Reed Alexander is an 18-year-old actor who cooks with an appealing zeal that has sparked television show appearances, an interactive website (kewlbites.com) and, now, a cookbook: "KewlBites: 100 Nutritious, Delicious, and Family-Friendly Dishes" (Rodale, $21.99).
Probably best known for his role as Nevel Papperman on the "iCarly" television show, Alexander is getting serious cred from his elders for being if not the voice of his peers, at least the proverbial stomach. Alexander serves as a spokesman for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an anti-obesity campaign founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, and has worked with first lady Michelle Obama and her Let's Move! initiative.
Alexander began creating "simple and healthful dishes" because the food he had been eating didn't leave him feeling very good.
"I needed to take matters into my own hands and overhaul my lifestyle, in particular the foods I was choosing," the Boca Raton, Fla., resident writes in the book.
Alexander described himself in the book as a food lover who watches cooking shows on television, enjoys discovering new restaurants with his family and loves to cook and invent recipes. So finding no solutions existed based on a "teen's point of view," Alexander turned his kitchen into a laboratory — his word — to make his favorite foods healthier.
The book offers recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The vibe is fun, casual, with the occasional dip into Asian and Latin flavors. Chicken and turkey get prominent play, and there are some fun snack treats that include dark-chocolate banana marble bread (one of his faves), flavored popcorn and holiday peppermint hot cocoa. Most teens should be able to make Alexander's recipes with minimal adult supervision.
Alexander offers some cooking tips in his recipes and a basic grocery list. But his chapter introductions are devoted more to strategy: how to snack sensibly, how to create dinner menus, how to find time to make and enjoy a good breakfast. His advice is delivered with a comforting confidence and a degree of independence that makes the parent in me wonder where his family is in all this. (Then I remember what I was like as a teenager in the kitchen — "Everybody, out!" — and smiled in recognition.) Alexander's parents, particularly his mom, do get kudos in the book acknowledgments for their support.
"KewlBites" promises to serve up "lightened-up, kid-tested, mother-approved alternatives" to family favorites. And while the recipes lack calorie counts and other nutritional information, Alexander seems to work at cutting back on salt, fat, sugar and processed ingredients.
Now the question is what impact this cookbook will have on its teen audience. Former President Bill Clinton, in a laudatory blurb splashed on the front cover, claims, "KewlBites is more than a cookbook — it's a valuable guide for a new generation."
Really? Only time — and sales — will tell. Still, Alexander is an enthusiastic proponent of good, healthy eating. If anyone can get today's teenager to eat better, it will likely be a fellow teen.