Lunch Literature Book Club

I’m still chugging along here reading Free For All. But some of you don’t have your books yet and because I’m reading slowly, I’m going to extend our reading of the book through March. In two weeks we’ll chose a new book to read starting April 1st.

It’s hard to believe that I used to be a member of two book clubs, but of course that was before I became a mother. I used to churn through books and now I’m not able to do that for a lot of reasons. The two book clubs were very different. One was a large group of close friends/coworkers. A book would be chosen (often popular fiction), sometimes read, discussed for fifteen minutes and then the following two hours was devoted to eating and drinking wine. It was always held at someone’s apartment.

The second book club was also run by a close friend, but the other members were strangers. The book choice was usually a classic, either one from the past or a more modern one. The books were sometimes long and dense, but not finishing the book and showing up to book club was not done. At least, I usually didn’t finish the book and I had nothing to offer to the meeting. The club was usually held in a coffee shop. Needless to say I had time for none of them after I had my son. Reading? What was that?

Even though my son is older and I should have time to read theoretically, I’m not able to fit in much reading. I’m still trying to figure how to run an online book club so bear with me.

Without further delay, here are discussion questions this week:

1) What does “plate waste” mean and what impact did it have on school lunch? (p 65)
2) How did chicken nuggets and other “kid-friendly” items become reimburseable? (p 89)
3) How do concerns about food-borne illness impact items served for lunch at school? (p 97)

Anything else you’d like to bring up about the book?

Giveaway winners! And another giveaway!

Thanks so much for your patience — I just realized that Robyn O’Brien’s guest blog post went up a month ago. Where did the time go? Without further delay, here are the three winners of copies of her book…

1) Robyn O’Brien’s book The Unhealthy Truth:

There were 47 comments on the blog post and I let the computer work its magic. The winners are:
Comment # 4 – Katherine
Comment # 33 – Paula
Comment # 40 – Kate at Sacred Bee

2) Review post – ChopChop Magazine:

There were 83 comments on the blog post and again the computer helped….

Comment # 14 – Le Reveuse
Please email me if you won!! 🙂
I continue to be humbled by you, my readers. I love reading your comments. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to stop by. You touch me. You teach me. You make me smile.
(I still can’t believe you like seeing/reading about my lunches. To me they are boring. I have to say it really does make me feel exposed as food is personal. You see my life through our lunches.)
So I’m going to do a giveaway of something I recently purchased because I’m enjoying this whole blogging thing way too much and I’m grateful you are hanging around to read it. How about a Thermos Foogo Leak-Proof Stainless Steel Food Jar??
I bought it and it is gorgeous, but before I took it out of its packaging, I realized that I didn’t really need it. I think you will enjoy it. To enter, simply comment on this post. No need to say anything fancy!

Foodie sound off: a plain old sandwich as a pariah?

Who doesn’t want a sandwich for lunch, right? I love a good sandwich. This past week over at The Lunch Tray Bettina noticed an article on MSNBC: Some schools cut lunch options for kids who struggle to pay and she blogged about how kids who can’t pay get an “alternate meal” of a sandwich. Hold on. That’s a punishment?

Bettina noted:

What was especially interesting to me is that the dreaded “alternative meal” usually consists of a plain cheese or peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk or a juice, and sometimes a piece a fruit — a meal that MSNBC describes as “bland” and “unappetizing.”


While I don’t mean to minimize the plight of financially disadvantaged students, I couldn’t help but think how much I’d rather have my child eat a simple sandwich than some of the highly processed food my own district regularly serves.

Agreed. Last year when I ate school lunch, I would have preferred the cheese sandwich over “Salisbury steak” (processed meat patty). Why? Well, those terrible Salisbury steak farts, that’s why! Lord have mercy. I will never forget that…even if I want to…

Sandwiches made right are a perfect way for kids to get calories they need at lunch. The kids who pack lunch often eat sandwiches made by mom or dad. I know I did. Actually one of my coworkers eats a sandwich every day. Lunch time is about learning and let’s teach kids that sandwiches are perfect for lunch.

It all goes back to decent, simple food. Not weird processed foodlike products. What’s wrong with a plain sandwich once a week? Soynut butter and jelly? Cheese and tomato? Turkey and spinach? Chicken salad? Ooh, egg salad? (Sorry, I turned into my own grandma for a second) What about a BLT? The list goes on and on…

Thoughts on sandwiches? I’m betting they are too labor-intensive and won’t stay fresh for as long compared to processed foods that can be frozen. Why can’t sandwiches be cheaper than meat patties? Don’t answer that — I know the answer has to do with corn subsidies, right?

