Monday, June 30, 2008

You Say it’s Your Blogday: CHG's Top Ten Recipes

WOO! We made it! A year ago today, CHG launched with a smile, a strategy, and a semi-sensical mission statement. While world wide web domination is probably a couple of years in coming, we've carved out a neat little niche in the highly competitive arena of health-and-frugality-oriented food blogging.

So, thank you to everyone – all 158,126 of you – who’ve popped in over the last 12 months. I’ve really enjoyed writing for and learning from you. Y’all are aces.

And! Thank you to the 1,551 websites, blogs, and people who’ve sent traffic this way, especially MSN Smart Spending, Get Rich Slowly, Paid Twice, Frugal Hacks, A Good American Wife, Money Saving Mom, English Major Money, Serious Eats, and Frugal Upstate. Three cheers.

Also! Thanks to Jaime and Leigh for joining up, and Rachel for subbing in while I was on vacation. I'm way grateful for your viewpoints, limeades, and kale chips, ladies.

And finally! Thanks to The Boyfriend, for eating lots of crap in between the good stuff.

Which brings us to today’s food. In celebration of the whole one-year shebang, I went back and picked out my top ten favorite meals/snacks/whatever. While each of the 105 recipes on this site has been Boyfriend-Leigh-or-Jaime-tested and Me-approved, these guys I remember as being particularly tasty. Behold their wonder! (In convenient alphabetical order.)

Baked Apples
Source: The Cook's Bible by Christopher Kimball
Essentially a crustless apple pie, this warm, Autumn-y dessert makes me yearn for colder weather.

Cheesy Eggplant Bake
Bad name. Good food.

Chicken Provencal
Source: Cook's Illustrated's Best 30-Minute Recipe
Possibly my absolute favorite, and it really only takes a half-hour. Yay, olives!

Falafel with Tahini Sauce
Source: (Falafel) and (Tahini Sauce)
The Boyfriend's best-loved dish. You don't miss the deep-frying one bit.

Gazpacho Pasta Salad
Source: Cook's Country Magazine
Dude. I make this ALL THE TIME. For every occasion. Even when it's not appropriate, like a pasta haters convention.

Marcella Hazan’s Lemon Roasted Chicken
Source: via Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
To make this even better (as if), chop thick-cut carrots and Yukon gold potatoes into 1-inch pieces, drop 'em in the bottom, and roast along with the chicken. You won't know what hit you.

Potato Gnocchi
Source: Gnocchi cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education
Best of all? They freeze like the dickens.

This could be the classiest thing I've ever eaten. Besides Shea Stadium hot dogs, I mean.

Sweet Lassi
Who needs a friggin' milkshake?

White Bean and Kale Soup with Turkey Sausage
This made me like kale.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Zucchini Mushroom Crumble: a Day in the Life

I love food blogs. Oh, the actual meals are nice, but beyond that, I really dig learning about folks’ day-to-day experiences making them. It’s a neat little window into lives totally different from mine, and truly, kind of awe-inspiring. (Note: I would have said “amazing,” but am actively trying to abolish it, since it’s the most overused word in the English language. Gandhi? Amazing. Cat socks? Not amazing. Seriously, folks.)

Take the fancier food blogs. They make something as mundane as dinner prep seem so idyllic, like there’s art in the air and deliciousness hovering over every well-tended garden. Really, some’re like reading an E.M. Forster novel:

I took care to place the heavier, robin’s-egg-blue crockery upon a trivet made entirely of gossamer wisps and the shattered dreams of former suitors. I did SO want to set the dish atop Signora’s silk-screened napkins depicting Queen Victoria, but alas – the airy soufflé would far from compliment the grandiosity of her majesty’s jowls.

The mom food blogs are pretty sweet, too, because I don’t know how these women do it all:

SIL and MIL popped over for din-din Tuesday night, so I had to breastfeed, hit the treadmill, open a Roth IRA, and whip up four 11x13’s of Tex-Mex casserole all before 6. Faboo. And let’s not even talk about Lil’ Miss Poopyhead, who decided to invite 14 homeless cats in for a tea party. I’m allergic to kitties, as is DH, so there was a lot of sneezing.

They make my days look like Dazed and Confused, y’know? Like, if I wrote about what happened last Thursday, it’d read more like a slacker police blotter than an actual narrative:

Came home. Worked out. Didn’t die. Ate peach. Farted. Threw pasta in pot. Ate pasta. Typed about it. Pet dog. Farted again. Examined ceiling leak. Smooched Boyfriend. Slept. Dreamed of Godzilla again. Is he dinosaur? No one knows, still.

One of my favorite blogs for day-to-day descriptions is Chocolate and Zucchini. Clotilde’s writing is laid-back but still engrossing, and her entry for today’s dish, Zucchini and Mushroom Crumble (Crumble de Courgette aux Champignons), is particularly good. Besides the mouth-watering details she rattles off with great affection, it makes you want to watch her cook. And that, I think, is the point.

If you decide to make the crumble itself (which you should, because it’s tasty), a few suggestions:

1) The herbs are totally up to you. I went with a ½ teaspoon basil, ½ teaspoon oregano, and a ¼ teaspoon of thyme for the mushrooms (crushed in my hand before adding to the pan to release the flavor), ½ teaspoon thyme for the zucchini, and a sprinkle each of oregano, basil, and thyme for the topping. It worked well.

2) If I whipped this up again, I’d only make two changes: adding a clove or two of garlic, along with two more ounces of mushrooms. (Also, maybe better background music.)

3) Clotilde’s original recipe was for twice the amount, cooked in ramekins, and written for metric system users (um … meaning everybody but us Yanks). I halved it, used an 8x8 pyrex dish, and converted everything to U.S. customary units. It worked.

Happy weekend, y’all.

Zucchini Mushroom Crumble
Makes 3 full servings or 4-5 sides.
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini.

1-1/2 tablespoons oatmeal
1-1/2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, diced
1-1/2 tablespoons grated cheese (parmesan, comté...)
1 T olive oil, divided
1/8th of an onion, diced
8oz mixed mushrooms, big ones chopped in half
3 medium zucchinis, cut in small pieces (preferably julienned)
½ teaspoon flour
Thyme and dried herbs of your choice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black peppe

1) Preheat oven to 425°F. Get out 8x8 baking dish.

2) In a medium bowl, combine oatmeal, bread crumbs, butter, and cheese with your fingers. It should look like "coarse sand" when finished. Add herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Set aside.

3)  In a large skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onion. Cook about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add mushrooms and some dried herbs. Cook until mushrooms "have released their water," about 10 minutes. Add flour. Stir until slightly thickened. (I forgot the flour entirely, and it still came out fine. – Kris.)

