Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Sue Gregg

I have been on a quest to get my family eating in a more healthy manner, and to save money in the process.  A name that popped up over and over as I tried to implement something, anything, was Sue Gregg.  So I was thrilled to discover that she and her cookbooks were part of the TOS Homeschool Crew this year.

Sue Gregg and I emailed back and forth a little bit, and she determined that my family would receive her Introducing Whole Foods Cooking book.  Imagine my delight when the package arrived... and included with the book was a note giving me suggestions and page numbers for using her book for my oldest son's Cooking Merit Badge work (I had commented on how he needed to do some meal planning for that merit badge in one of the emails).  I loved the personal details.

So, the book arrives, and I sit down with it to start figuring out how to tackle this review.  And pretty quickly I discover something that I do think is really important to point out -- this isn't exactly a cookbook, in the sense of it being 100-some pages of recipes.  There are actually very few recipes in this book.  Most of the book is teaching material -- teaching you (and your kids) about nutrition, about how to add more whole foods into your diet, about putting together a menu, about keeping costs down, etc.  And there is Bible study included as well, which I found fascinating.

There are also recipes.  A couple dozen of them.  And we did try almost all of them.

But it is the teaching aspect that makes this a worthwhile book, not the recipes.  The first section is on nutrition, and in addition to some overall introductory materials, the section goes through various types of foods and includes a lot of information about them.  Let's look at the Legumes pages for an example:

This section is a mere two pages, packed with information.  First is a general overview of what legumes are and what nutritional value they have.  She addresses the health benefits of legumes (things like controlling blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, etc.) and lists out a bunch of different types of legumes.  She recommends choosing dried legumes, and explains why.  The second page addresses how to cook legumes, and why she recommends what she does.  I particularly LOVE that she addresses the best method for old beans.  I just found a bag of kidney beans in my pantry that I have no recollection of ever purchasing.  Still-hard beans are not a family favorite (ask me how I know) so choosing this page today was fortuitous indeed.  Anyway, this page addresses soaking the beans, and cooking them on the stove top, in a crock pot, or in a pressure cooker.  And she references a recipe in the book for an example.

After learning a lot about various types of food, and trying some of the recipes, I discovered a couple of fantastic pages in the "Next  Steps" section.  One had to do with the family taste-test.  I already knew from my initial series of emails with Sue Gregg that she recommends you have your family rate and discuss each new recipe.  This page gave me more ideas for how to discuss new foods.  And then she addresses how to revise your recipes.  Her main idea is to take things one step at a time -- usually, drastically changing your eating patterns is going to cause a lot of problems.

Her approach is to incorporate changes into your life more gradually.  And her list of how to revise a recipe is fantastic.  Step one is to figure out how to increase the dietary fiber content of the recipe, and she references you back to pages 17, 18, 20, 21 and 22 (whole wheat, legumes, nuts & seeds, vegetables, fruits) to help you figure out what might work in this case.

This section also has a page titled "Coping on a Tight Budget" and this was terrific.  This page also brings out an excellent point.  Nothing in the material that Sue Gregg has put together made me feel like I needed to go through my cupboard and start tossing things out.  Nothing made me think that I was never, ever going to be able to afford to shop her way.  In fact, a lot of her recommendations will lower costs.  Purchasing dried beans is less expensive than canned beans, and certainly less expensive than meat-heavy dishes.

The book also comes with a CD of PowerPoint presentations.  This includes excellent photos, and a nice description of what some of the ingredients are and how they can be used.  Opening up the "World of Whole Grains" presentation, there are photos of everything from dried corn to wild rice to quinoa, so if you are out shopping for an unfamiliar ingredient, you can get a visual.  Each item includes a slide with text explaining its nutritional value, things to know in preparing it, and recipe suggestions.

The other type of presentation on the CD is of the recipes.  Each presentation starts with a photo of the finished product, and then walks you through the recipe, with pictures of the ingredients you need, of the equipment you need, and of the steps involved, along with text explaining the steps.  There are also some pdf pages that explain things like the benefits of coconut milk.

I use this on my Mac, but I do have to point out that it is better on the PC.  On my Mac, I have to open up the individual presentations or pdfs myself.  On the PC (I tried it there too), the process is more automated -- you can open up basically an index, and just click on the individual recipes or teaching presentations.  And you get music on the PC too.

At $17, I do think this book is a bargain if you are looking to learn about cooking in a more healthy way.  If you are just looking for a bunch of recipes and not the educational content (for you and/or your kids), I would not recommend this book.  In that case, some of Sue Gregg's other books would be a much better choice.  I want to get her Main Dishes book, well, honestly, I want them all...

Go to her website, read a bunch -- especially about how she started on this healthy food thing, take a tour, and try a recipe or two.  She has at least ten of them readily available online, and you can learn a lot just working through those.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Sue Gregg at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this cookbook for free from Sue Gregg  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.
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