Food News and Lunch Literature Book Club

Whenever I read the blog of someone I admire, I often wonder what they are reading. So I’m going to share various things I found interesting in the blogosphere and beyond this past week:

Regarding Japan

I made a donation to the Red Cross this weekend. It felt small, but I needed to do something. Some other bloggers have been thinking about Japan too and I found both of these posts to be interesting as they both mention disaster preparedness:

School Food News

Mesquite Mom went and talked to her representative and guess what? Her representative introduced a bill for mandatory recess. Blog post here: hey texas! mandatory recess has a new name: HB 3770 (Just a mom in Mesquite). I’m so impressed by what she did and I’m taking notes.

Food and Eating

  • Diana had a great post regarding seasonal food. Seriously, I needed this: Seasonal Eating: What Food is in Season When? (Dianasaur Dishes). 
  • Ed, the master gardener, had a terrific post: Best Vegetables to Grow in D.C.–with Recipes (The Slow Cook). I don’t live in DC, but I think it’s great to hear about which plants do well in which areas and climates. I really want to learn how do some gardening this summer. We’re going to be getting that half-CSA and if I have a little success growing something, this will be an exciting summer indeed.
  • How about an entire blog devoted to salad? Salad Pride (via Steamy Kitchen)


I thought the video was really cute and I hope they are working on more of them with cameos by famous athletes. Although I’m not sure my students would know who Agassi and Graf are!

Lunch Literature Book Club

I feel terrible about how slow I have been getting through the book! I just don’t have much time for reading. This week I’m going to leave you with one question:

Is there a stigma attached to getting free lunch? (p 190)

Please nominate a book for our next selection for book club (starting April) in the comments (please make it food-related)! Then I’ll put up a poll so we can all vote. Thanks!

Lunch Wrap Up #10 – I don’t have mad skillz in the kitchen

Aside from writing on this blog, I rarely share information about food issues with coworkers and certainly not the parents of my students. Real-life friends and family know exactly what I think about everything, but at work I don’t get into people’s faces about this stuff. In public I’m a quiet observer, but in private I’m more feisty, opinionated, and blunt. Blogging gives me an outlet.
People at work have commented that I look good. I really do look better than I did last year. I say, “I am eating more whole foods and cooking from scratch more than I did before.” I think that’s a great way to describe being gluten-free without getting into everything. If they push, I tell them I’ve been gluten-free and dairy-free for a couple months. Most people respond with things like “wheat is my life” or “that sounds hard.”
If a coworker opens the door to a nutritional topic over lunch (food in the news, school food, dieting, etc), I might voice an opinion if I’m feeling bold. They initiate those conversations, not me. Likewise I would never tell the parents of my students how to feed their children or talk about topics I blog about. I don’t remember ever talking to a parent about nutrition or vice versa and as such I don’t tell parents to pack lunch or to stop eating school lunch. I don’t go there ever.
Additionally, I don’t talk about anything related to the blog with my students. Food comes up in discussions every now and then. We touch on healthy eating and we talk about what they eat at home and at school, but I don’t bring in my own opinions. I believe that it’s not appropriate for any teacher to force their own opinions on their students.
Just thought I’d share that little nugget of information with you. Lunches after the jump:

Bacon omelet, passionfruit yogurt with blackberries, green beans,
mandarin orange, cupcake/muffin, apple butter for dipping pretzels (in bag)
Have I mentioned that my son drinks goat milk? He loves it and tolerates it well (oddly, I can’t drink it). We buy the Vitamin D fortified whole goat milk, which is at our local regular grocery store in quart containers and we send it to daycare. In a side-by-side comparison of whole goat milk and whole cow milk, goat milk is virtually identical to cow milk. Goat milk is about four times as expensive, but I don’t care at all — when he’s drinking goat milk he doesn’t suffer from chronic bathroom troubles. With reference to the lunch above, the daycare folks say he ate well! Apple butter sent in place of the cream cheese the other kids were eating with their pretzels. Daycare menu: cod nuggets and fettucine alfredo (weirdest combo ever), diced pears, diced carrots with yogurt and pretzels with cream cheese as snacks.

Waffle, bacon, yogurt with blackberries, orange, syrup,
sunflower seeds, crunchy green beans, crackers (in bag), banana
They told me that he didn’t like the orange so I didn’t send any more this week. At least he’s not eating canned fruit and veggies every single day. Daycare menu: chicken patty (mechanically separated chicken, I’m sure) on whole wheat bread, bananas, peas with fruit and yogurt as snacks.

