Giveaway winners!

I apologize for being slow to get around to picking winners for last week’s giveaways.

First up, the BYO™ Black Rambler Lunch Bag by Built® NY lunch bag:

I used…


There were 22 comments. Random selected comment #13 was DC (when you sort from oldest to newest, like Blogger did, and you subtract my comments). Please email me!

Second, two copies of the book Jump Start Health!



There were 27 comments. selected #6 and #18 (I sorted from oldest to newest just like Blogger organizes comments). Those commenters were Leighanna Davis and Gcraft9949. Please email me!

Thanks to everyone who entered. More giveaways to come!


Reader email: Portion sizes

I am lucky to have amazing readers. I love how you teach me about things. It started out last year when I first started blogging. I didn’t know a thing about school lunch (evidence: I decided to eat it for a year) and, well, thousands of you educated me about the ins and outs of regulations, food politics, and ingredients. Eventually I started questioning my own food consumption and now I’m even gluten free. I credit you, my readers, for helping me find the answers.

Occasionally I get an email from a reader that I want to share. I’m going to share readers’ emails and questions and try my best to answer them. Of course just as before I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If you feel so inclined, pitch in and help me answer a question or two. I hope this will be a regular feature.

Question from a reader:

Every school I have worked in, without fail, has given the exact same portion size to each child regardless of age, dietary needs, or interest. In one school teacher lunches were also the exact same size. 

For example, a kindergarten student receives the same portion size as a 5th grader. For years I wondered how it is possible that the FDA USDA has ignored the most basic constructs of food health which is caloric intake balanced with the food pyramid. A kindergartner does not need a 450 calorie lunch and inevitably most of the food gets thrown away OR is eaten so quickly due to time constraints that the child develops a bad habit of swallowing food and not tasting it. 

I have wondered about this before and blogged about it briefly in September last year. The lunches I ate all year last year were the identical lunches that children between ages three and five were receiving as well as children as old as twelve. My son is closing in on age three and there’s no way he could chop through a Salibury steak patty in ten minutes, not to mention buns, fruit cups, etc.

Consulting a USDA document (from the year 2000 — so it could have been updated. please let me know if you can find anything more recent), I found that when meal size is determined differently depending on meal planning approach. There are a few ways to calculate nutrients in a typical school lunch. First, there is the Traditional Food-Based Menu Planning Approach. According to the USDA, “schools must comply with specific component and quantity requirements by offering five food items from four food components. These components are: meat/meat alternate, vegetables and/or fruits, grains/breads, and milk. Minimum portion sizes are established by ages and grade groups.” Then a chart appears:

 Differences in portion sizes by age have been circled in blue.

And the second part of the chart (that got cut off when I took screen shots):

Under the Traditional Food-Based Meal Planning Approach, there is indeed differences in recommended portion-sizes across the age groups that typically reside inside of the average elementary school. One size does not fit all.

What about the Enhanced Food-Based Menu Planning Approach? It is broadly defined as “a variation of the Traditional Menu Planning Approach.  It is designed to increase calories from low-fat food sources in order to meet the Dietary Guidelines. The five food components are retained, but the component quantities for the weekly servings of vegetables and fruits and grains/breads are increased.” Their chart looks very similar to the other one:

Um, whoa. Here’s where I’m getting confused. When I first read this chart, I thought requirements were going down as kids aged. But that did not compute. The far right column is an extra “option” for K-3!? So what do the kids need to be eating exactly? This smells fishy. If any of you know exactly what is going on here, let me know!

The second half of the chart:

It’s really no wonder that the USDA’s regulations are hard for people to understand.

And then there’s the Nutrient Standard Menu Approach (along with the Assisted Nutrient Standard Menu Approach). This approach uses “approved computer software to analyze the specific nutrient content of menu items automatically while menus are being planned. It is designed to assist menu planners in choosing food items that create nutritious meals and meet the nutrient standards.” And its chart looks something like this:

Curious “Optional K-3” column appears again.

Mrs. Q’s Answer: It looks like the schools that the reader has worked in have either employed the Enhanced Menu Approach of the Nutrient Standard Approach to plan their menus, which is how schools with a K-6 population to offer the same lunch to a wide age range.

Correct me if I’m wrong here.

Ye Olde Health Book: Be a Good Little Citizen

I love library book sales because I can always find a bargain or two. I happened upon a bunch of books that were in a free pile at a book sale a few months ago. One book caught my eye.

Your Health and Happiness. I opened it and loved it immediately. This little gem had me chuckling right there in the hallway. The book went straight into my purse and even though it was free, I really couldn’t believe my luck. I can see why it was offered for nothing, but wow. So much potential.

Oh, it’s old. Can anyone guess the year?

“Learn about health and practice its rules so that you may become a useful citizen”

Pass an invisible baton, boys!

Physical defects like “Mental upsets”

I can’t imagine how bad you would feel about yourself if you read this and had a “defect”

Be able to use these words in sentences of your own…. ‘physical defect,’ ‘mental upsets’

“Keep a record on your chart of the physical defects corrected”

School gardens are not a new idea.

“A child can get too much of one kind of food and become unhealthy”


“When you go to the store for your mother, has she ever said to you, ‘Be sure to get full-pod lima beans’? Sometimes we see beans that are flat and withered. They were grown from poor seeds.”

Thought questions “for health and happiness”

“Take good care of plants and animals for which you are responsible.”

Although this book is hopelessly politically incorrect at times (and reads like a propaganda film), there is much to learn about how health was viewed more than fifty years ago. Before large-scale industrial food production. Before fast food. Before the Big Gulp. Reading over the book has made me shake my head, stare in disbelief, laugh knowingly, and even lament the loss of knowledge. It’s worth clicking on the photos and reading what was written on the first pages I’ve shared above.

Excerpts from Your Health and Happiness will be a weekly feature. By the way, they have multiple chapters on food and meals, including a little about school lunch. You will chuckle, too.

Lunch Wrap Up: Week of July 4th and July 11th

When you have a sick child, your whole world shuts down. My son had a fever for over week, occasionally spiking 103 – 104. The fever responded well to a cocktail of fever reducing meds, but once they wore off, he curled up into a little shivery ball and I just snuggled him. Naps fell apart. Twice time he napped for three hours straight, but most of the week he was having 20 minute snoozes randomly. Night-time sleep was rough too. It was a doozy of an illness, but thankfully he has been fever free for more than a day now. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying “it’s over,” but I’m cautiously optimistic.

He’s been sick for almost the entire time I’ve been off of work. It’s been pretty demoralizing. Not only do I not have enough time to get everything done around the house and online, but I start thinking that maybe he should be an only child. It’s too hard watching your kid be sick. Go through it all over again? My heart can only take so much.


My son’s lunches

Wednesday July 6th

Pasta, sauce, daiya cheese; chocolate muffin; kiwi, egg;

passionfruit mango yogurt, “graham” crackers

He barely ate any of his lunch. Looking back I think it was starting to get ill. He’s also not a big pasta fan. Actually he never has cared for pasta or bread, even back when he was eating gluten. Day care menu: Battered cod, pasta with alfredo sauce, peas, and diced peaches with two snacks: shredded cheddar and strawberry frozen yogurt

Thursday July 7th

Butternut squash risotto, homemade chicken nuggets; yogurt;

bagel with cheese; kiwi with freeze-dried strawberries; bar

None of this got eaten. I sent him to school and they called me a short time later to say that he was not acting like himself. I raced over there and took him straight to the doctor. The lunch hung out in the car and then I left it on the counter. He was in no mood to eat. Day care menu: Cheese ravioli, bread, green beans, and crushed pineapple with two snacks of banana pudding and hummus + crackers. 

No lunches this week (week of July 11) as he’s been sick. Meals have been thrown together and ignored or picked at. I’ve just “fed on demand” as the doctor told me liquids were more important. He even refused popsicles. I’m happy to report that my son hate a ton today, which is what he does after an illness. For a day or so he eats double portions of food. Then my husband and I breathe a sigh of relief.


Have I mentioned that I love to shop? I can shop anywhere for anything. Considering what we make, it’s not a good thing. Looking over my finances, I’ve realized that my Whole Foods “binges” are not sustainable. I cannot go into Whole Foods and spend less than $50. In fact, it’s usually close to $200, sometimes once a week. My husband’s philosophy is that “if you eat it, it’s never bad to spend money on food.” I like that philosophy, but I’ve been indulging far too much. I need to budget better.

The CSA subscription seems cheap to me though. We spent $350 for 10 weeks of veggies, every other week. We’re getting enough veggies for two weeks and so it comes out to a meager $17 a week. Next year I’m going to get a fruit share as well. It’s economical and saves me a treacherous, tempting trip to the grocery store. I just can’t stop filling up my cart with impulse buys (hello cookies!).

I’m going to make more of an effort to include cost in my calculations of lunches and various recipes. I can’t be money blind any longer or I’ll go bankrupt!





CSA box: Week two (with a recipe)


I’m officially in over my head. I don’t know what some of this stuff is!

And underneath the bags of lettuce…

That yellow thing?? Green ropes next to that? You eat and cook that??

I picked up this box of yummy foods, some of which I had never seen before, and headed over to a friend’s house. My husband, the kid and I were scheduled to leave on a vacation far, far away by plane the following day and so I knew that I had to give some of this produce to my friend. I gave her some parsley, some lettuce, some spinach, and the entire bunch of the mystery herb (which I think you guys identified as oregano). Yeah, I chickened out on the mystery herb.

I knew that the rest of the the veggies would survive in our crisper while we were gone.

The CSA box contained:

  • 2 bunches of lettuce
  • 1 bag of spinach
  • 1 bag mystery green/ Tuscano kale?
  • 1 large bunch of parsley
  • 1 bunch mystery herb/oregano
  • 4-5 green ropes/garlic scapes
  • 1 bunch onions/scallions
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 yellow summer squash
  • 1 head cabbage
  • 1 bunch of beets
  • 1 bunch broccoli

So I’ve made salad again. A lot of salad. But before I get into that, I wanted to share that I made radish chips with last week’s radishes. I didn’t know what to do with the radishes as I find them bitter. So I Googled ‘radish recipes’ and found a few for radish chips (source, source, and source). I figured since kale chips are such a big hit with my son, these guys would be too.

Before and…


My husband and my son thought they were pretty good. Truth be told, I found the radish chips to be on the bitter side. But they must have left an impression on my son. Every now and then he mentions that he loves radishes. I guess I’m going to have to get more.

The garlic scapes are amazing by the way. I only just figured out what they were and so I cooked with them tonight. I would never have had the courage to buy these, but since they were thrust upon me, I had to figure out how to cook with them. All I did was slice them and fry them in a pan with some olive oil (then added andouille sausage). It’s like a garlion (garlic/onion). Smells terrific frying in a pan. I’m hooked!

And I made a beet salad…

Wash the beets

Cut off the ends. Douse in olive oil. Sprinkle salt. Oh and I roasted a portobello mushroom too (not in the CSA box)

Arrange a salad (I used lettuce, spinach, parsley, green onions, yellow pepper)

I love eggs. I didn’t cut them up and spread them over the greens because that’s just too messy. Better to cut them up over individual plated salads.

Some of the beets look psychedelic!

My plate!

I’m not going to give much of a recipe here. Here’s the recipe I used to roast the beets. Also, I’m working on perfecting my portobello roasting formula. Usually I like to try something twice before I share it. And I’m not sure I can eat that many beets again. They were so delicious that I ate a ton of beets. My husband and my son were not as crazy about beets as I was. I thought they were amazing. When you eat that many, your plate and hands get stained with bright purple beet juice.

But later I paid.

The next morning I used the bathroom. My pee was pink! The only reason I’m revealing this highly personal information is to warn you. I panicked that there was something wrong with me like some kind of infection or kidney issue, even though I felt fine. I thought I would have to go to the doctor. But I consulted Google and found out that if you eat a lot of beets, you may pee pink. Or other things. Ahem.

So I waited because I felt no pain. Sure enough, it was very temporary.

Oh the perils of a CSA box!

(And I’m taking suggestions for the squash! I’m thinking I’ll roast it.)

Book review and giveaway: Jump Start Health!

A couple months ago I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Jump Start Health!  by David Campos. I jumped at it (pun intended) as health and wellness have taken on a big role in my life over the past eighteen months.

The core audience for this fabulous resource includes both educators, students, and anyone interested in health and wellness. This curricula can be used in lesson planning immediately (if it wasn’t summer). Also I see the book as required or recommended reading for college students studying education or health.

Jump Start Health! is divided into three parts. The first part, “Coming to Terms with Childhood Obesity,” discusses obesity, health, and wellness and is packed with information and statistics. I could tweet out interesting health statistics from this book for days. The second part, “Nurturing Healthy Dietary Habits,” starts off defining the health benefits of a variety of foods and then moves into lesson plans with clear objectives and classroom activities around nutrition. Similarly the third part of the book, “Promoting Regular Physical Activity,” offers the rationale for physical activity and then actionable ideas for lesson planning. The final part of the book, “Beyond the Classroom: The School and Community as Channels for Promoting Health,” examines the larger environment outside of the classroom.

Jump Start Health! is loaded with ideas for classroom lessons to inspire children and students. It doesn’t read like a dry, boring “textbook.” I have found that educational preparation is often focused more on theory than on practice. What I like about this book is that it is devoted to instructors who care about these issues and are in front of students every day.

The publishers are giving away two copies of the book to readers of this blog. To enter to win a copy of Jump Start Health! please leave a comment below. I’ll announce the winners in a week!

Los Angeles School Lunch Story


Why Los Angeles Schoolkids Get Lousy Meals

Terrific article dated June 16th. For the record, I am nowhere near LA, but my sister-in-law is and snagged a copy of the paper for me.

The article resonated with my because it talks not only about the processed food on the menu, but also the pathetically short amount of time gets actually get to eat. I’ve discussed both of these problems in previous blog posts. In addition to the length of students’ lunch breaks, the article touches on the high quantity of sugar in the food. Too much sugar is a really big problem.

But this quote from the article really gets to the meat of it:

School district food officials say their biggest challenge is to produce healthy food that is both cheap and appealing to students. Healthy meals do no one any good unless they are being eaten.

When did healthy food get expensive and stop being appealing? How did we get to this place? Because people don’t care that much about food. I worry that the United States just doesn’t value food like other countries. I believe our culture is dominated by fast food corporations, which has led to two divergent outcomes. Our culture is experiencing a huge decrease in home cooking and, on the other side of the spectrum, an increased reverance for chefs as people who possess unattainable skills (see: Food Network). Without a doubt chefs are special, but delicious and affordable home cooking is within reach for all of us.

For example, if you drive you probably have seen the billboard ads for the McDonald’s smoothies and I’ve also heard them described on radio ads as containing “exotic fruit.” Are you kidding me? A smoothie is one of the easiest things to make at home and the last time I checked bananas and apples are at my local grocery store. Do you need fancy equipment? Before we got married and registered for a “nice” blender, we “got by” with one my husband found at a garage sale for five bucks. It worked great for many years and my husband even repurposed it into a lamp (I think it’s in a box somewhere now).

My mother-in-law recently made my son some strawberry milk. She took milk and strawberries, put them in a blender, and before our eyes we had pink milk. It’s that easy. Whatever you want to call it — pink milk, a fruit drink, or a smoothie — you can do at home for little money and effort. I’m learning that the worst part is doing the dishes!

Lunch Wrap Up – Weeks of June 20th and June 27th

Let’s see if I can get the formatting right on this post…

My son is sick for the third time as many weeks. Three weeks ago it was the flu, ten days ago it was a cold, and now it’s another virus with a fever. The only good thing is that I am not working and I can be there for him when he needs me. He’s still going to day care part-time for socialization and fun and I’m trying to decide if that’s worth it considering all the bugs he is picking up there. He hasn’t been this sick in at least six months.

I’m catching up by posting two weeks in one. Also, I’m not going to post my lunches this summer (instead I’m sharing recipes related to our CSA). I need a little break taking pictures of my own lunches. I’m hoping you’ll understand!

My son’s lunches

Monday 6/20

Wrap with turkey and spinach, pinto beans, rice crackers with hummus, and kiwi slices

I tried to match what the other kids were eating. Day care menu: Sliced turkey and mozzarella on a wheat tortilla, pinto beans, and diced peaches with yogurt and watermelon as snacks.

Tuesday 6/21

Bread with jam, ketchup for turkey burger, spinach, applesauce, cupcake

The day care was offering cherry Italian ices and I can’t compete with that. So I said that it would be ok if he partook even though I knew there had to be artificial flavors in the ices. Interestingly, after I picked him up and we got home, he threw a big tantrum. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because he probably had an artificial flavor. He’s normally pretty easy going. For example, when I tell him about a change in plans, he often responds, “Dat okay!” Day care menu: Cheese ravioli, wheat bread, diced carrots and oranges with an apple muffin and cherry Italian ice

Monday 6/27

Apple and kiwi slices, chicken sausage cubed, pasta with sauce and broccoli, chocolate yogurt, bar

The day care menu was so odd. It sounded like an enormous lunch with two very similar foods for snacks. Day care menu: Beef stew with gravy, pasta with cheddar sauce, peas, and diced pears with yogurt and chocolate pudding as snacks

Tuesday 6/28

Applesauce, yellow smoothies, chocolate muffin, lamb with peppers, and brown rice

Day care menu: Sliced ham on English muffin, broccoli with cheddar sauce, and apple slices with a blueberry muffin and bananas as snacks

Wednesday 6/29

Salami wrap with spinach, kiwi slices, yellow peppers, red smoothie, and chocolate cookie

I sent him a little less since he hadn’t eaten that great the day before (I should have known that he was starting to get sick). The day care had crackers twice for snack? Really? Day care menu: Turkey tetrazzini with vegetables, focaccia bread, and oranges with graham crackers and soy nut butter on wheat crackers as snacks

My lunches

Monday 6/20

Turkey wrap, pinto beans, kiwi, KIND bar – YUM!

Tuesday 6/21

Salad with pinto beans and red pepper, turkey burger, almond yogurt, and a KIND bar

The almond yogurt did not fit into the Laptop Lunch box by the way. I just put it there for the photo. I enjoyed the almond yogurt and so does my son, but I can’t send those with him because lunches have to be nut free at his day care.