MADRID – A renowned Spanish chef has swapped his restaurant for the challenge of improving revolting school menus and launched a campaign against overweight children by proposing a healthy, natural diet excluding processed foods, even in the face of opposition from somewhat startled parents.
Juan Llorca told EFE on Tuesday that a book he has written for the purpose condensed his thoughts on better child nutrition which leads naturally to all-around better, healthier human beings.
Llorca said infant nutrition can begin to go wrong very early, nearly at birth, and to combat this negative trend he has published: “Sin dientes y a bocados” (“Toothless and by the mouthful”) by Vergara publishers, assisted by Melisa Gomez, a pediatric nutritionist.
The book offers a guide on how to transition from mother’s milk or baby formula to solids without relying on processed baby foods.
“Processed baby foods and yogurts are contributing to an infant overweight epidemic. A single jar of baby food can exceed the recommended maximum daily intake of sugar.”
Llorca’s book guides parents on how to implement “Baby Led Weaning” (BLW) allowing 6-month-old babies to obtain nutrition without processed purees or potted foods.
In essence, babies are offered cooked, soft foods to nibble on.
These can be grasped with the hands and ingested even without teeth, thus “improving a baby’s relationship with food at the best age to create the foundations of a lifelong healthy food habit.”
Spain has the second-highest level or obese children in Europe, he said.
Llorca defended reducing the amount of sugar allowed in processed baby foods, increase maternity leave to encourage breastfeeding and a work schedule better adapted to combine work and family life.
Llorca’s healthy baby-food campaign began when he was hired to run Valencia’s (Eastern Spain) Montessori School kitchen, a pioneer in “slow food” techniques that provided “wholesome and seasonal food completely free of processing, refining and sugar.”
The school’s 220 pupils, aged between 18 months and 12 years, assisted in tending the school’s vegetable garden and once a week chose the menu.
“There is so much processed food; too much fried food, too little fruit, and vegetables. There is room for improvement and money is not an issue here,” he added.
Llorca is still surprised how often parents are against accepting a healthy change.
“We have parents complaining because they prefer quantity over quality,” he said. “I have been labeled as an extremist for giving their children green vegetables, they say I want to convert their children into vegans. I am not a vegan,” he stresses.
Llorca said he was aware how “complicated” it was for many schools to have their own kitchen facilities supplied with local produce but regretted the expansion of external catering services stocked “with pre-cooked plates that have spent a week in the fridge.”