Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday 3/30: Chicken Nuggets

The menu reads as follows: Chicken Nuggets, Mashed Potato, Seasoned Veggie, Wheat Bread, Banana

What they got: Chicken nuggets, mashed potato, seasoned veggie, wheat bread and a banana.

Consistency. The lunch provided was as promised. I am very happy that they (Chartwells) are sticking to the menu, which makes me wonder when exactly they fell off the wagon to begin with!

Back to the lunch at hand. I have to say that I've eaten chicken nuggets and will probably eat them again sometime however, after seeing Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution I'll definitely think twice. As a test, JO made chicken nuggets from scratch for the kids. The object was to show them what they are really made of and as repulsive as it was they still insisted on eating them! In the words of my 5 y.o "Yuck! That's dizzgustin!"

If you and your kids haven't already seen it, you must check it. Be warned though- its gross!

Jamie Oliver shows kids what's in a chicken nugget 

It is apparent that these meals are not made from quality ingredients, the kids are eating only what appeals to them and this case the nuggets drenched in Red Gold ketchup.

This particular brand comes in a giant can. I managed to get a shot of the ingredients on this one and I definitely don't want my kid eating the ketchup at school.
Here are the ingredients as listed on the can: Tomato concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, onion powder, spice, natural flavors.

My main concern here is again the presence of HFCS AND corn syrup. Yes, yes, it's a controversial issue, the jury is still out on hfcs but when something attracts this much negative attention and medical studies, I usually just try to stay away, regardless of what the outcome may be. Besides, I like the idea of eating just plain old sugar versus a processed corn-based sweetener. I think I need a Nutritionist to weigh in on this though. Stay tuned.

The rest of meal was not that great. The medley of vegetables obviously came from can and honestly are not appealing-  a waste as was the mash potato. I watched them as one after the other, they threw away the food. Gone. Wasted.

How do we manage waste?  Well, give them fresh raw veggies, sprinkled with a little encouragement and I bet they would eat it! But basically its cheaper to just buy cheap food and have it thrown away. Crazy.

Things are hopeful though. Right now a bill is passing through Congress that would require national nutrition standards for foods sold in schools to improve and also expand the number of low-income students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. The bill, named The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, also would provide funding to encourage schools to buy food from local farms and increase the amount of money schools receive per meal served. Today The New York Times put out a piece called "A TV Show and Congress Tackle School Lunches"  , and while all the national attention is awesome we as parents  also have to let our local school districts know that the food they are serving our children is unacceptable! So I urge you to write to our local Board of Ed members as well as Interim Superintendent Carter to pay attention to this issue and tell us how we are going to work together to offer better lunches for our kids!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday 3/29: Philly Cheese Steak

Menu reads as follows: Philly Cheese Steak on hoagie roll, crispy potato wedges and fresh orange.

What they got: Philly Cheese steak on hoagie roll, crispy potato wedges and whole fresh orange.

I'll start off by saying, thanks to Chartwells for sticking to the menu and also for making sure our fruit basket was full!

The other day when I asked my 5 year old what she wanted for dinner she shouted with great enthusiasm: "Philly cheese steak rolls!" Really?...Not!  In my 5 years as a mother, I have never heard a child ask for philly cheese steak. In my opinion this is another poor food selection for pre-kindergartners. Not only is it bland looking but this meal is all white bread and potatoes! What's with all the bread people? And even more so, what's with the processed 'mystery meat' or 'steak' as they like to refer to it that's all 'dressed up' with some processed cheese?  Indeed a very kid-UNfriendly meal if ever I saw one. Just from looking at it I'd say that nutritionally it is inadequate, unappetizing and not a very well balanced meal for growing minds!  But, I guess we should be happy with the one vegetable, which coincidentally also counts as a starch and one fruit which is at least fresh. I counted 4 out of all the kids eating school lunch actually eating their roll, of those 4, only one ate the bread on the inside and the rest, as you guessed it all landed up in the trash. I believe the stryrofoam trays needed company!

