It's no secret that most teen-agers list eating among their favorite hobbies.
And Suzan Smith doesn't mind that it's the No. 1 reason students enroll in her class Foods I, an elective course at West Junior High School.
Smith is glad the students enjoy taking the hands-on class because while they are eating foods such as french toast or beef fajitas, they also are learning healthful eating habits and cooking skills.
The students build their nutrition knowledge by studying the Food Pyramid Guide, which is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get needed nutrients while maintaining a healthy weight. It encourages a diet based on breads, cereals, rice, pasta, vegetables and fruit, supplemented with a moderate amount of low-fat foods from the milk and meat groups. Foods high in sugar and fat are discouraged.
Too many teen-agers and adults do not get enough fruits and vegetables, Smith said.
"Several of the teachers and I are always talking about how the fruit and vegetable groups should be switched with the bread group," she said. "More emphasis needs to be placed on vegetables and fruits because they are the groups that people tend to neglect."
Smith blames this on the fast-paced U.S. lifestyle and the need for convenience.
"It takes more time to prepare vegetables and fruits," she said. "You have to go to the store more often to keep fresh items available, then you have to wash them and prepare them."
Most parents encourage healthful eating, Smith said, but many do not have time to prepare meals. This generally leads to eating fast-food or grabbing take-out orders which is a big "no-no," according to Smith.
The USDA suggests several simple ways to include fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks:
l Buy wisely. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are best buys. If fresh fruit is very ripe, buy only enough to use right away.
l Store produce properly to maintain quality. Refrigerate most fresh fruits (not bananas) and vegetables (not potatoes or tomatoes) for longer storage, and arrange them so you'll eat the ripest ones first. If you cut them up or open a can, cover and refrigerate afterward.
l Keep ready-to-eat raw vegetables handy in a clear container in the front of the refrigerator.
l Keep a day's supply of fresh or dried fruit handy on the table or counter.
l Enjoy fruits as a naturally sweet end to a meal.
l When eating out, choose a variety of vegetables at a salad bar.
During a recent assignment, the West Junior High students were asked to keep a food diary. Many had fulfilled the day's servings for meat, dairy, sugar and fats, but most of them lacked sufficient fruits, vegetables and breads.
"Generally, their pyramid is upside-down because they eat more sugars, fats, meats and dairy products," she said.
And it isn't that teens don't like the healthier food groups. During one food lab the students used a microwave to cook a tray of vegetables covered with a cheese sauce, Smith said, and they "really liked them."
"It's important to find a way to cook vegetables, so your family will eat them." she said.
The USDA agrees. It recommends serving fruits and vegetables in new ways such as:
l raw vegetables with a low- or reduced-fat dip;
l vegetables stir-fried in a small amount of vegetable oil;
l fruits or vegetables mixed with other foods in salads, casseroles, soups or sauces.
Lessons put to test
Making taco salad at 8 a.m. didn't bother the students, who considered it a "good breakfast."
After the students cooked the hamburger, chopped some vegetables, added seasonings and combined the ingredients, they washed down their creations with some fruit juice.
Leona Richling said she thought it was "great," and Will Malcolm agreed but said he would reduce the amount of lettuce. Molly Warren liked the salad but would opt to eliminate tomatoes next time.
The class then discussed food groups involved in the latest nutrition lesson all were represented except for bread. While most of the ingredients are healthful, Smith noted that the corn chips are high in fat and the olives contain a lot of sodium.
They also talked about portion sizes, and the students said the servings they ate that morning were small in comparison to what they generally eat.
It is becoming more important for teen-agers to learn how to cook, Smith said, because they are more apt to be on their own at some point in their life compared to past generations.
"In today's society, both parents are working," Smith said. "Some are even working different shifts and weekends, so they are not always around to cook for the children."
More teens also are getting additional training after high school and not getting married as soon. So there likely will be a period of time when they will need to care for themselves.
Besides learning how to cook various foods, Smith hopes her students gain two other lessons from Foods I:
1. Be open-minded about various foods. "I don't want them to be afraid to try something," she said.
2. Aim for a diet based on fruits, vegetables and breads.
Here are some of the students' favorite Foods I recipes:
1/2 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon dry onion soup mix
1/2 envelope taco seasoning mix
1/3 cup water
1/4 head of lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
1/2 tomato, cut in wedges
1 tablespoon Russian dressing
3 tablespoons Picante sauce
2 ounces corn chips
Brown beef in large skillet. Drain grease. Sprinkle soup mix and taco seasoning over meat in skillet. Stir in water. Simmer uncovered 10 to 15 minutes.
Mix Russian dressing and Picante sauce.
Toss lettuce, cheese, olives and tomato in large mixing bowl. Add beef mixture to bowl. Slightly crush 2 ounces of corn chips and add to lettuce and meat mixture. Toss well with dressing and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 1-inch thick slices of french bread or 6 slices dry white bread
Margarine, butter or cooking oil
In a shallow bowl beat together eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Dip bread into egg mixture, coating both sides (if using french bread, let slices soak in egg mixture about 30 seconds on each side). Warm a small amount of margarine, butter or cooking oil in a skillet or on a griddle over medium heat. Add bread and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Add margarine to skillet as needed. Serve with maple-flavored syrup, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
1/3 cup orange juice (or water)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup green or red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
To prepare sauce, stir together orange juice (or water), soy sauce and cornstarch. Set aside.
Preheat wok over high heat. Add olive oil. Stir-fry gingerroot in hot oil for 15 seconds. Add carrots and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add broccoli and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp and tender. Add green or red pepper and stir-fry 2 minutes. Push vegetables from the center of the wok. Stir sauce; add to center of wok. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Move vegetables to center of wok, add walnuts and stir to coat. Serve over rice or pasta. Makes 4 servings.
Other vegetable choices: 1/2 cup sliced celery, bean sprouts, cauliflower, green onions and mushrooms. Pasta/rice choices: white or brown rice; spiral, fettuccine or shell pasta.
1/2 pound boneless beef plate skirt steaks, beef flank steak or beef round steak
1/4 cup Italian salad dressing
1/4 cup salsa
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 7-inch tortillas
1 1/2 teaspoons cooking oil
1 small onion, sliced thin and separated into rings
1 small green or sweet red or yellow pepper, cut into strips
1 small tomato, chopped
Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Partially freeze beef. Thinly slice across the grain into bite-sized strips. Place strips in a plastic bag set into a deep bowl. Add salad dressing, 1/4 cup salsa, lime or lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce to bag. Seal bag and gently shake to mix and coat beef. Place in refrigerator to marinate for 6 to 24 hours.
Wrap tortillas in foil. Heat in a 350Â° oven for 10 minutes to soften. Warm a large skillet over high heat; add oil. Cook and stir onion rings in hot oil for 1 1/2 minutes. Add sweet pepper strips; cook and stir about 1 1/2 minutes or until crisp and tender. Remove vegetables from skillet. Add half of the undrained beef strips to the hot skillet. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until done. Remove beef and drain well. Repeat with remaining beef. Return all beef and vegetables to skillet. Add chopped tomato. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Serve with guacamole, sour cream, cheese and salsa, as desired. Makes 4 servings.
Society Editor Karrey Britt can be reached