Lunch Wrap Up: Week of Dec 12th

Charlie missed a day this past week due to illness and I took the day off to be home with him. Actually my husband even took the day off, too. So the three of us were home, which is the ideal way to take care of a sick child. No one parent was stressed and everyone got a nap!

I’m going to blog about my packed lunches in a new way next year. Stay tuned. But in the meantime…

Charlie’s lunches

Gluten-free pita, hummus; Spanish rice; turkey bologna (Applegate brand); salad; apple

This lunch was a hit. But I don’t think he ate too much spinach. Child care menu: Chicken Alfredo, elbow pasta, mixed veggies, pineapple chunks.

Homemade slow cooker chili; corn; crackers; packaged fruit puree; homemade acorn cookies; bar

Chili in the crockpot is divine. My son helped me make the cookies and we just had a blast. Child care menu: Cheesy chicken, parsley potatoes, broccoli, pear, wheat roll

Catfish; “party” rice; green peppers, apple slices; pretzels

The catfish was a hit at home the night before, but my son told me, “don’t put catfish in my lunch.” I can only imagine what happened at school. Child care menu: BBQ turkey, rice, mixed veggies, banana, rye bread.

Buttered bread; fruit puree; dressing; bacon; raw veggies; apple slices; bar

Charlie fought me on the raw veggies when he saw me putting them in his lunch, but later he told me he ate them and none came home with him. So I guess I gotta believe it. Child care menu: BBQ meatballs, au gratin potatoes, peas, tropical fruit, rye bread.

My lunches

Pita; spinach and carrots; turkey bologna; sliced orange; Larabar

Here’s a tip: when packing for multiple people, pack a similar lunch to save time.

Slow cooker chili (beans, turkey, little potatoes, sweet potato chunks); veggie salad; orange, Larabar

I want to make chili once a week during the winter months. It’s easy, cheap, and filling.

Bologna sandwich, apple slices; green peppers; pretzels; bar

This sandwich was terrible. I couldn’t finish it. When I was a kid, I loved bologna sandwiches. Guess those days are over.

Tuna sandwich, apple slices; broccoli; dressing, Larabar

The tuna sandwich was infinitely better than the bologna one.

Our summer trip to Rockford: The farm revisited (part one)

Postcard I picked up from the Rockford Art Museum, which says starting from top,

“Most Dangerous Cities in America, Greetings from No. 9” Bottom right corner, “Safer than Baltimore, Rockford IL.”

From the artists at

Being from Wisconsin, I used to view Rockford, Illinois as a speed bump on the way to Chicago. The city has had a bad reputation (see above postcard lampooning its national ranking). I didn’t give Rockford a passing thought until last year when I stopped at a rest area along I90 and saw a flyer for Rockford’s Discovery Center Museum. I was surprised to read that Rockford has one of the best children’s museums in the country. Hmm, what a great pit stop for our kid…

Then I realized that our CSA farm, Angelic Organics, is very close to Rockford. Early in the summer they sent out a newsletter featuring a variety of family-oriented classes in their Learning Center, which is located at the farm. I noticed that class on the making of goat milk ice cream. I wondered aloud to my husband if we could plan a weekend in Rockford. He was game.

I blogged already about my experience on the farm, but I did it anonymously then. I want to share some additional photos I took of the magical hours we spent there:

Charlie loved the goats.

My husband Mike, The Goat Whisperer. If you can’t tell, Mike has a great sense of humor.

Charlie was riveted listening to the presentation

 I think Mike looks like a farmer in this shot. Mike commented to me that he comes from farmers. Just a few generations ago his family was farming in China. I told him that it’s only natural that he felt comfortable there.

 Mike volunteered to be the guy who holds the feed while the goat gets milked. He’s a jokester a lot of the time, but he was very serious before the goat came in because he was focused on not screwing up.

Mike feeding the goat, while the instructor explained what we need to do. After I took the shot, she held the goat’s hind legs so the goat wouldn’t kick anyone.

