Ever try Matzo Brei for breakfast? How about Bolder Tuna for lunch or a Beanie Burger for dinner?
You might not be familiar with these dishes, but many children across the country are. Chances are, those kids know how to cook the meals, too. The recipes can be found in ChopChop Magazine, a quarterly publication designed to teach kids to cook nutritious meals and develop healthy habits.
ChopChop is the brainchild of Sally Sampson, a cookbook author by trade who became interested in health care after her now-adult daughter was diagnosed with pancreatitis as a baby.
“I sort of had to do a lot of my own research, and doing work in health care made me feel like writing cookbooks wasn’t meaningful enough for me,” Sampson recalls. “I felt like I wanted to do something more.”
Sampson knew that teaching young people to cook healthy meals could have a big health impact on their lives and play a big role in reducing soaring obesity rates. She came up with the idea to create a pamphlet that would serve as a way for doctors to prescribe cooking to their young patients to encourage healthy habits, and pitched the idea to pediatricians.
The feedback was positive, so Sampson got to work, and eventually her pamphlet became ChopChop. The magazine launched in March 2010, and more than 3 million copies have since been distributed to pediatricians, children’s hospitals and youth-based organizations. The magazine also is found in schools, after-school programs, farmers’ markets and grocery stores in all 50 states.
ChopChop is available in about half of pediatrician’s offices across the country, Sampson says, adding that many doctors have said the magazine made it easier for them to discuss obesity and healthy eating habits with patients. Parents and kids, meanwhile, find that cooking the healthy recipes can be a bonding experience, Sampson says.
“The kids are saying to the parents, ‘Will you do this with me?’ And I think if your kid says, ‘Will you roast carrots with me?” it’s kind of hard to say no,” she jokes.
When including a recipe, the staff makes sure to provide a little bit of information about the ingredients as well. For example, a zucchini-themed dish would talk about where it is grown. Eating well isn’t the only lesson provided in ChopChop, either, as recipes also teach kids important math and science skills.
Each magazine is themed around a certain topic — the latest issue was themed “Eat the Rainbow,” encouraging young people to try colorful fruits and veggies — and includes regular features such as games. The magazine’s staff works hard to include recipes that are healthy and easy for kids to make.
“We’re very cost conscious, and the recipes are very ethnically diverse,” Sampson adds. “We always try to [include] recipes from other countries.”
ChopChop is entirely a philanthropic effort, published by the Massachusetts-based nonprofit ChopChopKids and funded through donations and subscriptions. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses the magazine, and an advisory board made up of 18 prominent people from health care, nutrition and childhood education offers guidance.
Perhaps the biggest test of ChopChop’s educational efforts comes during magazine photo shoots, which feature real kids tasting real dishes.
“Kids are trying new foods. We see during our photo shoots that there are kids who start out saying, ‘I don’t eat X or I don’t do X,’” Sampson says. “But then they make it, and they enjoy eating it.”