MORAGA -- Imagine having 400 moms, each reminding you to eat your vegetables, drink this (milk), not that (soda) and plotting a "game plan" to help you avoid chip-laden or fast-food land mines.
Sound like a nightmare? It isn't. Author, registered dietician and certified health coach Jill West has boiled the collective voices of more than 400 nutrition experts into "400 Moms," a 240-page family food bible. The Moraga resident's self-published book is 50 percent cheerleading chant, 50 percent solid science and 100 percent mom.
The cheerleading comes from West's naturally exuberant personality. With three boys, ages 20, 17, and 14, she shares a busy life with her husband Daniel, a pediatric oncologist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. A lifetime of coaching reluctant dieters and frenzied families has sculpted her language.
"Let's not turn food into a drama," she's likely to say, or, "Breakfast leads to better moods. I've had three teenagers in the house: I'm all for better moods." She's also prone to asking questions ("What are experts' four favorite breakfast meals?"), and to a speaking style that sets up her self-supplied rally cry answers ("Cereal! Eggs! Waffles! Oatmeal!"). "400 Moms" is liberally sprinkled with her cheery queries and bulleted lists that attempt to strip not only drama but confusion from the torment of family meal planning.
West has plied her trade at area hospitals, including the UCSF Medical Center, Harvard Medical School/Joslin Diabetes Center and the UC Davis Medical Center. Collecting feedback and survey responses from more than 400 experts required four years of on-and-off work and nearly 20 revisions.
"I wrote one chapter at a time. After completing all 12 chapters, I revised the book seven times," she wrote, in follow-up notes sent after a presentation at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center in late January.
A writing coach sent her through seven additional rewrites. Feedback from ten "adviser" friends and colleagues resulted in the addition of a "Quick Reference Guide" that serves as an unofficial chapter 13 and indexes recipes, Best and Worst Picks and resources. A friend of a friend led West to illustrator Cathy Boylan-Swan for the simple, line art drawings introducing each chapter and sprinkled throughout the book. West chose to self-publish and said today's publishing companies provide little marketing. Preferring to maintain all rights to the book, she didn't even consider sending book proposals to publishing houses.
The resulting edition strives to be user-friendly, and direct. Although the page design is too dense to achieve the simplicity West claimed was her goal, the content is straightforward. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, produce, vegetables, desert, beverages, fast food, portion size and the ubiquitous "What Now?" of attempting to revamp family eating habits, are treated with pick-your-battles practicality. The content isn't groundbreaking--but then, West isn't trying to cause a revolution. She's just mom: reminding you to watch your peas and quinoa.
In front of the intimate audience in the library's science center--and during the family, Christian, and morning talk radio interviews her new book has prompted--West said her most important credential is being a mom. As a registered dietician, other moms asked her for advice; sparking the idea of putting her know-how--and that of 399 other experts--into printed form.
Marcia Farrar, Moraga, said "400 Moms" is best read straight through, but can be read in a need-to-know fashion. "It's practical and recognizes families are busy," she said. "I follow (her) patterns: I'm a physician assistant and it all rings true."
Five-year-old Cassidy McClain, nibbling on trail mix West had supplied while her father Bob looked on, said the snack was good.
"I love the raisins, and there's pretzels and puff balls (Kix cereal, a low sugar cereal West recommends)."
She said that, at home, she prepares "Butter Soup, with Orange Juice Squeezes," a main course that might disturb West's carefully balanced four-category, protein/grains/vegetable/fruit plate. But Cassidy, showing early-learning adeptness, added, "It comes with fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries."
West's suggestions, delivered with "Yes, you can!" exclamations, center on a first, essential understanding: no one is perfect, even the experts. And after empathy, there's empirical evidence that healthy diets lead to happy kids--and even happier moms and dads.