Lunch Wrap Up – Week of April 25th

Enjoyed the royal wedding? I did. I really needed a little escapism. The April 11th issue of Newsweek said it the best with the headline, “In a world gone to hell — thank God, a wedding.”

I just needed a some happy news. It sounds super cheesy, but a love story with a prince was a perfect ending to a tough week.

Lunches after the break…

My son’s lunches
Turkey sandwiches (Rudi’s gf bread) over spinach,
“soup,” peas, applesauce, apple slices

My son likes soup, but usually just sips the broth from his spoon. My revelation was to just send chicken broth, unadorned. Day care menu: American cheese sandwich, chicken noodle soup, applesauce, peas with fruit and yogurt as snacks.

Bacon, mac and chreese, crunchy green beans,
yogurt, cranberry muffin, orange slices

My son was begging for mac and cheese. Also, one of you commented on our love of bacon. Yes, I do love it. It’s easy to fry up in the morning and while it sits in the fridge, it doesn’t spoil as fast as the cold cuts I buy do. Day care menu: diced ham, rice, orange wedges, green beans with fruit and blueberry muffins as snacks.

Mashed potatoes, broccoli, salami roll-ups,
apple slices, bar
Another request from the little guy: mashed potatoes. So I made them the night before and packed leftovers. I used ghee (the lastose and casein free butter) in them. I haven’t eaten butter in four months and it tasted greasy. But the ghee seemed to sit well with me and the little one. Day care menu: chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, peaches, carrots with fruit and yogurt as snacks.
Chocolate chip pancake (Bob’s Red Mill Gf), syrup, peas,
apple slices, papaya slices, gf crackers with goat brie
I don’t know what to say about this lunch. The papaya was from a glass jar, which I opened for the pork tenderloin crockpot meal I threw together. Day care menu: cheese ravioli, brea, pears, peas with fruit and cheese and crackers as snacks.
Mac and alfredo “chreese” with pork and green beans,
orange, apple slices, gf chocolate marshmallow bar
Mac and cheese again. I threw in some of the pork tenderloin. Day care menu: pasta with meat sauce, mandarin oranges, green beans with fruit and ice cream as snacks.
My lunches
Turkey sandwich with a “mini” salad,
two mandarin oranges, KIND bar

I find salads to be too big sometimes. So on Monday, I packed a mini-salad with micro-greens, dried cranberries, and apple slices. It was good. I had to eat it with my fingers because I forgot a fork!

Chocolate chip pancakes with syrup, bacon,
mandarin oranges, crunchy green beans, KIND bar

I love pancakes for any meal.

Mac and “chreese” mashed potatoes, broccoli,
mandarin oranges, apple, KIND bar

Can you tell I was super rushed that morning?

Pork tenderloin crockpot meal, mandarin oranges, go raw bar

I used Make it Fast, Cook it Slow‘s pork tenderloin recipe as a guide. I liked how she used pineapple, but I don’t have any canned pineapple so instead I used jarred papaya. I also added brown rice because I want to have the whole meal done when I walk in the door. I don’t want to have to cook rice on the stove. My recipe on-the-fly was one cup brown rice, one pork tenderloin, half a box of chicken broth, half a jar of papaya, sea salt, gf worchester sauce drizzled liberally over pork, a ton of green beans on top. Cook eight hours. It was on the bland side, but it was wonderfully comforting in a casserole way. The pork was so tender — gotta love the crockpot.

Repeat! (upside down)
By the way, The Whole Family Cookbook giveaway winners to be announced next week! I haven’t forgotten!

Friday: Lunch Literature Book Club

The results are in — our book for the next three months is Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Poll results were 58% for Fast Food Nation to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life‘s 41%.
Fast Food Nation has been in print since 2002 and so it WILL be at your local library. Also it’s probably at local used book shop. If you are like me and prefer listening to your non-fiction, it is most likely also available in audio CD at your local library.

