Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Every Bite Should Make Your Palate Explode"

I'm late writing this today because I've been at the doctor getting a cortisone shot in my foot. Fabulous! Lots of fun and I highly recommend it to...well, to no one. It hurts. So avoid bone spurs when you can.

Anyway, I came home to turn on the television and rest my foot, and who should appear on a commercial but Michael Symon, one of the Iron Chefs from Iron Chef America. And Michael Symon wants us all to know today what the title says--"Every bite should make your palate explode."

I don't know what he's talking about. I've had maybe two meals in my life that would qualify under that heading, and even then I might be stretching it. Food is a loaded topic for most people. Often, we get lost in the idea that food should equal pleasure. And for a lot of people it does! I'm the first to admit that my good friends Ben and Jerry have lightened up my day on more than one occasion. I'd love the opportunity to dine in one of Bobby Flay's restaurants. When I visited Disney World two years ago, we participated in the dining plan and had some of the best food I've ever eaten.

The problem with this view is that we end up forgetting the other side of the equation--the actual purpose of food. The purpose of food is not for pleasure but for nourishment. Food should be consumed in appropriate quantities, in appropriate varieties. Eating cake may make you feel good for awhile, but it's not nourishing to the body. And ultimately, that weighs down not only the body, but the soul.

Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions in our country. Of course there are obvious contributors--a lack of exercise, more sedentary lifestyles, and a variety of cheap, popular, non-nutritious foods. However, I think there are other issues that contribute to this epidemic that are not as obvious. First, there is a tremendous lack of focus on physical development and education in our schools today. Many children are lucky if they receive P.E. classes every other day. Some elementary children receive no recess at all. Quality early programs focus on movement and gross motor activities as much as they focus on language, literacy, or math. Children need healthy bodies.

Of course, we can't talk about the lack of physical exercise in school without mentioning the fried, fatty, unhealthy foods that pass for lunches in our schools. A typical lunch for my son at elementary school consisted of a piece of pepperoni pizza and two cartons of chocolate milk. My daughter's lunch didn't fare much better, although she tried harder. A typical lunch for her was a "chef salad", full of meat, cheese, and fatty dressing, along with a side of canned fruit. Both children had the option to help themselves to a salad bar, consisting of lettuce, baby carrots, and a few other items. I did find this salad bar to be a promising addition, and children were encouraged to take whatever they would like from the salad bar. Apparently, unbeknownst to this mother, chocolate milk counts as a side as well as a drink, and children are not required to be served a fruit or a vegetable. There is an "offer vs. serve" policy in some schools now, in an effort (I'm sure) to save money, in which schools "offer" the components of lunch instead of just serving them. Of course, all of this gets down to two larger issues: first, that children are fed junk through the public school system, and usually, the children who are reliant upon this food are those who are the poorest in our society. Second, our schools are constantly challenged to create healthy lunches on a tiny budget.

When I worked at a laboratory preschool, we focused on providing healthy, fresh food. A typical snack menu for a week might include the following: baby carrots and dip, baked apples, cheese and crackers, and oatmeal with raisins. Whole wheat items and fresh items were purchased whenever possible. With an enrollment of roughly fifty children, we easily spent fifty to a hundred dollars a week just in supplying snacks. Healthy food can be expensive.

But if anything is worth it, aren't our children? Aren't they worth the nutrition needed to perform at optimum levels and to grow optimally? Parents who can afford to have their children pack their lunches are blessed. Having taught in some extremely low income schools, I can testify to the fact that for some children, the only food they eat in a day comes from the school itself.

Sometimes I think we have taught our children Michael Symon's message--every bite should make your palate explode--versus the reality: food is and should taste good and be pleasant, but exists for nourishment of the body and soul. How we make that happen for our children is an ongoing struggle for our society.

To wind up tonight, here's a recipe for those of you out there who love your fall veggies. Consider introducing a fall or winter squash to your kids. One of our favorites is butternut squash, which tastes a bit like a combination of spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes. It's a tasty, flexible addition to your repertoire that can either be prepared with savory flavors or sweet ones. To bake, cut your squash in half, place in shallow baking pan with about an inch or two of water cut side up, and stick in your over for 30-45 minutes, until tender. You should be able to scoop it out like a sweet potato. You can go a savory route, adding some of your favorite seasonings and a toss of parmesan cheese, or a sweet route, with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg. Either way, we like ours mashed. Good stuff!

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