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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Filtering by Category: fast food

Changing Eating Habits


There has been a lot of talk recently about how to change the unhealthy eating habits and food choices that many Americans make. First Lady Michelle Obama is challenging schools around the United States to adopt new standards for the quality of food served, participation in meal programs, physical activity and nutrition education. Another popular news story is New York’s move to ban soda and sugary drinks from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Federal food stamp program. Proponents of the soda ban often claim that the existing SNAP ban on alcohol and tobacco could naturally extend to a ban on harmful foods as well, such as soda and sugary drinks. However, unlike soda and sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco are already heavily taxed and vendors need specific licenses to distribute them. Proponents also stress that soda hurts not only the drinker with negative long-term health effects, but the tax payer with more tax dollars going towards public health insurance costs.

Although SNAP benefits are currently largely unrestricted, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits are restricted heavily. A brochure with of the allowed foods for WIC can be found here. It is important to point out that there are a few differences in the two programs. The federal government markets WIC benefits as a diet supplement while SNAP benefits are allotted to provide for individual’s entire diets. Also, SNAP is an entitlement program while WIC is funded through a Federal grant program. However, it is interesting that one Federal food assistance program restricts choices heavily while one hardly restricts choice at all.

Many people fear that banning soda and other sugary drinks as SNAP eligible foods is an unsuccessful tactic in promoting healthy eating habits. For example, families that receive SNAP benefits often do not worry about purchasing nutritious groceries, but about stretching their food dollars to get as many calories as possible. Also, soda is typically a cheap alternative to other, healthier beverages (besides water). Banning certain, unhealthy foods under SNAP benefits may confuse recipients and the recipients may not even have access to “approved” healthy foods. Luckily, alternatives to an outright ban do exist. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program is a good example of a different approach to getting Americans to make healthier food choices. Education programs like Cooking MattersTM help change purchasing and eating habits too.

The New York Times Opinion section had a really amazing article in it last week. The article talked about redesigning the lunch line so that children naturally made healthier lunch choices. The article is interactive and users can view all of the changes by hovering the mouse over orange spots in the diagram. Check it out here:

'I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can'


A Whopper. Photo credit: Burger King Web site How closely do you read calorie postings at restaurants? There was an interesting article on The New York Times' Web site about a recent study on New York's labeling law. According to the study by professors at New York University and Yale, fast food customers ordered slightly more calories than the typical person had before the law  requiring postings at restaurants went into effect last year, the New York Times reported. So even though there was information saying a Whopper had a whopping 670 calories and 40 grams of fat, most likely people went ahead and ordered it anyway.

The study, by professors at New York University and Yale, examined customers at  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken in poor NYC neighborhoods where there are high rates of obesity, which is also a huge problem in Detroit. In 2007, Detroit ranked No. 5 on's America's Most Obese Cities, with an obesity rate of 30.4 percent.

The researchers studied more than 1,000 customers' receipts. At a McDonald's, one customer who was in Harlem for a job interview ordered two cheeseburgers for $2. The total caloric count: 600.  

“It’s just cheap, so I buy it. I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can," he told the newspaper.

The Times also reported an advocate suggested low-income people were more interested in price than calories.

“Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

In a city like Detroit, there are many areas designated as food deserts, meaning “areas that require residents to travel twice as far or more to reach the closest mainstream grocer than to reach the closest fringe food location," according to LaSalle Bank study on the topic. So without access to affordable and nutritious food, it's easy to grab something at McDonald's. But it's not the best choice for you.

Teaching participants how to make educated food choices is what we try to do in our classes at Operation Frontline. For example, instructors do a fun exercise called Blubber Burger, which sounds as disgusting as it is. Participants choose a fast food meal, for example the typical burger, fries, shake combo and then calculate how much fat is in it. Then using spoonfuls of shortening, they pile on the equivalent of fat grams onto a hamburger bun. Seeing a bun full of shortening makes you think twice about whether to eat that burger!