I’m going to refer to the plethora of online reading guides for Fast Food Nation so that I can hopefully stimulate more conversation and exchanges than the previous book. I’ve also already read the book so I won’t be lost.

Let’s “officially” start reading the book on May 20th. I want to give you (and me) some time to get it in hard copy or from the library and then you can take it with you over Memorial Day weekend. Lastly, I know I’ve been bouncing around with content, but I’ve decided Friday is a good day to devote to book club. This should be fun! I love reading in a group!

Breakfast in the classroom: example two

Beef sausage biscuit, applesauce, and milk
This breakfast is from before spring break. I don’t really remember anything else about that morning. The kids ate most of it. They were hungry.
Do you guys eat biscuit sandwiches frequently? I associate them with McDonald’s breakfasts. I can’t remember the last time I had a biscuit sandwich for breakfast. I like bacon more than sausage, but I don’t put either one into a sandwich. We only eat some kind of meat-based protein on the weekends. During the week our breakfasts are cereal because it’s fast. Sometimes when I’m in a really big hurry and don’t have time for cereal, I spread peanut butter on a Van’s frozen waffle and eat it in the car.
Last week a few commenters got upset that some people said they wouldn’t eat this breakfast because they want organic this or grass-fed that. The bottom line is that I want my students to be fed. So I’m grateful for  the food on their behalf.
However, the fact that the milk is not labeled as “hormone-free” worries me. With some female students in fourth grade getting their periods, I have to wonder. I’m not saying it has to be organic, but hormone-free would be a nice start.
And any Internet research about beef will make you want to purchase grass-fed beef. It’s not the latest yuppie food trend — the ancestors of today’s cows were eating grass. It’s only just within the past 60 odd years that our country had a surplus of corn and decided to feed it to livestock. I mean, grass should be free, right? It’s grass!
When I first started the blog, occasional commenters mentioned ‘corn subsidies.’ I thought they were being extreme. Sometimes readers suggested I watch Food, Inc. I resisted. Finally, I relented and watched the movie in September. I was blown away. Changed forever. That’s when I started questioning everything.
I think that it’s important to acknowledge:
1) Everyone wants to feed hungry kids the best we can afford.
2) Everyone is on a food journey. We’re all in different places.
3) This is not about judging people. It’s about doing right by the kids.

Titanium Spork Award Winner!

Congrats Chef Ann Cooper — She won the Titanium Spork Award for January/February! I’ll be sending it out soon! Thanks for everything you do to help kids get the nutrition they need to be successful in school.

(Aside: do any of you talented readers do design work? I’d love to create a logo for the Titanium Spork Award. Please email me if you are interested in creating a logo for the award. Thanks!)

Meeting Ed Bruske in DC (part one)

When I went to DC for Mom Congress, I wanted to make time to meet Ed Bruske. He’s the writer, chef, and gardener behind the blogs The Slow Cook and Better DC School Food. As much as I wanted to visit the friends I have there (and their adorable families), I didn’t tell them I was in town. I really didn’t have more than one spare hour. The rest of the time I was completely occupied.

I wanted to meet Ed because we both started thinking about school food reform in January of 2010. I started eating school lunch that month here in Illinois and, in DC, he entered his daughter’s school cafeteria to spend a week learning about their “new,” “fresh-cooked” lunches. We both found out similar things: it’s all processed food.

I don’t remember how I initially located him on the Internet, but I’m sure happy to have company on this school food journey.

So I arrived in DC and stayed near Georgetown University. We scouted a secure location…

It felt revolutionary

It would have been easy to miss these hidden canals just south of the Georgetown area. I imagine that years ago men in white wigs would stroll along these banks, but instead it was just two lowly food bloggers. We sat on a bench (on the right in the photo) and made sure we weren’t being followed. Luckily any spies who might have been lurking in the bushes wouldn’t have been able to hear our school food banter over the din of canal’s rushing water. Phew!

