Rachael Ray returns to roots, wows local crowd

Celebrity seeks to boost family health

But the focus of her presentation this year, which included cooking up lowfat Buffalo-style Chicken Cordon Bleu, Sweet & Sour Thai Noodle Bowls and Country Captain Chicken, was a new emphasis on healthy eating.

Noting the soaring childhood obesity and diabetes rates nationally, she advised that parents should steer their children towards healthy substitutes for fat- and sugar-laden favorite foods, particularly the convenience foods.

Ray said children were apt to reject lectures on healthy eating, but would be open to discussing the issue.

"In making healthy changes, it's a matter of getting kids involved in a conversation," she said.

Although apt to reject abrupt changes, children would be likely to accept gradual changes in food consumption, she advised.

For example, switching to whole wheat pasta would boost vital nutrients and taste, without offending anyone, she suggested. Fat, sugar and salt content can be reduced without a major difference in taste or texture, she said.

"There are a lot of subtle changes that can make a big difference without family members noticing," she said.

Adoring fans bear gifts, Ray advises youth

During the program, Ashton Altheiser, 12, of Malta, gave Ray a bouquet of flowers - as he has for the past two years. Ashton's sister and their parents and the members of their Bible study group were all in the front row - Ashton's mom Shawn had camped out overnight to get tickets.

Shawn Altheiser got a rousing cheer, including a "Kumbayah" from Rachael Ray when a spectator asked if Ray had published a cookbook for celiac patients, and Shawn quickly handed Ray a booklet of Ray's own gluten-free recipes that the Wilton mother had downloaded from the Internet and made into a booklet. Ray had a school official Xerox the recipe collection, and she passed it out to those in the crowd seeking gluten-free recipes.

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