How do you get the persnickety members of your family to eat healthy vittles when he or she is hooked on junk food? Melisa Nicola gives some salient tips from her perspective as a restauranteur at Nic’s Beverly Hills, as a culinary arts educator at the Santee Education Complex and as a mom of two. Meet Melisa!
Nic’s Beverly Hills
453 N Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
In the past few decades, Melisa Nicola has co-owned and operated four fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles. Three years ago, she was offered the opportunity to mentor students in a South Central high school, teaching culinary arts and science. Her time is now split between operating Nic’s Beverly Hills and educating youth about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. As Nicola puts it, “I would say there are no picky eaters but just people who are not knowledgeable about certain foods and so they are reticent to eat them. It comes down to education, knowledge, and love. If you present a new food item to someone, they will need you to help them understand what the food is, how it grows, what it will taste like, and how it benefits your body.”
Find the Right Balance
Melisa insists that looking at your mind, body and soul will help you find the right balance in life. This expert says, “If your mind understands what it takes to keep you healthy and alive, then your body and your soul will follow suit. When teaching youth in South Central to recognize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, my approach has been to let the students explore the healthy body.” Nicola adds, “We teach our students about which minerals, nutrients and vitamins will keep their body in homeostasis. Then it is their job to discover the foods that will contain those nutrients to keep certain areas of the body healthy. After that, we use the nutrient or vitamin in our menu plan.”
Get Enough Sleep
Melisa promises that those who get enough sleep are able to replenish and then become “open to embracing the world.” She says this is the ideal time “to introduce new food items.” At that point, she says that so-called picky eaters will pick up on what is taught “including how to keep specific parts of the body healthy as well as fun ways to prepare that healthy nourishment.”
Grow Your Own Food
“Organic food is awesome,” says Melisa, who adds, “After all, Indians used native plants to sustain their lives.” She points to victory gardens and to those gardens that are community based, stating that “so much is shared when growing your own food.” Nicola continues, focusing on the availability of even the smallest of spaces. She states, “These urban gardens can be designed using small, square boxes made for this purpose. Watching them flourish teaches all of us how to nourish the earth and ourselves.”
Navigating The Plate
When working with students who are experiencing certain flavors for the first time, Melisa uses a tried-and-true method. She says, “I introduce the dish as ‘this food will make you feel good.'” She then tells the kids “that the dish is filled with flavor and these flavors may not be the ones they can recall, but that they are similar and so this food will comfort them.” Various recipes have worked to prove Nicola’s point, like her fresh take on a chicken sandwich. She uses soft focaccia (roasted garlic/rosemary bread baked in a mini-pizza style), folds it in half and fills it with grilled breast of chicken marinated in lemon juice and oregano. She enhances the sandwich by adding a dash of paprika and a pinch of roasted black pepper and sea salt, and then adds sauteed red peppers and sweet caramelized onions. The sandwich is eaten herb side out.
Fun with Vitamins and Nutrients
Why not make a dessert with your kids that is packed with antioxidants? Melisa says to do this by creating a special shave ice treat. Her instructions: Reduce blueberries and/or blackberries in a simple syrup. Simmer for four hours so that the flavors become vibrant and powerful. Take blood orange or any intense orange and cook for four hours in simple syrup. Cool, and refrigerate. Nicola says that this recipe works as a fun summer activity by buying a block of ice and a shaver to hand shave the ice or even use a electric shaver. Then put the shaved ice into a clear plastic cup and add the blue and blackberry juice. Then layer new ice and add the orange blend. Melisa says to keep layering until your cup is filled to the top. She also suggests trying other combinations of flavors, like mango, chili and watermelon; strawberry and Thai basil; and honeydew, Persian cucumber and mint. Talk about refreshing.
Related: Five Healthy Foods For Your Brain