Archive for October, 2012

It’s Food Day — What Are Your Kids Eating Today? (School Lunch Check-In)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Today is Food Day 2012,* last week was National School Lunch Week — so it seems like a good time to check in on what our kids have been eating in school.

While our county public schools advertise all the right buzz words — whole grains! local produce! fresh fruit! — the menu could still use improvement. My son loves a hot lunch, though, so I mostly allow him to choose whether he wants to buy or bring a lunch. Here’s my assessment of the menu thus far in this school year.

  • The Good: Local and fresh fruits and vegetables. There are always two or three fruit and vegetable options and usually they are fresh and raw, not the stereotypical over-cooked, limp and blah veggies.
  • The Bad: Chocolate milk. My kindergartener discovered quick it was up to him which drink to choose. And then proclaimed to me, “TruMoo Chocolate Milk is healthy because they serve it at school!” (Um, yeah. THIS IS WHY SCHOOL LUNCH REFORM MATTERS. You can preach nutrition in the classroom all you want but it doesn’t matter if you don’t offer them nutritious choices in the cafeteria.)
  • The Curious: Last year, Meatless Monday options were provided every other week. They’re gone this year. Now, there is a choice between two entrees each day, but nearly every other day an Uncrustable is one of the options. Um, what?

On the menu today:

today's lunch menu

I’m pretty sure serving Uncrustables *on Food Day* is a cry for help, don’t you think? (Never mind that they’ve been recalled.)

When I pack lunches, I keep it simple. A fresh apple, always, and even after school the boy’s been known to snack on one or two more before dinner. (We have a “you-can-always-have-an-apple” rule in our house.) He isn’t a big fan of sandwiches, but he likes mini whole wheat pita pockets or (all-natural nitrate-free) lunch meat and (organic) cheese slice roll ups. I even made a homemade Lunchable one day (organic crackers, Newman-O — don’t usually include dessert, but that was a special treat).

foodietots lunchbox

Part of the reason I let my son buy the hot lunches is that, done right, they can encourage kids to try new things. In preschool, my son had healthy hot lunches served family style and he would often eat things he had turned down at home. When sending lunches, unfortunately, kids are so easily influenced by what their friends are eating. One day last year, my son came home asking for a Nutella sandwich, because his friend X got one every day. So I explain that some foods are only to be eaten as special treats, and try to make healthier versions if possible, like with the homemade Lunchable.

Last night, I attended a local event organized by parents in neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia, who are conducting their own campaign to reform school lunches. As part of the event, four teams of high schoolers competed to prepare a salad bar on a school budget and within the USDA new healthy lunch guidelines. Each team presented something delicious that they were confident their classmates would eat. As one of the team members emphasized, after surveying classmates, “We would eat healthy food if given the option.”

salad bar competition

DC Central Kitchen Chef Ed Kwitowski spoke, offering his experience from cooking meals for nine DC public schools. He explained that when they introduce new items to the menu, they’ve had great success by hosting tastings in the schools — beets prepared several ways, for example, or just introducing new flavors like their new harvest salad with barley, mushrooms and squash.

Chef Ann Cooper, known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, was the keynote speaker at the event. Naturally I was nodding along in agreement at her presentation, which emphasized that we have to reinvest in kitchens in schools and make healthy food delicious if we want to teach children to enjoy it. She also argued for school gardens — more on that soon.

If your schools aren’t moving fast enough to make school lunches healthier, there are ways you can take action. Visit The Lunch Box toolkit for ideas. Join your school’s wellness committee, if there is one, to learn about what’s already being done and identify a first step to take. Maybe it’s chocolate milk, maybe it’s offering local produce — any big change begins by taking that first step.

What are your kids eating for lunch today?

*Food Day is a national event to celebrate and advocate for healthy, affordable and sustainable food for all. Visit their website to learn more and to find local events taking place this week.

food day 2012

Jack O’ Lantern Grilled Cheese #KidsCookMonday

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

This was intended to be a quick post about a healthy and fun pre-Halloween lunch, but of course my six-year-old had other plans. Oh, he was amused enough by the first sandwich, but then he asked for a second. And then he said it wasn’t scary enough. So I told him the jack o’ lantern was saying “Boo!” — to which he replied that he needed to see the word bubble to believe it. You can see how that went below…

Jack O' Lantern Grilled Cheese

First, though, the recipe — though it’s pretty simple. Whole wheat sandwich bread, a touch of pumpkin butter, and a blend of shredded cheese. A large pumpkin cookie cutter shapes the sandwich, and small cookie cutters are used to cut out the face. The cheese does ooze through while cooking, though, so the face won’t look quite so perfect when you’re done. *I* think that adds to the charm, but it depends how tough your critics are…

Recipe: Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin Grilled Cheese
Makes 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 8 slices wheat bread
  • butter
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used a blend of cheddar and gouda)
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin butter

Instructions:

  1. Cut bread into pumpkin shape. Use small cookie cutters to cut out a face in four of the slices.
  2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium low heat.
  3. Spread 1/2 tablespoon pumpkin butter on the bottom slice of bread and place in pan. Cover with 1/4 cup shredded cheese and the face side of bread. Cook 1-2 minutes on each side until golden bread. Repeat with remaining slices of bread.

Note: Straight pumpkin puree can be substituted for the pumpkin butter — a good way to use up any leftover puree after baking.

And, as promised, here’s my first “Boo!”…

pumpkin grilled cheese sandwich

… but he said it had to be ON THE PUMPKIN to count. No pressure or anything.

halloween grilled cheese sandwich

Needless to say, next time he’ll be in charge of “carving” his own sandwich. ;)

Apple Cranberry Kale Salad and Kale Day with October Unprocessed

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

We love our kale in the foodie tots’ house — yes, even tofu-fearing husband has learned to appreciate it — so of course we had to jump on the Kale Day bandwagon on social media today. You see, the blog Eating Rules has an “October Unprocessed” challenge, now in its third year.october unprocessed 2012

The challenge urges people to go one month without processed foods, using a simple “kitchen test”: if the item you’re buying contains only ingredients that could be made in a home kitchen with whole ingredients, it’s okay. This rules out artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup, for starters. It’s a great way to jump start a change in your family diet, if you’ve been contemplating a switch to real foods, or just follow along for a ton of great information and recipe ideas. And, as part of the real food love fest, founder Andrew Wilder declared today International Kale Day. Kale is a superfood packed with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins A, C and K, and most of us could stand to eat a little more of it.

Like the classic lemon-parmesan version, making this apple kale salad begins by massaging kale with salt. (Kids love to help with this step.) Let it stand while chopping the apple and nuts, and whisk together a quick dressing of maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Toss it all together and let it sit while you finish up the rest of dinner. The salt and dressing help tenderize the kale, and the finished salad is simple and full of fresh fall flavors. (Credit is due to my friend Jill, who first turned me on to the apple-kale combination.)

apple cranberry kale salad

Recipe: Apple Cranberry Kale Salad
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale, rinsed, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • pinch black pepper, optional

Instructions:

1. Place kale in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Massage salt into kale for two minutes.

2. Whisk together maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and olive oil (and pepper, if using–I usually add to the adults’ salads later). Add apples, cranberries and pecans to kale, add dress and toss gently to combine. Let stand 5 to 15 minutes before serving.

Check out the link round-up for more kale inspiration — and feel free to add a link of your own. Happy Kale Day!