4) While mushrooms are cooking, in a different large skillet, heat ½ tablespoon olive oil over high heat. Add zucchini. Stir. Add thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Drop heat to medium low. Cover. Cook until zucchini is crisp-tender, between 15 and 20 minutes.

5) Place zucchini in baking dish, spreading it out evenly. Top with mushrooms and spread them out, as well. Sprinkle crumb mixture over everything. Roast until crust is golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit a few minutes to cool, or a burned tongue may be in your future. (NOTE: I discovered the last part the hard way.  – Kris)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Main Course: 179 calories, 11.9 g fat, $1.13
Side Dish: 107.6 calories, 7.1 g fat, $0.68

3 medium zucchinis: 94 calories, 1.1 g fat, $1.28
8oz mixed mushrooms: 50 calories, 0.8 g fat, $1.49
1/8th of an onion: 6 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
½ teaspoon flour: 16 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
1 T olive oil, separated: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, $0.12
1-1/2 tablespoons oatmeal: 12 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.02
1-1/2 tablespoons breadcrumbs: 51 calories, 0.7 g fat, $0.06
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, diced: 153 calories, 17.3 g fat, $0.09
1-1/2 tablespoons grated cheese (parmesan, comté...): 32 calories, 2.1 g fat, $0.21
thyme and dried herbs of your choice: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.05
salt, pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 538 calories, 35.7 g fat, $3.38
PER SERVING MAIN (TOTAL/3): 179 calories, 11.9 g fat, $1.13
PER SERVING SIDE (TOTAL/5): 107.6 calories, 7.1 g fat, $0.68

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Veggie Might: Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon (Stinging Nettles - Ouch! Mmm!)

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Interjections (Hey!) show excitement (Yow!) or emotion (Ouch!).They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.

My first trip to the CSA meeting place had me buzzing with feelings: curiosity (How does this thing work exactly? Will I meet the farmers?!), excitement (Sorrel, dandelion greens, and grape leaves! Oh my!), and anxiety (Ugh! My nemesis [Yes, even I, dear reader, have a nemesis.] might be there.).

I fastened the basket to my handlebars and zipped down to the designated street on my bike. About halfway down the block, I saw a truck with a “Support Your Local Farmer” banner draped across the open back. Several tents on the sidewalk protected vendors and their goods from the midmorning sun. My nemesis was nowhere to be seen.

The coordinator, Erica, greeted me and, as I signed the register, I scanned the roll for the evil one’s name. Not there! A season of delicious, drama-free veggies are mine!

Erica explained that I could choose four items, plus one extra, from the six or seven available this week, and good thing I brought my own bag because her helper was “evil and didn’t bring any.” She has a nemesis, too, it seems. She also directed me to recipes for the more unusual vegetables.

After being reassured that the take gets more bountiful later in the season, I began to fill my bag with dandelion greens, grape leaves, sorrel, a bouquet of wildflowers, and stinging nettles. While I gathered, Erica reminded me three more times to take The Recipes, though I took them the first time.

Stinging nettles were the “extra” item of which we could have as much as we wanted. There were two boxes: one of fresh nettles and one of nettles starting to wilt and dry. Erica explained that the dried version makes a great tea for sinus problems and allergies. Sign me up.

I took some of both, reaching in to discover that stinging nettles…sting. The stems are covered with tiny hairs that prick and emit venom. Erica then pointed to the tongs and shared an anecdote about medieval torturers lashing prisoners with stinging nettles. Delightful! I was pulling little prickers out of my fingers for the rest of the day.

Home with my bounty I wondered what in the world I would do with sorrel and stinging nettles. The nettles hurt my fingers and I was only given an ounce of sorrel. At the bottom of the bag lay my savior: The Recipes. There were also instructions on how to handle the stinging nettles.

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon from The Reluctant Gourmet had it all. Erica had pulled it off the Web and the accompanying blog post gave a brief history of the plant. Once I inspected the ingredients list versus my pantry, I made several modifications (1/2 cup of olive oil? Yeesh!), but the spirit of the recipe remains intact. In essence, it’s nettle pesto with sorrel as garnish.

Because I only took small bunch of fresh nettles, I started to half the recipe—it called for 1/4 pound of nettles and I only had 1/8—but once I’d made the sauce, I found it plenty to cover 8 ounces of pasta. The original recipe also called for ricotta cheese and walnuts for which I subbed parmesan and pine nuts.

It turned out to be quite delicious, though I’m at a loss as to describe the flavors. Is green a flavor? It is now! The lemon zest really came through, and the mint and parsley gave it a fresh flavor. If you ever come across stinging nettles or sorrel, don’t be shy. And let me know; I’ll send you The Recipes.

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon
Approximately 4 servings
Adapted from The Reluctant Gourmet.

1/8 pound fresh stinging nettles, stems and all
8 ounces pasta
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp parmesan
1/2 lemon for zest and juice
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parley, chopped
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 oz. fresh sorrel leaves, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
1 oz toasted pine nuts

1) Get out two large pots of water. Fill them with water. Add salt. Bring to a boil.

2) Carefully add nettles to Pot #1. Stir. Cook for 5 minutes. Very carefully, use tongs to place them in a colander. Drain. [I suggest using tongs when handling the nettles. I wore vinyl gloves surgical gloves (which I keep around for cleaning and chopping hot peppers) and then little stingers still poked through. - Leigh] Dirt should be gone/all left in the water.

3) In Pot #2, cook pasta until al dente. Drain, making sure to reserve a cup of pasta water. Set pasta and water aside.

4) While pasta is boiling, "press most of the water out of the nettles and remove the leaves from the stems." Place in food processor. Puree. (At this stage, the sting will have mostly dissipated, so gloves will suffice for leaf removal. - Leigh) Slowly add olive oil while this is happening. Once smooth, stop processor and add parmesan, zest, juice, and herbs. Pulse until blended. Salt and pepper to taste.

5) Put pasta back in its pot. Add nettle pesto. Stir. Add sorrel and a little pasta water, until sauce reaches the consistency you like.

7) Top with or stir in pine nuts. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
292 calories, 10.4g fat, $1.43 per serving

1/8 pound fresh stinging nettles: 6 calories, .1g fat, $2.30*
8 ounces whole wheat pasta: 720 calories, 8g fat, $1.00
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil: 240 calories, 28g fat, $0.16
1 tbsp parmesan: 21 calories, 1.4g fat, $0.37
1/2 lemon for zest and juice: 4 calories, 0g fat, $0.02
1 tablespoon fresh mint: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1 tablespoon fresh parsley: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1 tablespoon chives: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1 oz. fresh sorrel leaves: 2.5 calories, .1g fat, $1.25*
1 oz toasted pine nuts: 60 calories, 6g fat, $0.37
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 tsp pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTALS: 1168.5 calories, 41.6g fat, $5.72
PER SERVING: 292 calories, 10.4g fat, $1.43 per serving

*Approximate cost based on size of portion divided by number of items in week’s share divided by total cost of week’s share. These will get much cheaper as the summer goes on.