I felt like I was meeting an old friend. It was a lively conversation. I’m not sure we accomplished anything in our discussion, but I learned a lot. Ed’s a serious journalist, one that I would not want to cross! He probably walked away thinking I’m a little scattered. (I am!) I asked him if he would participate in a Q and A for the blog and he agreed. He already contributed a guest post to the project, but I wanted a little more information from him. I’m going to post part one today and part two next week. Thanks Ed!

Q and A with Ed Bruske

Mrs Q: Please tell the readers a little about yourself and how you became interested in school food reform:

Ed Bruske: In a previous life I was a reporter for The Washington Post, then I detoured into the catering business. In recent years I’ve been self-employed as a food writer and personal chef and also teach “food appreciation”—or enhanced cooking lessons—in the after-school program at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia.

About six years ago I started what became a large and very productive kitchen garden on our corner lot two miles from the White House and subsequently built an edible container garden at the charter school my daughter was attending and became a Master Gardener. I wasn’t paying attention at all to the food they were serving in school, but I did sign on to the advisory board of a new D.C. Farm to School Network, where I learned that Chartwells—the corporate food service company that provides meals for D.C. Public Schools—had switched from pre-packaged re-heat meals to something they called “fresh cooked.”

I thought it would be fascinating to see food being cooked from scratch and coincidentally, during a meeting at the neighborhood elementary school my daughter had recently transferred to, I learned that meals were being prepared in a newly renovated kitchen. I was given permission to observe the kitchen operations up close for a week and discovered the food wasn’t “fresh cooked” at all. It was that same frozen, processed convenience food—chicken nuggets, Tater Tots, “beef teriyaki bites”—that Jamie Oliver exposed in West Virginia. But breakfast was even worse: strawberry milk poured over Apple Jacks cereal with Pop-Tarts, Giant Goldfish Grahams and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins.

I was appalled to find that kids as young as five were consuming the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar before classes even started and wondered what kind of adults thought this was appropriate food to be feeding young children. I’ve spent the last 14 months traveling the country and reporting on this—including daily visits to my daughter’s cafeteria—trying to find out what’s wrong with school food and how it might be fixed.

I now write about it at my personal blog—The Slow Cook—as well as a blog for parents called Better D.C. School Food.

Mrs Q: How important is eating in your life? What does your family eat? What are your daughter’s favorite foods?

Ed Bruske: To a great extent my life and the life of my family revolves around food. Not only do I observe, analyze and write about food every day, but I am constantly thinking about what’s growing—or what should be growing—in our garden and what we can harvest to serve for dinner.

My wife and I have always had a love of food. She’s a catering chef—one of the best in the city—and we love to have friends for dinner. We don’t eat out that much—unless it’s at one of our favorite Szechuan joints or a neighborhood tavern. We like simple food, but in addition, my wife is a Type I diabetic and I am perhaps pre-diabetic. So we’ve eliminated most carbs from our diet—meaning sugar and starchy foods—and focus on meats, dairy and the green vegetables we grow in the garden. We believe in fresh, locally grown foods whenever possible and subscribe to a local dairy that delivers not only wonderful milk and cheese to our home, but also a range of beef, pork, lamb and poultry. So dinner for us might be fresh brats and sautéed collards, or it could be a spit-roasted chicken and asparagus.

My daughter is a typical kid. There’s hardly any point trying to get her to eat the way we’d like to see her eat. She loves carbs—the more the better—from chips to pasta to potatoes—as long as the potatoes are mashed. She’s very particular about her food. She rarely wants to eat what’s served at school—unless it’s pizza. She’d rather take steamed Chinese dumplings. She loved fried calamari and swoons over asparagus. Her favorite food above all is steak. But it must be a thick, fatty ribeye cooked slightly more medium than medium-rare. I bought her a book called “Steak”—all about what makes the best steak in the world—and she took it to school with her and devoured it. She adores ice cream but hates milk (she’s lactose intolerant).

