I must warn you, at the beginning, that this is not a post about weight, eating disorders, or the harm of reality TV. This post is about parenting and worrying about the wrong things. And then, later, it’s about celery soup. These are all things I felt required a bit of advance notice, but then again, I’m always worrying about the wrong things.
For these many weeks, I can’t remember how long, we, as a family, have watched The Biggest Loser: Second Chances. Through the weeks we’ve had many interesting conversations that might not otherwise have come up.
We were rooting for David, the kids and I. Bernard didn’t have a favorite because he’s not a fan of the show. To be fair, the kids and I were also cheering for Bobby and Rachel; we just admired David’s progress the most. To be honest, Bernard was paying attention from the sidelines, even if he was pretending not to watch.
We’re not a weight-obsessed family, as one look at us would tell you. Because I cook and write most often about cooking, we have frequent conversations about food and healthy choices. And even though my kids wish there were a little less of me squeezing into my jeans (I do, too), I know they generally get the difference between health and appearance.
Biggest Loser can prompt some pretty rich family dialogue that goes far beyond weight, eating, and exercise. The stories are heart-wrenching: A young woman who started overeating at 12 when she had to become the caretaker of her alcoholic father; a young man who overate to hide himself because he was ashamed of being gay; a young father who lost his first wife to cancer when his girls were tiny. Wow. Our running conversations throughout this season focused on what it means to be healthy in a holistic way, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
We also talked about how TV, even on reality shows, isn’t reality. People don’t normally lose 12 pounds in a week. I compared it to car commercials: do not try this at home. It was important, I thought, to underscore this point. Children, I worry, are very susceptible to promotional advertising. I know this because so many articles, blog posts, books and programs have told me so.
Then came the finale. In a true stroke of luck, we had to record the episode to watch another time because it aired too late on a school night. On Wednesday morning I saw all the buzz (if you missed it, here’s an article from the LA Times). I saw stills of Jillian Michaels’s horrified expression as Rachel, the winner, walked onto the stage. I read that Rachel lost almost 60% of her body, trimming 155 pounds from her 5’5″ frame for an ending weight of 105.
And my children were going to see that winning finale; there was no avoiding it. They would see that rail-thin girl walk on stage and claim the $250,000 prize, whether or not she was setting a good example for health and well-being.
Like most parents, I think I do better as a mom when I have time to prepare. I decided to have words at the ready but not to give anything away. I was prepared to address determining a healthy weight and keeping weight in perspective. I was prepared to encourage my children to realize that winning and right aren’t always synonymous. I was prepared to tell them what I thought as we watched the finale together, because they are children and need my guidance on such serious matters.
Of course, and you knew where this was going, I had nothing to worry about. When Rachel, the third of the three finalists, walked through the stage door my children both said, “Oh my gosh! She looks awful!” And as Rachel climbed on the scale for the official last weigh-in, here’s what my little people, whom I worried the media would lead astray, had to offer:
The children, in unison: “Whoa! She looks terrible! She is way too skinny!”
Me (trying to be non-reactive): “Why do you say that?”
Son (12): “Look at her arms, Mom. They’re all scrawny and spindly. It’s like she’s trying to be a teenager again when she’s a grown-up. She just doesn’t look right.”
Daughter (10 – turning to her football/baseball-playing brother): “She weighs less than you do, and you’re the same height! How can that be healthy?”
Son, a few minutes later, after Rachel was crowned the winner: “No, that’s just not right. David really should have won. Or Bobby. She lost more weight, but he and Bobby, man, they got their lives back.”
From the time my children were little, what I’ve most wanted for them is that they be good in the truest sense, that they have a deep internal desire to do good in the world. I hadn’t stopped to think about how important it was that they also be able to look at things – really look at them, to examine and reflect on them, and then draw their own conclusions. Not the media’s conclusion. Not my conclusion. Their own. That’s really the essence of doing good, isn’t it, choosing independently what’s right or wrong, good or bad?
As always, my children have a lot to teach me. One day, I will learn.
Food | Week of February 10, 2014
Last week, as usual, I took a detour from my weekly dinner plan, skipped the lettuce wraps (it was too cold; what was I thinking?), and made an impromptu batch of celery soup. “Yuck!” you’re thinking, and normally so would I. But when Food 52‘s email popped up in my inbox with the title “Genius Celery Soup” and a picture (copied below) too appetizing to resist, I gave in.
Even Bernard liked it. (Note: he hates it when I write this – “you make it sound like I’m a picky eater!” For the record, he is the pickiest eater I’ve ever known.)
I happened to have leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge because we had, as planned, the mashed potato bar for dinner last Monday. With the potatoes already cooked, making the soup was a snap. We liked it so much that I made a second batch (good again, although not quite as good as the first because I used more potatoes the second time). Recipe link is below, along with a few others for another wintery week.
I’m going to start the week by making another big batch of mashed potatoes, again using the small (child’s fist sized) Yukon Gold potatoes that aren’t as starchy as the larger ones. I’ll use them for both the celery soup and the potato croquettes from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (we’re on our third week with this book, and it’s still passing muster).
Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup | French bread
(see notes, above)
Potato Croquettes with Quick Tomato Sauce | Caesar Salad
There isn’t an official link to Bittman’s recipe, but here it is as presented on another food blog. (You could also get the book from the library or just buy it – potato croquettes are on page 353.) There’s also a quick tomato sauce recipe on page 445, if you’re using the actual book, or try this one from America’s Test Kitchen. Serve with a Caesar Salad, or any other salad that has a bit of tart/tang to go with the sweetness of the potatoes.
Thai Beef with Coconut Rice
This recipe, from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, is easy to adapt to your taste if you desire more or less heat. You can also serve with a parsley/citrus side salad for counterbalance.
African Peanut Soup | Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges
I know, the last time I posted this recipe you thought, “Yuck,” the same way you’re still thinking “Yuck” about celery soup. I promise you won’t regret making it. And if I’m wrong, you can always order pizza. So there.
Moroccan Chicken with Couscous | Cucumber Salad
Here’s this week’s experiment, from BBC’s Good Food. The measurements are metric; there are online conversion charts if you’re worried about it, but I suspect we can all figure this out with a little kitchen common sense. The reviews indicate that the recipe is quite lemony; if you’re not a lemon fan, try reducing the suggested amount and then adding more to taste.