Soup up my lunch: Chicken sausage

From top left (clockwise): package of baby carrots, empty chicken sausage package, bottle of honey, my lunch plate, bowl of yogurt

So Greek yogurt isn’t that bad. After I found the honey (hidden behind a bunch of stuff in the cupboard), I drizzled it and stirred vigoriously to mix it all up. So I learned that greek yogurt cannot be just plopped onto a plate or into a bowl. You MUST stir it. It tasted pretty good.

We love these AmyLu chicken sausages. The apple and gouda cheese kind is really terrific. I like to fry them in a pan with a little olive oil. When you bite into the sausage, the little pockets of cheese explode in your mouth. My husband and I are big fans of sensory meals.

I improvised a bun with my sandwich thin (EarthGrains) and some cheese, sliced up half an avocado and added some baby carrots. I enjoyed this lunch a lot. I know I’m missing a fruit though. What would change about this meal?

(I ate this lunch last week by the way — delayed posting)

Guest blogger: Sugar and school lunch

Hi I’m Christa O’Brien. I’m a full-time working mother of two young boys who is trying to get her family off processed foods while also getting her kids more intimately involved with the food that they eat. My blog Table of Promise is my attempt to document what we are eating and to investigate food and answer my questions of how and why it is made the way it is.

I have been following Mrs. Q’s blog for the last couple of months. I am very passionate about food, particularly whole foods and non processed foods, and I have two young boys so I am very interested in what my kids are eating. But my kids are young; they are just turning one and three this summer. So the School Lunch Debate hasn’t quite reached me on a personal level. But I see it looming on the horizon.