Author’s note: Rest in peace, sweet Dody Goodman, fellow central Ohioan, and funny, funny lady. I’ll never misspell your name again.

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Sprinkled with beautiful pictures of exotic locales and colorful, tasty-looking dishes, Aaplemint, though infrequently updated, is worth a gander just the same. Kate’s food seems to specialize in out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, like jasmine and (for real) aloe. It’s a lot of baked goods, but there are other treasures here and there, as well.

Food Book of the Week
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take a tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die." Wow, what a phenomenal book. Essentially, a lost, sick mountaineer wanders into a tiny Pakistani town, is nursed back to health, and pledges to build a school there. One school becomes several dozen, and the Central Asia Institute is born. A must-read.

Food Comedy of the Week
Cookie Monster on Colbert Report
Have you ever realized how much a Peabody Award looks like a cookie? Cookie Monster has.

ETA: This was working this morning, and isn't now. However, it's still hilarious, and still available on Comedy Central's website. - Ed.

Organization of the Week
Central Asia Institute
“CAI’s mission: To promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.” If that doesn't stir one to action, I don't know what will.

Food Quote of the Week
“You know the great irony is that people think you have to have money to enjoy fine food, which is a shame.” – Ted Allen

Untried Cheap, Healthy Recipe of the Week
Savory Mango Soup from Mark Bittman
If you changed the yogurt to low-fat and the coconut milk to no-fat, this would be oodles healthier. In the meantime – MANGO SOUP? Yes, please.

Food Video of the Week
“Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch
Such a beautiful song. In this case, it’s bizarrely set to an occasionally bloody fan vid for the CW series Supernatural. But hey – you take it however you can get it, right?

Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
"Losing You" by Jan Terri
Ladies and gentlemen, the worst/best music video ever made.

(Photo courtesy of Rockford Schools.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Understanding the Childhood Obesity Epidemic Part III: Small-Scale Solutions

Earlier this afternoon, CHG posted the wide-scale solutions to the childhood obesity epidemic. Now it’s time for the personal solutions – stuff you can do everyday to make sure kids are growing up healthy.

Also included are two things you absolutely shouldn’t do, because they need to be mentioned, too.


1) Walk the walk. Kids learn behavior from their parents. If mom and dad don’t eat healthy or exercise, their children won’t either. Or, as Time Magazine's Lori Oliwenstein puts it, “If your daily diet revolves around bologna, potato chips and Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream eaten straight out of the carton, guess what Junior's going to start craving? And if you can name every celebrity from the past five seasons of Dancing with the Stars, chances are your kid can too.” So get out there. Buy fresh foods. Educate yourself about healthy eating. Cook. Exercise (because, “If your children see that you are physically active and have fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active for the rest of their lives”). Mostly, SET A GOOD EXAMPLE.

2) Unplug the Xbox. One health agency claims that unless they’re sleeping, kids shouldn’t spend anymore than two sedentary hours per day. Between TV and video games, lots of American children surpass that easily, and it’s directly related to their weight gain. To ameliorate the situation, regulate kids’ screen hours. Remove TVs from their bedrooms. Offer them alternatives by planning something fun and physical in place of Halo 3. Speaking of…

3) Get moving. Exercise benefits kids in a ton of ways. Besides the obvious physical perks, Time says they “do better academically, have fewer disciplinary issues, maintain better medical history,” and most of all, “improve [their] overall sense of well-being.” So plan a day in the park, start a street hockey game, or go for a walk after dinner. Or, just read this article, which has ten great suggestions for getting a move on.

4) Eat together at home. This is difficult for most families, especially as kids get older and exponentially busier. But by-and-large, home-prepared meals have less calories and fat than those found at restaurants or snagged from a vending machine. What’s more, family meals are killer opportunities to communicate, connect, and teach (about food … and other stuff). And while we’re on it, lots of articles suggest packing school lunches from home and keeping healthy snacks handy for a grab-n-eat. And when you think about it? Makes sense.

5) Practice portion control. While it could ostensibly be grouped under numbers 1 or 4, portion control is important enough to merit its own special number 5. Why? Well, kids are learning from birth that super-sized servings are totally normal – that they can have a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream with no consequences. Sadly, that’s not the case, and it’s correlated to weight gain. If you’re unsure about correct portions yourself, here’s a great set of guidelines to get started.

6) Get kids involved in their food. When children (or anyone, really) have a stake in what they eat, they’re much more likely to make conscientious decisions about food. So take ‘em grocery shopping. Offer them choices. Teach them to cook. As Washington Post writer Sally Squires puts it, “By learning how to cook cheaply and healthfully, they can help fight the battle of the bulge -- and put great-tasting, healthful food on the table for the rest of their lives.” Or, more encouragingly, as one 15-year-old boy says, “If my mom had made paella, I don't know if I would have eaten it. But since I actually made it, I wanted to try it, and I liked it." That’s the spirit, kid.

7) Put ‘em to bed. Besides general lethargy, a lack of sleep causes children to “crave fatty, high-sugar foods.” For reference, this Web MD article shows how much snoozing time each age group should have per night.

8) Connect on a bigger level. Earlier today, Part II discussed the larger obesity initiatives taken by governmental, business, and philanthropic agencies. The best part about them? Is that YOU (yes, YOU) can influence their policy. One writer even suggests, “We need an uprising of concerned parents and other citizens to call their members of Congress. We need 50 states to mandate physical education in K-8 schools.” If that seems like a lot, engaging on a smaller level is great, too. As one NPR commentor says, “talk to your fellow parents about their ideas for healthy lunches and snacks.” Childhood obesity is a community issue, and your community can help.

9) Take baby steps. Gradual, small changes will most likely be more effective than sweeping, all-encompassing ones. One nutrition expert suggests, “look for ways to introduce more fruits, whole grains and veggies into these diets," while physiologist Shelly Sweeney says, “It's not like 'The Biggest Loser,' where you would lose 60 pounds. It's just, pick up a few of these tips, switch to skim milk and eat more colorful foods, and let's get outside and do a little bit more exercise." Good calls, both.

