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New book a guide to turning children into healthy little eaters

SofiSotomayor Waukegan (center) her daughters Selah 5 (left) Yamil3 look peppers from GenevLakes Produce Grayslake Farmers Market Center Street. Grayslake

Sofia Sotomayor of Waukegan (center) and her daughters, Selah, 5 (left) and Yamila, 3, look at the peppers from Geneva Lakes Produce at the Grayslake Farmers Market on Center Street. Grayslake downtown business also hosted trick-or-treating for kids. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 23, 2012 9:55AM

Listen up, moms! If you’ve got a picky eater at your dinner table, then we know what your New Year’s resolution is: to get your kid to eat more vegetables, less sugar, and basically be more willing to try new things at meal times.

Well then, have we got a book for you: The Cleaner Plate Club by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin (Storey Publishing, $16.95).

Before you dismiss it as another finger-pointing, eat-your-vegetables parenting book, be warned: It’s not. This book comes with lots of information, a witty sense of humor, and an any-mistake-you-made-we-made-it-too attitude. The Cleaner Plate Club focuses on the importance of eating whole foods instead of processed foods, and welcoming kids to take part in the locavore food movement.

“The Cleaner Plate Club is the book that I myself needed — and couldn’t find — when my first daughter (Merrie, now 10) was young,” says Benjamin. “When I went to the supermarket, everything in the ‘toddler/kids’ aisle was hyper-processed. And even though I knew that those foods weren’t the best option, it was what everyone around me was offering their kids. I wasn’t a confident cook and my daughter turned her nose up at the recipes I tried, so it was an easy path.”

Benjamin also found herself swimming in a sea of well-meaning advice: Don’t give kids sugar. Give them sugar or they’ll crave sugar more. Milk is great for kids. Milk causes allergies, diabetes and depression. Fat is great for kids’ developing brains! Fat will make your kids obese. Meanwhile she and her husband had just started to pay more attention to the foods they were eating. They had joined a community supported agriculture network that entitled them to a “share” of a local farmer’s harvest, and were filling their fridge with vegetables they had never so much as blanched before: beets in their raw form, kale, turnips, kohlrabi. “I realized I wasn’t even sure how to store or prepare vegetables. We had become so accustomed to foods that come in boxes that were stamped with directions,” says Benjamin.

So she began her research — reading books about food, brushing up her own cooking, and launching a blog — never realizing it would become The Cleaner Plate Club. When Benjamin met Bader, the book’s chief recipe writer, online over a kale recipe, the book’s fate was sealed.

The Cleaner Plate Club is a busy mom’s guide to food that reveals how to select, store and prepare whole foods. The book also includes great recipes for 100 or more tasty dishes. But perhaps most important is the fact that they were written and tested by moms who made these recipes as the book notes, “in our real kitchens, in the middle of real life — as phones rang and dogs barked and small children clung to our legs.”

“We don’t count calories, we don’t fear fat, and we’re not spooked by carbohydrates,” says Benjamin. “We intended the book to be very browse-able, fun, non-judgmental, informative without being guilt-inducing.”

The book contains charts, pull-out boxes with fun facts and whole pages devoted to specific veggies with photos and illustrations. You’ll learn how to effectively navigate the grocery store, why farmers markets are worth the trip, and how to make quick dinners that still offer nutritional value.

“Food is such a loaded thing,” says Benjamin. “So many parents are busy judging one another. It’s like what your kid is chewing at any given moment reflects whether you’re a good person or a horrible one. Combine that with a busy life that includes working parents, kids’ busy schedules, and the afternoon hungries, and you can see why so many parents just don’t want to deal.”

Of course, there are so many reasons not to step up in the kitchen. And if you’re not a terribly talented cook, you’re kind of off the hook, right?

Well, not quite. After all, kids who eat whole foods over processed are less likely to suffer from depression, obesity and diabetes, among other serious health conditions. Plus, even if you embrace just a few “Cleaner Plate” strategies you might notice some amazing changes in your house: Food may stop being a constant source of conflict. You may sit down together as a family a little more often. You and your kids may get more joy out of cooking and eating. And as the book says, “That’s so much more satisfying than peeling back the plastic film on a microwavable dinner.”

Gannett News Service

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