ChopChop: Childhood nutrition in magazine form
When a kid winces his face at the site of tofu, and you find a way to prepare it that he loves and can’t get enough of, you know you’re doing something right. That’s the kind of tricky nutrition-success Sally Sampson tries to unlock with ChopChop Magazine, which she founded in 2010.
Endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, ChopChop is designed to combat child obesity and foster healthy lifelong eating habits. It’s distributed around the country in as many venues as can be reached: schools, food banks, through pediatricians’ offices, on Indian reservations.
It’s a quarterly magazine that puts a mix of kid-friendly recipes, nutritional information, fun exercise tips and the occasional interview or feature all into a glossy, full-color magazine.
In the case of the boy with tofu, all it took was preparation with some sesame seeds–his favorite food. But he’s not alone. Sampson has found that if you get kids in the kitchen–learning about food and trying new foods, or simply new combinations of foods that they’ve had before–they’re a lot more flexible and excited about not only eating healthier foods, but wanting to go home and cook them, too.
Sampson used congee (an Asian rice porridge) as another example. She said it was a hit on Indian reservations and in Harlem, both places she said people didn’t think kids would willingly eat congee.
“What we’ve seen is that kids are much more open than adults think they are,” she said. “In our photo shoots, kids eat everything. Their parents come in and they’re like, ‘my kid doesn’t and my kid doesn’t eat that,’ but they eat it. Because if they make it, it’s more intriguing, which is sort of our premise.”
Since its inception a year and a half ago, ChopChop has started to print a Spanish version of the magazine, is distributed in every state and nine countries, and part of the last issue was photographed in the White House kitchen and Michelle Obama’s garden.
The magazine’s broad appeal can be attributed largely to two main reasons: it is useful and accessible to low-income communities, and the content is multi-cultural. Recipes are intentionally designed to use ingredients that are affordable and available in supermarkets anywhere. Recipes are also featured from various ethnicities, and the kids spotlighted in the magazines come from all different communities and backgrounds.
Megan Bloch of the New Balance Foundation, which has provided ChopChop with a $1.1 million grant over three years, said they decided to support the magazine because they thought it would benefit a lot of the nonprofits they already support, which include many Boys and Girls Clubs. Bloch said the relationship has been a success so far.
“Organizations are calling us asking for more copies. They talk about how well-received the magazine has been, they’re raving about it,” she said, adding that ChopChop recipes have been used at a lot of Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA events.
“They tell us stories of kids who have taken the magazines home, and they come back excited because the child and their parent have actually made one of the recipes in there,” said Bloch.
Sampson believes the format of the magazine, while arguably old-fashioned, is an asset. “Children are really embracing this thing that they’ve put in their hands, and they go into the kitchen and they use it,” she said. The same can’t be said for games that are often praised for being interactive.
“I think that the danger in making the web too engaging is that the kid will just sit on the web. There are a lot of web games that are cooking games, and they don’t inspire anyone to get in the kitchen,” she said. “I’ve heard statistics about all these cooking shows, that they’re creating couch potatoes, not cooks.”
The greatest strength that Barry Zuckerman, Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine and a medical advisor for ChopChop, sees in the magazine is not so much the individual recipes, but that it gets children and parents to cook together. It sparks curiosity, and stimulates the learning process for things beyond food.
“We have a very busy world and parents don’t have time–they make quality time, but really the best quality time is really when children are learning adult tasks like cooking or even cleaning,” said Zuckerman. “Preparing a meal together is a time when children can learn all kinds of things.”
He said, “It’s the cooking with parents that’s most powerful, and everything comes from that.”
Photo courtesy of ChopChop