by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Cooking

Apr 24 2012

Nutritionist’s Notebook: Starting a healthy lifestyle early

On Tuesdays, I answer questions about nutrition in NYU’s student newspaper, the Washington Square News.  Today’s is about youthful immortality.

Question: Many students have expressed that, being so young, they can eat whatever they want and stay thin. What kind of implications does the type of food we eat have on our body weight? If a student is thin but eats bad foods, are there still detrimental effects? Additionally, at what age does what you eat tend to have the biggest effect on you?
Answer: It’s not only youth that keeps college students trim. It’s the lifestyle: running to classes, late nights studying or partying, irregular meals, eating on the run. Once students get past the hurdle of the “freshman 15” — the weight gain that comes from unlimited access to meal plans — most do not gain weight in college.

It’s what happens afterward that counts. Even the most interesting jobs can require long hours in front of a computer or chained to a desk. Eating out of boredom becomes routine and, once middle age hits, it’s all over. The metabolic rate drops with age, and you can’t eat the same way you used to without putting on pounds.

The college years are a great time to start behaving in ways that will promote lifetime health. If you smoke cigarettes, stop while you can. Don’t binge drink. Practice safe sex.

As for diet, eat your veggies. Whenever you can, eat real foods, shop at farmers’ markets and learn to cook. Cooking is a skill that will bring you — and your family and friends — great pleasure throughout life. If you cook, you will always have the most delicious and healthiest of diets at your fingertips.

You don’t know how? Try an Internet search for “free cooking lessons online.” Mark Bittman’s Minimalist videos, for example, make things simple with results that can be spectacular.

Do the best you can to eat well now, and think of it as easy life insurance.

Feb 1 2012

Survey result: low-income families want to eat healthfully too

I was invited yesterday to a press event to announce the results of a survey conducted by Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program.  The program and the survey, It’s Dinnertime: A Report on Low-Income Families’ Efforts to Plan, Shop for and Cook Healthy Meals, are sponsored by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

I went because I was interested in the survey and also because I admire the work of chef Sara Moulton who, among many other things, works with Share Our Strength on this program.

Cooking Matters is part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.  Its goal is to help low-income families increase access to public food resources (food assistance benefits, farmers’ market coupons) and produce healthy meals at low cost.  It does this through a 6-week course that teaches shopping strategies, meal planning, and cooking.

The research produced some important findings, perhaps obvious:

  • 8 out of 10 low-income families cook at home at least 5 times per week, more if they are poorer.
  • 85% of low-income families consider eating healthy meals to be important and realistic.
  • Low-income families struggle to put healthy meals on the table: food costs and preparation time are big barriers.
  • Low-income families are eager for cooking and budgeting tips and tools.

Where does ConAgra fit in?

ConAgra owns countless food product brands that pack the center aisles of supermarkets.

Working under the premise that it takes more than food to fight hunger, the ConAgra Foods Foundation, a national sponsor of Cooking Matters, funded It’s Dinnertime as part of its ongoing strategy to find sustainable solutions to help surround kids with the nourishment they need to flourish.

The ConAgra Foods Foundation is funded solely by ConAgra Foods.  One of the study’s conclusions is very much in ConAgra’s interest.

A better understanding of the health benefits of frozen and canned fruits and vegetables could also put more healthy options in reach for low-income families: While 81 percent of low-income parents rated fresh produce as extremely healthy, that rating drops down to 32 percent when it comes to frozen fruits and vegetables and 12 percent with canned fruits and vegetables.

The program works to improve the image of frozen and canned fruits and vegetables among low-income families.

Ordinarily, food industry-sponsored programs make me squirm.  This one makes me squirm less than most even though Sara Moulton was cooking with at least one ConAgra product: Wesson Oil.

But the program worked with 18,000 families last year and its goals make sense.

Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables really do retain much of the nutritional value of fresh produce unless they are loaded with salt and sugars.  Sara was cooking with low-salt products and the dishes she made were easy, inexpensive, nutritious, and quite delicious.

I’m impressed with how this program teaches families to fend for themselves in today’s tough environment.

Now, if ConAgra would just get busy promoting policies to improve access to healthy foods for everyone….

 

Dec 22 2011

The latest in new product introductions

You may be interested in how real foods improve health and well being, taste better, reduce waste, and are friendlier to the environment.

But such foods, alas, are much less profitable than those highly processed.

Caroline Scott-Thomas of Food Navigator USA gives us a preview of what Big Food has in store for us next year. Coming soon to a store near you:

From General Mills:
  • Dulce de Leche Cheerios
  • Peanut butter Cheerios

And from Kraft:

  • BelVita breakfast biscuit, a cookie-type product made with whole grains and fortified with vitamins and minerals
  • MilkBite Milk and Granola bars with as much calcium as an 8oz glass of milk
  • New flavor combinations for Velveeta Cheesy Skillets Dinner Kits
  • New Kraft Sizzling Salads Dinner Kits to which you can add your choice of meat and vegetables

The rationale for this last one?

Americans are having more interactive experiences with food and want the opportunity to do some of the cooking themselves. With global influence and the merging of different cultures, consumers are open to new flavor combinations. Being able to customize the flavor and texture to enhance the end dish is important and Kraft Foods is delivering.

Real food anyone?  Or—how’s this for an idea—real cooking?

Sep 22 2011

Recent books about food and cooking

Here are some of the books that have drifted my way.  These in particular are about food and cooking.

Jean-Claude Kaufmann, The Meaning of Cooking, Polity 2010.  Kaufmann is professor of sociology at the Sorbonne.  Here, he argues that the ordinary acts of creating and consuming food are how we create our most meaningful relationships with lovers, spouses, and offspring. 

Alice D. Kamps.  What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?  The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.  Records from the National Archives.  This is the terrific catalog of the terrific exhibit now playing at the National Archives in Washington DC until January 3, 2012.  The catalog contains most (not all, alas) of the illustrations from the exhibit.  These deal with the government’s role in farming, food products, dietary advice, meals for the military and other such matters.  For example:

Janet M. Cramer et al, editors.  Food as Communication; Communication as Food, Peter Lang 2011.  This is a collection of essays on scholarly food discourses, ranging from media coverage of school lunches to local, organic foods.  I blurbed this one: “Food as Communiction is a wonderful introduction to the field of food studies research.  These authors watched movies and television, examined package labels, visited exotic places, delved in wonderful libraries, and ate great food.”

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May 19 2010

Here’s a thought: bring back Home Ec

Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig and Tufts professor Alice Lichtenstein team up in a JAMA commentary with a novel idea.  How about re-introducing home economics into the school curriculum!

Girls and boys should be taught the basic principles they will need to feed themselves and their families within the current food environment: a version of hunting and gathering for the 21st century. Through a combination of pragmatic instruction, field trips, and demonstrations, this curriculum would aim to transform meal preparation from an intimidating chore into a manageable and rewarding pursuit.

…Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.