Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools

Last year the Center for Ecoliteracy introduced an amazing school food guide entitled, Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools. The cookbook is available for free download (how can you resist?) on their website, but I was lucky enough to get it mailed to me to review.

It’s a cookbook, people. A school food cookbook sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Actually, I think it’s revolutionary.

The Center for Ecoliteracy publishes many different how-to guides related to school food reform. I have found their materials to be straightforward and easy to understand –and without a “know-it-all” tone that many guides have trouble avoiding. The Center for Ecoliteracy has outdone itself. What I love about is that it’s very approachable and a thick piece of work – there are tons of recipes for both the newbie chef as well as a seasoned professional looking to liven up what kids eat in cafeterias.

The guide mentions California food because of its focus on incorporating seasonal foods into school lunches. California has a longer growing season in comparison to much of the country, it’s one of the biggest states in our country serving 900 million meals yearly, and the Center for Ecoliteracy is based in California so it’s a logical starting point for this cookbook. While I think that the recipes can be applied to locales across our country, in theory California should be able to incorporate fresh, seasonal produce more easily because it’s more accessible year-round.

Starting with a brief introduction, the book is logically organized with the first chapter focused on the professional development, the instruction, and the preparation involved in making change. As usual the Center for Ecoliteracy describes the steps in a practical, no-nonsense way.

I pretty much love the second chapter entitled, “The Seasonal Salad Bar.” Personally, I’m still learning what’s seasonal to my area and how to use this knowledge effectively to build meals at home including salads. I can imagine that school districts with salad bars would benefit from this information. This section also contains recipes for salad dressings. Reading them over I’m reminded just how easy it is to make “homemade” dressings –or in this case “schoolmade.”

Chapter three is a revelation. It is based on a matrix of six basic lunch dishes (salads, soups, pastas, rice bowls, wraps, and pizza toppings) and five cultural flavor profiles (African, Asian, European/Mediterranean, Latin American, Middle Eastern/Indian), which are meant to be adapted to the seasonal availability of Californian produce. The cookbook further breaks down typical produce including veggies, fruits, legumes, starches, oils, grains, and spices based upon each geographical area’s unique taste profile. Finally, all four seasons are broken down into lists by what is in season in California.

The meat of the cookbook appears in the fourth chapter, which encompasses more than half of the bulk of the book. It’s all recipes.  Ranging from Ham and Yam Pizza to the Yucatan Wrap or the Summer Chicken Stew to the Beef and Asparagus Rice Bowl, I was ready to sample some school food. I wondered when I read the serving sizes of recipes were described as “serves 4-6” or “makes enough to top one 14-inch pizza,” but soon realized that the recipes can be easily multiplied to feed larger groups.

The cookbook wraps up with a resources section and the index. I was left feeling as if I was holding a treasure in my hands. Thankfully, you can also get your hands on Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools and download the cookbook for free in PDF (in English or in Spanish) by heading over to the Center for Ecoliteracy’s webpage. I would encourage you to peruse their site as it is chockfull of resources ( devoted to helping you learn how to navigate school food reform including the wonderful Rethinking School Lunch (

7 Things Speech Pathologists Do at School #education

**Thanks for stopping by!! Since writing this post, I’ve launched a new blog related exclusively to speech therapy: If you have any questions about being a speech path, pop over there and ask away! Thanks sooo much! ~Sarah**

I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially).

When I decided to become a speech-language pathologist, I really had no idea that speech pathologists worked at schools – I assumed that they worked with patients in clinical settings, hospitals, or private practice. All that changed when I went to graduate school and discovered that many speech pathologists work in school districts supporting children’s learning. In fact, more than 50% of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work in school settings, making school districts the largest employers of speech pathologists nationally.

When I was in graduate school at Northwestern University, I chose one school placement and one placement in a clinical setting (which most students do). For my school placement, I worked in a school in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). I loved the kids, the dedicated special education teams, and the fast-paced environment. I knew that I when I graduated, I wanted to work for CPS and I was placed in schools where I could use my ability to speak fluent Spanish.

