In The Family Cooks (Rodale, Apr.), author/activist Laurie David’s second cookbook, the importance of the family table and home cooking are at the heart of her philosophy for raising the next generation of healthy eaters. David is debuting the book at Food Book Fair along with the first New York City screening of her new film Fed Up, which she co-produced with Katie Couric. The film examines the food industry’s effect on the nation’s eating habits and health. David, a passionate environmentalist who produced An Inconvenient Truth, spoke with PW about how parents can encourage healthy eating habits in their children and why she wants to abolish the term “picky eater.”
How has your environmental activism led to a passion for healthy eating?
It was a natural progression. If you care about the environment and global warming, which both affect agriculture, you eventually will have to examine what you are eating and what you are wasting. But it was really my own kitchen table and raising two teenage daughters that brought me to food. Sitting down at the table together is more important than anything. It’s important to insist on this ritual, and I am proud to say that my daughters and I remain after meals at our table to talk as a family. Teaching kids how to eat is our job as parents. It’s also important that when kids leave the house, they have some basic skills and know how to feed themselves. We have to get this generation of kids cooking so they have a shot at a healthy future. My daughter in college moved out of her dorm because she could not handle the food-like substance served there. I wrote this book for her.
What are some of the best ways to get more families into the kitchen, and what can parents do to help kids get interested in healthy eating?
In my cookbook, recipes that kids can make or participate in have a “K” coding. It gets them involved in the process, gives them a lot of pride, and is a great way to get them to eat better. I also encourage the idea of Home-Cooked Sundays. If we do a little bit on Sunday to get ourselves prepared for cooking all week, we stack the cards in favor of a healthy week. Buy your groceries, make the quinoa, prepare the kale. Peel carrots, onion, and garlic and store them in glass jars in the fridge. I love the idea of assigning members of the family different weekly tasks, then switching all the jobs for the next week. When you cook together, you model healthy habits. There’s no better place for amazing bonding time than in the kitchen. To cook, you need both hands. You can’t text with one hand and chop a carrot with the other.
Can you talk about your take on the “picky eaters” phenomenon?
I want to abolish the term “picky eater.” It is a modern term that didn’t exist in the past. Every time parents label a kid a “picky eater” they affirm it. The fact that every restaurant has a Kids’ Menu just reinforces the concept that kids should eat bland, white, unhealthy stuff. Kids should be eating what their parents are eating, but that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes 10 to 15 times of trying a new food and not giving up, just like when kids learn to ride a bike. Let them see you enjoying these foods, too.
What are some basic guidelines for green eating that any family can easily adopt?
Green eating is conscious eating. In the book I encourage meatless Mondays to reduce the amount of meat everyone is eating. When you do eat it, spend more on local, grass-fed meat. Nearly 40% of all food we buy gets thrown out, so use leftovers in soups. Eating seasonally and locally are ways everyone should be eating. If you are buying food out of season, chances are that it was grown with pesticides in some faraway place. Wait for asparagus in spring, strawberries in June, and corn in the summer – nothing is going to taste better. What I grow myself is what makes me happiest. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think I must have been a pioneer in a former life!
How did you and Kirstin Uhrenholdt work together to come up with the recipes in this book?
Kirstin would come up with certain things, and I would try them out. I consider myself the average cook. If I can make it, anyone can make it – my daughter can make it. I looked for recipes that were healthy, hardy family food – not restaurant food. Kirstin is a family cook, and she is really special. She gets so much credit for teaching me how to cook and taste food properly before you put it out. The recipes have a short list of ingredients and are quick and easy.
Which of the recipes in your book are big family favorites at your house?
In my family, any vegetable that we roast with olive oil my family will eat. The Roasted Cauliflower Popcorn is a big favorite. One head of cauliflower is never enough. It won’t even make it to the table because your kids will devour it like candy. We are also obsessed with kale and toss it into every dish.
You talk about eating the “good stuff” and getting rid of the “bad stuff” in our diets. Do you think there are foods that are evil, or at least pernicious?
Absolutely, and they come in a box, generally with a long list of ingredients you have never heard of, and they are making people sick. It’s not even food. Sugary beverages are in that category as well. We are facing the biggest public health crisis ever. We can solve this problem tonight, and it doesn’t require anything more than a cutting board, a couple knives, fresh ingredients, and home cooking.
How do you hope the movie Fed Up will inspire changes in how we eat?
Before you take another bite, see Fed Up! I thought I knew a lot about food after writing two cookbooks until I started working with Katie Couric on this film, and it has changed me. It’s about why what we are eating is making us so sick. The public for decades has been lied to by the food industry about what they eat, and it is time for some truth. If you do not make the food yourself, you do not know what’s in it. And that’s the basic premise: Cook, or be cooked.
The Family Cooks: 100+ Recipes to Get Your Family Craving Food That's Simple, Tasty, and Incredibly Good for You by Laurie David, recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt. Rodale, $27.99 Apr. ISBN 978-1-62336-250-8