, and the irrational value we attribute to the objects we had a more intimate relationship with. Ariely titles the chapter “the IKEA effect”— the Swedish maker’s assemble-it-yourself shelf Ariely labored over for hours somehow has a special place in his heart, and Ariely investigates why it’s so.

Through a series of experiments, involving the creation of origami animals, Lego patterns, and real-life examples of successful and unsuccessful businesses, Ariely comes to several conclusions regarding the evident connection between labor and love:

  • Putting effort into an object changes how we feel about it — we value the things we labor over• The harder we work on something, the more we love it
  • We’re so invested in the things we labored over, and value them so much, that we assume others share our (biased) overvaluation of our creation
  • Although working hard on a task makes us love it more, not completing the task is a deal breaker. We have no attachment to tasks we failed at or failed to complete.

Interestingly, Ariely also shows that both people and animals would rather earn their keep and work for their food. Even mice seem not to value free meals, at least not on a regular basis.


The lessons above are valuable and applicable to many aspects of life: I think “the IKEA effect” chapter (the whole book in fact) has lessons for any employer or employee seeking greater work productivity and satisfaction, and for any parent contemplating showing photos of his kids to a stranger (no, he doesn’t think your kids are the cutest — he couldn’t care less).

But back to kids in the kitchen. Learning how to cook is a valuable life skill that will not only enable kids to eat healthier — no matter what you make at home it will usually be healthier than the bought version — but can also be a great tool in directing their preferences toward those foods you’d like them to eat more of, namely, fruits and veggies.

Ariely’s lesson also made me think of the importance of giving kids a task they can complete. Being responsible for just one small step in a complicated dish would result in much less creator’s pride than being able to claim the creation from start to finish as your work. So selecting recipes that are of just the right technical difficulty — challenging, but not too hard for a kid to complete — is the name of the game.

As time went by we moved to things like potato gnocchi from scratch. I wasn’t sure my kids would be able to create dumplings that hold up in the boiling water on their first try — I had many less than stellar attempts at this dish before I sort of mastered it — but beginners luck, or maybe I can take some credit as the instructor, theirs turned out incredible and light-as-a-clouds.

Ariely wrote nothing about clean-up — it doesn’t, unfortunately, reward one the way cooking and serving your handiwork does. For cleanup to be pleasurable the best tricks, I think, are joint effort and/or some good music.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in the kitchen —  as a kid or with them.

Dr. Ayala

“Learning how to cook is a valuable life skill that will enable kids to eat healthier”

Should Salt Shakers Be Removed from the Table?

October 2, 2013 by  
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by Mommy MD Guide Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD

Setting the table was my first contribution to the family food making effort as a little girl, and the first task my kids participated in in my own home (I hate calling it a chore – makes a job that can be delightful and creative sound so boring.) A basic set table to me has plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper.

But now, many restaurants are omitting the salt shaker. The New York Times brought in chefs, health experts and others to debate this trend.

I suppose that most restaurants that do away with the salt shaker do so because they feel the food’s already properly seasoned, and that the chef is responsible for the final taste and deserves full control over the finished product. I don’t think hypertension is on their mind.

Chef Kevin Sbraga does not put salt on the table in his Philadelphia Sbraga. He thinks that the guests should expect to get the food properly salted, and he says, “Ultimately, it might be a control thing. I want to have as much say in our guest experience as possible, even when it comes down to the salt.”

Mary Sue Milliken of the Border Grill restaurants offers the same reasoning and doesn’t automatically provide salt at the table.

On the other hand, Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem thinks it’s not for him to force his salt preferences on his diners.

None of the chefs in this piece took the salt shaker off the table for health reasons. Indeed, Thomas Farley, New York City’s Health commissioner – who has waged a war on the salt excess in our diet and is a big proponent of salt reduction – is on good terms with the salt shaker: “The salt shaker is not the culprit. Only about 10 percent of the sodium in our diet comes from salt we add to food while cooking or eating. Most of the salt we consume is already in food when we buy it. In fact, foods that don’t even taste salty, like bread, are among the top sources of sodium in our diets.”

Salt to taste

Too much salt can have detrimental effects on blood pressure, especially in vulnerable populations, and there is no doubt that the American diet contains excess salt – added for a multitude of reasons some unrelated to taste – and salt clearly belongs on the ‘foods to reduce’ list.

Salt, on the other hand, is an amazing ingredient. It is an essential nutrient we can’t do without; it not only flavors food, it is also a taste enhancer and taste modifier, and a natural preservative that keeps foods from spoilage.

But how much salt is just enough salt for perfect flavor? To that — I beg to differ from the salt-controlling chefs — there is no right answer.

Salt sensitivity and preference varies from person to person, and depends on the foods we regularly eat. Evidence shows that we develop a preference to a certain level of saltiness through repeated exposure. Raise a kid on very little added salt, and his taste buds will sense just a few flakes; raise him on fast food and food will taste bland unless it’s generously salted. Evidence shows we are born liking some saltiness, but salt level preference depends on exposure.

So chef isn’t necessarily an authority on the perfect salt level. No one is.

I rarely add salt at the restaurant table, but when I want another grain of salt I hate having to ask – and wait – for it, and for me, a table is not set without it. Salt just belongs at the table, and has been part of how we welcome guests for a very long time. Please, do stop this saltless trend. And if I can, one more pet peeve: please don’t clear plates when other diners are still eating; it is rude, and interrupts the mood and the conversation.

Do you miss the salt shaker when it isn’t there?

Dr. Ayala is a pediatrician, mother, artist, serious home cook, and founder of Herbal Water Inc., in Wynnewood, PA. Dr. Ayala is known for her extensive knowledge of nutrition and food, as well as her practical approach to improving health and preventing obesity and disease.

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.