At first glance Haley Jones appears to be your typical teenager, enjoying hobbies like painting, playing the piano and participating in high school sports. When you look beyond the surface, however, to the core of her free-spiritedness, you see that Jones is a budding cook and baking enthusiast. At just 16 years of age, she already is a self-taught chef whose specialty is cooking and baking low-fat meals.
As a child, Jones recalls the familiar memories of her and her siblings sitting on the kitchen counter, watching their mother prepare meals. “My parents really inspired me to want to learn how to cook. My mom would put us on the kitchen counters when we were little. That way, she could watch us and we could help,” Jones says. After her recent diagnosis with a condition from which she’s suffered since childhood, Jones must now avoid foods with a high-fat content. “So I’ve been staying away from fats, and I’ve been great,” says Jones.
With a considerable change in diet and newly adopted cooking methods, Jones draws the most inspiration from traditional Asian recipes. “She’s really into Japanese food and also makes delicious Mongolian beef,” says Jones’ mother Heidi. Jones has also found alternatives to cooking traditional American foods. “Instead of frying fries I bake them so they get crispy. I also use a mini-grill,” says Jones. Finding and creating low-fat recipes comes surprisingly easy for Jones and her mother. “With the internet, if we have an interest in something there are hundreds of recipes we can try. Haley found that she could sauté foods with water instead of oil; that’s one thing she’s experimented with and likes,” says Mrs. Jones.
Another recipe on Jones’ roster of diet-friendly foods is for homemade soft pretzels. “I like making pretzels from scratch. I make the dough, beat it until it is smooth, let it sit for two hours until it gets puffy, and then I cut it into the desired size or quantity. Then I roll the pieces out, twist them, coat them with egg and salt, and then bake them for about 13 minutes,” she explains. Cake decorating is also among Jones’ favorite culinary endeavors. “Cake decorating is so much fun! I’m getting better at it. I like being able to incorporate my love of art into my cooking,” says Jones.
Jones’ mother admits that Haley’s condition has also significantly affected the family’s diet — but for the better. “It definitely changed the way I cook for everyone. With all the sensitivities she had, we altered what we ate as well,” says Mrs. Jones. “It just made me more aware of what I ate. It never occurred to me there could be such a profound effect from the things we eat. Haley is so much happier and healthier when she’s attentive to her food,” she adds. Although the change in diet has eliminated certain options, Jones doesn’t feel limited in her choices for flavorful, fulfilling meals. “I don’t really miss the food from before because I never really liked anything that made me feel sick. So once I stopped eating it, I was fine and I can still make tasty foods,” shares Jones.
Jones selected the Chuck Roast with vegetables for its seasonal appeal and ease of preparation. “This is what I’ll be eating during college. I can leave it in the crock pot before class, and when I return it will be ready to serve,” says Jones. The recipe also offers great versatility when it comes to creating secondary meals. “The next day I could make machaca, tacos or enchiladas. I can do virtually anything with this roast,” says Mrs. Jones, who purchased the beef from Ramey’s Meats in Brawley.
The dish is complimented by a homemade, fat-free bread loaf courtesy of Jones’ father — a delectable addition to a superb, yet simply-made meal. With a passion for cooking and attention to choosing healthier options, Jones has nothing short of a promising future in the culinary trade. After graduation, she hopes to attend both a culinary institute and a four-year university out of state. Until then, Jones eagerly anticipates the next exciting venture in creating appetizing and flavorful low-fat cuisine.