I love a good cooking show. Nutritionists often get into the field because of their love of good food, and we are similar to chefs in that respect. Chefs are food advocates and aim to give pleasure through food. To my mind (as a nutritionist) the enjoyment of food comes from nourishment – from flavours, textures, nutrients and appropriate portion sizes. Most chefs share similar sentiments. In addition, food goes through fads, really – a lot like diets. And, like many nutritionists and dietitians, some notably high profile chefs seem to be moving away from the gastronomical, fantastical approach to food (the extreme version being Heston Blunderthal) to more of a back-to-basics approach. The focus on a few fresh ingredients with little superfluous additives (unless, of course, they are sponsored by the food industry). And some have always been that way inclined. My massage therapist had recently been in Hamilton to attend an evening which gives the opportunity to learn cooking tips and dishes from (amongst other chef’s) Ray McVinnie – columnist in Sunday Start Times, AUT lecturer in gastronomy and a judge on NZ Masterchef. I’m a big fan of Ray’s – he provides wholesome, realistic recipes and creates meals from traditional kiwi dishes to contemporary Asian cuisine. He advocates real food and no additives/preservatives (other than that in wine) and Ray appears to glow ‘health’ – and it’s not just his slim build. While it could just be the lighting, there are other high profile chefs who just do not look healthy, and their food fare is less appealing to me than what is made from someone who seems to exude health.
Along with a lot of great cooking and food tips that Ray shared, he also shared his views on children and health and the differences he has seen in the prevalence of children who are overweight in the countries he has spent time. Now these aren’t necessarily based on academic papers or country-specific statistics of child obesity rates, but his perception of spending time immersed in the culture and the food environment of those countries – the experience that isn’t often captured by a scientific trial or population survey. I found it interesting to hear what he thought, and though this may read like a New Weekly magazine article (“a close source revealed…”) wanted to relay them here, as food for thought.
Meals eaten outside of home. This isn’t necessarily country specific (and certainly there are regions in Europe where lifestyle dictates people eat more of their meals out than in, but he noted that children were less likely to be overweight in regions where parent’s cooked from scratch. In the last child nutrition survey found that 7 out of 10 children ate fast food in the last week, and 1 in 7 ate at least two meals out. These meals are more often that not higher in processed, refined carbohydrates, cooked in vegetable oils, lower in vegetables and overall nutrients and higher in sugar. All of which contribute to obesity and disease processes in the body. Interestingly, recent research in the US shows that those of lower socioeconomic status (who are more likely to be overweight) tend to cook more in the home than those with a higher household income. This may be viewed as ‘bucking the statistical trend’ but it’s more likely the ingredients used in home cooking (and the level of cooking skill) are not conducive to healthy eating. It would be interesting to see what the state of ‘home cooking’ is like in New Zealand. A recommendation from the US study was to increase cooking skills, and focus on convenient whole foods requiring minimal preparation.
Child-specific meals: Another aspect of eating in the home that Ray attributes to poor eating habits in children is the notion of ‘separate kid meals’ where the children eat a meal at 5.30 or 6, then they are put to bed and the adults eat a different dinner later in the evening. Other than when Dad worked late, we ate our meals together growing up and my parents viewed meal time as ‘family time,’ Sharing meals as a family is important in the overall development of a child, and is an opportunity to not only learn about table manners, but for children to learn how to interact with adults. In Europe, children are given a snack when they get home from school, then eat with their parents later in the evening when dinner is ready. This is because, traditionally, the evening meal is later than the evening meal here. Logistically speaking it may not be practical for parents and children to eat together as they once did, but along with the child-specific meal times, children are often fed different foods. Allergies aside, is there any reason the food choice should be different? The concept of ‘kid-friendly’ meals and food choices pervades our food environment more now than ever before. I can’t remember our foods being different from our parents when we were growing up. With five children to contend with, we were basically served food and made to sit there until it was eaten. Many people I see in the clinic talk about having to serve two different meals in the evening: one for the children and a separate ‘adult’ meal. This is becoming a lot more prevalent than it was a few years ago. And it’s obviously not just happening in the home – ‘child-specific’ menus are readily available in not only fast-food restaurants, but your standard cafe – where there is a notion that children require different food choices to adults. Why is it okay to serve children food devoid of nutrients for $8 and not just smaller portions of the same food? Baffling. I had lunch today with my BFF from high school Rebecca, and her and Darren had brought along chicken, cucumber, a banana muffin (grain-free) and ordered a side of mushrooms on the side of their meal. Lots of parents do this, and it would make sense to me that cafes would offer foods like this as part of a kid’s menu. Makes more sense than saveloys, chicken nuggets and hot chips.
Children-specific foods. Cereal bars. ‘fruit leather’ as opposed to fruit. Fruit squirts. Snack bars. Parents are often wooed by the idea that these foods will increase the nutrient density of an otherwise nutrient-poor breakfast or lunch box. The ‘Ironman’ Nutrigrain or the ‘as much fibre as two weetbix and milk’ Up and Go. The goal shouldn’t be to look for the packaged food that contains the most amount of added vitamins. It should be to look for the food that has the least amount of associated plastic.
I know, easy for me to say, right? I often wonder when it’s okay to have an opinion given that I don’t have children. But then, I’m not male and confidently advise men on ways to improve their diets. It was great to hear people like Ray McVinnie sharing his views in health, given his career is all about feeding and nourishing people. These things go hand in hand and (perhaps it’s ‘pollyanna’ of me to assume this) this must in some way influence the foods he uses and the dishes he creates.
On that note of creating a dish, the summer weather has inspired me to make a cauli-tabbouli salad to go along with dinner, and I’ve popped the recipe I used on the recipe section of the blog.