Day 149: chicken teriyaki, art, recess and The Eat Along Challenge

Today’s menu: chicken teriyaki, rice with peas and egg, carrots, applesauce, breadstick

Chicken patty teriyaki is one of my favorite main dishes. I thought it tasted fine — definitely better than some of the other stuff I have eaten this year. I imagine that this would be one of the more expensive dishes compared to say the hot dog or hamburger meal because it contains more real chicken and there is also egg in the dish, which doesn’t appear in any other lunchtime meal. If you zoom in on the chicken patty, you can see that it contains more actual chicken than any other chicken patty I have eaten. The texture is an interesting mix of real chicken bits and spongy interior (see second close-up).

Today’s carrots tasted more like canned carrots than previous carrots have tasted to me. Because I ate a lot of canned veggies as a kid, I actually find that flavor comforting (oddly, I like the taste of canned peas too…) Mmmm, canned carrots, remind me of home and the 1980s….

I ate the applesauce, but not the breadstick…I know that under the federal guidelines the school district needs to offer two grains per meal, but a breadstick with rice is out of place. I just can’t be persuaded to think otherwise. And I can’t even persuade myself to take a bite of a bread product in a package.

I hope you had a phenomenal Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday because it’s all about food and pretty much non-political. Usually we went to my Great Aunt Alice’s here in Illinois for the holiday with my mom’s side of the family including her favorite first cousin and his partner from San Francisco (how much cooler can you be?). We chatted until our mouths went dry, laughed until our faces hurt from smiling, and ate until our bellies ached.

I had my son more than two years ago and when he was almost two months old, Great Aunt Alice passed away. Thanksgiving had already been planned and plane tickets bought for the holiday but we didn’t know what to do. It wouldn’t be the same with her. Everyone including the Californians decided to go up to Wisconsin and make the best of it. We tried not to cry, but we were choked up pretty frequently. Thankfully my little baby made everyone smile and think of the possibilities of life.

I hope that this past holiday you got the chance to lift your glass to toast the ones you love.

***

A kid was sitting in her chair and said, “Ouch!”
We looked at her alarmed and I asked, “What’s wrong?”
She remarked, “My legs hurt.”
I needed more information, “What happened to your legs?”
She replied with a muted smile, nodding her head, “I ran too much!”
I couldn’t suppress a laugh.

***

A different student who was at another school last year told me, “When I was at X School, they had art class. I liked it. They had recess too. You know what recess is? It’s when you go outside to the park.”
My heart broke.
That a kid thinks he needs to explain to a teacher what recess is…
It makes me crazy.
Oh and yes, there is no art this year. There has been art on and off, but this year it was cut.
That broke a lot of kids’ hearts.

What is an elementary education without art and recess?
(Full disclosure: my mom used to be an art teacher).

***

The Eat Along Challenge (December 6th through December 10th)

Liz Snyder from www.ieatreal.com contacted me about an experiment she tried: The $2 Lunch Challenge, which was picked up by Civil Eats. She wanted to make good food at school lunch prices. So she made a week’s worth of lunches for her daughter at home. Each lunch was full of fresh, organic food for under $2 per lunch (not including labor) and she compared them to what I was eating. What a contrast!

Next week I’m challenging you to pack a cheap, fresh lunch Monday through Friday, photograph it, and blog it and then link it up to my daily lunch posts all week. If you feel like you have the time to do a cost calc on each lunch, then go for it. I bet you can make it for under $2 just like Liz. As a teacher I pay $3 per lunch, but that is more than the federal reimbursement rate of $2.74 (at my school). If you don’t have time to do the math (maybe you have a screaming toddler like I do), don’t fret — just link up your child’s lunch. Let’s have fun with this!

Day 148: turkey and feeling grateful

Today’s menu: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, bread, pear, cookie

When I first saw the main dish, I thought, “Wow, that’s a lot of turkey!” I love eating turkey. While I was paying (and before I visually scanned the line) I asked, “Are there mashed potatoes too?” The lunch lady said, “No, it’s sweet potatoes!” Terrific!