We all left the farm, happy and content. I really felt a sense of well-being. Jeez, I have a major case of barnheart.

Who wouldn’t want to move here. Read my first post about visiting the farm.

Next week I’ll share part two of our trip…more of Rockford and our visit to an amazing children’s museum…

Guest post: The Psychology of Children’s Eating: How to Leverage it for Good

Mark Lock is a research associate at Harvard Business School, blogger, foodie and avid social media experimenter. He works with Jason Riis and is involved with research on marketing interventions to increase consumption of healthy food. His blog on food psychology is at:

I once overheard a friend say, “What is the deal with all these school lunch advocates? I had bad school lunches when I was a kid and I dealt with it. All that matters is that now I am eating healthy.”

He said this while he was forking some salad into his mouth … but downing America’s favorite beverage—Coca-Cola.

Actually, it matters more than ever that children should be eating healthily. Habits and palates are formed when young and surprisingly impact diet choices significantly later in life.

School lunch is where children have a chance of developing healthy eating habits when older. Try to imagine any other eating establishment that has a captive serving audience of 5 meals a week over 40 weeks which equals 200 meals a year for thirteen years (K-12). There are probably few to none that wield this amount of power.

Let’s evaluate the statement, “All that matters is that now I am eating healthy.” Such a statement is misleading because in psychological research we see time and time again that people are hindered by behavioral inertia to adopt new behaviors (even if they know those new behaviors are much better than their old ones). If children start eating unhealthily they need to overcome much more behavioral inertia to switch over to healthier ways of eating when older.

Status quo and default options are large forces in determining what gets eaten later in life. If children eat French fries and unrecognizable mystery meat day in and day out, this becomes ingrained in their perceptions of what is normal. Familiarity then leads to increased preference for these foods due to mere exposure, as has been evidenced in classic psychological studies. The psychological framework below illustrates how these forces strengthen and propel people into a never ending loop of potato chips and Coke.

The biological explanation further supports the point that school lunches can ruin or create a lifetime of healthful eating.  I had the pleasure of studying under Bart Hoebel, renowned Princeton neuropsychologist who built his research empire on obesity. His work investigated the effects of the two most prevalent ingredients in processed food including school lunches: High Fructose Corn Syrup and Fat.

He found that High Fructose Corn Syrup enables weight gain much faster than less processed versions of sugar such as sucrose. What is even more surprising is that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) intake triggers addictive behavior. Rats who received HFCS for a while and then stopped being fed HFCS exhibited signs (teeth chattering, eating more sugar after the sugar-fast period was over) similar to symptoms of nicotine and alcohol withdrawal.

Fat, while hasn’t been proven to be addictive, can mess around with people’s perceptions of food satiety. In 2001, Jiali Wang and colleagues showed that rats who were fed high-fat high-energy diets were desensitized towards eating fat (in human terms, this means it takes more and more fat to feel satiated if you regularly eat fatty foods).  If we are feeding kids high-fat diets, how easy will it be for them to change to healthier diets later on in life without feeling starved? It is pretty darn hard considering that an adult brain becomes less plastic and malleable with age.

What can schools and parents do?! Tips from the marketing department

Schools and parents should fight for school reforms and changes in home cooking with an understanding of how food is perceived by these kids for maximum effectiveness.

Why do kids hate vegetables and fruits, the most nutrient dense foods per calorie? They are definitely not filling on their own and definitely not addictive. How are fruits and vegetables going to compete with greasy pizza and strawberry milk then?

Flavor your vegetables!

A natural grilled beef patty is actually harder to process for kids than your average boiled cabbage, but is only much more palatable when it’s drenched in a sweet sauce or has been wrapped with chunks of fatty meat in a sausage casing.

Why aren’t we taking this approach to vegetables as well (but keeping our common sense about nutrition)? Spice up the flavor of vegetables by adding flavor! It is a bizarre phenomenon how school lunches are plagued with rock hard carrot bits and sharp tasting celery sticks. A  December 2011 publication from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that kids increased their consumption of vegetables by 80 percent when they were offered dips with them. Low-fat yogurts and regular yogurts both were equally effective! This means children’s neural pathways are not craving unhealthy food, they are merely craving flavor. Hummus and apple sauce are also good dips to use.

