Guest Blogger: Cool Step-Mom with Veggies at School

First off I want to be known that I am not a blogger or a professional one at that. When I asked Mrs. Q if I could be a GUEST blogger I warned her that it might be misspelled or have horrible grammar but that I NEEDED to share my story!

I am a mother of three. I have a (step) daughter (we will call her MM) who is 7.5 (leaving second grade this year), a son (we will call him PJ) who is 6 (leaving kindergarten this year) and a son (we will call him CM) who will be 3 the end of July. I work way over 40 hours a week. For a little while I also was a high school cheerleading coach on top of my motherly duties and work duties. I am not claiming to be a busy mom because my children are still young but I am busy enough. My reason for writing to the readers is because I recently spent the day with my daughter’s second grade class and had to share with you what I witnessed.
I was originally supposed to escort MM and her class to the local public pool for a field trip. As I was pulling into her school parking lot the teacher called me and said it had been rescheduled for the next day due to weather. I had already gotten the day off for today (June 9th) and knew I couldn’t show up to work in my jean capris. I also knew I would not be able to take two days off in a row, so I told her teacher I would just volunteer in her class all day.
Note: PJ who is in kindergarten is only half day so he comes home to eat every day. MM is the only one that eats at school. PJ was in head start for two years and he HAD to eat the “school lunch” because it was a government based program. I felt bad everyday having him eat that but it does not happen now. MM lives with her mom who happens to be a teacher. Since kindergarten MM has bought school lunch 90 percent of the time, for whatever reason. (Side Note: I am not here to knock on anyone’s preference for parenting.)
I would pick MM up from school almost on a daily basis. We would talk about everything on our trip home. I would ask her about her day and what she had for lunch. In kindergarten almost every day she would tell me hot dog and cheetos with chocolate milk. I complained to not only her mother but to the teacher. I could not believe we were leaving a decision of nutritious meal choosing to a five year old (at the time.) Her mother told me that every morning she gave her the choice of “hot lunch” or cold lunch (sac/homemade lunch) and if MM chose hot lunch they would go through the choices and pick one. I had made the comment that just because she chose the tuna sandwich (for hot lunch) in front of you does not mean that is what she is telling the lunch lady to give her. Also, if you are giving her the choice, after how many times of choosing hot lunch a in a row do you step in. Well, the teacher agreed to start keeping an eye on her and her choices to help. I have not expressed my opinion about it since because it obviously got me nowhere.
This year MM took “cold lunch” a few more times than she did in kindergarten and first grade. Now when I say cold lunch I mean she took a lunch-able. There were still VERY few “homemade” lunches. To get you steered back to my day of volunteering, I made sure that the lunch I made for us (supposed to be for at the pool) was homemade. I have been reading this blog and a few others on healthier lunches for our school aged kids for a little while now. I am so inspired by what MM is going through and what Mrs. Q is going through to make my kid(s) lunch(es) better.
The night before my visit to her class I made our lunch. Now here in the Northeast of the U.S. our vegetables and fruits are now in season and are available at a better price. I have been stocking our house with tons of fresh fruits and veggies. I made turkey sandwiches (real turkey with cheese and mustard) on multi-grain bread. I cut up cantaloupe and watermelon with some grapes. Put some cut up cucumbers and green beans in a bag. Here is the “not so good” part of the lunch I had some “d-animal” (not trying to promote any company) yogurt smoothies and a snack pr-less grease-ingle-chips (get it.)I only packed those last two things because I am a mom and know kids love and deserve to indulge themselves in something “not-so-good” once in awhile.
I am not trying to fool anyone. I keep cookies, chips and snack foods in stock at my house. I have a husband (stay at home dad) and three kids. I know that if I teach my kids that these foods are available at anytime but that it is healthier to choose the grapes more often the cookies (and they do so) then I have done my job as a mother and done it well. Which not to pat myself on the back I have done so. My two boys will eat their veggies before anything else on their plate. My sons will also wake up every morning and have grapes and apple slices for breakfast instead of the sugary cereal I have in stock at the house. My boys know how important a good nutritious meal is. Not having MM that much it is very hard to teach her this. She is learning though.
