Day 85: chicken parm

Today’s menu: chicken parm, garlic bread, broccoli, apple

The chicken got a little “over-toasted” there, but it was ok. I just eat fast. I like the garlic bread (I’m a big fan of the homemade stuff). The broccoli was probably reheated too many times because it lost some of its color and texture. Limp broccoli is not exactly a treat, but down it went.

The food is heated up in extremely large ovens; there is no microwave involved. I can’t imagine the microwave large enough to handle the sheer volume of students who eat at school.

***

Student talking to himself, “…that’s what that means.”
Me being nosy, “What are you talking about?”
“Someone said ‘Ms. ___ is the fittest teacher’ and I just figured out what ‘fittest’ means.”
“So, what does it mean?”
“You know, the most exercised.”

***

My mom says that when I was quite young, I was playing Barbie with a friend and I said something like,”Barbie is sexy.”
Startled my mom turned to me and said,
“What does ‘sexy’ mean, sweetie?”
“Thin.”

My mom was one of those moms who banned us from Barbie for a long time. But eventually she caved. We loved playing Barbie and owned a few dolls, but only one Ken and one Skipper. We loved making little families. “Bad” Barbie was the one who tried to steal Ken away from “good” Barbie and she was thrown down the stairs. Sorry about that tangent there…. What does Barbie teach kids? I personally think Bratz are worse!

Guest Blogger: Common Threads

My Common Threads Story

I came to Common Threads like most people, as a volunteer. In the winter of 2007 I started volunteering for Common Threads.  A good friend of mine encouraged me to sign up as a volunteer.  I had just moved to Chicago and it was winter, I love kids, I wanted to meet new people and I love food so I figured it would be a decent way to spend an afternoon.  I signed up for the Monday afternoon class having no idea what to expect. I hate to be dramatic but I would say my first visit changed my life. 
I had been teaching for years and had never seen kids in this type of atmosphere. I was used to kids learning behind a desk. I had been the person drilling them about what they knew and what they did not know. This was an eye opening experience for me. These kids were interested, engaged, excited and eager to learn.  The food was delicious, the other volunteers were lovely (one in particular, is a good friend to this day), the curriculum was amazing…I was hooked. 
Common Threads teaches low-income children to cook wholesome and affordable meals. Common Threads believes that through hands-on cooking classes they can help prevent childhood obesity and reverse the trend of generations of non-cookers, while celebrating our cultural differences and the things people all over the world have in common. Each week, in 19 locations in Chicago, children are learning how to cook.  They are learning how to use a knife, what saute means and how to make a mean salad dressing.  They are “traveling” all over the world through cooking.  One week stopping by Italy to make some handmade pasta or going to Turkey to learn that you can make hummus at home.  They learn cooking skills, they learn about culture, they learn about each other, they learn from positive adults (volunteers)…they open their minds.
As a Common Threads volunteer I noticed something over and over again that I think sometimes gets lost. Mini Chefs  find confidence in the Common Threads’ kitchens.  They discover they can chop a tomato, that they know what to do with a piece of chicken and that sushi is not so bad. Shy children find a voice and anxious kids find peace.  And to me, that may be the greatest gift of all.  Common Threads is providing children with a safe place to learn about living healthy lives, to learn to work as a team, and to see that Chicken Curry and the people that eat it are really lovely and that South African food is fun to make and share.  And when they leave the program they know more about food and how to make good choices and more about other cultures.  Their mind has been opened up.  
Fast forward three years later; I manage volunteers all day long for Common Threads.  I find people to work with our kids every afternoon.  These people believe in our mission and are committed to our kids. They give their time, energy, skills, knowledge, patience and love.

When I talk to potential volunteers, I tell them my Common Threads story.  They always ask me what I loved about volunteering. My answer is simple: to me, volunteering with Common Threads is the best way to be with children.  You are there to cook a meal together. You work side by side with kids who need your knowledge, support, help and friendship. They need you to tell them how to hold a knife, to ask about their math test and for you to be a positive role model each week.  By cooking and sharing a meal with them each week you are giving them gifts that will last a lifetime.  I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Mary Ann Weprin is the Manager of Volunteer Programs at Common Threads. If you are interested in having your own life-changing experience, please contact MaryAnn@CommonThreads.org.

Open thread: Lunch confessions and food fantasies

The “ranch on pizza” discussion was lively. Thanks for enlightening me, but I’m not going to do that again even with excellent pizza and a touch of excellent ranch. 

