The New Mrs. Q

 

I owe you a real blog post, but I’m too tired to write one. I’ve realized that writing good blog posts takes more than one or two nights. Recently I haven’t had much time to do any good writing. But I want you to know that it’s so nice not to live a double life.

I’m still wondering if something is bad will happen because it still is early (it hasn’t been two weeks yet). But remember how I felt so much inner turmoil over the past 20 months? It’s basically gone. In its place I feel relief.

This whole thing has been fun for my family and friends, too. I hadn’t told too many people about what I did so many were floored. They will never again doubt my ability to keep a secret! Here’s a sampling of some of the questions I have gotten from those close to me:

What was it like to go on TV?

It was like taking a trip to the moon (faraway and surreal).

Are you going to be able to retire now?

I don’t think anyone can write a book about school lunch and “get rich.” I’m so proud of the fact I wrote a book that hopefully will make a difference, but I didn’t do it for the money. In fact, I’m going to be donating some of my proceeds from book sales to Farm to School (that fact is printed on the back cover).

Now that I’m out…do you have any questions for me (that the book didn’t answer)?

Note: I moderate your first comment and then you can comment freely after that. I was getting massive go-on-a-cruise spam comments so I had to change my policy. If you’ve ever commented before, you’re in.

Lunch Wrap Up: Week of October 10th

I never told you that I ended up planting a small, amateurish garden in July. May is when people normally plant in this area, after the last frost. But in mid-July I went ahead and planted pumpkins (far too late — they really needed the whole summer), sunflowers (looking great), carrots (small), and radishes (got a couple). I did it for my son. I wanted him to plant something and then see it grow.

Frankly, I was pretty stunned when I saw stuff sprouting from seeds I planted. And I’m pretty sure my son thought it was magic. We plucked a couple carrots out of the ground last weekend. My son was beside himself with joy. I’m going to write a little blog post about our teeny garden in the future. What did I learn? Not to be intimidated by basic vegetable gardening. It’s easy and it took virtually no time.

Charlie’s lunches

Peaches (farmer’s market); kale (farmer’s market)bagel, ketchuphomemade turkey burger (with sliced carrots). 

I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot to pick up an October menu so I have no idea what was served all week. Every day I meant to ask for one when I picked my son up, but I got distracted. My favorite part of the day is getting him from child care so when I see his face, all I want to do is hug him.

Potatoes (CSA), Bite of roasted acorn squash (CSA) peaches (farmer’s market) eggs kale (farmer’s market) breadsticks.

I roasted squash. I love that stuff — it’s like crack to me. But at dinner my son exclaimed it was “Yucky, yuck, yucky. Eww gross!” But he hadn’t tried any! I put some on his plate anyway. He complained, but I left it there and just raved about my squash (because I do love it).  Five to ten minutes went by and all of sudden the squash was gone. He tried it! He ended up eating another bite. So when I put it in his lunch, I just put a small amount.

 Applesauce in a package peaches (CSA) Turkey bologna and “cheese” sandwich carrots (from my mom’s friend’s garden)bar

This is a lunch packed when I had very little time. He didn’t eat the bar. But he loved having two carrots stuck together! He loves it when two things stick together!

Baconpear (farmer’s market)potatoes (CSA)onions (don’t remember)applesaucebar (uneaten from previous lunch)

Sort of a bland lunch.

 Crackers, carrot shredspear (farmer’s market)chicken with sundried tomatoesbrown ricebar (uneaten from previous lunch)

Charlie told me that he only ate a couple sundried tomatoes, but let me tell you — they were really good. He finally ate the bar — he must have been extra hungry that day.

  My lunches

 Homemade turkey burger with shredded carrotsketchupkale chips (farmer’ market)tortilla chipspumpkin hummus

Kale chips look terrible, but taste amazing! Oh yeah, I used Andy Bellatti’s recipe for pumpkin hummus as a guide. It was really good (I used too much pumpkin, but it was still great).

Roasted potatoes and onions (farmer’s market), acorn squash (CSA)corn tortillasmexican beef

The meat was leftover from a mexican restaurant. Amazing — wish I could do that at home. I love roasted veggies so I threw them in too. Random pairing, I know.

