Friday, April 30, 2010

What's for Lunch: Beef Teriyaki Bites with "Go Cola"

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

These "beef bites" are small patties of beef donated by the federal government mixed with soy protein and pre-cooked with an Asian-flavored glaze, then imprinted with phony grill marks before being frozen by Pierre Foods in Cincinnati, OH. From their frozen state, they only need five minutes reheating in a 350-degree oven before than can be placed on the steam table and served to children.

In the upper left is a sad mix of cauliflower, carrots and broccoli. When I spent time in the kitchen of my daughter's elementary school earlier this year, this same mix arrived frozen from Mexico in 20-pound bags. The vegetables look great coming out of the bag, but then they're dumped in a steamer and by the time they've been on the steam table awhile, the broccoli is completely disintegrated. Most of these vegetables will end up in the trash because the kids don't eat them.

They say that what kids bring from home often is worse than what's served at school. One 10-year-old girl got this "Go Cola" out of her backpack. The 12-ounce can contains 44 grams of sugar--11 teaspoons--or 176 calories. That's five teaspoons more "added" sugar than the American Heart Association recommends as the maximum a grown woman should consume in an entire day.

Still, the strawberry-flavored milk routinely served in D.C. schools at breakfast and lunch contains only slightly less sugar, ounce-for-ounce: 28 grams in a one-cup serving (13 grams occurs naturally as lactose, the rest is added high-fructose corn syrup).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's for Lunch: Popcorn Chicken Scenes

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chicken, along with pizza and potatoes, is one of kids' favorite things to eat at school. You see it in many different forms. When shaped into these little balls and breaded at the factory, they're called "popcorn" chicken. They arrive pre-cooked and frozen in bags, and are quickly reheated in a convection oven.

The other components for this meal are seasoned rice, iceberg lettuce salad and milk. Some of the kids also chose a piece of fruit. I saw pears and bananas on some of the trays.

Kids have fun with the popcorn chicken. Proper etiquette, I think, demands that you dab each one with a little ketchup, then eat it with your fingers.

More disturbing was seeing a very overweight fourth-grader convincing one of the girls at his table to give him her rice. She shoveled it onto his tray with her "spork" and he walked back to his seat with this huge portion. This is a load of starch he probably doesn't need. But there's no supervision for this sort of thing.
Later, I noticed that one of the girls had torn her popcorn chicken into little pieces. As if that weren't strange enough, she started stuffing the pieces in her pants pocket. When I asked her why, she said she was saving it for gym class, "when I get hungry."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Oatmeal Method

D.C. schools don't serve pork products. The sausage links are made with turkey meat.

The oatmeal looks healthy enough. That's made by heating a stainless tub of water in the kitchen's commercial steamer, then stirring in Quaker Instant Oatmeal.

Here's one boy who found a way to put some flare into that plain-looking oatmeal: Scoop it up with your sausage.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Sugar Strategies

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

The General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal contains 9 grams of sugar--a bit more than 2 teaspoons--in a 1-ounce serving, the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Giant Grahams 6 grams of sugar, the Cloverland Dairy chocolate milk 26 grams, the four-ounce container of orange juice 13 grams. That's 54 grams of sugar in this elementary school breakfast, or 13,5 teaspoons, which translates as 216 calories worth of sugar.

How does a six-year-old manage that much sugar?

First, you pour the chocolate milk over the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Then, you split open the milk container and dunk the Giant Grahams into what's left.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's for Breakfast: French Toast Again

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Seems like we just saw French toast for breakfast. On these last two occasions, there has been no syrup served with the French toast. It's usually presented in little plastic tubs, an intense dose of high-fructose corn syrup (not real maple syrup, of course). But between the orange juice, with 13 grams of sugar in a four-ounce container--or 3 teaspoons worth--and the chocolate milk, with 26 grams of sugar in an eight-ounce serving--or 6.5 teaspoons--there's already plenty of sugar in this breakfast served to elementary school children.

The French toast does pose a problem, though. It's virtually impossible to eat with a "spork," the plastic utensil supplied to D.C. school kids. To here is the preferred solution: eat it with your hands.

If you didn't want the French toast, there was an alternative: cereal and also graham crackers. These Apple Jacks contain eight grams of added sugar--or two teaspoons--and the graham crackers six grams--or 1.5 teaspoons. This breakfast has a total sugar content of 53 grams of sugar, or 13 teaspoons. Enough sugar for a five-year-old, you think?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

Is school food a threat to national security?

A group of retired military brass says too many of the nation's youth can't qualify to serve in the armed forces because they are overweight and they lay at least part of the blame on the lousy food served in schools. Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected, the group says, and thus jeopardize the military's ability to fill its ranks.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans aged 17 t 24 are too fat to serve, the group says, and national security in the year 2030 is "absolutely dependent" on reversing childhood obesity.


Is there a revolution taking place in school food service? TIME magazine thinks so. Here's a pretty good piece giving the outlines of what's happening to school food and why advocates like Jamie Oliver are making a difference.


And you thought Raisin Bran was healthy breakfast food? Think again. Here's a list of the worst iconic breakfast cereals and some healthy alternatives. What makes these cereals so bad? Usually, it's the sugar. So why do we feed kids cereal with so much sugar? Oh, right. So they can pour strawberry-flavored milk over it.


Tip for the day: how to turn a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into something healthy.


Marion Nestle has a sneak preview of the pending new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Key recommendations: kids should consume less sugar and salt.


Be careful what your kids watch on TV. Despite claims to the contrary, corporate food interests are still pushing sugary, unhealthful foods on children through their mass-marketing. From a recent report in the New York Times:

"Last month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, gave a grade of F to 95 of 128 food and entertainment companies for their policies — or lack thereof — on marketing to children. This despite the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative started in 2006 by the Better Business Bureau, in which 16 major food and restaurant companies, representing about 80 percent of television food advertising expenditures, announced they would not market foods to children under 12 if they did not meet the companies’ own nutritional standards.

"Unfortunately, there’s the rub. What a company like Kellogg’s regards as an acceptable amount of sugar in a serving of breakfast cereal may not be what a nutrition-wise parent would choose. The cutoff adopted by Kellogg’s is 12 grams (3 teaspoons of sugar), which would keep them from promoting Cocoa Krispies (14 grams of sugar in a one-cup serving) to children. But Frosted Flakes, with 11 grams, could still be advertised in venues where children 6 and older will see them. (The company does not aim advertising at children under 6.)"