What did you eat at school lunch (or whenever) that was strange by your standard or another’s? 

Someone asked me in an interview, “What do you wish you could have for lunch?” When I’m at school, I don’t think about any other lunch than what I’m served. Why would I because it would only make me think longingly about food I’m not eating. However, when I’m at home, I think about potential lunches I could make all the time.

Do you fantasize about food and if so what kinds of food? Or am I alone in this because I don’t have control over what I eat at school. My answers will be the first comment…

Day 84: bean burrito

Today’s menu: bean burrito, carrots, applesauce, goldfish, milk

So I was able to avoid the burger and eat a burrito today! The burrito was good too. Your basic burrito. Carrots? The usual. Applesauce? Smooth. Goldfish? Surprise! Hmm….

I’m left scratching my head. But I’m still grateful for the burrito! And the fish crackers weren’t bad though they have a lot of sodium (220mg).

***

I’m going to be putting up the May Titanium Spork Award poll tonight. Vote when you get a chance!

Guest blogger: More Alternatives to School Lunch

Sample lunch for my second grade daughter–homemade stuffed muffin with ground beef & cheese, sliced hard boiled eggs, marble cheese cubes, carrots, celery & cucumber, fresh cantaloupe. Total time prep = less than 5 minutes using items in my fridge & freezer. Total cost = slightly under $1.

I’ve been reading Fed Up With Lunch for a couple of months now, ever since a friend of mine IM’ed me and told me I had to check it out.
Truth be told, I have very little experience with school cafeterias.  The school I went to from K-8 in our small town did not have a cafeteria.  Everyone ate the lunches their moms packed.  High school was the first time I attended a school with a cafeteria and I preferred my mom-lunches.  When my own daughter started K, her school did not have a cafeteria either, so I knew from the beginning, I’d be making her lunch.
I understand there are times and reasons why a school cafeteria might be appealing.  I had many mornings where I thought, “I wish I could just give her $3 and let her buy something.”  It can definitely be easier.  If lunches are subsidized, it very well may be cheaper and necessary.  That’s another post though and involves changing school cafeterias themselves.  Fortunately, it can be easy and efficient to provide a healthy lunch for your child to bring with them to school.
Eating homemade, healthier lunches doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be time consuming.  I think, for many people, there are multiple deterrents–the time involved, the idea that it will cost much more to send lunch than buy it, thinking that all they can figure out to send is a sandwich/apple/cookie/juice box, or thinking healthier = tofu and spinach so their kids won’t eat it.  
Over time, I’ve picked up ideas to make things easier, but one of the biggest tips is to have healthy food the kids like on hand and ready to go. I prebake a lot of items.  We make stuffed muffins (corn muffins with meats, cheese & veggies inside), mini quiches, and meat pastries (seasoned ground beef baked in flaky wrappers).  All this can be baked in an hour or two, then frozen.  There are usually several weeks worth of lunches in my freezer at any given time.  I also try to prebake desserts (mini muffins or cookies that freeze well) so they are there if needed.  We use other things as main dishes too, but it’s great to be able to pull something out of the freezer on a crazy morning.
Produce shopping is based on what’s on sale.  The kids know that we’re getting whatever items are a good deal any given week.  This week, we’re going to have bananas, strawberries, blackberries and cantaloupe, because that’s what is on sale at the nearby stores this week.  I wash and/or slice the items right away so they are already in serving form.  It’s much easier in the morning to pick up a container of diced cantaloupe than to have a whole melon that needs slicing. 
I also try to have certain items always on hand. For us, this includes blocks of real cheese, eggs to hardboil, mini bagels; pita breads, tortillas, baby carrots; celery, and a few varieties of whole fruit.  This is just based on my kids’ preferences, I keep their favorites in stock at home to make things simpler for me.
I actually don’t advocate school lunchtime as an experimental time.  Kids need energy for the rest of the day.  A PB&J on whole grain bread, baby carrots, an apple and a homemade oatmeal cookie that your child will definitely eat is much better than trying to send hummus, red pepper & kiwi if your child isn’t guaranteed to eat those.  I confine food experimenting to home; school lunches and snacks are healthy food I know they will eat.
Ideally, school cafeterias would serve fresh, healthy foods all the time.  I think it’s important and something that definitely needs changing.  But, in the process, what if just 1 or 2 of those 5 lunches per week that kids eat were healthy, nutritionally balanced (and not USDA balanced, really balanced) and from home?  If the end result is healthier food in our kids, isn’t it worth a try?
——
Quick bio: Shannon is a former middle school teacher and mom to a 7.5 and 4.5 year old.  She’s interested interested in quick, easy & fun ways to help her kids eat healthy and blog about their food adventures at http://bentolunch.blogspot.com/.

