Day 109: chicken teriyaki

Today’s menu: chicken teriyaki, rice mixed with peas and eggs, carrots, applesauce, breadstick
I cleaned my “plate” today — I was so hungry. I took a bite of the chicken patty and my mouth recognized something familiar: there was a real chuck of chicken in my patty! I took a picture (below). I don’t remember the last time I had chicken teriyaki if it was like what I ate today.
I can’t tell you how excited I got when I tasted real chicken. The rest of the chicken patty did seem to be more uniform in texture and taste, but I think that there was more than just one bite real chicken in the patty! Yippee!
Real chicken!
The consistency of the rest of the patty seemed to be more uniform
The carrots were a little on the mushy side, but that’s ok. The applesauce definitely was unsweetened and really tasty.
Notice the breadstick is there because of the two grain requirement (rice + something else), which is directly from the USDA meal planning patterns (not the lunch ladies or even the nutritionists at the district level).
I ripped off a chunk of the breadstick
But I couldn’t eat it

***

Over the weekend I watched Food Inc. Many of you have encouraged me to see it for months. My husband even watched it a year ago by himself (I went to bed early). Here’s why I hesitated to watch the movie:

1) I watched The Future of Food with my husband a few years ago and I was depressed for days. I was so sad about the farmers and the seeds. I felt helpless. I didn’t want to sit around feeling hopeless again.

2) I thought I already knew everything Food Inc covered. Like I said, I watched The Future of Food and I don’t eat fast food and make healthy choices at the grocery store. Didn’t I already know about industrial food production? Wasn’t I already doing enough?

If those are the same reasons that you are holding out, I encourage you to watch the movie. We have a Netflix subscription and so I was able to stream it for free over the computer (huge perk of Netflix).

I’m not going to go over too much of the movie in case you haven’t seen it. I’d just like to quote some of the statistics presented in the movie. While I was watching it, I tweeted some of the quotes that hit me hard:

Quotes from Food, Inc
(and Michael Pollan in the movie):

  • Tyson is the largest meat packer in the world and with another 3 companies control most of our meat supply. These companies often self-monitor because of cuts at the FDA.”
  • “Chickens are bred to have massive breasts, which are so big they can’t walk. They sit in their own poo all day”
  • “30% of US land base is planted with corn. Corn is being produced below the cost of production because of subsidies and is cheap feed for cows who normally eat grass, pigs and now even some farmed fish.”
  • “So much of our industrial food is clever arrangements of corn,” Michael Pollan
  • “Cows have been switched to a corn-only diet because it makes them fat. Corn leads to Ecoli. Then they stand in their poo.” 
  • “If cows are switched back to grass, they shed 80% of the Ecoli in their digestive tracts in five days.”
  • “In the 1970s there were 1,000s of slaughterhouses, now there are just 13 which process the majority of beef consumed in fast food restaurants and in grocery stores.”
  • “If you eat a burger it could literally contain meat from thousands of cows.”
  • “The biggest predictor of obesity is income level,” Michael Pollan
  • “Monsanto patented the genetically-modified soybean in the 1980s. By 2008, 90% of soybeans in the US contain Monsanto’s patented gene.”
  • “70% of food in grocery stores contain a genetically modified ingredient.”
  • “We need changes at the policy level so that carrots are cheaper than the chips,” Michael Pollan

My key take-aways were:

1) Vote with your fork. If you can buy organic, you should try to do it as much as your budget allows. One example in the movie was Stonyfield Farms. Every time you purchase one of their products you put dollars toward sustainability and not to mention a high quality yogurt. Even Walmart was in the movie and you already know that I don’t shop there. Their top executives stated that they do what the customers want and when their customers wanted milk that was hormone-free, they changed to provide hormone-free milk. When a large purchaser like Walmart radically changes its buying patterns, it moves mountains in food production.