Finally, Jamie Oliver really did have an impact on Huntington, W.VA., with his "Food Revolution" reality television show. According to a report in The Washington Post:

"The public schools have made permanent many of the celebrity chef's recommendations. By June, most of the processed food in the district schools will be gone, replaced by Oliver's from-scratch menus, which include dishes such as barbecued chicken and brown rice with carrots, raisins and orange dressing. (Spoiler alert: According to one local official, even Oliver's TV kitchen nemesis, Alice Gue, now "is the number-one proponent" of from-scratch cooking.)"

But on a sad note, the flavored milk that Oliver banned because of its sugar content is back.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


They say the food kids bring from home often is worse than what's served at school. You can't get stuff like this at my daughter's elementary school. But you often see kids with junk food in their backpacks. Stax, made from "potato flakes" and a long list of processed food components, deliver 150 calories in each 1-ounce serving.

It's not unusual to see kids eating Cheetos for breakfast.

What's in your child's backpack?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Salisbury Steak Strategies

Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, a biscuit and canned collard greens. The yellow stuff around the edges of the meat turns out to be "gravy," even though it looks a bit more like axle grease. Meat like this is usually made with government commodity products--often with soy filler--and cooked in a factory where the "steak" is printed with phony grill marks. Have you ever heard of Salisbury steak being cooked on a grill?

But you need to try looking at this meal through the eyes of a child.

For instance, the biscuit becomes a perfect platform for the mashed potatoes. Piling the potatoes on top of the biscuit for a double dose of starch is fun.

Turns out you can smear the potatoes on the steak as well. And come to think of it, eating this Salisbury steak with the standard-issue plastic "spork" is darn near impossible. So more inventive ways to get it from the Styrofoam tray to the mouth need to be explored.

Here's one: turn the "steak" into a burger using that biscuit again.

This is the way we eat our Salisbury steak here in the District of Columbia.

And you know what? The collards weren't all that bad. Usually the kids don't touch the vegetables. But I saw quite a few digging into the collards.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's for Lunch: "Turkey Ham" Burrito

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Here's something I'd never seen before: A burrito made out of a giant flour tortilla, "turkey ham," and processed cheese slices. Apparently there wasn't enough starch in the burrito, so one of the sides is pasta noodles. The green stuff is overcooked broccoli. This would be Exhibit A to explain why kids in D.C. schools don't eat vegetables: they are always cooked to death.

This is what the burrito looks like when it's unfolded. Now, this took some imagination.
The "turkey ham," from Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales in Willmar, MN, consists of "cured turkey thigh meat chunked and formed." The label lists ingredients as "turkey thigh meat, water, contains 2% less lite salt (potassium chloride, sodium chloride), sugar, salt, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, natural smoke flavoring, sodium nitrite."
In other words, it's highly processed and doused with chemicals that make turkey meat look like ham.

The girl sitting next to this little boy didn't want her burrito, so she unfolded it, removed the meat and cheese, and gave it to him. He then stuffed the extra meat and cheese into his burrito, making it truly gigantic.
Kids are devilishly clever around food--especially when it means finding ways to get more.

What's for Breakfast: Bagel & Strawberry Milk

What, no lox?

With the daily doses of fruit juice and flavored milk in the morning, kids in D.C. schools are maintained on a high level of sugar. The strawberry milk from Cloverland Dairy in Baltimore, for instance, contains 28 grams of sugar (including the 13 grams of naturally occurring lactose), only a bit less than Mountain Dew.

Sugar Identified as Heart Disease Risk

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
We've always known that carbohydrates--not meat or fat--are the real risk for arterial and heart disease. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association points directly to sugar as a risk for bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The study found that sugar supresses HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and raises triglyceriedes, or fat in blood, as well as total cholesterol and LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.

The American Heart Association last year recommended that all adults limit their intake of added sugar in foods. Unfortunately, a "Healthy Schools" bill that passed the D.C. Council this week did not include any limits on the astonishing amount of sugar fed to children in federally subsidized school meals. But there appears to be growing recognition that sugar in the foods that American routinely consume is dangerous.

Yahoo! published an excellent article yesterday describing the study as well as the difficulties involed in trying to focus only on sugars added to foods. Food labels to not disclose "added" sugar and many healthful foods do contain sugar naturally. For instance, a cup of milk contains 13 grams--about three teaspoons--of sugar in the form of lactose. But in school meals, flavored milks such as chocolate and strawberry get an additional three or four teaspoons of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. A carrot naturally has five grams of sugar, a bit more than a teaspoon.

Our advice: avoid sugars of all kinds, but especially those in soft drinks and processed foods. Replace fruit juices with whole fruits.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's for Lunch: Hot Dog & Starch

The only thing in this meal not loaded with starch or actual sugar is the hot dog. Potatoes actually count as a vegetable. The corn has almost as much starch. Then there's the bun.

The 8-ounce serving of chocolate milk contains 26 grams of sugar--half of which occurs naturally as lactose--the same as Classic Coke. And there's more sugar in the ketchup.

But then any kind of potato and corn are among the things kids most like to eat at school.

The hot dog, from a company called West Creek, is all beef and contains 500 milligrams of sodium. That's 21 percent of the total recommended daily allowance of sodium for a diet of 2,000 calories. But children require far fewer calories than that.

What's for Breakfast: Carbs, anyone?

A quick jolt of insulin waiting to happen.

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

When we eat carbs, they turn into glucose, a form of sugar, and the body responds by producing insulin. Insulin is a powerful hormone that delivers the glucose to muscle cells to be burned, or to fat cells to be stored as fat.

Too much insulin over a period of time--meaning too much consumption of carbohydrates, especially highly refined carbs such as white bread, rice, pasta, sugar--and eventually to receptor cells on the muscles wear out. The body produces more and more insulin to get the receptor cells to respond. When they don't, you've got diabetes.

Maybe we should be having a national conversation on insulin, and not just obesity.

The meals in D.C. schools, loaded with sugar and cheap, refined carbohydrates, are a perfect recipe for obesity and diabetes down the road. But guess what? There are no limits on carbohydrates--and especially sugar--in any of the prevailing regulations that govern school meal programs.

One Tray

by LC Cokinos

I've always felt daunted by bureaucracy so it's good to find an organization like One Tray, which is covering the issue of better school food. Their motto embraces bringing farm-fresh, nutritious food to our school children "one tray at a time."

