Butter, Brussels Sprouts and Balance

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Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian

This week, Americans are celebrating Julia Child’s 100th birthday. Almost 50 years ago, she launched “The French Chef” on TV, sharing her passion for French cuisine and determined to convince Americans that cooking these beautiful and flavorful foods is doable.

In the 1950s, American cooks were using new convenience, time-saving food and recipes, such as tuna noodle and green bean casseroles made with canned soup. Child wanted American homemakers to embrace fresh food, food preparation and kitchen skills. She wanted them to believe that they could make even the most delicate French sauces.

I love to watch those shows from the early 1960s, but I admit, I do wince at the amounts of cream and butter she sometimes lavishes on food. However, I think her basic message about food was important then and is relevant today. And although many of her recipes would not meet the nutrition standards of the AICR test kitchen, we can learn a lot about healthful eating from her. Here are 5 lessons Julia can teach us today:

  1. Food is more than just energy, nutrients or a quick meal. Food involves all our senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. And it’s about the farmer, the grocer, the fishmonger and the cook.  Food is important not only to us, as individuals, but also our economy and our culture.
  2. Flavor rules. As a nutrition professional, I spend a lot of time thinking about food in the context of health, especially for cancer prevention. But I also eat and know that to sustain a healthful diet, I need food that is enjoyable and delicious. Here at AICR part of our recipe approval is a panel taste testing – we want you to enjoy food too.
  3. Enjoy food with family and friends. Child usually ended “The French Chef” by putting the dish she just made on the table as part of a meal. She’d talk about a light summer meal for the family, entertaining a few friends or preparing a feast for a large party.
  4. Practice portion size control. Also at the end of the show, she often served the dish on a dinner plate and I noticed that the portion sizes would be considered small by today’s standards. She cooked with plenty of high fat foods, but a quote attributed to her illustrates her approach:  “I find that if I just taste everything and eat small portions I maintain my weight. I watch my fat intake, but I eat hearty.”
  5. Be brave. You’ll never master the art of cooking if you don’t try and trying means you’ll make mistakes. She seemed to embrace her mistakes in the kitchen. Compare her show to today’s cooking shows – she exudes confidence, not through perfection, but rather through enjoyment and love of food

 Here you can find one of her recipes: Brussels Sprouts Browned with Cheese

The nutrition breakdown: Serve 6

Per serving: 142 calories, 9 g fat (5.5 g saturated fat), 9 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 3 g fiber, 194 mg sodium

For a couple of tasty Brussels Sprouts recipes that go a little lighter on fat and calories, try these from AICR:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Parmesan; Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

You can watch a few of her early shows here.

What have you learned from Julia Child?


    Author: Alice RD

    Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

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