I took everything back to the room thinking about my lunchtime-turkey-feast. (Bear with me please — I get excited about menu changes. I have no control over what I eat every day for lunch, which has played with my mind. Maybe it’s like Food-Stockholm-Syndrome?)

My first bite of turkey yielded some mush and I realized that under the turkey bits was formless stuffing. Not my thing, but I liked the gravy. My mom recently reminded me that one of the hot lunch meals that I purchased regularly when I was a kid was the turkey over mashed potatoes. Yum then….now, not so much.

Let’s move on to the sweet potatoes. They tasted like sweet potatoes, but were pureed to the point of having a texture not unlike jarred baby food. Eeech. The worst part is that any kid moving through the line is not going to know what they are. If I hadn’t been told that they were “sweet potatoes,” I would have assumed that they were beans, which are served way more frequently than sweet potatoes (this being the first time I have eaten sweet potatoes at school). Yes, the kids could read the menu to find out, but there are a lot of non-readers or low readers who aren’t fully able to read the menu. It would be great if the teacher could review the menu with the kids prior to lunch but the reality is that the average teacher is just trying to get everyone rustled up to get to the cafeteria on time. I fear that the sweet potatoes mostly went into the trash.

The red cookie! Well, I avoided it. I’m not into Red #40 at a the moment. A student came up to me after lunch with bright pink lips. For a split second I thought, “Is that lipstick— ooooohhhhh yeah, the cookie…” This particular kid’s mom is anti-make-up for girls this age (so she should be) and I wondered what the mom would think when she saw her daughter’s lips. Rest assured, your daughter did not get lipstick from me! Gah.

Most of the kids came back from lunch with pink lips, pink tongues and even pink teeth. I asked a different student who had pink teeth, “Why do you have pink lips and teeth?”
“Because I ate cookies!”
“Wait, you had more than one?”
“I ate five cookies!!” smiling with glee (another kid piped up in the background, “I had two!”)
“Wait, I thought you only got one? did you buy more?”
It took me about five minutes to get the whole story. They did not buy more cookies. Some kids didn’t want their cookies. So they gave theirs to other kids. At first it sounded like a bullying situation to me, but knowing the five-cookie-student, it didn’t seem like he was capable of bullying the other kids.

The five-cookie-kid was hyper. I don’t know if I should feel happy that many students didn’t want their cookies or that one student thought that five cookies was appropriate for lunchtime. I didn’t find out if that was the extent of his lunch…

The pear was delish, by the way!

No cookie for me — good thing too after seeing all those bright pink lips.
Pink lips would not have enhanced my outfit today!

A month ago or more I mentioned wanted to take some additional tests after having a negative Celiac test. Well, Enterolab’s test results indicate that I have gluten sensitivity. I feel like I have known this on some level for a long time. I’m going to need more help me to interpret the results I got back (some think the company is great, other people think it isn’t). I’ll post more in-depth about my health once I get some additional information.

So I avoided the slices of bread. Of course there was gluten in the gravy and stuffing, but somehow I just can’t get myself to eat the obvious wheat in the bread!

Food for Thought!

Feeling grateful.
Grateful for home.
Grateful for my family.
Grateful for our son.
Grateful for friends.
Grateful for life.
Grateful for your readership.
Grateful for the journey.
Grateful for food.
Off to soak it all up.

I’m not going to post for the rest of holiday on through weekend…(never say never, but probably not). I wish you guys the very best holiday with your family, friends, and loved ones! See you on the flip side!

Day 147: hot dog

Today’s menu: hot dog, whole wheat buns, orange, fresh carrots

The glare on the hot dog package makes the hot dog look like it’s got some kind of magical powers. I assure you it did not. I ate it though and I ate the carrots too. There just isn’t enough time to peel an orange. I’ve said it from the start: the oranges need to be sliced. But points for effort: two days in a row with fresh fruit and veggies both days!

When it comes to temporary trays, I think that the paper might be here to stay and that makes me happy. It’s better than styrofoam!