Lamb burger, ketchup, rice pasta with daiya cheese,
avocado, applesauce, cupcake/muffin, bag with sliced apples

I wonder how the pasta I sent turned out…it looked funny to me, but they said that he liked his lunch. I was trying to imitate what the other kids were eating. Daycare menu: ground beef with buttered whole wheat pasta, applesauce, green beans with fruit and blueberry muffins (the little mini-junky ones)as snacks.


Rice and peas, blueberry yogurt with blueberries, mashed sweet potatoes,
eggs and bacon, sliced apples in bag

Admittedly I packed the rice and peas to fill up the lunch – I didn’t know what else to put in there. He loves mashed potatoes normally and I figured everything else would fill him up. Of course I find out he only ate the eggs and bacon. Daycare menu: scrambled eggs, hash browns (formed round patty), pineapple, diced carrots with yogurt and fruit as snacks.

Chicken crockpot meal with brown rice cous cous, green pepper,
beans, broccoli, carrots, applesauce, yogurt with blueberries,
crackers in bag to go with cheese (under yogurt container)
I made this crockpot meal and I thought it was great, but I’m biased: I love casseroles. Bland textures are ok with me. Well, even though my son ate it when we served it for dinner the night before, the daycare folks told me that he really didn’t want to eat his lunch. Boo. I just couldn’t do another ground beef equivalent to compare with the other kids’ food. Daycare menu: ground beef with mac and cheese, diced peaches, peas with fruit and cheese and crackers as snacks.
I did something very exciting and I had a terrific lunch.
I’ll be blogging about it next week (with pictures)!
Chicken sausage, cupcake/muffin, mini-spinach salad, blueberries, orange

The cupcake/muffin was my grain!
Avocado, blueberries, peanut butter sandwich
(stacked so you can’t see the other half),
broccoli soup with microwaveable container below it.

Looking at this picture I think, “That’s a minuscule lunch!” It was actually just fine and quite comforting (I love soup).

Tuna noodle casserole, blueberries, orange, bar
I used to love tuna noodle casserole and now I’ve tried to make two different gluten-free, dairy-free equivalents and I have failed. But it was edible and it satisfied my longing for one of my favorite casseroles, but my husband and our son were not crazy about it.
Chicken crockpot meal, bag with crackers, blueberries and an orange
I’m not a talented cook. I’m getting by. This was a “getting by” crockpot meal. It took me under 15 minutes to throw it together. Reading Make it Fast, Cook it Slow really inspired me; however, I now think I can throw anything into a crockpot and have it turn out. Whoa, there girl. I’m not that skilled.
I started with a package of frozen chicken breasts, dumped in a can of Amy’s gluten-free baked beans (one of my favorite foods of all time)…I know what you are thinking…then I chopped up celery and carrots, threw in one chopped up green pepper, more than half a container of chicken broth, and a large head of broccoli, chopped. Then I left and it cooked for roughly 8 hours. When I came home, I noticed that most of the broth had not disappeared and while I was chatting on the phone with my dad, I dumped in half a box of brown rice cous cous and switched it on to “high” for 30 minutes. After thirty minutes, the broth had been absorbed by the cous cous.
I thought it tasted good. My husband didn’t think it was bad and like I said already, my son ate some when I served it for dinner. I’m a casserole person and I don’t like spicy food, but my husband really dislikes uniform textures. He loves throwing nuts on various meals for “crunch” and of course he loves spicy food. So this meal was not as satisfying for him as it was for me. But he dutifully ate it. What a trooper!

Open thread: Simple sustenance

The citizens of Japan are on my mind today. If you want to donate to disaster relief efforts through the Red Cross, visit to learn how. Or you can text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10, which will be added to your cell phone bill. Also this article in Time magazine details other organizations working to help people.

The people of Japan need the basics. With USDA rules and regulations governing school lunch and FDA monitoring our country’s food supply, it’s easy to forget that food is supposed to be simple. In times of need, I am reminded of that fact.

What are the foods you eat during times of crisis? Which staples do you turn to for simple nourishment?

Product review:

When I was making the transition from school lunch to packed lunch, I decided to sample the wide range of options for lunch packing gear. I never had anything fancy before the project, but after a year of school lunch, I wanted to treat myself. looked like a great option.

If you are keeping up with my lunch posts, you have seen that I’m using EasyLunchBoxes pretty regularly. They are quick and convenient for packing my lunch. Their slogan is “pack lunches fast” and it’s true.

I like that there are just two parts to the system: the container and the lid. Dish washing is simple. I don’t have time to eat very much food at work so it’s the perfect size.

There’s a main compartment for a sandwich or another main dish and then two smaller compartments. The smaller areas are great for veggies like carrot sticks or kale chips or cut up fruit. The packaging states that the product is not leak proof and I inadvertently tested it by putting yogurt in one of the smaller sections. It leaked out a little.