I read all of Mrs. Q’s postings and sometimes I comment, but last week something Ed Bruske said in his guest blog sent me on an Internet information hunt. He mentioned that on a trip to his daughter’s school he saw children eating breakfast. Sugary cereals, flavored milk, pop tarts, orange juice??!! Children eating 15 teaspoons of sugar with their breakfast??!! In case you are like me and need to look up the conversion of that number, that is more than a quarter of a cup of sugar. I found this shocking. When I attended public school we were served a hot lunch but breakfast was just starting to be served in Memphis City Public Schools and if I remember correctly you had to qualify economically for the service.
Sugar is a problem in my house. Everything seems to be sugary. Even though we strive for quality food, I know we are still eating too much sugar. Between waffles, fruit, honey on yogurt and treats for good behavior it seems like everything that actually gets ingested has been sweetened. My toddler’s behavior is definitely negatively affected by refined sugar. So I cannot imagine what a group of 500-600 school kids must be like after ingesting a quarter of a cup of sugar each with little or no fiber to offset it’s absorption. Ed’s words really opened my eyes to what it would be like to hand my child over to the public school system in two short years.
But how could this be possible? How could so much sugar get into the hands of little people when the conventional wisdom is that sugar needs to be eaten in moderation? I took to the internet and uncovered many facets to the story.
Table sugar as we know it comes from sugar cane and sugar beets. The domestic supply of refined sugar is about 50-50 cane and beets. About 10% of the entire domestic sugar supply comes from the state of Florida alone.  In 1934 the US government was eager to shore up agriculture prices as a result of the depression. They created the country’s first U.S. Sugar policy. This policy is still in place today.  The policy sets a price floor for sugar that is grown and sold domestically. Currently the floor price is about three times higher than the world market price. The policy also sets limits on imported sugar by country of origin. Many sugar cane and sugar beet farms in the US are controlled directly by the refiners and so high prices are a huge profit booster for these companies. The price floor encourages overproduction which is of course detrimental for the soil but also world agriculture prices. So much extra sugar depresses world prices and sugar producers in other countries struggle to break even after the excess US sugar is dumped abroad.
‘But’, you ask, ‘if sugar is so expensive in this country, Then wouldn’t that make sugary foods like candy and soda more expensive thus regulating supply and demand?’ Yes, in fact it did for a number of years (and still does for many various industries that rely on crystallized sugar). Now enter high-fructose corn syrup.
The way the government regulates prices on sugar is altogether different than how it regulates other commodities like corn and soybeans and cotton. With corn for example, the government subsidizes farmers directly. This also encourages overproduction, but because no price floor is set, the more corn there is the lower the price. This situation makes corn very plentiful and very inexpensive. The government has been subsidizing farmers directly since the New Deal Era, but as a result of the recession of the mid-1970s food prices soared and so did subsidies. The government did this specifically to lower the price of food. And boy did it work. Americans currently spend less than 10% of their annual income on food. That is less than virtually all industrialized nations.
In relation to the sugar issue, there was a lot of cheap corn lying around that needed to be consumed. The problem was that regular old corn syrup isn’t a good sugar substitute because it doesn’t taste as sweet as table sugar to the human tongue. But in 1957 scientists further refined regular corn syrup (almost entirely glucose) and broke the syrup down into essentially liquid fructose. The original corn syrup was then mixed with the liquid fructose and boom, high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS was amazing because it was easily transportable and worked perfectly in all wet applications like soda and batter based baked goods.
Now, every strong commodity needs a good lobby in Washington, right? In 1943 the Sugar Association was formed, as they say on their website, to promote “…[the] educating [of] health professionals, media, governmental officials and the public about sugar’s goodness”. They happen to be a very strong lobby. Some recent activities of the Sugar Association: in 2003 the WHO was set to unveil a new set of dietary guidelines. One of the recommendations was that not more than 10% of a person’s daily caloric intake should come from sugar. The Sugar lobby was furious. They contacted WHO directly saying that they had a report from the Institute of Medicine stating that it was perfectly safe to have sugar comprise 25% of a person’s daily calories. Furthermore, the Sugar lobby contacted then US Health Secretary  Tommy Thompson. They recommended to Thompson that all further US funding of WHO be dependent upon WHO’s agreement that they base their recommendations on science.  And through these actions, WHO was pressured into silence on the sugar matter. They changed the wording on their recommendations about sugar to reference a numbers of time per day that sugar could be eaten but no amounts are mentioned. Even Harvey Fineberg, the then president at the IOM who oversaw the study the Sugar Association was referencing, contacted US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson to say that his institute’s report was being misinterpreted.
This omission of sugar in the national food conversation is directly related to School Lunch. The Sugar Association has successfully lobbied the USDA to remove any mention of added sugars in their food pyramid and other nutritional literature. I was surprised to see this as truth when I went to www.myfoodpyramid.gov. Remember when you were in grade school learning about the food pyramid and there was a tiny triangle at the top that said ‘use added fats, oils and sweets sparingly’? That tiny sliver is no longer there. Today’s food pyramid talks only about fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat. But with so many foods like ‘drinkable fruit’ that likely has added sugar, a lot of pertinent information is getting lost in the shuffle. Even the new Child Nutrition Act that is now working its way through the halls of Washington mentions no regulation of sugar.
Mrs. Q has talked a lot about funny grains popping into a meal, like an extra piece of bread here or a cookie there. Schools are required to adhere to the food pyramid serving requirements when planning school lunches. But with sugar being virtually removed from the governmental dialogue on food suddenly a school could technically view a cookie in the same way they would a serving of rice. Any normal thinking person would see there is a problem in the way the national guidelines are being executed.
Bruske stated in an recent piece for Grist Magazine that some schools who had analyzed their breakfast program found that over 44 percent of the total calories came from sugar. The USDA nutrition guidelines state that only about 10% of one’s daily calories are discretionary, meaning only 10% can come from relative non-nutritive sources like solid fats and sugar. The rest need to come from sources that are providing your body with nutrients, protein, vitamins and minerals.  So many people today do not truly understand that calories and nutrient quality do not necessarily go hand in hand. It is not enough to feed our children the requisite number of calories. We must provide them with quality food that has nutrients that will allow their bodies and brains to develop optimally. With the mindset that all foods are equal among their classification (fruit, vegetable, grain, etc) you will forever get a combination of cheap substandard foods.
The truth is, not all foods are created equal. I must give credit to the folks like Ed Bruske, Ann Cooper, Alice Waters, Jaime Oliver and the like who are teaching those who need it about how to cook for our children. I believe that many people fervently want the kind of school lunch reform that will put fresh foods on the plates of our children. But clearly regulation alone hasn’t worked because food service companies and underfunded school systems have continued to find ways to under serve children’s needs even in the face of regulation. My hat is off to those who are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work to teach us how to accomplish this monumental task.
One last positive note: I was pleased to read on Ed Bruske’s blog last week that the DC school system has banned flavored milks beginning with the 2010-11 school year! Congratulations to all who worked hard to make it happen!
Notes:
Bruske, Ed. SWEET AND LOW The Sweetener lobby: still a power house in the school lunch debate. Grist: A Beacon in the Smog. www.grist.org 19 Apr 2010.
Nestle, Marion. Sugary school meals hit lobbyists sweet spot. www.SFGate.com 2 May, 2010.
Virata, Gillian. The Effects of the U.S. Sugar Policy.  www.internationalecon.com 9 June, 2010.
Sugar sweet by nature. www.sugar.org/aboutus  9 June, 2010.
Sugar Association. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia www.wikipedia.org 9 June,2010.
Sugar and Sweeteners. USDA Economic Research Service. www.ers.gov 9 June 2010
Agricultural Subsidy. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. www.wikipedia.org 9 June 2010
High-fructose corn syrup. Wikipedia-The Free Encyclopedia. www.wikipedia.org 11 June 2010
Big Sugar. The Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com 16 April 2005
Boseley, Sarah. Sugar Industry threatens to scupper WHO. The Guardian. www.guardian.co.uk 21 Apr 2003

