Recipes for healthy teens- NYT
By JANE E. BRODY
Published: December 14, 2009
It seems the more we learn and talk about the importance of eating healthfully, the worse our eating habits and their consequences become. This is especially true among adolescents, who hold the nation’s progress and future health care costs in their fast-food-laden hands.
In the last two decades, the number of overweight American teenagers has tripled. Fourteen percent are now at risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, and an additional 14 percent may soon join this overweight and undernourished crowd. With their overreliance on fat- and sugar-laden processed foods and a diet deficient in nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, many American teenagers are walking time bombs for ill health.
There is no better time than now to change this trajectory and get the nation’s youngsters on a more wholesome track. And there may be no better way to start than by consulting a new book, “Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs,” (Bloomsbury), by the award-winning chef Rozanne Gold in collaboration with a nutritionist, Helen Kimmel.
In creating the book with five budding teenage cooks, Ms. Gold, who lives in Brooklyn, took to heart the mantra of Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, who has written many books on wholesome food choices: “I’ve long argued that the best way to get people to eat more healthfully is to teach kids to cook.”
Reaching Youths Directly
Most advice to get youngsters to eat better is directed at parents. That may be appropriate for children 12 and under. But teenagers often tune out parental advice and usually spend too much time outside the home, cavorting with their peers and eating on the run, to be strongly influenced by what Mom and Dad eat.
Far better to instill a desire to eat more healthfully, as Ms. Gold did with her young helpers. One of them, Ian Kimmel, Ms. Kimmel’s son, 16, of Linwood, N.J., said he learned so much about fruits and vegetables and “how easy and fun cooking can be” that he started Kids Cook 4 a Cause. So far, more than 400 youngsters, 9 to 17, have taken the organization’s cooking classes, which rely heavily on recipes from the book. All profits are donated to children’s charities.
In emphasizing fresh food, devoid of processed ingredients, Ms. Gold strives to train young taste buds to enjoy foods without drowning their natural goodness in nutrient-deficient greasy, sweet calories. At the same time, her recipes feature locally grown, farm-fresh ingredients that speak to a more sustainable environmental future.
Ms. Gold insists that she is not an ideologue out to eliminate all fast food, chips or sodas from every young person’s diet. “Food should be celebrated, not demonized,” she said in an interview. “It’s time to get away from the idea of good food versus bad food and instead focus on fresh food.”
As I learned with my own children, who are now 40 and have the same trim waistlines they had in high school, the best approach is to make no food forbidden but to stock the home larder with the kinds of foods you want your children to eat — and to eat them yourself.
That meant fresh vegetables in nearly every supper, a fruit bowl on the table and fresh fruit salad in the fridge, along with skim milk, water and fruit juices, but no soda. Daily treats were homemade quick breads and muffins, which the boys sometimes helped me prepare, made with fruits and vegetables and significantly less fat and sugar than commercial baked goods.
My young grandsons will soon be treated to Ms. Gold’s Very Moist Zucchini-Banana Cake made with olive oil, raw sugar and golden raisins. And I expect them to do some of the work. Schools that still include nutrition in the curriculum have found that when children become familiar with wholesome foods and help to prepare them, they are much more inclined to eat them and to encourage their preparation at home as well.
A recipe I can’t wait to sample is Ms. Gold’s Avocado Mayonnaise, made with buttermilk and providing only 25 calories a tablespoon instead of the 100 calories in regular mayo. Many of the book’s recipes, including macaroni and cheese made with red pepper sauce, feature vegetable purées in place of cream and butter. And, Ms. Gold said, all passed the teenage taste tests with flying colors.
Some Favorite Dishes
Rosie Nelson, 17, of New York, was especially enamored of the Steamed Broccoli with Cauliflower-Cheddar Sauce. Ms. Gold’s 13-year-old daughter, Shayna, diced yellow and orange bell peppers and plum tomatoes to moisten the dish she developed, Juicy Chicken With Roasted Spaghetti Squash.
I applaud the decision not to provide nutrient and calorie information for the recipes. People don’t — and, in my view, shouldn’t, unless they have a disease like diabetes — eat by number, but rather by concept. By eating the right kinds of foods and not too much of anything, the calories and nutrients take care of themselves.
There is no better proof, perhaps, than the experience of another of Ms. Gold’s teenage cooks, Danielle Hartog, 15, of Westport, Conn., who is a vegetarian. Danielle, who lost 23 pounds in seven months using recipes in the book, said in an interview, “Once I started eating healthy and feeling healthy, I started exercising every day and experienced a huge boost in confidence.”
“It’s hard not to be motivated,” she added. “It’s easy cooking, fun, healthy, and any teen could do it by themselves.” Once a devotee of pesto pasta — “two portions after school” — she was surprised to find that her favorite recipe is the Very Fresh Vegetable Soup.
Another virtue of Ms. Gold’s recipes is that they supply ample amounts of nutrients that are deficient in the diets of most American teenagers: vitamin A and folic acid, fiber, iron and calcium. Many skip meals (especially breakfast, the meal that boosts metabolism, mood and learning) and rely heavily on high-calorie snacks and fast foods to quell hunger pangs, then turn to unhealthy fad diets to control their weight.
In May 2005, the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, founded the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to combat the youthful obesity epidemic and inspire “tweens and teens to take charge of their health” through healthy eating and physical activity. More than two million youngsters have since joined this effort through after-school venues, faith-based programs and youth clubs.
I can only hope that many of the participants will try Ms. Gold’s recipes, or at least adopt their principles and adapt them to their own circumstances. They, their families, local farmers and the environment would all benefit, with no loss of dining pleasure.