Lunch Wrap Up: Week of July 25th

Getting a box of veggies from the farm every two weeks has been a real challenge for me. After thinking about it, I have figured out why it has been so difficult for me. I stink at cooking.

I’ve always been a better baker than a chef. Going gluten free after eating a year of school lunch threw that out the window. Only just this summer have I been trying to bake gluten free for the first time and it’s going ok. However, I tried to make zucchini bread this weekend (one of my favorite things to bake prior to being gluten free). Weirdly, one of the loaves just didn’t set. Thankfully my husband said it tasted great, but he was probably just being nice.

I can put a basic meal together. I just focus on serving the basics: a meat, a grain, and a veggie. Fancy techniques are not employed with my two-year-old hanging around. Now with the new veggies and herbs from the CSA box, my skills are getting put to the test. For example, we got a ton of cucumber. More than we can eat in two weeks. I tweeted that I didn’t know what to do with all my cucumbers. People responded that I should pickle them or make gazpacho. Pickling seems like such a lot of work with all the equipment (even the refrigerator version) and when I mentioned the word “gazpacho” to my husband, he grimaced and said, “I like my soups hot.”

But I did find a use for the cucumber today. I sliced them and put them into a pita with smoked salmon and lettuce. Yum! (One of you asked about the pitas I use. I make a pilgrimage to buy them at a gluten free bakery.)

My son’s lunches

Monday

Black bean and chicken quesadilla with goat cheese, sliced apples, corn on the cob (seasonal) and a strawberry muffin (strawberries from the farm).

The quesadillas were made by my mom over the weekend. They were terrific. I got a note from the day care that “corn on the cob” is a choking hazard. I’m perplexed by that. They serve corn at the day care, but eating it off a cob makes it dangerous? Can anyone comment on that? Day care menu: Cheese ravioli, wheat bread, diced carrots, fresh oranges, and two snacks of an apple muffin and a cherry Italian ice

Tuesday

 Blueberry pancake with syrup; egg in broccoli slaw with peapods; applesauce; kiwi; roasted carrots, onions and mini-potatoes (from the CSA); chewy bar

I got nothing to say about that lunch. Day care menu: Pasta with meat sauce, sliced provolone, corn or creamed corn, fresh bananas and two snacks of mandarin oranges and pumpkin bread

 Wednesday

Quinoa and broccoli (from the CSA); gf fish sticks (pollock – certified sustainable); rice rackers and hummus; yogurt with strawberries

I relented and sent along fish sticks since the other kids were getting them. As a mom you pick your battles and I know that the kid likes fish sticks. At least he got some quinoa in there. Day care menu: Battered cod, rice, green beans, crushed pineapple and two snacks of hummus and crackers and yogurt

School lunch prices going up

Whenever I do a Google news search about school lunch, I find a virtual avalanche of articles about increases in school lunch prices. Well, when I go to the grocery store, I have noticed that food prices are creeping up, little by little. I’ve wondered about school districts and if they might be forced to pass on these costs to students.

But there’s more to it than food being more expensive in general. According to an article in the North Shore Sun, as of July 1st “many school districts to increase full-cost or ‘paid’ lunches by 5 or 10 cents per meal, depending on the district, this school year. Some local districts will increase their meal prices by as much as 25 cents.”

Take a look what is happening across the country:

In this sampling of articles, price increases fluctuated from just $0.05 to $0.50 per lunch. I think a five cent increase is no big deal, but too much more than that is challenging for families, especially if they have more than one child. School districts rely on the paying kids to help off-set the costs of the other kids. But I don’t think a lot of people know that when a child purchases school lunch for $2.35 or $2.05 or whatever it is in your area, the USDA chips in some additional money for the paid lunch. The USDA reimburses $0.26 per paid lunch (reference for 2010-2011 school year). So when a kid decides not to buy lunch, that school loses more than just that particular child’s money. It’s no wonder schools want kids to eat the lunch provided by the school.