My trash and also a KIND bar
Today I ate a KIND bar with my lunch. Yes, I added a little something to my lunch because I needed a boost today. I love KIND bars. In fact, they are my favorite bar at the moment.
I could fall asleep standing right now. I’m going to sign off early tonight. (Menu hint: tomorrow’s lunch is going to be turkey!)
***
Do me a favor and head over to my friend Ed Bruske’s website and read his amazing series on the school food transformation in Boulder, Colorado at the hands of another friend Chef Ann Cooper. I’ve been riveted each post and have learned a lot:

Remaking School Meals in Boulder: First in a Series-

Not Quite Cooked from Scratch…Yet-

The School Food Revolution in Boulder: Epilogue-

Make some hot cocoa and popcorn, pull up a chair, and read the whole thing. You won’t be disappointed: Ed is a great writer and it’s one helluva good story! Many stories that deal with food politics are boring and depressing — not so this series. After I read it I felt empowered. And when you are finished, can you give him a little comment love? Thanks!

Day 146: pasta and salad bars

Today’s menu: pasta with meat sauce, salad, orange, bread (tampon) stick

Here, here for pasta! It was the first meal I ate way back at the start of this here wacky experiment and here I am still eating some of it. I’m liking this strikeout feature all of a sudden….

I remain a committed fan of hot food and the pasta did not disappoint. Some days you just need a hot meal at lunch time. I could never do a PB&J every day because on days with terrible weather, it’s just too darn comforting to have soup or another hot meal to make your insides feel toasty warm. Orange and a salad? Thanks for the fresh food! Not to mention a logical pairing — pasta and salad go together well. The salad looks paltry in the photo — they have offered salad before, in styrofoam containers. I think they are going for a slightly more eco-friendly approach here. It’s not aesthetically pleasing though is it?

My commute was a breeze today so I’m assuming most of you are off for the holidays. I will keep lunch posts this week brief so that we all can enjoy the best part of the holidays: family and friends.

***

This month’s Titanium Spork Award will be combined with last month’s for an October/November (O/N) Double Titanium Spork Award. Time got away from me. Since so few people seem to be online this week, I’m going to go ahead and take your previous nominations and put them into a poll, which is now live! Please vote! The winner will get two sporks, one for each month!

Today Chef Ann Cooper was in Florida with First Lady Michelle Obama to announce work towards getting salad bars in 6,000 schools. Great news and a big congrats to Ann Cooper for starting the salad bar movement. She hit one out of the park today! (hint, hint –she’s up for a Titanium Spork Award!)

Open thread: School lunch haiku homework

Your weekend homework challenge: write some school lunch/child nutrition act/nutrition haiku poetry. I’m a big fan of haiku (5-7-5) and I want to see what you “cook up” so have at it. Here are a couple of mine:

Ate school lunch today (5)
Swallowed and took a picture (7)
Better blog it now! (5)

Kids nutrition act (5)
It’s before Congress right now (7)
Let’s pass it ok? (5)

Lunchtime is so fun (5)
Then the food is on the tray (7)
Stomach says “oh dear!” (5)

Winter is coming (5)
My son likes tomato soup (7)
Perfect for the cold (5)

Lunch with Mrs. Q — Head on over there to share more haiku and ideas for reform. We had a nice chat with a small group of people last Sunday. With the holidays upon us, these two weekends in a row I will be unavailable, but we’ll set up a chat in December!

Day 145: salisbury steak and a thank you

Today’s menu: salisbury steak, spinach, bread, fruit cup

Processed meat…yummy… it’s hard to choke it down, but I ate the whole patty. I’m able to do that because I make sure I’m really hungry at lunch. Some of you have wondered if I pack my own lunch in addition to buying school lunch. You don’t trust that I’m eating the lunch. Well, I don’t trust myself either: I don’t very good impulse control. If I had a home lunch within reach and one of the school lunches, which would I eat? Not what is pictured below….

I could do laps in that pool…

So I make sure that I’m actually hungry for lunch. Then I’ll eat what I’m given. By the way, the meat was blah. The gravy seemed thicker than usual, not sure why.

