Day 115: pizza (and French school lunches)

Today’s menu: sausage pizza, fruit cup, carrots, ranch dressing

Sausage pizza is a new one. Before it was “pepperoni” pizza, which referred to not large circles of pepperoni, but small squares of….who knows. (Click here to examine all the school lunch pizza I have eaten).

I ate everything and went on with my day. It’s not the worse lunch I’ve eaten and it’s not my favorite. There is nothing more to say. I plan on avoiding eating pizza at school permanently come 2011.

***

Recently many twitter followers notified me that on Sunday Morning there was a segment on school lunch. I clicked over and watched it here: France’s Gourmet School Lunches

I suggest you watch the whole thing. I was blown away and got choked up around minute 3:50, which was a weird place to get a lump in your throat as the chef was talking about fish stock and not wasting any part of the fish. I think it was the cumulative effect of everything they do for kids’ nutrition and all the lengths that the French people go to to feed their students in a way that is completely foreign to our way of eating.

At minute 5:30ish the American mom displays the menu for her son (attending French school) and calls it “a work of art.” Yeah, let’s see. They do it better over there. It’s kind of like they are living on another planet where they care and respect food AND the small people who eat it.

***

Tomorrow the Child Nutrition Act expires. Please do try again to notify your member of the House and suggest somebody do something. Is there something wrong with our country? Will an extra 6 cents per meal even help?

Day 114: sloppy joes (and the ups and downs of packing kids’ lunches)

Today’s menu: sloppy joes, whole wheat buns, beans and rice, unsweetened applesauce

Looky here, we have a new menu item again! Wow. The sloppy joe wasn’t baaad…but it was sure messy. I would have taken a picture if my hands weren’t covered in sloppy joe fixings. The “joe to bun” ratio was a little skewed in favor of the meat. I think I could have easily made two sandwiches with all the stuff I got. I didn’t have the chance to see the what the cafeteria looked like, but I bet it was a mess. Often I’ll see the students with big stains down their shirts after lunch, but today nothing stood out.

I have never eaten beans and rice mixed together in the same little package before. You can see (below) that the beans were a little on the dry side. I think they were seasoned, but they need some kind of sauce.

I’m happy that the applesauce was unsweetened and there were no dyes like before.

All and all: it’s very brown, but it wasn’t bad. (I like making sloppy joes at home with ground turkey)

***

Three little stories about packing lunch

One
A student of mine packs his lunch. Last week on pizza day I asked him what he had for lunch and he said, “My sandwich, half a pizza, and chips.” Now I wish I had asked what the kid who traded half the pizza got for it. Often one student will trade a main entree for a treat out of another student’s packed lunch.

Two
I chatted with a friend about her experience eating school lunch as a kid. She’s originally from Montana. She told me, “Hot lunch was for the poor kids. I always packed. Looking back I’m sure it was made onsite and was fresh.” Later when she did get lunch money, she remembers using it to buy large cookies from the window. “When I got lunch money, I would either buy one chocolate chip cookie and a soup or two large chocolate chip cookies. That would be my lunch. In high school it was open campus so I went out for fast food every day. My mom gave me $2 per day and I could get something at Hardee’s.” She is now a vegetarian so I found it surprising that she ate fast food every day.

At my high school, only seniors were allowed to leave for lunch and I did go out and get fast food. That was the only time in my life that I ate a lot of fast food. I was a student athlete so I’m sure I was burning those extra calories off too. Of course I thought I was fat, but that’s another issue!

Three
Ever since watching Food Inc, I have gotten serious about packing my son’s lunch for daycare. Before I would send the odd entree to substitute or augment a lunch at daycare, but now that I’m worried about things I saw in the movie, I’m taking it up a notch and sending a lunch every day. For example, my husband and I reviewed the daycare menu and realized that there was more ground beef than we’d really like him to be eating considering we don’t buy beef at the grocery store.

Before when the menu read, “Ground beef, rice, bananas, carrots,” I would have felt great about that because I assumed there was minimal processing involved for those items. Now I think about I can offer even healthier options. Actually that was today’s menu for lunch at daycare. Instead I sent cut-up organic chicken sausage, organic yogurt with organic raisins, and a mini-salad of cut up snap peas, sliced carrots and a sprinkling of organic micro-greens (he thinks they are look like “hearts”). I also left a note saying that he could eat the rice and the bananas from the original lunch. Thankfully I have a really good eater and they tell me that he eats everything.

The chicken or fish nugget lunches are no brainers (as in he’s getting something from home), but tomorrow’s lunch at daycare lists  “cheese sandwich and tomato soup.” That is one of my favorite combos to eat and my kid loves soup. I’m going to have to decide tonight whether I try to send soup or let him eat theirs, which won’t be organic. My kid loves soup.

