San Mateo County creates recipe for good health

San Bruno mom Patricia Donahue pens her shopping list with the best intentions, only to watch her healthy meal ideas evaporate under life’s daily demands — usually to be replaced by a quick batch of Rice-a-Roni or takeout.

“A lot of it is just being so busy. Fresh foods take longer to prepare and if you buy a lot of it, it will go bad,” she said.

Donahue’s struggle is a typical one. With Happy Meals replacing Sunday dinners and a quarter of Peninsula children struggling with their weight, county health officials on Monday launched a nutritional campaign to help families who choose cookies over quinoa.

The goal is to put quick, kid friendly recipes into their hands. With an extra five minutes and a handful of tofu, for example, broccoli is transformed into “dragon eggs.”

The recipes, in a booklet called Power Foods, will be distributed to tens of thousands of Peninsula families through schools in the Bayshore and Ravenswood school districts, pediatricians’ offices, anti-poverty programs, mothers clubs and online. The recipes were also given to the 11,000 county employees with children, said Tami Whelen, registered dietician for the county.

Campaign organizers plan to offer incentives, such as puppet shows and fruit baskets, to students and teachers who get families to try out the recipes.

The campaign, which coincides with National Nutrition Month, is aligned with Get Healthy San Mateo County, a coalition of community, educational and medical care organizations in its second year of implementing anti-obesity measures for children.

A 2003-04 county study found that 25 percent of children, or 4,900, were overweight. The rate was even higher among Pacific Islander, Hispanic, black and Filipino kids.

“If we did the survey today, there would probably see more overweight children,” Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

Though it’s slowly changing, school lunches still lack fresh ingredients and vending machines persist at county high schools, Hill said. In people’s homes, nothing has changed, he said.

“There has to be a cultural shift in eating. It’s too easy to eat processed and fast food. With our very rushed lifestyles, it’s easier than cooking a meal. We’re all guilty of that.”

The Power Foods booklet can be downloaded at www.smhealth.org/nutrition.

tbarak@examiner.com

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