Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Wellness Committee grows in Hoboken and First Lady Michelle Obama visits Newark!

This blog was started because after I saw what our kids were eating, shocked at the poor quality of food they were receiving, and concerned with their health, I felt that it was important that the Hoboken School district form a Wellness Committee to help address these issues through wellness policies that really impact our kids health in a positive way.  On Monday this committee met for the first time! Today, I reached out to the Hoboken School District with the hopes of serving on this committee even though my child now is in a Charter school.

Patch.com reported on it:  Hoboken Board of Ed Forms Wellness Committee.  The committee is set to focus on nutrition education for both students and parents, exercise, and also food choice. I look forward to following their progress.

And in other exciting news:

In the summer of 2009, Maple Avenue School begun their journey to sustain healthy living and eradicate obesity. And so the 'Growing Minds Program' was born!  With funding and support from Slow Food Northern New Jersey and the Beth Israel Medical Center, they were able to implement and integrate nutrition into the curriculum and also promote the importance of good nutrition.

Slow Food Northern NJ provided grow boxes, seeds, planting materials, and curriculum for three different grade levels which was easily integrated within the curriculum. I am huge believer in making the connection of healthy nutrition through school gardens. Not only is it exciting for them to watch their hard work flourish but they can make a real connection with where food actually comes from! 

The program was so successful it caught the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let's Move campaign. Tomorrow she will be visiting Newarks' Maple Avenue School, to talk about nutrition and physical education. Mayor Cory Booker will moderate the event which is part presentation and part discussion. According to statistics released earlier this year, one in five Newark children are obese; 43% of the city’s boys and 45 % of its girls, according to the Center for State Health Policy. 

'Go Newark' and 'Go Hoboken' for trying to the change the future of our children!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

¡HoLa!

Food Revolution (TV) - Movie Poster - 11 x 17A lot has changed since the last school year. The biggest change for us was deciding to take our daughter out of the public school system and put her in a brand-spanking-new dual language charter school. The school is small; 132 students and 6 classrooms, two per grade (K, 1st and 2nd).
I love the concept of a small school that allows for lots of parent involvement with the added bonus of learning 2 languages. And that's exactly why we are attending ¡HoLa! | Hoboken Dual Language Charter School.

Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable MealsThe school has an almost radical approach  towards health and nutrition. For one they chose Revolution Foods as their food service provider. While popular on the west coast, Rev Foods is trying to break into the market on the east coast and so is fairly 'new' in the area.  With school lunches coming in at $3.45 per meal compared to the $2.75 (Hoboken public schools) it can get pricey.  But as we've already seen, cheap food comes with a price far more devastating on our kids and the environment. Rev Foods began delivering October 1st and is going strong. So far I like what I see on the menu- more beans and more vegetarian options. I will start recording the meals next week.

The school is also encouraging healthy snacks not only for everyday, but also for birthday parties and other celebrations.  I like the concept of less cupcakes and more fruit! However, I think a healthy balance between the 2 is necessary: how about banana, blueberry chocolate cupcakes?

The most exciting thing for me (and the kids I think), is that even before the school opened its doors, they had built 3 above-ground planters or grow boxes (one for each grade). The kindergartners planted lettuce and oregano. My child came home with such excitement at the prospect of growing and eating what they had just planted.  And so, a school garden finally grows in Hoboken!

We also donated our worm factory to the school. We decided it was time for them to move out of our small urban home and into a large more open and welcoming environment. While I love the concept of the worm factory, it does come with some drawbacks; mainly the 100's of fruit flies!  At least they now have a home that not only inspires learning but also provides nutrient-rich compost for our schools' garden.  Sadly I do not miss them.

The winter is almost upon us and so until spring arrives and the bulbs flower, the garden will remain mostly barren. Spring will bring with it new life and new adventures and I am looking forward to it already!




Friday, July 9, 2010

Revolution Foods is coming to Hoboken!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Revolution Foods for The Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa). At that time HoLa was looking for a food service company that could provide their kids with healthy, wholesome and unprocessed school lunches. Since my child is in the public school system, serviced by Chartwells,  I was all to interested to meet them, gather information and taste the food and to try an find out what makes them different to our current food service provider. 

The first thing that struck me was that their food philosophy was in sync with the actual food they serve! There is no false advertising! Here is an excerpt from their website: 

Our Ingredient Standards (Our Never-Evers)

• NO rBST or hormones in milk and dairy.

• NO Hormones & antibiotics in meat. Our meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free with no animal byproducts used in feed. This kind of meat is referred to in the food industry as “never-ever” meat – it is never ever treated with hormones or antibiotics.
• NO fried food. Our food is prepared fresh daily; we do not serve fried, unhealthily processed, or microwaved food. We do not even allow “flash-fried” products in our meals.
• NO high fructose corn syrup, ever.
• NO artificial trans fats, ever.
• NO artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.
• All ingredients meet Whole Foods Market’s stringent quality standards.

Our Nutrition Standards


• We only offer non-flavored milk, and all our milk for K-12 students is 1% or nonfat.

• We strive to offer foods with little or no added sugar.
• Our meals on average contain no more than 30% of their calories from total fat and no more than 10% of calories from saturated fats.
• All of our baked goods (tortillas, breads, breakfast pastries) contain whole grains.
• We offer a variety of vegetables, including dark green and orange vegetables, throughout the week.
• We do not serve juice with our breakfasts or lunches.
• We offer a variety of fresh fruits over the course of a week, and we do not serve canned fruit.
• We offer fresh salads every day.
• We feature low-fat dairy products, in our meals.
There you have it...food philosophy every parent can appreciate!

Also, Ive heard that the other 2 Charters in Hoboken may also go with Revolution Foods, meaning greater buying power for them. I'm hoping that at this point we will be able to convince the public schools to give Revolution Foods a shot.


Revolution Foods Organic Mashups Squeezable Fruit, Tropical, 3.17-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 24)Revolution Foods Organic Mashups Squeezable Fruit, Berry, 3.17-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 24)Revolution Foods Organic Mashups Squeezable Fruit, Grape, 3.17-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 24) 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Hopes

As the school lunches wind down to a complete halt I have been thinking about what to do to keep up with the conversation of changing and advocating for better school lunches.

This week I met with Avis Gold Richards, Executive Producer and Director of a new documentary exploring the consequences of the junk food culture epidemic. What are children munching on? Lunch, A film by Avis Richards, investigates and interviews parents, teachers, nutritionists, students within the Baltimore school district. Its poignant and relevant. There are some other exciting things happening for bird's nest production, like a TV series, so stay tuned for more details.