Hash (see below)plum (farmer’s market)acorn squash (CSA)

I had a lot of potatoes and so I decided to make a hash. While I boiled chopped potatoes, I sauteed garlic (farmer’s market) and onions in some olive oil. Then I added a red pimento (farmer’s market), green pepper (farmer’s market), and two Italian chicken sausages, chopped. When the potatoes were done, I drained them and plopped them in the pan with everything else. And I drizzled more olive oil liberally over everything. Then I took some leftover kale chips and crushed them and sprinkled them over everything (instead of parsley). The dish was really, really great. My son didn’t eat more than a couple bites though. Boo. Why is the plum sliced? Because when I was packing my son’s lunch I asked him to try a plum and tell me what he thought. He said, “Cold. Sour.” So I decided to put them in my lunch instead.

 Scrambled egg with carrots, bacon; pepita seeds; plum (farmer’s market); acorn squash (CSA)

I’m a fan of acorn squash. A big fan.

 Chicken with sundried tomatoes of brown rice; two plums; KIND bars; carrot (my mom’s friend’s garden)

Those are leftovers. I chopped chicken and marinated it in “sweet red chili” sauce. I sauteed garlic and onion in a olive oil and then added a chopped up yellow pepper (don’t remember where it came from). Then I added the chicken and then the sundried tomatoes (which came in a jar form Trader Joe’s). I thought it was a terrific lunch. Oddly, it was better the next day that it had been the night I served it.

Guest Blog Post: Food Day 10/24

I want to introduce you to a grassroots initiative called Food Day. Food Day, celebrated on Monday October 24th, is a nationwide awareness campaign promoting delicious, healthy and affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Key campaign issues related to kids and school lunches are reducing obesity and diet related disease by promoting safe and healthy diets, expanding access to food and ending hunger and curbing junk food marketing aimed at kids.

Quite a few resources have been developed to assist schools in the education process that can be used on October 24 and throughout the school year. Food Day curriculum including classroom lessons to help kids “eat real” and a school guide to celebrate Food Day from Kindergarten to High School are full of lesson plans, materials and fun activities. Other resource guides are the 2nd edition of “Rethinking School Lunch” by the Center for Ecoliteracy and a “Nourish” middle school curriculum guide. (See: Resources)

Go to www.foodday.org to learn about activities in your area. Click on http://foodday.org/participate/resources#FDCurriculum to download any of the above-mentioned free resources. More and more people are fed up with school lunches and really want to contribute to the cause. Food Day is just one more tool to help stoke the “eat real” movement.

Kathy O’Neill (aka Food Day Enthusiast) a volunteer for the Washington DC Food Day Committee. Food Day is coordinated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This initiative is led by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Rosa DeLauro. The advisory board consists of some prominent voices for change in food policy such as chefs Alice Waters and Dan Barber, author Michael Pollan and professors Michael Roizen and Kelly Brownell. Organizations such as the American Public Health Association, Slow Food USA and the Farmers Market Coalition are also mobilizing their members. Funding comes from philanthropic foundations and generous donors. No government or industry donations are accepted.

Parenting’s Mom Congress: My Best & Worst School Lunches

In the second post in the series, Parenting.com invited me to share some of the lunches that I ate last year. I think it’s perfect for this week — it’s National School Lunch Week and today was Take Your Parents to Lunch Day. Did you make it into your child’s cafeteria? If not, are you ready for a flashback?

Mrs Q of Fed Up With Lunch on Her Best & Worst Lunches

After eating 162 school lunches in 2010, I’d like to share some of my favorite meals (really, there were some!) as well as some of those that were—to put it politely—less than appealing.

Before you click over to their site, can you guess which meals I liked and which ones I didn’t care for? You might be surprised…

[Read the rest of the post and see the photos by clicking over to parenting.com]

Guest Blog Post: Andy Bellatti’s Experience as a School Nutritionist


I met Andy Bellatti of Small Bites, or rather he found this blog, last year and we became friends. I was intrigued when he told me that to be certified as a nutritionist, he would be spending some time in a public school cafeteria. He offered to share his experience as his dietetic internship in the public school setting. What follows is our interview…

1)     Tell us about your dietetic internship. What does that involve?

A dietetic internship is required by the American Dietetic Association in order to take the Registered Dietitian exam.  It consists of at least 1200 practice hours, divided between different rotations.  Although internships vary somewhat in structure, they all offer a certain amount of hours of clinical, community, food service, and administrative nutrition experience.

I was very fortunate in that my internship director and the majority of my preceptors were very open to – and in some cases aligned with — my approach to nutrition, which is not the traditional one associated with Registered Dietitians (for a Cliffs Notes version of my approach, this blog post and this interview sum it up well).

2)      Were you able to choose a Seattle public school or was that mandatory?

I was in Seattle PS during my two-week “community nutrition administration” rotation.  My internship director was aware of my interest in food politics and the school lunch program (the first or second week of the internship, I mentioned ‘Fed Up With Lunch’ during a group discussion), so she placed me in the sole PS spot available each year.