I ripped off some bread to dip in…glech

Thanks for reading my blog. I know it’s not a happy, warm and fuzzy place to hang out on the internet. I do my best to keep it light even though the subject material can be pretty heavy. Recently someone told me that they thought I had been “lazy” by not taking more of a political stance on the lunches. Do you agree? If I do sound wishy-washy, it’s because I have been concerned about my job…though I’m less worried these days. Thoughts?

***

I’m totally spent. Long days at school, then off to pick up my son at daycare, home to frantically make dinner, and afterwards I try to get some time with my son before his bedtime… I also have to fit in a shower and scheduling it is really a stressor. Since the second bathroom is located right next to my son’s room, I can’t shower when he’s asleep without waking him up. Around here sleep is sacred.

My little guy sleeps in until almost 7 am and so I won’t risk waking him (the kid needs his sleep). In the morning my husband hits the shower as soon as our son is up! So at night after we finish dinner, I rush to fit a shower in before my son’s bedtime. Then once he goes down (not always an easy feat) then I go straight to my laptop to upload the lunch photos and write a blog post.

I know a lot of the blog posts have typos and grammatical errors. Well, in a perfect world I wouldn’t be writing a post and publishing it same night. I like to let things marinate and come back to revise, but it’s not possible. I wish I could comment on your comments, but once I post, I either go straight to bed or clean the kitchen up and then off to bed. I feel like a hamster on a wheel.

My son has gotten occasional colds over the past couple months, but nothing like the first six months of this year when we couldn’t catch a break and he was constantly ill. Because of my committment to eating school lunch every day, my husband has been the go-to guy to stay home with our boy. I hate that it’s a choice between feeding my blog and getting snuggle time with my sick kid. Luckily my husband has a mountain of sick time (way more than I do) so to him it’s a no-brainer that he stays home. Sometimes though I can’t bear being away from my sick kid…being Mommy is my most important job.

Most people in my life, coworkers and friends who don’t know about the blog, look at me and can tell that something is going on with me, but they can’t put their finger on what exactly it is. I bet many people think that I might be pregnant. It’s hard for them to justify what they see: someone who is totally run down, but with a sparkle in her eye. It’s for me to know and them to find out!

Day 144: pizza, my (Droid) phone, and call your rep!

Today’s menu: cheese pizza, fresh carrots, apple

I walked in the hallway towards the cafeteria and noticed that characteristic smell: it was pizza day! I was starving so I didn’t much care what I ate. Breakfast was a distant memory…in fact I wasn’t sure I even had more than a few bites of my son’s scrambled eggs.

At home mornings are rushed because I’m focused on feeding my son breakfast and packing his lunch. I try to mimic what is served at daycare so that my son wants to eat his lunch and not what everyone else is eating (peer pressure starts young). Today’s menu at daycare was scrambled eggs and hash browns, which sounds terrific in name alone, but it comes from a package. Better menu choice than the days when it’s fish nuggets and alfredo noodles (who dreams up these combos?)

So I made him scrambled eggs and potatoes this morning so I know what’s in them. At daycare almost all fruit and veggies come from a can. I know this because I have seen them. Once the daycare menu listed “baby peas” on a day I happened to drop him off before lunch. When I saw what the kids were getting, they had the unmistakable palor of peas from a can (and they weren’t baby peas either). Oddly, I liked peas from a can as a child, so why am I so anti-canned peas? BPA! It lines the interior of cans. I don’t mind if my son has the occasional canned fruit or veggie at home (I just made chili and used some varieties of canned beans), but not every day at daycare when I can easily send veggies (today he got peas actually). (Check out this recent story about BPA in baby bottles)

The veggies that I eat at school for school lunch are not from a can: at least they taste like they were never canned.

It looks good here, no?

The apple was slightly damp from being washed

I was interrupted twice during my lunch today. I’m rarely interrupted, but today one person stopped by to chat with me while I was mid-bite of my pizza. My desk is towards the back of the room and I heard a knock on the door. I frantically threw the tray and what was left of my pizza to the side, trying to hide and yelled out curiously, “Yes?” No one answered so I went to the door thinking…this could be it. Thankfully the coworker was waiting outside the door and didn’t just barge right in.