Also, at the end of this week Montclair's Health and Wellness Partnership organizers are coming out to meet with us here in Hoboken. My hope is to learn from another school district and to figure out how our very own Health and Wellness Committee can function within our town. I am very grateful for their openness and willingness to share information! Thank you Montclair school district!

There are some other partnerships I am working on and will let you know when plans a little more firm.

School lunch Wednesday 6/16: Turkey Wrap

The menu reads as follows: Turkey Wrap, Lettuce & Tomato, Broccoli, Fruit

What they got: Turkey wrap with lettuce, tomato and cheese, an apple and milk

What they did not get was the broccoli.


This weeks menu reads with sandwiches everyday. I'm assuming this is because it's the last week of school for our district before summer break. 

Not a very appetizing wrap....it's all in the presentation though, had the wraps been cut in half and offered with apple and milk they probably would have been received a more favorably! The kids were rolling the contents out - perfect cause at this point I wanted to know what was inside.


American cheese, turkey, some lettuce and possibly a few slices of tomato, although I could not see it. Components I am not crazy about: tortilla wrap, processed cheese and the turkey lunch meat - loaded with fat, sodium and nitrites, and in my opinion not fit for a child.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

School Lunch Wednesday 6/8: Twin Taco

The menu reads as follows: Twin Taco, Turkey Taco Meat, Cheddar Cheese, Lettuce & Salsa, Fruit.

What they got: Two hard-shell tacos, turkey meat, cheddar cheese, smooth (?) salsa, lettuce w/tomato and a banana


Another twin taco meal with pre-seasoned turkey taco meat. I'm still not sure about this one but I do know I would feel a whole lot more comfortable if I knew they were using fresh ground turkey instead of the pre-packaged stuff.

Vegetables are almost non-existent (I don't count lettuce as a vegetable), but make the turkey from scratch and you can add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, peppers or whatever you feel like or have on hand. Nutritionally this meal can't possibly satisfy a growing body. If you are a nutritionist out there and think otherwise, please feel free to comment and inform me. The banana by far is the most nutritionally packed and is  a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese, and a very good source of vitamin B6.

As for the rest of meal...I think we can do better! 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

School lunch Tuesday 6/8: Baked BBQ Chicken

The menu reads as follows: Baked BBQ Chicken, Sweet Potato, Fresh Broccoli, Dinner Roll, Fruit

What they got: Baked BBQ chicken, canned sweet potato, fresh broccoli, a dinner roll and a fresh fruit cup.


Yay! Real chicken! I had given up all hope and resolved Tuesdays to being "processed chicken day". Not so! I must say that our lunches have definitely improved and much effort has been put in to provide fresher ingredients for the kids. They LOVED the drumsticks and with a some encouragement ate the broccoli too. 

But boy, are our kids fussy eaters! What happened? I do not remember being this fussy, neither do I remember my brothers being THAT picky. In fact, I don't recall any of the kids in our family (and there are a lot) being fussy or picky eaters! I mean sure there are certain foods you just don't like, for example my one brother just could not stomach okra and would gag if one actually got in his mouth. Fermented vegetables did that for me, especially cauliflower. I ate it, did I enjoy it and ask for more? Hell no!  

I'd say most kids today eat a very simple diet which is why whenever faced with a new food they scowl and frown and say very adamantly:  "I don't like that!" To which I reply: "have you tried it?", to which they reply : "No, but I don't eat it" and then I reply; "But if you haven't tried it, how do you know you don't like it?". And their answer to that is: "I just don't!"  At this point I feel like busting out a few lines from Dr.Suess's Green Eggs and Ham, so I do. They smile and say "I still don't like it! "  Phew! All this to get a kid to try a piece of broccoli!

At least this time round they served fresh fruit cups, filled with  orange segments, pieces of melon & whole grapes- A nice change to the usual syrupy fruit concoctions, which for the record, I rarely see them eat! But I did see kids going back for second servings of the fresh fruit.  The cups are easy to eat & delicious. Definitely a kid-friendly component!  
 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

School lunch Monday 6/7: Cheeseburger on W/W Bun

The menu reads as follows: Cheeseburger on W/W Bun, Veggie Pasta Salad, Fresh Vegetable, Apple

What they got: Cheeseburger on W/W bun, broccoli pasta, fresh carrots and apple.


As far as school lunches go I think this one has good array of components- broccoli, carrots, an apple, some pasta, and then there's the burger. The beef patty scares me the most. After countless  recalls I simply don't trust the FDA. Contaminated beef is finding it's way into supermarkets and schools more frequently it seems. Scientists believe that E.coli is becoming resistant to the antibiotics administered to cows routinely and therefore making its way into our food chain more often.

A piece in the New York Times last year, describes how a 22 year old children's dance instructor, ate a hamburger her mom made her which left her in a coma and when she awoke found herself paralyzed!  Such a tragic story and....


Friday, June 4, 2010

School lunch Thursday 6/3: Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The menu reads as follows: Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Macaroni Salad, Cucumber Slices, Fruit

What they got: Half-baked cheese sandwich, macaroni salad, cucumber slices, an orange and lowfat milk


Grilled cheese....yummm! What kid doesn't like a grilled cheese? Well surprisingly some but not all!

I was very curious to see what the grilled cheese sandwiches looked like or how they were made only because I could not imagine the kitchens grilling hundreds of sandwiches- and they didn't! From what it looks like they warmed or baked the sandwiches for a little time in a convection oven, probably just enough to melt the cheese, but not enough for it to look like its actually been grilled.  The one below is made from the heel of the bread so  it looks toasted/grilled but is not.


The issue with this grilled cheese is that its made with processed american cheese and as we know as soon as anything is processed there is a good chance that its high in sodium AND saturated fat. A typical brand like Kraft American cheese has 250mg of sodium per slice and weighs in at 2.5g of saturated fat. Now, times that by 2 (because it looks like they used at least 2 slices per sandwich), and you have 500mg of sodium or 20% RDA (recommended daily allowance), and 5g of saturated fats or 26% RDA for a diet based on 2000 calories - ALL this in just the cheese!
(These values are based on a 2000 calorie diet)

At this age kids should be eating anything between 1,200 and 1,600 calories a day- depending on how active they are. As you can see the above nutritional information raises a red flag. Too much sodium and too much fat.