2) It is food policy that is driving a lot of our country’s food problems. We need to stay on top of what’s happening in Washington DC with the FDA and the USDA. Many of you have commented already about how government subsidies have a big role in what we are eating and as an extension what I am eating at school. Well, I dismissed that as too esoteric for me to fully grasp. Food Inc showed me the connections between government subsidies and what they are doing to the entire food system of our country.

Watching the movie has changed me. I’m really happy I did and thankfully I’m not depressed. I was sad at moments during the film, but I feel hopeful. Have you watched Food Inc and, if so, what did you think?

Day 108: pizza… and salad (!)

Today’s menu: pizza, orange, salad (!!)

Do you see what I see? Yes, it’s salad. I need a moment.

I saw kids taking the salad in the lunch line. In fact, one of the lunch ladies asked a bunch of kindergartners, “Do you want salad?” and most said, “yes” (out of six kids, one said no). Since they had not seen it before, I think some of the kids stared blankly at the package wondering what was inside. I bet they were a little confused. I made sure to grab a packet of ranch, not all the kids did. I’m not sure they would eat plain lettuce.

I drizzled a little ranch on the salad and it was tasty. I was so glad to have salad today. The pizza was the same as usual (whole wheat crust by the way). And I saved the orange for later. There wasn’t enough time to eat all of the lunch.

Yeah for something green!

I approve of the pairing of pizza and salad. It’s logical and something we do at home when we have pizza (that is not often this year if you know what I mean).

***

Thanks for your comments yesterday. Some of you were surprised by what I wrote yesterday (“there is nothing inherently wrong about a hot dog.” I have since edited that line) I have to say that I censored myself somewhat with that line. I haven’t bought a package of hot dogs since last summer (for a BBQ). This summer we didn’t buy any hot dogs at the grocery store or at any restaurants. But I can see why you might eat one if you were out and about over the summer (barbecues and ball games). That’s like once or twice a summer, right?

Some of you mentioned my dislike of McDonald’s and asked “why is that different than an occasional hot dog?” When I posted that I hate McDonald’s food this summer, many of you jumped on me. One of the many people who commented got it right: food is personal. McDonald’s might mean something to you that it doesn’t for me. For you, it’s more than the food.

Also McDonald’s is a corporation whose motives I distrust. Certainly hot dogs are manufactured by corporations too…but the McDonald’s advertising is relentless and everywhere.  And under the right circumstance I might conceivably buy a hot dog. But if I were to drive by a McDonald’s I wouldn’t stop for food.

So I didn’t strike out at hot dogs in general because I wimped out. Please do keep in mind that I’m a work in progress and I’m not perfect. You guys have taught me so much about food. I really value your input.

***

I love my work. I have a blast with my students and I treasure them. This year there have been some improvements to my room and it has been a real joy to do some new things with the kids.

Right now education is a field in turmoil. No Child Left Behind did some good things, but has placed too much emphasis on testing. What happened to instructional time? Then teachers get blamed for the poor performance of students. Part of why I started the project was that I felt that teachers were getting blamed for poor student performance yet no one had “questioned everything” within the school environment that could be affecting school performance (ahem! school lunch, anyone?). Don’t get me wrong: there are “bad” teachers and they need to be dealt with. That might mean just more supervision and support. It might mean firing them.

At my school I see a lot of talented, hard-working teachers with great credentials. The district offers some amazing professional developments. We have some NBCTs and many teachers have masters degrees. Pretty good considering that the high school from which I graduated (around 1,000 students) only had one teacher with a masters. Yes, there are a couple teachers who I would label as “deadweight.” They need to be retrained or fired, but somehow they are given a pass. It bothers me and it lowers morale of the other teachers in the school. But I can’t tell the principal what to do.

I have found that teachers rarely get the chance to complete surveys about their school and its administration. Why shouldn’t administration elicit the opinions of staff members? If I were to design a survey to be given to the teachers at my school, the first question would be, “What can ABC Elementary School do for the students that its not already doing?” My next question would be, “How can the administration support your teaching more effectively?”