But let's chat about the 'mystery meat' because I am confused. Check out the 'steak' up close and personal:

Doesn't look like steak to me but hey, lets face it, I am a foreigner, what do I know about fake meat?! So, in an attempt to demystify the mystery, I looked up the meaning of steak on and this is how they define it:  

  1. A slice of meat, typically beef, usually cut thick and across the muscle grain and served broiled or fried.
  2. A thick slice of a large fish cut across the body.
  3. A patty of ground meat broiled or fried.

[Middle English steike, from Old Norse steik; see steig- in Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Cite This Source
Ok folks, I'm guessing that definition number 3 best fits our mystery meat, "A patty of ground meat broiled or fried", but looking at it I am still not convinced that, A. it's meat or B. it's broiled or fried, in fact I'm not quite sure how one would make this stuff. Actually, it looks a lot like lunch meat, but definitely not steak. I am dying to find out what the ingredients are but I can bet you that since it's processed it's preserved and if it's preserved it probably contains sodium nitrites, MSG or some other preservative or flavor enhancer. All I am saying is, is it really necessary??  

 A little update: Last week I met with the food service director who as you know invited me to come and check out their other kitchens and so hopefully this week or early next we'll have a lunch post on how Wallace does lunch. Also on March 24th I emailed Superintendent Carter and the entire school board regarding my findings and also inquiring about a Wellness Commitee. As of now, I have had not one response back. Not so much as a 'Thank for your interest' or 'We will look into it. Nothing. Just silence.
This is the law!!! 

Section 204 of Public Law 108-265—June 30, 2004
Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004

(a) IN GENERAL - Not later than the first day of the school year beginning after June 30, 2006, each local education agency participating in a program authorized by the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C.1751 et seq.) or the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42U.S.C. 1771 et seq.) shall establish a local school wellness policy for schools under the loca leducational agency. 

In brief, a Wellness Committee is typically and required by law to be made up of teachers, parents, nutritionists, dietitians, food service representatives and also the community. It's all encompassing. The policies are based on nutrition, physical activity, guidelines for all foods and beverages served in school and other school-based activities that promote student wellness. I believe that this committee is integral to happy healthy students, especially in a urban environment!

Can we please get this Wellness Committee started so we can start fixing the things that really matter, like growing healthy, educated and mindful citizens!? 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Friday 3/26: Pizza

Menu reads as follows: Assorted pizza, tossed salad, fresh apple.

What they got: Pizza, tossed salad, fresh apple.

Today, this was my stryofoam tray! Yes, I had the pleasure of eating pizza with the kids! Actually, the regional chef (Chef S) was visiting again and he invited me to eat lunch with them. Of course I accepted and it was rather weird that I was now eating school lunch and my child was not! :))  I am happy to report that things have most certainly improved since last week's attempt . The lunch was way more appetizing and I actually saw many kids digging into their salad and fruit! Amazing what a little visual stimulus can do!  That said, I'm still worried about what the pizza was actually made from and in all honesty a couple hours after the meal I had heartburn! I know, from previous experience, that when I eat flavor enhanced and preservative laden foods the acidity levels in my stomach go hay-wire. I was not surprised. So while presentation has improved we still have a lot of work to do to improve on the quality of food.

The real surprise was seeing Chef S interact and talk with kids. He encouraged and offered them fruit from our new basket, which we have been assured, will be a permanent fixture in the cafeteria of St.Francis!

Chartwells is taking a real interest and I am happy that they are being responsive.They even invited me to come and check out the High School as well as Wallace at lunch time since that is where the 2 kitchens they cook out of are located. I'm looking forward to seeing a real school kitchen and cafeteria in action!

EAT Hoboken Blog pics picked up by CNN!

