Tag Archives: eating

CHOP CHOP: Making Healthy Kids

31 Jul

51cOOkEU-eL._SY300_Hardly a day goes by when you’re not brutally aware of the obesity crisis that’s overwhelming kids (and adults, too, for that matter. The most recent country to raise the alarm about extreme weight gain and processed food is Australia.) But it is children we should worry most about because good or bad eating habits and food cravings form early in life, and it is incumbent upon us all to steer children in healthier directions.

You read lots about the medical fallout, including diabetes and heart conditions – but the social stigma, and resultant poor self-esteem, can damage a child just as profoundly. One wonders how the psychological disconnect between scrawny fashion models on Project Runway and disappearing waistlines plays out in teenage behavior and achievement. The reality is that snacking is a great growth industry and virtually every packaged food company around the world is seeking ever more ways to sucker kids into consuming ever more unhealthful food – all the while telling them, disingenuously, to eat smarter. One company, Uncles Ben’s, has just launched their second annual “Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest” where children in grades K-8, along with their parents, can submit home videos demonstrating the preparation of a rice-based dish. While rice is an important staple in many at-risk communities, I believe it may be a worthwhile effort to begin the conversation. That is, if rice is a small part of the equation (and preferably brown rice) and lots of fresh vegetables, a bit of protein, herbs and spices make up the rest of the recipe. It’s an appealing lure: The winner gets $15,000, an appearance on Rachael Ray, and a $30,000 cafeteria makeover for the child’s school.

Fortunately, there are valiant attempts to stop the scourge of junk food, processed food and fast food as a national diet. There is Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, Lynn Fredericks’ innovative crusade to make kids healthier through hands-on, evidence-based FamilyCook programs in schools, communities, and farms across America; Katherine Newell Smith’s new project in Fairfax County Virginia called Real Food for Kids, that advocates for better school food with a pilot soup, salad, and sandwich bar that is slated to open in September. There is Nancy Easton and Bill Telepan’s formidable Wellness in the School (WITS) program, Liz Neumark’s brilliant Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farms in the Hudson Valley, and countless more initiatives across the country. There is even my own book, EAT FRESH FOOD: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs (Bloomsbury), reviewed in the science section of the New York Times (2010), which attempts to jump-start a solution by means of a very simple message (or plea, in my case) – to eat fresh food.

Now comes another wonderful approach that is already attention-worthy with a global platform. Sally Sampson’s CHOP CHOP is a quarterly non-profit food magazine that, since its inception in 2010, has distributed over four million copies to pediatricians, children’s hospitals, schools, and youth-based community organizations. In addition, the magazine is distributed in 12 countries and is published in both English and Spanish. ChopChop’s mission is to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families. “Filled with nutritious, great-tasting, ethnically diverse and inexpensive recipes,” Ms. Sampson’s vision is to reverse, or better yet, prevent childhood obesity.

And just this week, her vision, and that of an impressive Advisory Board, including Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health, is illuminated with a brand new cookbook, published by Simon & Schuster. Chop Chop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family is a natural extension of the magazine which won a James Beard Award as publication of the year 2013. The magazine is $14.95 for four issues; while the attractive trade paperback, chock-a-block with great photos and more than 100 recipes (including an appealing sounding vegetable chili and yummy salmon burgers), is a bargain at $19.99.

Sally Sampson’s own story is also book worthy. A veteran cook and cookbook author, she is the mother of a child with a chronic illness who chose to do something “meaningful by using cooking as a way to address the obesity epidemic.” A girl after my own heart.

As I see it, cooking can be a valuable social connector for kids, teens and families — more delicious than any web experience could ever hope to be. Social networking, an obfuscation in presenting the truth about human relationships and experiences, much like the notion of reality TV, does nothing to strengthen real bonds between families and create meaningful memories of personal accomplishment and team play. The very act of cooking postulates an interesting idea that may ameliorate the growing concerns about healthy eating. If families started cooking together, and then eating together, there’s a good chance they can create healthy taste memories to last a lifetime.

ChopChop headquarters, located in Watertown, Massachusetts, is funded through sponsorships and subscriptions. Noble in its cause, ChopChop, the book, is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and will make its debut on August 13th. Put it on your shelf next to Eat Fresh Food, Liz Neumark’s upcoming Sylvia’s Table, and Lynn Fredericks’ just-published Get Your Family Eating Right! The revolution continues.

The Most Sensual Diet

28 Feb
Photo Credit: Elena Paravantes

Photo Credit: Elena Paravantes

The health benefits of the lusty Mediterranean diet have been touted for years but perhaps never as persuasively as in the recent New York Times article written by Gina Kolata. A regime of olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, vegetables, fruit, and wine (a glass a day), has been proven to reduce heart attacks and strokes among people at high risk for them in a statistically significant way in a study conducted by Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona. The magnitude of the findings was so illuminating that the study ended five years earlier than anticipated. The study affirmed that following a Mediterranean diet as described above had enormous benefits while, quite astonishingly, following a low-fat diet “was not shown in any rigorous way to be helpful.” In addition to eating fish, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, the 7,447 participants in the study were also advised to reduce their intake of dairy, processed meats, and commercially processed sweets.

