Magazine fights child obesity 1 recipe at a time
For years, cookbook writer Sally Sampson had wanted to write for children. No one was interested.
But by 2010, the time was right. Alarm over rising rates of childhood obesity was reaching new heights, as was awareness of the importance of cooking and eating real foods, not just for children, but for whole families and communities. Sampson seized the moment, launching ChopChop, a cooking magazine for children.
And in the three years since, she has transformed a simple idea — that getting children cooking is good for them — into an award-winning quarterly that reaches some 2 million families.
The concept is straightforward — the magazine portrays real children eating real food that they can cook themselves with little or no help from an adult. The recipes are nutritious, ethnically diverse and inexpensive. Most of its circulation comes from free distribution by doctors during well child visits. It also is available by subscription and in Spanish.
“We think about kids as beginner cooks,” Sampson says, noting that her target audience is 5- to 12-year-olds. “We don't do ‘kids' food.' We do simple dishes. If you had a 20-year-old who didn't know how to cook, you'd teach them the same thing.”
The idea is that children who know how to cook and feed themselves will not have to rely on fast food and processed meals. And that families who cook and eat together have healthier lifestyles overall.
Since its launch, ChopChop — which is based in Watertown, Mass. — has become an industry darling. Renowned physicians stack its board of directors. The magazine relies on sponsorship, not advertisements, and receives its largest chunk of funding from footwear company New Balance, which has given more than $1 million. And in May the James Beard Foundation named ChopChop “publication of the year.”
And this year, Sampson returns to her cookbook roots. Sporting more than 100 recipes, “ChopChop: The Kids' Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family,” will be published in August by Simon and Schuster.
“This is like a magnet for kids,” says Barry Zuckerman, professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and a member of Sampson's board of directors. Zuckerman says that, 20 years ago, he saw maybe two obese children a week in his practice. Today, he sees two to four a day. A founder of Reach Out and Read, a 24-year-old program that promotes literacy by giving books to children during doctor's visits, Zuckerman responded immediately to Sampson's model.
“Advice is cheap,” he says. “Giving a one- or two-minute lecture about healthy foods is nice, but when we give ChopChop, it really amplifies the message in a way that words just don't.”
Nothing in Sampson's public background would suggest that she was a nut for children's health. Many of her cookbooks tackled single subjects, including party dips, ice cream, cookies and burgers. But her views had been formed while tending to her daughter, who was ill through much of childhood. (Her daughter, now 20, is fine, Sampson says.)
Her “ah-ha” moment came seven years ago, when she read a newspaper article by Harvard pediatrician and medical-school professor Donald Berwick that took the nation's medical system to task.
“It was like I was reading for the first time about somebody who cared about what I cared about,” Sampson said. “I wrote an email to him and said, ‘If I could work for you I would never write another cookbook again.'”
Berwick wrote back. After dabbling in various health-related work, Sampson began approaching pediatricians with an idea to prescribe cooking during appointments. The enthusiasm was fierce and immediate, she says. She received more than 140 requests from pediatricians for the as-yet unborn magazine. She began raising money, collecting enough from companies such as Stonyfield Farm, Oxo and children's hospitals to print 150,000 copies of her first issue. She parked her car on the street and kept 8,000 copies in her garage.
After that first issue, Sampson says, requests poured in from after-school programs, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Indian reservations, food banks, neighborhood health clinics and other organizations. New Balance came on board as the main sponsor and remains the biggest donor.
“We were really excited about being part of a movement to get kids cooking again,” says Molly Santry, the company's charitable programs manager. “We had funded hands-on cooking classes, and the magazine was another resource for kids and families to get inspired to cook.”
Sure, Sampson would like to see every family in America cooking together or to have obesity eradicated by 2020. But her immediate goals are more straightforward: she wants “to make cooking cool” and to give children the skills to stay healthy throughout their lives. With the editorial machine in motion, she says only one obstacle remains.
“Money,” she says definitively. “The demand for ChopChop is huge. We are only slowed down by money. The more money we get, the more people we can reach.”
Michele Kayal is an editor at www.americanfoodroots.com and a contributing writer for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- NFL notebook: RG3 ‘not happy’ with benching
- Penguins’ Scuderi, Despres an odd couple on defense
- Steelers cornerback Taylor ready to swap earpiece for helmet
- Holiday greeting cards benefit charities
- Pittsburgh restaurants deliver the art of charcuterie
- ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas’ reminder of holiday message
- Hot picks: Jazzman Kevin Howard, Trey Anastasio Band
- Feds put brakes on green energy edict of renewable fuel standard
- Kids briefs: Santa Trolley trips begin at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
- Hax: Fellow feels that proposing a 2nd time would be undignified