10) Talk to a doctor. Time Magazine says this best, so I’m going to leave it entirely to them: “The stickiness of the childhood-obesity problem begins with a simple truth: most of us just don't think our kids are fat. It's right there in the stats; one study found that only 36% of parents of overweight or obese children ages 2 to 17 identified them as such.” If you suspect your child might be heavier than he/she should be, it's important to consult a professional who'll set you on the right track.

As mentioned up top, there are two things you should never do to an overweight kid.

1) NEVER put a kid on a medically unsupervised diet. Not only does dieting fail children (“A success rate of 1 percent is the best medical professionals have seen.”), but it’s unsafe: “Children can suffer nutrient deficiencies, immune suppression and dangerous stress levels." If you have an overweight child, consult your doctor before enrolling them in any weight-loss programs.

2) NEVER make a kid feel bad about their weight. Why? Because it’s not the child’s fault. He/she IS A CHILD. And that child is subjected to more judgment and stupid remarks in a given day than anyone should be. Instead, if you want to make a positive impact:

And that, fair readers, concludes this very special three-part series on Understanding the Childhood Obesity Epidemic. I would love to read questions, comments, and suggestions (especially in the solutions category), so fire away.

Oh yeah – and here are my sources for Parts II and III:


10 Tips To Get Your Kids Moving (Time, 6/08)
Baby Fat (New York Magazine, 2/04)
Childhood Obesity (USA Today, 1/06)
Facts You Should Know (Washington Post, 5/08)
Fit at Any Size (Time, 6/08)
Healthy Home Ec (Washington Post, 5/08)
Kids: Watching What They Eat (Time, 6/08)
A One-Eyed Invader in the Bedroom (New York Times, 3/08)
The Search for Solutions (Washington Post, 5/08)
The Threat From Within (Newsweek, 1/07)
Two Worlds, One Problem (Washington Post, 5/08)
Weight Problems and Children (NY Times)
Weighty Issues for Parents (Time, 6/08)
Your Questions on Kids and Obesity (NPR, 11/06)

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members Sean dreilinger, novamade, and luluphotography2007.)

Understanding the Childhood Obesity Epidemic Part II: Wide-Scale Solutions

Last week, CHG posted the first of a three-part series on our overweight kids, examining the causes and effects of America’s growing youth. Today, it’s all about the solutions, both on a mass and personal scale. We know some are already working, since according to Time Magazine, “for the first time in decades the increase in U.S. childhood obesity leveled off [in May].” And with more of these ideas implemented, it can only get better.

Right now, we’ll examine the larger-scale solutions. The personal ones are coming later this afternoon. As with Part 1, if anyone has suggestions or comments, please pass ‘em along. I’d love to read/add.


1) Philanthropic initiatives
Of all the articles I read, the one organization mentioned most often was the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A New Jersey-based agency specializing in health issues, it’s “pledged $500 million over five years to fight the epidemic, with the aim of halting the rise of childhood obesity by 2012.” RWJ has a number of different agendas like the Healthy Schools Program, which are designed to provide support and education at a community and personal level. And it’s not alone, either. Food Trust of Philadelphia and the HSC Foundation in Washington DC are just two more of the myriad organizations aiming to halt the epidemic.

2) Local government and community initiatives
While the feds have pretty much dropped the ball on the obesity issue, local governments are picking up the slack. To wit: governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and Conan the Barbarian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) of California have all kicked off pro-fitness, anti-junk food campaigns. Municipal governments are creating and funding city and community-based programs by the hundreds. One health advocate even estimates, there are “700 programs targeting obesity and similar healthy lifestyle issues” in the Washington DC area alone. Finally, “from churches and community centers to Scout troops, organizations large and small are trying to again get children moving or to teach them about better eating.” If Obama/McCain/whoever gets on board with nationwide legislation, farm bill revision, and an overhaul of the USDA, we could make even more progress.

3) School initiatives
While schools are generally under the jurisdiction of state and local governments (several of which are banning sales of soda and high-sugar snacks), the districts themselves do exert some power. Schools across the nation are offering healthier choices for lower prices, marketing produce in smarter ways, rejecting funding from junk food companies, retraining their kitchen staffs, upping their physical fitness requirements, teaching kids to cook, and mandating that health reports be sent home to parents. The Arkansas school system has been particularly effective with their health initiatives, as “72 percent of students increased physical activity” and “61% [of schools] have policies prohibiting junk foods in vending machines, up from just 18 percent in 2004.”

4) Industry & advertising initiatives
“Motivated by the triple threat of bad publicity, tougher regulation and costly lawsuits, some of the country's biggest food companies have curtailed child-targeted advertising of certain high-calorie products,” says The Washington Post. This is good news. Since the FTC and FCC generally don’t curb the advertising of junk food to minors, self-regulation by the businesses themselves is responsible and absolutely necessary for kids’ health. Even better, a slew of manufacturers and chain restaurants are revamping their product lines and menus to give children more nutritious choices. Again, as reported by the WP, they're “emphasizing baked versions of old fried favorites.Or reformulating the foodstuffs, reducing sodium in some varieties of Lunchables and lowering sugar and fat in cereals such as Spider-Man 3.” While it’s not exactly fruit and vegetables, it’s a start.

Stay tuned, folks. Part III: Small-Scale Solutions (and a bibliography) is coming this afternoon.

(Photos courtesy of, AQMD, and

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Kale Chips

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

Last night I got home at 10pm, after a reading of a new play and treating myself to a late dinner of Greek yogurt and raspberries at Whole Foods. (Oh, delicious unfrugal sin.) Once I got home I wanted nothing more (well, nothing that wouldn’t involve feats of teleportation or lottery-winning) than to check my email, read a few blogs (this is what I do without cable) and go the heck to bed. But even in my sleepy stupor, I knew what I had to do. I had few-days-old kale in my fridge, and nothing for lunch the next day. It was now or never.

Of course, what sleepy (and apparently not-reading-my-own-blog-posts) me didn’t think about was the possible downside of running the oven, stovetop, and toaster oven simultaneously this 85-degrees-and-humid evening. Ah well. It made my bedroom feel almost arctic in comparison.

What the hell, you may be asking, was I doing to this kale that required such Herculean effort, so many steps, such copious heat? Why the hell, you may be asking, didn’t I just sautee it in olive oil and garlic? Well, I did. For half of it. (I had a pound and a half of kale, because that giant bunch is the only kind of bunch my supermarket sells.) But the rest of the kale was destined for another, slightly more elaborate fate. Something new and exciting that probably sounds totally weird but was completely awesome:

Kale chips.

Yes, that’s right. Kale salted and oiled and vinegared and baked until crispy and light. Turning one of the healthiest, most virtuous foods in the world into a satly, addictive bowlful of delicious. While keeping it darn healthy and virtuous. (And since this was about 75 cents worth of kale, darn cheap, too.)

