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Jamie Oliver, fresh food, and changing our (doomed) destiny

I think we've all heard these statistics by now, right? We're raising the first generation of kids who won't outlive their parents -- their life expectancy is 10 years less than ours. Obesity will cost $150 billion this year -- 10% of our health care costs -- and that's projected to be doubled by 2020. Diet-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers, are by far and away the biggest killers, far worse than even auto accidents. Why?

Jamie Oliver, in his TED talk that has everyone talking, has pegged a couple of culprits. Fast food is one; sugar is two. And we're starting to realize that it's not just high fructose corn syrup that's bad; it's all kinds of processed sugar. Even that "raw" brown sugar in the sweet brown packets. Sugar in the chocolate milk (it's truly terrible; one carton of the stuff has more sugar than the American Heart Association suggests a child have in a day, and more than soda), sugar in the yogurt, sugar in the breakfast cereal, sugar in the ketchup, sugar in the peanut butter and the jelly and the bread, sugar in the pizza sauce for goodness' sake.

And where is this killer food being served? In our schools, first. Even when fresh local cooked-on-site food is available, there's an alternative that includes yogurt, chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, pizza. In our homes, second. We're killing our kids. (Not just other people. Me. Everett's lunch yesterday: yogurt and "I don't want to talk about it any more.") What's more, in many classrooms Jamie's visited, kids don't even know what fresh food looks like. A radish is maybe celery, maybe an onion; an eggplant is maybe a pear; one kid doesn't recognize a potato in its skin. Jamie doesn't mince words: we are, he says, committing child abuse by feeding kids this junk.

His takeaway is this: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

How can we do this? Here's one way: to cook, really cook, from scratch. I don't mean "a can of this and a can of that" from scratch; I mean carrots and potatoes and cabbages and dry beans. Take our kids into the kitchen (even if they're just playing with the water in the sink while you peel and chop); take them to the market; buy vegetables and fruits whole; plant a garden (you can put peas and spinach and lettuce and broccoli raab in now!). Here's one recipe I've been making that's easy, easy, cheap, and delicious -- Everett likes it just plain but I dress it up with plain yogurt, hot sauce, and some braised kale or cabbage:

Black beans with orange peel

  • A cup or two of organic black beans (People's has a local variety in the bulk bins)
  • A few garlic cloves, peeled
  • One-half yellow or red onion, peeled and chopped roughly (about 1/2" cubes)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • A few small pieces of orange peel (I saved the peels from yummiest organic tangerines I bought in January, scraped off some of the pith, and let them dry on the counter; you could just use fresh, organic orange peel; using a paring knife, scrape off as much of the pith as you can)
  • 3 cups water
  • Rinse the beans; if you like, soak overnight in warm water on the counter. Drain the beans.
  • Heat the oven to 275 degrees.
  • Put all ingredients in a crock with a cover (you can use pottery, glass, or a stainless-steel pot with a lid). Put in the oven. Cook for a few hours, until the beans are tender.

You can do this recipe with just about any kind of beans; you may want to change out the orange peel for other flavorings like fresh thyme or rosemary (come pick some from my garden if you don't have a plant :).

And if anyone who doesn't know how to cook wants a lesson, please, email or comment or pull me aside on the street on my bike, let's make a dinner date. I'll teach you how to make one meal if you'll ignore the mess in the living room. Deal?


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Thank you! Keep talking about this. I agree that the topic is so important. It's heartbreaking to learn how anti-nutritious many foods are that families are eating. This needs to change immediately!

I recently heard that Clatsop County (where I currently live) will be starting up a cooking program for the ladies that participate in WIC. How wonderful! I'm hoping to get on board and help out.

Learning to cook, experiencing tasty food and even saving money in doing so will change our ignorance and spur the movement on. Woo-hoo!

good post, makes me think about my sugar intake.

if you don't have space for a garden you can join a CSA farm for fresh veggies/fruits and sometimes eggs & cheese: http://portlandcsa.org/
a lot of the farms welcome visits from families too and now is the time to sign up before the spring rush!

Waving from the choir! I have made teaching people to cook from scratch my business and life mission, and love that Jamie Oliver is drawing attention to the vital importance of home cooking.

For those who want to cook at home more, but find the prospect overwhelming, I say take it slow, allow yourself and your family time to adjust to a new diet and way of life as you start cooking with real food.

I love beans too, but this lentil soup is my stand-by "what's for dinner" dish. Lentils de puy (aka petite French green lentils) are great because they're so itty-bitty and don't turn to mush, though you could do this soup with other lentils or split peas.

