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The Main Ingredients: Introduction by Christine Cushing

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With summer in full swing, it's the perfect opportunity for us all to make some small lifestyle changes that will help us eat a more balanced and nutritious diet. Oh no, not balance and nutrition! Yes. I'm not talking about boring, tasteless, dry food that the family will do anything to avoid. I'm talking about the kind of food that is delicious, filled with great flavours and textures that the whole family can enjoy together.

In this new age of social media, texting, and app-frenzied routines, we are bombarded with message after message about what we should and should not eat. Even as a chef, I find it a chore to sift through the data trying to decipher fact from fiction. Every week there is a new miracle diet that promises to solve everyone's food dilemmas. The high protein, gluten free, cave man diets are clogging the twitterverse, but my philosophy is still to keep a simple balance, eat lots of fruits and veggies and limit processed foods.

We all can get in a rut, with our crazy "You pick up the kids from soccer and I'll take them to their music lesson" lifestyles. The first thing to suffer are the meals. To help you get inspired, I thought it would be fun to get interactive with some input from real families. So, over the next four weeks we'll be rolling out what we call " The Main Ingredients Challenge". Essentially, I'll select 12 ingredients -- which I'll be divulging below -- and have to cook with them according to that week's theme. For example, the challenge of creating a no-cook meal using the ingredients or breakfast, lunch and dinner with a time limit. In addition to the twelve ingredients, we'll have a list of pantry/fridge staples that we can include in our cooking. Each week I'll be sharing the recipes with you, along with photos and the comments my family had when we sat down and ate together. My husband will have tons of comments. In addition, for each of these same challenges, a different 'real mom or dad' tester will be cooking with the ingredients and following the theme. They will also share photos and their family's comments. I will then weigh in on how I felt our real parent used the ingredients and discuss what worked well and make suggestions to help make the meal healthier.

For the selection of my 12 ingredients, I wanted to make sure they covered the four food groups, were easy to find, not expensive and really showcased the bounty of the season. I strongly believe that we've lost our understanding that fruits and vegetables grow at certain times of the year, and as a result we limit our ingredient lists because we stick to the same few ingredients year round. My hope is that by getting a few new ideas on how to use these ingredients you'll soon find it easy enough to include them on your family's table. Here is my list, and a little note on why I think you'll love each ingredient and why they pack such a nutritious punch:

The Main Ingredients
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Beets: We eat the roots and leaves. They contain betaine, which helps reduce artery-clogging plaque, and also B vitamins, potassium, and minerals.

Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries -- so colourful they are just screaming for you to pick them.

Broccoli: I always find ways to feature this versatile and readily available green vegetable. It's low in calories and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and also contains fibre -- great for vegetarians.

Avocadoes: Like olive oil, they contain mono unsaturated fats that are great for the heart.

Almonds: Perfect snack food they are rich in fibre, antioxidants, and mono unsaturated fats, and are source of protein.

Fish: I cook fish at least twice a week. It's a great source of protein. Salmon is super for omega 3 fatty acids that help protect the heart and fight against cancers.

Rolled Oats: Oatmeal is a great choice for breakfast. It's a source of fibre and helps to lower bad cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels.

Chickpeas: I love chickpeas! They are low in fat high in fibre, help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, are a good source of protein, and keep you full. They work overtime so you don't have to.

Plain Yogurt: My people (the Greeks) have been gaga for yogurt for centuries. It's a rich source of calcium and protein with no added sugars.

Dark Green Leafy Lettuce: What's not to love? No fat, some fibre, vitamins and minerals - leafy greens have it all. The darker the leaf, the more nutrients it has.

Cheddar Cheese: Is versatile, a good source of protein and high in calcium. It's easy to use in recipes and is often available in lower fat versions.

Whole Grain Tortilla: When I reach for anything other whole grains I hear my 4'10 mom's voice saying "why you want to eat white bread?" Wherever possible, use whole grains instead of white breads. They are an important source of fibre, which may help reduce our risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

These are my ingredients! Next week I'll introduce you to my first challenge and what I'll be making. Cook along at home to see what you can prepare.