Salad bars in schools — UCLA researchers

Here’s a photo I took of a little bitty article in the April 2010 issue of Cooking Light. I’m not sure if you can read it so I’ll summarize: UCLA researchers found that fruit and veggie consumption rose roughly 25% after salad bars were placed in three schools (small sample size, but encouraging nonetheless). They suggest that “poor eating habits at school may in part be the fault of poor selection, not resistance to fresh food.”

I’d like to read more about this exact study, but I couldn’t find any other information online. I’d love to see more research on salad bars in schools with more schools than three participating. Also the article also doesn’t specify elementary or high school, which is important!

I think the people behind A Salad Bar in Every School would love to read about this research. I want my school to get a salad bar!

Be Q

This summer you are on a mission. A special possibly secret mission. I want you to challenge yourself to do something crazy and different. Get out of your comfort zone and go on a journey. Do whatever you want to do, hopefully in a way that can help others.

Life is too short not to do something wild. Don’t take no for an answer. Go for it!

Be a “Mrs. Q.” Be Q

Day 101: chicken nuggets

Today’s menu: chicken nuggets, two slices of bread, carrots, fruit cup, milk
The bread/nugget combo is bizarre, but that’s USDA regulations for grain for ya! I ate everything… and I’m done for the school year! **happy dance**

***

I want to dedicate this project to two groups of people. Of course I’m doing this for the kids at my school. My own child was my inspiration, but what has kept me going are the faces of my students especially when I watch them line up for lunch. Hunger, eager, and just plain cute. I don’t want to generalize because there is a tremendous amount of diversity at my school, but on the whole the students at my school have working class parents. Parents who work for the McDonald’s at O’Hare, Taco Bell, Old Country Buffet, Starbucks, etc; parents who work the night shift at Target; parents who work second or third shift at various factories (one parent makes clothing); parents who are day laborers; parents who are in school studying nursing or accounting or medical assisting to make a better life for the family; parents on welfare; parents in gangs; parents with serious disabilities; parents who clean your office at night… People who don’t have a ton of money and are doing the best they can. My students are no less deserving of quality food than any other American kids.

And I also want to dedicate the project to all lunchroom staff including “lunch ladies” and food service professionals who are busting their asses to feed millions of needy kids every day. Lunch ladies don’t have any power to make changes and certainly don’t get much respect considering the amazing work they do. Too many kids go to bed hungry and lunch ladies are there to offer a hot meal and a friendly face to the kids that need it the most. The lunchroom manager at my school has personal relationships with some of the “troubled youth” at my school. I know that makes a big difference in their lives even if they only get to chat briefly in the lunchroom once a day. It only takes one staff member in the school to make an impact on the life of one student and sometimes it’s not their classroom teacher. I mentioned before that my school is not air conditioned…well, can you imagine the kitchen? If you have ever worked in food service you know that it is hard, sweaty work but without air conditioning? Anyway, I want to thank them.
***
So if you visit the blog for the daily school lunches, this is it until the Fall. I’m excited that tomorrow I can go to work and not eat school lunch. In fact, over my lunch break I’m probably going to get real tacos at a little hole in the wall that I absolutely adore that’s not too far away. It’s a special treat…my mouth is already watering…el pastor with cilantro. I wish you could join me!

The rest of this week I’m going to blog more about “what I’ve learned” about the project, a June recap, and I’m going to want your nominations for June’s titanium spork. My doctor’s appointment is scheduled for Friday and the allergist on Monday so I’ll update you on my health next week (I really don’t expect to see major changes in my health).

I will cell phone blog every couple days. I’m available by email for any questions…I’m thinking about organizing some kind of massive free conference call about school lunches. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Some additional guest bloggers will contribute sporadically and then in July and August I will be blogging about my volunteering experience. So check back in with me over the summer to see what I’m up to.

Thanks so much for your support and for participating along with me. It has meant the world to me to read your encouraging emails. This has been a really, really long 101 days of school lunches. There is no doubt in my mind — I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

Children’s Food Bill of Rights by Mrs. Q

I can’t find anything remotely similar to this online so I wrote it myself:

Children’s Food Bill of Rights

(Assumptions: Children are not small adults, but are growing and developing. Additionally children are not responsible for what they can eat as it is provided by parents and schools.)

1) Parents have the right to advocate for their children because children have no voice or real power.

2) Children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in the food choices adults make on their behalf.

3) Parents and schools have the obligation to seek out the healthiest and freshest food available to optimize the development of children.

4) Children must eat food free of contaminants including but not limited to toxic metals (such as lead), trans fats, and fillers and as well as artificial sweeteners and preservatives where possible.

5) Children should not be targeted by fast food advertisements from corporations. See Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood

6) Parents have the right to access all nutritional information for the foods that their children eat regardless of where it is consumed (school, community, home).

7) Children regardless of poverty level should have equal access to fresh food at minimum when they are on school grounds.

8) Fast food corporations will be banned from any participation on school grounds including food service and “gift card” rewards.

