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Charles Mattocks, "The Poor Chef"
Charles Mattocks is known as "The Poor Chef."
We live in such a microwave society. It is convenient for people to grab something that isn't good for them. —Charles Mattocks

KELOWNA, Canada — People kept emailing Kerry K. Taylor a video clip from TLC's new reality TV show "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." In the clip, the eponymous star of the show, 7-year-old Honey Boo Boo (aka Alana Thompson), helps her mother cook their favorite meal — something they call "sketti."

Honey Boo Boo bounces around the kitchen as the simple recipe is joyfully scooped, squirted and microwaved.

"I just found the family so likable," Taylor says.

Kerry K. Taylor is a frugal living blogger at SquawkFox.com and author of "397 Ways to Save Money." The sketti recipe symbolizes the problems many people have with food in tight economic conditions — not realizing it is often cheaper to eat healthy food than it is to eat unhealthy food.

The Honey Boo Boo sketti recipe is easy to replicate. To make it, Taylor says to nuke 8 ounces of ketchup and 8 ounces of margarine together in the microwave, stir and dump over 1 pound of cooked spaghetti noodles.

"It made me feel really sick and really sad all at the same time," Taylor says. "Just because you don't have a lot of money for food doesn't mean you have to eat poorly. It just made me sad that this was a meal — that someone thought this was the best they could do with the money they had."

Taylor set out to prove people didn't need to have a lot of money in order to eat better. She went to Wal-Mart and bought the ingredients for sketti — and also ingredients for a spaghetti recipe that would be tastier and, she hoped, less expensive as well.

Lazy eating

Charles Mattocks wrote the book "Eat cheap but eat well" and is the television personality known as "The Poor Chef." He has made a career of cooking inexpensive, but tasty and healthy recipes.

"We live in such a microwave society," he says. "It is convenient for people to grab something that isn't good for them."

On top of that, Mattocks says companies know how to make these foods taste good.

Mattocks says it takes planning and a little preparing to make a healthier meal. "We've become lazy," he says, "and don't want to take the time."

Mattocks remembers the last time he took his daughter to a fast-food restaurant. "Those chicken nuggets," he says, "within five minutes those things are like rocks. You just look at those things and you just know, 'I should not be feeding my child this.'"

Many people do not know how to cook — and of those who do, many only know how to make a few meals. "Most of us eat the same meals over and over," Mattocks says. "Baked chicken. Fried chicken. Steaks. Boiled vegetables."

Making better food takes some effort and time — effort and time people are reluctant to engage in. Mattocks understands the appeal sketti has for Honey Boo Boo's family. "That meal is a fast meal to make," he says. "It doesn't take much time. It doesn't take much preparation. It doesn't take much thought."

Making it easier

Jessie Price was the editor for the cookbook "EatingWell on a Budget" and is an editor at EatingWell, a popular magazine about food and recipes. She says it may be difficult for some people to change their eating and cooking habits.

"It is a matter of convenience," she says. "People want food to be easy and quick as well as cheap. Honey Boo Boo's sketti sounds pretty easy to make. If you are going to eat healthy, you have to try to make it easy too."

One easy way, Price says, is to go vegetarian. She says vegetarian cooking is almost always cheaper than cooking using meat. "If you eat a vegetarian meal one or two nights a week it will be cheaper and healthier," she says. "People eat way too much protein and meat in their diet."

Price says if people would simply eat the way the USDA's "My Plate" guidelines recommend, they would be healthier and save money. Those guidelines are, on a daily basis, to make half your "plate" fruits and vegetables, one quarter whole grains and one quarter meat or protein foods like beans or nuts.

Price also said one of the big ways to change would be to get organized and make a plan. "If you map it out in the week and write a menu and a shopping list you are going to waste less," she says.

Taylor's plan was to make sketti and a healthier recipe that didn't require much effort. She named her recipe after her squawkfox blog: "Squawketti."

Taylor's "squawketti" recipe is a little more involved than Honey Boo Boo's, but not by very much. It includes a can of diced tomatoes, basil, garlic and other seasonings and uses whole wheat spaghetti (see full recipe below).

There are obvious taste and nutrition differences between Squawketti and sketti. A serving of the Honey Boo Boo sketti has 807 calories and costs 76 cents. Taylor's recipe has 367 calories and costs only 67 cents a serving. The sketti cost 12 percent more and had nine times the fat of Taylor's recipe.

"This is all stuff you can buy at the grocery store," she says. "There was nothing I grew myself. There was no onerous task that required any Martha Stewart skills. It was a can of tomatoes. That's it. Really simple. I think it was easier than squirting ketchup and scooping margarine."

Taylor made the two recipes to feature on her blog. She leaned over Honey Boo Boo's sketti with her camera to take a picture.

"And it was warm and congealing," she says. "My husband was laughing at me because I had to take breaks so I could run and gag. The smell of it was just the most disgusting thing."

Taylor was afraid the photograph made the recipe look almost palatable.

"I couldn't eat it," Taylor says. "I wouldn't let my husband. He was going to try it, but I would let him either. I said, 'I love you too much to let you eat that.'"

Mattocks has Type 2 diabetes and tries to educate people on the disease. He has a new cookbook coming out with the American Diabetes Association. He worries that Honey Boo Boo and her family may develop diabetes, heart disease or some other physical problem from their bad diet — a diet they could change if they learned how.

"Learn one recipe at a time. You can change your whole life," Mattocks says.

Taylor lives on an organic farm without trash service, so she asked her husband to get rid of the sketti. It couldn't go in the compost because it had margarine in it, she says. So her husband took it out to a field away from the home and buried it.

"It was a tragic, tragic experiment," Taylor says. "I will never make sketti again."

Taylor's healthier "Squawketti" recipe:

  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Small bunch of fresh basil
  • Pinch of sea salt, fresh ground pepper, chili pepper flakes.

Cook whole wheat spaghetti according to package instructions. In a large saucepan on medium heat add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add chopped garlic and chili flakes. Stir. When garlic browns, add basil and canned tomatoes. Turn up heat to high and stir for a minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain the spaghetti and transfer it to the pan with tomato sauce and stir. Serve.

Honey Boo Boo's famous sketti recipe

A clip of how Honey Boo Boo loves her "sketti."

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