I’d read about kale chips last winter, after I’d gone through my seasonal kale phase and subsequent roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower addiction, and was thoroughly mired in supermarket collard greens while waiting for the farmers market to return. But I filed it away somewhere in the back of my mind, supplanting more important information like where my Metrocard was this morning (answer: behind my jewelry box). When I brought home this unseasonable supermarket kale to go with the tempeh I’d splurged on the week before, I knew that not all of it would make it to the sauté pan.

I’d read about kale chips on Serious Eats, where they pointed out this recipe, but kale chips are all over the internet. I am happy to continue that tradition.

The recipe for kale chips is a pretty basic unrecipe – oil, vinegar, salt, kale; bake till crispy, try not to finish the entire bowl at once because you have to take pictures for the blog and you should probably save some to see how they keep overnight and also isn’t it time for bed? But in case you want something a little more delineated:

Kale Chips
(serves 2? or yourself? I mean, it’s a bunch of kale and healthy oil, so really, go crazy.)

Large bunch of kale (once in pieces, I had about 6 or 8 cups)
1 T olive oil (I used canola because my olive oil is very strongly fruity)
2 T vinegar (the other internet recipes seem to agree on apple cider vinegar, but I used rice wine vinegar because that’s what I had, and it was delish)
salt (please, for all that’s holy, use Kosher or sea salt – the larger grains make a big difference)

1) Pre-heat oven to 350F.

2) Rinse and dry the kale. Tear it (discarding the big veins) into large chip-sized pieces. (It’ll shrink some in cooking.)

3) Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar with a couple of pinches of salt in a small bowl.

4) Put kale in a big mixing bowl. Slowly add the oil/vinegar mix, until the kale is just coated. (Mixing by hand is good, unless you have a big paper cut on your thumb. The vinegar will sting.)

5) Spread kale in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (You may need to do multiple batches.) If you’re a low-blood-pressured salt-fiend like myself, sprinkle on some more salt.

6) Bake for 10-15 minutes, flipping/moving around half-way. After about 10 min, keep an eye on it – you want it dry but not brown.

7) Let cool a bit.

8) Try not to devour.

9) Or, heck, devour.

I made this in two batches, and good thing I did. The first one was way too wet, and browned before it was dry. I finished it off in the toaster oven, and even while not totally chippy, these were delicious. I ran the second batch in my salad spinner before baking to get rid of extra moisture, and this worked brilliantly – the chips were light and dry in 15 minutes, stayed green, and were massively addictive. Kept overnight on the counter in an aluminum foil-covered bowl, they got a tad soggy, but were still devoured with speed. A paper towel covering might be better, or make sure they’re totally cooled before covering.

You can make this in larger or smaller batches if you like – just keep the vinegar-to-oil ratio at 2:1, and make sure not to soak the kale. You can also add seasonings other than salt – cumin and paprika come to mind, or an Italian basil/oregano thing? Go wild. Kale and you – living on the wild side. Just maybe wait for the temperature outside to drop just a bit.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
177 calories, 8.5 g fat, $0.53

7 cups kale (in pieces): 234 calories, 3 g fat, $0.75
1 tablespoon oil: 120 calories, 14 g fat, $0.06
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar: 0 calories, 0 fat, $.23
1 teaspoon kosher salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 354 calories, 17 g fat, $1.05
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 177 calories, 8.5 g fat, $0.53

[Also, one serving contains 30% of your daily potassium, 417% of Vitamin A, 469% Vitamin C, 32% Calcium, 22% Iron, 12-32% of the various vitamins B (except for B12), 20% Magnesium, and 34% of your daily recommended intake of Copper. (Copper!) I’m sure baking diminishes that a little, but 417% gives you a lot of room to go down.]

Tuesday Megalinks: The George Carlin Edition

Oh, man. First Tim Russert, now George Carlin? If Springsteen goes next, I'm moving to Mars. Either way, as tribute to the most important comedian in American history, each of today's links will be followed up by a Carlin quote instead of the usual description.

Broke Grad Student: Festival of Frugality #131 - Summer Savings Edition
"Ever wonder about those people who spend $2 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backward."

Casual Kitchen: Cooking Like the Stars? Don’t Waste Your Money
“Whenever you see the word cuisine used instead of the word food, be prepared to pay an additional eighty percent.”

Chow: Cooking With Summer Ingredients
“Fussy eater is a euphemism for big pain in the ass."

Consumerist: You Thought The U.S. Was The Most Obese Country? Think Again
“Americans love to eat. They are fatally attracted to the slow death of fast food.”

Culinate: Grain Glossary
“Have you ever been looking through the refrigerator and come across an empty plate? Well, it starts me to wondering. DID SOMETHING EAT SOMETHING ELSE? Maybe the olives ate the peas. Maybe the chicken isn’t really dead.”

Culinate: Market Inspiration
“I guess the worst thing that can happen cleaning out or looking through the refrigerator is to come across something that you can not identify at all. You literally do not know what it is. It could be meat. It could be cake. Usually at a time like that, I’ll bluff: ‘Honey, is this good?”

Dooce: Where is Heather and What Have You Done With Her Body?
“Is a vegetarian permitted to eat animal crackers?”

The Kitchn: Weekend Entertaining – Throwing an Iron Chef Dinner Party
“Two heart attacks has changed my diet, but I still cook bacon for the smell.”

The Kitchn: What Foods Can You Take to Someone Who is Bedridden?
“There's no present. There's only the immediate future and the recent past.”

NYTimes: Bacon a Hard Way - Hog-Tying 400 Pounds of Fury
“If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?”

NYTimes: Food Stamps Buy Less; Families Are Hit Hard
“They (The Reagan Administration) want to put street criminals in jail to make life safer for the business criminals. They're against street crime providing that street isn't Wall Street.”

NYtimes: Yes, We Will Have No Bananas
“There's a lot of things you could use to kill a guy with. You could probably beat a guy to death with the Sunday New York Times!”

Serious Eats: Everyone has a dream of opening a restaurant
“Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that.”

Slashfood: Teach your kids healthy eating habits with online games
"Another terrible sounding word: headcheese. AUGH! I can't even look at the sign."

The Simple Dollar: Reader Mailbag #16
(Scroll down to question #4.) “People who pay for inexpensive items with a credit card. … Folks, take my word for this, Raisinettes is NOT a major purchase. … No one should be paying the bank eighteen percent interest on Tic-Tacs.”

