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recipe “rehabs” miss the big picture

Posted by on Dec 7, 2011 in Blog Posts | 23 comments

I have worked my way through about 30 magazines I bought at the used Bookstore for my recoup time. (Oy, still recouping. Tonsillectomy pain lasts a LONG time…)

Anyway, I can’t really eat, so the last ones left are Rachel Ray’s Every Day. No fun looking at foodie mags when you can’t eat… I was sad to read the “Save my Son’s Egg Sandwich” recipe in the Reader Rescue segment this morning.

“My teen starts his day with this filling fast-food meal- but its fat, calories and sodium are off the charts!” Writes a concerned mom… (Current breakfast wrap: Calories 760, fat 49 grams, 1700 m sodium…)

The “rescue” uses a small whole wheat tortilla, and each one has less then one egg (4 eggs and 4 egg whites to make 6 burritos) each has 1/6 of a sausage link, 1/2 slice of turkey bacon, 2/3 ounce of low fat cheese, so it has 330 calories, 14 grams of fat, 30 carbs and 689 mg sodium.

Oh Rachel, (editors…) I feel sorry for this poor kid and his mom. Perhaps he chose the more filling breakfast because he actually NEEDS the darn calories! Ever heard of a growth spurt? Maybe he doesn’t get lunch until five hours later and the fat actually helps him make it through calculus with a blood sugar level that could sustain rational thought.  Less calories and fat is not always better! In theory breakfast is roughly a third of his intake, the “most important meal of the day,” and he’s getting 330 calories? Teen boys need roughly between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day, possibly more if they are active.

EPIC fail as far as I’m concerned. There is no acknowledgment of this kid’s energy needs, or encouraging habits like sitting at the table and eating together, or at least eating at a table. When you eat on the run, it is harder to tune in to internal signals and one is more likely to eat more or less than one needs.  I’m actually going to write a letter about this one…

In general I don’t mind some menu make-over sections. I find that some recipes with lots of cream and butter taste too rich for me, and I actually prefer them a little on the liter side, but, most often there is no middle ground. It’s either 2 cups of whole cream, or a cup of evaporated skim milk and a little flour, or whatever the trick is. Oh, and if Gramma’s butter cookies are that damn good, then leave her legacy alone and sit down and enjoy a butter cookie or two, or six if you make them once a year, and reminisce about your childhood visits, sledding and coming in to warm cookies and cocoa if you were so lucky… If we lose site of flavor, appetite, the special things food can make us feel, and even our most basic energy needs, we are lost. And, are we not largely lost when it comes to food in America??

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  1. ako

    The biggest problem with the “healthy substitute” thing is the mindset. I like whole-wheat wraps and piles of vegetables, and there undoubtedly people who like turky bacon (and possibly even low-fat cheese). But making it all about substitutions and replacements instead of enjoying those foods for their own sake creates perpetual disappointment. And a lot of those things are presented with the “These substances are Bad, and with Bad Stuff, Less is Better” mindset, which would be perfectly sensible if they were talking about arsenic, but doesn’t really work when it comes to fat, calories, and salt.

  2. RecipeHag

    Yeah hard boiled eggs are a fave for me too. Tasty and easy and go great with different sides.

  3. Jenny Islander

    My recipe makeovers:

    Option A: If near a Subway Sandwiches, pick up a breakfast sandwich from there instead. Start with a whole-egg omelet, or egg white if you are craving protein more than fat. Choose ham for the meat and add cheese of choice. Load with vegetables. Or choose any regular Subway sandwich without sauce or grease, to avoid showing up with food stains on your clothes. If hungry, order the footlong. Get the free cup of water because soda pop will just make you thirstier and provoke a sugar crash.

    Option B: Hard-cook a bowlful of eggs every three days. Grab as many as appetite demands. Also make a toasted cheese sandwich* with whatever you like in it–pickles, mustard, peppers, tomatoes, whatever. Eat the sandwich on the way out the door and eat the eggs on the way to school. Bring a paper or plastic bag and peel each egg inside the bag to avoid making a mess. If you hard-cook the eggs in salted water, they will have better flavor IME. Take water to drink and a piece of fruit if you like.

    Option C: Buy hors d’oeuvre chicken tacos, which are made from cornmeal, chicken, salsa, and seasonings and come in big boxes. Microwave a plateful (the directions say bake on an oiled pan, but they microwave just fine and come out more like tiny tamales). Gobble gobble gobble, slug down milk, run out of door, double back for forgotten assignment, kiss Mom, catch bus. Or put a bunch of hot tacos in a bag and eat on the way. If possible serve with black bean and corn salsa. Saves money and increases nutrients. Athletes and growing boys may need more fat than this: if so, top with cheese, sour cream, and/or guacamole.

