April 18, 2006

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Honey, We're Helping Kill The Kids

I haven't written a rant in a while, but I feel one coming on...

Do any of you watch TLC (The Learning Channel?) I'm a big fan of the makeover show What Not To Wear. Last Friday during the show, they announced that the new show Honey We're Killing the Kids would be on afterward. It had been heavily advertised as a show that would show parents of junk-food-junkie kids just exactly what their indulgence was doing to their children, and help them make the changes needed. Sounded right up my alley, so I stayed put after watching Stacy and Clinton.

And ended up turning off the television in disgust halfway through.

The family presented certainly needed change. The parents were seriously overweight, as was the oldest son. Meals were mostly carry-out or packaged food; the kids were getting 60% of their calories from commercial deep fried stuff, aka Festival of Bad Carbs and Hydrogenated Fats. They ate unlimited sugary garbage like "Brownie Bites." The children watched unlimited television and played unlimited video games. All three were unruly, defiant, and rude. No one in the family got any exercise. There was certainly room for improvement.

But did they actually try to give this family workable solutions? Oh, heck, no. This is reality television. It's not about helping people, it's about creating on-camera conflict.

So what did they give these three boys who had, up until now, been eating fast food and packaged junk, for their first healthy supper? Tofu and bok choy stir fry.

We won't even talk about whether estrogen-laden soy foods are a good idea for boys approaching puberty. Could they have possibly come up with a meal more calculated to make the kids go "Eeeeew!"? Could anything have been more unfamiliar, more "weird" to them? Hard to think of anything, isn't it?

Off the top of my head I can think of a half-a-dozen menus that would have been more acceptable, and still have been a huge nutritional step up for this family: Roasted chicken, green beans, and a small serving of brown rice. Individual pizzas made on low carb or whole wheat tortillas, with no-sugar-added pizza sauce and mozzarella, plus a big crisp salad on the side. Homemade chili, made with a combo of ground round and ground turkey, with plenty of tomatoes in it for veggies, and a side of baby carrots and ranch dip. A protein and vegetable-rich soup - chicken minestrone, or vegetable beef, perhaps. A chicken stir fry, with vegetables the kids recognized - peppers, perhaps - instead of tofu and bok choy. Flank steak, with faux-po (cauliflower and potatoes pureed together to dilute the carbs) and sliced ripe tomatoes. Protein-and-fiber enriched pasta, with plenty of meatballs, no-sugar-added sauce, and cheese, again with a salad.

Oh, there still might have been some whining for fries, but I'd bet none of these menus would have inspired the understandably extreme reaction of that tofu-and-bok-choy stir fry, and all of them would have been a huge nutritional step up for this whole family.

For breakfast, they gave the kids plain oatmeal. Plain oat meal. Again, ignoring the fact that oatmeal is a lousy source of the protein these kids needed to help them control their appetites all day, who eats plain oatmeal? I've never known anyone who didn't add something - brown sugar, or honey, or raisins, or sugar and cinnamon, plus, of course, milk or cream. Plain oatmeal is the stuff of Dickensian orphanages.

How about a smoothie made with plain yogurt, each kid's favorite fruit, some vanilla whey protein, sweetened with Splenda or stevia/FOS blend? Or that same yogurt, with sweetener and vanilla, layered in a parfait with fresh fruit and toasted nuts? Or whole grain/low carb toast, with natural peanut butter and low-sugar jelly? Or a couple of string cheese sticks? Or, heck, good old eggs and bacon? Again, any of these would have been far better nutritionally than cold cereal, toaster pastries, and donuts, and would have kept the kids full and satisfied far longer than that plain oatmeal. And they would have been far, far more acceptable to the kids.

But nooooo. Reality television needs conflict. So they had to make the changes as unpleasant as they possibly could. How else would they get the children to scream and curse and threaten to run away from home?

Then there was the "Junk Trunk" - the family went through the cabinets together, searching out all the processed, sugary, carby junk food. But did they throw it away? Oh, no. That would have been too easy. They piled it in a trunk in the kitchen, and left it there where the kids could see it and be tempted by it. After all, they had to teach the kids to "deal with temptation!" Then they trained a hidden camera on the Junk Trunk, and when the youngest boy, inevitably, succumbed to temptation (having been fed a diet of tofu, bok choy, and plain oatmeal,) they harangued him into tears on camera. It was downright sadistic.

Couldn't they have thrown the junk away, and given the boys reasonably nutritious treats - peanuts, or home-popped popcorn (microwave popcorn has hydrogenated oils - and is ridiculously expensive, to boot. But popped in good fats, popcorn would have been a reasonably healthy choice for kids, who can tolerate more carbs than adults.) Why not sugar-free fruit pops, or frozen bananas-on-sticks?

And it wasn't just the food. They sent the boys to a fancy restaurant for an etiquette lesson. Just eating real food, with forks and knives off of plates instead of out of wrappers, at the table instead of in front of the television, all while making conversation instead of staring at the tube or yelling, would have been, again, a big step up for this gang. There was absolutely no purpose to a crash course in what fork to use.

The whole thing was nauseating and infuriating. And for me, the worst part was that they made it look so hard and so painful and so unpleasant. I could just hear millions of people across America thinking, "So much for that. I mean, sure, our kids are fat and unhealthy - hell, we're fat and unhealthy! But there's no way I could go through that. And I'm not eating tofu!"

In short, a show that gives the impression of being about facilitating healthy change for families has, in my opinion, set back the cause it professes to espouse. That's sad.

And onions to nutritionist Dr. Lisa Hark for apparently pushing a low fat diet, low in animal foods. It's increasingly clear that there's no value to a low fat diet (although there's huge value to avoiding bad fats - hydrogenates and highly processed, polyunsaturated vegetable oils.) There's also increasing doubt that soy foods like tofu are fit for human consumption, much less healthier than the animal foods that have been the backbone of human nutrition since prehistoric times. And oatmeal, despite the good publicity, isn't some magical health food. There was no good nutritional purpose in pushing the foods she did.

I've rarely been so profoundly disappointed. What a huge disservice to TLC's viewers.

Folks, it just doesn't have to be that hard. I have no children of my own, but I certainly know plenty of children. My niece and nephew - 5 and 7, respectively - stayed with me recently, and happily ate grilled chicken, low carb whole grain toast, raw carrots, apples, pepper strips, even raw spinach - all foods they're familiar with, because it's what they get at home. When I made them a Sunday morning breakfast of sugar-free smoothies, made with milk, vanilla whey protein powder, sugar-free vanilla syrup, a small scoop of Breyer's Carb Smart vanilla ice cream, and a little guar for thickness, Henry said I'd "sent his tastebuds to Paradise." (The kid has a precocious way with words.)

Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting James, Elizabeth, and William Hoffman, the three children of my sister's best-friend-since-Girl-Scouts, Debbie Hoffman, who brought her brood to visit us at the Jersey Shore. They were smart, nice, well-behaved kids, with very broad tastes in food. Why? Their father is a professional chef, and from the time they were out of high chairs, they were simply expected to eat whatever the grown ups were eating for dinner. No special "kiddy food." They were matter-of-fact about it, and seemed to think it was silly for any family to act otherwise, and that other kids were missing out on the good stuff.

Of course, these families started early. Changing gears later on will be harder, I have no illusions about that. But it certainly doesn't have to be anything like as hard as the dorks at TLC deliberately made it. And on one thing we can all agree: Teaching your children to eat a diet of healthy real food is a gift they deserve, and that you can't afford not to give them.

Posted by HoldTheToast at April 18, 2006 10:19 PM