Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Cleaner Plate Club: More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love

The Cleaner Plate Club: More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love
Publisher: Storey Publishing (2010)
“Additive and preservative free!” When was the last time you saw anything marketed to children with that label on it? More common are the phrases “99-cent BIG BAG” and “now with more chocolate!” when it comes to the labels of “kid-friendly” fare. At the top 13 restaurant franchises in the US, perusing the “kids” menu found 93% over the acceptable calories and 86 % over the appropriate sodium intakes for their target clientele (p. 29)! There’s no wonder that the Western world is ballooning, given our shameful manner of feeding ourselves as adults – but the sad part is that the next generation is picking up all our bad habit crumbs, and without drastic changes to everyone’s diet, has no chance at all. Food lovers and moms Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin are on a quest to make that fate turn tail and run – for both us and our kids. After putting their heads together (and their families through multiple taste tests), the two penned The Cleaner Plate Club: More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love.

Getting kids to adore their veggies is lofty goal for sure, especially when the issue is compounded by a foreign and occasionally “scary” looking produce section in the supermarket. Bader and Benjamin have done your homework for you, though – the first 153 artfully illustrated pages of the work read like a passionate encyclopedia on everything from portion control, shopping both grocery stores and farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture and information of almost every vegetable under the sun. To me, as a certified veggie-lover after years of steak-and-potato adoration, it was certainly enough to make me want to run to the nearest farm stand (too bad it’s the middle of a snowy February!). What I really loved was the huge amount of trivia “bites” (forgive the pun) included in these beginning sections. Lots of statistical comparisons and revelations of the common marketing ploys used in the industry are included in a fun-to-read format that only slightly borders on “preachy”. I’m sure that if a parent is picking up this book in the first place, they know the Standard American Diet is shameful – while extra information is interesting the lack of control most parents feel over their child’s eating habits doesn’t need to be crammed down their proverbial throats. Thankfully, the bulk of the “Meet Your Vegetables” pages are more food than fear, and there certainly are a basketful of colourful recipes to make.

I have to say that while the recipes in this book are certainly nutritious and tasty, any parent of a typical, modern-day child will have great difficulty incorporating most of them into their daily dinners. Kale soup? Delicata squash and Swiss chard sauce?  Even all but the most “health foodie” adults out there will likely still balk at some of the recipes – Lima Bean Hummus (p. 239) with Salt and Vinegar Kale Chips (p. 241) and a dessert of Rhubarb Crumble with Rosemary and Thyme (p. 252) are probably not going to be hits at the next dinner party. While I’m no kale-hater, the fact that Bader and Benjamin claim to be catering to the “everyday adult / parent” out there means the majority of foods included in Cleaner Plate are simply impractical to suggest.

Of question for me as a nutritionist (both conventional and holistic) were the recipes Bader and Benjamin include in their vegetarian section. While I applaud the authors for including one at all, I was expecting both more and more varied options. With a few exceptions (Carrot-Quinoa Biryani (p. 229), Curried Eggplant and Long Beans (p. 226), and Potato Salad (p. 228)) it seems that if you are vegetarian, pasta is the only thing you can dish up that’s both full of nutrition and kid-friendly. The problem here is that these pasta recipes are not even balanced from a macro-nutrient perspective: aside from a handful of cheese here and there, protein is absent from the pages. Given that growing evidence continually promotes the meat-restricted eating plan as a prime practice for longevity and the avoidance of disease, I was disappointed that a greater effort to include a variety of delicious, kid-appealing vegetarian and vegan meals in Cleaner Plate was not made. Considering that the authors include and promote ingredients like artichokes, fennel, lamb and capers, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include a sweet-and-sour tofu stir-fry or “crispy breaded tofu sticks” in the childhood diet.
The fault with The Cleaner Plate Club is certainly not in its thoroughness, charm, or good intentions. For the well-schooled home cook who has the time, money and willingness to scope out the farmers’ markets every Saturday while joining a CSA, and who hasn’t yet introduced their family to the occasional alluring call of the drive-thu, it’s a great anthology of vegetable recipes. The problem lies in the marketing – like so many of the common “convenience” foods on the store shelves, it looks like a book your kids will grow up loving food from. For many busy families, though, getting kids to start eating (and enjoying) a healthier diet will be more successful by reducing the junk in the house, offering a few baby carrots and grapes after school and tossing in green peas with that night’s mac and cheese.
Available on Amazon

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