Tag Archives: Healthy

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.


10 Feb


Carrots on a stick

In the never-ending national debate about childhood obesity and getting children to eat healthier, here’s a way.  Put fresh food on a stick and call it a snack…or dessert.  This compelling photo from The Economist (Feb. 5 issue) references a new book called The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food, written by Lizzie Collingham.  And while food shortage does not enter today’s dialogue (there are ample calories available), it is the availability of fresh, unprocessed, whole foods at affordable prices that is in short supply or, worse yet, unavailable in the neighborhoods that need it most.  But maybe that is only part of the fractured mirror that reflects the eating habits of most Americans. I suggest we change our idea of what delicious and desirable is.  Not long ago, I had the pleasure of cooking with a young man, about 8 years old.  He loved to cook and he loved to bake.  My book for children, Kids Cook 1-2-3, had just been published and young GB was eagerly awaiting our appointed time in his kitchen in his family’s country home.  We laughed and measured and whipped and beat whole eggs, and carefully melted chocolate and sweet butter for our flourless chocolate mousse cake.  It was magical to watch three simple ingredients (all organic, too!) transform themselves into a delectable form that oozed in the center yet could be cut with a knife.  After baking the cake and waiting for it to cool, the time had come.  With great anticipation, I cut the warm confection and offered a nice slice to GB. With the grace of a young prince, and all due respect to me, GB simply said…I’d rather have carrots. Now that’s a way to win a war.

With all the work that Ms. Obama is doing, and it’s great work, the real battle resides at home.  It’s marvelous for food manufacturers to reduce salt and sugar and taper portion sizes, but the criteria for “healthy eating” is a moving target.  At home, and in my book for teens called Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, our mantra is simply this:  FRESH. F=farmer-friendly, R=ripe-ready, E=easy, exciting, S=sustainable, H=honest-healthy.  If your cooking at home represents at least two of these factors, then you, too, may win the war.


29 Jan

As promised, here is another recipe for macaroni and cheese.  This is an unusual version and healthier than most.  It is also prettier.  This mac-and-cheese is studded with surprise nuggets of cauliflower and its gorgeous bright orange sauce is made from cooked red bell peppers and garlic that get pureed together until silky.  My daughter and her friends like making it because is looks like it’s oozing with cheese, but it has much less fat and is more nutritious than the more familiar stuff.  The secret is to use a very sharp yellow cheddar, artisanal if possible.  For dinner, you might partner it with a garlic-and-smoked paprika-rubbed rib-eye steak and open a bottle of shiraz.  Or if you feel like keeping-it-healthy, simply serve with a salad for a radically wonderful weekend lunch.

Mac-and-Cheese with Cauliflower and Creamy Red Pepper Sauce
5 ounces very sharp yellow cheddar cheese
2 medium red bell peppers, about 12 ounces
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
8 ounces ziti or penne rigate or elbow macaroni
5 cups small cauliflower florets
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Shred the cheese on the large holes of a box grater and set aside.  Cut the peppers in half and remove seeds.  Cut into 1-inch pieces and put in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water.  Cut the garlic in half, lengthwise and add to saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the peppers are very soft.  Transfer the contents of the saucepan, including the water, to a food processor or blender.  Add the butter, honey, chili powder, and salt to taste and process until very smooth.  Return to the saucepan.   Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cauliflower and cook 12 minutes or until tender.  Drain well and shake until completely dry.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Heat the sauce and pour it over the pasta.  Add the cheese and stir well.  Add salt to taste and sprinkle with chives.  Serves 6

Healthy Yummy Dishes

1 Nov

It is a chilly beginning to the first day of November, having dipped into the ’30s overnight.  And so I was especially warmed by this note and photo I received when I turned my computer on this morning.  The “recipe book” referred to is “Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs.” It was published last year by Bloomsbury and has recently gone into another printing.  I love this book because I did not write it alone.  I had the help of a team of young chefs who helped create, shape, and cook the recipes.  Nothing went into the book that wasn’t “teen-tasted.”  With all the conversation these days about childhood obesity and getting kids to eat healthier, it is this part of the equation that is most often ignored:  The food needs to taste delicious and to appeal to the taste preferences of teens.  This cannot be done in a vacuum by chefs who don’t include kids and teens in the process.

Teen-friendly recipes also need to be “blessed” by a nutritionist who can help balance the critical nutritional  factors that make a recipe “healthy.”  Helen Kimmel, MS, RD, did an awesome job in determining what to alter to make each recipe nutritionally sound.  We do not believe that kids should “eat by numbers” (meaning calories, carbs, etc.) but that, overall, each recipe should focus on fresh, unprocessed ingredients and be low in saturated fats.  For more information, take a look at this wonderful article written by Jane Brody in the Science section of the New York Times  and enjoy the numerous comments about the book on Amazon by parents and teens alike.

I am looking at the photo to determine what’s on Tabbie and Kimberly’s table!  I see a bowl of Carrot-Ginger-Tomato Soup (that gets garnished with crispy fried carrot tops! — see recipe below) and Juicy Chicken with Roasted Spaghetti Squash, created by my daughter Shayna.  It’s a real crowd-pleaser.

Months ago, I had the pleasure of being one of the chefs to congregate on the White House lawn to hear about Michele Obama’s initiative regarding childhood obesity and the myriad health concerns associated with it — i.e. childhood diabetes and heart disease.  I say that the issue of “self-esteem” also needs to be addressed and the importance of cultural food preferences in families.  But with all the complexity surrounding this important topic, I say there is one message that is simple enough:  Eat Fresh Food.

Enjoy your day.

Dear Ms. Gold,

My name is Tabbie and my friend and I, Kimberly made some dishes using your recipe book. We made them for our family and friends over the summer. We enjoyed your recipes, I hope another one comes out with more delicious dishes. Thanks! 🙂

Tabbie and Kim, Summer 2010

CARROT-GINGER-TOMATO SOUP  — from Eat Fresh Food:  Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs
While carrot-ginger soups have become commonplace, this one enlivened with tomato, tastes a bit mysterious and especially fabulous.  Fresh ginger adds a background of “heat” and flavor.  I top it with crispy wisps of fried carrot tops.  Serves 4 or 51 large bunch fresh carrots with green tops (about 12 ounces carrots)
1 large baking potato, about 8 ounces
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce or tomato puree
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Peel the carrots (saving green tops for later) and the potato.  Cut into 1-inch pieces and put in a 3-quart pot.  Add garlic, ginger and shallots. Add 4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a rapid boil.  Lower the heat to medium and cover.  Cook 30 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a food processor with half the cooking liquid.  Blend until smooth, slowly adding the remaining cooking liquid.  Process until very smooth and add the  tomato sauce and butter.  Return to the saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer 10 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with crispy carrot tops!

Fried Carrot Tops:

1/4 cup lacy green carrot tops
Wash carrot tops and dry well.  Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet until hot.  Carefully add the carrot tops and fry for 30 second or until crispy and bright green.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.  Sprinkle with salt.


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