Improving school food is not just a DC issue-it's a nationwide problem, and big problems can be overwhelming. But there are little things everyone can do like signing the petition at One Tray's site.

Check out the video"Lunch Encounters of the Third Kind" for a graphic example of what's wrong with our childrens' lunches and visit One Tray's site for more information on changing the way we think about institutional food.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What's for Lunch: Baked Chicken

Somewhere underneath all this breading is chicken. Why do schools feel the need to smother protein with more carbs. There are already plenty of carbs in the bread roll, as well as the canned diced pears.

Maybe it's just to make school chicken look more like fast-food chicken. Is that a good idea?

What's for Breakfast: A fiesta of carbs

French toast, graham crackers, chocolate milk, apple juice.

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Yesterday, "Healthy Schools" legislation pending in the D.C. Council was approved in committee. The bill aspires to more standards and does set limits--minimum and maximum--on the number of calories kids can be served at school meals.

But one thing it doesn't do is regulate sugar, the "stealth ingredient" in school food. Food served as part of the federal school meals program is highly processed and cheap. One thing these meals have a lot of is sugar, because sugar is an easy way to boost calories without paying hardly anything for them.

And what kid doesn't like sugar?

But adults are supposed to be smarter than kids. And sugar can't be good for a city that has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. A steady diet of too much sugar eventually leads to metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Why would adults routinely feed kids a diet that leads to diabetes?

The "French toast," which is cooked in a factory and arrives at school frozen, to be re-heated, is pure starch and turns to glucose--a form of sugar--once it is ingested. The graham crackers contain six grams of sugar, or about 1.5 teaspoons. The chocolate milk contains 26 grams of sugar--a bit more than six teaspoons and the same as Classic Coke.

The apple juice, while it sounds healthy, countains 20 grams of sugar in the form of fructose, or about five teaspoons. Fructose has been linked to a growing incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Whole fruit would be a much better alternative than concentrated juice.

Is this an appropriate breakfast for school children caught up in an obesity epidemic?

Garden Sprouts Committee

by LC Cokinos

It was the school garden that inspired parent Christy Halverson Ross to start a "healthy food" committee at Key Elementary. The committee has met only a few times since the beginning of the school year, but parents have already accomplished changes where they can.

Besides writing articles for the school newsletter, the group took a hard look at what the after- school program ordered from the grocery store. Now most of those snack choices are organic.
Another idea was to connect with the Farm to School program, which promotes making fresh local produce a part of the every-day school lunch (radical!). Farmers visited the school to give the kids that often needed reminder about where food actually comes from.

The next project ponders a healthier alternative to selling pizza at school events.

The school garden that sparked Christy's imagination still remains a challenge. An amazing rosemary bush and two patches of mint have been well established there, but organizing functioning edible plots and gardeners to tend the plots are part of a not-quite-realized future plan. Perhaps a batch of mint juleps might help fire up support.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Healthy Schools" with a Big Lump of Sugar

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

"Healthy Schools" legislation written by D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh comes up for its first committee vote today after months of deliberations and with one very conspicuous missing element: no regulation of sugar in school meals.

Removing the astonishing amount of sugar served to D.C. school children every day is probably the quickest and cheapest way to make school meals healthier. But you won't see any of that in the "Healthy Schools" legislation. How can that be, you might ask, when kids are being served 15 or more teaspoons of sugar every day for breakfast at school: strawberry milk the equivalent of Mountain Dew, candied cereals containing three or more teaspoons of sugar per serving, Pop-Tarts, juices that might as well be sodas.

A teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories, meaning the breakfast described above contains 240 calories worth of sugar, or 44 percent of the 550 calories the "Healthy Schools" bill sets as the maximum total breakfast calories D.C. school children through eighth grade should be consuming.

Truth is, federal regulations that govern school food programs contain no limits on sugar in subsidized meals. Consequently, according to a top legislative aide involved in writing the "Healthy Schools" bill, there were no standards on which to base a limit on sugar for meals served in the Distict of Coumbia.

"We certainly have heard the concerns that you and others have expressed about sugar in school meals, but we haven't seen any guidance about how to regulate it," the aide said. "Neither the HealthierUS [School Challenge] nor the IOM [Institute of Medicine] standards have recommendations for limiting sugar in school meals. (The IOM notes, on page 52, that "By far the largest contributors to the intakes of added sugars (45 percent of the total amount) were regular soda and noncarbonated sweetened drinks," which are heavily restricted under the HSA.) Therefore, there does not seem to be any guidance about how to do it."

The American Heart Association last year issued specific guidelines on consumption of added sugars for adults, but not for children. For instance, the AHA recommended that "moderately active" women consume no more than five teaspoons--or 80 calories--of added sugar per day. That would rule out much of the food children are served daily in D.C. schools.

And what about flavored milk served at breakfast and lunch in D.C. schools? Chocolate milk contains the same amount of sugar as Classic Coke, and strawberry milk nearly as much as Mountain Dew. The strawberry milk contains 28 grams of sugar--about seven teaspoons, three of which occur naturally as lactose--or 112 calories. That represents 66 percent of the 170 total calories in the one-cup containers routinely handed out in D.C. schools for breakfast and lunch.

"Regarding flavored milk, we do understand your concerns, but we have also heard concerns from other nutritionists who say that milk is important for child development and that even if the milk is flavored it is better for children to drink flavored milk than to drink no milk at all," the aide said. "We are not nutritionists and have no way to resolve this debate. Therefore, we are choosing to use this bill to set the floor for school nutrition and then to empower OSSE [Office of the State Superintendent of Education] and schools to set higher standards -- to ban flavored milk and other things if they so choose."

In fact, there is no scientific body of evidence indicating that children who are not offered a flavored milk option either drink less milk or are deprived of important nutrients. That seems to be more of an assumption encouraged by the dairy industry, which counts on flavored milk for a large portion of its sales.

Still, how can it be that the federal meals program, in existence since 1946, has no standard to govern the use of sugar in school meals, especially at a time when child obesity and attendant diseases such as diabetes are such a concern? I asked Marion Nestle, a prominent nutritionist and author of Food Politics.

"Here’s the short answer: Sugar industry lobbying," Nestle said.

"And here’s a bit more:

"Sugars were never a problem when schools were reasonably well supported in part because competitive foods were reasonably well regulated and in part because snacks were too. All that changed when schools ran out of money and had to start pushing snacks and sodas in order to fill the budget gap. Nobody paid much attention to what kids were eating—until recently.