We chatted about a particular student we are worried about and then I went back to my meal. Looking down at my pizza, I knew I didn’t have time to eat the rest of it, but I wanted to eat the carrots. I started digging in and knock, knock someone else arrived! I shoved the tray over, but this time everything was in plain sight.

I started walking towards the door and she was already in the room. She had a question about something computer-based. You have no idea how much tech support I provide to coworkers on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind at all. I’m pretty savvy with the computer and get asked a lot of questions. I have found out that many don’t check their work email accounts every day. We have been told to check email once a day and it’s the first thing I do when I get a spare moment in the day. Anyway, we made our way over to my desk where all of my lunch “evidence” was. She seemed oblivious to anything around the computer and so I showed her how to do something technical. That was the abrupt end to my lunch.

that apple is in my purse right now…just waiting to be nibbled

The other thing in my purse is my Droid Eris. I really love this phone, my very first smart phone that I bought towards the end of January. Yep, I started the project with just a regular cell phone and emailed the photos into the blog. You can go back through the archives and see when I bought the fancy pants phone. I don’t see myself being able to go back to a regular phone after having this one in my possession. I love it.

I can’t take a photo with my cell of my cell so tonight I cracked out a camera and took a shot of my trusty, hard-working Droid.

the damn thing is full of school lunch pictures…
The phone itself might be getting fed up of school lunch photos — it’s been a little slower than normal and when I took it into the Verizon store to ask, they told me everything looked fine (latest software update, not too many apps, etc). I rely on it so don’t fail me now little guy! We’re almost home free!

***

Do me a favor and call, email or fax your representative (it already passed the Senate) and urge him/her to take action on renewing the Child Nutrition Act during the “lame duck” session. The bill will be debated on 12/1 or 12/2 right after Thanksgiving, which is a great holiday to get family talking about nutrition!

Click here to send your representative an email (through the Healthy Schools Campaign).

Thanks!

Guest Blogger: Dianasaur Dishes

Mrs Q here: today is report card pickup day/ teacher-parent conferences. It’s a non-attendance day for students, the doors open midday and stay open until early evening. Since I wasn’t going to be able to eat school lunch today, I asked a friend to write a guest blog post. Meet: Diana from Dianasaur Dishes and read her incredible story. We were on the same panel at BlogHer Food and I was so inspired by her experience and what she is doing now.