To get us back in the direction (again.) I was very excited to eat this lunch with MM. When I got to her class she was very excited to see me (she figured since the field trip was cancelled that I was not coming.) She asked me to stay for something (cannot remember now what it was) and I told her I was staying the whole day. The smile that lit up her face made my century. Later on she asked me if we could “go out” for lunch (assuming she wanted BK or McDs as we call them). I told her I packed a lunch for us. Again, the smile that lit up her face was great. You could just see the excitement of knowing how good my lunches are that I pack. In the beginning of the school year she would stay a few nights during the week with us. I would pack her lunch for her with all kinds of yummy good stuff. As lunch approached MM got real excited to see my bag of goodies. I was like Mary Poppins pulling out of our food.
We sat at the cold lunch table. The kids are separated; I assume to make it easier for teachers and lunch ladies, by hot lunch and cold lunch. As we sat at our table, I saw lunch-able(s) at a mass quantity. I actually saw one lunch where the child had a sandwich, two juice boxes, crackers, a full size Milky Way bar and two snack size whoppers. I guess her parents thought the candy where good trading material? The child next to MM had a “nacho lunch-able, the child across from her had one also. The child directly across from MM had a cracker lunch-able and the child across from me had a homemade lunch. As soon as I started pulling our lunch out MM’s “cool” status broke the meter. So many of the children “ooooeeed” and “aaaaaahhhhed.” Right away the stock market exchange began. I saw hands go up with their item of trade and the bargaining being shouted. MM kept looking at me not knowing if it was okay. I ignored the offers and MM followed my example. We ate our lunch as the kids looked at theirs and realized how “un-cool” it really was. Eventually MM started handing out some of the fruits and veggies so that her “cool” status could remain. I even had one of the kids asking for the (fresh) green beans I was eating.
My point to this whole story is that if you pack it they WILL eat it. I hear so many times from parents “oh if I pack those veggies/fruit they will just throw it away or trade it away.” This brings me back to what I said earlier. Yes, my children love to eat the “not-so-good” stuff but I have TAUGHT them when to make those choices and how much to make those choices. As parents we have to teach our children how to be sensible. I know we already have so much on our plates as parents to teach but this is so important. Sp what if your child has a great metabolism or not they still need to eat healthy for their body. MM will be 8 in September and her waistline can still fit in a 3T pants (height wise she cannot). She has a great metabolism. It does not mean that she can eat junk food for the rest of her life and not die from a heart attack weighing 100 lbs. This happens on a daily basis. Again I am not saying that the occasional (I try to limit it to 2 unhealthy snacks a day) indulgence in a brownie or handful of chips is bad. I am saying that the processed food and “cheaply-made” lunch-ables are not healthy 3,4 or even 5 times a week.
I understand a lot of us are in hard times. I have a family of 5 that lives on a $34,000 a year income. I am by all means saying just because you get free or reduced lunch due to income, or because lunch-ables are 10 for 10 does not mean you need to do it every day. I could easily let PJ get his “free lunch” from the school next year. Our income sure enough qualifies us, but as a mother it is my job to TEACH my kids that eating like that does not give our bodies the nutrients to survive on the playground for recess. Or the energy to run in T-ball after school. At first I did not see that my kids were listening or understanding the big words I was projecting at them. Until, one day PJ was telling me he was going to have applesauce instead of a cookie because he wants to be able to play flash light tag later. MM told me that she was choosing the salad bar and sandwich at lunch now instead of the pizza or pancake sticks (how is that a lunch anyway) because she wanted to make good decisions for her brain power. As parents when we hear these statements from our children we know we have done our job. I am begging you to TEACH your children about nutrition. Offer them a cupcake and grapes but tell them how the grapes will help with brain power to read or leg power to run faster at recess. Tell them that the cupcake looks better and sure does taste better but will slow them down in the game of tag later. Be creative really!
I want to point out again I am not here to judge. I did not know how to teach my kids at first but I am getting there. It is people like Mrs. Q and her guest bloggers that have been inspiring me to get creative with my kids. I personally follow another blog found here http://bentolunch.blogspot.com/ that helps me really be creative on what to make. I might make you mad or annoy you or inspire you, but if I do anything with this guest blog I hope I bring to your attention that kids want to eat well and they want to learn about eating well. Even if I cause you to rethink how you make your food at home or pack their lunches, please remember you show them or teach them they will listen and learn.
Happy packing
Mrs. C

