In recent decades, the incidence of childhood obesity in America has increased dramatically. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the percentage of children with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s with about one-third of U.S. kids currently being either overweight or obese.
That can lead to all sorts of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, and much of the weight gain in this population has been attributed to diets laden with processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
But Dr. Robert Dell’Amore, a renowned chef, food researcher and Suffolk County BOCES educator, is out to change American palates by first changing American’s minds — literally.
As part of Shelter Island Library’s Tent Week, on Friday, July 14 Dr. Dell’Amore will offer “The Power of Food: Culinary Skills for Optimum Nutrition,” a program in which he will demonstrate how to prepare nutritious food that he swears kids will love using simple and delicious recipes made with fresh ingredients.
Realizing that the solution to the nation’s obesity problem lies in changing deeply ingrained food habits, Dr. Dell’Amore’s approach is centered on neuroscience. His methods of altering attitudes and tastes — especially among young people — are based on the powerful senses of smell and taste, which are central to what he does.
“Early in my research, I wanted to know why certain aromas and tastes evoke strong memory related to childhood,” he said.
By healthy, delicious food, Dr. Dell’Amore means fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and lean meats prepared without excess salt, sugar and butter. As an educator, for the last decade Dr. Dell’Amore has traveled the country introducing his health initiative workshop through cooking and tasting demonstrations.
Though Dr. Dell’Amore said he received tremendous support from universities in the Northeast when he showed his work, he really wanted to see what people in the rest of the country thought of it.
So he presented at a statewide conference of Minnesota educators and discovered they loved his approach. He then went on to present the program to teachers in Ohio, Kentucky and elsewhere.
“We brought it to 22 states, from Alaska to the Deep South. I worked in Texas, the Midwest, all the New England and Northeast states,” he said. “I’m just trying to bring a different approach to teaching nutrition through culinary skills and delicious healthy food.”
Dr. Dell’Amore notes his most eye-opening, but incredible, response came when he visited Alabama.
“For me, that was really critical in the development in my program,” he said. “I presented in rural and urban settings in Alabama, one was poorer than the next. The children and the adults I worked with absolutely loved my ability to not only connect with kids, but keep them focused and looking at what I was doing.
“I was this guy from New York going to the Deep South, I was worried about what they thought of my accent, and my food,” said Dr. Dell’Amore. “But if they know that you care and you’re passionate, they will focus on what you have to offer them, even if it is a foreign concept.
“Getting them involved in good and healthy food is a positive first experience for them. We offer them the ability to sample salt-, butter- and sugar-free food that tastes absolutely delectable and have them craving more,” he said. “You’ve got to know how to get their attention, but keep their focus and offer something they want to bring home. That’s what I try to do at these programs.”
Dr. Dell’Amore relies heavily on tabletop visual cues during his presentations, and through school garden programs in Suffolk County, has worked with a number of local districts, including Southold, Greenport and Mattituck, where he is able to do literal farm to plate presentations by pulling produce straight from the ground and preparing it on-site.
Dr. Dell’Amore also works with PTAs, libraries and adult organizations in the area to present special food events. Unlike much of the country, on the East End, he notes, we are particularly fortunate in that farm fresh food is readily available while fast food options are few and far between. He notes that the program he will offer at the library on July 14 is geared towards both parents and children.
“I want to teach parents a skill set — now they call them ‘hacks’ — tricks and strategies to save money and time,” he said. “If we can get kids to try and fall in love with sliced mushrooms sautéed with garlic, sundried tomatoes and onions, they’ll never think of mushrooms the same way again.”
“Today, these are historic times,” he said. “For the first time in the history of our country, more money is being spent eating away from home than purchasing groceries and eating at home.
“Use your eyes and see what goes on at Applebee’s,” he added. “We need to have a shift in mind-set about priorities and what’s going on with food and time management in this country.
“If parents start to understand the psychological, social and emotional connection and begin preparing food at home with kids, not only will they develop healthy life long habits, but we’ll preserve culturally relevant customs and recipes that are completely being lost on this next generation of kids.”
Ultimately, Dr. Dell’Amore explains that in his presentations, he’s not looking to tell anyone what to do, but rather is asking that people come with an open mind and let their palate be their guide.
“We like to include fruits and veggies in combination,” he said. “It’s a great way to get people to try new foods … I want the ones that hate vegetables.”
Dr. Robert Dell’Amore’s “The Power of Food: Culinary Skills for Optimum Nutrition” is Friday, July 14 at 4:30 p.m. at the Shelter Island Library. Sign up at shelterislandpubliclibrary.org or at the reference desk. Call (631) 749-0042 for details.
Dr. Robert Dell’Amore’s ‘Krazy Kickin’ Kale Salad’
Serves 4 with leftovers
1 can chick peas (garbanzo beans), water removed, and rinsed (optional)
1 cup kale, sliced very thinly, stems removed
1 cup red or green cabbage sliced very thinly
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced or diced
½ red bell pepper, thinly chopped or sliced
Mixed seasonal fruit: locally grown apples, sliced thinly & green grapes (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon parsley, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, with pulp (1-2 lemons)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, form salad by combining beans, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, kale, cabbage and fruit. Lightly mix all ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, parsley, and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Dr. Robert Dell’Amore’s
‘Happy Family Sauté-Vegetarian Stir Fry
Serves 4, with leftovers
1 medium onion, sliced or diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced or diced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup diced sun dried tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms (baby bella, white)
1 cup fresh broccoli, ﬂorets separated, stalks peeled and sliced (optional)
Optional: (1) 8 oz. can any one type: garbanzo (chickpeas), kidney, cannelloni, or black beans, drained and washed
1 cup red cabbage, sliced thinly
1 cup fresh tomatoes, plum or cherry (halved)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bunch fresh parsley or cilantro
1 box of preferred rice, pasta or lettuce
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes, medium heat. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Let cook till garlic, onions begin to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add mushrooms. Add oil if necessary (mushrooms soak up olive oil). Cook mushrooms until they begin to sweat (release their water). Add broccoli ﬂorets, sliced stalks and cabbage. Let cook 1 minute. Add beans, fresh tomatoes. Add balsamic vinegar and pepper to taste. Serve over bed of rice, pasta or lettuce.
Dr. Dell’Amore’s ‘Taco-less Tacos’ or Taco Salad
2 medium onions, sliced or diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced or diced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 pound package of ground chicken or turkey
1 15-ounce can of any one type: red kidney, garbanzo (chick peas), or black beans drained and rinsed
1 small can sliced or diced black olives (optional)
¼ cup tomato sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried cumin
1 package hearts of romaine lettuce
1 package Sargento Shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack Cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon Breakstone Reduced Fat Sour Cream (optional)
1 bunch fresh cilantro or parsley, rough dice (optional)
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes on medium heat until caramelized.
Add meat. Use ﬂat-headed wooden spoon or potato masher to break up ground meat and allow even cooking. Cook meat until browned and internal temperature registers 165 degrees.
Add kidney beans and black olives. Mix in.
Add tomato sauce.
Add fresh cilantro and pepper to taste. Sauté on medium heat until all ingredients look caramelized (browned).
Wash, cut, and dry hearts of romaine lettuce leaves. Place on ﬂat dish. Use lettuce leaves instead of taco shell. Fill leaves with taco sauté and serve with sour cream and cheese.
Roll lettuce leaf into taco roll. Secure with a toothpick and enjoy.