"No federal agency has ever set a maximum for sugar intake although dietary advice for years all over the world has been to limit sugars to 10% or less of daily calories. That percentage was embedded in the recommendations of the 1992 USDA Pyramid which said, “Use sugars only in moderation.” USDA defined “moderation” as 6 teaspoons a day of total added sugars for a diet containing 1600 calories, 12 tsp for 2200, and 18 tsp for 2800. If you do the math (assume that a tsp is 4 grams and 16 calories), this comes to less than 10% of daily calories. But the Pyramid did not say so explicitly. That’s just how it works out.
"Some years later, in developing the new Dietary Reference Intakes, the Institute of Medicine recommended 25% of calories from added sugars as an upper limit.

"In the early 2000s, the World Health Organization attempted to set an upper limit of 10% of calories from added sugars to its global strategy for health. U.S. sugar lobbying groups went berserk and got the attorney for the Department of Health and Human Services to write a letter to WHO threatening to withdraw U.S. funding if that recommendation was not eliminated. The controversial figure disappeared.

"The bottom line: no standard of intake exists so anything goes. My understanding is that sugars not only pervade the meals, but also treats given out by teachers and brought in by parents for birthdays.

"The one bright side is that the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act contains provisions to revisit the standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines that will be coming out later this year. These, hopefully, will refer to a recent IOM report developing new school meals standards for the USDA."

The IOM found that children's consumption of "discretionary" calories from solid fat--as from hamburgers and pizza--and sugar "were much higher than the amounts specified" by the federal food pyramid. For children aged nine to 13, for instance, the excess averaged 543 calories, or about a third of the total daily calories recommended for children in that age group.
But rather than address sugar directly, the IOM panel took a back-door approach: increasing the amount of "healthy" foods in school meals and setting a maximum on calories served in school meals would drive down the amount of calories from sugar, the panel reasoned. "The committee notes that its approach to developing the standards for menu planning leaves relatively few discretionary calores for added sugars and saturated fat," the report reads.

But with "careful menu planning," the panel suggests, schools would still have enough of those discretionary calories to make room for flavored milk and sugary cereals. "The ommission of those sweetened foods might result in decreased student participation as well as in reduced nutrient intakes."

Nestle calls this last statement by the IOM committee "a sellout. I’ve been in plenty of schools where the kids eat unsweetened foods and are doing just fine. Those schools are run by adults who care what kids eat. Kids will eat foods prepared by adults who care, as witnessed by Jamie Oliver."

Although Cheh's original "Healthy Schools" bill embraced the proposed IOM standards, she abandonned them after school officials said they could not guarantee schools would be able to serve additional vegetables that kids would actually eat and not throw in the trash. The bill now adopts less stringent standards under the "HealthierUS Schools Challenge" sponsored by the USDA. Those standards likewise do not address the issue of sugar in school meals.

Nestle said the best hope may be if Congress, in its pending re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act, requires that schools adhere to the government's own Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Those call for no more than two to eight teaspoons of sugar per day for discretionary calories, according to Nestle.

"The USDA [food] Pyramid allows 200-300 discretionary calories a day for fats and sugars. That’s less than 10% of calories, and still not bad," Nestle said.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

Ann Cooper, the "renegade lunch lady," publishes a rousing endorsement of Jamie Olivers "Food Revolution," as well as some of her own prescriptions for overhauling school meal programs.

School food consultant Kate Adamick also weighs in with kudos for Oliver at the Atlantic. Adamick says school gardens and farm to school programs are fine, but "the only effort that has substantially changed the food on students' lunch trays has been the act of teaching school food service workers that cooking is indeed fun."

In a separate piece, Cooper says the 6 cents in additional funding for school meals offered in the Senate version of the Child Nutrition Act re-authorization borders on the criminal.


Here's an interview with Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. They've titled the interview, How fast food became the school lunch.


Chicago schools have been chosen as the third School Food FOCUS site, meaning the city will get extra help from the FOCUS group finding ways to incorporate locally grown, sustainble foods into school meals.


Look! A contest to see who can make the best school lunch. It may be too late to enter, but the photographs are fun to look at.


Here are some tips on what moms (and dads) can do to combat childhood obesity.


Finally, TIME magazine's list of nine kid foods to avoid.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kids Make Doro Wat

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

The "food appreciation" classes I teach in a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia are on a virtual world culinary tour and we've been looking forward to the day when we could taste our own spicy Ethiopian food with injera bread. That day has finally arrived.

This dish, Doro Wat, features chicken and hard-boiled egg in a traditional berbere sauce. Here in D.C., we have a large Ethiopian population and I knew some of the local stores sell injera, the spongy flat bread that is essential to an authentic Ethiopian meal. The bread is used instead of cutlery--to pick up the food.

I found a store just a short walk from my home. Besides the injera--seven pizza-size loaves of it stacked one atop the other, but you can get taller stacks--I also found a selection of spices. The berbere, bright red with chili powder, came in a two-cup container. But it did not have the same aroma as the berbere we made last week in class. When I asked the woman at the cash register what was in it--if it contained the cinnamon and cloves, for instance, that we had used in class--she shook her head. "No cinnamon," she said. "This is the berbere we make at home, according to tradition."

She said she didn't know exactly what was in it. So, if you don't have an Ethiopian store where you can purchase berbere, make the version we made in class last week.

I explained to the store clerk what I planned to do with my purchases and she asked if I wouldn't be needing butter. Sure, I said. I planned to use butter to cook our Doro Wat. What she meant, though, was the seasoned butter the store sells from its refrigerator case. We opened a one-cup container and the butter smelled of cardamom. Well, I would need some of that as well, I suppose. And obviously these are exactly the ingredients they use to make Doro Wat in the Ethiopian restaurant, because the dish we made tasted for all world like it had been made in an Ethiopian restaurant.

In a heavy skillet over moderate heat, melt 1/2 Ethiopian butter (or use plain butter and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom). Add 2 medium onions, cut into small dice, and 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped. Cook until the onions are soft, about eight minutes. Add 2 tablespoons berbere spice, 1 cup diced tomatoes (or half a 14-ounce can), and 1.3 pounds chicken breast cut into bite-size pieces. (You could substitute boneless chicken thighs). Pour in 1/2 cup water and cook until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Add six hard-boiled eggs, peeled and lightly scored with a knife. Baste them with the sauce. Add more water if necessary to make a stew-like consistency.