Here is a quick comparison of American vs. cheddar:

Nutrition Facts for Slice of American
Serving Size 1 serving (19.0 g)

Calories 60

Calories from fat 40


Total Fat                    4.5g              7%
Saturated Fat            2.5g              13%
Cholesterol               15mg             5%
Sodium                      250mg          10%
Total Carbohydrates  1.0g               0%
Sugars                       1.0g
Protein                       3.0g 
Vitamin A 4%  •   Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 20%  • Iron 0%

VS.

Nutrition Facts For Cheddar Cheese
Serving Size 1 Cubic inch -  17.0 g

Calories 69
Calories from fat 51

Total Fat                       5.6g         9%
Saturated Fat               3.6g        18%
Polyunsaturated Fat      0.2g
Monounsaturated Fat    1.6g
Cholesterol                  18mg        6%
Sodium                      106mg        4%
Total Carbohydrates      0.2g        0%
Sugars                           0.1g
Protein                           4.2g

Vitamin A 3%        •   Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 12%        • Iron 1%

We can safely say that cheddar contains much less sodium and a little more fat than american. Also, nutritionally is more beneficial because it contains more protein, however, american does contain more calcium.

Given the choice though, I'd opt for the unprocessed cheddar cheese.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

School lunch Wednesday 6/2: Macho Nacho

The menu reads as follows: Crisp Tortilla Rounds, Meat & Cheese, Cilantro Brown Rice, Lettuce & Tomato, Fruit Cocktail

What they got: Crisp tortilla rounds, fake meat and cheese, brown rice, lettuce & tomato, fruit cocktail, juice and lowfat milk.


A lot of different components were offered to the kids today....maybe too many. Not sure the kids really need juice AND a fruit cocktail AND milk.

Of course the thing that bothers me is the Cheez Whiz and the commodity beef. In fact the beef infuriates more than I can even express especially in light of the recent news. 

Here are some of the headlines:

Government Report Finds Dangerous Residues in Meat- Source: Alternet.org


This is totally unacceptable. Why are parents allowing this to happen? Why are our schools not  putting their foot down and saying 'NO! We will NOT feed this to our kids'  Somehow feeding our kids veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals had become okay. 

The activist in me wants to do something radical, like break into the kitchens and destroy all the meat...or I'd like to walk into the kitchens and dump out all the meat products being served on the floor in front of the kids, teachers, cooks and lunch ladies! Yes, drastic! Seems to me drastic times call for drastic measures. When will our government step up and put a stop to this farce of an FDA??

Where do we go from here??

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

School Lunch Tuesday 6/1: Chicken Tenders

The menu reads as follows: Chicken Tenders, Tater Tots, Seasoned Veggie, Wheat Bread, Banana

What they got: Chicken tenders, tater tots, mixed veggie, wheat bread, a pear and lowfat milk


Another processed chicken meal. This is just a chicken nugget in the shape of a tender. I'm happy to see some vegetables and a fresh fruit on the tray. I must tell you that as much as it pains me to say this, the kids really love chicken tenders/nuggets. And while laden with fat and sodium, balancing the meal out with fruit and vegetables is an absolute must. Only problem here is that the kids will just eat the chicken and leave the rest, so there goes any 'balancing' one may have attempted.

Recently, Consumer Reports rated 14 supermarket brands of refrigerated and frozen chicken nuggets — including two chicken-like nuggets made from soy and what they found was that they all came with high sodium and fat content and were low (not poor) on nutritional value. Surprise!

They also warned consumers not to be mislead by the "All Natural" or "Organic" labeling.  My advice is to always read the nutritional facts and ingredients on the back to see if this is what you are looking for.

I came across an article done by MSNBC: The 20 worst kids' foods in America. They dissect and rate the worst meals ranging from pb&j to chinese food and then recommend what your kid could eat instead. Worth a read for sure.

My favorite was the classic grilled cheese sandwich, which won worst kids' sandwich and here is why:
Au Bon Pain Kids' Grilled Cheese
670 calories
41 g fat (25 g saturated)
1,060 mg sodium

You wouldn't even consider feeding your child this if they called it by its real name: an oil sandwich with cheese. So soaked is this sandwich that you'd need to eat 25 strips of cooked bacon to equal the amount of saturated fat found between the two slices. Wait until you get home — in about 5 minutes you can make a pretty mean 300-calorie grilled cheese sandwich.

Eat this instead!
Kids' Macaroni and Cheese
250 calories
14 g fat (9 g saturated)
690 mg sodium
 Wow! Who would have thought.....

Saturday, May 29, 2010

School lunch Thursday 5/27: Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

The menu reads as follows: Chicken Broccoli Alfredo over Pasta, Green Beans, Breadstick, Pear

What they got: Chicken patty broccoli alfredo with pasta, green beans, breadstick, a pear and lowfat milk


This is one of those meals that sound great but then don't deliver. I would say that these pre-schoolers were less than happy with this one.  Some tried the chicken broccoli alfredo but most frowned upon the white sauce.


Curious to know what kind of chicken it was made with, I bravely tucked into a piece. Leathery. Rubbery. Basically a chicken nugget without the batter but with grill marks!


It actually didn't taste like much or perhaps I was too freaked out by the texture to even notice any flavor. I have to say that the chicken was totally unappetizing and can't imagine ever enjoying it in any way, shape or form. I could not quite figure out the alfredo sauce; was it 'home-made' or did it come from a bottle? Again, thank goodness for the breadstick, pear and milk, otherwise some kids would have gone back to class hungry. I watched one of the teachers eat a piece of chicken, and as quickly as she took that bite, she put down the spork. End of meal.

On a different note, a teacher approached me and asked if I had been checking out the school breakfasts. Her daughter attends preschool at Brandt and her complaint was that the kids were not being served what the menu states and then on top of that what was being served was basically sugar. No surprise there!

I would like to call upon the parents at Brandt to start checking in on some breakfasts and lunches. I know the school year is coming to an end but let's get started now. Seems to me that when we (parents) get involved things happen!

Wishing everyone a very happy memorial weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

School lunch Wednesday 5/26: Soft Turkey Taco

The menu reads as follows: Turkey Taco Meat on Flour Tortilla, Lettuce & Tomato, Ched Chez/Salsa, Banana

What they got: Turkey taco meat on flour tortilla, lettuce & tomato, cheddar cheese, salsa, banana and lowfat milk.



Honestly, not a bad meal and would have been much better had the tortillas been whole wheat and the turkey made in our kitchens from scratch, instead they probably used pre-packaged seasoned taco meat! I really do think that a few tweaks here and there and our kids would be eating much better.