3)      Did you work at a central office or onsite at a school?

Both.  I was in the central office three out of eight days.  That central office houses the Seattle PS central kitchen, which is responsible for approximately 17,000 meals a day!

The other days,  I went to elementary, middle, and high schools to observe lunch periods.  I would often get there thirty or twenty minutes before the beginning of lunch so I could talk to the cafeteria staff.

4)      What were your main duties?

My main project was to help the nutrition director brainstorm the logistics to implement salad bars in some elementary schools.  I visited two elementary schools that already had salad bars to observe how their cafeteria was set up, how much time it took students to go through the line, notice any issues with flow, what students ate/didn’t eat, etc.

I then went to two elementary schools that didn’t have salad bars to see, firstly, if students were interested in having one, and also to strategize how the salad bar could be easily integrated in a way that would be manageable for the staff.  Part of my project included suggesting specific salad bar models that were the appropriate height for children and would accommodate enough food, etc.

I personally asked to visit middle and high schools.  That was not part of my project; just my interest in seeing nutrition in different settings.

5)      What did you observe in your internship?

So many things!  I’ll narrow it down to the things that struck me most:

  • Contrary to much of Big Food’s messaging (“our product sneaks in a full serving of vegetables!”) children enjoyed fruits and vegetables. They ate tomatoes and carrots without ranch dip.  Hummus was available with carrots, and kids as young as six and seven years old were loving it. On the days I was there, the fruit of the day was watermelon; the kids would get visibly excited when they walked up to the salad bar and saw the sliced watermelon.
  • In one of the “salad bar-less” elementary schools, I went table to table and asked the students their thoughts on possibly getting a salad bar.  I got an overwhelmingly positive response; kids started listing fruits and vegetables they wanted and liked (without me prompting them).  I later found out that particular school had integrated nutrition and gardening into their curriculum.  Truly amazing the power that has.  In the other school, which didn’t have that element to their curriculum, the response was more neutral.  It certainly wasn’t negative, though.  At the very least, every child was able to identify one vegetable they liked.  None of the 100 or so children I spoke with said, “I hate vegetables”.  Peer pressure?  Perhaps.  But, that’s an example of positive peer pressure.
  • Okay, now to the not-so-rosy part.  Every middle and high school has a salad bar.  But, pizza, burgers, cheeseburgers, breaded chicken sandwiches, and fries are offered daily. Sure, the fries are baked (Seattle was very progressive in that they removed all deep fryers from school kitchens seven years ago), but you are still talking about a frozen potato product that has a litany of ingredients tacked on and is about twelve degrees of separation from an actual potato.
  • I was appalled at how little time some students had to eat lunch in the high school I visited. In the elementary and middle schools, the line moved fast enough that students had plenty of time.  I didn’t see anyone rushing to eat or still having two thirds of their food left when the bell rang.  At the elementary schools, children also had the option of staying an additional five minutes after the bell rang if they needed more time to eat (no students did on the days I was present). However, at that high school I visited, not only was the student population much larger, but school clubs had short meetings during the 30-minute lunch period!Students were coming to the cafeteria five minutes before lunch period ended; all that was left were chicken nuggets and fries.  I sat with one of these ‘late-arrivals’ and we chatted briefly; she said this five-minute lunch was common for her.  I thought about her the rest of the day, mainly about the fact that she ate processed, minimally nutritious food in a hurry and then had several hours of class left.  That is not okay.
  • At the high school, the cafeteria had a store that sold Izze sodas, Baked Lay’s, and cookies.  I talked to the student employees and they told me they almost always run out of the cookies.

6)      Did you find the experience enlightening? What surprised you the most?

Very enlightening.  I got a better feel for the challenges that are present.  For example, if an elementary school is to incorporate a salad bar, it means the cafeteria staff will now be expected to cut and slice fresh fruit (schools without salad bars offer a bowl of whole fruit and – get ready to cringe – single-servings of various plastic-wrapped vegetables; moving to a salad bar also means using a lot less plastic!).

That shift to tasks like slicing watermelons and oranges requires a new labor contract with the union, which is a process that takes time and negotiating.  So, Seattle PS can not simply say, “Okay, starting next month, you’ll have a salad bar!”.  The rotation, while short, gave me a good understanding of realistic timelines.

