This blog is a place to share my passion for cooking and inspire people to cook more from scratch. With six people in the family, cooking is something that is always on my mind. I want to share some of my favorite foods and recipes and share more about traditional diets (like the kind of food our great, great, great grandmothers would have made). Right now I am fascinated with fermented vegetables, coconuts, seafood with a cerviche twist and organ meats... although maybe not all in the same meal!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rethinking "Fun" Food to combat obesity

The Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report last week about obesity in this country and it is not a pretty picture.  Sixty-nine percent of adults and thirty-two percent of children in this country are overweight or obese at a cost of over $190 billion annually in chronic obesity related illnesses such as diabetes care.   The recommendations in the report identify five keys to reversing this trend which are:

  1. Integrate physical activity every day in every way
  2. Market what matters for a healthy life
  3. Make healthy foods and beverages available everywhere
  4. Activate employers and health care professionals
  5. Strengthen schools as the heart of health
To be sure this is a complex problem and there are no easy answers to be found.  But as I reflected on these recommendations-- and in particular for me numbers 3, 4 and 5, I see how much work we have to do to make even a small dent in this alarming problem.

Healthy food and beverages are hard to find, and sometimes priced out of reach.  Good luck trying to find nutritious food if you travel across the country in a car.  And at work, you will need willpower of steel to steer clear of the birthday cake in the break room or the muffins served for breakfast meetings.  I noticed recently at a venue that caters to the corporate and executive crowd that they serve cookies and candy during afternoon breaks.  It is simply beyond the willpower of many people, myself sometimes included, to steer clear of candy and cookies during a weak afternoon moment even if alternatives like vegetables are placed nearby.  The siren song of broccoli is just not as strong as the song of an M&M for many people.  At least I think that is true for the culture that most of us in the United States grew up in.  Employers, schools and health professionals know these things to be true, but they don't always walk the walk.

So that's what gave me the idea today to play with my food.  If the packaged goods marketers with their million dollar marketing budgets know how to make food more appealing with fun packaging and visual appeal, maybe we need to try a little harder to make that cucumber or carrot have a fighting chance.  I just finished the Natural Chef Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, North Carolina and one of the handy little gadgets in my knife kit is a device that can make wedges in food.  I guess I should know the name of this, but it escapes me at the moment.  But in any case, it can take an ordinary cucumber and turn it into a work of art just by scraping down the sides and making a small divot.

Then as you slice the cucumber, you get a nice little flower.  I made these for my elementary school children's lunch today and one of my kids reported that some of the other kids were asking him how his mom made the cucumbers like that.  You can also do it with a carrot or a strawberry or lots of other vegetables and if that helps to make kids more interested in vegetables then I say let's give it a go!  I greeted my kindergartener today with this snack after school and I think she got a kick out of it.  At least she ate it all up and some chili that I made also.

We as a nation should be horrified that about one third of our children are overweight or obese.  It is one thing when we as adults make the wrong choices, but kids don't really have a lot of choice about the food they are served.  If they eat school lunch, they are at the mercy of us as a society valuing children enough to give them a healthy, nutritious meal.  And it is not always easy as kids don't understand this problem and in many cases they really would rather eat candy or chips.  It means that sometimes they won't like us because we are trying to get them to eat eggs or spinach or fish.  But whether they appreciate it or not, our children deserve a chance to live at least as long as their parents and not to be saddled with diabetes and obesity in childhood.  Whatever it takes to get there, this problem is just too big and too important for us not to get it right. 

Also published at kelly the kitchen kop's real food Wednesday 


  1. Wow! Your kids actually ate that? It doesn't matter how nice I make the veggies look. My kids just laugh and then won't even try it. Kudos to you!

  2. yes, for some reason my kids love cucumbers and they would eat them even if they weren't pretty but they seem to like them a bit more lately with the wedges.