But what do SLPs do at school?

1)      Part of the special education team – Speech pathologists work as part of a team that determines the need for evaluation and special education for students. When a teacher submits a referral for special education or a parent comes to the school asking for an evaluation, the special education team consisting of a school psychologist, the school social worker, the speech pathologist, the occupational therapist, and/or the physical therapist review the information provided by the teacher or parent on the referral or in a meeting to decide whether an evaluation is necessary.

2)      Testing by the SLP – When the need for evaluation has been determined and the parent(s) have signed consent for evaluation, we evaluate students using various different tests. I test for speech sound delays/disorders, language delays/disorders, and fluency disorders (stuttering) and I have even had students with voice disorders. But schools are not hospitals or rehab clinics. Speech impairments in the school setting have to have an “adverse educational effect.” For example, if a child presents with a lisp, he/she does not get services at school unless the lisp affects the child’s education.  Most of the children I work with have serious speech delays or disorders which impact their education and their ability to access the general education curriculum.

3)      Writing IEPs – IEPs are Individual Education Plans, which are written after it has been determined that the student has a speech problem. An IEP not only describes how the student is functioning in the classroom, but the roughly 16-page form details the goals that the student will be working on and how many minutes per week that the student will be seen.

4)      Therapy happens – SLPs decide how to deliver speech minutes to students. There has been a big push over that past decade to include students in their regular education environment to the maximum extent possible. I am also tasked with serving students with communication disorders inside the classroom, but I don’t enter into the regular education classroom as much as I wish I could. Many of my students’ speech issues really do respond better when they are away from their peers (and they do look forward to working in small groups in the speech room away from their classmates).

5)      Talking to parents – Most speech pathologists spend some time every week talking to parents in IEP meetings or to explain the progress the student is making in speech class.

6)      Keeping speech therapy progress notes up to date – After every session, a speech pathologist writes down how much time was spent and what was worked on for every child. Much of the time this is typed into the computer so the data can be viewed and complied to track progress (or lack thereof). Writing daily notes is my least favorite thing to do.

7)      Consulting and collaborating – Speech paths are often looked to when there’s a student who has some kind of difficulty communicating. Consulting with regular education teachers happens on a daily basis in most schools (and it’s one of my favorite things to do). Additionally, many speech paths collaborate to create lessons for entire classrooms of students. Many students without speech impairments benefit from reviewing a language concept.

When speech paths work with children in a clinical setting, they don’t get the opportunity to see kids in a naturalistic environment. I enjoy working the school setting because it is a place that kids spend most of their day, learning new skills. I believe school is like a child’s “workplace” and it is where they develop a sense of themselves as independent and distinct from their family unit.

Although most people conceptualize the foundation of education as reading and math, I believe that the underpinning of academic success is communication. There’s nothing better than seeing students making progress with their speech because it can only mean good things for their classroom work!

**Thanks for stopping by!! Since writing this post, I’ve launched a new blog related exclusively to speech therapy: If you have any questions about being a speech path, pop over there and ask away! Thanks sooo much! ~Sarah**

#Education: Cafeteria Bullying

I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially).

When people ask me about my memories of eating school lunch, I reply that I rarely remember a meal, but instead I just remember holding a tray and facing a room full of people I didn’t know, worrying I would be eating by myself. I moved across the country multiple times during my childhood, including twice in middle school. That meant that lunchtime was pretty much hellish for me for weeks on end. I love my parents dearly, but sometimes I wish they would have bought me a few really cool outfits before I started at a new school. Clothes are such a big deal to kids in middle and high school. Being revisionist, I assume that cool clothes would have bolstered my confidence and helped me blend in. But considering my shy personality, I think the coolest jeans wouldn’t have changed things. I was anxious and unsure on top of being new so I was a target. In fact, in high school I vowed never to become a mother because I didn’t want my children to go through what I did.

