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MIAMI BEACH, Florida (AP) — It takes some serious talent to make carrots cool, but actor Reed Alexander of Nickelodeon's "iCarly" thinks he has the juice to pull it off.
And it's all part of the 17-year-old's plan to transform himself from tween TV star to food celebrity.
It may sound like a stretch for a kid barely old enough to have graduated high school, never mind have a culinary degree. But Alexander's efforts to motivate kids to eat right and lose weight already are earning him surprising props from some high-profile foodies.
Why all the attention on a kid with little food cred?
To Lee Schrager, director of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, it's simple. Alexander exudes charisma and confidence. He's passionate about food and healthy eating. And, most importantly, he has the ability to reach a demographic everyone wants — young people.
"That is someone to watch," said Schrager, who this year invited Alexander to do a cooking demo at the annual festival, a much sought after gig that puts him in the company of established food names such as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray.
He wants to be the Justin Bieber of cooking. Besides starring in numerous television and big screen productions, he also has appeared on countless morning shows and cooking segments sharing some of his favorite healthy recipes.
Alexander — who began his acting career doing commercials and has appeared on "iCarly" since 2007 — considers himself to be "just a kid," but his grown-up role in the kitchen has captured the attention of many in the food industry.
Getting kids to eat healthy is something Alexander understands — he started with himself.
"I was really overweight and I was lazy and lethargic. . My eating was out of control. I didn't have the knowledge and I just wasn't feeling great," Alexander said in an interview Friday. "I wanted to be able to find an answer that would work for me, but there just wasn't anything out there from a kid's point of view."
So Alexander, a longtime foodie and fan of the Food Network who loved to tinker in the kitchen (what he calls his science lab), got to work creating recipes and tips. In time, he lost 15 pounds and gained a passion.
"In order to ensure that I was really satisfied, I was experimenting, swapping out ingredients, creating my own recipes, making them easier, making them lighter, making them more delicious, more flavorful and good for me," he said.
At that point, he gathered what he'd learned and the recipes he'd created — such as sunny oven-roasted citrus chicken or chopped guacamole salad— and put them on a website, KewlBites.com, to help families and children eat and feel better.
"It was about having self-confidence and the ability to feel my best," he said. "I think I really get it in that respect in terms of what kids are going through and hopefully vice versa and they'll see what I'm doing is designed to reach out to people who have been in the same boat."
He has since produced videos on Rachael Ray's website that encourage kids to get involved in cooking. He also visits schools across the country as a spokesman for the non-profit organization Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership of The William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to help fight childhood obesity.
He's also created healthy lunch recipes that are available to school lunch programs in the U.S. with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
Part of his appeal as a spokesman for healthy eating is that kids "are such avid viewers of iCarly," he said.
At one school he recently visited in West New York, New Jersey, Alexander was asked what his favorite vegetable was — carrots. For the rest of the week the students at the school wanted to eat carrots during lunch. The school chef had to order more to keep up with demand.
"These questions are an insight into what they are focusing on," he said. "It proves they care, there's a curiosity."
Alexander went to a brick-and-mortar school until the seventh grade. He now attends a virtual school. Though he is no longer lining up at the cafeteria for lunch, he said he still can relate to the younger generation.
"I still have a sensibility of what these kids are facing," he said. "This is something I understand."