Season dish with freshly ground black pepper. Ladle the stew over large slices of injera bread on plates. Alternately, you can place the injera on plates and present the stew in a family-size bowl so that people can serve themselves. Don't be afraid to use your hands.

The kids, by the way, were crazy for this dish.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beyond "Museum" Gardens

By Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl

With all of the coverage of Michelle Obama in the news lately, you would be a fool not to think that gardens are the answer to all of our public health problems. In addition to the “White House” garden, you’ve got the new “People’s Garden” at the USDA building in D.C., you’ve got Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and his wife cheering the establishment of gardens at local Washington D.C. elementary schools. The public and the food movement should laud these efforts and they are not without merit. I similarly applaud states like California that began the “Garden in every school,” initiative. Many others are following suit and I’m glad they have supported that initiative with some funding. However, it’s like the old proverb, “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Those wonderful intentions without substantial follow through are “paper tigers” against the environmental and health issues that face our public with regards to the food system, most notably: food insecurity, obesity, loss of bio-diversity and environmental degradation. Gardens that exist as exhibitions to only be looked and talked about will not move us anywhere close to where we need to go. We need this garden movement to move far beyond what Michelle Obama has heroically brought to the nation’s attention.

I want to push beyond the awareness building of the White House garden and I see this garden movement at the crossroads of two paths. One path makes us all feel better, but yields very little in the way of reduced obesity, urban food deserts and local control of food. The other requires more effort, but actually can affect, not only our local food shed, but more importantly, our children’s nutritional path, future health and prosperity. Right now, we are on path number 1. Throughout the United States, if students learn about food in school it is through “museum” gardens. I call them “museums” because they exemplify our look but don’t touch mentality towards food production. If your child is lucky, their school may grow herbs, some vegetables and receive a lesson or two about nutrition, plants and the growth cycle. The students may even be able to take home a carrot or munch on it happily. Then they walk into the corner store, the vegetables disappear and there’s no significant follow up to those isolated nutrition lessons. This could explain why the Associated Press reported that out of 57 federally funded programs of over 1 billion dollars spent to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among children, only 4 succeeded in their task. We need to shed this museum mentality. Students can no longer stare at our food system from behind protective glass, wearing blindfolds and waiting for the teacher to take them to the food court. Follow the proverb; we need to hand them that trowel and teach them how to grow.

Our children face an unrelenting obesity epidemic the world has never seen. A recent study out of the Bloomberg School at Johns Hopkins estimates that 75% of adult Americans will be overweight by 2015. These numbers have consequences, not only for our health as a nation, but our economy and future prosperity. One in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime and for minorities that number is one in two. A recent study by Kenneth Thorpe, the chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University finds that at current trends, by 2018, annual obesity related health care costs will total more than 20 percent of total health care spending. That means that in less than a decade, health care costs attributable to obesity will have more than doubled.

Obesity is an extremely complex, multi-faceted health problem. Countries can have under nourished and over nourished individuals in the same community and even the same household. Obesity cannot be unraveled from poverty or corporate greed. There are causal elements in personal responsibility and government policy. Yes, we need taxes on sugary beverages, a new farm bill and campaign finance reform, but we need something more fundamental. The next generation of kids needs the chance to connect with food. With every generation since urbanization our connection with food, our understanding of where it comes from and how it is grown has become more distant. I’ve worked with students in urban areas where the connection is so lost, that whole fruits and vegetables are unrecognizable to their senses.

Path number 2 takes down the glass partition and places the kids in the museum, locks them in overnight, and makes the broccoli and squash come alive. Every school in the United States should have a garden/school farm engaged in real food production that is working towards adding fresh, healthy produce to the food shed of that community. It’s even more local than local.

Take for example a school district with 30 schools. In order to supply every school with a salad bar worth of lettuce greens once a week, you would need about 3 pounds of lettuce per school. That works out to approximately 100 pounds of lettuce per week. A school site could easily produce this much with just 4,000 square feet of space, a small chunk of land that the majority of schools have to spare! With a handful of schools participating, schools could have a healthy salad bar every day of the week. While those students are feeding their classmates they are engaged in an authentic education about food and nutrition that cannot be replicated in a classroom. This is not a pipe dream. The numbers are there. That is the vision of a food production program as opposed to a museum garden.

Students will no longer enter a school garden, be handed a carrot like it is some foreign object from mars and told, “look, this stuff actually comes from the ground!” No! Students will grow food from seed and along the way, learn to cook with it, take significant amounts home with them, and see it in their cafeterias. High schoolers can learn trades, career and leadership skills, business and marketing skills, through established school farms. They can pass that knowledge to younger kids through mentoring programs further bonding communities together. The food system is so integrated into everything we as a society do, that it can be a holistic approach to so many issues. Will we make communities more food secure? Yes. Will be reduce the separation between urban and rural communities? Yes. Will we get childhood obesity under control? Yes. Will future consumers look more closely at locality, organic food, pesticides and pollution that exist in our current food system? Yes.

Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl is a Masters in Public Health candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This article originally appeared in Edible East Bay and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Parents Believe About School Food

The following list of guiding principles of Parents for Better D.C. School Food represents the fondest wishes of its members. We are neither a scientific panel, nor a legislative body, but rather adults concerned about the welfare of all children in the District of Columbia, and especially about foods they eat and the role of school food services in children's health and well-being.

Please write your D.C. council members and urge them to pass the "Healthy Schools Act." Include a link to this post.

We believe that all children are entitled to be served healthful, nutritious meals while attending public school.

We believe that processed school foods should be replaced with foods made from whole, unprocessed ingredients, preferably from local, sustainable sources.

We believe school meals should be made from scratch whenever possible.

We believe that added sugars should be avoided.

We believe children should not be exposed to high-fructose corn syrup.

We believe children should not be served trans-fats or hydrogenated oils.

We believe that Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, such as those from corn, soybean and cottonseed oil, should be largely replaced with healthful mono-unsaturated fats, such as those from olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and avocado, and that children should consume more Omega-3 fats.

We believe that calories in school breakfasts should be derived primarily from healthy fats and proteins--including milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy--and fresh fruit, and only secondarily from starchy carbohydrates.

We believe that cereals should contain no more than 4 grams of sugar per ¾-cup--or 1-ounce-- serving, whichever is less.

We believe that children should have more vegetarian options, and that school meals should be meatless at least one day each week.