Mrs Q: What are the top three things you would like to see changed about school food?

Ed Bruske: First, I’d like to see schools bannish sugar in all its guises, including flavored milk. Although the science isn’t conclusive yet (when is it ever?), I’m convinced that overconsumption of sugar—especially in sodas–is the primary reason for the current obesity epidemic as well as the various “diseases of modern civilization”: diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease.

Second, I’d like to see greater emphasis placed on removing junk foods from schools—whether it’s in the hot lunch, the a la carte line, vending machines, school stores, bake sales during school hours or classroom celebrations. Do we really need to mark every occasion with pizza and cupcakes? Kids already get plenty of this stuff at home or at the corner convenience store. For me, this is much more important than trying to force more vegetables on children. From what I see, those vegetables adults are so concerned about usually aren’t eaten and just end up in the trash, a waste of money.

Third, if I had a magic wand it wouldn’t necessarily shower schools with more money for food. Most cafeterias could be run much more efficiently, especially if they had better technology. The current system is just incredibly wasteful and anything but kid-friendly, layered over with so many paperwork and accountability requirements.

I think we could slash the cost of feeding 32 million children every day if we simply offered them a variety of things to eat they could choose and serve themselves—at salad bars or food bars– without an adult standing over them making sure they took one cup of grains, one cup of green vegetables, three ounces of meat. We need to engage kids more in the act of eating healthfully rather than the one-size-fits-all approach we currently use. The current system is designed by and for adults to keep the accounting straight.

Mrs Q: What’s an important advocacy step for parents?

Ed Bruske: As Woody Allen famously said, 90 percent of life is showing up. Parents need to at least stand up and be counted where school food is concerned. I don’t expect all of them to get as involved as I am. But it sure does feel lonely out here sometimes. The first step, I think, is to have lunch or breakfast or maybe both with you child at school one day. See what they are eating. Sit at the table and get a look at how the kids are eating their meals. In my experience, it’s pretty chaotic with very little adult intervention.

Teachers don’t want to eat with the kids because lunch is their big break in the day. So who is coaching these children to eat better? Or maybe you will have your eyes opened, as I did, about how bad the food really is in many places. It might just motivate you to take the next step, which would be to talk to introduce yourself to the lunch ladies, the food services director, and possibly seek out other parents to start a discussion group. Parents—all of us—need to become better educated on this issue first and foremost.

Next week: Part two — Ed’s experience and opinions on cooking with kids and school gardens…

Ups and Downs in Food News (with exclamation points!)

I’m always reading blogs and news. I’ll get general headlines from Google News and Yahoo! News and then I read/skim blogs on my Google Reader (here’s a tutorial on how to set it up). Watching the news on the TV is too depressing. Do I want to hear about the latest violent crimes one after another? No. I can’t do anything about that except worry. Do they ever cover food? Only sometimes. I want real news that matters to me. Real journalism. I don’t just want a new recipe. I want actual food news: the good, the bad, and the ugly… and I can find that on the internet!

Ups and downs:
(Up = good news or an action item)
(Down = bad news all around)

School food news


Food Dyes

Things you can do


It’s like riding a rollercoaster of information. I think I have whiplash.

Lunch Wrap Up – Week of April 11th (Daddified)

While I was at Mom Congress last week, my husband was charged with making our son’s lunches two days in a row. I was a little worried about how that would go, but I tried not to let it show. Of course my husband reads me like a book. My husband confessed that he was a little nervous too, but mostly about having enough time to prepare lunch in the morning by himself.

My husband exceeded my wildest expectations.

