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Food for Thought

Even if you are full of ideas for how to feed your brain with healthy foods maybe its time to give your stomach a break and feed your mind with some words.  Check out YALSA’s  2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. You’ll find lots great fiction (don’t worry I’ll get to that in a second), but the real fun is the non-fiction, some of it is food related.  Try Yuck! The Things People Eat by Neil Setchfield if you want to kill your appetite.  Or if you want to laugh until you just might throw up, I recommend Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates. The Cake Wrecks website is the way to go if you can’t find the book.  Personally I want stay with the cupcake craze so What’s New Cupcake: Ingeniously Simple Designs for Every Occasion by  Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, is on my must-read list.  This book begs the question, why did they stop making scratch and sniff books?

If light and sweet isn’t for you and only a total overindulgence is your favorite fare, try This is Why You’re Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley. Decadence to the extreme, you can find lots of images to drool over but very few recipes because this book is for drooling and not for cooking.  For your daily dose of extreme cuisine, flip through this book at your leisure.   I enjoyed being allowed to like food that is bad for me, can’t I eat my fried Snickers in peace? [check out blogger Joel Brun’s take on it here.]

Ok so now you’ve had dessert, that’s how I start most meals anyway, now on to the meat and potatoes – – Fiction!  There is so much to choose from on the ALA 2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers it’s almost like an all you can eat buffet.  I promise I’ll stop with the food references soon.  What better place to start than Nothing (Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book 2011) by Janne Teller.  Short, eerie and thought provoking; this novel tackles the troublesome question of ‘why are we here.’  Spurned on by fellow student Pierre’s realization of how much time they will spend in school, the classmates assemble a pile of important things in order to prove him wrong.  In a Lord of the Flies sort of downward spiral, the important items required become more and more shocking, with students making demands of each other until innocence and even life itself is given up in the search for true meaning.  Eventually the adults, who are mostly clueless, catch on the experiment and involve the media with negative results.  If you want a book to chew on for a while, Nothing, has no easy answers.

Ah fiction, its the ‘bet you can’t eat just one’ treat of the literary world.  If you need a fast paced thriller then look no further than Dark Song by Gail Giles, 2003 Teens Top Ten author of Shattering Glass.  At first its hard to sympathize with Ames,the  poor little rich girl now sharing a shack her grandparents rent to them.  It doesn’t help the situation that Ames has never met her grandparents and that they clearly hate her family.  Ames slowly makes the transition from living in a gated to community to a calling a trailer park home; her mother in more comedic fashion seems to buck the challenge and struggles with her job and chores like laundry.Bored and unsupervised, Ames falls hard to local bad boy Marc who introduces her her first emotional relationship; something she never had with her parents. Despite constant reiteration of Marc’s dangerous behavior and clear warnings from Marc’s dad to stay away, the pair are drawn to each other.   This book will inspire a need for some late night treats as the ending will have you way to scared to go to bed any time soon.

It’s that time again.  Time for important tests like the SAT; ACT, school finals, and maybe even the test for your learner’s permit or driver’s license.  There are lots of ways to prepare; you study, get eight hours of sleep, and sharpen your pencils, but there’s one thing you’ve forgotten that could ruin it all.  If you don’t have a good meal before you sit down to take your test your brain doesn’t have the fuel it needs to help you show what you know.

In Cooking up a Storm (2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults title on the Yalsa What’s Cooking booklist) by Sam Stern, high-school student and all around hungry teen writes about his favorite recipes.  His chapter on Exam Survival outlines his top ten tips for getting through your finals. His suggestions are meant to keep your mind fit for tests and also keep you from crashing at the end of the term.

Some of the tips are pretty clear; obviously you know eating breakfast will keep you from being distracted during a test by your rumbling tummy.  But what about omega-3s?  And what are the right things to snack on?  Mary Turck, author of Healthy Snack and Fast-Food Choices, helps explain some of what you might have missed in health class.  Knowing that foods with fiber, like vegetables, whole wheat and beans, burn slowly is handy when you are choosing food to keep you full all morning.  Those same foods are high in iron, a mineral your brain needs to bring it lots of oxygen rich blood.  If you really want to your brain kick into turbo try eating some fish.  Fish has omega-3 oils that improve how the membranes around your brain cells function.   So in a nutshell, feeding your stomach the right things lets your brain work even better.

The great news is you have lots of options.  Even if you can’t cook, there are lots of books with snack ideas for beginning chefs.  Personally, I like to improve on foods I have and assemble them into something really yummy.  I’m not sure its really cooking but it gets the job done.  One of my favorite snacks is something I like to call the Open Faced Weirdo Sandwich.  Basically you put spicy peanut butter on a rice cake and then you put either slices of hard-boiled egg or cheese on top.  What’s fun about this is you can change it up however you like; maybe you only have chunky peanut butter so that’s what you use.  Or you prefer bread for your sandwich. Also, if you make the eggs the day before, maybe let them hard boil when you are studying, then you can make breakfast in 5 minutes.

Here are some other easy-to-assemble ideas that can be meals or snacks.

If you like to nibble throughout the day, you have probably noticed that a lot of things don’t travel well.  Don’t be tempted by the treats in the vending machine, they will fill you up but with sodium and fat and not the the nutrients your body really needs.  In Healthy Snack and Fast-Food Choices, Mary Turck has suggestions for snacks you can buy or make that should survive a bus ride. Snacks like bottled juice, trail mix, peanut butter and crackers, and yogurt or pudding can help you stay full until lunch or dinner. If you still can’t decide what to eat, have a big drink of water first.  When your brain tells you it’s thirsty we often mistake this signal for hunger.

To get all the nutrients your body needs you have to eat lots of different foods, why use this same idea when eating?  Think of all the new titles to explore.

Laura Perenic is currently reading Trapped by Michael Northrop, author of the 2010 Best Books for Young Adults title Gentlemen.

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Laura Perenic