Present your vegetables (strategically)!

Mrs. Q posted a picture of her “party rice” some time ago where she included a variety of vegetables chopped up and dispersed within a large bed of rice. It was a huge hit for her son. What Mrs. Q did was successfully “market” her vegetables (or in other words, hiding them). In July 2011, Maureen Spill and colleagues published a paper showing that vegetables that were pureed and incorporated into other food prompted children to eat more vegetables. Kids ate 73% more vegetables calorie-wise when pureed than in their un-pureed forms and reduced their overall calorie intake by 12%! Because schools are forced to think about their lunches from a food pyramid standpoint, it is hard not to compartmentalize foods when planning menus.  But the extra step of mixing fruits or vegetables into starch or protein dishes may prove to be an effective tactic. Hide those vegetables and before you know it, kids will be eating more of them without even knowing.


Great Family Recipes: Lemon Chiffon Pudding and Molasses Creams

Every Monday during the month of December I’m going to share new and old family recipes. 

Many of you wanted the recipe I mentioned in the last post for “Lemon Chiffon Pudding.” Although my grandmother chose that recipe to be printed in the paper, I have no memory of ever eating this pudding! The recipe does sound pretty yummy, actually. Here you go:

Lemon Chiffon Pudding

  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg whites, beaten stiff

Mix flour, sugar and salt together, add butter, egg yolks, lemon juice and milk. Fold in egg whites.

Bake in a buttered casserole dish set in a pan of warm water, for 35 minutes at 360 degrees. Will form cake top over layer of custard.

(I love that the oven has to be “360 degrees”)


Immediately following the pudding recipe, there’s a recipe for “Molasses Creams.” Again, another enigma from the past. I don’t remember Grandma preparing this dish, but she must have thought it was something special. I might as well share it with you, as well. This recipe in particular seems relatively easily modified to be gluten free:

Molasses Creams

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 strong hot coffee
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves

Mix shortening and sugar together and add egg and molasses. Add coffee alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Pour into greased 9 by 13 inch pan. Bake in a moderate oven about 25 minutes. While warm, frost with powdered sugar frosting.

(I don’t know what “moderate oven” means…sorry)

Lunch Wrap Up: Week of Dec 5th

So this week I found out that my son isn’t eating the cut oranges or any of his applesauce at school. These are foods he likes at home (more oranges than applesauce, but still). His caregiver told me, “Please don’t give Charlie any more applesauce. He’s not eating it.” I was floored. Just this week I asked him, “Do you want apples or applesauce in your lunch?” He told me applesauce. I’m not losing sleep over this, but I’m puzzled why he said that when he’s not eating the applesauce.

Charlie’s lunches

Lamb with peas and rice; yogurt; oranges; gluten free pita (bought from a local bakery)

My son loves rice, meat, and pita bread, but yogurt is iffy. The bombshell this week was that he’s not eating those oranges, even though he loves them at home. Child care menu: Lasagna, veggie blend, sliced pears, wheat bread.

Corn muffin; pepitas; chicken; grape tomatoes; avocado; applesauce; crackers

I picked my son up and his shirt had little red splotches all over. Well, he ate his tomatoes. The second bombshell of the week was that he ate none of his applesauce. I’m still reeling from this new revelation. What to do now? Child care menu: Turkey taco, cheese, lettuce, veggie blend, tropical fruit, tortilla

Turkey burger; apple slices; “buttered” raisin bread (soy free spread); carrots; ketchup; crackers

When I have a late night, my husband will often cook turkey burgers as a “default” easy meal. It’s nice that then there are leftovers. I made that gluten free raisin bread myself in the bread machine. Big hit with Charlie. Child care menu: Chicken tenders, salad with dressing, cinnamon apples slices

“Buttered” bread; chicken; kiwi; applesauce; rice

It was after that meal that I found out he’s not eating his applesauce. I wonder if it’s the change in packaging… Child care menu: Turkey hot dog, rice, baby carrots with dip, banana, wheat roll.

