Skinny isn't food. And food isn't skinny. Let's start there.
But if you Google the phrase "skinny food" -- go ahead, I'll wait -- you'll turn up 250 million results.
I was a skinny kid. Though perfectly well-fed and properly nourished, I was awkwardly tall and thin during my early years, and though I didn't hate my body, I never liked the word skinny. It felt crass, a theoretical compliment wrapped in a garish linguistic bow.
In many cultures, being skinny results from a lack of nourishment, a lack of food. To call someone skinny is to express concern for their well-being; it's not a compliment. When I taught in the developing world in my mid-20s, people would sometimes tell me: Teacher, you are nice and fat! and this was high praise indeed. In countries where food is scarce, people don't want to be skinny. They want to be healthy.
In the U.S., of course, skinny has cachet. It moves products, defines brands, shouts full-throttle from newsstands, bookshelves, and television ads. You'll find countless Pinterest boards devoted to skinny food (and fashion); blogs and Tumblr accounts with skinny in the title; a whole line of Skinnygirl cocktails (which founder Bethenny Frankel sold for millions of dollars); Dr. Oz advising people (i.e. women) how to "eat yourself skinny" and Men's Health telling men how to do the same thing. (Ironically, by eating fat.)
But food doesn't make you skinny. Hunger makes you skinny. Disordered eating makes you skinny. Suffering and starvation and disease make you skinny. Who wants these things? No one. No one wants these things.
At its best, food nourishes you, helps you function and grow, provides essential nutrients for building muscle and bone, gives you energy, boosts alertness and metabolism and brain function, and keeps you alive. That's what food does. The one thing it doesn't do is make you skinny, unless you're not eating enough of it or you're neglecting major food groups. You can lose weight and become fit by combining thoughtful food choices with exercise, but weight loss is about much more than some magical "skinny food" slapped with that label.
Let's tone-down the skinny-talk a decibel or two, and finally celebrate food for what it does so well. When widely accessible, when grown with care, when consumed with intention, when coupled with movement, food has the ability to keep us healthy, fit, and alive.
Recipe for Roasted Vegetable Baked Potatoes with cheddar
Baked potatoes, with flaky skins and fluffy insides, celebrate not fat, not skinny, but good, wholesome eating. Slitting them open and spooning colorful roasted vegetables on top is one way to dress them up. Melting a bit of cheese on them is another. I recommend both. If you crave protein and creaminess, drizzle them liberally with yogurt. These won't make you skinny, but they'll feed you well. And isn't that the point?
Makes enough vegetables for 6 potatoes
Up to 6 medium baking potatoes, such as Russet (if using fewer, you'll have roasted vegetables left over for another use)
1 medium head broccoli, cut into small florets
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese
Full-fat yogurt, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425F°F. You'll use 3 oven racks, so space them evenly apart.
Scrub the potatoes and prick them all over with the tines of a fork or the tip of a paring knife. Microwave on full power for 5 minutes. Carefully remove, then wrap each one individually in foil. Transfer the potatoes to the oven, placing them either on a baking sheet or directly on the oven rack while you prep the remaining vegetables.
Divide the broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes between 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with a thin stream of olive oil and toss with a bit of salt and pepper. Spread out into an even layer with plenty of space in between. Slide into the oven. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, reversing their positions and flipping with a spatula halfway through. The vegetables are done when the broccoli and cauliflower still have some bite but are tender, with crisp, browned edges. Pull the roasted vegetables from the oven and lower the temperature to 375°F.
Continue baking the potatoes until completely tender (wearing oven mitts, give a squeeze) and a skewer inserted through the foil comes out with no resistance, 15 to 25 minutes longer.
When the potatoes are soft, remove them from the oven. (Keep the oven on.) Open the foil carefully. (Steam will billow out.) Slit the tops lengthwise and, with gloved hands, press the ends toward the center so the insides fluff up. Use a fork to lightly mash the potatoes and flatten them, spreading the foil and creating surface area to hold the cheese and vegetables. Sprinkle a small fistful of cheddar over the potatoes and top with a spoonful of vegetables. Return to the oven for a few minutes, just until the cheese melts.
Drizzle with yogurt, if desired, and serve.