Here’s another issue: they tell me he wants to have the same lunch as his friends. They are patient with him and like I said I know he’s a good eater and likes what I’m sending, but he wants the same as they have. They said he wanted a bite of a chicken patty. Yep, I was shot through the heart. One of his caregivers said to me, “It’s ok? I gave him some.” I guess it is since he already had it! Just kidding, I love his caregivers and trust them. If he’s hungry and wants food, I don’t want them to deny him.

I asked, “Did he eat what I sent?” And they said he likes all of it. Things I’m sending are lots of rice stir-frys with chicken and fish (for the main entree), an fresh fruit like pineapple and asian pears from our neighbor’s tree (they asked us over to pick and we have a bounty) and fresh veggies like shredded carrots stuffed with hummus in mini-pitas, cherry tomatoes, organic peas, sweet potatoes as well as sunflower seeds. I even purchased organic, antibiotic-free chicken nuggets at Whole Foods for the days that they do offer nuggets and he wants to be like his friends. It broke me to buy them, but I thought it best to have them on hand.

What has surprised me the most is that I love packing his lunch. At first I thought, what a hassle! But now I get pleasure thinking about him eating what I prepared for him. This is going to sound so sappy, but I get choked up thinking of him biting into a cherry tomato and saying, “suck seeds out!” (he is in the stage where he describes everything he is doing while he is doing it) or crunching on shredded carrots. Sharing a love of food with your kid is rewarding. I love thinking about him eating. He just started asking, “Dat good, Daddy?” and “Dat yummy, Mama?” when he is eating dinner and it’s just darling. He makes me smile. Food is personal and it’s lovely.

***

Thanks for all the great comments on yesterday’s post. I didn’t even state the obvious: chips AND fries! I know!

Regarding educational reform, I wanted to acknowledge a comment where someone described how hard it is for a teacher with a significant number of years in the system to just leave and go to another district. That’s because other districts may or may not recognize your previous years of teaching to give you credit for them.

The cut off that seems to be sticking in my brain is five years. Any school district will credit a teacher five years of previous teaching on the pay scale (but of course no “tenure” in the new district). But if a teacher wants to leave a district after 10 years, it’s possible that a teacher would lose five years of credit in another system. I don’t know enough about that to be an expert (do please fill me in), but I think that is part of the problem.

We all have to work together to solve (and save) education in this country…for all kids.

Day 113: bagel dog (with a side of educational reform)

Today’s menu: bagel dog, fries, sun chips, fruit cup (it was frozen — which doesn’t happen that often actually).
I’m not a fan of the bagel dog. It’s not “real” food in my opinion. But I ate it. Not all the bread though because it was mushy. The picture below is of the inside of the bagel dog. I crack it open on the side and dripped ketchup inside so there’s a little ketchup oozing out. You can see the dough is crumbly on top and mushy on the bottom.
I can’t remember the last time I got a fruit cup that was frozen, but this one was very cold. I didn’t eat it.
I ate the fries and the chips quickly. They were not memorable.
Today I did end up eating the meal with a coworker who offered me some of her salad. It looked tempting and a desperately craved something green, but I declined. But I came home and made a salad for dinner that contained boston lettuce, snap peas, red pepper, dried cranberries, almonds, organic micro greens, a little arugula, sliced carrots with chicken sausage and pitas. I needed to counter balance “the bland.”

***

“Bad teachers need to go!” I hear that a lot and I agree. Most teachers agree too. At my school there are a couple of teachers that have lost…their zest for the profession. I think they need to find other employment and it would improve morale of the remaining teachers and staff members. (A friend just saw “Waiting for Superman” and said it was good. I’d like to see it soon too and form my own opinion.)

But when we discuss “bad” teachers, we need to make sure that we don’t denigrate the teaching profession. It’s a tough job and I know that most teachers are working incredibly hard for their students. I know that the union of which I am part releases press statements that make me cringe. I don’t like their strong tone; it turns me off. On the other hand, I do want good teachers to get the respect they deserve for the work they do on behalf of children every day. There must be a happy medium where the union can stop sounding bellicose and the district can say more positive things about teachers and valuing their work.

What’s wrong with our educational system aside from a few bad teachers? How about class size? Research on class size  indicates that lower is better, but how low? For the early years of K through 2nd grade it needs to be 20 students or less for solid gains in achievement. At my school there are numbers are +/- 30 students in each classroom for those grades. That’s just not good enough if we want to make sure all students are learning.

Returning to my school in particular, I haven’t seen management take any step towards trying to make the “bad” teachers do anything extra to improve their technique. But I have seen management fire a different teacher with tenure in the past. Any guesses why? If you said “politics,” you would be right! (For reference, here’s my elementary description of tenure as how I understand it).