4 ounces bacon, julienned
1 onion, chopped
1-2 carrot, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups petite green lentils
2 teaspoon thyme
2 quarts water, veg, or chicken stock
3 medium potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
salt, pepper

In a heavy-bottomed 8-quart pot, cook bacon over medium heat until it is just beginning to crisp. If you like pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Add the onion and carrots and cook for 5-8 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minutes, then add lentils, thyme, water/stock, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, them reduce to a simmer and cook about 30 minutes. Top with yogurt/creme fraiche, sauerkraut, chopped green onions, more bacon...last night, I had some leftover pork roast languishing in the fridge and I added that toward the end of cooking.

I believe that exercise is a hugely important piece in fighting childhood obesity that goes hand-in-hand with the food movement that Jamie Oliver and others are championing. I'd love to explore local resources for well-taught/coached & affordable movement options as well. The time is ripe!

i love jamie oliver, and appreciate what he's talking about. i also really enjoy your writing, sarah, especially about food, and i'm glad you posted a recipe that demonstrates that eating well can be easy and inexpensive. it is much more accessible than some people think.

Thanks so much for posting this! Very informative- and a topic that needs to be discussed- OVER and OVER!

I love this Sarah, thank you so much.

Could you crock pot this recipe?

yes! Absolutely, you'd probably need to increase the cooking time to five or six hours. just keep tasting the beans until they taste right to you.

I was floored by the children not being able to recognize common vegetables. And then I recalled (with some modicum of horror) my mom's revelation that she had learned on a program about food on cable that baby carrots are not, in fact, small carrots, but are processed bits of regular carrots.

My mother, who was raised by the daughter of a homesteader! Ack!

I'm very much in favor of the pro-real-food message, and I hate what the school is putting out, but I'm not so much on board with the sugar-is-evil one. And canned vegetables are better than no vegetables! Sitting down and enjoying home-cooked food together is very important. So is not obsessing over everything you put in your mouth. That's one I am especially conscious of since I have daughters.

Yes, thanks Sarah for all your fabulous posts. Chris -- I'm going to ask a silly question -- but where do you find lentils de puy -- I read about them all the time but haven't seen them at my local Winco or Fred Meyer. Am I just not looking hard enough or do I need to go elsewher?

I'm also interested in doing more dark leafy greens -- everyday like you're supposed to. Does anyone want to post their favorite dark leafy greens recipe?

Shannon, I became rather obsessed with dark leafy greens when I was pregnant with my first daughter and they have been a staple in our house ever since. My kids are pretty picky, but they will eat spinach, kale, chard in things all the time b/c they are used to seeing it. [I used to cook more with collards and mustard greens but they are less popular with the littles so don't do so much now. COllard greens are THE most nutritious food!--they have something like 3x more calcium than a glass of milk!]

Here are our leafy-green standards. I can give more detailed recipes if anyone's interested; I've pretty much memorized a sketchy version of each:
1. Mixed greens frittata. Finely chop a bunch of greens, or a mix of greens, along with a half cup of parsley and/or basil. Saute 1/2 an onion (optional) in an oven-proof skillet. Add greens, cook until tender. Beat 7-8 eggs with 1/3 cup water or milk, 1/2 cup grated cheese, and some salt. Pour greens into egg mixture, then pour the whole thing back into the pan. COok on low heat about 10 min., until sides separate from pan. TOp will still be wet. Put parmesan cheese on top and put under broiler till cooked through and brown on top. Let sit 5 min. before eating.
2. Pasta with beans and greens. Warm 2-3 T olive oil in skillet with 4-6 cloves minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once it's fragrant, add a bunch of chopped greens (we like kale best for this). Saute till tender, then add salt to taste and a can of white beans or chickpeas. Heat through and add hot pasta, along with a bit more olive oil to hold everything together. This sounds simple but is SO good.
3. Green pasta (this one I got from someone on this site--zinemama maybe??). Saute 1/2 onion in olive oil, add a bunch of spinach, saute till wilted. Put in cuisinart with some salt, nutmeg, 1 cup of ricotta. Blend well and mix with pasta. I have also mixed it with rice or cooked barley--both delish!

Re. the larger topic, I've recently gotten in the habit of cooking up a big pot of soup every SUnday. I love this ritual and, b/c it's Sunday, I do things like make a stock and cook with dried beans. Stuff can just be soaking or simmering all day. THen we eat it all week!

Greens recipe:
Chard Gratin: start with 1-2 bunches of chard, wash and stem. save 1/2 the stems, slice them thin. boil stems for 2 minutes, add leaves and boil 3 more min. drain, cool squeeze out water, coarsely chop.
Toss together 1 C fresh bread crumbs and 2 t melted butter, toast in 350 oven about ten minutes and set aside.
In a saucepan melt 1.5 T butter and add one diced onion, cook about 5 min on med heat. Stir in chard and salt to taste. cook 3 min, then sprinkle w/ 2 t flour, and stir. add 1/2 C milk and sprinkle of nutmeg. cook 5 min, if it is too thick add more milk, chard should be moist but not floating. spread chard in small buttered baking dish and dot top with 2 t butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake in 350 oven till bubbly, 20-30 min.
This recipe is from Alice Waters' Simple Food cookbook, highly recommend it.