Seriously, my photos were picked by Anderson Cooper 360 for CNN! He was interviewing Jamie Oliver just 2 days before his show "Food Revolution" takes America by storm.

In case you dont believe me here are pics of the pics on TV!  :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thursday: 3/25 Pasta Meat Sauce

Menu reads as follows: Whole wheat pasta w/meat sauce, Breadstick, seasoned peas, applesauce

What they got: Whole wheat pasta, breadstick, seasoned peas and applesauce.

This meal actually is better than most we've seen. It looks kind of appetizing, there are whole grains and a meatsauce, which apparently is made from scratch. When I make a bolognaise I usually pack it full of yummy ripe tomatoes, onions, carrots and celery and sometimes red peppers or mushrooms. My child doesn't even know the veggies are there! Sometimes you have to be sneaky ;)  The canned peas, the emaciated breadstick and the applesauce could be improved on. Again, no fresh vegetable or fruit offered on the tray, HOWEVER, Chartwells has said that they will now offer a fresh fruit basket daily! Yes!
Oh, and please note the styrofoam plate. Darn styrofoam! Be gone with you, you're toxic and unnecessary!

Overall I believe Chartwells is being responsive and trying to correct the problem. They delivered what they said they would. Thank you!

Speaking of Chartwells, the food service director and his regional chef where at my daughters school yesterday! Yes, they came to talk to me! I was pleased to be able to have a conversation with them and so my next post "In defense of Chartwells...." will be about the challenges that Food Service companies face. Seriously, this food issue is soooo complicated and I do not see any clear cut solutions, but we have to try make improvements where and when we can. Start local, be vocal and act!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday: 3/24 Pizza Sticks

Menu reads as follows: Pizza sticks w/sauce, green beans and Apple Sauce.

What they got: Pizza sticks w/sauce, green beans, a pear and milk.
I was quite excited today to be going to her school to finally meet the 'Pizza sticks' face-to-face! Yes, I had never seen one and all I had to go on was my 4 year old's description:  'It's like bread'. And she was right. It is bread. White bread baked- well I think it was baked, couldn't really tell- with white cheese in the middle.

The kids get to dip 'the stick' into a marinara sauce. I might actually like this had it been made with whole wheat flour, cheese and baked till golden brown :)  Today's side of green beans was not received well. Not one green bean (okay, maybe one) made it into the mouth of a child, instead they were tossed away along with the all the styrofoam plates! Speaking of, I'm going to mention the styrofoam plates in every blog from now on because I think it's tragic that we are even using them in the first place!

Consider this: Styrofoam is made from petroleum, is non-biodegradable and can take up to 500 years to break down! It is environmentally unfriendly and releases toxins which are proven to be harmful to our health! Why on earth would you let kids our kids eat on it!? Oh, I know, its cheap and requires no clean up! Well I guess there's one less thing for the food service provider to do, and hey, they don't have deal with the sick people or the landfills!  Is no-one paying attention?  Stop the styrofoam. Please.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tuesday 3/23: Chicken Nuggets

Menu reads as follows: Chicken nuggets, mashed potato, seasoned veggie, wheat bread, fresh orange.

What they got: Chicken nuggets, powdered mash, canned carrots, wheat bread and syrupy fruit

Wow! Its looks way better than many of last weeks meals and this time no scary stuff on the nuggets. In fact they were almost 'crispy' and nicely browned. The powdered mash, which coincidentally  is the same color white as the styrofoam plate, was less appealing and much of it landed up in the trash as did everything except for the nuggets. Not one fresh vegetable or fruit was served. I have to question the Farm to School program that Chartwells claims to participate in.

