Heart of gold

Cardiovascular disease is killing us and it’s something we don’t think about very often. Someone sent the following video to me: Go Red For Women presents: ‘Just a Little Heart Attack’ I love how lunch packing just puts her over the edge. Sometimes I get panicky when I’m trying to pack my son’s lunch, too! Never thought it could land me in the ER!

I needed that semi-humorous video because I have been getting many more sobering reminders recently:

1) Four speech pathologists working for Chicago Public Schools have passed away since the end of November. It’s a large district so that accounts for roughly 1% of the speech paths employed by CPS, but it has left a big impression on all of the clinicians that I know (whenever I run into another speech path, a psychologist, a occupational therapist, or a social worker it comes up in conversation). I didn’t know any of the people personally who passed away and so I can’t be sure that heart conditions caused their deaths, but I do know that no one of them was older than 53. That is much too young.

2) My dad’s best friend is having a quintuple bypass today. Keep him in your thoughts.

3) It was three years ago this month that one of my coworkers passed away due to heart-related issues. He was an “old school” teacher (tough discipline) with a heart of gold — and just about to retire. I miss him.

So please:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Control high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Get regular check-ups with medical professionals

Having a heart attack is not the only result of cardiovascular disease. Strokes are also a possibility. Ever thought about losing the ability to speak? to walk? to write? I don’t know the statistics, but I bet that strokes are more common than heart attacks.

Further reading:

You’re gonna live! Or not. Risk factors really count. (Chicago Tribune)

Risk for Heart Attack, Stroke May Be Underestimated (WebMD)

News: New School Lunch Regulations

Why is it that I’m always out of pocket when the “big” news items hit? I have had limited internet access over the past couple days as I was briefly out of town. Anyway, I’m finally digging into the information that Michelle Obama announced in conjunction with the USDA and what it all means.

New Standards

We’ve been hearing about them for over a year and it looks like they are finally out. The haggling over what qualifies as a vegetable was figured out: fries are still a veggie (BOO!) and so is the tomato paste on a piece of school pizza. Honestly, I thought that once the president signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that it was law, but the standards are coming into effect…in July. Here’s are some of the highlights:

  1. More fruits and vegetables at lunch time — Thumbs up: Now they just need time in which to eat them!
  2. Calorie maximum on meals — Thumbs up: There was always a minimum, but oddly never a maximum.
  3. Flavored milk still okay, but must be non-fat — Thumbs down: I believe that fat is not the enemy, but instead that sugar is the problem, so I’m still upset that chocolate and strawberry milks will be allowed. Let’s have kids down a bunch of sugary milk with no fat (which helps the sugar to be absorbed slowly into the bloodstream) and you’re looking at insulin spikes. Am I wrong to worry that kids aren’t getting enough of the good fats that problem healthy brain and cell development?
  4. Sodium to decrease over a ten year period — Thumbs up: I wish this could happen a little faster than ten years… Let’s put this in perspective. My son Charlie is 3 years old and in ten years he’ll be in the 8th grade. Um, that’s a long time.

The fact is that if a district is meeting the HealthierUS School Challenge they will meet the new mandatory guidelines. Of course I’m encouraged by these changes. I think we need more money to make this really go well in the fruit and veggie department. Click on the image I uploaded with this post — it’s of a “before/after” lunch menu with the new rules. The “after” menu is phenomenal, even jaw dropping. But it’s going to take a lot of creative thinking and fundraising to accomplish a menu like that. The simplicity of the “before/after” chart implies an ease that is just not there. What are your thoughts?

Further reading:

Students to see healthier school lunches under new USDA rules (MSNBC.com)

Healthier school lunches draw controversy (CBSNews.com)

School Lunches to Count Calories with New Nutrition Guidelines (The Daily Meal)

New Healthy School Lunch Rules Already Met By One District (Buffalo, NY) — VIDEO

Nutritional Look at School Lunch Changes (Rhinelander, Wisconsin — I can’t resist linking to my hometown news!)


What Chicago Lunch Ladies Think

In December 2011, Chicago Public School lunch ladies were (finally!) surveyed about their opinions on school lunches by their union (Source: Real Food, Real Jobs). The report releases today. Let’s recap who Chicago’s lunch ladies are:

We are the 3,200 frontline workers who prepare over 77,000 school breakfasts and 280,000 school lunches each day for the children of Chicago in over 600 schools. We are also the grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, and fathers of thousands of Chicago Public School students.

Here’s what they had to say:

75% of those surveyed reported not having any input on the new recipes and food

  • Who knows better than the lunch ladies, right? I also bet that not getting a chance to share your thoughts about the food would be pretty disenfranchising — the opposite of empowering.

42% of those surveyed felt students are eating the new food

  • Way lower than previous reporting by the Chicago Tribune

50% of those surveyed reported rarely or never seeing school principals eating school lunch

  • I’m in my sixth year working for Chicago Public Schools and although I don’t monitor any of my principals’ daily movements in the school, I have never seen a principal eating school lunch

73% of those surveyed thought food at cooking schools was superior to frozen food schools.

  • Makes sense to me.

62% of those surveyed want more training about healthy food

  • Let’s get lunch ladies the training they want and need to make our schools healthier.