I also see the financial struggle, and the low priority nutrition has in most schools from an economic and administrative perspective.  Schools simply don’t invest money in their cafeteria kitchens.  Money is allotted to almost all other areas first.  To be honest, I wouldn’t call what I saw kitchens, but heating stations.  The food is made in the central kitchen and then heated up at each school.  It’s sad, especially because I think there could be so much value in having students volunteer or do activities that involve helping prepare (as in cut, chop, cook) real food.

It was also interesting to see such a dichotomy in the central kitchen.  On the one hand, you have some local and organic produce (beyond the basics, too – fresh jicama was being cut up at one station when I was there) and there are enchiladas made from fresh ingredients (as opposed to arriving frozen).  Yet, literally about ten feet away, you see boxes of pre-made nacho cheese sauce mix with an unsavory ingredient list.  But, then again. about thirty feet away from that, focaccia bread is being made from scratch.

7)      What if anything needs to change from a nutritionist’s point of view in the school system?

I don’t think I speak for all nutritionists when I say this, but this is my take:

First, get rid of flavored milks.  They are not needed.  I am not in the “bone health is all about dairy!” camp (in this recent blog post, I explained why focusing on calcium and vitamin D is not enough from a bone health perspective). I don’t believe in the catastrophic “if kids don’t drink chocolate milk, they won’t drink milk at all!” viewpoint.  First, that isn’t necessarily true.  Second, there are so many cultures where dairy is not a central part of the diet and children are growing just fine.  I don’t think milk is the ‘magic elixir’ the Dairy Council wants us to think it is, but if schools want to offer plain milk, that’s fine.

However, I also think it’s crucial to step back from – and challenge — this dairy framework that has become so normalized.  I believe every table in a school cafeteria should have a large pitcher of water.  I understand that could imply some additional waste, in terms of each student needing a container to drink that water out of, but schools could offer compostable and biodegradable cups.  My point is – let’s get pitchers of water in there (with some orange or strawberry slices in there for truly natural flavor!) and send the message that water is a perfectly acceptable beverage.  Of course, it would help if the USDA didn’t require a dairy component at every meal.  As it is now, all children are required to put some sort of milk carton on their lunch tray (by the way, at the end of the lunch periods, I saw so many almost-full milk cartons poured out).  Milk should not be the only source of hydration at lunch time.

In the middle and high school levels, the daily offering of pizza, breaded chicken, hamburgers, and fries has to go.  I would be okay with one of those being offered once a week (so, in essence, pizza once a month, hamburgers once a month, etc.).  The fact that middle and high school students can eat a hamburger, fries, and chocolate milk five days of the week for the entire school year is absurd and a nutritional aberration.

The other issue (and this applies at the elementary level, too) is that as long as programs like the USDA’s US Healthier School Challenge   focus solely on nutrients, rather than ingredients, we won’t see a push towards better food.  What we’ll see is a “breadsticks and marinara sauce” entree with fewer milligrams of sodium and some more whole grains.  That is a “better than before” option but not necessarily a “good one” that offers much in the way of nutrition.

8)      Can a parent meet with a school district’s nutrition staff?

Ooh, I wish you had asked me this while I was at the rotation so I could have asked.  I’d imagine so; I didn’t get the impression they were secretive in any way.  Of course, as you very well know, the school lunch issue has so many players (and layers) to it that there is an initial learning curve in understanding how all the pieces fit.

9) Anything else you would like to share?

I always knew school lunch was a multi-layered issue, but it wasn’t until this two-week experience that I got an understanding of all the respective pieces.  Throughout the rotation I was reminded of how misguided current agricultural policies are, and also how meeting MyPlate or food group requirements is mainly politics – not nutrition – at work.

Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, is a Seattle-based nutritionist who approaches nutrition from a whole-foods, plant-centric framework. He also takes a strong interest in food politics, nutrition policy, and deceptive food industry marketing tactics. He is the creator of the Small Bites blog and can be followed on Twitter.

It’s National School Lunch Week! Hug a Lunch Lady!


October 10th through October 14th is National School Lunch Week. I say celebrate by thanking a lunch lady. They are on the front lines in the fight against childhood hunger and their work improves classroom performance.

National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day on Wednesday October 12th. This week go to school with your child(ren) and have lunch together.  There are some online resources (http://myhealthyschool.com/) available for planning your visit. Eating school lunch with your child is the best way for you to know what is going on in the cafeteria. It will give you a chance to see what is working and what isn’t. The food might not be the biggest challenge as parents have told me that the most troubling thing about school lunch at their schools is the lack of time. That’s why being a journalist in your child’s school cafeteria is the best way to collect information. This week is dedicated to celebrating the school lunch program and it is the perfect time for you to visit the cafeteria. And you don’t have to sneaky about it like I was!