When Did the Sandwich Become a Punishment? (The Lunch Tray)
Some schools cut lunch options for kids who struggle to pay (MSNBC)

Lunch Wrap Up #8

This week I’ve only had one night of uninterrupted sleep. The kid keeps waking up in the night wanting to eat “panda puffs” (cereal). He went through two weeks of barely eating due to illness and now we’re just finishing up two weeks of great eating, but the night-wakening is getting out of hand. I have realized that it’s worse for me to have an interrupted night of sleep of eight hours than to get only six hours of continuous sleep. I need to hit REM sleep or I’m not myself.

I feel a bit like a zombie. I just keep telling myself a parenting rule (I probably read it on the internet somewhere, but I don’t know where so sorry I can’t attribute it to someone) — wait a few days and it will change.

My husband and I were both off on Monday and we had family in town too. For lunch we had the chili and cornbread you’ll see in our lunches later in the week… I forgot to photograph my lunch, but sometimes I need a break too.

Photos after the jump….

Buffalo burgers, broccoli, cornbread muffin, ketchup,
mandarin orange, yogurt, bar, banana

Our kid is a meat eater and my husband is all about getting “fatty meat” into our son. Months ago at his two-year-old appointment my son was in around the 80th percentile for height and around the 20th percentile for weight. Our little guy was a really chunky baby (think 80th percentile) but grew tall and he burned it off by running around. My husband is a little worried about not have a chunk anymore, but our kid looks great (and tall for his age too). The daycare folks said he ate it ate his entire lunch and the snacks. Daycare menu: ground beef, mac and cheese, bananas, carrots with fruit and ice cream as snacks.

Beef/chickpea/sweet potato chili, applesauce, egg, bread, corn/peas,
yogurt, sliced kiwi, pretzels in bag
This is the chili I made on Monday. I bought “grass fed” beef, but I didn’t use very much of it in the chili (1/2 lb). I used a chili recipe from No Whine With Dinner as a guide, but changed it up with chopped sweet potato and cans of chickpeas and cannelloni beans. It was amazing — the key was browning the meat in olive oil, garlic and onions. Then I just added whatever I pleased, after draining the fat. Daycare menu: hard-boiled egg, wheat bread, applesauce, peas with yogurt and pretzels/cream cheese for snacks.
Chicken taco meat, green beans, rice vegan cheese and crackers,
yogurt, mandarin orange, sliced kiwi, rice chips in bag
Often I get emails asking for recipes, but really I only read a cookbook! This time I followed the sage advice of Stephanie O’Dea in Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. The chicken tacos came from a crockpot. My son was nuts for it the night before (so was my husband and it was amazing to have dinner waiting when we got home). The daycare folks said he didn’t eat it all while he was there though. Oh well. Daycare menu: cod nuggets, wheat bread, tomato soup, mandarin orange with fruit and and cheese/crackers for snacks.
Pancakes (Bob’s Red Mill gf pancake mix), bacon, syrup,
frozen carrots in the corners, avocado, yogurt, sliced kiwi, bar
He ate all of this per the daycare folks! When he falls down and bangs something, he’ll say “ice pack,” and so we dutifully open the freezer and get him something cold. Sometimes it’s an ice pack, but other times it’s some frozen veggies. He thinks this is hilarious and then wants to eat cold veggies. (Bonus points if they are stuck together – he likes to exclaim “tuck togehda!”) Daycare menu: sloppy joe sandwich, diced pears, diced carrots with fruit and ice cream for snacks.
Leftover chili with cornbread
Chili and cornbread = a match made in heaven. Perfect for a winter day! I threw in a piece of fruit too.
Bread (peanut butter at work), chili, egg, apple, KIND bar
The kid didn’t sleep well during the night and so we all overslept a little. I focused on trying to get my son’s lunch done right and let my own lunch slip. Part of the problem was that morning I was preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at once. The evening bliss of coming home to a meal was wonderful, but the morning was truly nuts. I was running around like my hair was on fire, trying to make hard-boiled eggs (I opened this one to check doneness). I have a stash of peanut butter at work (it’s in a secure location and I don’t have any kids with peanut allergies) and I threw the bread in under the assumption I would make a sandwich on the fly. I survived lunchtime just fine — there is nothing wrong with simple peanut butter on bread.
Chicken tacos, sliced kiwi, mandarin orange, bag of rice chips
I opened my lunch bag and thought, “I forgot silverware!” but really I didn’t need any as I used the chips to scoop. This was another lunch that caught the eye of my coworkers who said it smelled amazing. Thanks to Stephanie O’Dea and her inspired crockpot cookbook!

