Guest blogger: Cost calculation of home lunches

Mrs. B from Indiana: I was reading your blog this morning, catching up from this past week, and it occurred to me that I had not done any recent calculations on the cost of meals in my home.  Figuring out the general cost of a meal is one way that I can keep track of our expenditures and make sure meals come within a certain price point.  I decided to focus on my daughter’s school lunches as I had been feeling inspired by your blog lately to stay firm against lunchables, excessive school lunches and certain other junky add-ins that are slipped into many kids sack lunches.  Here are some notes to accompany these meal plans:

1.  We are in the process of switching over to foods that are HFCS-free.  We’ve done a good job so far eliminating HFCS from our diets, but it’s not 100% gone.  I’m not sure that it ever will be.  It’s a lot of compromise — especially with items like cold breakfast cereal.  We are also switching our most consumed foods over to organic whenever possible.  This is mostly milk, yogurt, most produce, and some meats.  Organic eating is much easier in the spring & summer during the seasons of abundance.

2.  My husband and I generally allow our daughter (she just turned 6 and is in kindergarten) to eat school lunch one time per week and we pick this out together.  The school does something fun about once a month.  These are often part of the once-a-week school lunches.  These cost $2.35 each.  Her sack lunches are cheaper, often by quite a bit.

3.  We keep additional emergency money in her account at school so that if mom spaces and forgets to pack a drink, she can buy milk.  She does not like flavored milk.  We also keep the extra money in case something happens that prevents us from packing lunch for the next day — like illness.

4.  There are splurgy items in the packed lunches.  Not cookies or candy, but turkey bologna is in there and so are drink pouches (100% fruit juice, but still… they are not watered down).  Once in a blue moon we will even put fruit chew snacks in her sack lunch.  We try to alternate the foods; no sense in having a peanut butter sandwich 4 days a week!  I have NEVER packed any type of candy, soda, cakes, or cookies in her school lunch.  I have only packed Pringles 2 times; they were sent to her in a care package from grandma.  It’s not that we don’t ever have these things; we just limit their intake.

5.  My daughter is healthy.  She just had her check up and her doctor was pleased.  She grew in inches this past year, but did not gain any weight (actually lost a smidge).  She plays sports during the fall, winter and spring seasons; summer is reserved for traveling and family time and lots of time at the park near-by.  She loves fruits & veggies.  We went through the normal phase of parenting where she refused to try certain foods.  We stuck to our guns and here we are now — an adventurous eater who will actually give new foods an honest try.

So, here are 5 sample lunches.  Lunches 1-3 are more the standard.  Luches 4-5 happen if dinner was a smashing success.  We have a thermos we use for these.  I over-estimated the prices rather than under-estimated.  We always send water, too.

2 slices WW bread (no HFCS) – 25 cents
3 T peanut butter (have not switched to organic yet) – 30 cents
1 low fat string cheese – 50 cents
100% juice drink pouch – 36 cents
8 grape tomatoes – 40 cents
Total cost: $1.81
12 crackers (I get a type with no HFCS, but made with lots of whole grains) – 50 cents
2 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese – 50 cents
Homemade drink box with ½ water and ½ fruit juice – 20 cents
Banana or apple, her choice – 25 cents
6-8 baby cut carrots (organic) – 25 cents
1 T homemade ranch dip (made with low- or non-fat sour cream) – 5 cents
Total cost: $1.25


2 slices WW bread (no HFCS) – 25 cents
1 slice turkey bologna – 10 cents
1 slice sharp cheddar cheese (sandwich size) – 30 cents
½ cup vanilla yogurt (organic) – 50 cents
¼ cup frozen blackberries (they are thawed by lunchtime) – 32 cents
Tomato juice (about 6 oz in a reusable drink box) – 20 cents
Cucumber slices – 25 cents
Total cost: $1.92


1 generous cup of leftover homemade potato soup (potatoes, a bit of onion & garlic, homemade or organic chicken broth, half-n-half cream or milk with sour cream, small amount of both shredded cheddar cheese and turkey bacon) – 75 cents
Homemade drink box with ½ water and ½ fruit juice – 20 cents
1 banana – 25 cents
8 grape tomatoes – 40 cents
Total cost: $1.60
1 cup of spaghetti and sauce (noodles are whole wheat blend; sauce is homemade) – 50 cents
Homemade drink box with ½ water and ½ fruit juice – 25 cents
½ cup blueberry yogurt (organic) – 50 cents
6-8 baby cut carrots (organic) – 25 cents
1 T homemade ranch dip (made with low- or non-fat sour cream) – 5 cents
Total cost: $1.55

Day 81: meatball sub

Today’s menu: meatballs, broccoli, mixed fruit cup, whole wheat hot dog buns, milk

I like this meal. I mean, it’s not bad. Today’s fruit cup didn’t taste super sugary so I just think the fruit is floating in fruit juice versus added sugar like HFCS.


A reader emailed me to say that she feels so badly about what I’m eating that she can no longer check the blog frequently. She said it’s always the same thing and that it’s hard to watch me eat it. I know it’s tough to see. I just think about the kids.

There is an undeniable shock value to the pictures. I can’t believe I have eaten more than 80 school lunches!


I have made an appointment to see an allergist for late this month. And in June I’m going to go get blood drawn and compare it to my previous stats from December. As I explained in previous posts, I had a basic panel run in December so that I could get a discount on my health insurance for 2010. It was a coincidence that the information is a baseline for the project.

I’m going to make a prediction that there is no perceivable difference between my December stats and my June stats. In December my only problem area was low “good” cholesterol, but overall cholesterol in the normal range. We will see

Guest Blog: Food allergies

Call me Mrs. H.  I am a Stay at Home Mom in an midsize, midwest town.  I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, and I have a 12 year old son, a 9 year old son, and a 5 year old daughter. They are 6th grade, 3rd grade and Kindergarten, respectively.
Food allergies have been steadily increasing in children over the past few decades. Although most food allergies cause relatively mild and minor symptoms, some food allergies can cause severe reactions, and may even be life-threatening. 

According to the CDC, eight types of food account for over 90% of allergic reactions in affected individuals. These foods are, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. A study done in 2007 showed that in approximately 3 million children under age 18 years (3.9%) were reported to have a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months. This was an increase of 18%  from 1997 to 2007. From 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,500 hospital discharges per year with a diagnosis related to food allergy among children under age 18 years.

My introduction to food allergies began when my first son was 18 months old. We discovered that a severe allergy to milk was causing chronic respiratory problems, and after a switch to a soy milk, these problems disappeared.  Though he outgrew the milk allergy, 9 years later he had a severe reaction to popcorn shrimp that we had for dinner one night. Further testing revealed a severe shellfish allergy. I was introduced once again to the world of epi-pens, diet modification, and worry that he would ingest something harmful. However, I found some relief that none of these items ( shrimp, crab, lobster, crawfish ) were things typically found in school cafeteria menus, and no one brings crab cakes to celebrate birthdays.
My middle son often complained that his throat would “feel funny” after trying new foods.  After a few times of chalking it up to not wanting to trying new things, we decided to have allergy testing done. After testing for 64 allergens, we found he is allergic to some tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans and almonds.  An allergy to almonds is often associated with allergies to stony fruits, such as peaches, plums, nectarines and pitted cherries, as well as apples and pears.  My son reacted to all fruits with “pits”, and he is irritated by pears and apples if they are not peeled.  In addition, he is allergic to soy.  Peanuts are considered a legume, not a tree nut, and thankfully 
these don’t bother him.

Though these results are relatively new to us, they have opened my eyes to new diligence when avoiding these foods. After researching common places these allergens are found, I then turned to our school lunch menu to see how often any of those items were offered. Typically, I let my boys buy lunch weekly, when pizza is offered from an outside restaurant. During the rest of the week we try and pack a healthy lunch.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that in April, 11 out of the 16 days we have school, peaches, pears, apricots or fruit cocktail  ( a mix of peaches, pears, apples and cherries! ) were offered as a fruit choice. Two of the other days, fruit was offered in the form of applesauce, one day as blueberry crisp, one as peach cobbler. Only one day was fresh fruit offered, in the form of apple slices.   I assume that these fruits are so prevalent because they are served canned or pre-packaged in some way. The ease of serving has great appeal over preparation of fresh fruit. While I cannot expect an entire menu to change because of one child, my concern is for those children in all districts who rely on school lunches as a large ( or only ) source of food for the day.  If their parents are not aware or interested in what is being served, those with allergies and other conditions like Diabetes are at a higher risk of serious health repercussions from an unsupervised diet.

A few days ago, I contacted the school district’s director of food services. She was very knowledgeable, and I learned a lot from talking to her.  She explained to me that the district is not required by state to provide specific alternatives to children based in dietary need or allergies. She did share that the schools do not serve any food that obviously contain tree nuts or peanuts in the elementary schools. They cannot claim to be a nut free facility, as some of their sources of product do come from factories that may also process nuts.  I asked her if there was an ingredient list available for parents to look at, and she replied that the list she had available was over 600 pages long!

After some discussion, I offered my help to increase awareness of allergies and other similar conditions in the community. At this point, our goal is to review all 600 pages of ingredients in the school lunch menu, and provide nutritional information as part of the school district’s website. This way, parents and students would have quick, easy to read information available to make informed decisions about what students are eating everyday. My hope is initially to reach those with food allergies, and also those with conditions like Celiac Disease and Diabetes. Perhaps then we can move on to the calorie counts and other nutritional information to help create change in what we offer children, as well as give parents the tools they need to make healthier decisions with their child’s lunch.

*** Mrs. Q: Thanks so much to Mrs. H for giving us some insight into food allergies! ***

Day 80: meatloaf

Today’s menu: meatloaf, mystery greens, cornbread muffin, pineapple fruit cup, milk

Mystery greens are back! They weren’t as bitter this time: I didn’t have to spit them out. But I still couldn’t finish more than a couple bites. Yuck.

The meatloaf looks weird, no? It’s yellowish in color. It tasted like a salty commercial hamburger patty. It sounds disgusting, but I sopped up the watery gravy with the cornbread muffin. I felt sick about an hour and a half after eating lunch. I thought I was going to throw up. But thankfully it passed and I went on with the day. No students complained so it must have been just me.

I asked a student, “What did we eat for lunch?”
He replied, “Chicken.”

Guest Blogger: Kids and Body Image

Let me introduce myself to the blog readers out there! My name is Jill (from the Boston area) and I am a semi-recent college graduate who is currently completing an AmeriCorps service year and contemplating how her life and career paths can put her on the front lines of tackling many of the issues this blog deals with. I contacted Mrs. Q after her post from May 5th where she alluded to how the troubled relationships we have with our bodies often impact the relationship we have with food. I could not agree more. As an AmeriCorps member with the YWCA, I deal daily in issues of empowerment and body image, so I’d like to take the time in this post to address some issues of life, pop culture and the food/body image intersection.

In an episode of FOX’s hit teen dramedy “Glee” two weeks ago, the series’ blonde bombshell- turned-teen mom got right to the heart of American teens’ troubled relationship with food. 
“I was scared, hating myself for eating a cookie. But I got over it. When you start eating for somebody else, so that they can grow and be healthy, your relationship to food changes. What I realized is that if I’m so willing to eat right to take care of this baby, why am I not willing to do it for myself?”
In Quinn’s statement we can see the desire for “ideal beauty” outweighs her concerns for her own personal nutrition. Many experts wish they could call her the minority, but unfortunately, lots of teens feel this way. Without burdening you readers with statistics, I’ll provide two reputable examples of trends being seen:
In a Pew Research Study from 2006 (the most recent year available) 37% of 18-29 year olds worry about their weight some or all of the time.
 Research statistics posted on the National Eating Disorder Information Center website cite that 37% of girls in grade 9 and 40% of girls in grade 10 perceived themselves as too fat. Even among students of normal weight (based on BMI), 19% believed they were too fat and 12% reported trying to lose weight. 
So often, it’s not just an issue of access to healthy foods or knowledge of what is healthy- it’s about the very essence of food as ‘friend’ not ‘enemy’ and eating as an activity worthy of pride– not shame or danger. There are so many fingers that get pointed in this discussion- pointed at the media, celebrity and the effects of peer pressure. They’re valid complaints and create a vast landscape for discussion, but I’d like to focus on some thoughts and strategies we can use in the home to create positive relationships with food.
Body as beautiful In all the picking, complaining and insulting we do on a daily basis, the body surely takes the brunt! It was Mrs. Q’s comment on her mom and the way food, bodies and dieting were discussed in her childhood home that really got me going on this. This past week, our YWCA chapter hosted a community discussion on body image and there was an educator present who made a great point. There is a time in the life of a child when Mommy and Daddy are perfect and beautiful. Why wreck that? By insulting our ‘perfect selves’ we send the message that those little bodies, those pieces of us, are imperfect, too. The bottom line– Think before you speak. Don’t insult your body. Don’t teach your children that a body is something to be managed, controlled, monitored, starved or anything other than loved. 
Use Nature as a guide Organisms need nourishment! Bees, flowers, moose, salmon or children—we all need nutrients to grow healthy and strong. I think the natural world provides amazing opportunity to raise young people in the philosophy of natural, healthy bodies. Growing up, I raised horses and was part of a 4H club. Not everyone can do this, but I have always credited my connection to animals and agriculture as a reason for my positive self body image. If my horse needs nutrients for a glossy coat and an appropriately fleshy barrel- so do I! If all animals go through awkward and gangly stages of development- then I guess I do too!
The teachable moment Remember all that finger pointing I was talking about? Go ahead and point the finger, but talk about why! Kids want to talk about this. They want to talk about the impossibly beautiful models they see on TV, the magazines in the checkout line, the kids who harass them in school, the way they feel about food and their bodies. I’ve never run a workshop on this topic that didn’t have teens running at the mouth, or the educators for that matter! Never miss an opportunity to talk – and listen—your kids (and friends) will remember it. 
The Right Stuff at the Right Time Of course, how can we be proud of the way we nourish our bodies if we are not proud of the food that does the nourishing? It’s been touched on in this blog and on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution—we need quality food and we need to teach kids about what makes it valuable. From a young age, food should be exciting and precious! The right food does the right job, which is to make us all beautiful, healthy and strong. That’s a lesson we can teach at home and at school- using our kids as the proof!
I hope that while we are creating a culture of local food, slow food, green food and healthy food- we can also create a culture of healthy relationships to food. One day, I hope that what we put in our bodies becomes a point of pride. Can you imagine a 5 year old pointing at their muscles and saying “the spinach I ate for lunch grew these!”? If young people start cherishing their bodies, and by extension how they nourish them, we’ll all be better off!
To close, I’d like to recommend the documentary film called “America The Beautiful”- which addresses whether or not America is ‘beauty obsessed’ and the means we take to get there. It’s a show-stopper that I often show to high school age students and educators alike!

