Tag Archives: Kids

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.

Getting Kids to Read and Cook

24 Sep

It’s back-to-school month with no letup in our country’s interminable decline into child illiteracy and obesity. Each of these epidemics is being addressed by educators, two presidents’ wives, chefs, scholars and scores of other professionals — all of them with competing “solutions.”

Two books may help empower kids in the way they ought to be: Sunday is for the Sun, Monday is for the Moon, written by Sandra Priest Rose and Glen Nelson (2012), tells the story of how the Reading Reform Foundation of New York has, over the past 30 years, touched the lives of more than 20,000 school kids in kindergarten through third grade by helping them learn to read by understanding word meanings. (It is precisely this age that good, or bad, eating habits come into play, but that’s another story.) Deploying multisensory, phonetic techniques, the Foundation trains public school teachers right in their classrooms with some extraordinary results to show for it. And Kids Cook 1-2-3 (written by yours truly in 2006, Bloomsbury) helps empower young children by teaching the foundations of cooking using simple techniques, some ABCs, and 1-2-3s (each recipe uses only three ingredients except for salt, pepper and water.) There is much evidence to support the reality that kids will eat healthy food if they become part of the process of preparing it.

A second-grader asked of Ms. Rose’s project: “Why do they call the reading program ‘reading reform’? It should be called Reading Intelligence,” she went on to say, “because that’s how it makes me feel.” And one kid said of Kids Cook 1-2-3, “I learned how to measure with measuring cups. I also learned that it is good to try foods you don’t know about because you might like them.” What’s essential to both tasks? Reading comprehension = empowerment.

Since its founding in 1979, more than 6,000 teachers have taken the Reading Reform Foundation’s step-by-step course that relies on the simultaneous sounding and writing of syllables and words in order to reinforce the sensory pathways critical in learning. Public schools pay only 20 percent of what is needed for training costs and twice-weekly supervision; the rest is handled by the Foundation. Every Reading Reform consultant visits a school 60 times during the school year. This time-honored approach, built upon a methodology created by Dr. Samuel Orton (a neuropsychiatrist) and Anna Gillingham (a psychologist and educator), begins with letter pairings, or phonograms, which form the basis of the English language. And the rather remarkable news is that the program is replicable in every classroom in America. One needs to wonder why it hasn’t taken hold everywhere.

And while they are teaching reading to eager youngsters, may I also suggest teaching cooking? Then all the kids can eat their words.

Sunday is for the Sun, Monday is for the Moon: Teaching Reading, One Teacher & 30 Children at a Time is a slim academic book full of charts and graphs and good results; it is a book meant to save American education. It is meant primarily for teachers, principals and interested parents everywhere. I am one of those.

Brava to the Reading Reform Foundation and to another inspiring program called “Every Child a Reader” — part of The Children’s Book Council. To that I’d like to add “Every Child a Cook,” and we’ll be on our way to literacy and health in no time.

(info@readingreformny.org 212-307-7320)
(Every Child a Reader — robin.adelson@cbcbooks.org/212-966-1990)

Watermelon Seeds

11 Aug

So, what does Italy have that America doesn’t? Watermelon seeds! For years now, I’ve been in search of scarlet watermelon studded with the black seeds that informed my youth. They were the polka dots on white fabric, the visual cue of summer, the pop art work of nature. They have simply gone missing. Whereas seedless grapes were a welcome idea, seedless watermelon is not. Today’s watermelon looks toothless and dull, lacking a certain life force. In short, it is without whimsy and sense of purpose. A picnic table lacking black seeds on red-stained paper plates is almost un-American. Still-life masters of fruit bowls would look sickly without the majesty of these ebony seeds.

In Italy, on the other hand, watermelons have black seeds. It doesn’t hit you right away, but it accounts for a good measure of drama at fruit stands and makes the ending of a summer meal feel complete. I can’t imagine how unsatisfying it would have been to gaze upon slices of seedless watermelon on the tables of Ravello or Atrani, Naples, or Rome. Black seeds are the visual reward of the watermelon experience. Why would anyone want to take that away?  Black watermelon seeds are nature’s beauty marks, like the tiny adorable black dots that made us fall in love with kiwi; some things should be as they are.

In some parts of the world, watermelon seeds are “food.” They are eaten in China and made into soup in Nigeria. In other parts of the world, like in America, spitting out watermelon seeds is a sport. Like so many other questionable ideas, the proliferation of seedless watermelons is about convenience.  People here mostly eat watermelon cut-up in fruit salads.  In Italy, they still eat it out of hand.

That said, here is a recipe for delicious, refreshing, “Watermelon Ices with “Seeds.”   The seeds may be chocolate, but they make you smile, and remember.

Watermelon Ices with Chocolate “Seeds”  (adapted from Kids Cook 1-2-3)
The riper the watermelon, the more delicious this tastes.  Watermelon and chocolate taste great together.

4 heaping cups diced ripe watermelon
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Remove any white (or black!) seeds from watermelon. Put watermelon in a food processor and process until very smooth.  Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to process until sugar is dissolved.   Transfer mixture to a metal pie pan and place in the freezer.  After 30 minutes, break up ice crystals with a fork so that they are of uniform size.  Continue to break up ice crystals every hour until the mixture is frozen, about 3 hours.  When ready to serve, chill the bowl and blade of food processor.  Put frozen slush into processor and process until very smooth.   Conversely, the mixture can be chilled and made in an ice cream maker. Spoon into chilled glasses or dessert dishes and top with chocolate chips.  Serves 4

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