We believe that grain products served in schools should be primarily whole grain.

We believe that school cafeterias should be equipped with salad bars offering an array of fresh greens, vegetables, proteins and freshly-made dressings.

We believe that packaged foods should be replaced with unpackaged foods.

We believe that flavored milks should be served only occasionally, if at all.

We believe that all school milk should be free of antibiotics and non-therapeutic hormones.

We believe fruit juices should be served only occasionally, and should otherwise be replaced with whole fruits.

We believe children should be encouraged to drink water with their meals.

We believe students should have a minimum 30 minutes in which to eat their meals.

We believe ingredients for all foods served in D.C. schools should be posted on the internet and in other places where they can be easily accessed by the public.

We believe that school cafeterias should be open environments where parents can join their children and encourage healthful eating habits.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Voting for "Healthy Schools"

By Andrea Northup
The Healthy Schools Act is On the Move!

The public hearing on the Healthy Schools Act on March 26th was well attended, and D.C. City Councilmembers heard an impressive contingent voice their support for the bill. Read some of the wonderful testimony and find more information about the act on Mary Cheh’s site.

On Monday April 19th (just a few days away!) the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment will vote on the bill. On Tuesday April 20th the Committee of the Whole will vote, and on Tuesday May 4th the entire council will take a final vote to pass the bill as a law!

How can you show your support?

1) Take a few seconds to sign the D.C. Farm to School Network’s online petition in support of farm to school in the Healthy Schools Act. Strengthen our voice for healthy, local food in D.C. schools!

2) Contact your councilmember this week and ask them to VOTE YES for the Healthy Schools Act on Tuesday April 20th and Tuesday May 4th! Call, email, or visit their office. Get your councilmember’s contact information here, and download a sample letter to email or send here. Your voice can make a difference.

3) Join the D.C. Farm to School Network on Monday April 19th at the Wilson Building to chat with councilmembers and staff, and encourage them to VOTE YES for the bill the next day! Please email andrea[at]dcfarmtoschool[dot]org if you’d like to join us.

4) Stay aware of updates and changes to the bill by checking Mary Cheh’s site and signing up for her email alerts. The D.C. Farm to School Network is also keeping track of the bill here.

Once the bill is passed, then we have to push for it to get funding in the budget… stay tuned!
Andrea Northup is coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What's for Breakfast: 15 Teaspoons of Sugar

Can you say c-e-r-e-a-l real fast three times?

That's what one little boy had on his tray at my daughter's elementary school. "See how skinny I am?" the boy explained, lifting up his skinny arms to show me. "I want to get big."

I wondered how he got past the ladies at the food line with three containers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But there it was, plain as day, along with the strawberry milk, the apple juice and a package of graham crackers already devoured.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch, made by General Mills, is one of those "healthy" cereals. "Whole Wheat" and "Rice" are printed in boldface on the label. It also has nine grams of sugar--a bit more than two teaspoons--in a 1-ounce serving. That would be in addition to the 28 grams of sugar in the 8-ounce container of strawberry milk (almost as much as Mountain Dew), the 20 grams of sugar in the 6-ounce container of apple juice, and the six grams of sugar in the graham crackers.

Let's see. We're up to 63 grams of sugar so far, about 15 teaspoons. A pretty sugary start to the morning, wouldn't you say? But that's if this little boy only eats one of those cereals. Oops. He's opening the second.

School meals are subject to a tangle of regulations that rivals the U.S. tax code. Even so, there's no limit to the amount of sugar a child can consume at school.

What happens, I ask him, if he can't finish all three cereals?

"I take it home in my back pack and save it for later."

Kids are just too smart these days.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spork Talk For Breakfast

(Grits, turkey sausage, milk and apple)

By LC Cokinos

Breakfast this morning seemed pretty healthy to me, but my son wouldn't let me follow him into the cafeteria. I wanted to see how to eat a turkey sausage with a spork.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

The stars seem to be lining up for school food reform. At least it seems to be a hot topic these days, what with Jamie Oliver taking millions of television viewers inside a school kitchen for the first time.

Here are seven reasons why the time is ripe, one of them being parent groups like our organizing and speaking out. And here's the take from USA Today, quoting our own Ed Bruske.


Jamie Oliver has been taking some heat for his "Food Revolution" reality show focused on the eating habits of Huntington, W.Va. Here, a professional food consultant defends Oliver, saying the scenes of woeful, processed school food and indifferent cafeteria workers are only too common across the country.

Oliver also defends the show, saying he is definitely helping. He points to a study of his program in England showing that better food has led to improved academic performance and less absenteeism.


It's time for Congress to re-authorize the Child Nutrition Act, which includes funding for federal school meal programs, and Marion Nestle explains why it's such a mess of mixed missions and garbled standards.


A New Jersey auditor accuses school food services companies Sodhexo and Chartwells of over-charging 10 school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars for workers compensation and liability insurance. Chartwells provides the food service for D.C. Public Schools.


A study indicating that lab rats get fatter on high-fructose corn syrup than on regular sugar has been getting lots of attention. Getting less attention: The study also showed that sugar raises triglyceride levels.


A story in the Washington Afro-American quotes D.C. Schools Chief Operating Officer Anthony Tata at some length on where Chartwells is taking school food service in the District. Tata also talks about introducing local produce into school meals, but deflects criticisms about the quality of food Chartwells is serving.


School meals in the District contain too much sugar, and there are fears that the current epidemic of childhood obesity could lead to an epidemic of diabetes and an explosion in health care costs down the road. In Thailand, turns out the sugar they put in their food has resulted in a rate of diabetes rate that even exceeds the one here in the U.S.


Japan stubbornly continues to hunt whales, supposedly for "research." But since most Japanese don't eat whale meat any more, there is a growing surplus of whale meat. Guess how they're dealing with it?

If you said serving it to children in school, you would be correct.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What's for Breakfast

By Ed Bruske

Egg and sausage quesadilla with chocolate milk and baked apples.

Often, processed foods arrive at school in individual plastic packaging and are simply reheated as is from the frozen state. The kitchen at my daughter's school has a commercial steamer that heats meal items while still in the plastic, making service a breeze. They are displayed just like this in the food line.

What you see here in the plastic wrapper is an egg and sausage breakfast quesadilla. My daughter complained that she didn't want the quesadilla. What she had really wanted was a yogurt. But she said the kitchen staff would not allow her to make an exchange, so she asked me to intervene.