Bullying happens in the cafeteria. Sometimes it’s the classic definition of “bullying” — one kid or a group of kids ganging up on another child. Most adults recognize this immediately and take the appropriate action. But what about exclusion and ignoring a classmate? At least in my experience, that hurt just as badly as outright verbal attacks. But teachers and adults don’t always know what to do when something is not super overt. Do you force other students to accept a classmate or does that make things worse for a student?

I was reminded of this when I read a blog post by Rob Rummel-Hudson, a dad. His daughter, Schuyler, has a severe speech problem, which is a result of…take a breath, it’s a long one…bilateral perisylvian polymicrogyria. I read his book, Schuyler’s Monster, with interest as I’m a speech-language pathologist. Anyway, recently Schuyler told him that she was eating lunch alone. I was devastated by that (so was he). Thankfully, he posted an update after he had lunch with her (at her enthusiastic request): Not alone, though not entirely not alone.

In his blog post he mentioned an organization called Best Buddies, which is a “global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” They focus on critical years: middle school, high school, and college. I had never heard about Best Buddies before, but I love what they do already.

Your homemade lunch sucks! Eat some nuggets!

It’s a stock photo, but aside from the nuggets and the chocolate milk this lunch looks good to me — there’s fresh fruit and raw veggies! (photo credit)

I’m sure many of you have already heard about the story of how the a child’s packed lunch was deemed “unhealthy” and the student was given a chicken nugget lunch instead. [Further reading: Preschooler’s homemade lunch replaced with nuggets]

The packed lunch in question consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, chips, and an apple juice. I guess the objection was that there was no vegetable. Um, really? If the USDA considers fries and tater tots as veggies, then why can’t we call it even and say chips are the veggie? So you want to have your cake and eat it too, huh USDA?

Let’s get real. The lunch that the mom packed for her daughter was actually pretty darn good. I pack my son’s lunch and even though I’ve never put potato chips in his lunch, I’ve included tortilla chips and just the other day I put “falafel chips” in his lunch (got them at Trader Joe’s and they are delish). My son eats potato chips at home sometimes. Hey, I love them with a sandwich every now and then. Granted, I buy *real* potato chips — potatoes, oil, salt are the ingredients. It’s practically a whole food, folks. (Insert sarcasm here). Parents should be allowed to pack lunches for their children. I think it’s a right.

I don’t want to go there with the nuggets. We know they aren’t real food. They don’t pass my one question test: Can you make the food in your kitchen? No, you can’t. You can’t process chicken into some kind of weird, pink foam, bloop it out, bread it, and then fry it in the cheapest oil you can find. Yes, you can make homemade chicken nuggets for your kids (cut up chicken, batter it, and then fry it in olive oil), which while they don’t have the spongy texture of a factory-made nugget that many kids have learned to expect, real homemade nuggets are much better for growing kids.

Let’s agree to make it a rule not to force nuggets on kids who come to school with an adequate lunch. You know, I have seen some atrocious packed lunches (a banana and flavored water, anyone?) and I get that staff members want kids to eat balanced meals. But let’s not get overzealous!


What did #NCLB really mean? #education

I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially).

As a school-based speech pathologist, I rely on evaluation instruments including formal assessments to guide my work. Tests give me the ability to compare a student’s speech and language skills to their same-age peers. It provides me with critical data that determines whether or not a student qualifies for school-based speech therapy and if a student does qualify, I write the student’s IEP (individual education plan) goals and treatment plan for each child based upon what the assessment revealed. There is a time for testing and a time for instruction.