Let’s set up education not under a business model, but a medical model. Medical centers are patient-focused not testing-focused. They use tests as tools, but then they treat the patients. More treatment than tests, no? When a patient fails to get better, does the doctor get blamed? Sometimes they do but not usually. Doctors try other ways to help out the patient. Of course, there are “bad” doctors. But overall doctors’ opinions are valued. The medical profession is not sunk over a few bad apples.

The teaching profession seems to get a bad rap. The teachers that I know are loving, dedicated professionals working their hearts out for their students’ success. It’s not an easy job. Many, many teachers lie awake at night thinking about their students and devising new ways to reach them. I was just telling my husband about this student I’m worried about and who I totally wish I could adopt.

I want school districts to go out of their way to talk about teachers using positive language just like hospitals who appreciate their staff members (doctors, nurses, etc). What is the greatest thing that districts have? Human capital. If we value children, we must appreciate those responsible for educating them.

Day 107: hot dog

Today’s menu: hot dog, whole wheat buns, fries, fruit cup

I ate the hot dog. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a hot dog. (Edited: I don’t think there is something wrong with eating the occasional hot dog during the summer. Hot dogs are processed foods and should be eaten in moderation.) Oddly I think of hot dogs as a “seasonal” food: it’s something I only eat over the summer or if I’m at a baseball game. Note: I did not eat a hot dog this summer for what it’s worth. Outside of school I am eating healthier than I ever have before in my life and I expect it to continue well after I stop eating school lunch.

It’s really hard for me to eat a hot dog is when it’s the winter. It just feels wrong to look outside and see snow while taking a bite from a hot dog. It is also difficult to eat a lunch like the one above when I’m sick. Thankfully I have finally gotten over my latest terrible illness so I choked everything down.

The fries are best described as “flat.” They disintegrated into mush in my mouth. Thank goodness for ketchup. I drank the fruit cup just like the kids do.

Indeed!

The first part of this week I was at a conference and so I didn’t eat school lunch. It was a transformative experience that I’m still processing. I’ll probably do some kind of a wrap-up in the future…way in the future.

***

Thanks for the interesting comments about my dad’s “devil’s advocate” viewpoint. He’s a quirky man. I chatted with him about his email on the phone tonight and he clearly still doesn’t get it. However, what I have found with him is that his brain needs to “marinate” new ideas. I can’t expect him to change right away. I’ll keep up updated.

***

Recently a follower on Twitter alerted me to an article: Lunch Ladies Fight Back. The article has two parts. The first part takes quotes from a speech by Ms. Hayes (School Meals that Rock) who guest blogged in June. Ms. Hayes blasts Jamie Oliver saying he did it for his celebrity and also says that chocolate milk “has a little extra sugar” and so she’s for chocolate milk in schools. Her speech was given to school nutrition directors, kitchen managers and cooks.

Didn’t Jamie Oliver already achieve celebrity status prior to launching “food revolution?” I don’t see how he had any real incentive to take on a school lunch “food revolution” as he already had TV shows and cookbook sales to live off of. He could have just continued doing what he was doing, which was going quite well for him.

The case against chocolate milk is clear cut: 8 oz chocolate milk = 8 oz white milk + 3 tsp sugar. Added up over the course of a school year that is 5 lbs of fat. Ms. Hayes argues that low-fat chocolate milk makes it ok. But extra sugar makes you fat because the extra glucose is processed by the liver, turned into fatty acids, and then stored as adipose (fat) tissue around your middle. Extra glucose also = extra insulin. As a parent I’d be really upset to learn that my kid drank chocolate milk every day at school. Chocolate is a special treat only. What’s wrong with white milk anyway?

In the second part, Ms. Houston a director of food services from Corpus Christie said “Tray Talk” from the School Nutrition Association (who also guest blogged) is a great counter balance to Fed Up With Lunch. Ms. Houston called my blog “quite negative.”