Syrupy fruit does not count as a fruit in my household, its more like a dessert, and canned carrots simply lack texture and taste plus are usually  high in sodium and sugar. If only we could have a look-see on the label!  While I'm okay with this meal on some level I still feel very disappointed in how unhealthy it really is. Every bit of it is processed with additives, fillers and preservatives...I like to call them the silent killers.
Yesterday Princeton University came out with a study that concluded high-fructose corn syrup does in fact prompt more weight gain therefore linking this stuff to rising obesity rates. I call it stuff because once it looked like corn and now its sweet and syrupy. I cannot make that connection. If I had my way I would ban it completely, but I think for now  asking  the schools to not serve it to our children is a good start.

I dont have official numbers but from what I've heard at least 1/3 - 1/2 of our school district qualifies for free/reduced lunch, that is over 1000 kids everyday being fed breakfast and lunch. (I will reach out to admin for official numbers.)  If this is what they are eating daily I'm afraid that they are not getting a head-start in any way.  In fact, the odds are steeped up high against them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

ACTION ALERT- Congress is getting ready to update the Child Nutrition Act.

Teacher training = No school + no lunch. So today's blog post is an:
ACTION ALERT. Support legislation to help schools serve healthier food! 

Over 31 million children rely on the National School Lunch program to provide nutritious and well-balanced meals. We are failing them deeply! Please take a moment to tell your legislators that children deserve to grow up to be healthy contributing adults. The Senate Agriculture Committee will begin marking up the bill this Wednesday, March 24, so your timely comments make a difference.

It's so easy, just visit Slow Food USA's Time For Lunch Campaign and fill out the takes 15 seconds.

Besides, my motto these days: You can't complain unless you are willing to do something about it!

Curious to what I would like the lunches to consist of I came across this journal. Definite food for thought: - creative lunch ideas for kids! Here's an example:

 OR how about:

Of course these kinds of lunches only appear in my dreams! We are far off from this type of quality but at least we are on the way there. :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pizza Friday!

Menu reads as follows: Assorted Pizza, Tossed Salad and Fresh Apples. 
What they got:

Need I say more? 

No, but I will!  The more I look at this serving the more upset I get. The thing that infuriates me is that once again they (Chartwells) made the meal sound enticing with 'tossed salad' and 'fresh apples' but somehow those items never made it to the school, again!   Instead the kids got dry pizza, milk and juice.  Half the pizzas served where french bread pizza and the other half the flatbread kind. Some were burnt and some not, but luckily the lunch lady did not want to serve the burnt ones. I think I'll be sending pizza from home from now on.

Chocolate milk is thankfully not allowed everyday, but I think on Pizza Fridays they let them drink it. A quick look at the labeling reveals that it contains 28g of sugar for a half-pint serving! Official US Guidelines advise, for adults, a maximum of 40g refined sugar for every 2000 calories consumed. I could not find anything that refers to kids but i'll keep looking when I have more time and report back. According to the guideline for adults 28g seems like a lot for a child to consume in 236ml of milk, don't you think?

Since I am going to start obsessing about ingredients let me list some for the above milk as taken off the carton: lowfat milk, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), cream, cocoa processed with alkali, corn starch, cocoa, salt, carrageenan, vanillin (an artificial flavor), vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3. 
These ingredients are not far off from an organic brand I buy, a few differences noted: 1. The use of HFCS in the above brand, whereas the organic brand used unrefined cane sugar and 2. The sugar content above was 28g vs the 22g in the organic brand and 3. The presence of vanillin, corn starch and cocoa processed with alkali in the milk served at school. I feel like the less ingredients the better!
I am not saying we need to serve organic milk but I really believe we need to re-think whether or not we even need to serve chocolate milk for school lunch.  I almost wish they would encourage the kids to drink water instead.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday 3/18: Chicken Parm

Menu reads: Chicken Parm, Pasta, Ceasar Salad, Garlic bread and Orange.

Here's how I feel about this one:  Chicken parm is not a kid-friendly meal. You tell me how 3/4/5 year olds are supposed to eat a slab of chicken that's breaded and drenched in cheese without proper cutlery?  Sadly, many chicken parms made it to the trash. I am really startled  to see how much food is being wasted daily and it really irks me that we are not being mindful of such things!