    *Toast bread, put cheese on bread, microwave until cheese melts, open and add other fixins.

    • katja

      Those are some great ideas! I get asked about “to-go” breakfast all the time! Thank you!

      • Jennifer Hansen

        It boils down to something I posted a while back: Before you can feed yourself or your child, you have to ask the right questions. The questions you ask depend on the premises you accept. The premise of the original recipe rehab is, “There are good foods and bad foods, defined by calories, fat, and salt content, and the most important thing is to turn this bad food into a good food.” I say that that’s the wrong premise. Here’s a better one: “My son is growing rapidly and doing a lot of brain work at a time when his body wants to be asleep, so the most important thing is to fulfill his body’s needs for lasting energy and nutrients. Also he has to not be late for school or show up with food stains on his clothes.”

  4. Caprice

    Can someone explain why a fast food sausage and egg sandwich is so bad nutritionally? It comes on a white bread roll of some sort – biscuit, English muffin or croissant. The pork sausage does have some fat and so does the cheese. There is a whole egg cooked in some sort of fat. 750 calories does not seem to be an inordinate amount especially if the child is growing.

    I can’t understand the lockstep agreement that this sandwich is automatically bad and needs to be made over. It seems to me that one day one type of fat is “unhealthy” and the next day it isn’t and there is a new fear. This year protein seems to be good and fats and carbs are demons. Next year it will be different.

    • RecipeHag

      Well I don’t know about some fats being “bad” (like killing you or anything like that) but some fats have consistently been shown to be really good for you (and some are essential and deficiencies can lead to problems, especially in kids). So it may be matter of OK vs really good. Personally I think we focus way too much on calories and the demonization of certain macronutrients (like fat!) while ignoring the quality of the nutrients people are getting (and have ACCESS to). Fast food tends to involve a lot of the less good fats (which are more shelf stable) and weird additives that are there for the convenience (and profit margin) of the restaurant not for the benefit of the consumer. In this case “My teen starts his day with this filling fast-food meal-” so this is a regular thing making it a good opportunity to get as many nutrients in as possible.

      Katja- the bacon and leeks idea sounds delicious. I’m totally going to make some kind of bacon and leek thing soon!

      • katja

        I do try to avoid trans fats, and the processed fats, but as far as butter, olive oil, nuts, avocados, ice-cream, fat from meats, eggs etc, I don’t worry about it. I know coconut fat is in right now, but I’m not a big fan of the flavor in most things… I eat a variety of all these things, and I figure that will serve me well.

        • Caprice

          Margarine used to be touted as more healthy than butter. Now that doesn’t seem to be the case. For years coconut oil was an evil saturated fat that would kill you. Crisco was healthier than lard for pie crusts but of course pie would kill you no matter what you used.

          I don’t like Crisco or margarine but they are stable and better than oils that have started to break down.

          Katja, I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that why the child was eating a fast food sandwich daily was more important then what he was eating. A more varied diet might be better for him but eating as a family would probably be even better. Unfortunately, this is not something that all of our stressed families find easy.

          • katja

            yes, eating together is really, really hard, but I think if we write about it, and tips about how to help make THAT happen, it might be more likely? i.e they could write a piece about quick breakfast (lay the table the night before, make these burritos the night before, get up 8 minutes earlier, use paper napkins if you’re just having toast and PBJ, skip the bus 3 days a week and take the kid to school after you eat breakfast…) Who knows, I guess the point is if we don’t think about it and prioritize it, we are stuck!

  5. RecipeHag

    Personally I don’t think there is any problem with this recipe change. Just because a growing boy needs more calories does not mean he needs those calories to be loaded with salt and unhealthy fats. There is nothing wrong with wanting him to eat something with healthier fats (and yes some fats are much better for you nutritionally than others) and healthier carbs. The problem would be if the new recipe was used to restrict calorie intake too much. But it seems to me that if Mom makes six burritos her son may be eating two or three of them and be getting plenty of calories AND better nutrition than a fast food place burrito would offer. Its only if Mom is too restrictive that this becomes a problem.