9) Children have the right to nutritional education including information about healthy eating based on the latest in nutritional science and evidence-based research and if possible basic cooking skills provided by schools in situations where parents are unable to do so.

10) Children have the right to enough time to properly consume a meal without being rushed. The time to consume a meal shall include time to quietly socialize with thier peers or those they are at the table with.

11) Children also have the right to utensils, including, at the proper age, forks and knives.

12) Children have the right to interact with soil and seeds in the classroom or in a school or home garden wherever possible.

Anything else you would like to see changed or added to the list?

Day 100: peanut butter and jelly

Today’s menu: peanut butter and jelly, carrots, fruit juice, milk

I knew this meal was coming because there was an announcement stating that the menu was changed for today. If you remember what happened the last time I ate this meal (the one and only time I got sick), you know that I was looking forward to it… For the first time during the project I packed a more substantial snack (more than just my usual apple and granola bar — a veggie salad) so that I could eat something in case I didn’t want to eat the school lunch. When I saw the sandwich wrappers, I wasn’t prepared for my visceral reaction: No way. I just didn’t want to eat them again.

But I took them like a dutiful student and ate everything else first. When I finally took the wrapping off of the pb&j bars and the smell of commercial peanut butter wafted out. I could only take a nibble. (I know that I have some readers that love these sandwiches though)
I find it ironic that this is the school lunch I ate for number 100! How perfect, right?
***
Today I felt down. I’m saying goodbye to my coworkers for the summer. I include the lunchroom staff in that group. I hope that when/if my real identity comes out they don’t feel betrayed and angry, but I expect that would be how they would feel. I feel like a jerk for doing this project when I think about how they might react. At the very least they might feel a loss of trust in me as a person. Think about everything I have done on the blog while still looking them in the face during the day. I hope that they forgive me. Over the course of the project, I have gone through many cycles of doubt. Hopefully it will pass.
My husband reassured me that I haven’t done anything wrong, but I just feel like a crummy person today.

I certainly don’t view myself as a “hero” so don’t misread this, but I think I fit into the “reluctant hero archetype.” So much of me doesn’t really want to do this project, but I feel compelled to do it morally. I am the right person to do this (you’d have to know me to know this for sure), but I have to remind myself.

***
But it’s not all doom and gloom around here. Tomorrow is the last day of school for kids and the last day of lunches for me. Can I get a “hell yeah!?” Yippee!

Guest blogger: Amy Kalafa, Two Angry Moms

Guest blogger:  Filmmaker, Amy Kalafa, Two Angry Moms
Amy Kalafa is a mother of two, a documentary filmmaker, certified health coach, organic gardener and a Lecturer in the Yale University Department of Medicine and Psychiatry.
There’s an irony about the clandestine nature of Mrs. Q’s blog.  Why are photos of school lunch in America so forbidden that those who publish them must remain anonymous? 
When I set out to make a film about the topic of school food, I wanted to know what I could do as a parent, to help make it better.  My requests for permission to film in school cafeterias were met with paranoia and bureaucratic rhetoric from most schools, which gave me reason to believe they had something to hide.
The good news is that I was able to find schools that were proud enough of their meal programs to let me in and film them.  The resulting movie, Two Angry Moms, does indeed expose the horrors of school food and explains how it got to be so bad.  The film also shows the impact highly processed, nutrient deficient food has on kids.  Most of the film, however, focuses on what parents around the country are doing to improve school food. 
I learned that the movement for better food in schools has been going on since it got so bad in the 1970’s.  The moms and dads, chefs and teachers I met, who were fighting for the health of America’s kids, inspired me. The model programs I documented began to reveal a pattern in the steps these communities had taken.
Parents got organized, they took on different roles in the movement, they created surveys, they used the media, they rewrote School Wellness Policies and contracts, they worked with teachers, staff and students to introduce them to new, fresh, healthier whole foods. 
Almost every school that eventually changed the cafeteria fare started with an edible school garden – a concept most recently pioneered by Chef Alice Waters of Berkeley, California fame.  I filmed her famous Edible Schoolyard and other less legendary but equally successful efforts.  These scenes – of kids gardening, cooking, tasting and enjoying beautiful fresh foods convinced me that participation is the key. 
As I travel around the country showing the film, I am often told that it’s the parents who are responsible for the way kids eat today. I don’t disagree.  Yet, it’s the school’s job to educate our kids, not go along with harming them because that’s what their parents may inadvertently do.  We don’t allow teachers to smoke in school, even if they may do so in their own homes around their own kids!  Instead, we educate the children and model healthy behaviors in hopes that they will take those behaviors home and influence the whole family.
Administrators, dieticians and food service directors will say that when they try to get kids to eat better choices, the food sales go down.  Yet the districts that have made better food a priority by eliminating unhealthy choices in favor of real, fresh, whole foods consistently report that sales go back up after a while.  In my own experience, peer pressure works in positive as well as negative ways.  I’ve seen kids eat zucchini and broccoli on a dare, then realize that, “it’s not bad!”
I want to encourage all of you who follow Mrs. Q’s exposé to turn those feelings of revulsion when you see the food porn photos into action. You can host a screening of Two Angry Moms in your own school district – at home, at your local library, or in the school cafeteria!  Hosting a screening is a great way to form a local network, to organize in your district and to plan a series of actions that will help turn your school’s food environment from shameful to sustainable.  Visit www.angrymoms.org to learn more.
We also have a dedicated social network to help you find and communicate with other “angry moms”  (and dads) in your area and around the world.  You can join for free and create your own local discussion group if you don’t already find one on the site.  Visit www.angrymoms.groupsite.com and you’ll find discussions on school gardens and national legislative efforts as well.
I had the honor of speaking with Mrs. Q by phone the other day.  She admitted to being a bit overwhelmed and stressed by all the attention her blog has received.  I hope when she’s ready, Mrs. Q will become a leader of the movement for better school food in her district and in America. I told her about my friend, Jackie Schneider, a teacher who did the same thing in England.  Jackie almost lost her job when she was found out, but the British media made Jackie a local hero and ultimately saved her job and launched her national platform. Jackie now has a blog http://jackiesschoolfoodblog.blogspot.com/ and her parents’ group has a website http://www.mertonparents.co.uk that still shows pictures of the school food – only now you can see how far they’ve come!
We still have a very long way to go in our country. We need more scientific studies, and law suits and legislation, but most of all we need parents and teachers like Mrs. Q to keep on speaking up for the health of America’s kids.

Day 99: cheese sandwich

Today’s menu: Cheese sandwich, tater tots, pretzels, nectarine, milk

I don’t like processed cheese so I couldn’t finish the sandwich. I left the middle, which was thick with cheesy goop. And I didn’t feel like pretzels so I didn’t eat them. I put them aside for a snack, but they just sat there all day. I ate the nectar-apple though. Part of why I thought this was a peach (when I had it last week) was that it is so crunchy. I’ve been lucky in life because I have always eaten nectarines that disintegrated into juice and pulp upon first bite. Nectarines were so messy that my mom would avoid buying them. But the sweet juice trickling down my neck and stickying up my hands was a simple pleasure. This piece of fruit was more like a crunchy apple: my first bite snapped off (I ate the whole nectar-apple).

By 3pm I was absolutely ready to eat my own arm off. But today I did not have a headache even though I didn’t drink my usual vast quantity of water. Makes me wonder what is causing my headaches.

***

I went to the grocery store today after work and I almost bought myself a bouquet of flowers. There were big bouquets, but I liked the carnations and sprays of mini-roses. I changed my mind because I have not completely finished this school year. I’m not suspicious, but just a realist. When you are a parent, you take nothing for granted. For example, the kid sleeps through the night and you can’t believe your luck. You never *assume* that tonight or the next night will be good: you are simply grateful for having had one amazing night of rest. Similarly every day I eat school lunch I’m grateful I’m moving forward with the project and relieved that I didn’t get found out. I get another day of reprieve. Wednesday might be 101 school lunches…

So I’ll leave the celebrating for Friday when I’m done….if I make it there… What would you do this weekend if you were me?

***

A devoted twitter follower @stepshep notified me about a story on NPR about high lead levels in fruit cups and fruit juices. Here’s the pdf with the listing of products (brands your family most likely consumes).

Fantastic news. In case you need a refresher on what lead does to children, check out these links:
Lead poisoning in children, Toxicity, Lead and Lead-info.com Crib notes: permanent, irreversible learning deficits. AHA! That explains a lot…. like my headaches?

***

An anonymous commenter said, “Part of the reason the healthcare system is is a financial crisis is people getting tests (bloodwork, MRI’s, etc) that aren’t necessary. Even if your out of pocket cost is low, the money for those unnecessary tests comes from SOMEWHERE. If you totally pay out of pocket… that’s a different story. 🙂 Just saying… our healthcare dollars go somewhere and I’m not sure that unnecessary bloodwork on a healthy 30-something woman is the place it should go.”

I am certain that the tests will not be covered by insurance, especially considering I just had the same tests run six months ago. I know I’m going to have to pay out-of-pocket for them and that is fine. I hope that the tests prove to be “unnecessary” but I think I need to know. Furthermore, I think everyone should get bloodwork done every year because we need to prevent illness. The American health system is overly focused on “saving” people from terrible diseases not preventing them through common sense.
Thanks to everyone who alerted me to the A1C test. I have never heard of it, but I will bring it up to my doctor. I’m wondering if I have become more insulin resistant. And I’m now thinking I need to have my lead levels checked as well.

***

I was honored to be invited to join the BlogHer network. What that means is that I can choose what type of ad appears on the blog (no pizza or other topics that are not in step with my goals). While I figure out if I like BlogHer, I’m going to keep Google Adsense too. The reason I do ads is to recoup the cost of the lunches and any out of pocket health expenditures. I’m also hoping to raise enough to fund a salad bar at my school when I complete the project.