Okay, lets talk about this meal from a nutritional point of view. Again, I must reiterate, I am neither a dietician nor a nutritionist, so all my comments are based on my research, knowledge and instinct. My instinct drove me to start taking a closer look, and my knowledge raised a giant red flag when I saw what our children were consuming. But, back to this meal. Here is my problem: it's full of carbs and protein and not enough fruits,vegetables and whole grains! They did get applesauce, which I'm guessing was a sub for 'Orange'. Please note that it was the only thing this one particular child ate. The meal also came with some shredded iceberg lettuce, which coincidentally was meant to be the Caesar salad. To see what value iceberg lettuce has, click here: 
You will find that it's not much, but I guess something is better than nothing!
This meal was a little more 'attractive' than the rest of this weeks meals, however not enough for the kids to want to eat it! I must say some of them did scoff down the pasta with sauce, while others only ate the half-baked garlic bread.

I would really love to see an ingredient list on the foods that they provide. When I asked Chartwells if something like that already existed, their response was that it would be very difficult to find! Really? Doesn't all packaged food come with an ingredients list? Shouldn't we as parents have access to the information on what our kids are eating?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday 3/17: Macho Nacho

Menu reads as follows: Crisp Tortilla Rounds, Meat & Cheese, Lettuce & Tomato, Fruit. Yay! Chartwells (food service provider) delivered what they said they would:

Doesn't look so bad, right? Actually the only thing the kids really ate were the crisp tortilla rounds. They complained the cheese (yellow stuff- see below) was too salty and the meat (?) was yuck and the salad unappetizing.

Some kids delved into half an orange with the rind still on, but managed only to suck some of the juices out, the rest was thrown away along with styrofaom serving trays, meat, cheese and sorry excuse for lettuce.

I'm not a Nutritionist, but I bet if we start looking at the ingredients and actual nutritional value of these meals, we'll discover that we are short-changing our kids' health in a big way, not to mention the environmental destruction such processed foods have.

Tuesday 3/16: Chicken Nuggets

The menu read as follows: Chicken(??) Nuggets, Tatar Tots, Seasoned Veggie, Wheat Bread and Banana. Thankfully they delivered what they said they would. In my opinion this meal once again was not nutritious, nor was it enticing for the kids to want to eat. Not one child was eating their canned corn so I started asking them if they even liked corn. Every single one answered, 'yes we like corn, not this kind though'. So once again food being thrown away!

But then I noticed something weird on the nuggets. You tell me what it is:

I alerted my administrators of this strange presence who then alerted the food service provider. It's pretty disgusting no matter what it is. The school district claims it is not mold but 'stuff' (teflon or something like that) left by the baking trays! Ahhh, now that makes me feel better! ;)

Monday 3/15: Breakfast for Lunch

Lunch on Monday was rather disappointing. The Food Service provider failed to send any form of fresh fruit for the kids and so they ate processed hashbrowns, sausage and french toast. Pretty much the healthiest thing there is probably the milk and juice. Needless to say, from what I could see a lot of food was being thrown away that day and very many kids going back to the classroom hungry.

The Beginning....

This past week, I decided to start taking notice of what our kids over at Mile Square, St.Francis were being fed for school lunch. Of course I knew it wasn't going to be gourmet cooked meals, but I did think/hope that it would at least be edible. Now, I'm not a food snob, I come from a developing country were there are more poor people than not, where more people go without than with, but what I am discovering is as sad as it is infuriating.

And so a daily photoblog with some commentary of the school lunches is born and
inspired by Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Thanks Mrs.Q!

I will post them so that we can raise awareness to the food quality that is being served to our children and I am hoping that other parents will be moved into action and help form a Wellness Committee, which by the way, was mandated by the State back in the 2006. The Hoboken School district has yet to see one.

Please feel free to get mad and leave comments! And then do something about it!