Hospital breakfast

I fasted for more than 12 hours prior to my blood test this morning and then afterwards I went to the hospital cafeteria and ordered a standard breakfast: two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and an OJ. Cost: $4.15 Everything was delicious but I was starving so I could have been biased. It was your basic diner food. I noticed that they had available the cholesterol free egg substitute.

There was a real chef cooking (cheer!), but they use styrofoam and all plastic (jeer). There were no veggies out that I saw, but there was fresh fruit. I would have grabbed some but it was right then that I realized that they only take cash (jeer) and I was out. So I had to drop everything and run to their ATM. By the time I came back, I was famished that I just wanted to eat that I just paid as quickly as possible.

From my limited experience in hospitals, I believe this food to be better than most. Real cooking is important! What kind of experiences have you had with hospital food?

Fuel thermos

I saw this Trudeau Fuel Duo Thermos and Snack Container at a local housewares store and I couldn’t resist it (I bought this product myself and this not a paid review). I like that it comes with a snack holder on the top. So I could put crackers in it and have a trashless lunch.

I thought, “One day when I eat lunches that I pack myself, I’ll bring soup.” I have a friend who is Russian who believes that it’s not lunch unless you have soup. She told me that during her childhood every single lunch included soup.

This spring I was sick a lot. I didn’t want to talk too much about it when I was actually eating school lunches, but I had some nasty viruses. Some days I struggled to get out of bed. I was sick at the very least once per month for about a week and usually it was a chest cold. Many mornings I asked myself, “Do I go to work sick or do I stay home, but how does that affect the blog?” It’s strange that I thought about it in terms of the blog project, but it’s the truth. I didn’t want to blow my cover. I remember one time I was coughing and feeling exhausted at work (in dire need of chicken noodle soup) and that day a hot dog was served in the cafeteria. I just didn’t want to eat that lunch, but I did. My body craved hot broth, but it wasn’t on the menu.
If I get sick in the Fall, I can take some chicken soup with me in this container and supplement my school lunch. I like knowing that I have that to fall back on.

By the way it’s so easy to make your own chicken stock. You just simmer a roasted chicken carcass with some veggies for a few hours. I do that with roasted chickens I buy at the store. We eat roasted chicken for a couple days and then I make stock with it. I freeze large bags of pre-measured stock for making soups later.

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This morning I’m fasting and on my way to the hospital for blood work to see if anything has changed over the past six months of eating school food for lunch. I assume that there will be no change in my labs, but we will see. As soon as I know something I will share it with you.

The perfect chocolate chip cookie

A very good friend visited who I hadn’t seen for a long time. She came bearing cookies her boyfriend baked for us. Can you say marry that man NOW?! (Aside to my friend: he doesn’t have to know you’re marrying him for the cookies…it can be a secret between you, me and my other three readers!) 
Look at how beautiful this cookie is… You know, it was a real chocolate chip cookie. One that tasted as if shortening was an ingredient (I don’t know if it was though). Nabisco’s Chips*Ahoy can’t hold a candle to this man’s cookie skillz. I’m going to have to get that recipe! Actually I know she reads the blog so maybe she can post it in the comments?
Needless to say the little treasures didn’t last long. I took a picture of the last cookie, which was consumed within 1.2 seconds after I took the shot. Hmm, I need to invite this friend and her boyfriend over more often…

Guest Blogger: Better Bagged Lunches (now for eating at home)

Mrs. Q: Things got away from me and I meant to put this guest blog post up while I was still in school. Thankfully these suggestions can be incorporated very easily into lunches made at home over the summer. And now without further delay…

Better (not boring) Bagged Lunches (now at home!)

I grew up eating bagged lunch every day, save for a few days in elementary school when I begged my mom to let me buy pizza for lunch. I believe that packing my lunch, among many other healthy habits I learned while growing up, led me to have a career as a Registered Dietitian.
One healthy tip I like to stress with my clients is for them to pack their own lunch as much as possible instead of going out for lunch, since you’ll always eat healthier and more portion controlled when you have control over what goes into your lunch. The same holds true for students and school lunches. Unless they’re attending one of the few schools that has made healthier school lunches a priority, they’re likely faced with salt and sugar stuffed lunches with few nutrients to get their minds and bodies through the school day.
Sending your child to school armed with a healthy lunch in hand can be the best way to ensure she’s getting the nutrients she needs for a better brain and body. The best lunches will have a combination of good grains (whole wheat bread, tortillas, pita pockets, pasta), protein (yogurt, peanut butter, lean meat, beans, hummus) and a fresh fruit or veggie. Don’t forget to pack a frozen drink or ice pack to keep cold foods chilled.
Bagged lunches don’t have to be made up of soggy sandwiches and lackluster leftovers. Here are some fun (and nutritious!) bagged lunch ideas to pack with your kids and make them long for lunch:
·        Fruity yogurt parfait: In a Tupperware container, layer reduced fat yogurt with fresh berries. Pack a snack back of whole grain cereal on the side so your child can sprinkle it on top of the parfait and scoop it up with a spoon.
·        Veggie platter: Pack a sectioned Tupperware container with veggie sticks like cucumbers and bell peppers, whole wheat pita chips, hummus, feta cheese, and grapes so your little one can dip into this Mediterranean-style meal (and eat with his fingers, too!).
·        Roll-ups: With a long carrot stick in the center, roll two layers each of low sodium deli turkey with reduced fat cheese and a whole wheat tortilla on the outside. Your child will have fun eating this sandwich roll-up with a surprise crunch from the carrot in the center.
·        Sweet sandwich: If PB&J is getting boring, try another sweet sandwich filler by using fresh berries. Spread a roll or bread slices with light cream cheese or Laughing Cow Light cheese and top with strawberry slices or pitted cherries (pictured here) for a sweet treat. This sandwich might be a best bet in schools that have outlawed peanut products.
·        Personal pizza: If your kid is a fan of cold pizza, why not pack some for lunch? Top a whole wheat Sandwich Thin or pita pocket with some pizza sauce, light shredded cheese, veggies and beans.
·        Pasta salad surprise: Packing pasta salad is a great way to use up leftover pasta, veggies, beans or lean meat. Toss all of the above ingredients together with some Italian dressing for a quick and tasty pasta salad meal.
Try packing lunch in the evening with your child so you can still send him or her off to school with a healthy lunch, even on the busiest of mornings. Don’t forget to throw in some snacks and beverages to keep those tiny tummies satisfied all day.
Janel Ovrut MS RD LDN is a Boston-based Registered Dietitian who is passionate about helping others make healthy changes, one bite at a time. You can read her blog Eat Well with Janel or follow her on Twitter.

