An artistic tangent

[I wrote this post in January and never put it up. This weekend was really busy and fun with visiting family and I didn’t get a chance to write up some new material. I hope you don’t mind reading something completely different today!]

My mother’s first career was as an art teacher. She still paints on weekends when she is not working. I enjoy drawing, but I never do it (when would I find time?). When my younger sister started getting really good at drawing, I was in middle school. I stopped drawing; I guess I didn’t like the competition. Now my sister has a B.F.A. I was right — she really was better than me!

I love art though, and I find it such a loss when schools close art programs. So much of my childhood was devoted to making art. I loved creating with markers, cray-pas, and colored pencils. One time I won a contest. I drew a picture of my family under a large tree and two houses on hills far in the distance. My grandma had it framed in her kitchen, but she recently moved into assisted living, so I think the picture is in a box. My prize was a large, yellow crayola crayon that I kept in my room for many years.

We also did ballet, but I dropped out in eighth grade when the girls started getting catty and I started wondering if my thighs were fat. My sister stayed in long enough to see dancers go on “orange diets,” eating only oranges for a day. I don’t remember exactly why or when she stopped dancing, but I think that had something to do with it. My mom was probably relieved she didn’t have to foot those dancing bills, but I know she believed they were worth the extra expense. Mom, they were — I still love dancing to music, though not ballet.

Looking back, my favorite part of dancing wasn’t going up en pointe, which I did even though it kills your feet. I definitely didn’t enjoy working at the barre. No, it was the end of class that was the best.

All us little girls in our black leotards, and hair up in buns slick with dippity doo, would line up in one corner of the room. We were ready to run and jump in the middle of the floor, diagonally running and criss-crossing, each taking one turn. Maybe I got three to four turns, or less when we ran out of time. If I didn’t get a chance to run and jump at the end, it felt like the whole class was a waste. Why do all that little precise footwork then? I wanted to get air, baby. [Another reason for recess for my students — they want to jump too…sigh]
Where am I going exactly with this post? Good question, I went off on a tangent there. I’m back.
Earlier in January, I read about vision boards (google image search: vision boards) and it inspired this blog post. What you do is brainstorm a topic, get a bunch of magazines together, cut out all of the images that speak to you, and paste them on a board. I saw it mentioned on this blog, and she pointed us to her inspiration (what a fantastic creation!) and a tutorial.
Vision boards are a great thing to do at the beginning of the year (when you are charting a course for your year), but even now I think this would be a blast to do with kids at school! My little guy is a bit young to get this, but I could give it a try since he got kid scissors in his stocking this past holiday. I would love to do a food vision board with all the foods I want to envision myself eating this year! If I ever do a vision board, I’ll share it with you…

Lunch Wrap Up #7

My son is doing better. He turned the corner last weekend and two weeks of crappy eating slowly came to an end. In fact, this week he ate more than usual at breakfast and dinner. My husband and I are wiping our brows. Phew!
Click below for the photos…

Black rice heart, peas, mango, bacon, yogurt and pomegranate seeds,
ginger cookies, lollipop, crackers

For Valentine’s Day I sent my little guy a rice heart. I have noticed he’ll eat more rice when it’s shaped than when it’s loose (find the product here). When I made the rice, I used 1.5 cups white rice to 0.5 cups black rice, which you can purchase at Asian grocery stores. I like diluting the black rice, because when I have made “pure” black rice, it’s a little over-powering. This lunch felt sparse to me, but I after roughly two weeks of poor lunch eating, I scaled back a little. They didn’t give him the lollipop so when we left the daycare and people were handing out bright red cookies and milk chocolate, he was happily sucking on a Yummy Earth lollipop. Sometimes I feel like a food prude but it’s my son’s tummy and health at stake and I won’t compromise. Daycare menu: soynut butter and jelly sandwiches, mandarin oranges, peas with yogurt and fruit as snacks.