Random thrown together crockpot meal, kiwi, orange,
chocolate bar, KIND bar

I used the crockpot again and made a variation on Stephanie O’Dea’s Mediterranean Chicken. Basically, I put a package of frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot, then I added a whole container of chicken broth, dry quinoa (around a cup)…and the rest was just old veggies in the fridge. Half a jar of Kalamata olives, half a jar of piquillo red peppers, three semi-mealy Roma tomatoes, broccolini – all had been sitting around in the fridge.

It sounds odd, but old vegetables make great soups so I took a chance. Everything turned out beautifully for dinner. My husband and I really enjoyed it, but my son was not that crazy about it. He’s not into quinoa, but he ate the chicken, a bite of broccolini, and tons of olives. He must have eaten ten! I didn’t send it with him for lunch because I knew he wasn’t crazy about it, but I ate it for lunch and it was terrific.

When I told my husband that I was packing a chocolate bar in my lunch, he replied, “You deserve it! Actually you deserve two!” It was a rough week for sleep.

Rabbit Food Smoothies

My dad hates eating salad. He calls it “rabbit food.” He’s never been very good at forcing himself to eat something that’s good for him. I mentioned that my mom would make a salad to accompany pizza at our house, but in general I don’t remember eating a whole lot of salad at home.
Confession: I didn’t really know what kale was until a few years ago.

But I know kale is good for me and so I’ve dutifully tried to eat it at home. Every time I’ve tried to cook it on the stove it has tasted less than delicious. A kale fail – for the twitterfolks #kalefail (To be fair I know I still need to try making kale chips.)

What happens when something doesn’t go right in the kitchen? Well, if you are less than ambitious like me then the bad experience in the kitchen is not reinforcing and you just stop shopping for that food.

After a brief appearance, kale was swiftly removed from the shopping list.

That was until I started thinking about doing some kind of detox after my year of school food. I never went ahead with a detox diet because it seemed like a lot of work — not to mention I was sick and tired of messing with my diet.

I was still interested in eating non-inflammatory foods though. So I started an internet search. That’s where Nourishing Meals comes in. I met Ali and Tom at BlogHer Food. When I noticed that their website and book contained information about a 28 day elimination diet, I was intrigued and bought their book. This month I decided to be bold and try to make their minty green kale and spinach smoothie.

Kale has never tasted so good. Even my husband remarked that he had never enjoyed kale until he drank this smoothie.

Ali and Tom share a lot of smoothie recipes on their website so I’m not going to share the exact recipe from their book that I used and loved (I don’t have their permission). However, you can watch a video of them making a green smoothie with their twin two-year-olds. The video could not be any cuter and you can see just how quick and easy it is to make a green smoothie.
Here’s to rabbit food smoothies! Cheers!
My smoothie tips:
Get a blender or dust off of the one you’ve got Considering my audience, you probably already have a blender. We have a terrific blender, which was a wedding present. Before that we used a blender my husband got at a garage sale for $5 when he was in college. It served us well for many years. In fact, my husband loved that blender so much that he disassembled it and turned it into a lamp. He recently bought us an immersion blender so we are now fully equipped.
Don’t be afraid to experiment Try new fruits and veggies. Use what’s on sale at the grocery store. Change up the smoothie base. I had never really tried a water-based smoothie until I made their green smoothie. I didn’t miss a milk base at all.
Kids love being involved Most kids like to push buttons and see what happens next. My kid thinks what’s happening in the kitchen is fun and cool, but he is scared of the blender and will run to the couch and bury himself under a cushion. We have gotten him to taste and drink some of the green smoothie, but he doesn’t enjoy it like we have been.

Unions, pensions, and tenure…oh my! (part one)

I’ve been watching what’s been happening in Wisconsin. I haven’t really known what to think and who to believe.

I’m a union member, but sometimes I find my union’s approach to be a little too bellicose for my liking. I like to solve issues through compromise and civility — I avoid conflict. Once last year I took a top union member aside and chatted for a few minutes. The budget had been in the news and I mentioned I would be willing to take furlough days to keep my job. I don’t remember the person’s exact response, but it was along the lines of “we don’t give in unless we get something.”