The easylunchbox comes with a lunchbag. It’s quite big and can fit a lot of other snacks and even a small drink.

Another great thing about EasyLunchBoxes is the price: For the set of four containers it’s 13.95 and the lunchbag is $7.95. So if you are looking to add some new containers to your rotation, you can hardly go wrong!

I’m sort of excited…

about the next two weeks…

Thought-provoking school lunch content coming your way starting next week. I think it’s going to take you by surprise.

Changing the way I blog slightly. Writing good blog posts takes time and sometimes I can’t do a topic justice in just one night of writing. So I may not post for some time, but then come out with a doozy. On the other hand, I’m still figuring out how to share little pieces of news with you. Right now I’m using Twitter and Facebook for that since I don’t like to do more than one blog post a day (two max). I’ll take any tips on how to manage it — I’m still new to this!

Email apology I’m really bad about responding to email. I feel terrible about it. I’m sorry! A great way to contact me for a quicker turnaround is through Twitter or Facebook. I’m going to start tackling my email backlog on the nights I’m not blogging. When I first started this blog, I didn’t have a dedicated email address set up for the project because I didn’t think I would need it. I only created one when people wanted to communicate with me. Now’s inbox has more than 3,000 total messages.

The rumored blog redesign will happen soon! In my wildest dreams I never thought my blog would need more support and special features than what Blogger currently provides. But I hired a designer, I bought my own domain name, and I’m migrating to self-hosted. Why?

  • It’s tough to navigate around the blog. If you want to see the lunches I ate last year, it’s hard to find them conveniently. People want photos!
  • The blog looks too busy visually. There’s a lot of clutter, and yet, wasted space. Weird. I want to streamline it and make clicking through more user-friendly.
  • From what I hear, WordPress is easier to use and customize than Blogger and that’s what I’ll use on the new blog.
  • My archives and all 15,000 comments are moving too!
  • Just so you know, I did not buy — DO NOT go there because unbeknowst to me someone else bought it last year and this spammer/scammer redirects people to a shady clothes-buying site! I’m actually pretty upset about it.

I’ll give out the new URL when everything goes “live.” I don’t want to lose you in the transfer so I’ll make sure that the original blog URL and the RSS feed forward. Let’s hope it can be seamless. I’m thinking this will happen in +/- two weeks.

Oooohhh, this is going to be fun! If you have any techie words of wisdom, do please share them!

Unions, pensions, and tenure…oh my! (part three – final thoughts)

UPDATED: Tenure varies state-by-state, district-by-district, school-by-school. I am just one person. Please keep in mind there is great variability.

Tenure is a bad word these days.

But school tenure is not like tenure awarded to college professors. When someone gets tenure at work we tell that person, “Now you can’t be fired for wearing the wrong colored shirt.”

Being “tenured” doesn’t mean you won’t lose your job. Tenure assures you some protection. I don’t know the protocol, but principals have to observe you multiple times, among other things. A teacher then can request a meeting with the principal and union representation (just another teacher who is the union rep). I don’t know what happens after that.

I knew a tenured teacher who got let go. I think the person fought it, but I don’t have all the details. From what I knew, the person was an excellent teacher. It was rumored that the principal didn’t like that person.

I know untenured teachers who were let go who were excellent too. Over two different years I saw two amazing teachers receive pink slips. Why would my school drop great teachers? It was rumored that the principal didn’t like them.

And then I know a couple tenured teachers who need to go. But they are still hanging around. It makes me wonder…

Regardless, the system of tenure needs to be revised. First, in the current system going from untenured to tenured feels like going from the dark side of the moon to the light side. Why can’t untenured teachers get some protection? Why shouldn’t tenured teachers be under scrutiny? Ideally, I think that if a tenure-like system is employed, there should be incremental steps.

All I can speak to is my own experience. Since I’ve seen both tenured and untenured teachers lose their jobs, I think the removal of staff involves decisions based less on tenured status and more the political will of the administration.

Second, let’s stop calling it “tenure” because in the media the word is trumped up to be more than it is. It’s not like what a professor earns in an university. Let’s rebrand school tenure and call it “Workplace Protection Protocol” (WPP) or something with a catchy acronym 🙂

In sum, good teachers want crappy teachers gone — it makes schools better and raises the morale of the ones who are working incredibly hard for the kids. And where do I fit in? I don’t think I’ve revealed this, but I have tenure — I earned it. But I’m still not clear what tenure really means for me as it doesn’t protect me from being hated by administration.