With these price increases, some parents will have to start packing lunch. I’ll be frank and say a lot of parents don’t know what to put in a lunch. Lots of times I’m flummoxed by what to pack in the morning for my son, but sending a banana and some flavored water (something I saw in a lunch bag) is not better than a school lunch.

Strawberry picking with my son

I’m only getting the box of veggies from the farm every other week so this week I wanted to share a different “farm” experience with you. Just before the strawberry season ended, I was able to take my son strawberry picking. I had never gone picking of any sort before (at least that I can remember — my parents may have taken my sister and I apple picking once) so I was determined to do this with him. To locate a strawberry farm, I used www.pickyourown.org and clicked on my state. The site is a little busy visually, but it’s pretty easy to determine where you want to go and what is in season. My advice is to call ahead to make sure that the farm(s) you are interested in visiting have what the website says they have. I almost took the family to a place that didn’t have any more strawberries!

We drove up and my son asked, “Is dat strawberry flying?” I had a hard time explaining that one.

 We walked along the rows.

 My son was enthusiastic at first and enjoyed looking for strawberries.

But he faded fast in the hot sun. I don’t know how long we were out there, but it was probably less than 20 minutes.

My basket on the left and his on the right. He was so excited to eat them. I paid — they cost $3.80 at weighing — and we found a bench in the shade. While we nibbled, one patron commented, “The smaller, the sweeter.” When people brag about eating “real” strawberries, I get it now. They were delectable. Most of the berries were one half or one quarter the size of strawberries sold at the grocery store. The skin of the berries we picked offered no resistance to my teeth and just exploded in my mouth.

Later when we got home, I was happy that we had only picked a small amount because about 12 hours later the berries had already started to change. Some were still great the next day, but others changed color and generally wilted. They didn’t taste the same. It made me wonder how modern grocery stores keep strawberries fresh… *shiver* Anyway, they were perfect for baking! We made strawberry cupcakes the next day and strawberry bread the following day.

 

Strawberry Bread (adapted from the recipe for “No Hassle Banana Bread” on the back of the package of Bob’s Red Mill’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour)

Ingredients
•1/3 cup olive oil
•2/3 cup sugar
•2 large eggs
•1 tsp. vanilla
•1-3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour
•2 tsp. baking powder
•1-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
•1/2 tsp. salt
•1-1/2 cups chopped strawberries

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9×5-inch non-stick loaf pan or three mini loaf pans. Mix oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large bowl. Add flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon to egg mixture. Add strawberries last and stir. Pour into pans. Bake for 35-45 minutes, depending on the oven.

 When the batter looked like this prior to baking, I was a bit nervous.

But they came out beautifully!

Next up? Raspberries, which will be in season in my area in August!

Guest blog: High Schooler’s Perspective on School Lunch

I love it when people email and share their stories about school lunch. Unfortunately, it often takes me a long time to respond. I got a wonderful email from high school student. I believe that there’s no better way to understand school lunch than by hearing the thoughts of the students who eat lunch.

Bio: R. is a sixteen-year-old incoming junior at a high school in Southern California, who is an active athlete and interested in psychology and sociology.

I rarely ever buy lunch at my high school, because it is a little expensive to buy all the time and also because I prefer to make my own lunch before I leave for school, but I tend to carry a little money with me in case I forget my lunch. However, one of my best friends buys lunch every day, and I could definitely say that seeing the kinds of food he ends up with is quite possibly on of the reasons I rarely buy school lunch.

Every day, the snacks available include: Popsicles (the “Push Pop” kind), ice cream sandwiches, frozen “soft serve” ice cream, chips (baked or regular versions), pretzels (Rold Gold), Pop Tarts, Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, Goldfish, Rice Krispie Treats, Froot by the Foot, cinnamon rolls from a local bakery, and chocolate chip cookies. (I have no idea where the cookies come from, or if they are even fresh, because I’ve bought them once or twice and they tend to be stale.) Then you have a choice of beverage, and you can choose from 2% milk, chocolate milk, Gatorade, Vitamin Water, and regular bottled water.