One of my coworkers told me I’d make a bad union rep because I’m not strong enough and not a fighter. Well, there’s more than meets the eye with me, but it’s true that I wouldn’t feel comfortable being a union rep.

If I were a teacher in Wisconsin and my governor asked me to fund parts of my pension and my benefits to help the state out, I’d do it. I’m a reasonable person. But to take away my right to bargain collectively with a stroke of the pen? That’s extreme.

What makes it smell fishy is that he doesn’t want to strip the collective bargaining rights of all unionized state employees — Governor Walker is exempting the bargaining rights of police and firefighters. Why some and not all? That looks suspicious.

Reading about the news from the state to my north has put me into a funk. I don’t think people value education and teachers the way they used to. As one of you commented previously, sometimes school feels like a test prep center.

Real education reform is about compromise and working together for kids. We’re pushing character education into elementary schools, but I guess it was before Governor Walker’s day. I think he could benefit from a refresher on the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Maybe we all need to keep those principles in mind.

Pensions and tenure…to be continued…

Further reading:
In Wisconsin, the real struggle is over power (Washington Post)
Wisconsin Power Play – Krugman (NY Times)
Our view: In Wisconsin budget battle, bad behavior all around (USA Today)
Make Everybody Hurt – Brooks (NY Times)

Review: Chop Chop Magazine

ChopChop magazine reached out to me and asked me if I had heard about their cooking magazine for kids. I hadn’t, but I was anxious to learn more. They sent me an issue and copies to hand out to my students.

I liked reading magazines as a kid. Highlights was my favorite, but my parents couldn’t afford a subscription. I only got to read it at the doctor’s office. ChopChop is fun like Highlights, but practical because it teaches kids about cooking in an approachable, creative way.

I like that they show kids preparing food —
it’s not something you see very often in the media

I think ChopChop for kids that like to do things in the kitchen — it will inspire new kitchen endeavors. Also, I think the magazine will engage with kids who avoid the kitchen and only like certain foods. I hear that kids who are “picky” will try foods that they prepare themselves — what if each week a kid can choose one recipe from the magazine to try with adult help?

The instructions specify “with the help of your adult” in red
for the times when adults are needed

Chili is a perfect recipe for any budding chef. When I was in college I had a great recipe for veggie chili that I cut out of the paper. I have looked for it since and can’t find it. Maybe the one featured in the magazine can replace it.

Learn about squash — and coupons

Coupons are helpful and it’s a nice way to offset the cost of the magazine ($14.95 for four times per year), which I don’t think is bad at all.


My students opened the magazine and paged through it. Of the many things they enjoyed, they loved  the dinosaur! There are plenty of recipes to choose from in the magazine, but there was other fun things too like a maze, cool photos and graphics.

I like ChopChop and so I just got a subscription. And…

I’m giving one away! To enter leave a comment below describing a dish you have cooked with your child or one that you would like to try.

If you want to keep up with ChopChop magazine, check the magazine out on Facebook and on Twitter.

School lunch article in the Trib

While I’ve been relaxing with the family this weekend, this article is making the rounds on Twitter and the blog-o-sphere:

You can lead kids to broccoli, but you can’t make them eat

The article insinuates that the “new” and “healthy” food given to kids attending Chicago Public Schools is not being eaten and instead being thrown away.

I need numbers and data, people. I mean, do we even know what they were eating before and what they are supposedly not eating now? Where are the before/after comparisons? Here’s what I’m after:

1) What are the students not eating? The veggies? Or the “new” whole-grain items? (Both of which were presented in the article) I need more than just insinuation.

2) The article refers to Chartwells-Thompson as the sole “caterer” of Chicago Public School meals. But there are other vendors. Which meals exactly are being refused?

Look, I have to answer to hard facts on my students’ classroom performance — does this article really give me something that I can hold onto in terms of real numbers? Sorry, it doesn’t.

Interestingly, the article notes “CPS forbids the use of salt in the preparation of vegetables or other fresh food offered to students, although the district allows high levels of sodium in the processed foods it serves.”

Oh jeez.

Now that’s telling, isn’t it?

Has there been a radical change in menu items year over year? Not at my school. They are still throwing away what they threw away before because it appears to be same stuff. But my big takeaway from this article is that there needs to be nutrition education as a companion to menu changes. If you feed something new to kids, you can’t just plop it down in front of them and say “here you go.” When I change things up in my classroom routine, I give students a “heads up.” It would be nice if we tried to do that with them in the lunchroom too.

Further reading:
Buyer’s Remorse Over Healthier School Food? (Better DC School Food)