Parenting’s Mom Congress: Being an Accidental Activist

 

Last week I was honored when Parenting.com’s Mom Congress blog asked me to contribute a couple blog posts about my experience as Mrs. Q. Here’s is the first in a series, which ran on Wednesday last week:

Mrs Q on Becoming an Accidental Activist

Life has a way of surprising you. School lunch was not on my radar during the first few years I worked as a speech-language pathologist for Chicago Public Schools. Even though I passed the cafeteria every day, I didn’t even peek in to see what was happening. I was just focused on my work with students with speech impairments.

For me, becoming a parent changed my view of children. And when my son was making that scary transition at one year of age when he started getting all of his nutritional needs met through real food, I really started thinking about food in a way I never had before. The food I had in my house had to be the best.

During that same period, getting myself, my son and my husband ready for work and childcare in the morning was stressful and crazy. One day I just wasn’t able to find time to pack a lunch, and I ended up running out of time to pack myself something. I figured it was no big deal—there was a cafeteria at work, and I’d just buy school lunch like the kids…

[Read the rest on their blog…]


Lunch Wrap Up: Week of Sept 26th

For those of you new to the site, every Saturday I share the week of lunches that I pack for my son and for myself. I’m doing that at the readers’ request. I find packing lunches to be a pain because it is so time-consuming. But my son and I are both gluten and dairy free for health reasons and so we both don’t have another option.

I have to be more creative than I ever imagined. Sometimes I imitate the lunches provided by my son’s day care, sometimes I just use what we have on hand. When I use local produce, I’ll note it by indicating where I got it. I’ll write (CSA) for the community share box of veggies we are getting every other week. This is the first year we have done this and it’s been very fun. I also like to shop at the farmer’s market every Saturday. I use the Laptop Lunches system for both of us.

I didn’t pack lunches last week as the whole family was traveling. I’ve been running a little behind with my posts so here are our lunches from the week of September 26th:

Charlie’s lunches

Savory pancake (spinach greens and carrot puree from CSA), strawberries, hard-boiled eggs, syrup, applesauce, cucumber shapes (CSA)

I’m experimenting with savory (not sweet) pancakes. These turned out ok, not great. Also I used these egg molds to turn the eggs into fun shapes. Child care menu: Teriyaki chicken, pasta, peas & carrots, pineapple chunks. 

BBQ chicken, strawberries, spiced rice, carrots, bar

The chicken was a big hit. All I did was put drumsticks in a pan and douse them in gf BBQ sauce and bake them. Too easy and they were delicious. Child care menu: Pasta with meat sauce, salad and dressing, “winter blend,” applesauce.

Bacon, apples, lettuce (CSA), sliced apples, lettuce (CSA) and shredded carrots, corn muffin, pepita seeds, bar

Someone commented that they were disappointed that I feed my son bacon. Well, it’s a big hit around here. If I buy the “good” stuff, is it really a bad thing? Child care menu: Asian chicken, rice, Italian blend, tropical fruit, dinner roll 

 Homemade chicken nuggets/fingers, pears, spaghetti sauce, corn noodles, lettuce (CSA) and shredded carrots, bar

 It’s way too easy to bread chicken (I used gf bread crumbs and cornmeal) and pan fry it in the oil of your choice. Serve with spaghetti. Here I separated the sauce and the noodles for freshness. Child care menu: Meatballs, diced parsley potatoes, green beans, watermelon, wheat bread.

Fried tomatoes, carrots with ranch dip, noodles with chunks of butter ghee, package of applesauce, breadsticks

I fried green and red tomatoes the night before. Only the red ones were leftover for lunch. Amazing! Child care menu: Chicken tenders, pasta, carrots/celery with ranch dip, mandarin oranges, wheat bun. 

My lunches

Savory pancakes (with spinach and carrot puree from the CSA), strawberries, eggs 

I want to continue experimenting with sweet foods and turning them savory.

BBQ chicken drumstick, spiced rice, green beans (farmer’s market), pear, applesauce

I really like cooking drumsticks in the oven.

Turkey meat, gf pita, lettuce and tomato (CSA), apple, banana, bar

I had no time and just threw everything together using the Easy Lunchboxes system. Someone chided me for eating lunch meat. Really? It’s a lunchtime staple. I chose the Applegate brand.

Homemade chicken fingers, pasta and sauce, lettuce (CSA) and shredded carrots, applesauce, bar.

Delicious!

 Chili, pear, chips and daiya cheese, banana, bar

 I just dumped the daiya cheese into the chili after I microwaved it at work. Then I used the chips to eat the chili.