Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

Autumn 2007 - Summer 2008
© 2008 by Bret S. Beall


You’ve had the opportunity to read my feelings on investing in our children’s understanding of cuisine and culinary techniques at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSeptOct05.html. If you haven’t already, check out that column now. In it, I describe my meeting Gaylon Emerzian, the founder of www.spatulatta.com. Since I wrote that column, the website and its two hosts, Livvy and Belle Gerasole, have gone on to win James Beard Awards (the Oscars of the culinary world) for “Best Website.” The girls have appeared on numerous television shows, including “The View,” all in the pursuit of educating both children and adults of the appreciation and joy of home-cooked food.

Recently, an email popped into my in-box with a file attached. The email came from Gaylon’s assistant, Marcus Farne, someone with whom I’ve interacted via email many times, and whom I respect, so I didn’t hesitate to open to open the file. I smiled as I saw an article by Gaylon entitled, “Ten Simple Tips to Fight Child Obesity.” As soon as I read through it, I knew I wanted to share it with you, my readers. Gaylon has given me permission to reprint her article here, and I hope you will read it thoroughly, embrace the principles it contains for your own family, and share the link to this article with everyone you know who has children. This is very important information, and its practicality makes the information implementable immediately.

Ten Simple Tips to Fight Child Obesity
© 2008 by Gaylon Emerzian

What are we doing to our children? Foods that are marketed to kids are salt, sugar and fat laden. And because of budget cuts, many children don’t have gym and some school districts are cutting out recess. Kids don’t walk to school because we’re afraid for their safety. They sit in front of computer terminals to “play.” In all they are becoming more and more sedentary.

It’s tragic when you hear about ten year olds with high blood pressure or Adult Onset Diabetes. And it’s frightening to think that this generation of children might have a shorter life expectancy than their parents—for the first time in 200 hundred years.

This isn’t news. I read this in March 17 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine…in 2005. Three years have past and we have not put enough pressure on the manufacturers marketing to kids to change anything. I swear if something came out like this about the treatment of cats and dogs, PETA and the Humane Society would be all over it. Who’s speaking out for our kids?

Our systems are just not made to process as much sugar as we take in – by most estimates we eat over 120 pounds of sugar per person each year.

Our bodies are designed to turn sugar and fat into energy that gets burned off in work or play. We’re very efficient. If we have extra fuel that we don’t burn, it gets stored in fat cells for future use. But very few of us work or exercise enough to start burning our fat reserves so they just keep accumulating. No wonder we have an obesity problem. Isn’t this how we fatten animals destined for slaughter - feed them rich food and keep them from moving around too much?

So how do we turn that around? We have to think differently.

Offer Alternatives: We all want to give the people we love the things they like to eat. It‘s hard wired. But if those things are killing our kids, does that make sense?

Kids coming home from school are hungry. Take advantage of that fact. Offer raw carrots. Carrots are pretty sweet if one’s taste buds aren’t already desensitized by an overload of sugar. I always suggest vegetable snacks that have a little sweet in them for parents who are trying to break the cycle of cookies, candy, cake. Edible pea pods and jicama provide crunch and a bit of sweet. Mix it up. Offer pretzels one day, fruit another, then vegetables the next. Low-fat ranch dip and raw cauliflower make a good snack.

Teach Kids to Read: Well you say, “My kid already knows how to read as well as add and subtract.” Great! Now teach that child to read all that small print on the labels. Point out the amount of sugar, fat and salt and then let them use their math skills on serving size vs. daily requirements. Even the second graders can figure out that if the recommended daily allowance is ten grams and what they are about to eat is eight, they don’t have a lot left for the next snack or meal.

What about all those long unpronounceable names at the end of the list? What is all that stuff? If you can’t answer that question why should it go into your child? Knowledge is power. Take a moment to read what’s in your food. The more processed the food the less nutritional value.

Involve Kids in Cooking: Cooking first of all allows kids to find out what in their food. It also allows them to figure out what’s unnecessary in their food. If you can make ice cream with just cream and a little sugar, what are all those other multi-syllabic names doing in there?

Getting kids involved in the kitchen is a great opportunity to hone reading skills and mathematics through measuring doubling or halving recipes. Besides, cooking together turns a parent’s chore into quality time with kids. Children get a sense of accomplishment and feel good about themselves because they are contributing to the well-being of the family.

Share the Responsibility: Start small. Work together with your children and figure out what a balanced meal is. Let’s start with a single simple dinner - salad or vegetable, side dish, main dish and a fruit-based dessert. Make it a challenge and let the children do the calculations. You can find calorie-by-age charts on-line as well as plenty of recipes.

When you get your menu together write it on a 3x5 card. Next week try another balanced dinner. Now you have two meals accounted for. Three more and you’ll have all the weekdays covered. Cook together on Sunday night. Start a stew and while it cooks the kids can do their homework.

