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Healthy Doesn’t Mean Neurotic

Teach your children to eat sensibly, then don’t fret over the occasional Fribble or fry By Laura Leon

I have older sisters who, to this day, refer bitterly to the fact that our mother didn’t “make me” eat whatever everybody else was having. It doesn’t matter that by the time I came along, the tail end of a huge family, my mother had either wised up to the futility of such a struggle, especially with such a headstrong sort as myself, or just plain wearied of the time-consuming prospect of coaxing lima beans and egg noodles into an unreceptive mouth. These sisters were known to make statements like “My kids will learn to eat everything that’s given them, and not be spoiled like some people!”

One such sibling, the organics and natural foods queen, Pamela, absolutely shocked my husband and I about 12 years ago when, visiting her family in San Francisco, we took a side trip from a vineyard tour in order to get her then-2-year-old French fries from McDonald’s. At the time, we tsk-tsk’d at her folly; surely, she was being a lazy parent, and besides, hadn’t I, in my childless wisdom, always warned her that she wouldn’t be able to forever keep things like processed cookies and Cheese Doodles from her offspring?

We’re bombarded these days not only with mass advertising for a plethora of “quick” and “convenience” foods, but also, increasingly, with news features about an epidemic of obesity among our children. Concerned-yet-busy parents may try to juggle the demands of family and work with nutritious and expeditious meals, but the general feeling among moms and dads is one of guilt. “We got takeout chicken at Popeye’s,” nervously admits one friend, while another confides, “I haven’t cooked in well over a year.” My own sons were thrilled that at a baseball picnic last summer because they were actually going to get to eat hot dogs and drink soda. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who laughingly replied that she serves these same vittles just about every other night. (This friend, and her family, are just about the most joyful, easygoing people I know. Go figure.)

The idea that home cooking involves intensive labor and massive time consumption is simply beyond me, but that’s fodder for a separate discussion. Here, let’s talk about what we feed our children, and our expectations thereof. My erstwhile colleague B.A. Nilsson has been known to rant against the dread chicken fingers that are so prevalent on restaurant menus. And he’s got a point. Look under the kids’ section in nine out of 10 eateries, and you’ll see the deep-fried and breaded pantheon of chicken fingers [or tenders], plain pizza, cheeseburger and macaroni and cheese. Often, the mac and cheese is offered as a side, a nice starchy complement to your starchy main attraction. Then again, sometimes there is the option of pasta with butter or sauce, or the classic PBJ.

Granted, we’re not talking epicurean: There’s a dreadful banality to the salty breading and processed-cheese flavorings. Recently, my son observed in amazement that the macaroni and cheese he was eating at Houlihan’s tasted identical to that he had had at Friendly’s. Chain restaurants, particularly, order such products from the same vendors, and there’s a method to the similarity, the aforementioned banality that, to many, reassures and comforts. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; when you are craving a Friendly’s Fribble, you want to know that it’s going to taste like you remembered it. The downside is that it does nothing to lead the child’s palate in any direction other than processed foods. How do we expect our children, as they grow, to suddenly learn to eat good, healthy foods, if we consistently give them this stuff?

I’m a big believer in avoiding the whole children’s-menu thing, no matter how attractively priced it is (“But, honey, the dessert comes with the meal!”). Ordering your child something off the “grown-up” menu will give you a much wider range of potentially healthier options. Some restaurants can do half portions, or, if you have more than one child and, miracle of miracles, they can agree on an entrée, have them share it. Even if this means paying a $1 plate-
sharing charge, it’s worth paying for the $14.95 grilled chicken with two veggies on the side, if nutrition and quality are your watchwords.

Incidentally, Legal Sea Foods in Boston has the best children’s menu going, an opinion that was recently backed up by Child magazine, which named the chain tops in family-friendly restaurants. (Interestingly, of the 125 menus that the magazine analyzed, all offered soda but only two-thirds offered milk as a beverage. Chicken nuggets, fingers or strips were on 87 percent of all menus, and salads appeared as a vegetable option in only 19 percent of all menus.) Legal has banned the use of trans fats in its kitchens, so even its fried seafood isn’t really all that bad.

Ethnic restaurants are great training grounds for trying new foods and flavorings, and, in the process, reinforcing healthy patterns. There’s just something about trying tofu or seitan within the context of a foreign menu that’s generally more ingratiating with children, than, say, just serving it up at home as a healthy alternative to animal protein.

But back to the dreaded chicken fingers. One thing that constantly comes up, in the current food wars, is the concept that a food is “bad.” There are a number of problems inherent to the idea that food, or a single ingredient, is good or bad. Remember back in the ’70s, when we were urged to ditch olive oils and butters in favor of the magic bullet, margarine? For every new dietary fad, there are an exponential number of misguided pronouncements, deeming everything from eggs to nuts to the carbs found in vegetables and fruit as “bad.” When teaching children about food, it’s unwise to use such terminology, if for any reason than giving them something that you’re extolling as being “really, really good” for them is bound to send them under the table. Seriously, in ascribing such adjectives to things like ketchup, or French fries, or what have you, you’re giving the food a sort of power that your own child, and presumably you, don’t have over it. French fries in and of themselves aren’t “bad,” reconstituted taters out to lard your hips and pimple your face. But perhaps eating French fries every day isn’t such a good idea.

As my sister Pamela so wisely figured out, upon becoming a mother, it doesn’t matter in the long run if you occasionally allow your kid to pig out on McDonald’s fries. The important thing is exposing them to healthy, delicious choices on a daily basis, so that those choices are the norm, and the occasional pizza and soda night, or summer-shack fried-clam platter, isn’t met with guilt, frustration or fear that Junior is going to need Slim-Fast.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets, Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown library to include a new children’s center, gallery and performance space. Samples of food made by area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the country to see what they were reading and eating; the result is a collection of 100 entries, each focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from 6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of talented culinary teams take on the challenge of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext. 105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore


Elaine Snowdon

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky

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