On really hot days, I sometimes buy a carton of chocolate milk as a treat, though I always have bottled water with me at school. Milk is $0.75 for a small carton and $1.50 for a bottle. I know that a lot of people buy milk instead of bottled water, because water is $1.75 for a regular sized bottle, and people simply don’t want to pay that much. I also occasionally buy pretzels during the break between my classes (my school is on a block schedule, so we have three classes per day. Each class lasts two hours. We have a fifteen-minute break between our first and second class, and then forty minutes for lunch after the second class.) The pretzels are Rold Gold, as I said before, and they’re always fine, but then it would be pretty hard to mess them up because they are pre packaged.

Most of the entrees, however, are not name brand things. I’m pretty sure they are heated up and then wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. On a typical day, menu items available are cheeseburgers (I have had these and never, ever will again.), “spicy chicken” sandwiches, Smucker’s Uncrustables, “teriyaki” chicken over rice (something else I will never eat again), macaroni and cheese, and Papa John’s Pizza. Additionally, two days a week, they sell bags of Little Caesar’s “Crazy Bread”, which are basically breadsticks with butter, garlic salt, and parmesan cheese on top.

Typically when I buy lunch, I buy the pizza because I know where it comes from, and honestly I trust Papa John’s more than the school lunch. I bought the cheeseburger once, and I’m honestly not sure there was even real meat in it. The cheese had melted into the bun, and the patty did not taste like beef. Also, there were no vegetables on top, and ketchup and mustard are not available. I have also had the teriyaki chicken, and while it may have been real chicken, it was not good. Also, there were only a few small pieces of chicken over a lot of white rice. There was no teriyaki sauce on it, so it was overall pretty bland. I have never had the macaroni and cheese, but it doesn’t get very positive reviews. Most of the people I’ve asked say that the ratio of noodles to “cheese” is way off, so there are a few limp noodles floating in a lot of artificial cheese. I’ve also been told that the cheese tastes like the “cheese” you squirt out of a can. I don’t buy the Uncrustables because they just don’t appeal to me, but at least they are not tampered with at the school, so they’re probably fine. The “spicy chicken” sandwich is supposedly very good, though I believe it is also frozen and then heated up. This is something a friend of mine buys often, and it always smells really good, but I’ve never bought it. The “Crazy Bread” also always smells good, but it is served with choice of chips and a drink, so I can’t imagine how it could ever be healthful, no matter what you choose to go with it.

After I looked at Mrs. Q’s “breakfast in the classroom” posts, I decided to check on what’s available at school for breakfast, and I’ve discovered that the following items are offered: donuts, Pop Tarts, sausage biscuits (similar to those on the menus of McDonald’s and Jack in the Box), muffins (pre packaged), coffee cake (pre packaged), bagels with cream cheese, and a couple different cereals, including Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Apple Jacks, and Honey Nut Cheerios. With the exception of the muffins, I have never bought breakfast, so I don’t know how it is. I’d imagine it’s probably fine, though, because only the sausage biscuits involve any work.

Also, I would like to note that my school is located close to a Henry’s (healthy grocery store), Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a few frozen yogurt places, a few Mexican food places, Pick Up Stix, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and a couple other restaurants. My school has a rule that only seniors are allowed to leave campus for lunch. However, due to budget cuts, there is no longer anyone to check the grade level of the students that leave, so juniors and seniors can pretty much go wherever they like, and many underclassmen just walk right off campus for lunch.

Prior to ninth grade, I always attended parochial school, and the lunch there was very different. My school was Kindergarten through eighth grade, and there were two hundred and seventy students total. (One-tenth of the number of students that attend my high school.) Hot lunch was made daily by parent volunteers. You signed up for a certain number of days, and then lunch was prepared fresh on site. Lunch always included an entrée, fruit, a vegetable, a snack (such as chips or pretzels), and a cookie, with a choice between water, skim milk, or 100% fruit juice to drink. Hot lunch entree items I remember were homemade chicken noodle soup, chicken Caesar salad, homemade macaroni and cheese, deli sandwiches (similar to Subway, you wrote down what size of sandwich, type of bread, meat, cheese, vegetables, and condiments you wanted, and it was prepared for you), and spaghetti and meatballs. Everything was fresh and it was always very good.