    • katja

      You are right! I actually wrote that in the letter to Rachel Ray, and should have included it in the post. If they taste good, and he can chose if he wants to eat one, two or three, maybe sitting at the table, maybe in the car with a milk or juice box (or thermos) and a banana, that would be great. Thanks for mentioning! I also though happen to be a big taste proponent, and am not convinced of the dangers of salt (recent Cochrane review and Danish studies suggesting that reducing salt drastically is not likely to help the vast majority of us…) so I worry a little about going “too far.” For example, more onion, maybe some peppers would taste great and boost nutrition, but I personally am not a fan of whole wheat tortillas, or turkey bacon. I’d rather use some great quality bacon, maybe leeks… Anyway, aside from slashing the calories, some of the recipe make-overs sacrifice too much in terms of flavor to be virtuous. This one may taste great, but it’s a trend I see… I am excited to get Cooking Light again this year, I have some of our family staples from those folks, but just some observations. I’m not at all against cooking, in fact, I love it and I think it is an important skill for health and happiness, but Some recipes are just not tasty, even if they are “good for you.”

  6. Twistie

    You know, these recipe makeover columns always remind me of my father’s shortbread.

    Dad was well known for his shortbread, and at family gatherings the platter would always be demolished in no time. When he died, his girlfriend decided to make a batch of ‘Mac’s shortbread’ for a big gathering of people who had known and loved both him and his shortbread. But she decided to make it ‘healthy.’

    Instead of white flour, she used all whole wheat. Yeah, not even a partial substitution to compensate for the heavier results of whole wheat, just a cup for cup substitution. And she used margarine instead of unsalted butter.

    Funny, but nobody wanted those heavy, greasy, frankly revolting cookies. And she couldn’t understand why that was. After all, she’d used Mac’s recipe! In the end, she came to the conclusion that people were just too grief-stricken to eat them.

    I never did disillusion her.

  7. jaed

    The idea seems to be that we don’t actually need nutrients, other than vitamins and minerals. If we were good, pure, and righteous, we would eat zero calories, zero fat, and zero sodium, and just take a vitamin pill every day. These “recipes” are a compromise with our sinful nature, with the emphasis on fooling the taste buds to think we’ve eaten enough.

    However, the body is not fooled. Not long-term. (Not even short-term, really. I can certainly tell if I haven’t had enough fat and protein lately, even if I’ve eaten a quantity of food.)

    It is just bizarre. And the overemphasis on “not too much!!!” loses sight completely of the need for enough. For example, if you tell most people that eating zero sodium will kill you, they’ll look at you as though you had two heads – all their information flow, all the headlines and articles, all the lecturing from doctors, is about “don’t eat too much sodium!” and “Americans eat N times as much sodium as the recommended maximum!” and so on, and people do not get the message that getting enough is far, far more important than not getting too much. The message that gets through is that sodium is bad for you and the only reason you use salt at all is because of your sinful, atavistic desire for the flavor.

    Same with other nutrients. There’s no acknowledgement of a teenage boy’s energy needs because we’re not supposed to have needs, only (questionable) desires and the need to limit intake short of those desires, always and forever.

    • katja

      “It is just bizarre. And the overemphasis on “not too much!!!” loses sight completely of the need for enough.”
      Yes, this is a nice summary…

    • ako

      I surprised many of my relatives by mentioning that I sometimes made an effort to get enough salt, because I’d had salt deficiency issues in the past. (It depends on my living situation – if I’m eating a relatively high amount of prepared food, I don’t need to add salt, but if I do a lot of from-scratch cooking, especially if it’s hot out and I’m drinking more water, I do need to make a point to add salt to things). It just wasn’t in their head as something one would medically need to do.

      • katja

        Yes, it’s not that uncommon to see people who get lightheaded if they don’t have enough salt/water. My friend went through thousands of dollars of testing, and years of dizziness on standing (why it took so long to diagnose is beyond me, she had pretty classic orthostatic hypotension…) Anyway, she had tried to be “healthy” by limiting her salt, and she LOVES salt. Once she started salting her food to her taste, the dizziness went away, and her blood pressure is still fine. (She does a good job of taking care of herself too though, with enjoyable, regular exercise…)

  8. sannanina

    In a similar vein: I recently looked at one of these slide shows that list the “ten worst sandwiches” or something and then recommend replacements. Of course, all the replacements were far lower in calories, fat, and sodium – and apparently being relatively low in calories, fat, and sodium makes a meal healthy (*cough*). However, what really got me was that the ratio of calories to sodium was worse is replacements. Did no one actually consider that people might get the calories that they “saved” elsewhere and therefore take in more overall sodium when eating the replacements? This is of course not true for the replacement you describe… however, yes, 330 kcal is ridiculously low for a breakfast.

    • katja

      Like the “tip” for surviving a BBQ that was to take the cole-slaw and take it into the kitchen and rinse off the dressing!!??? (From an MD food columnist on Huffpo…) Come on people!

  9. Anna Miles

    I couldn’t agree more. When we lose the beauty of food, we lose the contentment and satisfaction it can bring. Not knowing how to enjoy food, our bodies (mind, soul and spirit) are confused and the downward cycle begins.


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