The Simple Dollar: Seven Ideas for Preparing Food at Home Cheaply with Minimal Space and Resources
“And, of course, the funniest food: ‘kumquats.’ I don't even bring them home. I sit there laughing and they go to waste.”

Wired: Do Nerds Like Cheese More Than Ordinary People?
“When cheese gets its picture taken, what does it say?” (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

(Second photo courtesy of

Monday, June 23, 2008

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and a Very Barefoot Contessa Weekend

I'm writing this late Sunday night, as Jet Blue has stranded The Boyfriend and I in Virginia. Not that I mind. His mom, brother, sister-in-law, freakishly adorable nearly-two-year-old nephew, and freakishly adorable brand-new nephew are all here, and they're nifty people. We've spent the last three days in a whirlwind of swimming, learning the letter B, and eating our faces off. It's not a bad life, man.

Off the six meals we've cooked so far, a whopping four have come courtesy of Barefoot Contessa. I LOVE INA GARTEN. This has been stated and restated in this blog, but the adoration/near-obsession can not be adequately documented, no matter how long/extensively I babble/type. The woman is a goddess in blue collared shirts. I am gigantically jealous of her husband Jeffrey, not because he's married to her, but because he gets to eat her food. ALL THE TIME.


Anyway, we've so far prepared her stellar Turkey Lasagna, Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, Macaroni and Cheese, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Of the four, the first three are neither particularly cheap or healthy. The Brussels Sprouts, though ...

Dude. Mmmm.

If you're not a fan of sprouts, I can see how this "mmm" might not be enough to put you over the "ew" edge. (I'm talking to you, Ma.) HOWEVER, if you're even slightly interested in green things in any capacity, I highly suggest giving them a try. Perfectly salted, crunchy on the outside, and soft in the middle, they're delicious little bombs of veggie goodness. Four or five (okay, maybe six) are plenty filling for a side dish, and they can be paired with just about anything. (Her Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, for instance.)

As with almost all BC recipes, you could probably cut the olive oil by at least a third, and still have the dish tasting like a plate of heaven. However, I haven't tried it that way, so this was plenty good for now.

Readers, if you have anymore Barefoot suggestions that might be suitable for this blog, please let me know. She will always find a home here (even if the Hamptons might be a tad more comfortable).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6
Adapted from Ina Garten.
Note: Cell phone picture. Sorry 'bout that.

1-1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, ends cut off and yellow outer leaves removed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1) Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and if you like, spray with cooking spray.

2) In a medium bowl, mix Brussels sprouts, oil, salt, and pepper. Stir to coat. Pour mixture on baking sheet. Roast 35-40 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until sprouts are browned and beautiful outside, tender and wonderful on the inside. Salt to taste. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
108 calories, 7 g fat, $0.56

1-1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts: 293 calories, 2 g fat, $2.98
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: 355 calories, 40.2 g fat, $0.36
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 648 calories, 42.2 g fat, $3.36
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 108 calories, 7 g fat, $0.56

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cherry Tomato Crisp: Subliminal Message Friday:

For now, this post marks the end of my forays into Marthaville (a.k.a. Stewartbrook, a.k.a. WASPington), as the Everyday Food cookbook was due back to the library today (last week). I gotta say (no, I MUST) that I really, really liked it. (Really.) I tried four (or five – maybe six) recipes from the tome, and all were blow-out, truly delicious winners (like the Celtics). I’m thinking of buying it myself and possibly gifting it to my sister (in lieu of her one true desire: Patrick Dempsey on a stick).

Cherry (or Grape) Tomato Crisp happened last week (Tuesday, I think) after The Boyfriend and I worked out (attempted not to die) at our newly-joined gym (a.k.a. the Torturedome). We didn’t arrive home until after 9pm (6pm PST), and this was basic enough to pull together in a few minutes (let’s say 35, for argument’s sake).

While the tomatoes came out all sweet and roasty (that’s Swahili for “wrinkled and good”), the highlights of the dish were the jazzed-up breadcrumbs (who knew?). They not only confirmed my belief that everything tastes better with parmesan (another belief: there is no better contemporary holiday song than Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”), but convinced me to try said crumbs on other veggies (mmm … crumbs). A similar eggplant side dish (found in Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen) came out just as beautifully. (Not kidding, though the roasted capers smelled a bit like cat food.) I can’t find it online, or I’d post it here. (I swear it.)

As always, a few notes if you decide to try (and please do):

1) Roasted whole tomatoes retain heat very well (it’s true), and if you eat one before it’s cooled (dummy), it tastes not unlike crimson, tomato-y lava (ow ow ow). SO, once you pull this baby out of the oven (note: the crisp, not an actual baby), let it sit for a few minutes (5-10). Even then, pierce the first tomato before you eat it to check (with a fork, not your finger). Otherwise, burn (baby, burn)!

2) I bought two pints of grape tomatoes for this (on Long Island, which is why they’re so cheap), and ended up using about 1-1/2 pints (that’s 0.68 kilos for you metric-loving folk). You, too, should have leftovers. (Which you should eat on a stick, Patrick Dempsey-style.)

3) We don’t use white bread (because we’re COMMUNISTS), but had two slices of whole wheat lying around (in the underwear drawer). They worked just as well, though they may not look as appetizing as the white slices. (See: my terrible, terrible picture.)

And that’s it. (Put a fork in it.) I’m away in Virginia (it’s for lovers) for the next few days, so there won’t be any Comments of the Week tomorrow (boo), but join us again Monday for more culinary wonder (note: fresh veggies, probably roasted, with some kind of topping.)

In the meantime, Tutti a Tavola A Mangiare! (Literally: this is really good, so eat it. Also, happy weekend.)

Cherry Tomato Crisp
Serves 4
Adapted from Everyday Food.

1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) cherry (or grape) tomatoes
2 slices white sandwich bread
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chopped garlic clove
Coarse salt and ground pepper

1) Preheat oven to 400ºF. Prep an 8x8 glass dish. (I think metal might work, too, but I haven't tried it.)

2) Add bread, Parmesan, parsley, olive oil, and garlic to a food processor. Salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until bread is reduced to big crumbs, about 4 or 5 times.