May’s Titanium Spork Award: Please nominate!

I have finally mailed off the titanium spork to Jamie Oliver! I hope he is as excited to accept it as I was to send it off to him! So that means I’m ready for our next nomination for a titanium spork award for May.

Please nominate in the comments. I’m looking to give a titanium spork to people who are doing great things to help kids eat better at school, people who care about school food, and/or anyone helping advance the cause of school food reform. I’ll close nominations on Friday.

Open thread: Presidential Physical Fitness Award, Gym and Sports

Please continue to post links to your school district’s school lunch menus. I’m going to figure out what I want to do with all that data… It’s so interesting to see what your kids are eating.


Our guest poster on Thursday briefly touched on the Presidential Physical Fitness Award and how that is torture for most of us. Why do we put so many kids through that if it only makes them feel crappier about themselves? I wasn’t overweight in school, but I couldn’t pass the requirements. The worst was doing it in front of all of your classmates. Like I said in a comment on that post, I am not flexible so the sit-and-reach was an automatic failure. Also I am not a runner so I doing a 10 minute mile would actually be a personal best. And for overweight kids? What’s the point? Jeez. Is there a way to change this award for the better? I think there is a Presidential Academic Fitness Award, but it doesn’t get nearly enough play. Have you heard of an Academic Fitness award?


My students LOVE gym class. And I enjoyed gym as a kid too. I remember playing tetherball during recess in elementary school. That was fantastic! We regularly got hit (lightly) in the face, which is probably why you don’t see too many tetherballs any more. That and they probably get stolen.

Also I remember playing tons of prison ball/dodge ball. In high school we switched through various units and tried out different sports.  I enjoyed flag football, badminton, square dancing (I complained but I like holding the different boys’ hands), archery, and even bowling at a local alley. What did you do in gym class?


In high school I played on the volleyball and softball teams, but even though I played for years I never lettered. I don’t remember the requirements (I probably blocked them out). Too bad I couldn’t letter for enthusiastic participation. Recently I heard that the “three sport athlete” no longer exists; most kids focus on one sport now. Is that true? What do you know about high school sports these days?

Home sweet lunch

Sometimes I have to take a day off. Here’s what I had for a special lunch one day when I was not at work (this fed four):

Homemade (vegan) arrabiata sauce, Barilla pasta, focaccia.

Salad made of organic baby spinach, kalamata olives, real mozzarella, tomatoes.

I may have gotten choked up when I started eating.
Great company + terrific food = good for the soul