Rice star, green beans, sliced chicken sausage, applesauce,
yogurt with pomegranate seeds, mango, carrot muffin

If it looks like someone raided this lunch and nibbled on a muffin, they did. When I make my son’s lunches, he’s often very interested in sampling what he’s going to get ahead of time. Daycare menu: Egg patty on bread, banana, green beans with fruit and a blueberry muffin for snacks
Rice bear, sliced potatoes, smoked salmon, applesauce,
muffin, Ella’s fruit smoothie
I went with the school lunch rule that potatoes are a veggie and sent them with my son. I prepared them by slicing them thin and frying them in olive oil with a little sea salt. I thought they were perfect. I sent smoked salmon because my kid loves it. He gobbles it down. I have to agree that it is amazing. Daycare menu: ground beef and rice, diced pears, diced carrots, with fruit and ice cream as snacks.
Gf fish sticks, bacon, applesauce, brussel sprouts, yogurt,
sliced pear, bag with pretzels
Of all of this week’s lunches, this was his favorite. I was told he ate everything. When I saw the gf fish sticks on sale at the store, I couldn’t resist. Have you noticed a lot of bacon and applesauce in my son’s lunches? Yeah, I see a trend. It’s hard not to send him with things I know he’ll love. Daycare menu: chicken patty, wheat bread, applesauce, peas with yogurt and fruit as snacks.
tomato soup, brussel sprouts, applesauce, egg, yogurt
pretzels in the bag
He loves tomato soup so I sent some. I also brought the same for myself in my lunch (see below) and I found it to be saltier than I remembered. Daycare menu: cod nuggets, chicken and rice soup, diced peaches, baked beans with fruit and cheese & crackers as snacks.
Mango, blueberries, tuna mac, KIND bar
I used that packaged “mac and chreese” stuff I mentioned before and added tuna and peas. Quick and easy dinner on a weeknight. Plus tuna and pasta is a comfort food for me.
Baked zucchini spaghetti pie (No Whine with Dinner),
mango slices and KIND bar
I modified the original recipe (from the book I reviewed last week) to make it gluten and dairy free. It was good. I could have used more zucchini though. Or maybe I just used too much pasta!
Squash soup, rice, potatoes, pear
I was nauseous on Wednesday. In fact, I was so nauseous in the morning that I joked to my husband that maybe I was pregnant. Just so it’s clear, I’m definitely not pregnant. But I was terribly nauseous and didn’t eat much breakfast. I had a tough time making my son’s lunch and throwing something together for myself. I didn’t have a clue what would appeal to me so I brought plain foods. The nausea was there all day and when lunch rolled around I didn’t want to eat much. I ate half a bowl of soup and once pear. If what I had was what my son had last week, no wonder he didn’t want to eat.
Amy’s microwave meal
I felt like myself on Thursday after a good night of rest. I brought a microwave meal to work for the first time this year. I wasn’t able to do any cooking the night before because I was not feeling like myself. The day before I had left the rice at work in case I still wanted to eat something plain the next day, but I didn’t want to eat it. So I went ahead and heated up the frozen meal. You want to know something? Multiple coworkers commented on my meal! This was the first time anything I have eaten attracted any attention (probably because I eat weird food). They all said my lunch smelled great — it tasted good to me.
Brussel sprouts, egg, Applegate pepperoni, crackers (above) and tomato soup

It’s a hodge-podge lunch for sure. I made little cracker sandwiches with the pepperoni — it’s like my own whacked version of lunchables! And there you have it.

Open thread: the teacher who blogged and got fired

I read an article about a teacher who blogged about her students in very unflattering way to say the least and has been put on leave (Teacher suspended for bashing students on blog, defends herself for vicious jokes she calls ‘casual’). I have had a family member contact me about that story as well as a reader. Thanks for your concern!

When I first read about her, my mouth went dry. But I believe that I am different and what I did was totally the opposite of what she did.

First, I blogged anonymously for my students, not about them. I love my students dearly and care about their well-being.

Second, I have never mentioned a school district, a school, or a meal vendor by name on this blog. This blog is not a personal attack. It was an experiment to raise awareness about the school lunch that I saw at my school and that I felt was representative of many of the school lunch programs across the country (not all, but some).

Third, what the teacher/blogger said was terrible. Putting down children is something no teacher should ever do. It was really stupid, but it was free speech. I don’t think she will end up losing her job, but she’d be wise to pursue other employment.

Fourth, she probably doesn’t like her job if she’s openly critical of her students. She needs to think about changing careers. They are minors and even though her students are in high school, they are still children.

I chose my profession to make a difference. The children are why I’m there and why I love what I do. I don’t talk about them very often but I care about them deeply. Putting people down (kids or adults) doesn’t move anyone forward. In terms of this blog and its effect on my life, I think I’m more likely to leave my current teaching position and look for the same thing somewhere else than be fired.