Spiced lamb with cooked apples; rice; peas; sliced pears

My husband prepared this dish as well. I’m sure you have figured out by now that my husband loves lamb. The previous night he decided to make lamb three different ways. Child care menu: Mashed potato bowl, green beans, applesauce, wheat bread

My lunches

Lamb with peas and rice; oranges; yogurt; pita

I thought this was a particularly excellent lunch. My husband even chopped figs and put them in with the rice. I’m proud of him for learning to be creative in the kitchen.

Pita ham sandwich; tomatoes and avocados; yogurt; apple

That sandwich? It sucked. It wasn’t the bread. I guess I’m really not into ham.

Turkey burger on raisin bread, apples, carrots; figs; pear sauce; ketchup; BumbleBar

I’m still working my way through the pear sauce stash, after my son refused to eat it (at home). I’m wondering if that was the beginning of the end of the fruit sauces.

Chicken with pasta and sauce; orange; nut-free trail mix

I’ve decided that I like eating cut oranges. Peeling them is such a pain and then you have weird white residue on your hands and you smell like citrus. It’s much easier just to take a bite.

Lamb with peas and rice; oranges; BumbleBar

I’m so lucky. My husband cooked three out of five weeknights because he’s had a light couple weeks at work.

Chicago public schools update

When I revealed myself on October 5th, the day my book was published, I received a friendly email from nutrition services of Chicago public schools, reaching out to me and suggesting a meeting. I replied immediately that I would love to meet and chat about school lunch in the district.

We finally coordinated all our schedules to meet this week at “Central Office,” the ominous-sounding name most teachers call downtown HQ. The meeting went very well. Much of the time I spent listening to the initiatives that Chicago public schools (CPS) is already working on that I had no idea about and learning about the steps the district is taking towards wellness. In the future I hope to share more about what CPS is doing already –and where they are headed.

One of the many challenges working for a large district is that there is a huge void between central office and the schools. Additionally, there are big differences between schools themselves, even when they are just blocks apart. I wish best practices could find their way into the collective consciousness! At least we made headway during our meeting as many ideas and lots of information was shared in just an hour. All of us agreed that meeting regularly would be beneficial. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Guest blogger: Finnish School Lunches

I really enjoy learning more about what other countries do at lunch time and the national policies that govern their behavior. I hope you enjoy today’s guest blog post from a Finnish mother. Finland’s education system has been receiving worldwide praise. Yesterday, December 6th was Finland’s 94th anniversary of its separation from Russia. Note: many of the links lead to Finnish webpages, which can be translated with the help of Google Translate

Free and nutritious school lunch to all students since 1948: Finland’s success story in education gets part from that

I am mother who has recently experienced school lunch system in two countries via my elementary age children. And third country experience is upcoming next year. First I joked about it but being nutrition researcher by profession, it was natural for me to get interested in the school food issue further. Unlike Mrs Q, I was inspired and empowered by nutritionist colleague Janne Huovila, who is training health professionals to participate in social media. Now I have been writing blog since March 2011 with motto being “to find what different factors affect school meals”.

My kids started their school life in France when we moved there from our home country Finland due to my husband’s job assignment. For two years I picked my kids from school for lunch at home, as quite many of the French mothers did too in that town. From France we moved to Austin, Texas in fall 2010. Here I had to get used to packing lunch. The small private school has catering service delivering packed lunch, that I professionally concider good quality. But I felt my children had enough stress with the new school and having familiar foods for lunch would give them break in the middle of the day. Besides that way I knew they would eat during the school and well nourished better cope and adjust into new environment. The good thing is that our school gives opportunity to heat food in the microwave and school assistants have time to help children. That gives more chance for variety in lunch box and when home cooked foods do not need to be hot in thermal, they are more appealing during the lunch time.