And what do lunch ladies want? Here’s their vision as laid out in the report:

  1. Actively solicit and incorporate their input in school food improvement.
  2. Make a commitment to cooking, which means CPS must agree to: a) Avoid replacing cooked food with frozen food b)Build full-size cooking kitchens in all new schools.
  3. Help lunch ladies reach their full potential as caretakers — they want comprehensive training on cooking, serving and eating healthy food.
  4. Encourage lunch ladies to keep students and parents informed if they believe there is a problem with food quality or safety in the cafeterias.

The lunch ladies have spoken (Source: Real Food, Real Jobs). Now let’s hope that the people in power are listening.

Feeding frenzy

Jellyfish shot I took over break at an aquarium.

Something is happening with me. I feel an urgency to live life. Something in my head keeps telling me to getting going and “do it now!” So I’m busy trying to figure out it is I’m supposed to be doing. I feel a pressure to move, to go, to be, to do. Problem is I just don’t know what to do and in which direction to move. My mind is not satisfied.

I’m sorry that haven’t had the motivation to really blog. But I have had the motivation to go to bed early…to read a magazine…to sit on the couch and watch TV with my husband. They feel like stolen hours. I spent every night on the computer for two years in a row. I’m finally ready to admit that I’m tired.

I know that content around here as been a bit off. Time is my enemy. I work all day and then I have so many household tasks. The blog gets what’s left after I put my son down. Sometimes I just want to eat cookies and go through the mail, you know?

Once per week for the past three weeks I’ve had book appearances that have kept me out until past my son’s bedtime. Tough for so many reasons. I can’t come home and blog at the computer those nights because of total exhaustion and then the following evening I just want to enjoy my son and once he goes down…I seek stillness.

Outside of my regular work as a school-based speech pathologist, the next couple weeks I’ve got some exciting writing I need to do, I’ve got some more book engagements coming up, and then a couple fun projects going on. I’ll update when I can with the good stuff, of course.

All the while you’ll be happy to know I have been diligently taking shots of my lunches and the lunches I pack for my son. I’ve been building a new blog for those, as I’m more convinced than ever that this website is not the place for the lunches I make for us. I had hoped to launch my personal lunch blog a little earlier than this, but at the rate I’m going I’ll reveal it in February (with a giveaway!)

So, content here will continue to be somewhat sparse. Thanks for your understanding and patience! If you want to keep track of me, I update Twitter regularly and Facebook once per day.

SOPA/PIPA blackout

image via realising designs

I guess by blogging right now I am actually blogging on a blackout day, but I just want you to be aware of the SOPA/PIPA internet restriction acts that are currently making their way through Congress right now. I’m concerned that they will restrict free speech in our country. Please educate yourself. Wikipedia will also be blacked out today in protest as will many other sites because they are concerned that these bills go too far. These kinds of bills worry me, too.

Media: I was on the radio

I did a lot of media last year and sometimes I couldn’t even keep track of it all so I didn’t share links with you guys. But this weekend I was on KCRW’s ‘Good Food’ program out of Santa Monica/Los Angeles and I think you will enjoy the interview. If you would like to listen to my appearance, click here: The History of Ramen; KimChi; School Lunch Click on the little blue “Listen” icon to hear the show streaming or click on “Download” to download the podcast. I’m on around minute 38!


I have a special request — if you have read the book and you have a little extra time, would you consider reviewing it on Amazon.com? I would really appreciate it! As always you are welcome to leave your thoughts here as a comment or email them to me at fedupwithlunchATgmailDOTcom.

Open thread: School lunch fraud

Disclaimer: I am an employee of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Any opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

High school cafeteria in Chicago (image courtesy: Chicago Tribune)

Another great investigative report by Monica Eng broke just yesterday: School free-lunch program dogged by abuses at CPS. This is highly upsetting news. I have never personally witnessed fraud of any sort at any of the schools in which I have worked during my career with CPS. That being said, I don’t feel surprised. Although I have never discussed school lunch fraud on the blog, but many of you have left blog comments about your concerns regarding parents who lie on applications for free or reduced meals. Eng’s reporting does find irregularities:

The eligibility requirements for food stamps and for free lunches are roughly the same: up to 130 percent of the poverty level, or $29,064 a year for a family of four. Yet the Tribune found that in at least 167 Chicago schools, the percentage of students receiving free lunches was at least 20 percentage points higher than the percentage enrolled in the country’s two primary aid programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF […]

In short, critics say, the government has created an $11 billion program conducted largely on the honor system, and one that appears to reward everyone except taxpayers. […]

“The parent gets a free meal (for a child),” he said. “Schools get more money if they have a higher poverty rate. The lunchroom has more employees if they serve more meals. The vendor gets more money. There’s no incentive for anyone involved in the process to make sure that the meal application is correct.”

I’m happy to see Senator Durbin (who I met in October) already taking action within hours of the story breaking: Durbin asks USDA to help reduce school lunch fraud risk.

Fraud and corruption cannot be allowed to continue. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) doesn’t have the money to let this go on. As it currently stands, some kids who have the money to pay for school lunch get it for free. There needs to be more oversight in the administration and eligibility in the program. What are your thoughts?