I believe that school lunch reform goes hand-in-hand with educational reform. Education is about the kids, their futures, and the direction of our country. If that teacher thinks her students are “lazy whiners,” she needs to look in the mirror and figure out if maybe it’s her attitude that needs to change.

What do you think about what she did?

Food in the news

Last weekend TEDxManhattan – Changing the way we eat happened. I could have followed along online, but I didn’t. Frankly, I don’t remember exactly what was going on here at home, but probably us being buried under the usual mounds of laundry and stacks of dirty dishes.

The conference looked awesome though and you can read all about the impact of the “good food” movement in this article from Time Magazine Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement. Also the line-up of speakers from the event is listed on Civil Eats: Devouring Good Ideas at TEDxManhattan

Other tidbits:

  • This week HuffPost had an interesting article and slideshow: America’s Best School Lunches
  • In Chicago there’s a great school I just learned about Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC). Here’s a recent write up about their school lunches: Green, Healthy School Lunch — For Real
  • I saw this and it made me chuckle and then nod: Asthma risk ‘linked to burgers’ (BBC) — Not sure if it’s “burgers” specifically, but instead processed foods. You know, after six months of consuming school lunch, I was diagnosed with mild asthma. Bizarro.

I forgot to mention…

I never blogged about it but I was interviewed on Gayle King’s Radio Show on January 28th. Why didn’t I tell you I was going to be interviewed ahead of time so that you could have tuned in? Well, I was super excited and nervous and jittery and I didn’t want “jinx” it by blabbing about it. I didn’t even tell anyone in my family until 30 minutes before I went on because at that moment it looked pretty certain I was going to be on air. Yep, my own mother got a text 30 minutes before saying something like if you happen to be near a computer, I’m going to be interviewed by Gayle King(!), go to and you can stream it. So no one in my family heard me live. And neither did you guys…

Also I signed a release saying I wouldn’t blog about being on the show. Well, after thinking about this for a long time, I think they didn’t mean that I should avoid promoting my appearance. Can I also say I had a blast? I hope so because it really was fun and it was amazing to talk to Gayle on the phone!

You can listen to the interview by clicking below to get to the website:

Gayle King: Interviews – “Fed Up With School Lunch” (5 minutes long from January 28)

Luckily my family was able to listen to the interview (via above link). My mom told me “You did a great job, but you said ‘you know,’ too many times.” Yeah, I was super nervous. I hesitated a lot — I’m not terribly polished. I also avoided some questions like a politician! I think you’ll understand why…

Why No Recess is a Huge Mistake

I just wanted to remind you that my students have no recess. To say it breaks my heart is an understatement. I’ve blogged about it before but I know there are some new readers… Yes, there is no recess…only once a week gym.

I’ve talked to some of the “old timers” at my school and they tell me that there used to be recess, but it was cut. It happened before my time so I can’t comment on why, but I think it needs to change. There are some bitterly cold days here that would make venturing out a bad idea, but in general it’s just plain common sense that kids should get outside as much as possible.

Yesterday’s weather was in the 40 to 50 degree range. At daycare my son went outside with his class — they went for a walk. It was there first of the year. Why couldn’t my students at my school get that chance? The school day should be lengthened to accommodate recess. It’s not a choice — it’s an imperative. I believe many behavior problems would start resolving themselves. Improve school lunches and look out!

Watch this newstory from PBS linking physical activity and increases in reading and math. To me, it’s a no brainer:

Chicagoland Students See Success Hitting the Gym, Then Hitting the Books The video is below:

Guest blogger: Stop Calling Kids "Picky Eaters"


Guest post by Christina Le Beau who blogs about food literacy and sustainability at Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat.

Spend even a few minutes online and you’ll find blogs devoted to sneaky vegetables, artful bento boxes and countless other tricks to make kids eat spinach. Turn on the news, pick up a paper, check Facebook, and you can’t escape talk of school food, Happy Meal toys and the travesty of chocolate milk.

Everyone is working double-time to fix years of government-subsidized and heavily advertised junk food, in school and out. The effort to combat childhood obesity has become urgent and epic. But for all the good work, all the good intentions, nothing will change unless, along with the food and the system, we also change our expectations of what children will and won’t eat. Unless we recognize that there’s an insidious undercurrent sabotaging kids with two little words: “picky eater.”