June recap

Six months down…

June stats:

12 school lunches eaten:
(2 – pizza lunches)
(3 – burger-like lunches)
(2 – chicken lunches)
(1 – hot dog lunch)
(1 – pasta lunches)
(1 – PB and J sandwich)
(1 – chili)
(1 – cheese sandwich)

***

(5 – fruit cups)
(6 – carrots)
(0- apples)
(1 – bananas)
(2 – beans)
(1 – broccoli)
(1 – orange)
(0 – green beans)
(1 – fruit jello)
(2- tater tots)
(1 – corn)
(1 – fruit icee)
(0 – peas)
(0 – pears)
(0 -greens)

***

  

What I posted in June:

Summer plans – I’m doing some cool stuff that I’ll tell you about in detail later in the summer.

Children’s Food Bill of Rights
Be Q – I challenge you to do something different this summer
Salad bars in schools – an article I found

Summer lunch: restaurant tacos – those tacos were amazing…
The perfect chocolate chip cookie – recipe in the comments!  
Fuel thermos – something I bought for hot soup
Hospital breakfast – a meal I ate in the hospital
The results are in…my health is…

Soup up my lunch posts:

Guest bloggers:
College cafeteria food
Reducing cafeteria waste
Ronald McDonald
Ed Bruske, The Slow Cook
Amy Kalafa, Two Angry Moms
Better Bagged Lunches
Step-mom with veggies at school
Convenience store gluttony

Denver area school lunch experience

***

Open threads in June:
Summer food festivals and favorite farmer’s markets
School lunch reformers
Vegetarians, vegans, and people with food allergies
Beverages at school

***

What I learned about myself:

  • Thanks for your comments and emails. They mean the world to me.
  • I still am proud of myself for doing this blog project and balancing the rest of my real life responsibilities. I don’t know how I find the time.
  • I ate through half a year of school lunches! And my health didn’t suffer too badly in the short run..
I’m always open to
  • guest bloggers who care about school lunch issues
  • international perspectives on lunches at school
  • your thoughts and feedback

***

Coming in July: Random school lunch and children’s food-related photos, more “soup up my lunch,” AND I’m taking a vacation…

Dear USDA,

I love writing letters and own a ton of stationery. I write to friends, family and my representatives (though since having a kid and doing the blog, a lot less frequently). So I decided to compose a thoughtful note to the Secretary of Agriculture. I plan on dropping it in the mail on Tuesday (no mail on Monday in case you were wondering). If you see any typos, please let me know…

PS. Earlier on in the project I wrote a handwritten letter to First Lady Obama, but I never heard anything. Not surprising considering her workload.