All I know is that when I think about school lunch reform it goes together with revamping education. It’s about re-imagining the school environment completely. I would like to see schools run under less of a business model and more like a medical model (which I touched on briefly before). Quick, accurate, individualized assessments first and then a substantial time spent “treating.” As it currently stands teachers spend too much time testing and lose precious instructional time with kids who don’t have enrichment opportunities at home.
If our country is really serious about educational reform, we need to get rid of bad teachers (which means tackling the union and getting them on board), reduce class size, improve school lunch, and provide recess. Where do we start first?

Open thread: Overwhelmed and down… but not out!

I saw How do you cope with toxic information overload? over on Healthy Child, Healthy World and it resonated with me. Having just watched Food, Inc last weekend, bad food, good food, ugly food has been on a loop over and over in my mind ever since. I thought that the movie wouldn’t bother me, but it hasn’t been that easy for me to move forward.

It’s really hard to keep all of that information contained in my brain and know what to do with all of it. I like how the author of the blog post on Healthy Child, Healthy World said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” It reminds of Oprah Winfrey’s saying, “When you know better, you do better.” I agree and I do better (what I can with what is under my own power). But I still admit to feeling totally flummoxed by the complexity of many of the issues regarding school food reform and education.

Recently I asked a friend, do you sympathize with children and babies more since becoming a mother? She answered with a resounding yes. That’s part of how and why I started this blog. Once that switch is turned on, it’s just not something you can turn off. Where I work I hear a lot of stories about children at my school. I could cry a thousand tears. One of my former coworkers once worked at a very rough school. She told me that when she became a mother she had to leave because she could no longer witness the neglect and feel powerless to change it.

How do you move on with knowledge that makes your head explode? I remember reading about the “fight or flight” response in a psychology class. Sometimes I want to fight, but sometimes I just want to run away….

Guest blogger: KaBoom!

In a recent article, “Fixing a World That Fosters Fat,” The New York Times tells us, “It’s the environment stupid.” And they have a point. While so much of the fight against childhood obesity is geared toward changing individual behavior – eat better, exercise more – these efforts are futile in an environment that makes following such advice difficult, if not impossible. 
Since the average student spends 1,170 hours per year in school, it seems obvious that our schools should be fostering healthy eating habits and giving kids ample time to run around and play. But as Mrs. Q knows better than anyone, many school lunches are packed with sugar, carbohydrates, and empty calories—and astoundingly devoid of those things we’re always told are “good for us,” like fresh fruits and vegetables. 
By the same token, as pressures to increase test scores only intensify, kids are being forced to sit for longer and longer periods of time. Despite overwhelming evidence that more physical activity actually increases children’s focus inside the classroom and can lead to higher test scores, P.E. programs and recess periods are getting slashed to make more time for the “serious” classroom subjects. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of children surveyed are currently deprived of recess in their school day.
An alarming number of elementary schools don’t even have playgrounds! (Then again, if you don’t get recess, what do you need a playground for?) The Atlanta public school system is one of many that doesn’t include playgrounds or playground equipment when it builds elementary schools. 
Childhood obesity trends have a lot to do with access—or lack thereof. If kids grow up in neighborhoods that are sprinkled liberally with fast food restaurants and convenience stores, it’s tough for them to eat well, no matter how many times they’ve been told that spinach is good for them. Likewise, if neighborhoods don’t offer safe, outdoor spaces to gather and play, there’s not much incentive for kids to get off the couch.
To effectively fight the childhood obesity epidemic, we need to fill these “food deserts” and “play deserts” with farmer’s markets and playgrounds. We need to fight for healthier neighborhoods AND healthier schools. The battle will be long and arduous, but standing up for healthy lunches, P.E. classes, and the reinstatement of recess is something we can all do now.
As kids head back to school, they have enough to think about­. Let’s stop lecturing them and instead make being healthy a no-brainer.
Take action:
If your child’s school doesn’t have recess, here are some tools to help you get recess reinstated.
If your child’s school doesn’t have a playground, here are some online tools and resources to help you build one.
 To lobby for better lunches and healthier schools, here’s The Quick and Easy Guide to School Wellness
About the author:
Kerala Taylor is the Manager of Online Content and Outreach for KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children. Our mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities. Ultimately, we envision a place to play within walking distance of every child in America. Learn more at kaboom.org.


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Hyperlinks (in order):

Day 111: chicken nuggets

Today’s menu: chicken nuggets (baked), collard greens, corn muffin, grapes

I made sure to look over the menu (yesterday was not “rib-b-que” but “meatloaf,” which really makes no difference at all — it’s just a name) and noticed that the chicken nuggets say “baked.” That is good, but they are still nuggets full of fillers.

