How Chef Max Schlutz Cracks the Veggie Code
Children are so curious about the world and everything in it… except when it comes to eating their vegetables. It seems that they have an internal siren that alarms whenever they come into contact with a leafy green, warning them to slowly back away from the enemy. Somehow, Chef Max Schlutz of Sessions West Coast Deli has cracked the code and made healthy eating fun for his kids.
Sadly, the dilemma of kids making healthy choices has come as no surprise when we hear that child obesity rates have skyrocketed in recent years. According to Charlotte Vance MS, RD, CSCS, and Sports Dietitian for Athletics at The University of Southern California, “These upward trends have created such an alarm within healthcare professions that some are even calling this an epidemic.” Vance believes that our society is negatively shaping children’s mindsets about their diet by saturating the media with copious amounts of fast, cheap and convenient food. All the while, we see a decreased desire to participate in physical activity with the exploding popularity of technology such as video games, television and cell phones.
Vance says that, “Nutrition during the childhood years is critical for growth and development,” and can influence their choices for the rest of their lives. With this knowledge, Chef Max has taken his love of cooking and collaborating from his kitchen at Sessions to his home kitchen. There, he is committed to his children Asher, Lara and Lennon’s health. He states that one of the most vital steps you can take is to begin talking with your children about how amazing fresh ingredients are. Not only does he explain the health benefits of vegetables to them, such as broccoli (a classic aversion for children), but he then takes the children to the market with him. While roaming the aisles, they can interact with the ingredients — touching and tasting to find their favorites. When it comes time for cooking and eating later, this makes them even more excited.
Of course, children are not always agreeable. You might have to negotiate a bit to get them to bite into those leafy greens. A common tactic for parents is to reward healthy eating with a sugary dessert. However, Chef Max advises against this. Instead, find an activity that the child enjoys, and exchange play time with eating properly. His twins have a growing interest in soccer, swimming, and basketball and as an athlete himself, Chef Max has taken to rewarding them with, “Time spent with Daddy Maxi working on our new sports skills.”
If negotiation is not a common word in your household, Chef Max’s Three Bite/Sip Rule might be the trick. Only after three bites or sips of a new item can they tell him they do not like the flavor. He even suggests making it a family affair — as a trade-off in his house, he has promised to take three sips of every new beer before deciding he does not like it.
When all else fails, a little camouflage of a few vegetables can never hurt. Sports Dietitian Vance suggests masking the flavor of spinach in smoothies with stronger ingredients such as peanut butter and berries. The color of the berries will even conceal the green of the spinach, allowing it to sneak past a child’s shrewd detection. She also insists that dessert foods are a perfect and unsuspecting vehicle for vegetables. The moisture in vegetables such as zucchini or carrots can add to the consistency of muffins, brownies, cakes and cookies, making the flavor, “… so minimal that a child is not likely to notice it in the excitement,” of getting to eat a dessert.
But after all, with children, all rules and norms are typically out the window. One moment, they may like sunflower butter and bananas, such as Lara and Lennon, and the next they might look at you as if you are insane for putting it in front of them. From cooking with his children, Chef Max has learned that they can also teach him some lessons in the kitchen. For instance, the twins have demonstrated the importance of communicating with one another and having fun. Like Chef Max’s kids, your own might enjoy, “… putting ingredients together, and watching how water bubbles, steam rises and cheese melts.” It is all a learning experience that allows them to take part in their health from an early age and can make for good habits throughout life.
A child’s diet and taste can be unpredictable, which is why it is so important to commit to it. Chef Max gives this advice to parents: “Commit. Commit to your children’s health. Commit to their strong bones and fast-growing bodies. Commit to talking to your children about how amazing certain fresh ingredients are — and start early.” He has found that committing to his children’s health has even helped him bring this attitude to work at Sessions daily. He makes sure only to use locally sourced and in-season ingredients, expanding his passion for healthy cooking from his home to his community.
From a dietician’s perspective, Vance says that this dedication to society’s health can help shift the collective mindset towards what is best for bone health, muscle development, building immunity, and meeting vitamin and mineral needs. “Healthful dietary practices, in conjunction with physical activity can help children start their lives on the right track,” and lower their susceptibility to obesity and other chronic diseases. For this reason, people like Chef Max, who commit to children’s nutrition, are so crucial in transforming the way childhood health is not only thought about but also actively improved. Start taking action with your own child’s health by whipping up some of Chef Max’s Pea Guacamole!
Sweet Pea Guacamole
• 1 lb peas, sweet
• 1 cup EVOO
• 1/4 tsp cumin
• 1/4 red onion, minced
• 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
• 2 tbs lemon juice
• 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
• 2 Serrano, minced/seeded (optional)
• 1 Roma tomato, chopped
1. In a food processor, blend olive oil, lime juice, cilantro and Serrano until all items are roughly pureed.
2. Add peas, cumin and salt and blend until smooth. If you are able to leave slightly lumpy, it further adds to the texture of the guacamole.
3. Transfer to bowl and gently fold in red onion and tomato.
4. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, plantain chips, or atop crusty sourdough bread, (A fun riff on Avocado Toast).