Every time you set foot in the kitchen, you've got a cooking partner in the federal government, which regulates food, dictates what goes on nutrition labels and sets daily dietary goals to help you and your family improve the odds for good health.
What you might not know, however, is that your tax dollars also provide hundreds of recipes. They're designed to help you eat more healthfully by boosting fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, chicken and seafood and even by adding moderate amounts of healthy fat to your meals. In short, they're the way that a growing number of nutrition experts and public health officials advise us to eat.
The question is: How do these healthy recipes taste?
Postings on the government Web site give the recipes high marks. "Excellent! Love the cookbook, great recipes. Will use this one often," notes one unidentified writer.
We wondered if our veteran recipe testers would agree. Several of the recipes they tested had good flavor. Several others, however, did not. The most common comment from testers: bland.
Many of the recipes we chose to test sounded tempting, from healthy updates of old favorites -- Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken, Smothered Greens and Delicious Oven French Fries -- to the more exotic Mango Shake, Spinach Stuffed Sole and Bulgur Nut Salad.
All the recipes came from Web sites and booklets prepared by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute's Five-a-Day Program. They were drawn from recipes that have been used in a wide variety of landmark, federally funded clinical trials. These trials include the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, which has followed two generations of participants, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which proved a healthy diet could be as effective as some prescription medications in lowering blood pressure.
"Because these recipes were used in clinical trials, they are pretty low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium," said Karen Donato, coordinator of the heart and lung institute's Obesity Education Initiative. The goal of the recipes, she said, "is to let the public know that some of their favorite foods could be modified to be heart healthy."
For our testing, we instructed testers to adhere strictly to the ingredients and instructions provided. Taste-testing, of course, is subjective, but our testers said several of the recipes lacked flavor. A few recipes fumbled a bit on the culinary front -- not surprising, given that the recipes originated from old family recipes supplied by study participants, rather than from chefs. In at least one instance, the portion size was smaller than what we've come to expect.
"So-so" is how one tester described a salad made with baby spinach leaves, tangerine slices, sunflower oil and red wine vinegar.
The batter for the 1-2-3 Peach Cobbler "didn't cook sufficiently for my taste, and as a result, it was unpleasantly doughy and raw where it was closest to the filling," our tester said. But this tester also noted that her husband liked it.
Our testers found some clear "keepers," and those recipes are published below. We thought even those might benefit from a little tinkering, which we've noted.
Staff writer Sally Squires presides over the Lean Plate Club column in The Post's Health section. To subscribe to the free weekly Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, go to www.leanplateclub.com.