The Mediterranean plan is not so much about weight loss as it is a formula for living longer. It is also so much easier and enjoyable to maintain than many other diet plans which eliminate large swaths of fresh food groups. It is “inclusive” rather than extreme and faddish. This cuisine naturally exists in areas whose coastlines hug the Mediterranean, including Spain, Greece, Cyprus, parts of Italy and France, and many Middle Eastern countries. And it would behoove us all to take a look at Nancy Harmon Jenkins seminal book called “The Mediterranean Diet,” written almost 20 years ago. It is as valid as ever and the most sensual way I know to take charge of your health every single day.

Interestingly, at the same time the results of this study are circling the globe, we are reading Michael Moss’s new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Mr. Moss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who implores us to fight back from the pernicious addictiveness of processed food created by big food companies. Moss demonstrates how food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary drinks or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by altering its chemical composition. Personally I find a pile of fat asparagus grilled on rosemary branches and doused with extra-virgin olive oil far more enticing than any bag of chips or doodles. And a sweet ripe pear with a handful of walnuts (also in the news this week) make a pretty alluring alternative to Ring Dings.

Culinary Intelligence

12 Apr

Just as I was about to extol the many virtues of Peter Kaminsky’s new book, brilliantly titled, Culinary Intelligence:  The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well), I happened upon a dose of Culinary Insanity in the food pages of the New York Times. In an article about an exemplary initiative to teach doctors about nutrition, a recipe appears that is so unhealthy as to render the project questionable. Who’s in charge here? Who makes the decisions about what is healthy? And why would anyone choose a drink that contains more sugar than a Coke to illustrate the idea behind healthful food consumption? Not only does the simple recipe for limeade contain 24 grams of refined white sugar per serving (that’s 90 calories worth of sugar alone), but it is made with peanuts which may trigger a bout of allergies for some. Really, what were they thinking? It reminds me a bit of the book Why French Women Don’t Get Fat — where the premise is certainly laudable — eat small portions of delicious things — but, alas, there was not a nutritional analysis in sight and many of the recipes that looked healthy were not, even in petit portions.

As I have written several books on healthy eating, Healthy 1-2-3, Low Carb 1-2-3 (the only book with recipes that are low carb and low cal), and Eat Fresh Food:  Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, I know the many vicissitudes in creating recipes that are healthy and delicious.  It comes with decades of experience working with nutritionists, clinical herbalists, and creating one of the country’s first “spa cuisines” at the Rainbow Room many years ago. The program extolled in the New York Times  — a joint effort of the Harvard School of Public Health, the Culinary Institute of America, and Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives created by Dr. Eisenberg eight years ago, to teach young medical professionals about healthy cooking — is certainly worthwhile.  It is a good idea for doctors to know something about the relationship between food and nutrition.  Yet it is incumbent upon anyone who invokes the BRAND of healthy cooking to define its terms and make sure the public gets the right information.

That said, there’s a wonderful juncture of ideologies in Peter Kaminsky’s Culinary Intelligence (published next month by alfred A. Knopf) and Dr. Eisenberg’s approach to healthy food.  It’s all about flavor.  Dr. Eisenberg says “flavor is a health issue,” and Mr. Kaminsky unfurls a culinary marker called FPC, or flavor per calorie.  If we satisfy our cravings with fresh foods that maximize flavor, then we might be sated with less and enjoy our food more.   Many studies have shown that processed foods, full of unpronounceable additives, do not satisfy us either gastronomically or spiritually, and actually create the desire for more, and more, of the unhealthy stuff. Mr. Kaminsky, a well known food writer and critic, was rejected from a life insurance policy because he was pre-diabetic. And that is what led him to write his treatise. It is not a diet book, but a book about pursuing the pleasures of the table as the path to good health. I think Dr. Eisenberg would agree.  But they depart here:  Mr. Kaminsky says the three most important foods or ingredients to avoid are sugar, refined (white) flour, and trans fats; while Dr. Eisenberg eschews butter (note: butter can be used with culinary intelligence as it is a terrific flavor carrier and a little goes a long way), and seems to be okay with sugary drinks (i.e. today’s recipe for Peanut Limeade.)   Culinary Intelligence also pursues the deep complex flavors imparted by umami (a flavor-enhancing glutamate that exists in many foods — known as the “fifth taste”), and the soul-satisfying approach to healthy food by the simple notion of mindfulness and pleasure and, of course, using great ingredients.

Needless to say, good health is also about good exercise.  I just learned this morning that after 28 days in “Boot Camp” my son lost 10 pounds, 1% of body fat, and 3 inches off his waist line!

The bottom line is that not only should doctors know about healthy recipes, and that nutritionists should know how to cook, but chefs who promote healthy food need to learn something about nutrition.  Kaminsky’s “Culinary Intelligence” would be a great place to start.