Sometimes when I enter a classroom to see or remove a student for speech, I often find the student taking a test. Usually it’s not a run-of-the-mill weekly spelling test or some kind of curriculum-based test. Most of the time I find that students are taking some kind of standardized test. There are the district-wide reading and math tests (I’m not going to list them because I’m not sure I’m allowed to) and, god forbid, the student is a second language learner because then they have to take additional tests. If you think it’s just the kids in 3rd grade and above who take the statewide assessments, think again. I see kindergarten and first graders taking lots of tests, too. Some parts of the tests can take one hour to administer to students. When a teacher has 30+ first graders in one classroom, then we’re talking weeks and weeks of missed instruction while the teacher takes each student aside to test him/her.

2002: No Child Left Behind is signed into law

When I read that No Child Left Behind is basically being scrapped in several states, I rejoiced. But what did No Child Left Behind really do? Why did we put students and teachers through all that? I applaud efforts to make education better and testing needs to be a part of what happens in the classroom. We need to be data-driven. However, we have gone beyond logic with the increase in student testing that I see at work.

What I would like to see is a measure of student engagement. I believe that when a student is engaged in the material, they are able to connect with what they are learning in a bigger, meaningful way. Many teachers are successful at getting students to respond to classwork. One of my colleagues who is fantastic at creating dialogue and engagement with her classroom is just a few doors down from me at one of my schools. She has been teaching for probably close to 20 years and is incredibly skillful in the classroom. What makes her a great teacher is that she understands the age group, she is incredibly organized and focused on the curriculum, and the students know she cares deeply about each and every one of them. She is the kind of person who was meant to teach for a living. In fact, most of the teachers that I know are talented and dynamic educators — I like to associate with people I admire and can learn from. I have found that even the “best” school has a couple “bad” teachers and even the “worst” school has some amazing teachers. The ones who are making a difference in the lives of young people are the ones who are able to engage the students in the work — and that’s how we boost student achievement.

Healthy, Budget-Friendly Recipes Using Food Pantry Staples

Below is the second part of a series devoted to my experience volunteering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and its partner Feeding America. Part one can be found here: Volunteering with Feeding America: A Little Time Goes a Long Way

Every food bank provides a different product mix to its member agencies. The Greater Chicago Food Depository guarantees the following 18 core items (and also send along available fresh produce as well):

  1. Cereal
  2. Rice
  3. Pasta
  4. Pasta sauce
  5. Mac and Cheese
  6. Peanut butter
  7. Jelly
  8. Beans
  9. Tuna
  10. Stew
  11. Soup
  12. Canned vegetables
  13. Canned fruit
  14. Shelf stable milk
  15. Hamburger patties
  16. Bread
  17. Eggs
  18. Milk

I never understood why food banks wanted monetary donations until I saw this list. Of course they need to have core items available for member agencies – and they can’t rely on consistent donations of the above staples. I guess my family has been lucky in life because I really have a hard time imagining a completely bare cupboard. The list of food items above is a good start to build a pantry of usable food items.

Using the list of core items, I assembled the following basic meals:


  1. Cereal and milk
  2. Peanut butter or jelly on toast
  3. Fried egg with toast
  4. Canned fruit in a little cup (on the side)


  1. Pasta and sauce
  2. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  3. Tuna sandwich
  4. Canned soup or canned stew with crackers on the side
  5. Hamburgers on bread
  6. Mac and cheese with canned veggies on the side
  7. Tuna mac
  8. Beans and rice
  9. Egg-fried rice with canned veggies*

*Recipe appears below

I wanted to see if I could create a fresh, healthy dinner from the ingredients given to people living with food insecurity. It is very possible, but it relies on the assumption that the family has a pan, a pot, a measuring cup, a spatula, and even cooking oil. You might be surprised to learn that some families don’t have basic cooking gear.


Egg-fried rice with veggies

I find egg and rice combined to be a comfort food. Sometimes I like an egg sunny-side up sitting on top of my rice, but for this recipe I shared how I mix scrambled egg into the rice. Do what appeals to you!