First in the series: Unions
Second in the series: Pensions
Another post of mine on tenure

I think I’ll tackle performance pay…later this month…

Guest Blog: Butter Beans, Inc

Hello! My name is Ben Filippo, and I work for a company called Butter Beans, Inc. Butter Beans, started by two working mothers, provides delicious, healthy, seasonal lunches for students and faculty at independent schools, as well as hands-on cooking classes and a seasonal food and wellness curriculum for students in all schools. Mrs Q. has invited me to share with you a few of my experiences working behind the lunch line and cooking one-on-one with students at Butter Beans.
Behind the line
On a daily basis, I get to see students enjoy wholesome great food and expand their ideas of what’s good. Our menu is full of familiar foods that we all love and have little time generally to make from scratch ourselves (Butter Beans does make everything in house from scratch): meatballs, lasagna, chicken pot pie, mac-n-cheese, enchiladas, etc. We also include “exploration foods” – foods that may be less familiar, which we serve up in small portions to test, before deciding to add them to our official menu rotation.
Kale was one such “exploration food” this season. Kale is one of those vegetables that many adults have a hard time getting excited about. So when kale salad showed up on our menu, I was a bit wary.
At first, the students were very curious as to what it was – some thought it was spinach or lettuce. A few of them knew what it was, but most were hesitant to try this infamous dark leafy green. After the students had gone through the line and were at their tables, we took the kale around the cafeteria to offer a tasting, talking up the accompanying sesame vinaigrette. “It’s a really tasty salad, just with a different sort of green than your typical lettuce or spinach, and we promise, it’s delicious!”
A few students tried it, and low and behold, there was soon a line calling out “kale salad please!” We told them how kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods around (aka, one of the healthiest things you can eat!) as we made our rounds. The kale salad made it’s way on to our regular rotation and is now a favorite amongst students and faculty alike. More recently, sautéed collared greens have also made the cut on our winter menu.
Cooking after school
Teaching kids how to cook healthy meals, and inspiring them to want to eat healthy foods can be a challenge. Many of them want to see how things like hamburgers and french fries are made, so vegetarian options can be a tough sell. This past semester, while teaching after-school cooking classes, I learned a lot about what matters to the students about food. The first thing is that kids want to eat something that sounds tasty, that is the first selling point. Instead of calling our beef kibbe (a Lebanese dish of beef and grains) by its official name, we describe it as “Middle Eastern Meatloaf” and immediately the response improves.

In cooking class, when we made sweet potato fries, the students were not initially excited. “Why can’t we make REAL fries?” they asked. I told them how I make sweet potato fries all the time as a healthy snack (it helps to have good rapport with the studentsJ) and that I knew they would all like them, they just needed to give the sweet potato a chance. I mean, it’s a potato – just sweeter and more colorful! When they finally came out of the oven, they couldn’t get enough of them! “I want to make these at home!” they proclaimed. By the end of the semester, the students had tried all sorts of new vegetables, made pizza sauce, dumplings, lentil burgers and even paneer (Indian Cooking Cheese) from scratch. On the last day of class, I got some big hugs with thanks for showing them how healthy foods can be just as tasty as anything else, especially when they made it themselves!
What’s for lunch on a typical day at Butter Beans?
Chicken fajitas with sautéed peppers, rice and black beans, Mexican pesole (hominy corn soup) with sour cream and pico de gallo, turkey and cheese sandwiches, and the makings for a great salad: mixed salad greens, hummus, pita, olives, shredded cheese, celery, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs and blueberry yogurt.
Want that kale sesame salad recipe – find it on our blog here. We regularly post our cooking class recipes and other asked-about favorites. If you want to learn more about what we do, visit us at and

Lunch Literature Book Club and NYC School Lunches

The thought questions for this week. I’ll answer them in the comments at the end of the week:

1) What is participation (p 135)?

Participation is how many kids eat school lunch each day. The goal is to increase the number. I love how some cafeterias are creative with using theme to get kids excited about lunch (p.134):

One school had success with a computer theme: Their fruit and salad area was called “Anti-Virus,” their snack foods were called “Quick Bytes,” and the trash cans were called “downloads.”

Too cute! I really like the idea of sprucing up the cafeteria. I’m happy that some schools are thinking about ambiance and its effect on participation in the school lunch program.

2) “The ______________ is the most widely agreed upon goal of school food programs.” (p. 161)

3) What happens to the poor kids at schools that don’t participate in the National School Lunch Program (p. 172)?


Giveaway winner for the Foogo Thermos (giveaway announced on last Sunday’s blog post):

Comment #31 — Amie
Please email me!
Thanks to everyone who entered!

A reader shared this story with me on Facebook and I thought it was great news: