Archive for the ‘food politics’ 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

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.

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Grow Green for Earth Week (5 links for Friday)

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

I have a special Earth Week-themed collection of links to share today, but first a few pieces of personal news. I was too wrapped up in bake sale prep last week to share this with you all, but I’m thrilled that FoodieTots was listed on Babble.com’s Top 50 Mom Food Bloggers list! If you haven’t already, check out the full list for more great blogs to follow.

And, I have also been selected as a featured contributor at TheMushroomChannel.com. I’m really excited to share my love for healthy cooking with a great group of fellow fungi-lovers — so stay tuned for my first post over there in a couple weeks.

And now for our regularly scheduled links for your weekend reading. This week marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. For those of us who try to make every day Earth Day, here are five links to help you Grow Green:

  1. Pamela at Red, White & Grew has a registry of gardening bloggers by state, perfect to find local inspiration or someone to call on for advice if you’re a rookie gardener like me.
  2. If you don’t have space for a kitchen garden, You Grow Girl shares how to grow salad-ready microgreens on your kitchen windowsill.
  3. Growing green indoors can help improve your home’s indoor air quality. Find tips for selecting the right houseplants at Simple Organic.
  4. Putting more green on kids’ lunch plates — through school gardens and a farm-to-school program — is just one goal of the DC Healthy Schools Act, which is headed for a final vote by the full DC City Council on May 4. If you live in the District, read more from the DC Farm to School Network and please contact your council member today. (And forward to anyone else you know in DC!)
  5. I love love love this idea for a “Home for Wayward Weeds” from Laura at Chicken Counting. The foodie tot is so excited about his new gardening tools that he constantly wants to dig, rake and pick — this is perfect to keep him busy and our young seedlings protected!

And a bonus #6. Katie at goodLife {eats} put together a great list of Mother’s Day gift ideas for edible gardening, and is giving away a set of her selections, too.

Speak Up TODAY for School Lunch

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee is debating Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s legislation to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act. Unfortunately, Sen. Lincoln’s $4.5 billion bill falls well short of the $10 billion requested by President Obama and amounts to only 6 cents more per meal per child. (Read more here.) Take two minutes TODAY to send an email via Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch action site and urge your Senators to step up to the plate for school lunch!

Mercury, Salmonella and Nitrates, Oh My

Friday, January 30th, 2009

It’s been quite a week for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I had planned to write about organic farming as the next installment of our Sustainable Family Supper Project, but got waylaid reading everything I could get my hands (or mouse) on about the latest high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) shocker. (Check back Monday for the kick-off of Save Our Farms week.) I wanted to find something constructive to write about that would not encourage you all to just throw up your hands and give up, which frankly I have been tempted to do myself.

Just to review, the nation’s largest recall, of peanut products from a plant who knowingly shipped contaminated products, has evoked this encouraging response from the FDA: “‘I don’t think we can determine how many more’ products will be recalled, [said] Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Center for Food Safety.” Even worse, Sandlof doesn’t see the flaw in a system that puts responsibility on producers to essentially police themselves, asserting,

“[I]t is the responsibility of the industry to produce safe product. The FDA is not in plants on a continuous basis. We do rely on inspections to find problems when they exist. … We expect individual citizens to obey the law. And occasionally people don’t obey the law. And when they don’t obey the law then the responsibility of the regulatory authorities to take the appropriate enforcement action.”

In outside studies – goodness knows the FDA doesn’t have the resources or inclination to proactively study the toxicity of our food supply – measurable levels of mercury were found in name-brand, HFCS-containing products ranging from ketchup to chocolate syrup and yogurt, and a Taiwanese study showed a significant increase in the risk of childhood leukemia in children who consumed more than one nitrate-preserved meat product per week (e.g., bacon, hot dogs, deli meat).

The thing about the HFCS-mercury link, which the corn industry was predictably quick to claim was insignificant, is that it is entirely avoidable and unnecessary. Manufacturing technology exists, and is already widely used in Europe and the US, that does not impart a touch of mercury into our food products. Mercury gets into our bodies and environment from many sources, and it is the cumulative effect of the toxin over our lifetime that is of concern. There is no point quibbling over whether the amounts in HFCS are themselves significant, when it is a preventable increase in our lifetime of exposure. (You will, no doubt, be relieved to know that mercury is naturally-occurring, so the fact that it is introduced to those natural genetically-modified corn kernels as they are processed by genetically-engineered enzymes to produce all-natural high fructose corn syrup shouldn’t jeopardize the corn refiners’ FDA approval to market HFCS as “natural.”) As other concerned parents have noted, it’s virtually impossible to avoid HFCS if you don’t have the time or resources to buy only organic products and cook every meal from scratch. Shouldn’t the FDA at the very least require that manufacturers notify consumers what they may be consuming?

What can concerned parents and foodies do in the face of constant alarming news reports?

A. Eat less processed foods. Yogurt, fruit juice, bread – none of these need HFCS. Consumer demand switching to organics/natural sweeteners has the corn industry panicked; let’s keep it that way.

B. Ask your legislators to join Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in calling for a new Food Safety Administration. Food & Water Watch has a webform set up to email your representatives to ask them to cosponsor DeLauro’s “Food Safety Modernization Act,” which would streamline food safety oversight and increase inspections. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a significant step in the right direction — a safer food supply for all.

Alright, enough doom and gloom for one day. Check out The Green Parent’s “Green and Healthy Super Bowl Snacks,” and enjoy the weekend!

[Update: I noticed in reading the blogs that pro-HFCS Google ads were popping up, and sure enough there's one on my post. I'm torn between blocking it and letting them waste more of their marketing money, so for now it's up.]