The “mystery greens” are back! They are collard greens. Newsflash: they were not bitter like the time I ate them had to spit them out right away (just made myself shiver). Eating them wasn’t a positive experience. They are just not good. Notice that the container is larger than it was last time…

The muffin is the grain. It was dry, but that’s how corn muffins often are I guess.

Grapes! That’s another new item. I’m so happy to see them.

Here’s my trash — couldn’t finish the greens!

***

The Child Nutrition Act is set to expire in EIGHT DAYS and then funding just disappears (8-Day Countdown: Generals and Scientists Urge Congress to Pass the Child Nutrition Act). Please call your representative in the House and urge them to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act. You can look up your representative and make a call directly or you can send an email here and here.

When you take action, please leave a comment so that I know I inspired you to act on behalf of kids like the ones I work with every day.

***

I want you to read You Can Change Your School’s Food from The Slow Cook. I think he is a terrific advocate and as a professional journalist, he lays it out there perfectly.

From the perspective of an educator I can say that unequivocally that parents rule the school. To get better, you have to demand it and keep pushing until you get what you want. That does not mean that you have to be rude to administration or teachers. There are many ways to twist arms in subtle ways just by being present and persistent. Engage your student’s teacher in a conversation about school food. You may find a sympathetic advocate. If not, ask your child about other teachers they interact with in the school and arrange a meeting over parent/teacher conferences.

Also it would be wise to gather a group of parents together and get at least one teacher on board. Parents have the “oomph” and a teacher or two add even more legitimacy to the ideas of reform. It’s not just a “rogue band of parents,” but instead a small, focused group with an employee or two of the principal.

Day 110: rib-b-que

Today’s menu: Rib-b-que (I think), tater tots, pears, two slices bread

I ate. I was hungry. Believe it or not, I was too busy to even glance at the menu today to see what today’s meal was “called.” When I’m at work eating lunch is really a side note. I am so busy. But I think it was the “rib-b-que” and I think it’s all beef. It tasted ok. Tomorrow I’ll make sure to see what it was labeled on the menu. I do purposely try not to even glance at the menu because I like the “surprise.”

***

Today a student said, “I don’t like the letter F.”
Mrs. Q, “Why don’t you like the letter F?”
My student, “I just don’t like it.”
Well, you don’t have to have a reason!

I should have told the student that my favorite letter is Q!

***

I got a very sweet email from someone who mentioned that they had to stop reading my blog post yesterday when I mentioned that I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. I think that there are a new crop of readers who haven’t been along for the whole ride and so they might have missed a summer post in which I mentioned my experience with Wal-mart.

To summarize more than 15 years ago my mom owned a small business in my hometown (I moved around a lot so I call it my hometown even though I lived there only for my high school years). It was a darling little coffee shop in an economically depressed area. She opened it when she had been trying to support my sister and I on about $15,000 per year during a period of time when my dad wasn’t working and things were very hard (At the time I knew my parents’ marriage was slipping, but I didn’t know about any financial problems). I know she borrowed money from a more wealthy family member to start up the coffee shop and got a bank loan too.

My sister and I worked very part-time in the coffee shop and I think I earned about $3.60 per hour. We both worked in “the front” (behind the cash register), but my sister was definitely the social one and wanted to get all the attention up front (she was in middle school, had little pink glasses and was so charming with an apron on!) I worked in the back. Yes, folks I helped balance the books as a high schooler. This was the long-forgotten-era called “no computers.” We did have a Tandy at home with large floppy discs, but it was too clunky for anything besides one game and certainly didn’t have spreadsheets on it. I sat in the back tallying up figures across large grids. I got so mad when I couldn’t make everything come out! I would sit forever making sure it added up.

My mom hired some great people and my sister and I had a blast with the other workers when we showed up after school. But I also resented “the business” because my mom was working 12 hour days and I missed her. She gave benefits to employees and paid a living wage. The place did ok for just the first year of operation.

Then Wal-mart moved into our town.

Wal-mart chose the outskirts of the town a couple miles from the downtown. The downtown slowly died. My mom’s coffee shop was right downtown. In its first year of operation, this Walmart store won an award for sales.

Sales at the coffee shop started dropping off little by little. Certainly there were regulars but growth didn’t seem to a possibility. My mom worked for another two years as businesses started to shutter. My parents divorced, I moved away to college, and my mom’s coffee shop went under.

I will never forget turning off the lights for the last time. I realized that I would miss the place even though I’d disparaged it so much in high school (“do I have to?” kinda teenager-stuff).

You’ll be glad to know that even though we were all sad about the death of the business (the space is now a Subway!), my mom persevered. She moved away and went back to school to earn two more degrees. Her job right now suits her well and I couldn’t more proud of her. I grateful that I had that amazing experience working for my mom at such an important time in my development. I learned more there than I probably have retained from school! Certainly that was the beginning of my food education.