Alrighty, well, I guess ya’ll have been reading the blog!

About the lunch ladies fighting back? Against what? me? I love my friends/coworkers who are lunch ladies. They are sweet and kind to me and the students every day. They need to be valued! The quality of school lunches is not a reflection of them. We’re in this one together.

I did recently get an email from a reader who told me that reading my blog did make her depressed and would I please write a positive post? I told her I would and I’m working on something. However, on a daily basis it’s hard to jazz up the blog posts. This is grim reality through my eyes. My students and I are eating those meals. Who is ready to join us and eat up? I think I hear crickets…

Day 106: pasta

Today’s menu: pasta with meat sauce, peas and carrots, apple, goldfish crackers (milk not pictured – lactose -intolerant)
So the pasta wasn’t terrible (I have always said that I enjoy pasta). Taste is not the best judge of quality sometimes (do you agree with that statement?). I just wonder, “What am I eating?” If you look closely, you can see that the “beef” is rectangular/square in shape. I’m guessing it’s those beef crumbles with texturized soy flour/protein. Not that appetizing when you think about it. And that’s what I’m doing: thinking about what my students and I eat every day.
Carrots, peas, apple!? Yes! Goldfish? Not my thing, but there’s your second grain (pasta was the first grain).
***
I still haven’t told too many people about the project. I hope friends don’t hate me when I confess all this to them. I did recently bring in a friend who asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt bad. I didn’t think it would hurt anyone’s feelings. Thankfully she forgave me.
I have shared things with my dad along the way and that has been funny. When I first told a few family members, the reaction was positive. My dad took it in stride with a “eh?” and went on with his day. He doesn’t understand blogging and doesn’t care about nutrition. Basically he didn’t care one way or another about my project.
But recently he has taken a little more interest. What follows is an excerpted email I got from him today. It made me smile and I knew I had to blog it:

…very interesting. To be the devil’s advocate I think all the children from the poor [sic]…are lucky to be getting what they do!! It is partially a matter of cost that they receive the prepackaged and frozen foods that they do. It would cost me and you and all taxpayers much more to supply fresh stuff year round. The taxpayer is already supporting so many people in so many ways.
Love Dad
Here’s what I’m going to email my dad now that he’s engaging in this debate. I want him on “Team Q:”

Hi Dad,
I just want you know that part of why I’m advocating for better school lunches. You know, we are already paying for these lunches that aren’t doing much for the kids. There is so much waste in the system. Kids don’t want to eat the food and throw much of it out. I believe if school lunches could be made better, it would end up costing around the same amount. What happened to lower cost items like soup? Doesn’t the packaging cost something too? What about making fresh food onsite that all kids want to buy and eat? Teachers and students from greater means could purchase the lunches instead of packing lunches from home, thereby putting cash into the system. I personally would pay a substantial lunch fee to eat better food with my students and for your grandson to eat a good school lunch with his friends (when he grows up).

If we think strictly about cost, we also have to factor in the costs of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious illnesses that students like mine have a good chance of developing since they have no good food model in their life. If the school doesn’t provide a fresh school lunch, nutrition education or recess, my students learn that food is meaningless and that exercise has no place in school.

If we fix school lunch, we might just fix our nation’s schools. When Jamie Oliver changed to fresh food in the UK, science grades went up (8%), English grades went up (6%), and so did attendance (improved 15%). At my school reading scores are the ones that are the lowest (as compared to math). How many schools would make AYP if their student’s scores went up by 6-8%? I would venture many, many schools.

So in sum, Dad, we need to toss out the processed food and bring in salad bars. It’s an investment in children and their health. Extend the lunch period, throw in recess, a little nutrition education and we’d be cooking with gas (pun intended)!

Love,
Daughter Q

Anything you would like to add in my email to my father?

