Top | Health+Food

Better food for more people

(article, Marissa Lippert)

p(blue). Editor's note: We congratulate Marissa Lippert on her newly published book, The Cheater's Diet, about which one reviewer has said, "It's not really cheating . . . It's just being smart." The book, which contains recipes and suggestions for eating healthy whole foods, is in bookstores April 15. 

The change in season has brought not only warmer weather but also a fresh look — hopefully long-lasting — at the way our country approaches healthy eating. Here's some of what we've seen recently:

 Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which aims to get better food in schools and encourages kids to be physically active.
 British celeb chef Jamie Oliver’s new prime-time television series on ABC, '"Jamie’s in which he takes on childhood obesity and the unhealthy habits of an entire town in West Virginia in hopes of educating families on healthier food options in school and at home.
* A bill in Congress proposing a $4.5 billion overhaul of cafeteria food in schools.

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Change is in the wind, and while that's certainly exciting and necessary, it doesn’t come without criticism and backlash. If you caught the premiere episode of "Jamie’s Food Revolution," you’ll remember the school cafeteria workers who were none too pleased with the extra prep time fresh food sometimes requires, and that the kids weren’t initially enthralled with the new fare. You’re taking away our chicken nuggets and pizza for breakfast? 

If that's what kids are used to, of course there’s going to be backlash. Various opinions were expressed on Culinate as well in a recent [/columns/tabletalk/tabletalkfebruary25 "Table Talk chat" newpage=true] featuring Obama Foodorama editor Eddie Gehman Kohan, about solving the problem of obesity in America.

No doubt, it's a tough problem to tackle. But regardless of whether overhauling an entire country’s school food system or educating each and every child and parent on fresher food and healthier habits will actually happen or hit major resistance, the overwhelming point is that there’s a distinct shift in the conversation.

Personally, I can relate to what Oliver’s trying to say — and the fact that he’s saying it pretty bluntly. It’s not always about the “nutrition.” What do details around carbohydrates and fat grams and sodium really mean to most of us, anyway? Probably not all that much. I think we got ourselves so wrapped up in the small details over the past few decades that we missed out on the bigger picture: fresh food, good food, physical activity, and getting kids engaged in the process.  

Rather than questioning whether something meets our daily requirement of vitamin C, shouldn’t we be more concerned that many of the kids featured on Oliver's show couldn't identify a potato or tomato or broccoli? But they were quick to spot French fries, pizza, and chicken nuggets. 

I'm glad that all the talk — even if it really is just talk for the moment — hints at movement, finally. The conversation can start big, and eventually things will trickle down to where we really should be getting the education: in our homes and from our families. 

In the meantime, we've got Sam Kass working with kids to plant vegetables in the White House garden; acclaimed chef Bill Telepan leading a charge in New York City schools with his Wellness in the Schools program to overhaul environmental health, nutrition, and fitness; and hundreds of other people making efforts to work with kids and adults to elicit change in eating, whether by teaching a healthy cooking class, giving a tour of the greenmarket, helping plant a rooftop garden in a local school, or something else.

It may sound like I’m on a soapbox, but I won't apologize. We need this shift to occur, and it’s exciting to see it develop. 

Here  are four super-simple ways we can all help speed the change:

# Get kids more involved in the kitchen and the grocery-shopping process. When they see, touch, smell, and taste fresher, good-quality, non-processed food, they might actually like it!    
# Leave meat out of the picture just once a week. Instead, focus that much more on fresh vegetables and whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and couscous.    
# Try out a new recipe or ingredient once a week (you’ve got plenty of delicious suggestions within this site alone!). Never bought barley or asparagus or fresh mint? Not sure how to roast a chicken? Experiment in the kitchen more frequently, and you’ll increase your fresh food skills in no time. Eating well doesn’t have to be time-consuming or bland or boring. 
# Take a good look through your fridge and pantry. Does the ratio of fresh whole foods outweigh packaged or more processed items, snack foods, or frozen entrées? Do a red-light check on ingredient labels for the words “partially hydrogenated” and “high-fructose corn syrup.” If you find them, ditch them!

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