For the most part they (the kids) enjoyed the taco, but I did see a few of them pushing off the meat and opting for lettuce, cheese tomato and salsa! This leads me to believe that opting for a vegetarian meal once or twice a week at school might actually be worth investigating! Frankly eating more beans is probably far more beneficial to them than any many of other components they are made to eat.

Just looking at the May menu, I do not see many legumes (beans, peas, lentils) offered. In fact this past month they have included baked beans once and seasoned peas once. Legumes are inexpensive, nutrient-rich and high in fiber, you'd think schools would make more use of them!

If I had to grade this lunch as far as if it's appealing and well-balanced, I'd give it a C+. It loses major points because the taco meat is pre-seasoned and also because there is not a whole grain in sight. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

School lunch for Tuesday 5/25: Baked Breaded Chicken

The menu reads as follows: Baked Breaded Chicken, Sweet Potato, Fresh Broccoli, Dinner Roll and Fruit

What they got:  Baked breaded chicken, canned sweet potato, fresh broccoli, a dinner roll (white), fruit juice and lowfat milk.



While this meal looks 'OK' I am not sure the kids had the same reaction. In fact one kid broke down into a symphony of cries when he realized that it wasn't chicken nuggets! It seems Tuesday's at school have become 'breaded chicken day'. From nuggets to lemon chicken, rest assured you will find chicken caked in some sort of breading as the main meal. Again, I have to say I am NOT a fan of the breaded chicken.  I think the kids can do without the fake seasoning and/or KFC look-a-like batter.

I also wonder if the school gets raw whole pieces delivered and then breads them on site or whether its been breaded and deep-fried at the manufacturer and then reheated/baked at the school kitchen.  I would obviously opt for the former, at least then the cooks would have control over what goes into the breading and whether or not it gets fried. I asked for real pieces of chicken and we got them, I just wasn't betting on them being drenched in batter.

The dinner roll proved to be popular and at least the kids didn't leave the cafeteria hungry...or did they?  There was some fresh broccoli, which they ran out of, and as for the canned sweet potato, while it may have some nutritional value it looks fake and quite unappetizing.  A dinner roll is definitely not a wholesome meal for growing inquiring minds, so all-in-all I'd say this meal is a fail. Which gives me an idea, I think from now we should start grading the meals! Plus, it would be pretty awesome if you the reader would also grade it from a visual perspective.  What do you think?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Friday 4/21: Pizza!

The menu reads as follows: Assorted Pizza, Tossed Salad, Fresh Carrot Sticks, Fresh Apple

What they got: Plain pizza, tossed salad, fresh carrot sticks, an apple and milk


It seems to me that Friday's Pizza will always be what it is...frozen pizza that's sometimes overcooked and occasionally undercooked, as was the case last Friday.

I do have to commend Chartwells on least making the meals look appetizing and appealing. After all, we all eat with our eyes first!  I wonder what it would take to actually prepare our own pizza in large trays as opposed to just heating and serving a product that has more ingredients than I'd even like to know about. I'm sure there is a slew of reasons why it would not work, with money being the top factor!  Any bakeries in Hoboken feel like selling the school whole wheat dough at a really good price?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wednesday 5/19: Baked Chicken Wings

The menu reads as follows: Baked Chicken Wings, White Rice, Fresh Broccoli, Warm Apple Slices

What they got: Baked chicken wings, brown rice, fresh broccoli, warm apple slices and Milk.



My child: "Look Mom, real chicken!!"
Me: "Yes! Can you believe it!?"

I now believe it, because I saw it! Real baked chicken wings, and it was awesome to see the kids eating it off the bone. One kid told me how he had never seen chicken wings before and then proceeded to scoff them down! :)

I've also noticed that brown rice is a favorite for many kids. All in all I think this meal is well-balanced, looks appealing and contains essential nutrition- minus the saturated fats and sodium. It seems that the simpler the meals, the more wholesome, the more likely the kids are going to eat them. Maybe that should be the theme for school lunches: Simple, wholesome and of course unprocessed!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday 5/18: Chicken Nuggets

The menu reads as follows: Chicken Nuggets, Tater Tots, Seasoned Veggie, Wheat Bread, Banana

What they got: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, seasoned mixed veg, wheat bread, an orange and milk



The kids had lunch a little earlier today so I got there when they had already dished up all the food. Picture the above lunch with a few more chicken nuggets.

It surprised me that the kids did not eat their tater-tots. What doesn't surprise me though, is that 98% of them did not eat their wheat bread either. I'm going to assume that Chartwells serves the wheat bread so that they can meet USDA regulation, but for heaven-sakes- how many times do you just grab a piece of dry bread and eat it?  Are the kids supposed to dip it in the ketchup? Are they supposed to slap a chicken nugget on there and call it a sandwich? Either way the bread is landing up in the trash, along side the vegetables and polystyrene trays. To satisfy my interest I tasted the vegetables. They were tasty, a little to onion-ny for me, but at least they were not canned!  I tried to encourage the kids to try the green-beans or even the corn but to no avail.

Speaking of polystyrene plates- I noticed this time that they had the recycling triangle and a #6 on the back. This type of plastic is not easy to recycle and many recycling plants do not even accept it. I looked online to see if Hoboken does accept it as part of their curbside recycling program and found out from the contracted waste management company, that yes they do! Good news indeed! Now the only problem is to get the schools to participate!

Monday 5/17: Roast Turkey with Gravy

The menu reads as follows: Roast Turkey with Gravy, Brown Rice Pilaf, Fresh Vegetable, Applesauce

What they got: Roast turkey with gravy, brown rice, Italian vegetable medley, applesauce and milk.


Watching the kids scoff down their brown rice was awesome. Many of them enjoyed the turkey as well, but a lot of them did not even touch their vegetable medley. Again eggplant and zucchini are tough veggies for little kids to like, especially if it's not something as parents we would necessarily give them regularly. Personally I make eggplant every now and then, and my child does not like it very much.

I do think its important that they keep serving fresh vegetables but I also think it's even more important that we encourage the kids to try new things. My hopes are that with the Wellness Committee will come opportunities for kids to try new foods and explore the natural world around them. Coincidentally eggplants are really easy to grow and they come in an array of beautiful colors from pink, green, yellow, white to violet. I do think the kids will get a kick out of growing them and then eating them! 

Monday, May 17, 2010

From Taco's to Pizza

Last week was crazier than normal for me so I have decided to cram Wednesday (5/12), Thursday (5/13) and Friday's (5/14) school lunches into one post. 


Wednesday 5/12: Twin Taco w/ turkey taco meat, cheddar cheese, lettuce, salsa and fruit. 


Wednesday saw the inclusion of an extra veg (asparagus), which was not stated on the menu...Thank you Chartwells for the lovely surprise.

Later in the week, I just so happened to be passing the high school, and lying on the streets was all the packaging/cardboard boxes discarded by the kitchen. I can't tell you how excited I got because I noticed that the boxes contained ingredients lists and nutritional information.

One of the empty boxes was Jennie-O Taco Seasoned Ground Turkey, the very thing the kids had for lunch on Wednesday, so here are the ingredients as taken off the box:


The picture is a little blurry because it was taken by my iPhone so I'll decipher the ingredients for you: Ground turkey, taco seasoning (dehydrated onion, salt, spices, chili, peppers, garlic powder), potato flour, cocoa, citric acid, autolyzed yeast extract, glucono delta lactone, torula yeast, maltodextrin, wheat, natural flavor, water, contains by or less modified food starch, salt.
There you have it. After the citric acid I get totally lost with the ingredients and have NO idea what any of it is.  A quick Google search reveals that autolyzed yeast extract is actually MSG, and the rest of the ingredients are flavor enhancers/additives as well.  That's the reality.


Thursday 5/13: Pasta w/ meat sauce, breadstick, seasoned peas, applesauce.


Again the kids got an extra component today and were served one vegetable AND one fruit. A definite change has come about and I am truly pleased to see it happen. The meat sauce also was home-made at the school kitchen and smelled delicious. My only concern is the quality of the meat.  Whether it was just purely ground-beef or whether it had added preservatives and flavorings, I don't know. Perhaps if parents called Chartwells and asked for the list of ingredients they would begin to work on getting that type of info to us all.



Friday 5/14: Pizza, tossed salad, carrot sticks, fresh apple.


They served exactly what was stated on the menu. A well-balanced meal, with a vegetable, a fruit and salad. I may even let my daughter start eating some of the school lunches again!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday 5/11: Chicken Tenders

The menu reads as follows: Chicken Tenders, Brown Rice, Creamy Cole Slaw, Fresh Orange, Dipping Sauce.

What they got: Chicken tenders, rice, creamy cole slaw, fresh orange, BBQ dipping sauce and milk.


The first thing that struck me was how the brown rice actually looked like white rice with seasoning. In fact the more I think about it the more I think I'm right!  Look closely at the actual rice. Brown rice usually still contains the bran and germ while white rice has been totally stripped down so the rice is smooth in look and texture.


Secondly, I believe the kids got real chicken tenders today! It does look like deep-fried chicken though that has been reheated in a convection oven before serving. But at least it was real chicken. 


The chicken does however remind me very much of KFC and also just serves to confirm how our schools have been transformed into fast food joints. A reflection of current culture perhaps? Probably.


There is a huge effort out there to reverse this fast food culture.  One such effort is that of SLOW FOOD INTERNATIONAL - Their mission: " to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world."  It lobbies and promotes organic farming, nutrition education while preserving family farms and rejecting agribusiness.  Slow Food is about teaching us to eat again, it's about preserving traditions and celebrating food as the honest pleasure that it is.   


The current Food Revolution, is taking deep root across American schools and society.  It is another example of a united effort to reject fast foods that are highly processed, packed with additives and preservatives, and then sold to the consumer for profits, in this case our unsuspecting kids!  Rejecting the current culture of convenience that is also fast and cheap is what the food revolution means to me. It is what has got us in the this mess in the first place- and I'm talking from environmental destruction to recalls to diseases!  

For me it's meant changing my priorities a bit, like making time to cook every night, like not buying plastic baggies anymore, like composting and recycling and also not always eating what we feel like but what's actually in season (LOCAVORE)! Becoming a locavore has been the hardest one to achieve especially in the winter when we are not getting our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share!  But like anything in life, nothing is perfect and there is always room for improvement! Find what works for you and your family, make those changes and stick to them. Creating good habits that are not only good for you but also good for the earth will ensure a happy and healthy life for all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hoboken Reporter meets EAT Hoboken!

Last week the Hoboken Reporter called to interview me for a piece they were doing. I of course obliged since spreading the word is critical if we want to see any changes come about. I honestly thought it would be a small piece but landed up on the front cover of the print edition! Here is a link to the online article: 

‘Mystery meat’ and strange nuggets Hoboken school lunches exposed by blogger mom

The commentary from the school board is interesting especially the bit about : "We talked to Peta about [joining a committee to create the district policy].” They did!?

As for Superintendent Peter Carter's lack of vision regarding the health of our children, I recommend he start reading the reports on obesity and taking note what's going on on national level.  For what its worth, Mr Carter, the reason there have been no "pediatric concerns and no other parental concerns" is that we will see the effects of poor nutrition in the form of obesity and disease only when these kids grown up- and then its too late! The point is to PREVENT diseases!  I also have to argue that parents are concerned...I'd be interested to check the participation rates of the school lunch program. I'm pretty sure they've declined in some schools.

I encourage parents to email Mr.Carter to tell him that it's not OK to feed garbage to our kids!
peter.carter@hoboken.k12.nj.us

I also just want to thank  all the parents who have vocally showed their support. I urge you to please translate those words into action. Speak up and act out.  We have to change this now, today, if we want our kids to grow up with the best opportunities available to them! 

If anyone is interested in joining the Wellness Committee please email me at:  eathoboken [at]gmail.com

Monday 5/10: Hot Dog

The menu reads as follows: Hot Dog on a w/w bun, Baked Beans, Corn, Fruit.

What they got: Hot dog on a white bun, baked beans, canned corn, a fresh orange and milk.



The most obvious discrepancy is that Chartwells states they are serving the hot dog on a w/w bun...I'm just not sure if they meant white wheat or whole wheat. The beans looked home-made with bits of ground beef in them, sort of like a chili but without the kick. Personally I would have opted to keep the baked beans vegetarian. It is possible that they had to add the ground beef component to the beans so they could meet the recommended daily allowances as set by the National School Lunch Program. Compliance means they qualify for reimbursements as does participation. Interestingly Stephen O'Brien (NYS Department of Education-Director of Food and Food Support) stated that they were able to increase participation in their SchoolFood program because the quality of food went up  Better quality = higher participation. I believe the Hoboken School has definite room to improve.

Honestly though, I am not so much worried about the white bun and beans as I am about the actual hot dog. Hot dogs are high in sodium and saturated fats-  typically one hot dog contains 513 mg (or 21% DV) of sodium!  Basically 1/5 of your sodium intake is in that one hot dog! Never mind the sodium in the beans and the corn. The FDA  states that anything above 20% for sodium is considered high. They recommend trying to select foods that provide 5% or less for sodium, per serving.  Seems like an unattainable feat when talking of school lunches though. I wonder what the total sodium intake is for every meal?  I would actually like to challenge the food service company to make that data available to parents.

Too many reports have come about warning us about the dangers of consuming nitrites. Why would hundreds of educational institution knowingly serve processed meats that contain nitrites to our kids?  The American Institute for Cancer Research has advised that we avoid processed meats: 
Research is ongoing to determine which mechanisms are most strongly implicated in cancer development, but scientists point to three primary agents. Risk may be related to the nitrites that are often added to maintain color and prevent bacterial contamination. Once eaten, these nitrites can be converted within our bodies to nitrosamines, compounds found to cause cancer. Furthermore, processed meats frequently contain high levels of salt and many are smoked as well; both of these processes may increase cancer risk. Finally, products made from pork and beef (red meats) may pose a risk due to their heme iron content. In the U.S., reduced-fat processed meats made with chicken and turkey and, more recently, nitrate-free processed meats are becoming more common. However, until we know more conclusively where the risks from processed meats arise, you are best advised to avoid frequent use of these products as well. 

I have to agree with the last sentence...until we know more, better to not eat a lot of processed meats! Believe me, this makes me sad! I love sausages and smoked hams and salami's and bacon, but knowing what I know makes it easier to resist them...most of the time! :) 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Friday 5/7: Pizza Friday

The menu reads as follows: Assorted Pizza, Tossed Salad, Fresh Carrot Sticks, Fresh Apple

What they got: Plain pizza, tossed salad and a fresh apple and milk.


On paper this meal sounded well-balanced but upon execution it kind of failed. If you notice the carrots are missing. Actually the carrots made it to the school.

They just never quite made it onto the kids' plates because while serving them they [the school] realized the carrots had expired. If you look closely you will notice a USE BY: FEB 27 2010  These have been expired for over a month now. That said, the USDA's official stance on this is :
Except for "use-by" dates, product dates don't always refer to home storage and use after purchase. "Use-by" dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. But even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below
I pretty much follow the above and will still use products even though they have technically expired but I guess the schools are not allowed to make those kinds of determinations....or did they? The food comes from our main kitchen, so did they know that the carrots had expired for over a month already? Needless to say our school caught it and stopped them from being served. Was there something wrong with the carrots? Probably not, but I think the school chose to err on the side of caution and to not offer the carrots to the kids at all. Lets see if they get it right next Friday!

Thursday 5/6: Whole Grain Meat Ravioli

The menu reads as follows: Whole Grain Meat Ravioli, homemade sauce, Garlic Bread Stick, Fresh Italian Veg, Banana

What they got: Meat Ravioli, homemade sauce, garlic bread stick, fresh italian veg and a banana.


Things have definitely improved- whole grain meat ravioli with home-made sauce and side of Italian veggies!  One of the teachers actually commented that in her 10 years as a pre-school teacher, this was her first time she had seen fresh Italian vegetables being served. I myself was actually tempted to try them, so I did, and they were yummy! The kids on the other hand were not quite that impressed with the eggplant and zucchini mix. I'll admit, while this may not be a kid-friendly side of veg, at least the kids have been exposed to eggplant and zucchini. This reminds me of a great piece I had read a while ago in the NYTimes. In fact I will reprint it here. Tara Parker Pope offers practical and sound advice on how to approach new foods with young kids:

September 15, 2008

6 Food Mistakes Parents Make


HARRIET WOROBEY, a childhood nutrition instructor, knows firsthand that children can be picky eaters, but even she was surprised by a preschooler last year who ate a mostly chocolate diet.
“Chocolate milk, chocolate chip muffins, chocolate chip pancakes — it was unbelievable,” said Ms. Worobey, director of the Rutgers University Nutritional Sciences Preschool in New Brunswick, N.J. “His mother just thought, ‘That’s what he wants, so that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”
While most parents haven’t resorted to the chocolate diet, they can relate to the daily challenge of finding foods that children will eat. Although obesity dominates the national discussion on childhood health, many parents are also worried that their child’s preferred diet of nuggets and noodles could lead to a nutritional deficit.
Fussiness about food is a normal part of a child’s development. Young children are naturally neophobic — they have a distrust of the new. Even the most determined parents can be cowed by a child’s resolve to eat nothing rather than try something new. As a result, parents often give in, deciding that a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or a Pop-Tart, while not ideal, must be better than no food at all.
“I think parents feel like it’s their job to just make their children eat something,” Ms. Worobey said. “But it’s really their job to serve a variety of healthy foods and get their children exposed to foods.”
A series of simple meal-time strategies can help even the pickiest eater learn to like a more varied diet. Here’s a look at six common mistakes parents make when feeding their children.

Sending children out of the kitchen With hot stoves, boiling water and sharp knives at hand, it is understandable that parents don’t want children in the kitchen when they’re making dinner. But studies suggest that involving children in meal preparation is an important first step in getting them to try new foods.

Researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University studied how cooking with a child affects the child’s eating habits. In one study, nearly 600 children from kindergarten to sixth grade took part in a nutrition curriculum intended to get them to eat more vegetables and whole grains. Some children, in addition to having lessons about healthful eating, took part in cooking workshops. The researchers found that children who had cooked their own foods were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria, and even ask for seconds, than children who had not had the cooking class.
When children are involved in meal preparation, “they come to at least try the food,” said Isobel Contento, professor of nutrition education at Teachers College and a co-author of the study. “Kids don’t usually like radishes, but we found that if kids cut up radishes and put them in the salad, they love the radishes.”
Pressuring them to take a bite Demanding that a child eat at least one bite of everything seems reasonable, but it’s likely to backfire.
Studies show that children react negatively when parents pressure them to eat foods, even if the pressure offers a reward. In one study at Pennsylvania State University, researchers asked children to eat vegetables and drink milk, offering them stickers and television time if they did. Later in the study, the children expressed dislike for the foods they had been rewarded for eating.
“Parents say things like ‘eat your vegetables and you can watch TV,’ but we know that kind of thing doesn’t work either,” said Leann L. Birch, director of Penn State’s childhood obesity research center and a co-author of the study. “In the short run, you might be able to coerce a child to eat, but in the long run, they will be less likely to eat those foods.”
The better approach is to put the food on the table and encourage a child to try it. But don’t complain if she refuses, and don’t offer praise if she tastes it. Just ask her if she wants some more or take seconds yourself, but try to stay neutral.