Open thread: Declare your food independence!

I’m not talking Lent. I’m talking freeing yourself of something for good. In our family, we’re going to endeavor to go HFCS-free. I bet by doing that we’ll end up eating more whole foods.

It’s funny for me to say that because as I wrote in a previous post how about two years ago I thought one of my husband’s coworkers was a little crazy when she told us about the “dangers” of HFCS and how she was giving it up.

Are you declaring your food independence?

Guest blogger: Heated plastic

I love reading Mrs. Q’s blog and I love the attention it is bringing to school lunches! I am also an elementary teacher in a public school system. I teach in a year round school and I am always thankful for our students who get to come to school during the summer and don’t have to worry about being home alone and finding something to eat. In our cafeteria, the children serve themselves (all food is presented buffet-style). This was a shock to me when I started teaching in this district. I am all for independent kids, but what about germs!?!? There are sneeze guards, but they don’t serve any purpose when the students are so short!

I have a 15 month old daughter, who attends daycare each day. While her daycare provides two snacks a day, the parents provide lunches for their own children. In addition to packing her lunch, I also elect to send in her snacks. Their menu for snacks includes things like raw carrots and dip (which she can’t eat yet), pancakes, cheese quesadillas, oyster crackers, juice, etc. We don’t give her juice and try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. I’m lucky that she’s a good eater so I send in things like fresh fruit, beans, garden-burgers, cheese, yogurt, scrambled eggs, frozen veggies, etc. I’m also trying to be environmentally-friendly so I try to limit the use of zip-top bags and pack her food in reusable plastic containers instead. My problem is that I can’t send in glass (for obvious reasons), so I use a lot of these containers – which get heated up in the microwave at her school, washed in the dishwasher at home, and reused again the following week.

So, now I’m concerned about the chemicals emitted from the heated plastic. That leads me to my question for you, Mrs. Q. Have you thought about the plastic film and packaging that appears to be covering almost all heated items in your cafeteria? I’ve done very little research in what plastics are the worst for emitting chemicals when heated, and maybe the plastic used on your students’ lunches is supposed to be safe (should we believe that???), but that was the first thing I noticed when I started reading your blog. According to this website containing explanations for each number code for plastics (http://ecovillagegreen.com/903/what-do-the-plastic-recycling-numbers-mean/), “food wrap” could be #3 or #4. It says #3 shouldn’t touch food. It also states that the plastic used in reusable containers (#5) is supposedly “safe” when heated. Plastic bags are definitely NOT supposed to ever be heated (I saw my daughter’s teacher do this once when preparing the lunches and I cringed).

This article is very comprehensive about plastics and food exposure: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-testing/reviews-tests/kitchen-cooking/plastic-safety-heat-food It mentions that some #5 plastics (supposedly “safe”) tested positive for BPA. I would love any suggestions for containers I could use for my daughter’s meals because I am just not sure the reusable plastic containers are safe when heated. Are they going to discover another problem with another chemical in plastic in the future? I have thought about just serving her food cold. I’m not sure she’d mind and it would save a lot of worry on my end, but some food is just better warm. And, I think all children deserve the opportunity to eat good, healthy food – without added chemicals from plastics.

Mrs. S

***

Mrs. Q here — The school food I ate for six months usually came in sturdy little paper containers with something lining them and of course plastic over the top. I don’t like thinking about what chemicals line the containers. I don’t think those “ingredients” would show up on the standard blood tests!

Fruit juice boxes (and Walmart?)

Have you seen these billboards? I’ve seen a couple and I wanted to share what it says, “More fruit for their lunchbox. Now at Walmart.” In small print under the picture of the juice box it says, “1 1/2 servings of fruit.” I guess that Juicy*Juice is making larger juice boxes now…Sorry but I think this is a lame ad because who cares about bigger juice boxes?