I took the offending quesadilla back to the food line, but when I tried to trade it in for a container of yogurt I got a real hard time from the woman sitting at the cash register, who wagged her finger at me and said, "No! No! No!" She said there were no exchanges allowed, but when I took the yogurt anyway she made me remove the quesadilla. "We can't take food back," she said.

Shouldn't the kichen crew be making eating more healthful food easier for the kids, not harder?

My daughter's breakfast companion declared the quesadilla "good." This is how she ate it after opening the plastic--like a sandwich.

Ed Bruske writes The Slow Cook blog.

Friday, April 9, 2010

You Call This Food?

By Ed Bruske

I was ready to have a perfectly civilized discussion--blog-to-blog--with Sam Fromartz over at ChewsWise on the subject of what we can do to get kids to eat better when I was stopped dead in my tracks by the lunch being served at my daughter's elementary school here in the nation's capital. Look at the photo above and tell me what you see. Do you see the same thing I do? French fries, a bag of Sun Chips, and an 8-ounce carton of strawberry-flavored milk.

You almost have to rub your eyes and take a second look. Can this really be true? Hello, Jamie Oliver! Not all the bad school food is in Huntington, W.Va. We've got the same stuff right here in Washington, D.C., barely a mile from the White House.

To my knowledge, Michelle Obama has never addressed the glycemic bomb being served daily to public school children right outside her door. But I could be wrong. Yes, just a mile or so from the White House, where we're told over and over the Obamas are hard on the case, solving the nation's childhood obesity epidemic, kids in elementary school are being served chips, fries and strawberry milk for lunch.

Oh, wait. I forgot the ketchup. Two foil packets of it. That should count for something. And as far as chips go, Sun Chips--made from corn, whole wheat, rice flour, whole oat flour--are probably the lesser of many evils. Still....

I actually found it heartrending to watch my daughter's lunch group--10- and 11-year-olds--waiting patiently for their midday meal, first at their tables, then pressed against a wall in a queue near the door to the food line, only to emerge at the other end with this on their Styrofoam trays. Some also had a mealy-looking chili with beans. Some had a fresh pear. But under federal "offered-versus-served" rules, kids only need to take three of the offered items to qualify for a federally-subsidized meal. That's how you get fries, chips and strawberry-flavored milk. (Fries count as a vegetable, and the milk protein, the chips grain. Get it?)

Yes, we can have a conversation about how to get kids to eat healthier foods. But first, we need to ask, Where are the adults in this picture? Children have not yet reached the age of consent. Grownups are supposed to take care of them. Yet when you enter a public school cafeteria, you step into a kind of culinary gulag where for years the adults grinding away anonymously inside have done their best to keep the truth of what they are doing hidden from the public at large. And the public at large has been just as happy not knowing the details. This was a matter we conveniently left in the hands of "professionals"--food service workers, nutritionists, government regulators, food industry lobbyists--who have spent the last several decades devising ways to make "food" for children that grownups don't have to pay for.

Now, with Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" being aired on network television, and school meals showing up in vivid color in the blogosphere, we are finally getting a glimmer of what "school lunch" really means. It's not a joke any more. What we feed children has consequences. And the pictures are ugly.

Yet it is obvious that children--and especially what they eat--are not a priority. We would much rather spend billions fighting foreign wars, building tanks, dropping bombs. Honestly, what we get from most politicians is lip service and a nickel tossed into the collection plate. We are on the brink of losing our collective memory of what constitutes real food. Yet no one is accountable. We are not to judge the "lunch ladies" too harshly. They are doing the best they can. We are not to judge the food service directors too harshly. They also are doing the best they can. We should not judge our local government leaders too harshly. They depend on federal dollars. We should not judge parents too harshly. They are busy working to make ends meat....

Would anyone like to step forward and take responsibility for feeding our children in school?
The final indignity came when I was abruptly stopped from taking further photographs in the lunch room by the school's assistant principal. She whisked me off to a conference room where the principal was having lunch with teachers (what would happen if the adults at school had to eat the same food as the kids?) The principal told me she had been admonished for the series of articles I wrote from the school's kitchen back in January, a glimpse behind the curtain that revealed the "fresh cooked" scheme the school system had recently implemented in collaboration with its contracted food service provider, Chartwells-Thompson, was nothing of the sort. To continue taking photographs of the food, the principal said, I would need clearance from higher up. "I don't want to get in trouble again," she said.

Turns out there was an aftermath to my expose of the D.C. school kitchen. The young kitchen manager I profiled, who liked so much to add shredded cheese to boost the flavor of all those industrially-processed dishes she was heating in the steamer, has disappeared, presumably re-assigned.

I'm trying to square this with what Anthony Tata, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's chief operating officer, told The Washington Post about me and that series of articles on Feb. 12: "I think it's great a parent is super-involved and we are soliciting his input as we go forward with our program changes," Tata said.

Blah, blah, blah.

I accuse the adults responsible for school food of gross indifference. I accuse all of us of failing to step up to the plate. I challenge Chancellor Rhee and Anthony Tata to have a real conversation with parents about the food children are eating in school. But let us not fail because we refused to look at the problem square in the eye.Add Image
Ed Bruske writes The Slow Cook blog.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What’s the Wellness Policy for D.C. Schools?

By Constance Newman

According to The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, all schools participating in federal school meals programs are required to enact a local wellness policy by the 2006-2007 school year.

The law stipulates that each school district set goals for nutrition standards, physical activity, nutrition education, and evaluation. A wide range of stakeholders should be involved in developing the goals including parents, students, school food service staff, the school board, school administrators, and the community at large. Whether such a locally determined policy can work well in practice is an open question, and in keeping with the nature of the policy, perhaps only the community can really gauge its success.

DC’s wellness policy can be found here. Below is a summary of its main nutrition and physical activity goals:

• Nutrition guidelines – 1) “the nutritional value of the food served will improve upon USDA standards through the provision of nutritious, fresh, tasty food that reflects community and cultural diversity”; 2) all milk should be lowfat or fat-free; and 3) a “move toward” whole grains.

• Physical activity: 20 minutes minimum for daily recess and physical education class requirements that differ by age group.

• Strict guidelines for foods sold in vending machines: no soda, no juices with less than 100% juice, sugar, fat, and sodium restrictions (and more).