I am loving Jamie's new cookbook; Food Revolution. Simple recipes that are tasty! So glad he won the TED prize. There is a lot that can be done to get better quality food in schools. Go Jamie!

If you haven't seen the blog of a teacher eating the school's lunch food it is very interesting: http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/

I like leafy greens steamed and dressed with a mixture of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Easy-peasy.

Also in caldo verde: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2010/01/03/caldo_verde/

I also love Jamie's new cookbook -Food Revolution. Simple explanations, interesting food combinations and lots of choice. Surprised because I haven't loved his earlier books.

Thanks everyone for the great recipes -- going to try all of them!

I grew up hating cauliflower, thought it was bland & boring. Didn't like it raw, didn't like it cooked.

Discovered that the secret is ROASTING.

Oven at 350 (or whatever temp you're cooking)
Wash, cut cauliflower into smaller florets.
Put in a big bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil.
Smash/mince a clove of garlic and add to the bowl.
Salt & pepper to taste.
Toss (use your hands!)
Put onto a baking sheet (I use one with rims, sometimes also line with foil if I don't feel like washing later)
Roast for 20 minutes (or less if you're using the oven on higher temp)

(I sometimes make a smaller batch of this in my toaster oven)

And did the kale "chips" recipe circulate here a while back?

I'd like to take up someone on an offer of a cooking lesson...Would there be anyone up for this? I'm a mother of a super busy 14 month old little boy and just found out I'm pregnant again. I would love to cook for my family, but it all seems very overwhelming and time-consuming. Let's just say that my son doesn't have a whole lot of patience for me doing something else besides play with him!! You can email me at bluscuromirare@yahoo.com

Shannon, I get lentils de puy from Bob's Red Mill or Azure Standard.

Raychel, if I still lived in Portland I would be happy to have you over for a cooking session, hope someone offers! In the meantime, I would like to suggest that you check out Martha Stewart's Everyday Food recipes--they are simple to prepare, call for 8 ingredients or less, and usually take less than 25 minutes of prep time. She has a blog called Dinner Tonight that features these recipes, (as well as a new iPhone application that looks super cool if you're an iPhone user) and I am constantly finding healthy, tasty ideas here. Also, if you can find some time in the late mornings, putting together a crock pot dinner is awesome and takes away so much stress from that late afternoon rush to get dinner done and tame a tired babe!

Actually, it's called The Everyday Food Blog now...used to be Dinner Tonight.

You can get those little french lentils at New Seasons, too.

Martha's Everyday Food iPhone app came up while I was looking for kids' apps to write about for one of my 'day job' sites... I was meaning to check it out. Raychel, I'm emailing you now. everyone else, thanks so much for your recipes and sweet comments!

I think people don't realize how simple and easy cooking can be, we're living in a I want it now, fast food society. But even the organic frozen dinners are usually loaded with sodium. That said, I think fast food in okay once in a while (Burgerville is my preference!) and splurging on sweets is okay (yes my 2 year old son has eaten many a cookies).

I'm also a big fan of shortcuts. Get produce or fruit chop it up in the beginning of the week into serving sizes, freeze chopped onion and pepper, etc. Make a big batch of soup and freeze it. Rotisserie chicken makes great tacos, chicken soup, etc...

Another good resource is the book (and website) The Six O'Clock Scramble. It gives a week by week menu and grocery list, most recipes can be made in 30 min or less.

Just watch the sizes - some things feed 8 or 10 so I have to cut it in half.

I just use the book but she also has a subscription service via the website.

I understand the time factor for cooking for a young family. I have run a daycare for 22 years. I serve fresh veggies to all the children. Start with a new eater. Veggies should be first food served. You can blend or use a food grinder(baby mill). Foods need to be tried several times before children adjust. Parents need to holdout longer than the child who is refuseing to eat. Don't swape the healthy stuff for the junk.If you are in charge of the buying guess who buys the junk? Yep it's you. But you can take charge if you only buy healthy when children are hungry guess what they eat.... I also put veggies in things like meatballs. 1 lb> ground turkey half cup bread crumbs half cup ground carrots or chopped spinach salt pepper. fry in a pan sprayed with cooking spray untill browned. Can be used in tomato sauce Children like to eat with tooth picks or chopsticks to change it up. You can double the recipe and freez half.

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