Hello new friends!  I’m so excited Mrs. Q asked me to guest post because I’m thrilled about her passion to make a difference in a world of unhealthy eating.  I have a similar passion and not a day goes by without me dreaming up some way to try and help people learn how to eat healthy on a tight budget.  Part of why I’m so passionate is that I personally know what it feels like to not have enough money for food.
My journey toward healthy eating involved a lot of baby steps.  I’m originally from Hawaii and when September 11, 2001 came I, along with most of the people in the tourism industry, lost my job.  That was when my eating habits changed dramatically in the wrong direction.  I discovered that in order to pay my basic bills, I only had $1-2 a day to live on for food.  I concluded that my limited budget meant that the only way I could survive was to live off of the fast food dollar menu (at that time only Jack in the Box had one).
After a year of unhealthy eating which affected my physical and emotional health as well as energy levels, a friend gave me a bag of groceries because she had “bought too much”.  She was truly a good friend who knew that my foolish pride at the time would keep me from accepting her gift unless I could pretend I was doing her a favor.  With that one bag of groceries I was able to cook for myself, without recipes, for an entire week.  At that point a light bulb went off and I realized that I could take my $10-14 a week to the grocery store and start buying real food to play with at home.  That was the start of my healthy food journey, but I still had a lot to learn.
The first place I would head in the grocery store would be the boxed food aisle, you know where they have the Hamburger Helper type meals, except that those were out of my budget.  I usually went for the $1 boxes of alfredo, they had these little one inch long flat noodles and package of some white powdery substance that once you add milk and butter turns into a cheese like sauce.  Of course I realized there wasn’t much nutritional value in that box, so I’d buy the chicken breast that was about to pass its “use by” date, and whatever vegetables were on sale to add to my pasta. 
(acorn squash pasta)
But eventually I realized that I was actually limiting myself with these pre-packaged foods.  I thought it was my budget limiting me, but when I started doing the math I discovered that it was really more affordable in the long run to buy real noodles and real cheese to make my alfredo than going the boxed route.  It also tasted better and was better for my body.
Eight years down the road, whether or not to buy or eat processed food is rarely a question for me.  I get a CSA (http://dianasaurdishes.com/06/our-first-csa-and-why-we-consider-ourselves-neo-hippies/) every spring through fall from a local farm, I forage (http://dianasaurdishes.com/10/foraging-rose-hip-recipe-for-tea/) for what’s available in my area, I buy meat in bulk (http://dianasaurdishes.com/05/rosemary-garlic-steak-marinade-with-oregano-garlic-butter/) from local ranchers, and I stay on the outer edges of grocery stores to avoid the processed food aisles.
(butternut squash soup)
I hope to help people understand that changing your eating habits is not like the flipping of a switch.  It can take time!  Some foodies feel that if everyone isn’t making their own sauces, condiments, and canned goods from scratch, something is terribly wrong.  But not everyone is ready for that yet.  Each time you choose a healthier whole ingredient option over a pre-packaged one, that’s a step in the right direction. 
Now, If you’re hoping to make your journey a little speedier than my own, I have a couple quick tips.
(purslane tomato corn salad)
Find a farm in your area or grow your own food – I’m not against grocery stores, but if you can get local produce by either buying a share at a farm (also known as a CSA) or growing it yourself, DO IT!  The food will taste better, be better for you, and almost always be more affordable.  It’s also a lot of fun because you often get to play with different ingredients that might not normally buy in the store.  The salad above is a mix of fresh corn from our CSA, ripe and unripe tomatoes from my backyard (I’ve never played with green tomatoes before), bacon from a local farm, and purslane from our driveway…which brings me to my next point…
(purslane edible weed)
Learn about foraging – If you just do a little research online, you can usually find out what edible plants grow wild in your area.  The plant above is called purslane, and it contains more omega 3 fatty acids per serving than most fish!  It’s a weed that grows in sidewalk cracks and often takes over gardens.  I spot it all over the place in my city, so if you’re ever in Auburn and see women outside the grocery store collecting it for food, they’re probably members of my cooking classes!  We also have lots of berries, mushrooms and other tasty tidbits that grow all over the place.
Cooking and eating from whole ingredients starts out as a conscious choice; you read the ingredient list to make sure you recognize everything listed, you put down the preservative laden jar of jam in favor of making your own, you decide to make snacks from scratch rather than buying them in a box.  Eventually it becomes a habit and a way of life.  You no longer have to decide between the “dried fruit snacks” or dried fruit. 
The cool thing is, not only will this be better for your body and the environment, it’s also better for your pocketbook!  Don’t believe the lie that I did, being poor doesn’t have to mean eating poorly.  If you need more ideas to help you out, be sure to check out my Top Ten Tips for Eating Healthy on a Tight Budget (http://dianasaurdishes.com/03/ten-tipshow-to-save-money-on-groceries-and-still-eat-healthy/).  I’d also love for you to add your own tips in the comments because we can all learn so much from each other.
Although I started DianasaurDishes.com as a place to keep track of what I was cooking (if you don’t follow recipes it’s hard to make the same thing twice unless you write down what you do), but I soon realized that it was really a resource for people trying to cook on very little money.  That’s when I started really focusing my posts with readers in mind.  Now I also teach free cooking classes to low income families in my city who are trying to make healthier choices for their families.  If you’re struggling to eat healthy on a tight budget, know that you’re not alone.  By sharing our stories and supporting each other, we can each continue moving in a positive direction, making a difference in the health of our family, and changing the way our culture looks at food!