Day 83: pizza

Today’s menu: pepperoni pizza, carrots, peach fruit cup, ranch dressing, milk

When I’ve eaten pizza in the past, commenters have mentioned that when they were kids they would put the ranch dressing on the pizza. I decided to give that a shot (see last picture).

Results: pizza of marginal flavor turned foul. I took the first bite of the ranch covered pizza and the taste combination was so foreign, so disgusting that I winced. I had to literally wipe off the ranch from the other part of the pizza. Thankfully I didn’t put the dressing on the whole pizza or I wouldn’t have had much of a lunch. I don’t have a clue how and why that would be appealing to a child or anyone! Note: I have been known to enjoy ranch dressing on salad…just not on pizza. Yuck.

PS. I know that the ranch is meant for the carrots. I did it because many readers and also kids like to put ranch on their pizza. I was trying it out. And I will never do that again.

Cafeteria learning

When you become a parent you realize the power of your example. Even as young six months babies want to eat what their parents are eating. As the authority figure in a classroom, the teacher takes up where the parent left off: he/she is looked up to as the leader. Most kids respect school staff. In general school is a big deal to kids and they enjoy it. Just ask one.

Children know that they come to school to “learn how to read and write,” but they are learning more than just the material taught in the classroom. Many important things are learned implicitly, which means that many concepts are not taught to students directly. For example, social learning is learned implicitly (aside from parental advice). There isn’t any real instruction on how to behave socially; students are expected to learn these skills by watching, interacting, and behaving socially with their peers. I view “character education” as a social skills curriculum. There is wide variation in “character education,” but I believe it has value if implemented in a constructive way for students (not just posters, but interactive instruction with modeling, peer-to-peer groups, etc).

Nutrition is largely ignored by elementary schools because it has been expected that parents teach kids at home. I don’t think that is happening. I believe that school districts will be charged with adding nutritional curriculum as childhood health and obesity become a core issue in the US. But the kids do get instruction on nutrition: they eat school lunch. Whether or not we acknowledge it, kids “learn” which foods they should be eating in the cafeteria. If the school serves them hot dogs or chicken nuggets, kids think that hot dogs and chicken nuggets are good for them. If they eat fruit “icees” in the cafeteria, then fruit icees must be healthy. When given only 20 minutes for lunch, they learn that eating fast is what’s done. If they don’t get real silverware, they learn that it’s better to eat with their hands. If they don’t get recess, they learn that free play has no value. These are the messages that kids absorb, even if teachers and school districts don’t realize they are sending them. We to wise up already about what is “not” being taught.

Day 82: popcorn chicken

Today’s menu: popcorn chicken, tater tots, bread, banana, milk

The words “popcorn chicken” should never be written together. When is chicken like popcorn? It’s unnatural. Anyway so they tasted salty. I slathered everyone of them with bbq sauce and the tater tots got smeared with ketchup too. I then got out my own stash of peanut butter and spread it on the bread.

***

One of my students who always brings his lunch said to me, “Today I’m hungry after lunch.”
I must have looked puzzled because he added, “I didn’t eat my sandwich.”
I asked, “What did you eat today?”
“Popcorn chicken.”
Mrs. Q: “How did you get popcorn chicken?”
“I traded for it.”
Mrs. Q: “So you traded your sandwich for popcorn chicken?”
“No, a fruit roll-up.”

Mrs. Q: “What did the other kid eat for lunch?”
“The fruit roll-up and the rest of his lunch.”
Mrs. Q: “So like the tater tots, bread, and banana?”
“Um, yeah, but not the banana.”
Mrs. Q: “What happened to the banana?”
“He threw it out.”

Mrs. Q: “So what did you eat then?”
“Popcorn chicken, juice box (from home), and chips.”
Mrs. Q: “Just curious, what kind of chips?”
“My favorite: Funyuns.”

I had to laugh because otherwise I might have gotten sad.