Archive for the ‘food for thought’ Category

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

Food Revolution Day

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Y’all know about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, right? His television shows brought viewers into the front lines of the childhood obesity battle, and a battle it is when faced with a food industry that will spend millions in marketing rather than admit that chocolate milk is not, in fact, a health food. (Neither is Nutella, by the way.) Even if you enjoy a little chocolate milk once in a while, I think we can all agree that our children are being short changed. Jamie Oliver’s foundation has declared Saturday, May 19, the first global Food Revolution Day — a day “to get the world to focus on food issues and rally our efforts to bring food education back into schools.”

So take your kids — and your neighbor’s kids — to the farmers market, go berry picking or have a local food barbeque with friends and spread the word. You can find organized activities in your neighborhood via the official website (along with other ideas and tools for getting involved). Here in DC, FreshFarm’s H Street NE market will feature food educator Melissa Jones doing a kid and family-friendly cooking demo at 10am.

yoga tots

(Tomorrow is also Yoga on the Mall, the culmination of DC Yoga Week. A kids’ class, free of charge, will be held at 1:30pm with instructors from yoga studios around town — including our favorite studio, Lil Omm. What better way to work off all those fresh, local strawberries from the morning?)

Eat Food. Real Food. Together.

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Happy Food Day! Yes, we just marked World Food Day about a week ago, but today is US Food Day — a day to celebrate real, good-for-you & good-for-the-earth food. It’s also Monday, so if you’d like to learn more about Meatless Monday, here’s a look back to our feature on NPR. As I thought about what to say today, I thought I’d try to summarize our food philosophy. Just about every recipe I post contains farm-fresh real ingredients. Why? Because Foodie Tots know their farmers, know where their food comes from, and know real food helps grow strong and healthy minds and bodies. And so I present the Foodie Tots manifesto:

EAT FOOD.
REAL FOOD.
TOGETHER.

20111024-143754.jpg

Tonight we’ll be eating mushroom risotto. {Check out our recipe for carrot risotto for a kid-friendly favorite.} What’s on your dinner table tonight?

P.S. Please take a moment to sign your name to a letter to Congress urging their support of the Eat Real agenda.

20111024-143811.jpg

Dye-Free for Purim and Every Day: Sign the FDA Petition

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Did you know that the E.U. requires warning labels on foods with certain artificial food dyes? And that American brands have adapted their foods for sale in Europe? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched, then, to ask why they aren’t making the same changes to the products sold here, right? Well it turns out some companies are, though the incentive may be less goodwill and more fear of an anticipated crackdown after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced hearings on the use of artificial dyes in food, taking place next week. Artificial food dyes have been linked to ADHD, cancer and allergies for quite some time, and one can only hope the FDA will fully consider the science behind those concerns.

hamantaschen purim cookies

Not long ago, the husband returned home from Target bearing rainbow-colored goldfish crackers. Before I could, ahem, react, he quickly pointed to the label: “Colors from Natural Ingredients!” I was still skeptical so I turned it over to see — in fact, they use annatto extract, beet juice concentrate, paprika, turmeric, huito juice concentrate and watermelon juice concentrate. And they are just as boldly colored as can be — so clearly, the question of can we replace artificial dyes with natural ones has already been answered.

The trouble with food dyes, as with so many additives, is that they are not just in the obvious junk foods but so many other foods you wouldn’t even expect to see colors. Plain white marshmallows? Artificially white. The potato rolls we buy because they don’t have HFCS? Yellow #5 and #6. (Maybe it’s crazy to ask why can’t potato rolls just be white? Aren’t potatoes white?)

I’m able to avoid some of the grocery store battles by shopping at the organic market as much as possible. But on a recent trip to the regular grocery, the dreaded meltdown occurred in the cereal bar aisle when the boy spotted Nemo, Cars and other full-colored “fruit” snacks conveniently located at his eye-level. Now we sometimes buy Annie’s brand fruit snacks, which I fully realize are still not much more than a dose of sugar, but at least they’re made of natural sugar and colors. Trying to explain to a hungry and tired 4-year-old why some fruit snacks are only special treats he gets at birthday parties was an unpopular argument, to say the least, but I pressed on and later let him choose some of those colored goldfish crackers for his after school snacks.

Before I had kids I didn’t appreciate the power of marketing to young kids, thinking surely parents just needed to learn to say no. I’ve since been educated in the magical powers of branding (thanks, PBS, for making sure my son recognizes McDonald’s golden arches). Sure Annie’s bunnies are cute, but why settle for bunnies if you can get snacks that look just like Dora?! Wouldn’t it be nice to have to say “no” just a little less often? The folks behind the movie “Fresh!” are running an online petition you can sign to urge the FDA to ban artificial dyes in food. Click here to sign the petition today. (Deadline is Wednesday, March 23.)

The Foodie Tot and I did some baking over the weekend, making hamantaschen for Purim. No dyes needed as hamantaschen get their jewel tones from jams — raspberry, blueberry and poppyseed, this time. Here’s a little clip, enjoy!

The Foodie Tot Makes Hamantaschen from Colleen Levine on Vimeo.

(And please see these other great posts on food dyes in children’s food:

10 Posts I Didn’t Write in 2010

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Before I pull together my own year-in-review for 2010, I wanted to share 10 posts I didn’t write in 2010, but wish I had. These are posts from the blogs that fill my feed reader, the ones I turn to throughout the year for support and inspiration. If you’re not already reading them, I hope you’ll check them out.

10. Marion Nestle is a must-read on food politics. This post, “Food Corporations Buy Silence from ‘Partners,‘” shows how the food wars are only just beginning, even as the Child Nutrition Act has been signed into law.

9. Speaking of the food wars, a first-grader known as the “Little Locavore” took on Sarah Palin in “Red Carrot’s Anti-Fast Food Guidebook” (at Little Locavores)

8. Organic Gardening Q&A via Good Life Eats — a helpful read if “grow your own” is one of your 2011 resolutions

7. I only got as far as freezer, uh, sauce and vanilla-preserved strawberries this spring, but next year I aspire to Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Strawberry Preserves with Mint and Black Pepper

6. 26 Kitchen Organizing Tips from Real Cooks, at Simple Bites

5. Musings on Feeding Baby from Stacie of One Hungry Mama — especially relevant as the foodie bebe will be beginning solids very soon!

4. Strategies for getting family dinner on the table, and recipe for Mustard and Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin, by Christina of Take Back Your Table for the Rachael Ray blog

3. “School Lunch Reform — Stick a Spork in My Eye” — school lunch reform realities from What’s Cooking with Kids

2. It’s not a blog post, but everyone who cares about kids and/or food should read Chef José Andrés‘ “Food for Thought” talk at the Economist’s The World in 2011

1. “Let’s Ban the Phrase ‘Picky-Eater’” from Spoonfed, one of my new favorite blogs. As you ponder your family’s new year’s resolutions, this is great inspiration: drop the labels, embrace real food, and your kids will follow. Really.

{And, if your new year’s resolution is to read more Foodie Tots, you can get new posts delivered straight to your inbox, for free!
Subscribe here, or “like” us on Facebook to get updates there. Thanks!}