The first nutrition goal is pretty vague, and it falls far short of the specifics that we would like to see for reimbursable meals. There is a progress report from 2009 available here which provides some specifics about how this particular goal is being met. Among other things, a fresh fruit or vegetable is being served once per day (or 4 out of 5 days in elementary schools), and some schools “have become self-prep, enabling them to offer fresh items rather than pre-plated options” (p.14).

We know from Ed Bruske’s findings about “self-prep kitchens”, however, that they are not nearly as good as the term makes it sound.

Other policy goals in the wellness policy are related to expanding and ensuring access. But in terms of its focus on the nutritional quality of meals, much more can, and should be, done.

Our group has been warmly welcomed to participate on DC’s local wellness policy committee. This is a great opportunity, and hopefully, a way to really make a difference on local policy.

Constance Newman is a D.C. parent and research economist.

Spork Talk

By LC Cokinos

Behold the spork- it's a spoon, it's a fork, but one thing it is not is a knife.

Last time I went to school we had chicken parmesan for lunch, and I am here to tell you it can't be cut with a spork. Scored yes, but cut, no. The kids around me were as challenged as I was. You could pick it up with your fingers, but this meal comes with a one-ply napkin no thicker than a tissue and things get really messy really fast. Plus the modern age spork is truly flimsy.

I think you could safely hand them out in prisons. It might be a small thing in the big picture of school food issues, but it is something to think about- either the food needs to be spork consistency, or we need to look into the utility of our utensils.

Still life with spork: lunch was chicken parmesan, whole wheat noodles and salad.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Getting Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Into Your School

Daniel McKenna, a D.C. parent, recently attended a workshop on how schools can participate in the fresh fruit and vegetable snack program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By Daniel McKenna

This is how free, healthy, daily snacks could be delivered to 24 D.C. elementary schools!

At Maury Elementary School, I attended a workshop for potential participants in the D.C. Public Schools' Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) provided an informational workshop for anyone interested in participating in the program for the 2010-2011 school years.

FFVP is administered by the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service and locally by OSSE.
In a nutshell, the FFVP provides a free daily snack for selected schools. Only elementary schools qualify and they must already be part of the National School Lunch Program. At a minimum, the school must have 50% of students eligible for free or reduced price meals (although, OSSE is aggressively targeting the 85% to 100% schools in DCPS and DC Charter programs).

Public Charter schools are eligible, and OSSE anticipates that 12 charter schools and 12 DCPS elementary schools will be selected. For the 2009-2010 school year, $1.2 million in funding was available for the program. Ten percent of the budget is available for items such as cooler bags, refrigeration units, and other accouterments. So when all is said and done, we are looking forward to 30 cents per snack.

The responsibility of schools and parents is to put forward a plan to implement the program in the school. Essential components include:1) a site coordinator selected 2) proposed delivery of the snack (classroom, cafeteria, kiosk) 3) timing of the snack (which cannot be during other meals or as the kids leave at the end of the day).

Chartwells-Thompson, the food service provider for D.C. Public Schools, will be doing most of the work for the schools. Chartwells-Thompson will choose the snacks and prepare them for the classrooms. Whitney Bateson, the Chartwells-Thompson nutritionist, indicates that Keany Produce has been selected as the provider of fruits and vegetables for D.C. this year. Ms. Bateson will prepare the "menu" and all items will be shipped two times per week to the schools. The hope is to provide daily snacks for all of the participating schools.

Deadline for submitting applications is May 28th, 2010. Another workshop will be given on April 8, 2010.

Submission and information: Diedre Bell, Program Specialist, Wellness & Nutritional Services, OSSE, 810 First Street, NE, 4th Floor, Washington, DC, 20002. Phone: 202-724-7861 and Fax: 202-724-7656

Editor's note: Kids like fruit much more than vegetables. They like carrots, but many of the vegetable snacks served through this program end up in the trash, as detailed here. Parents would do well to monitor how these produce snacks are being presented to the children, and whether they are actually being eaten.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Making Your Voice Heard on School Food

By Janet Poppendieck

Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, the legislation that will control school food and other child nutrition programs for the next five years, is wending its way through Congress. Now is the time to tell your senators and representatives what you want to see as an end result. Now is the time to ask for enough money to do the job right.

I'm sure many readers are old hands at communicating with Congress. But for those who are not, here are some tips. If you are uncertain about just who your legislators are, you can find out by entering your zip code into designated box on the web site called Contacting Congress. Then, you can go directly to a form for submitting an e-mail to a member of the House, and to your Senators.

You don't have to draft the legislation for them; that is their job. You just have to tell them: 1) what you want, 2) how important it is to you, 3) and why it is important—and remind them to put enough money in the bill to make achievement of these ends possible.

The best letters (e-mails, faxes) are the ones that tell a personal story. "I was upset when I learned that my child's middle school hallways are full of vending machines," or "Last year three high school students in our community were killed driving back to school from lunch at the local gas station convenience store," or "Our family is eligible for free lunches, but my older boys won't eat them because they are embarrassed; in their school the kids with money buy in cash from the a la carte line and the main line is regarded as 'only for poor kids.'" Or "I'm trying to promote healthy eating in my family by encouraging my children to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, and I feel undermined when I see all the packaged goods in the school breakfast program." Or even, "I've been reading the this blog for the past month, and I know we can do better."

The most important thing is to send a message—you don't have to be an expert. Congress can consult any experts it wants. Just make your priorities heard: — ending hunger through better access, healthier food, local procurement, or better care for the environment, whatever is most important to you. The more people who write, and the more often we write, the greater the buzz and feeling of momentum, and the more likely that Congress will find the resources to do what needs to be done. While it is especially important to contact the members of the next body to take up Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the House Education and Labor Committee, (and you can find out who they are by consulting FRAC's up to date Congressional Directory), all of our members need to hear from us.

If you do want to know more about the problems and promise of food in our schools, of course I'd recommend reading my book, Free for All :Fixing School Food in America. It was written precisely in the hope of empowering the movement for feeding our children better. You can also find out a lot more about current programs and pending legislation (and see sample e-mails and letters) at any and all of the following web sites: The Food Research and Action Center, the Community Food Security Coalition, California Food Policy Advocates, the One Tray Coalition, the Healthy Schools Campaign, and the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Many of these web sites provide pre-prepared letters that you can send, though writing your own has more impact.

But you don't need to read the book or pour over web sites to write to Congress. If you've been following this blog, you know what you want. Now is the time to speak up.

Janet Poppendieck is author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. This essay is re-posted from the Fed Up with School Lunch blog, with permission of the author.