Keeping ‘good stuff’ out of reach Parents worry that children will binge on treats, so they often put them out of sight or on a high shelf. But a large body of research shows that if a parent restricts a food, children just want it more.
In another Penn State study, researchers experimented to determine whether forbidden foods were more desirable. Children were seated at tables and given unlimited access to plates of apple or peach cookie bars — two foods the youngsters had rated as “just O.K.” in earlier taste tests. With another group, some bars were served on plates, while some were placed in a clear cookie jar in the middle of the table. The children were told that after 10 minutes, they could snack on cookies from the jar.
The researchers found that restricting the cookies had a profound effect: consumption more than tripled compared with when the cookies were served on plates.
Other studies show that children whose food is highly restricted at home are far more likely to binge when they have access to forbidden foods.
The lesson for parents? Don’t bring foods that you feel the need to restrict into the house. Instead, buy healthful snacks and give children free access to the food cabinets.
Dieting in front of your children Kids are tuned into their parents’ eating preferences and are far more likely to try foods if they see their mother or father eating them. A Rutgers study of parent and child food preferences found that preschoolers tended to like or reject the same fruits and vegetables their parents liked or didn’t like. And other research has shown girls are more likely to be picky eaters if their mothers don’t like vegetables.
Given this powerful effect, parents who are trying to lose weight should be aware of how their dieting habits can influence a child’s perceptions about food and healthful eating. In one study of 5-year-old girls, one child noted that dieting involved drinking chocolate milkshakes — her mother was using Slim-Fast drinks. Another child said dieting meant “you fix food but you don’t eat it.”
A 2005 report in the journal Health Psychology found that mothers who were preoccupied with their weight and eating were more likely to restrict foods for their daughters or encourage them to lose weight. Daughters of dieters were also more likely to try diets as well. The problem is, restrictive diets don’t work for most people and often lead to binge eating and weight gain. By exposing young children to erratic dieting habits, parents may be putting them at risk for eating disorders or a lifetime of chronic dieting. “Most mothers don’t think their kids are soaking up this information, but they are,” Dr. Birch said. “They’re teaching it to their daughters even though it doesn’t work for them.
Serving boring vegetables Calorie-counting parents often serve plain steamed vegetables, so it’s no wonder children are reluctant to eat them. Nutritionists say parents shouldn’t be afraid to dress up the vegetables. Adding a little butter, ranch dressing, cheese sauce or brown sugar to a vegetable dish can significantly improve its kid appeal. And adding a little fat to vegetables helps unlock their fat-soluble nutrients. The few extra calories you’re adding are a worthwhile tradeoff for the nutritional boost and the chance to introduce a child to a vegetable.
Giving up too soon Ms. Worobey said she has often heard parents say, “My kid would never eat that.” While it may be true right now, she noted that eating preferences often change. So parents should keep preparing a variety of healthful foods and putting them on the table, even if a child refuses to take a bite. In young children, it may take 10 or more attempts over several months to introduce a food.
Sibling dynamics and friendships can also change a child’s eating habits. Dr. Birch of Penn State noted that her first child was always willing to try new foods, but that her second child was not. “Part of it was just him defining his place in the family,” she said. By the age of 10 or 11, he didn’t want to be outdone by his sister and was far more willing to try new foods.
Susan B. Roberts, a Tufts University nutritionist and co-author of the book “Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health,” suggested a “rule of 15” — putting a food on the table at least 15 times to see if a child will accept it. Once a food is accepted, parents should use “food bridges,” finding similarly colored or flavored foods to expand the variety of foods a child will eat. If a child likes pumpkin pie, for instance, try mashed sweet potatoes and then mashed carrots. If a child loves corn, try mixing in a few peas or carrots. Even if a child picks them out, the exposure to the new food is what counts.
“As parents, you’re going to make decisions as to what you want to serve,” Ms. Worobey said. “But then you just have to relax and realize children are different from day to day.”

There you have it. While this bit is not the end-all and be-all of advice for helping parents to get their kids to eat vegetables, it's at least a good start!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wednesday 5/5: Macho Nacho

The menu reads as follows: Crisp Tortilla Rounds, Meat&Cheese, Cilantro Brown Rice, Lettuce&Tomato, Fruit Cocktail

What they got: Crisp tortilla rounds, _____&_____, cilantro brown rice, lettuce&tomato and fruit cocktail.


Again we have the 'mystery' meat and it's accompanied by the neon cheese product. I really detest this cheese stuff. According to NutritionData.com it has some 'goodness'. The good: This food is a good source of Calcium, and a very good source of Phosphorus. The bad: This food is very high in Saturated Fat and Sodium. Mmmmm, strong healthy bones to carry the extra weight maybe?

I am happy that the kids were actually eating their brown rice and even happier to finally see an inclusion of whole grains into the menu, even if it is only included here and there.

I am noticing thought that our menu contains a lot of meat, in fact everyday has some form of a processed meat product. I wonder how the district would react to a day of meatless lunches? New York school district does Meatless Monday.
Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our goal is to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.

I think it would be a great addition in our district too! Definite food for thought.

Monday 5/3: Philly Cheese Steak

The menu reads as follows: Philly Cheese Steak on a Hoagie Roll, Crispy Potato Wedge, Fresh Orange

What they got: Philly Cheese ____ on a wheat hoagie roll, potato wedges and a fresh orange.



This has to be one of my least favorite meals only because the 'mystery' meat really puts me off.


That's probably one of the most unappetizing pieces of food I've seen.  At least it's not served with fries but with potato wedges that actually are and look like a piece of potato. I do feel like the hoagie is huge for a 3/4/5 year old. Even Ms. M (our 87 year old lunch lady- who I love), said that its too much food them and wanted to give them half a roll but was told she could not because of federal regulation.

On the upside, have you seen the menu for this month??  Oh my goodness, it seems like someone is finally paying attention! There are on average 9 items of fresh fruit and veg served over the course of a week- that's about 4 extra items that are now fresh as opposed to canned. I am counting frozen peas and corn as fresh veg and counting lettuce&tomato as one item since im not quite sure that Iceberg lettuce really counts as a vegetable.