For lunches click below…

My son’s lunches
Monday (made by Daddy)
Hard-boiled egg, mochi, yogurt,
spinach, banana, chicken, crackers with goat cheese

Impressive! The mochi (strange blob on the top) is something we picked up at Whole Foods. It’s Grainaissance Mochi (packaged, bake at home). I didn’t get a chance to taste it since I was out of town when he baked it, but if you are expecting authentic Japanese mochi, this is different according to my husband. My son liked it. A few years ago we were introduced to mochi after some friends visited Japan and told us of their many mochi binges. You can only find it at Asian food stores and so we don’t get it very often (now that I’m gluten free, not sure I can do them anymore). Mochi is to die for! So my husband did great here. He forgot fruit, but this is a great lunch. Day care menu: Soynut butter and jelly sandwich, mandarin oranges, peas with fruit and ice cream as snacks.

Tuesday (made by Daddy)
Lamburger, rice, strawberries, pineapple
chocolate coconut milk yogurt with chocolate chips

Another terrific lunch packed by Daddy. I love that you can see my husband’s plaid shirt on the bottom and some fun finger puppets. I know my hubby and little boy were having fun! Day care menu: Egg patty on bread, bananas, green beans with yogurt and pretzels with cream cheese as snacks.

Mini-turkey sandwiches, strawberries,
yogurt, applesauce, bar

He loves mini-sandwiches! Day care menu: Ground beef and rice, diced pears, diced carrots, with fruit and yogurt as snacks.

Gluten-free/dairy-free pasta with broccoli, salmon,
chocolate yogurt, strawberries, bar

This was a hit lunch with my son. Day care menu: Chicken patty on wheat bread, applesauce, peas with fruit and blueberry muffins (the mini-otis-spunkemeyer junk version) as snacks.

Broccoli, fish sticks, beef stew, yogurt,
applesauce, bag with sliced apples

For dinner the previous night we ate crockpot beef stew. It was a really cold night so it was perfect. Our son wasn’t that crazy about it so I didn’t want to give him too much in his lunch. Plus the menu item was “cod nuggets,” which he likes. So I sent a compromise lunch. Day care menu: Cod nuggets, chicken and rice soup, diced peaches, baked beans with yogurt and fruit as snacks.

My lunches
Turkey sandwich, sunflower seeds, strawberries,
yogurt, leftover baked squash

I sat here and puzzled over what was in that bag (top right) — I couldn’t remember. I literally sat here for ten minutes trying to remember what that was. It was baked squash! Just so you know, I didn’t eat it. I opened my lunch bag and tossed it. It was not appealing! 🙂 Thankfully everything else was good.

Two slices bread with peanut butter, strawberries,
sunflower seeds, KIND bar, banana

I know I need to do better in the veggie department. This whole lunch was thrown together in five minutes.

Crockpot beef stew, gluten-free pita, apple
Gimme some comfort food on a cold day!

Access to water

Many of you emailed and tweeted this CNN article to me: For schoolchildren, where’s the water? Some surprising statistics:

  • Only 15% of kids (middle-school age) consume adequate amounts of water.
  • Kids should be consuming half of their daily water intake at school.
  • Children should get 6-8 glasses of water per day.
  • Teenagers need 11 glasses per day (wow!)

I’ve blogged about water at school before. My students drink water from the drinking fountain. There are quite a few fountains in the school so access to water is not terrible. My students only complaint is that the water can be hot sometimes. In the cafeteria area, there is just one drinking fountain and it’s sort of in the hallway, which makes it practically inaccessible while kids eat their lunches. Before or after lunch kids at my school can drink (depending on individual teachers’ preferences), but not during lunch.

I don’t drink out of the watering fountains. My first and second years of teaching I did and I caught every germ that passed through the school. When I witnessed a little girl putting her whole mouth over the spigot, I stopped cold turkey. I carry a reusable water bottle to work with water from home. I don’t refill at work, but instead I bring in all my water from home. Some kids carry water bottles, which are often plastic.

The CNN article discusses the fact that most schools don’t have cups for water. Paper cups would be wasteful (you have seen the lunches and so you already know about the waste issue). Plastic cups are long gone (just like real silverware — there is no place to wash them).

This is a big issue and it’s going to take some creative problem solving to fix. Ideas?