Fruit juice counts as a “fruit” even per the USDA. From what little I know about nutrition, fruit contains fiber, which offsets the natural sugar in fruit. If you drink a glass of juice (or anything sugary), the sugar enters your bloodstream faster that if you ate a piece of fruit (I’m a believer in the Glycemic Index — when I’ve wanted to lose weight, it works well). Spikes in blood sugar cause spikes in insulin. Doing that repeatedly over time leads to insulin resistance. Even “100% juice” is not as good as actual fruit. But unknowing parents think that “100% juice” juice boxes are wholesome and at least as good as regular fruit.

Not to mention the “eco-friendly” choice for your daily fruit requirement should be actual fruit (less processing, less trucking, less gas).

What’s your opinion about juice boxes in lunches?

***

Not a big fan of Walmart. Why? Almost 20 years ago my mom owned a coffee shop in the small, but quaint downtown area of the town I consider myself from (we moved around a lot). Wal-mart set up camp practically outside the city limits. No one came downtown to shop and within a few years the downtown sort of dried up. My mother’s coffee shop went under as did other locally owned businesses. If you are concerned about what Wal-mart does, check out the work of Wake Up Walmart. Aside from squeezing out small business owners, Walmart’s wages are low enough that their employees qualify for food stamps and medicaid.

Thankfully the downtown area of my old hometown has made some changes to “the strip” and I think it is on an upswing. And my mom has moved on and changed careers, but her unique coffee shop was never replaced.

The results are in…. my health is….

After six months of eating school lunch, the blood work reveals….

…very few changes.

Check out my nifty embedded spreadsheet which shows the results of two previous years of lab testing (I am tested every year to get a discount on our health insurance). Skip to recap below if you want to…

The numbers:
Glucose – up by 5, but still within normal range
Cholesterol — down by 20 points (!!)
Blood pressure — no change
Weight — no change

“That’s noble of you,” commented my doctor when I told him about eating school lunches for six months. I sat nervously on the table confessing the project to him. He was kind and quite interested, “That’s like that chef on TV talking about school lunches.” Then he paused, “No, that’s like that that guy from Supersize Me. You know, he saw a lot of doctors.”

Well, it looks like I will not have to see a lot of doctors. I know many of you (and maybe me too) were looking for damning evidence in my lab work pointing to school lunches causing irreparable damage to me as well as all the school kids who consume the food.

Why no smoking gun?

I’m healthy and I was eating school lunches for only one meal per day. The lunches were kid-sized; it was automatic portion control. The lunches do meet the USDA guidelines…grumble, grumble.

When I’m at home I eat fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t drink alcohol, caffeine, soda or even milk. I drink tons of water.

The project has made food the focus of the past six months of my life. I worry more about what I’m putting into my mouth both during school and after hours. Weight loss experts advise dieters to maintain food journals when they are trying to cut calories. This blog is a twisted kind of food diary. I mean, I have never been more obsessive about cataloging my daily food intake.

You know my glucose went up by 5 mg/dl. Many of my readers suggested I get the A1C test and when I mentioned that to my doctor he remarked, “Only if you fail the fasting glucose would I order the A1C.”  My result was still within the normal range. Will my glucose slowly climb over the next six months? It’s hard to say.

Keep in mind that I’m not a child, but a healthy adult. We can only speculate how eating the 101 school lunches that I have eaten these past six months would affect children of all different shapes and sizes.

***

Honestly, I’m relieved. Although they can’t test for everything, it appears that at least on some measurements, I’m ok. I’d also like to add that since I have stopped eating school lunches, my IBS symptoms have basically disappeared. So there is *something* in those lunches that doesn’t agree with me.

When I left the examination room, my doctor explained to me the need to fast appropriately prior to the tests and then he added with a laugh, “And no chicken McNuggets!”

Hey, this blog project is not Supersize Me, so he doesn’t have to worry. Not to mention I never go to McDonalds.