Feeds 3

  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
  • 1 can mixed veggies
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 TBSP oil (canola or olive oil) plus additional to taste

Put rice and two cups of water in saucepan over medium heat. Open can of mixed veggies, drain and lightly rinse. Place veggies in with the rice. Turn heat to low, simmer with the cover on. Meanwhile heat one TBSP oil in large frying pan, add eggs, scramble. Add additional TBSP of oil and heat for a minute, and then add cooked rice and veggie mix to pan. Stir everything up to mix in cooked egg. Fry, stirring occasionally, for seven minutes. Serve hot.

#Education: Growing up with teachers as parents

I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially). This week I want to examine the history of teaching as a profession. I’m a school-based speech pathologist with a teaching certificate so I’m not the prototypical example of “teacher” so….I’m going to go back in time and dig up my own past: my parents were teachers…

1973: My dad, a biology teacher, is in the middle of this picture holding two dead, frozen rats that he is getting ready for dissection. Another biology teacher is on the left and a lab assistant is on the right.

When I was born, both of my parents were teachers. My dad was a math and science teacher while my mother was an art teacher. They met while teaching at the same school — it sounds quaint and almost normal until I explain that they were teaching at a school in Geelong, Australia. My father is Australian and my mother is American — in fact, in the 1970’s she went all the way from Wisconsin to Australia to fill a teaching vacancy at Matthew Flinders Girls School. She is one bold woman.

It may surprise you that I have never mentioned this before, but I really am a private person. I am by nature this way and that is part of why I was able to eat and blog my way through a year of school lunches without anyone raising an eyebrow: I don’t sit around talking about myself and I am not interested in showing off. I virtually never reveal that I’m half-Australian to anyone because I worry that they view me as “different” or “special” — labels that make me cringe. That said even though I rarely discuss it, I do consider myself to be bi-cultural. Although I was raised in the US (and I have a pronounced Wisconsin accent), I understand Australian culture on a gut level. How could I not growing up with my dad?

Australia 1973: My dad holding a lizard for some students while on a field trip

My dad was the eldest of five in a working class family in a small city called Bendigo. My grandfather left school at the age of 14 due to poverty and started working as a salesboy in a department store. Grandpa worked his way up, only with a brief absence to fight in WWII, to manager. My grandmother stayed home with five kids under the age of five (I cannot imagine). My dad was the first person in his family to go to college, even though they didn’t have money for university tuition. My dad was lucky to be selected to receive a “studentship.” That meant that he could go to college to become a teacher at no real cost, but that my dad would then have to teach for three years to “repay” the government. My dad loved science, in particular botany and zoology, and so he became a high school math and science teacher. He really, really loved it.

On a completely different continent, my mom was growing up in Wausau, Wisconsin. When her high school held a “career fair” (in the 1960’s), the boys and girls were sent to different rooms. My mom walked into the room for girls that had three tables: one for teachers, one for nurses, and one for secretaries. Luckily for my mom, my maternal grandparents were both college graduates (my grandpa went because of the GI bill and my grandma went through sheer determination and hard work). They expected my mom to go to college. My mom decided to become a teacher and chose art as her specialization. My mother is a painter.

Teaching as a profession is changing. My parents are perfect examples of what teaching used to be. For my dad, teaching was a ticket into college and out of a career consisting of low wage work. For my mom, teaching was a socially-acceptable job for women who didn’t get married straight out of high school. Teaching is in flux — I see it at work, but also in the media. A major shift is underway and I hope that what is happening with the profession will lead to more respect for those who instruct future generations.

Mt Buller, Australia 1974: My parents (and yes, it snows in some parts of Australia)

I believe that teaching as a profession saved both of their lives to some degree. My father spent several years teaching in Australia (I was born there) before moving to the states with my mom and starting medical school. He is now a physician. My mom worked on and off while my sister and I were young when we needed the money, sometimes as a substitute teacher. Sadly, my parents divorced and, after which, my mom started her own business (a coffee shop, which ended up going out of business — I touch on some of this in my book, actually). Finally, in her fifties, my mom went back to school for a Masters degree as well as her JD. She is a lawyer now and works as public defender for the state of Wisconsin. My parents are without a doubt lifelong learners and I admire them for their resiliency and determination in life. I couldn’t be more grateful that they are my mom and my dad.