Bread therapy

My first loaves (above), it doesn’t look that appealing, but was fantastic.
The gluteny inside
The second two loaves (that’s flaxseed meal in place of
cornmeal — it got toasted), one went to Grandma’s house
Sun-dried tomato bread for Mr. Q
I can make my own bread. It’s quite the shock for us all. And I love it. There is something magical about holding my own bread in my hands. It’s heavy and takes up space and I did it. The best part is handling the raw dough and forming it into something.
I bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day after the guest blog post about making bread at home. It sat on the shelf for months.

It’s so easy to make bread. Who knew? I even impressed my own grandmother. I brought her a loaf and she was dumbstruck. “You made this?” I felt so proud when she told me she loved it.

I didn’t realize when I bought the book that it recommends that you have paraphernalia including a “pizza peel” and a “baking stone.” The authors say it’s ok to bake the bread on a flat cookie sheet. You can see in the pictures above, I have one small cookie sheet with big edges (I have a small oven). It looked like I was doomed to fail right from the start.

The authors also recommended an over thermometer to make sure that your oven is cooking at the temperature it says it is. Well, I don’t have one of those either. I just figured that if I was going to fail at making bread, at least I could blame it on the lack of proper equipment!

So I followed their recipe until I saw they required cornmeal for the bottom of the bread. I know that at some point I had cornmeal, but it was nowhere to be found. I did have flaxseed meal though so I thought that could work instead.

I guess you could say their standard bread recipe is idiot-proof because I MADE BREAD. It was a watershed moment. I wish I could say that I will never buy another store-bought loaf, but with school back in session and the blog project very much underway, there’s a very good possibility that my new-found bread-making skills will go under cover through the end of the year.

Truthfully the only hard part of making this bread is it takes a little time: you have to have time to let it rise for two hours. This particular recipe doesn’t even require kneading. And don’t forget to put a cup of water in a dish under the baking bread (because it creates steam that helps bake the bread).

My bread only has five ingredients (water, yeast, flour, salt, cornmeal) compared to the store-bought loaf (I realize that some of the ingredients enrich the loaf with vitamins):

Here’s the exact recipe I used (I found it online) from the book, but I own the book (see below picture). In fact, here’s a look at just one shelf of the cookbooks I own. I must own about 30 cookbooks (I buy them both new and used, but also receive many as presents as it is an easy gift for me). It’s an indulgence to have this many. I love to cook, but lack the skills to “wing” anything or “tweak” something…so I need recipes, right? But I had never baked bread until this summer…
I have made the original/basic bread recipe a few times, but I also made the sun-dried tomato bread (pictured), olive oil bread, and jalapeno bread. I should do a cost calc on the bread, but it is very, very cheap. I still have tons of flour, yeast and salt left.
I’d also like to say that I’m only an ok cook, but that baking has always been a strong suit of mine. I prefer baking a casserole-type dish than to frying something on the stove. Baking bread is a perfect next step for someone who is a competent baker. If I can do it, so can you!