Due to the size of my high school, it is simply not possible to have that kind of lunch program. However, I do think changes could be made for a healthier program. As you can tell, there aren’t really any healthy items available at my school. I think this would be especially important because our athletic teams are nationally ranked. I run distance for the track team, and am a member of the cross-country team, so I understand how food affects the way people exercise.

The last thing I would like to mention is that we do not have any problem with the time we have for lunch. The lunch lines move quickly, and there has never been a problem with not everyone being served. I usually bring my lunch, and I always have extra time when I am done eating, so that is a good thing. We don’t really have places to run around, but it is high school, so no one is really interested in running around anyway, as people prefer to socialize during lunch.

Thank you for reading, and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have if you leave them in the comments below.

Titanium Spork Award!

Shame on me — I haven’t awarded a Titanium Spork Award for a long time. You probably have been wondering why I haven’t mentioned the awards in awhile. Well, Dana Woldow from peachsf.org, who won one of the more recent awards, suggested that I work on putting some kind of logo together. What a great idea! So I emailed the designer who developed my header logo and I have been waiting for her to design some spectacular, but I think she’s too busy. If you know of someone who would be available and has graphic design experience, please let me know.

Titanium Spork Awards are given to people working diligently to change school food in big and small ways. I developed the award because I didn’t see anything like that out there and I wanted people committed to reform to receive something tangible for their efforts. However, I didn’t know enough about the school food reform movement to decide on my own who deserved this honor. That’s where you guys came in. All of the recipients were nominated and voted on by Fed Up With Lunch readers. Previous Titanium Spork Award winners included:

April 2010 – Jamie Oliver, Food Revolution

May 2010 – Lisa Suriano, Veggiecation

June 2010 – Laura De Santis, Marblehead Community Charter Public School

September 2010 – Dr. Susan Rubin, Better School Food

October/November 2010 – Ed Bruske, The Slow Cook

December 2010 – Dana Woldow, PEACHSF.org

January/February 2011 – Ann Cooper, Renegade Lunch Lady

It all started when I joked about titanium sporks in a blog post about sporks and all of a sudden I got an email from ThinkGeek (the company that sells them). It just goes to show you, you never know who is reading! They sent me some sporks and I wanted to give them away. When I said that I wanted to continue the award, they sent me more sporks. By the way, I’m a big fan of titanium sporks — they are so light and fun.

Please nominate a candidate for this summer’s Titanium Spork Award by making a comment below this post with the nominee’s name.

Lunch Wrap Up: Week of July 18th

I had a busy weekend and this the first time I’ve had a chance to blog. We had a visitor and we were out and about. I spent a lot of time thinking, even when we were on the move. I try to reflect and ponder multiple times a day. I’ve come up with some interesting ideas this summer. But I want more time. The summer is going by too fast. And in the fall I’ll finally be out!

My son’s lunches

Monday

Pasta with peas, tomato sauce, and “daiya” (dairy-free cheese) a slice of bacon; egg; cucumber shapes (from CSA); cherry slices; strawberry muffin (strawberries I picked on a strawberry picking outing — I’m going to blog about that soon).

They said that he didn’t eat the main dish, but he ate everything else. I put peas in his pasta even though I know he hates it when they are mixed up. I was hoping that maybe he would try them. He used to love peas! Day care menu: chicken nuggets, pasta with cheddar sauce, peas, and diced pears with fresh bananas and strawberry frozen yogurt as two snacks.

 Tuesday

Sliced beets (from CSA), half a turkey burger sliced, ketchup; sliced cherries (from the farmer’s market); bread with herbed goat cheese; applesauce; chewy bar

They said he didn’t want to eat very much that day and I was bummed since he has eaten all of these foods very well at home. He came home and ate a big dinner so that was good, I guess. Day care menu: vegetarian lasagna, green beans, and fresh oranges with a bagel with cream cheese and yogurt as two snacks

 Wednesday

Pasta sauce with chicken and chopped garlic scapes (from CSA); pita bread with dairy-free spread; corn muffin; sliced cherries (from armer’s market) and cucumber shapes (from CSA); applesauce

His caregivers told me that he gobbled up everything in his lunch. Finally! Day care menu: turkey chili with beans, corn muffin, broccoli with cheddar sauce and applesauce with banana bread and shredded mozzarella as two snacks.