Children learn very fast and get a great deal of satisfaction out of calling attention to the foibles of their elders. So let them become the “nutrition police” at your house. By “busting” you, they will be learning.

Be Creative: Make a meatloaf in a cake pan, use mashed potatoes as “icing,” and decorate it with cherry tomatoes. You can even write “Happy Birthday” in ketchup. Have a little fun and get the kids involved. Try to figure out a meal where all the food is one color. Make pictures by arranging the food on a plate into a sailboat scene.

Salad doesn’t have to be all greens. Add cheese, raisins apples, nuts, dill pickle, or pickled beets. The basis of the salad can be beans, cabbage or grains like quinoa. Teach children how adapt recipes. If you don’t have one ingredient, think about what might be a good substitute. Suddenly you’ve created something totally new.

Explore Foods: Explore the grocery aisle the way you would explore a library. Little children love to have the same book read to them over and over again but would you only let them have 5 books on their shelves? Why just offer the same 5 foods?

Look for unusual fruit and vegetables. Make it a guessing game. What do you think this tastes like? Try star fruit, mango, or melons.

What about a field trip to an ethnic grocery store or restaurant to experience foods from other cultures?

If a trip to the grocery store with your kids winds up in the cereal aisle and pleading and coercion, make sure you go alone. If you can’t go alone, bargain. Think of sugar and fat grams as money, how much can you afford to spend. Give the kids a limit and let them figure it out.

Look for those foods that are not at a kids’ eye level. Ask your kids why they think the most sugary foods are low and the whole grain foods are almost out of reach on the top shelf.

Apply Peer Pressure: If your kid is a picky eater, take notice of older cousins or other children who eat a wide variety of foods. Invite them for dinner and then serve something that is a little challenging to your child. Don’t go crazy and serve something that your child absolutely refuses to eat and has thrown a tizzie about in the past.

Call ahead and discuss with the other parent what their child will eat as you would to make sure the guest doesn’t have food allergies. If the other parent is curious why you’re grilling them about their child’s eating habits, tell them why but ask them not to share the information. When making the meal, try adding a vegetable or a fruit that your child has never seen before rather than one she or he has turned their nose up at before. If your child sees the guest as sophisticated or higher up the social pecking order, you have a good chance of breaking the pickiness cycle.

Strike a Balance: I certainly wouldn’t want to go through childhood without a cupcake or a candy bar, but discuss reserving those foods for special occasions and celebrations, such as a good report card or improvement on a test. Let the kids help decide which treats are appropriate and when. Talk to your children about how food is a social bond.

Play with Your Kids: Toss a ball around, ride bikes, play tag or just go for a walk. Even if you’re not in the best of shape go outside and do something that is not food related.

Walking is the best exercise. Our bodies are designed to walk. People in Tanzania will walk ten miles between villages and think nothing of it. Our ancestors walked out of Africa, across continents and over mountains. Some of us can even trace their ancestry to people who walked across the Bering Strait.

Our legs are designed to use the expanding and contracting of our muscles to help pump the blood back to our hearts.

Speak Out: Talk about nutrition whenever you get a chance. Ask friends and family to help you gather healthy recipes. We all have rich, calorie--laden, comfort food in our family background - yummy, buttery dishes or deep fried foods that our great-grand parents ate when they could afford it. We can afford that food everyday, if we want, because we have the money to buy it. But can we afford that food health-wise?

Tell your friends about the great salad you made. Inspire them. Take pride in making a “slim” version of a family favorite.

Don’t stop there. Form a committee at the PTO to look into the nutritional content of your children’s school food. What’s in the cafeteria? What’s in the vending machines?

Model Behavior: I’m a visual person, so I watch how people interact with their children. I just cringe when I see a baby reaching out for a can of pop and the parent saying. “No that’s not for you.” Great answer until the baby starts to wail. Then parents, grandparents and assorted others cave under the pressure. The baby then grabs the can with gusto, tips up to his or her mouth and chugs it like a pro because she or he has be observing the behavior.

I may be going a bit far, but sometimes think we should have “adults only” food. Maybe if we prohibit the eating of certain foods like mushrooms and arugula until a person turns 18, they will become wildly sought after by teenagers. It works for alcohol, and most liquors don’t taste very good the first time you try it.

Around the world children can’t wait to fast, go without food or sometimes even water all day, so they will be counted among the adults. What is being taught is self-discipline. Are we being effective role models for our children?

Bret’s Conclusion

OK, it’s Bret again now. Wasn’t that a terrific article? I don’t have any kids, but I know lots of families who could (and WILL) benefit from this advice. We can worry about all sorts of things about which we have no control, but proper rearing of our children, the next generation, is something imminently within our control. Please, embrace Gaylon’s easy-to-act-on advice, and lay the foundation for a healthy next generation. NOW! You won’t regret it.