But this lunch packing is also quite stressful! So I started to look forward to our return to Finland. There I knew school would provide daily hot lunch to all students. And without direct cost to family (paid by taxpayers). That has been in Finland since 1948, being the first country in the world. And the quality of lunch would also be worth looking forward to. Finland has had school nutrition recommendation since 2008 and even before that school lunch followed the current national food recommendations established by National Nutrition council since 1954.

As I got into blogging, I noticed more and more current negative news from Finland about school lunch. Specially teenagers are skipping the free meal. For what ever reason they do not eat at all in school canteen or they rather use their own money for buying junk food outside school if there is a chance. Then become news headlines calling crap the food served in school! In internet comments sounded like parents also would call proper lunch crap food. Even without seeing the lunch at all, basing their judgement on their own memories of school lunch, the news headlines, and from reports of their children. Hey, even I get negative feed back from my kids for what I have packed to them to eat in school!

Nordic Network of National Technology Platform’s Healthy Choices project states: Results from surveys among parents and children have indicated that some children don´t like the food. Healthy food does not give children the necessary nutrients unless it´s eaten. Therefore, the main challenge is not only to make sure the food is healthy and nutritious, but also that it tastes good and is nicely presented in a pleasant atmosphere. And one of the obstacles on the way overcoming the challenge is lack of respect for school catering from politicians and school authorities. Does that sound familiar?

I give my guess for the reason to negative news and therefore negative image; People do not know what to respect in free school lunch. By doing internet research I found out that like in US, Finnish school food is heading towards more local and organic products but unlike in US, our school lunches have always been made by big part from the scratch in the local muncipal kitchens. Obviously these issues had been overrun by negative topics generating vicious circle.

Before moving out of Finland I had some experience and knowledge about school food via my work as nutrition researcher in one nutrition intervention study with study population being teenagers at that time. There I saw that for many of them school food was the best food they got during the day. And quite often school lunch was the meal containing the least amount of food additives. Those who got proper dinner at home ate also quite well school lunch. This recent study supports my observations: Eating a balanced school lunch is associated with more regular meal patterns, the availability of healthier foods at home and an overall healthier diet, suggesting that healthy eating patterns are learnt at home.

But what if home does not give opportunity to learn healthy food habits? Finnish legislation and nutrition recommendations state: The role of school meals is to be a pedagogical tool to teach good nutrition and eating habits as well as to increase consumption of vegetables, fruits and berries, full corn bread and skimmed or low fat milk. For this purpose in Finnish schools teachers eat with their students at least in the younger grades, but quite often also in middle school. It was just few days ago that I heard about EU project called HabeatHabEat will (also) propose strategies to policy makers for promoting practices to ensure healthy food habits in young infants and children as well as intervention. 

I have already seen changes towards positive school lunch image and atmosphere in news headlines. Like this one stating “School food is good“. What really delights me is that one teacher is reporting actual school food eaten in typical Finnish school via photos and testifying the good quality and variety school lunch has. Official information how Finnish school canteens work and how well-balanced meal is composed, served and guided to students in self-service basis without individually wrapped items can be found in document School Meals in Finland – Investment in learning and in this Nordic Network NTP raport.

Finland is also demonstrating proudly abroad it’s long tradition of catered school meals. This fall The Embassies of Scandinavian countries served Nordic food at DC schools on Nordic Food Day. In September 2011 Finnish Ministry of Education offered typical Finnish school lunch to high-level United Nations guests. The purpose of the event was to outline the connection between a healthy diet and development. Not unfamiliar idea in US, but Finland is very good example of that phenomenon as it has been among the top in the PISA ranking for several years. There is no doubt that equal opportunity to all students for healthy lunch supports the work that has done on the educational sector itself. More about Finnish school system can be found from these two articles published in in November 2011 and this Canadian tv-document published December 2, 2011. 

Dear Fellow Parents. I hope this information from Finland empowers you to look ways to ensure your children get and eat good school lunch so they can thrive.