It goes like this: Kids are picky eaters. They won’t eat food that’s green, brown or good for them. They are strong-willed little creatures who cannot be swayed. We must give up, give in, and feed them nothing but juice, crackers and neon mac and cheese.

Other things in a child’s life take time — learning to read, tie a shoe, ride a bike — and to that, parents say OK. But when it comes to food? When a child refuses something new? When a drive-thru is the quickest path to appeasement? That’s when parents throw up their hands and cry picky. Or, worse yet, tell a child she won’t like something before she even tastes it.

“Picky eater” has become a crutch and an excuse to fall back on easy, so-called “kid foods,” the notorious standards that everyone laments but too few seem willing to forgo. And there you have the setup for a head-banging self-fulfilling prophecy.

Young children go on strikes (refusing certain foods) and jags (eating only certain foods). Older kids have the added influence of marketing and friends. And all kids — and adults — have foods they just don’t like (whether at all or just right now). And, yes, sometimes it takes finessing to get children to embrace good food. But that starts with educating kids, not labeling them.

Language is important. Labels are dangerous. And when we label our kids, we diminish our expectations of them and make obstacles seem insurmountable. We also minimize the very real challenges faced by children who do have serious food allergies or sensory issues. Those kids aren’t “picky eaters,” either. They have legitimate underlying causes for their food aversions, and labeling just adds to the stress.

Think about this: The reason we even have Happy Meals and Lunchables and bland, non-nutritive school lunches is not because that’s all kids will eat. It’s because that’s the kind of food adults think kids will eat. And it’s the kind of food that manufacturers and marketers can produce and sell at a huge mark-up. In the race to homogenize food and maximize profit, we lost respect for kids’ palates. And for kids.

So now we can’t just fix the food. We also have to nix the labels.

Domino’s Smart Slice

Domino’s has launched their new “Smart Slice,” which is a “reformulated” pizza recipe to fit the new USDA’s regulations for school lunch. It’s “51% white whole-wheat flour” and the pizza has “35% less sodium in the traditional sauce.” Where’s my party hat?

The story broke in January and many of you sent me links, which always failed to open on my computer. Weird…like they knew it was me. Anyway, the links magically work now. The official press release: A revolution in school pizza!

Delivery pizzas made by companies like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s are special treats. Delivered pizza should be a once-in-a-while thing. Like on Super Bowl Sunday. Did you know that pizza delivery companies across the country expected to see a 35% rise in sales Super Bowl Sunday (source)? The NFL’s official pizza provider, Papa John’s, expected to sell a million pizzas last Sunday, which would make it their biggest day of the year (source).

I just felt a little queasy.

Moving on, I wasn’t a big fan of the school pizza I ate. But I do like pizza. As a kid I would go out to Pizza Hut with my family for deep dish on special occasions. I loved that crust. And the garlic breadsticks, but my parents didn’t always allow us to get those.

My point is that with pizza being served at least a once a week thing at elementary school, and at many high schools it is offered every day, we have to use caution when letting these mega-corporations come in and give our kids these products on a regular basis.

How many of the home cooks who read this blog know how easy and cheap it is to make homemade pizza? That’s probably why my family didn’t go out to Pizza Hut very often — actually probably only when my sister and I were participating in Book It! and we got pizza coupons for reading (don’t get me started…). My mom made terrific homemade pizza and she would pair it with a salad of lettuce, green pepper and tomatoes. Simple and delicious.

If you haven’t made homemade pizza, I say go for it. It’s customizable, it’s so cheap, and of course your pizza wouldn’t contain a paragraph of ingredients because it’s not processed and you decide what you want. I find home cooking to be quite addicting. Once you try making your own pizza, it’s going to be a lot harder paying 20 bucks for one — though delivery is pretty convenient.

How much money will Domino’s get per slice? $2? $1? It’s dough, sauce and cheese, folks. It shouldn’t be expensive and no one should be making a buck off of feeding poor kids at school.

Let’s summarize: I’m marginally happy about the reduced sodium, but overall I think there are better ways to feed kids at school that don’t rely on pizza delivery companies.

Further reading:
Domino’s: A revolution in school pizza!
Slashfood: Domino’s “Smart Slice” To Appear in A School Near You
Serious Eats: Domino’s Moving into Schools with ‘Smart Slice’