2) Place tomatoes in dish and spread them out into a single layer. Top evenly with crumb mixture. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until crumbs are brown. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes, because hot tomatoes will sear your tongue off.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
142 calories, 4.5 g fat, $0.85

1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) cherry (or grape) tomatoes: 200 calories, 0 g fat, $2.25
2 slices white sandwich bread: 133 calories, 1.6 g fat, $0.30
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese: 108 calories, 7.2 g fat, $0.56
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves: 3 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.13
1 tablespoon olive oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, $0.10
1 chopped garlic clove: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.05
Coarse salt and ground pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 567 calories, 22.4 g fat, $3.41
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 142 calories, 4.5 g fat, $0.85

(Additional photo courtesy of

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Veggie Might: Organic Foods - When to Splurge

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Everyone knows that organic is the way to go, but let’s be practical. Organic foods can be pretty cost-prohibitive and, depending on your locus, hard to come by. Take a quick tool around the natural foods store or even a mainstream grocery chain, and you’ll see a huge price disparity between the organic and “conventional” produce. Shopping at local farm stands, farmer’s markets, and food coops are the wisest options—and very often the cheapest—but, what do you do in a pinch or when you live in an underserved area?

I remember reading (or seeing on the tube) somewhere that fruits and veggies with inedible rinds are safer than those without, pesticide-wise. That makes sense. Peel of the bad stuff on the outside; eat the good stuff on the inside. But is it true or did I imagine it? On a fun vegetarian blog, Veggie Chic, I found a link to a colorful list with handy wallet card that (kind of) confirmed my waking dream, but carried the notion even further.

Compiled by the Environmental Working Group, the produce shopping guide is a list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that tested highest for pesticide residue. The Cleanest 12 are the iron-clad garden varieties that scored the lowest. The complete list tops out at 43.

Buy These Organic
Sweet Bell Peppers
Grapes (Imported)

Lowest in Pesticides
Sweet Corn (Frozen)
Sweet Peas (Frozen)

EWG, the awesome Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) that brings us Skin Deep: the Cosmetic Safety Database, has done research that is extensively cited in several other articles, including an amazingly comprehensive piece from Consumer Reports, When It Pays to Buy Organic.

In addition to in-depth reporting on organic standards and a great breakdown of labeling, the CR article also has great tips for finding real organic deals. A neighbor of mine told me months ago about a community-supported farm (CSA) that delivers to our ‘hood, and I promptly forgot about it. Then through Local Harvest, I discovered that the very same farm was still taking members this season.

Just days away from the registration deadline, I did some quick math and realized that for around $17.00 a week, I can have a bounty of locally grown (northern NJ), seasonal, organic produce all summer and fall. That’s the same or less than I spend on produce now—and most of what I buy is conventional. If I’d joined earlier, I would have started reaping the benefits two weeks ago, for even more savings.

It’s a big commitment to pay for five months of groceries in one chunk (gulp!)—not something I would have been able to do months ago. But cutting corners on things like lunches out, cable, and subway fare (I cycle most places in the city) have added up to more than realized. Now I can put that savings into affordable, healthful food, and local, sustainable agriculture.

How do you balance your budget and organics? Are any city (or suburban or country) folk part of a food coop or CSA? What are your experiences? I’m curious about the community part, especially for city dwellers. There is a volunteer aspect to my membership that sounds like fun too. Plus, each week’s farm offering will be somewhat of a surprise. Oh, the organic culinary adventures we will have!

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members monitorpop, idp05, and graygoosie.)

CHG Favorites of the Week

Blog of the Week
Open Source Food
After the sad death of my beloved Tastespotting, it seemed like no other food porn would be brave enough to step up and fill the void. O joyous day – Open Source Food is giving it a shot. Will it be the Jim Belushi to Tastespotting’s John Belushi, or the Jake Gyllehaal to its Maggie Gyllenhaal? Only time (and a torturous metaphor) will tell.

Food Book of the Week
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Reading this book is like watching a really endearing, albeit slightly self-obsessed friend rebuild her life after a nasty divorce. The first third of the novel takes place in Italy, where the author gains 23 pounds of pure pasta. Envious? Me?

Food Comedy of the Week
"Die Hard 12: Die Hungry" from the Ben Stiller Show
Oh, long lost Ben Stiller Show – you deserved so much more than the single season FOX deemed acceptable. For more early-‘90s comedy excitement, check out Bono for Lucky Clovers.

Food Organization of the Week
American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund
Just about a bazillion Iowans losts their homes this week, and the Red Cross is there to help. Click and donate to assist those threatened by the Mississippi.

Food Quote of the Week
“Sorry Lis, I can't be a vegetarian. I love the taste of death!” – Bart Simpson

Untried Cheap, Healthy Recipe of the Week
Pineapple Fried Rice by Yongfook at Open Source Food
We don’t need no steenking Tastespotting. With a light touch on the oil, this could turn out pleasantly healthy, as well.

Food Video of the Week
“Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve
Bittersweet is a taste. Thus, the video.

Totally Unrelated Extra Special Video of the Week
"Counting With Bruce Springsteen" from the Ben Stiller Show
Aw heck, what’s one more?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Understanding the Childhood Obesity Epidemic Part I: Causes and Effects

About two months ago, CHG published The Ultimate Guide to Understanding the Food Crisis, a point-by-point (some would say CliffNote-ian) breakdown of a complex global issue. I enjoyed writing it and learned a lot in the process, so I thought I’d try another one.

Today’s post tackles the childhood obesity epidemic. It’s a breakdown and summary of dozens of articles on the subject, specifically addressing the causes of, problems with, and solutions to our kids' ever-expanding bellies.

Since it's a massive subject, this part will focus on causation and effects. Look out for the solution section next Wednesday, and please, feel free to contribute ideas and/or corrections.

WHAT IT IS (in a sentence or two)

For a variety of interconnected reasons, 32% of school-age American children are now considered overweight, and about half of those are classified as obese. It’s resulted in a monstrous wave of serious health problems rarely seen in children, as well as a $14 billion dollar annual medical bill for related expenses.

Time Magazine is to-the-point: “The current generation of children may be the first in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”


1) They come down with adult diseases. The average fifth grader weighs about 11 pounds more than they did 45 years ago, and with that added weight comes a host of illnesses usually seen in grown-ups, including heart disease, Type II diabetes, hypertension, liver problems, arthritis, cancer, high cholesterol, pancreas dysfunction, sleep apnea, gallstones, joint issues, headaches, vision problems, Blount’s disease, asthma, Polycystic ovary syndrome, depression, and more.

2) They’re more likely to die prematurely. Two separate studies have correlated being overweight with A) a two-to-five-year drop in life expectancy," and B) “an increased risk of premature death in younger and middle-aged women.”

3) They’ll almost definitely be obese as an adult. Depending on your gender and parents’ weight, between 70% and 90% of overweight children will become obese grown-ups. According to Obesity Research Center neuroscientist Randy Seeley, “When you're talking about morbidly obese kids, zero percent will grow up to be normal-weight adults.”

