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Meatless Monday: Let's Move

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"How's that hopey changey thing working out?" Not so badly, thanks. There may be plenty of frustrations on Capitol Hill, but with a minimum of fuss and fanfare, Michelle Obama's been steering us towards embracing -- and eating -- healthy, sustainable food.

It started with her White House vegetable garden and has blossomed with her campaign to wipe out childhood obesity. Focusing on lifestyle, education, activity and food choices -- all the areas where we need work -- the campaign name says it all -- Let's Move.

That means us. Sitting on our ever-broadening backsides hasn't exactly been, in Governor Palin's words, "working out." We've got to move both literally and figuratively if we're going to give America's children the life -- and the quality of life and life expectancy -- they deserve. Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years and we may be looking at the first generation with lifespans shorter than their parents'.

We need to change what we eat. Many households resort to fast food a couple of times a week rather than cooking at home. Why do burgers beat broccoli? "Every parent we talk to thinks healthy food's expensive. It has a stigma," says Laura Fernandez of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the national youth mentoring nonprofit. Odd there isn't such a stigma associated with the processed food we've been feeding our kids. It's inflated them and saddled them with diseases like diabetes they shouldn't have to face ever, let alone as kindergartners.

Last week, the First Lady took food megacorps to task for pushing crap on kids Some of the responsibility, though, falls on us. Part of being a good parent means saying no -- no when kids clamor for what's not good for them, no to companies hawking processed, additive-packed products masquerading as food.

More important than saying no is saying yes -- yes to fresh, locally grown produce, yes to making it affordable and available to everyone. Chef and food activist Michel Nischan has been doing this with his Nourishing Neighborhoods program. Nourishing Neighborhoods brings local farmers and what they grow to underserved communities as part of the food stamp program SNAP program.

When kids see and taste fresh food at home, when they grow it, when they help shop for it, when they cook it, they're sold. I've seen it working with Common Threads,, the national nonprofit that teaches underserved kids to cook. Laura Fernandez has seen it, too, with Big Fitness, the nutrition and fitness program she runs with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami. Designed to create awareness and provide solutions to childhood obesity, Big Fitness offers events from football to planting herb gardens.

Kids do learn -- and incorporate -- healthier food and lifestyle choices. You just have to show them what they are. Just ask Danielle Hollar. Danielle's headed and researched obesity prevention projects in 25 states, including one recent program which served 35,000 underserved children in seven states. By growing their own organic produce, trying fresh fruits and vegetables -- sometimes for the first time -- and eating the occasional meatless meal in the school lunchroom, after four years and a half year of study, the kids showed lower blood pressure, healthier weight and, says Hollar, "significantly higher standardized test scores."

We can't always rely on schools, nonprofits or First Ladies to give our children what they need to live healthier lives. This knowledge needs to be instilled where kids first learn to eat -- at home.

"We can educate the children all we want, but if the parents aren't on board, it'll only go so far," says Laura. That's why Big Fitness offers nutrition, food shopping and cooking basics for parents and mentors. It's a great program, but it's only happening in Miami. While Laura hopes Big Fitness will be picked up by Big Brothers Big Sisters branches across the country, "Even if we impact 10 kids at a time, it's okay with me."

Well, it's not okay with me, and I doubt it'd fly with the First Lady. Every single child in America has a right to good food. Let's move. Let's buy real food. Let's cook it and eat it with our kids. Let's make a difference in our lifetime and in the lifetime of our children. Hopey-changey beats the panties off deny and die.


Vegetable Garden Spaghetti Sauce

I prefer a sauce so chunky it's practically salsa, but to keep the peace with veg-wary children, they're chopped fine here. It's not spaghetti out of a can, but it's tomatoey and veggie-rich. With a food processor, it's a breeze to make -- so easy you can deputize your kids into getting involved, from stirring the sauce to adding the chopped vegetables. Get a pot of basil or oregano, snip a few leaves into the sauce and incorporate a living lesson about where our food comes from. Aren't you clever.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 onion
1 carrot
1 rib celery
1 sweet pepper
8 ounces mushrooms
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup vegetable broth or red wine
1 bay leaf
1 handful fresh chopped basil or oregano leaves, or a combination
1 pinch (1/4 teaspoon) sugar
sea salt and peppper to taste

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Using a food processor, chop garlic, onion, carrot and celery into fine bits. Add to pot and saute. Meanwhile, chop pepper and mushrooms fine in food processor. Add to pot and stir.

Cover and reduce heat to low, letting vegetables turn soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Raise heat, stir in crushed tomatoes, bay and broth or wine. When sauce just comes to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low again and continue simmering for 30 minutes.

Stir in basil and/or oregano, a pinch of sugar to balance the tomato acidity, and sea salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over whole grain spaghetti or your favorite pasta.

Sauce serves 6 to 8.

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