Either way this is a small victory and I am super-pleased that Chartwells is being responsive. The district on the other hand is lagging a bit but I have to keep reminding myself to be patient yet to keep pushing gently. A delicate balance.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Two Lunch Catch Up Post: Nuggets and Pasta

Last week was an extremely busy week for me and after the guest blog I only got to photograph Tuesday and Thursdays lunch. Thought I'd share them anyway-  even if it is Monday May 3rd!

Tuesday 4/27: Chicken Nuggets
The menu reads as follows: Chicken Nuggets, Mashed Potato, Seasoned Veggie, Wheat Bread, Fresh Orange

What they got: Chicken nuggets, faux mashed potato, seasoned assorted veggies, a slice of wheat bread and a fresh orange.


I find it really interesting that the mash is as white as the stryrofoam plate. Just an observation!

Let's chat about these chicken nuggets again. Nutritionist Marion Nestle, who is also a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, analyzed a chicken nugget product. It coud very well be different brand that what our kids here in Hoboken eat but I'm sure the ingredients and nutrition information would be very similar.

THE BREAKDOWN:
Ingredient list
Chicken meat, water, vegetable protein product (isolated soy protein, magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, niacinamide, ferrous sulfate, vitamin B-12, copper gluconate, vitamin A palmitate, calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin), dried whole egg, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, white pepper and onion powder. Breaded with: enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), salt, dextrose, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), monoglycerides, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, oleoresin paprika. Battered with: water, enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), salt, whey, leavening (sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium bicarbonate), spice, garlic powder, oleoresin paprika, guar gum, breading set in vegetable oil.
THE ANALYSIS:
Nestle’s analysis of ingredients
“The first ingredient is chicken (a good sign), the second is water, and the third is soy protein plus added nutrients. Then come egg, salt, sugar and more sodium. There’s more salt in the breading and batter. Conclusion: This is a salt-watered chicken product with added nutrients and other additives that preserve and texturize. And partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, no less. Kids would be better off eating chicken, period.”
Analysis of nutrition information
“The nutrient contents don’t look bad. I think the sodium is high — 18 percent of the daily value for an adult — but I’m quite sure it meets USDA standards.”
All I would like to say is yes, the kids are better off eating just plain good old fashioned chicken. No more additives, preservatives and fillers please.

Thursday 4/29: Pasta Meat Sauce
The menu reads as follows: Pasta Meat Sauce, Whole Wheat Pasta, Breadstick, Seasoned Peas, Apple Sauce

What they got: Pasta Meat Sauce, Whole Wheat Pasta, Breadstick, Seasoned Peas, Apple Sauce


This meal looks decent except for the bread stick and chocolate milk. Apparently they ran out of low-fat milk so the only choice the kids had was Ultimate chocolate milk- lucky for them! The sauce looks home-made but I would like to confirm that it was indeed whole-wheat pasta. Either way, it seemed like the kids enjoyed the pasta and meat sauce. 

Have some interesting things happening this week but I'll fill you in when they actually materialize. In the mean time...have a happy Meatless Monday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday 4/27: Guest Blogger: A Small Oasis Of School Lunch Sanity

As promised this week we have guest blogger, aspiring documentary film maker and Mom, Ayesha Ali Ahmed, whose daughter also attends Pre-K 3 -Mile Square School at the Rue Building. Check it out...it's real food!

•••• Would you believe me if I told you that there is a small oasis of school lunch sanity in this mile square island we call home? I almost feel like I’m about to give away a culinary secret, the likes of which food hounds ferret and hide for fear that too many palates will spoil it’s delicate taste.But such is the power of technology, no ‘not so secret’ secret is safe.

Mile Square, the provider that runs the Abbott program at the Rue Building (where my daughter is enrolled) has hit the mother lode of good problems to have. Because they are a mixed use facility (including low income day cares), they don’t follow the School Lunch Program, they follow USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) eligible only to facilities in which 25% of the children receive reduced or free lunch. They further subsidize the lunch (since no one pays) by using funds from their before and after care programs. Like I said, it’s a good problem to have for everyone involved and here’s why. They make their own food in their own kitchen and it’s delicious.

I visited the kitchen this morning, met the chefs, poked my nose around in pantries and freezers and boiling caldrons of beany goodness, took pictures and asked many annoying questions which were graciously answered.
This is a fully functioning kitchen with two local women who get in at 6:30 am and cook from scratch. And when I say scratch, I mean it. The handy man goes out on almost a daily basis to procure the ingredients, meat from Shoprite (always hormone and steroid free), vegetables from a local shop, whole wheat bread delivered from Petcher’s Bakery. And then they do what people have been doing since time immemorial prior to breaking bread, they make it! (They don’t actually make the bread, but they do make everything else.)
 There is one pantry full of juice (they are also offer two snacks) and one of cans of tomato puree and that was all that I saw of anything prepared otherthan the cereals (Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Cheerios) and snackslike graham crackers, animal crackers and regular crackers. The only vegetables they buy frozen are peas and corn and the only fruit thatthey purchase canned is fruit cocktail (which I see on the menu only once a week) and canned pears (or was it peaches?)


Today’s menu was Spanish Style Rice and Beans, Tossed Green Salad, Wheat Roll, Orange and Milk - all  prepared fresh.
This is quite an endeavor obviously, the menu is rich and varied and accommodations are made for dietary restrictions on a daily basis. What was interesting wasthat today’s meal was entirely vegetarian and when I went up to the classes, it was being happily consumed. The children were sitting at their tables as the teachers and assistants doled out of the food on plates (not styrofoam) and handed out napkins and a real fork and pouredplain milk and water. I’m getting giddy with the civility of it all.

So, how does this magic happen every single day of the school year and more (since Abbot is also a wraparound program)? It happens as much out of choice as it does out of a lack of it. Mile Square could just as well order the reheat and eat junk that others do and save a lot of money and time, but they buyingredients from their supplier US Foods and not food. Do they pay bucket loads of dough for this dough? It’s hard to tell because they get $70,000 to feed 90 children breakfast, two snacks and lunch. How that breaks up is hard to calculate on the fly, but they’ve promised to crunch some numbers for me and let me know.
Forgive me If I've painted a picture that is so soft-focused and diffused that you can't even focus your eyes, but this is an example, albeit small and contained, of what can be done. Fresh food not processed food products offered to growing children. I don't think that that is asking for the moon anymore than I believe the moon is made of cheese, delicious and unprocessed!  ••••