Activist Laurie David talks about the food industry and offers up healthful recipes from The Family Cooks.
What do you get when you team up a triple-threat movie producer, environmental activist and author with an innovative Danish chef bent on creating simple, healthful meals? A go-to handbook that may just save your family’s life.
And no, we’re not sensationalizing.
The Family Cooks (Rodale, 2014), penned by Laurie David (she’s the triple-threat, pictured above right), with recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt (the Danish kitchen-master, pictured above left), is hands down one of the best family cookbooks to come off the presses this year. The duo’s sophomore effort, their first being The Family Dinner in 2010, is brimming with simple and beautiful recipes, along with tactics for achieving healthy home-cooked family dinners in an easy-to-digest format. Even better, The Family Cooks instills fascinating knowledge about what is REALLY happening in our food industry and how relying on processed foods will have tragic implications on our heath.
We recently asked David for health-conscious advice and to share what sparked her research for both The Family Cooks and this year’s Fed Up, a hard-hitting documentary for which she served as an executive producer. As an added bonus, we have three recipes from The Family Cooks for you to add to your lunch-box and weeknight rotation.
Relish: Was there a key moment in your life when you became entirely “Fed Up” with America’s food industry?
Laurie David: I started focusing on food issues when I began writing The Family Dinner with Kirstin Uhrenholdt in 2009. But like a lot of people, I became more aware about food when I became pregnant and I was responsible for feeding someone other than myself. The truth is I am continually fed up. And the more you know, the more fed up you become.
RE: In your research for both Fed Up and The Family Cooks, what revelation aggravated you the most?
LD: I think the fact that people are continually lied to with advertising and marketing. They think they are making a healthy choice because the label says it’s healthy, but in fact it isn’t. There is so little truth in advertising that it is infuriating. What is worse is the relentless and unregulated marketing to children. It’s unconscionable when you consider the fact that kids under the age of eight can’t tell the difference between a show and an ad. So if they see their favorite sports or music star holding a can of soda, they aren’t aware that it’s a paid advertisement. It’s really not a level playing field.
RE: In The Family Cooks, you admit that Goldfish and other salty and sugary snacks used to be a part of your regular snacking routine. How did you transition out of that? What do you “snack” on these days, and how can parents help their kids kick already established cravings?
LD: As the great Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” As with all parents, I wanted to feed my children well, and I thought I was doing that. Changing our diet has been a slow and steady process. We are still changing. In the last few years we stopped eating cereal and replaced it with avocado toast, or our own homemade granola (half the sugar, more seeds). I make sure we always have cut up veggies and hummus around for snacks. Almonds are our on the run go-to crunch.
RE: Let’s talk about sugar. In your book, you report that, on average, we consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day as opposed to the 3 teaspoons recommended for children. Where is the easiest place to start cutting sugar from our diet?
LD: There are over 600,000 items in the average supermarket and over 80 percent of them have added sugar. We aren’t talking about cake and cookies—everyone knows those have lots of sugar in them. But what about “healthy” foods—like tomato sauce, yogurt and granola bars? Ketchup? And, of course, we can’t overlook “sugar-sweetened beverages,” which include soda, flavored water and the go-to drink for parents: fruit juice. One of the easiest—and healthiest—things to do is to go back to drinking just plain old water. And, of course, cooking!
RE: Now that back-to-school season is here and parents are no longer able to monitor their kids’ food intake during the day, how does one instill a sense of self-accountability in kids without fostering an unhealthy fear of food and weight gain?
LD: One of the best gifts you can give your children is cooking regularly and sitting down to family dinner. The power of this ritual cannot be overstated. This is where meal after meal you serve water with the food. You teach your kids to crave water with food, and that is a habit they will take with them for the rest of their life. Family dinner is the time to make a simple, healthy meal with your children utilizing local, real, fresh food and involving them in the process. It will give your kids’ palate a taste for the foods that will keep them healthy, so while they may not make the perfect choice every time they eat at school or out with friends, they have the tools and the tastebuds for a healthy mind and body.
RE: Do you have any nutrition advice for low-income parents?
LD: The food industry has done a really good job at promoting the myth that fast food is cheaper than cooking. Sadly, this has become part of the conventional wisdom. But it’s simply just not true. As Mark Bittman pointed out, it will cost you over $20 to feed a family of four at McDonalds, but only between $9 (if you serve rice and beans with bacon, green peppers and onions) and $14 (roasted chicken, vegetables, a simple salad, and milk) to cook at home. So when you hear that fast food is cheaper—or anything that promotes fast and processed food—you’ve got to ask yourself: Who’s promoting this? And why?
RE: Who inspires your food adventures? Activists, cooks and/or authors who, in your mind, just get it.
LD: I am constantly inspired by everyone around me. My husband inspires me with fresh, organic vegetables he grows on our farm. He’s even taught me how to drive a tractor—not the easiest task. My co-author Kirstin Uhrenholdt inspires me with new foods she finds at ethnic markets and her innovative recipes. She is so brilliant at coming up with easy recipes with great flavors. The good news is there are two books filled with her recipes now!
RE: Do you have a favorite recipe from The Family Cooks? One that you could have every night for dinner and never tire of?
LD: The book is so full of all the basics I use in my house that it would be hard to pick one! But if you forced me: I love the popcorn cauliflower, which is a quick recipe you can use for all veggies. Honestly it is so good and simple, you will barely get the sheet of cauliflower out of the oven before everyone is sneaking bites.
For more on wholesome family cooking and recipes from The Family Cooks, see below…
A super-list of 50 reasons why you should eat a family dinner together tonight.
This nutrient-packed quinoa salad will keep throughout the week.
Cooking the pasta right in the sauce saves times and adds flavor.
This colorful salad will make your kids want to eat their vegetables.