Volunteering with Feeding America: A Little Time Goes a Long Way

A couple weeks ago I was able to volunteer at the Greater Chicago Food Depository with Feeding America. You can sign up as a group or an individual for a three hour Wednesday night volunteering session and it was perfect for me.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) is one of the largest food banks in the country. They serve more than 678,000 people with more than 69 million pounds of food including 18 million pounds of produce each year.

Some basic things to know:

  • Last year the Greater Chicago Food Depository distributed 69 million pounds of food to their network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Cook County.
  • 1 in 6 people in Cook County is food insecure—not sure of where their next meal will come from—845,910 people are food insecure.
  • In some Chicago neighborhoods and Cook suburbs, the food insecurity rate is as high as 1 in 2 or 1 in 3.

Here’s an example of a box of food (above) that will feed a small family in crisis for 3-4 days.

Two volunteers are assigned to each station along the assembly line to pack boxes.  So there would be two “peanut butter” people. One person puts the item in the box – let’s call that person the “packer” — and the other person unwraps the pallets of products and puts them out for easy grabbing – let’s call that person the “feeder.” I was the “feeder” for the tomato soup station, which I thought was much easier work than the man who put cans in the box. The conveyor belt moves quickly – you have to on your toes.

The volunteer mix on the Wednesday I was there included organized groups from various companies, individuals, and a devoted group of retirees who come every single week.

When the boxes are packed, they move farther along the line to be labeled, stacked, and then wrapped up in a large square pallet ready for pick up by member agencies.

Here’s the finished box just before it’s labeled and sealed. This box will go to someone who is hungry to take it home. Large food banks guarantee that certain staple foods are available for member food pantries. Every food bank has a different list of guaranteed items. The Greater Chicago Food Depository has a list of eighteen items that it will provide to its affiliates. The detailed list is coming up, but you can see that these foods include peanut butter, jelly, tomato soup, rice, powdered milk, tuna, sardines, mac and cheese, and saltine crackers.

What happens when you donate the odd can of soup from your kitchen cabinet to a food drive? I’ve often wondered what food banks do with the odd box of panko bread crumbs. Or what if a food company has half a truck of a product that’s going out of code in a month – too soon for a retailer to take, but perfectly edible? And all those products that get dented and slightly crumpled at the grocery store and don’t get put on the shelf? All of those products do not appear on the food bank’s list of staple foods, but they take them and distribute them to member agencies, like food pantries and soup kitchens. Your donations first are sorted in the salvage room (below) by some of the few paid employees of the GCFD (they rely on volunteers).

The warehouse is massive and filled with food and other products that are ready for people in need (below).

The GCFD also operates the “Produce Mobile” (above), which drives to communities in need and gives fresh food to people who are hungry. (I was told that the trucks they use for this program were beer trucks in a former life!)

Aside from feeding hungry people, the other equally important mission of the GCFD is to break the cycle of hunger by giving people skills that help them not only feed their own families, but give them the ability to find a job. It’s called “Chicago Community Kitchens.” Every year GCFD graduates 120 people with the culinary training to find work as cooks in restaurants and cafeterias throughout the city. It’s just as important to give hungry people food as it is to help people move into the ranks of the food secure.

In addition to Chicago Community Kitchens, GCFD also provide meals through the Kids Cafe program, produce to older adults through the Older Adults program and SNAP outreach to help individuals and families apply for the “food stamp” program.

The night I volunteered, the volunteer group packed more than 32,000 lbs of food to be given to families in crisis.

Next week… The 18 items that GCFD guarantees to member agencies and what to do with the food pantry staples…