Healthy Family Meals
Amazon.comHealthy Family Meals: 150 Recipes Everyone Will Love, by the American Heart Association (Clarkson Potter, $35)
Here's what you can expect when the American Heart Association publishes a cookbook: a well-meaning introduction with lots of advice you've heard before (eat vegetables and fruit; eat whole grains; cut back on added sugar) and some you haven't (eat soft margarine!). Nutrition labels just like the ones you see on the side of the box for each recipe. And lots and lots of packaged products.
This last bit is not surprising. You've seen the AHA logo on innumerable cardboard boxes. (Did you know that manufacturers have to pay to print the AHA logo on their merchandise? and that, despite its advice about "no added sugar," AHA has approved countless cereals that are basically 100% sugar? Cocoa Puffs, for example. Food for thought, that.) Although no brands are named, a great many of these recipes call for something from a box or can: uncooked instant brown rice, vacuum-sealed salmon, a "3.5-ounce package low-fat feta crumbles," butter-flavor cooking spray.
I don't really know what's behind the AHA's love affair with processed foods, but maybe that's inevitable when you have a cookbook full of retro classics: Turkey Tetrazzini, Oodles of Noodles Tuna Casserole, and the genuinely scary Turkey Surprise Meat Loaf, which oozes a homemade version of Campbell's cream of mushroom. (Some are merely retro-sounding, like No Time Tuna Toss and Creamy Chop Chop Salad, described as "a favorite choice for children." Whose children?) These classics can't be made without the dairy products which clogged the hearts of previous generations, so I guess the alternative is to make them with fake, low-fat products, many of which (surprise!) bear the AHA logo.
Now, to be fair, there are some recipes in here that really are both heart-healthy and up-to-date: Grilled Vegetable and Bulgur Salad, for example. There are a few perfectly good vegetable recipes; say, roasted green beans with sesame seeds (for some reason, AHA thinks you have to call them Green Bean "Worms" to make kids eat them). And if you don't know how to use an online calorie counter, I suppose it might be helpful to have the nutritional info of your dinner all spelled out for you.
But the fact of the matter is, if you want to eat heart-healthy, just load up your shopping cart with fruits and vegetables. If you don't know how to cook them, any number of wonderful farmer's market cookbooks will tell you how.
You don't need a team of AHA food engineers to protect your heart with platters of reduced-fat turkey tetrazzini. You can do that all by yourself with a painless, heart-healthy, aerobic walk -- straight to your local produce aisle.
Rating: 1.5 whisks
Ratings system: 1 - 5 whisks
5 - Must have; will use weekly
4 - Highly recommended, good gift or addition to collection
3 - Inspiring but not user-friendly, or user-friendly but not inspiring
2 - Unrealistic or poorly executed
1 - Useless on all counts