What We’ll be Eating in 2012

3 Jan

For decades I have tracked trends, and as a chef, author and consultant, have created many of them. Some have lingered longer than most marriages, yet others still hover around obscurity or are merely a reflection of personal wishes. Some were so ahead of their time as to be forgotten or “invented” by someone else. That said, as we embark upon a new year of eating, cooking, shopping, blogging, ipad-ing, app-ing, reading, listening, watching, and drinking, here is my list of predictions:

Kibbutz-style entertaining:   Have a party, invite a bunch of friends, tell them to bring something. Who needs to show-off any more? Generosity begins the minute you open your door. You set the table, provide the booze and make a main course. Your friends can build the menu around it. You do the dishes. Fun, right? It’s the best way I know to get together with your friends more often; take the pressure off cooking, and focus on the conversation around the table.

Eating in your Zip Code: Moving deeper into the locavore trend is that of eating food grown or produced in one’s own zip code. It is a suggestion I made in 1993 in my first book Little Meals — where I talk about growing herbs in my window box and planting tiny edibles in my back yard. Today, chef’s are growing “dinner” on their roof tops, in school yards, and home cooks in Brooklyn are planting patches of dirt in their driveways. After all, it’s hard to find cardoons in the supermarket.

The gratitude grid:
Since everyone is so confused about what to eat and not to eat, how to define organic, how to know which species are endangered, how to determine what is healthy and not, I say a wonderful way to begin is with Mindfulness. Mindful of what it took to grow your food, the life that was sacrificed so that you could have your food, and respect for the time and care it took to prepare your food. I promise you that your pleasure will be doubled in everything you cook or consume. Try “cooking in silence” if you’d like to really experience what I’m talking about. Write down the most meaningful or pleasurable food experiences you’ve had to make them last. (I always think I’m going to remember, but don’t!)

Better breakfasts and healthy lunches:  I know a very big company longing to find the next big healthy thing for people to eat in the morning at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc. It’s a noble start. And with programs like Edible School Yards and Wellness in the Schools, I know this year will bring about the change in school lunch programs we’ve all been hoping for.

Real food = healthy food:
I predict that a “real food” movement will accompany the slow food movement that has captivated chefs from all over the world.  More emphasis on eating whatever is real as opposed to eating whatever is healthy. Pure and simple.

Ingredients to try: Cardoons, parsnips, kale, Chinese broccoli, mussels (making a comeback), new varieties of fish (including cuttlefish and herring!), persimmons, red quinoa, unhulled barley (great in risotto), spelt flour, leatherwood honey, buttermilk, beef shin, fresh chamomile, long beans, fresh lychees, mangosteens, congee (hot rice porridge) for breakfast (or dinner), hibiscus, coconut (oil and water), Thai fish sauce (my secret ingredient).

New foods you’ll soon see: Hummus made from everything other than chickpeas!, real Iberico ham from Spain, soft, spreadable chorizo, cross-cultural dumplings, pappa al pomodoro (instead of risotto or pasta), yellow marinara sauce (from yellow tomatoes and yellow peppers), Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), cakes made with olive oil, good wine from Bulgaria, eating weeds and unknown edible plants, moss and lichens, jams and jellies made from vegetables, beans in everything (healthy and cheap), “bulgogi saucing” and “rendangs” (“dry stewing”), the dishes of Southern India, a few French classics making comebacks.

Upside-down foods: Using fruits as vegetables and vegetables as fruits; red wine from predominantly white wine regions and vice versa; sweet things in savory dishes, savory things in sweet dishes; frozen appetizers and hot desserts; legumes, grains, herbs and soups at the end of the meal; cakes made with beets, turnips, and winter squash; blueberry gazpacho; poultry marinated in fish sauce (it’s amazing.)

“Pantone” produce: Every fruit and vegetable in the world will now come in a variety of colors. It’s where food and fashion meet — fashion words becoming food words and vice versa. Saw some real pretty orange eggplants and dark magenta carrots at the farmers market the other day. Nice. It’s a rainbow out there.

The cupcake bubble burst: As soon as anyone prints the calorie content of a frosted cupcake, it will all come to a screeching halt. I won’t be the one.

The Spice Trade: Food transformation with the world tapestry of spices. There’s the spice man, Lior, in New York who is creating spice blends as though they were perfumes. There are nutritionists and herbalists who are prescribing spices instead of medication. I’ve long predicted that za’atar should be sprinkled on every piece of pizza. Sumac as the new salt (it’s also tart), ground seaweed as a common flavor enhancer (lots of umami.) Turmeric as a health booster. Like that.

Radical simplicity:  I wrote the book (Radically Simple — just voted as one of the most important cookbooks of the last 25 years.)

A woman chef for President: A decade ago I wrote a screenplay about a woman chef who runs for President. Could 2012 be the year some fabulous, personable, smart, focused, intelligent such person arrives on the scene? The plot of my screenplay presaged the tv show Commander in Chief starring Gena Davis and foretold the arrival of a woman chef at the White House. And it predicted the food movement and healthy eating as a political platform, i.e. that of Michelle Obama. Hollywood, are you listening?

Happy New Year. May it be filled with delicious things.

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