 

My lunch

Pita bread with lettuce (from CSA) and ham, cucumber slices (from CSA), cherries (from farmer’s market) with box of raisins and KIND bar.

I attended an all-day training/professional development and so I packed a lunch. It was a delicious.

 

CSA Box Week 3 and a recipe

Opening the CSA box is like opening happy Pandora’s box. It’s a big surprise — I actually get excited.

I wanted to let you know that the CSA sent us a cookbook in the mail with pictures of the produce and when to expect it. Even with that help, I’m having trouble with the herbs. The herbs are drawn, not photographed, and I can’t match them to what I’ve got in my box.

I put the box on my counter and got out a pen and paper so I could write everything down, name or not. You guys are going to have to help me out again! Let’s start off with the easy ones, why don’t we…

Beets and onions

I was excited when I saw the onions. I have to tell you I compared them to onions I had in my fridge’s crisper and I was shocked. The fresh ones were almost pretty. Definitely more robust.

Here’s where it gets murky…

Kale, small celery(?), Purple flower herb, random herb. Need help please! I don’t have a clue what these are.

Holy cukes!

Here’s what was at the bottom of the box. I identified arugula in the bag, cabbage heads, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, another patty pan squash (thanks for naming that one for me last week). Wow, what a bounty.

There’s the bag of lettuce (top right)

Our fridge was overflowing with veggies. Whenever I open it, I smile. There’s nothing like having a full fridge. Now if I could figure out something to do with all of this wonderful stuff…

The complete list:

  • 6 beets, two types
  • 2 onions
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 bunch of small celery?
  • 1 bunch purple flower herb
  • 1 bunch random herb
  • 1 bag lettuce
  • 1 bag arugula
  • 2 zucchinis
  • 4 cucumbers
  • 1 patty pan squash
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 2 heads of cabbage

 

Not being able to identify something makes it hard for me to cook with it. I’m a decent home cook and I’ll take limited risks with straightforward recipes, but being creative in the kitchen with brand-new foods is hard. I still believe I’m over my head with the CSA, but thankfully I’m not curled up in a ball and rocking in a corner.

Thanks for all your terrific suggestions with last week’s CSA post. I loved the idea of garlic scape pesto, but considering I’ve never made a regular pesto, I decided I’m not ready for that.

I got those gorgeous onions from the farm (see above picture), but I already had ten yellow onions that I had purchased from the store the week previous. I needed to use those up and fast. I remembered that when I’d roasted a chicken, using Jamie Oliver’s recipe from the Food Revolution cookbook, my husband had gone nuts for the roasted onions. So I thought I’d try that with the garlic scapes. This is the world’s most basic recipe — it’s for a beginner like me. I served the onions with red quinoa and large pan-fried sausages.

Oven roasted onions with garlic scapes

  • 2 onions (as many onions as you have people — subtracting kids)
  • 2 garlic scapes
  • olive oil
  • salt

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop onions in quarters and then chop garlic scapes. Place onions on a foil-lined baking sheet or roasting pan. Scatter the garlic scapes. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Toss. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes depending on your oven.

I ended up switching to a 13 by 9 pan. This is far too crowded for even cooking.

Getting the scapes prepped. I keep wanting to call them garlic “snapes” — I must have Harry Potter and Professor Snape on the brain. Now only if I could get childcare so that my husband and I could go out and see the movie! Man, I love Alan Rickman.

Another before shot. I didn’t do an “after” shot because I wasn’t sure I would share this recipe with you because it’s incredibly boring and nowhere near fancy. But hey, why not? The onions were a big hit with my son, which surprised my husband and me. The kid hates quinoa now, too. Win some, lose others.