Part Two: What have I learned? (so far)

a continuation from Part One

4) Kids don’t get enough time to eat and to run around. As one reader noted, no matter how good the food is you can’t eat it in 20 minutes or less. At my school it’s 20 minutes for lunch including lining up and throwing it out. And no recess?! That bothers me too. I have a feeling that this will change because it’s the right thing to do. Personally, I don’t mind if it’s a longer school day; I’m devoting my career to kids so it’s a no brainer (Readers, thanks for reminding me of this one — what a “duh” moment that I forgot to include it in the original list).

Life lessons

1) Many times over the course of my life, I have heard Margaret Mead quoted, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” One person can make a difference. When I think about what the blog has done in six months, I can’t believe it. My life will never be the same. I hope that you can find some inspiration in my actions as well.

2) Do the important stuff first. I have had to be more organized than you can imagine. But my family and of course my job always have come first. Then the blog. What is surprising — I have more time than I thought. It’s amazing how much time I was “wasting” before.

3) I value food more. What I’m eating at home (and at restaurants) has not changed dramatically, but how I think about food has. I care about what I eat. Sustenance has taken on new shades of meaning. Food is life.

4) My confidence has increased. I believe that any time a person takes a risk, it’s a new opportunity for personal growth. Although I have might have put my job and some friendships on the line by undertaking the project, I feel better about myself as a person because it’s for the greater good.

5) I feel better about humanity. I’ve always loved to hear people’s stories especially those stories that are underrepresented in our world. I can guarantee you that every child in my school has a story to tell and I love hearing about their lives, their family constellations, and what they enjoy doing every day. When readers comment and share their perspectives about school lunch, life, and their childhoods, I feel better about this world. School lunches will get better for kids if there are this many concerned adults.

Open thread: Vegetarians, vegans, and people with food allergies

A little late with the open thread today. I’m busy doing summer things and getting out. It’s great not to feel like I have to tackle the laundry and the grocery shopping right away. Just a relaxing weekend…

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I’m amazed when I dine with one of my many vegetarian friends (I don’t have any vegan friends) how challenging it can be for them to find something appropriate to eat. And another of my friends has Celiac’s Disease. She has such few options in most restaurants that she really can’t eat out at all.

The reason I’m “lumping” these people together is that finding appropriate food outside of the home is very hard for all of them. And then what happens at school? My friend with Celiac’s found out in college so she didn’t have to navigate the public school system with a special dietary need. But I wonder what people have to go through to eat in school cafeterias…

Most schools do offer a “meatless” alternative (cheese sandwiches, pb&j sandwiches, maybe bean burritos if you are lucky), but “meatless” is often not synonomous with “quality” (as I witnessed, and digested, firsthand). I’m not saying that schools should have to “cater” to kids with allergies every day. But I believe that what I have been eating at school is very wheat and meat heavy. Couldn’t that be scaled back a bit? I’m wondering how kids with special dietary needs survive in the cafeteria.

Summer lunch: restaurant tacos

Out to lunch – Three al pastor (seasoned pork) tacos with cilantro and lime, refried beans, rice, water – $10

I wanted to get tacos yesterday but something came up. So today was the day. I love this place, but I don’t get over to it very often (I will reveal the name one day…). I squeezed the lime wedges on the tacos lime juice was dripping everywhere and I was forced to lick lime juice off of my fingers!  A very sensory meal (quite the opposite of a school lunch). Cilantro and lime are a perfect match. The tacos were a splurge cost-wise, but a delicious treat after a long school year. Refried beans are one of my favorite foods.
Because some of you have mentioned an interest in what I will eat for lunch over the summer, whenever possible I will post photos of my home lunches and lunches eaten in restaurants. Today’s lunch was takeout as I couldn’t stay and eat it at the restaurant, which is very small anyway.
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I had my doctor’s appointment today. My husband and I see the same doctor and we really like him. I told him about the project. He told me “that’s very noble of you.” I’ll tell you about it in a separate post about my health.