Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rachael Ray's "healthy" School Tacos

First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Nutrition Guidelines
I think it is a wonderful thing that the USDA recently announced changes in the components of school lunches. I still can't get over being shocked back in the Reagan administration when, for the purposes of school lunches, catsup was deemed to be a vegetable.

First ladies traditionally have a special cause to advocate, and Michelle Obama has chosen better childhood nutrition and exercise habits. Her advocacy has done much to raise awareness of this pressing issue, and I applaud her efforts. To announce the new nutrition guidelines, Mrs. Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Food Network cook Rachael Ray launched the guidelines by lunching at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. The menu was a purportedly healthy dish of turkey tacos with corn, black beans and ranch dressing -- one of a handful of recipes Ray developed for the program.

I well understand that this was a high profile event and in order to increase awareness of the issue, partnerships are formed which, which, when placed under the microscope, do not fare particularly well. My issue with Ray has always been that she calls her recipes in general "figure friendly," but never bothers to explain what that means. A typical Ray recipe will provide double portions of meat and pasta, so despite her claims to be leading the cause against childhood obesity and diabetes, at least one of the recipes she developed does nothing that I can see to further it. I suppose I could crunch the numbers of the rest of Ray's recipe's for this program, but with names such as "Mexi Mac and Cheese," I will leave it to the reader's imagination.

So I looked more closely at Ray's Turkey Tacos recipe and sure enough, not only is this recipe not particularly healthy for children, it isn't particularly healthy for adults, either. My methodology is to compare a recipe's main ingredients against the food database at I add up the numbers for calories, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, protein and sodium (cholesterol and fiber are subsets of fat and carbohydrate, respectively), then divide by the recipe's stated number of servings.

My calculations are, if anything, quite conservative. I would encourage anyone, particularly stakeholders, to double-check my figures. This dish is part of a purportedly "healthy" meal being recommended at the highest levels as a positive addition to school lunches. Really? In the linked recipe below, the calories are about half the daily Recommended Daily Intake for an adult, with 55 grams of fat and 70 of carbohydrate. The school meal also includes a serving of brown rice, which is not taken into account here.

School nutrition is certainly a worthy cause but I wish First Lady Obama and Secretary Vilsack had teamed up with someone who has more credibility than name recognition. Weren't Jamie Oliver or Ellie Krieger -- an actual Registered Dietician, by the way --  available? Especially now, in the wake of the scandal of Paula Deen revealing a 3-year old diabetes diagnosis at the same time she endorses a diabetes drug, Food Network and its on-air staff need to pay more attention to the substance of their content.

And one more thing: at the risk of appearing to be mean, Rachael Ray does not have children. I have 30+ years experience as a parent and cannot fathom kids eating most of this stuff.

Turkey Tacos with Black Bean and Corn Salad and Yum-o Southwest Ranch

I've re-done the numbers for the tacos and they don't seem to be as bad as I thought at first. Calories are slightly lower but sodium still seems pretty high. Carbs are high but fiber and protein are decent. Apologies to all for previous calculations.

I still can't imagine kids eating this, though. The rest of the meal was a side of brown rice, milk and, I believe, a fruit. Was there any sort of measure for waste afterward?

Calories: 931
Fat: 49g
Sodium: 1631mg
Carbohydrate: 72g
Fiber: 15g
Protein: 52g

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