Guest blogger: Eat So They Can

I stumbled across the Fed Up with Lunch twitter account and loved what I saw; someone who is incorporating humor to highlight a very real issue in the U.S today; childhood obesity and the lack of concern shown by schools and food companies to help! I remember my own school lunches well; every day there were 2 options-a delicious hot lunch from the cafeteria that usually included hot, crispy french fries, perhaps some nachos or a hamburger and the world famous (ok, well maybe school famous) chocolate chip cookies.  Option 2 was my flimsy Wonder bread pb and j made in the morning along with my strictly enforced healthy snack (sad looking apple) and a dessert. From my description I hope it’s apparent to all which meal held me captivated!
It’s ironic that with endless options and choice in the United States, American children are severely lacking in nutritional content similar to developing countries around the world. Anemia is common among young women and girls and fatigue, depression and a short attention span can also commonly be the result of a child not getting the proper nutrition they need from food.
However, where American children are at risk of diabetes, clogged arteries, and other serious health problems later in life, children in other countries are at risk of skeletal deformities, eyesight impairment and loss, stunted growth and an inability to concentrate strictly due to the vitamin deficiencies that are occurring from lack of food. Unfortunately, these and many more symptoms are prevalent in countries without the means to change and alter their children’s diets.
Mrs. Q writes a blog and raises awareness to encourage and, when needed, even demand that we do better for our kids. She has also generously allowed me to guest post and in doing so, supported the GVN Foundation’s campaign to better the lives of children everywhere. GVN Foundation runs an annual fundraiser entitled Eat So They Can. Eat So They Can is a global dinner party held on the weekend of October 16-17th to coincide with World Food Day. We ask people from around the world to host a dinner or lunch party and invite their friends and family. The money otherwise spent on a nice meal in a restaurant donated to support Eat So They Can and one of the four causes: orphaned and vulnerable children; emergency relief; women’s empowerment; and anti-trafficking. If interested, hosts are even given a “party-pack” which gives them a few tools to ensure their event is a success. Our goal this year is to raise $500,000 through Eat So They Can to support our partners in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
Why should you consider getting involved in Eat So They Can? We would absolutely love to see Eat So They Can be incorporated into the lunch programs at schools everywhere in the United States! With America only becoming more diverse, it would be great to have themed lunches featuring foods from around the world, specifically countries where students or staff may be from! Secondly, it is a great way to educate children about nutrition, begin to raise cultural awareness and instill leadership and active problem-solving models at an early age. After speaking to a few middle school students about what I ate when I stayed for lunch at a Uganda secondary school, their stunned faces that they ate the same thing every single day had 2 of them declare; “I will never complain about getting the same sandwich 2 days in a row again!”
If you would like to organize a meal for family and friends, please sign-up to benefit from our resources and to learn more about the causes and who we support. If you want to take it a step further and host an event or make it a school-wide fundraiser I will A) send you a virtual hug!  and B) work with you to make sure it’s a success! I hope by watching some clips from the DVD hosts receive, you will see how important this fundraiser is and the massive difference you personally can make. More importantly, raising awareness and bringing education out of the classroom and encouraging them to learn more and ask questions is equally valuable. While we can’t promise you that the middle schools around the country are going to have a shift in demand to make only healthy locally grown products, I can confidently state that the children who take on the challenge of discovering more about the world will only benefit. Join us and ‘Eat So They Can!’
Caitie Goddard (info[AT]eatsotheycan[DOT]org)

***

Don’t you just love this? I’ve been aware GVN for a few years. I’d like to do something with the blog the weekend of October 16th-17th to participate in Eat So They Can. Any ideas about what Mrs. Q can do?

Laptop Lunches Giveaway Winner!

Amazingly 167 readers commented on the Laptop Lunches guest blog post on Monday to participate in the bento giveaway. Your comments touched me and I really wish everyone could get a laptop lunch bento kit. I used random number generator to pick the winning number to keep it fair (and so I didn’t have to!) and the lucky commenter was:

Number #73! Commenter Chipper Jules!! (Email me!) Your comment was:

What a great system. We would not only use this to pack school lunches if selected – but it would also be handy for bringing our own snacks/lunches along on the road. I would also use the recipe suggestion book to have my older child make some lunch decisions on his own and help prepare some of his own lunches.

But that’s not all!

The founders of Laptop Lunches were overwhelmed by the response to the guest blog and want to offer 10% off to all the readers of the blog. If you place an order on Laptoplunches.com and use the promotional code: FEDUPWITHLUNCH you will receive 10% off.

Thanks so much for participating in the giveaway!

Open thread: Portions

Earlier on in the project, I mentioned that I was hungry around 3pm some days that I ate school lunch. I wondered if it was due to the quality of the meal, but many readers commented that it was due to the fact that these lunches are meant for children not an adult.

What do you know about portions for children? How do my school lunches fit into your understanding of portions?