Helping Nahjee learn to cook

The best part of work is figuring out how I am able to serve the individual needs of my young people. Today Nahjee asked me for some cooking tips (e.g., the different ways of thickening soup) and sources for good recipes (not from any packaged food website). She’s talked about being pescatarian and how she prefers simple food such as pizza and fries to fancy meals, but this afternoon I learned that her favorite cuisines are Indian and Thai. She also loves thick soups, bean chilis, and lentils. She would like to be able to make a soup that has lots of veggies in it, such as corn, carrots, and broccoli. Nahjee also likes spice. I figured that finding a mulligatawny recipe might be a good place to start, since it would satisfy many of her cravings.

The plan is to take a Friday afternoon to head to Curry Hill, enjoy a veggie lunch buffet at Chennai Garden or maybe a mujadara sandwich from Kalustyan’s (I like mine specially topped with pickles or spicy olives and their awesome hot sauce), and then go shopping for some basic spices and a variety of pulses for her pantry.

Looking up different mulligatawny recipes reminded me of a cookbook that my sister helped me start. During one of the many summers I spent with her in high school and college, she gave me a hardcover journal and I started writing in the simple, reliable recipes that she herself used for her family. After awhile I started collecting recipes on my own from magazines, cookbooks, and friends. But my favorite recipes in the book are family recipes—not just old Filipino standbys, but also special family dishes that bring back good memories.

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A workshop on nutrition guides

I mentioned wanting to teach a program on food and nutrition that gives participants the tools to develop healthful (and joyful) eating habits on their own, rather than one that mandates a strict regimen. This does not mean ignoring others’ recommendations and encouraging everyone to eat willy-nilly. To the contrary, this means doing the work of comparing different dietary guidelines and evaluating them. One way of going about this is by looking at graphic nutrition guides such as food pyramids. Continue reading

Who should decide what kids eat?

Part of my fascination with the chicken nugget issue is that it raises the question not only of what we feed our kids, but who decides what they eat in the first place. The story of Stacey Irvine, the seventeen year-old who collapsed after a steady diet of almost nothing but chicken nuggets since the age of two, is an extreme case of what could happen if we let kids set diets entirely for themselves. In her own defense, Stacey’s mother said that her daughter presented problems that her other two children never did with respect to their eating habits. They even happily consume plenty of fruits and vegetables. Stacey, however, shunned all foods to the extent that for her mother it was a relief when she discovered her daughter’s penchant for chicken nuggets.This got me wondering just how persistent adults should be in ensuring that kids get a healthful and varied diet. Continue reading

How to teach a food and nutrition seminar

It’s been awhile. In my time away from the blog I began developing a food a nutrition program. Let me explain. It all started with a weird news story someone sent me about a seventeen-year old British girl who collapsed after a steady diet of chicken nuggets. (Indeed, she had eaten almost nothing but nuggets for the last fifteen years, with nary a fruit or vegetable in the mix.) The story led me to a video of chef Jamie Oliver attempting to educate a group of young kids on the poor nutritional value of chicken nuggets. The effort was featured on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a show with the ambitious mission of changing the way Americans eat in a two-step process. First, Oliver educates the American public on the dangers of processed food. And second, he teaches parents, teens, and even cafeteria workers how to cook healthful meals from scratch.

You may have already seen the clip below, since it’s gotten quite a number of plays on YouTube. Oliver introduces the segment by saying how he’s designed this brilliant experiment that has never failed him in the UK. Basically, he shows how chicken nuggets are often made not from whole chicken breasts, but from a pink goop that results from ground up chicken carcasses. This goop is then pushed through a sieve to separate all the hard bits out, and then a bunch of additives are then mixed into the “batter.” This mixture is then formed into little patties, which can be breaded and fried. Seeing the process firsthand is usually enough to put people off nuggets forever. Well, as you’ll see below, the experiment is an utter failure with the American kids. After eewing and yucking their way through the demonstration, after the nuggets are all fried up, they are still eager to eat them.

If we seek to change people’s eating habits for the better, it’s important to ask why the experiment fails. Continue reading