4) Their activity levels suffer. In general, overweight children can not keep up with average-sized peers. A Washington Post commentor notes, “They're robbed of the natural enjoyment of being a kid -- being able to play outside, run. If they have high blood pressure, they have a constant risk of stroke." Meanwhile, another WP physical therapist claims, “They complain of simple things like tying their shoes. They can't bend down and tie their shoes because excess fat gets in the way."”

5) They tend to have poorer grades and discipline problems. While obesity isn’t necessarily the cause of these problems, there are ties to both of them. In a Newsweek-cited study, the California Department of Ed discovered, “a direct correlation between physical fitness and SAT scores, with the most fit in the 71st percentile and the least fit in the 36th percentile-almost half as much.” According to another Newsweek source, one Kansas Elementary School saw violent incidents decreased by 2/3rds the year after kids got phys ed back.

6) They have a greater incidence of depression. Thanks to social pressures and constant mixed messages about body image, obese kids are “seven times more likely to be depressed.”

7) Their health care will cost more. Consider these statements: “Treating a child with obesity is three times more costly than treating the average child.” ... “Those patients go more frequently to the emergency room and are two to three times more likely to be admitted.” ... “Based on research on the current workforce, which has shown tens of millions of workdays missed annually, indirect costs will also be enormous.”


1) Modern life stepped in. Most American households operate on two incomes nowadays, meaning there's less time for grocery shopping, cooking, and learning about healthy eating. Parents compensate for lost time with convenience products and takeout, the latter of which takes up almost half of our meal budgets. What’s more, those ever-increasing portions contain about 1/3rd more fat and calories than homemade dishes. “Family dinners have become almost historical,” says one New York Magazine psychotherapist, and hectic schedules prevent kids from getting an eating routine down.

2) TV and video games replaced actual movement. According to Time, U.S. kids spend about three hours per day in front of some kind of screen – hours that were formerly spent playing with friends. This is directly related to weight gain. In fact, the National Institute on the Media and the Family says, “children who watch more than three hours of television a day are 50 per cent more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours.”

3) Junk food companies target children. These days, kids as young as three “prefer anything wrapped in a McDonald’s label to plain-white paper burgers, fries, carrots, and milk” says the Washington Post. Maybe it’s because they see an average of 40,000 TV ads PER YEAR. And those ads aren't for Encyclopedia Britannica, either. One University of Minnesota study claims, “Nine out of 10 food commercials shown during Saturday morning children's television programming are for foods of poor nutrition.” Coca-Cola alone has $2 billion to blow on marketing, which may have lead to the 300% increase in soda drinking in just about two decades. And Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says, “for every $100 we may spend to try to make a healthy, active environment for kids, industry spends $10,000 advertising to them.”

4) Parents are getting heavier. Currently, an estimated 2/3rds of Americans are overweight, and it’s created a cycle of inherited weight problems. In fact, thanks to genetics and lifestyle, two obese parents have 80% chance of having obese children.

5) School lunches took a nosedive health-wise. 27 million kids gobble about 4 billion meals public school meals each year. Until recent changes, those menus looked like this Mother Jones description:

“In Lynnwood, Washington, we would see kids eating sausage with Belgian waffle sticks and syrup. In Clovis, California, bacon cheeseburgers. In La Quinta, California, Canadian bacon and cheese rolls. In Rexburg, Idaho, cheese nachos and waffles. In Fort Collins, Colorado, "homemade" pigs in a blanket. In Bryan, Texas, cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steak, and pizza. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, country steak with creamed potatoes. In Cedar Falls, Iowa, mini-corndogs. In Lafayette, Indiana, beef ravioli with cheesy broccoli. In Columbus, Ohio, egg rolls with tater tots. In Kingstree, South Carolina, sloppy joes with onion rings. In Richmond, Virginia, chili cheese nachos. In Gatesville, North Carolina, three-meat subs with Fritos. In Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, cheese steak on rolls with buttered pasta. And in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, pretzels with cheese sauce.”

And that’s not even counting the junk-food laden vending machines that are allowed to line hallways in exchange for school funding. Those machines, sponsored by Coke, Pepsi, and a slew of other big businesses, are undermining administrative efforts to bring healthy food into the lunchroom.

(There’s also the agribusiness conundrum, which is entirely too complicated to explain here. But please read the Mother Jones article if you’d like to have your mind blown.)

6) Many don’t have access to healthy foods or exercise opportunities. Children in poor urban and rural areas – especially city-dwelling minority kids - don’t have the resources to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Play areas and exercise programs are few and far between, and supermarkets simply don’t exist. In fact, one study found that, “white neighborhoods have four times as many supermarkets as African-American ones.” To add to the problem, the poverty-stricken can’t afford the 74.6% increase in produce prices since 1989.

7) The government dropped the ball. Blaming it on the feds seems like an easy way to shift responsibility, but several sources mention aborted government programs or outright administrative denial as factors in the obesity epidemic. From No Child Left Behind (which many fault for the reduction in phys ed programs) to the aborted Verb initiative (a kid-oriented health program de-funded last year) to the WIC program (which didn’t provide for produce until 2007), wide-scale efforts to combat the problem have been shoddy, at best. Many believe that government has no motivation to do so, either, as their ties with agribusiness and food manufacturers are far more lucrative than promoting good nutrition.

8) We evolved. Simply, humans are meant to eat a lot, to store for the winter and provide for times when we don’t have access to food. But, we do have access now. All the time, in some cases. So those calories aren’t needed.

9) All the other reasons. Stress, boredom, depression, medical maladies, and lack of sleep are just a few of the other myriad issues contributing to kids’ obesity. While they definitely play a significant role, they’re slightly less endemic than the problems listed above.

So, that's it for now. Part 2: Solutions is coming next Wednesday. In the meantime, here's some valuable extra reading material/the sources of most of my facts.


Baby Fat (New York Magazine, 2/04)
The Economics of Obesity: A Q&A With the Author of The Fattening of America (New York Times, 2/08)
Facts You Should Know (Washington Post, 5/08)
Generation XL (Newsweek, 1/05)
How America's Children Packed On the Pounds (Time Magazine, 6/08)
Inertia at the Top (Washington Post, 5/08)
National Institute on the Media and the Family

It's Not Just Genetics (Time Magazine, 6/08)
Obesity In Children And Teens (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 5/08)
Obesity Threatens a Generation (Washington Post, 5/08)
A Plan for Overweight Kids (Newsweek, 5/08)
School lunches are loaded with fat… (Mother Jones, 2/03)
The Search for Solutions (Washington Post, 5/08)
The Threat From Within (Newsweek, 1/07)
Weighty Issues for Parents (Time Magazine, 6/08)

(Photos courtesy of Stonyfield,,, and davidwallphoto.)

Design by Free Wordpress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Templates