Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gone Fishin'

We'll be on hiatus for the next week. Please come back and read us when we return.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What's for Lunch: Bean Taco

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chartwells at its menu website called this "vegetarian Baja bean" taco. The corn you see on it was actually a side dish (Tex-Mex corn), but some kids opted to have it served on top of the beans.

What looks like a salad on the side is actually "Romaine, tomato and salsa taco fixings" intended to go on top of the vegetables inside the taco.

Here's what the taco looks like if you remove the corn. The apple was advertised as "locally grown."

This might not look like much, but the kids seem to enjoy eating their tacos, although there is spillage.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's for Lunch: Spicy Chicken Fajita

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

To compare with the chicken fajita I photographed earlier this week, I give you the same dish as it was presented in September. The frozen and re-heated diced chicken is the same, but here the pinto beans were deployed as posted on the Chartwells menu website rather than the black beans.

This student apparently ordered the fajita without the whole wheat tortilla.

But notice also that the "peach cup," meaning canned peaches, was being served without the cup. Likewise, the "salsa cup" consisted of salsa ladled directly onto the tray. Lately, these items have been served in actual plastic cups and one might wonder why, since the kids don't seem to care either way and those plastic cups not only don't come free, they create more waste for the landfill.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Bagel & Egg

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

I've spent less time lately hunting down the packaging labels that would indicate the ingredients in items like this whole wheat bagel. So unfortunately, until I do find the label or until the D.C. schools post the ingredients as required under the Healthy Schools Act passed earlier this year, I can't tell you what's in it. You can expect that it was shipped frozen from a factory somewhere and thawed in the school kitchen.

The egg patty in this sandwich also would have been processed and purchased frozen for re-heating under last year's food service scheme. But this year, our kitchen ladies are making egg dishes from scratch using pre-packaged liquid eggs.

This is what the sandwich looks like on the inside. Most of the calories are in the bagel, which also delivers a truckload of carbs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's for Lunch: Chicken Fajita

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chartwells at its menu website advertised this as "spicy chicken fajita with roasted onions and peppers in a whole wheat tortilla." Honestly, I'm not seeing the roasted onions and peppers. What I'm seeing is corn and black beans, probably frozen corn and canned black beans.

The menu also called for "Southwest pinto beans," so I suppose you'd have to count the black beans as a substitution. On the side is a "salsa cup." I heard one girl remark, "I really like the salsa," but I didn't get a chance to taste it.

Would this qualify as one of those instances of over-hyping a menu?

The menu also called for a "locally grown apple," but this looks more like canned peaches. Since the schools receive an extra five cents for every lunch meal that contains a locally grown product, I wonder how they account for meals that say they're supposed to have a locally grown piece of fruit but then don't deliver.

In case you were wondering where the chicken was on this chicken fajita, some of the kids opted not to take the corn and beans, revealing the chicken underneath. This is diced chicken that arrives at the schools pre-cooked and frozen. Add the salsa and I suppose it wouldn't look so plain.

Here's the alternate for Mondays: a whole wheat bagel with sunflower butter, string cheese and "marinated tomato and cucumber salad." The vegetables sure brighten up this tray, but I don't see much marinade. If you were a kid, would you eat this?
Not pictured: the sunflower butter and the other half of the bagel. Maybe it was being eaten when I snapped this photo.

What's for Breakfast: Muffin Square

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

I thought the item pictured here was coffee cake--a square piece of pasty cut from a larger pan. But I was corrected. This, I was told, was a "fresh-baked muffin square," in this case dotted with blueberries. (I could not get Blogger to load this photo in the correct, horizontal orientation.) And, in fact, it was baked in the kitchen by our own school cooks.

I tasted it, expecting it to be very sweet, like coffee cake. But it wasn't. I was glad it didn't contain a lot of sugar. We've worked hard trying to get sugar out of our local school food.

Accompanying the "muffin square" is a "yogurt cup," meaning Stonyfield organic vanilla yogurt, as a container of canned peaches. I wondered why these were being served in plastic containers. In the past, the yogurt and fruit typically was just spooned directly onto the tray, saving the expense and waste of the plastic cups. Is it to make the food look better in the photos?

Here's the alternate breakfast: Kashi Heart to Heart cereal with a cup of cottage cheese and a cup of those canned peaches. The kids like to joke that the Kashi "looks like dog food." I have to admit, it does bear a strong resemblance to kibbles. "But it tastes good," says my daughter, who eats it with her fingers. (She's lactose intolerant.)

A one-ounce container of Kashi Heart to Heart contains 5 grams of sugar, much less than the Apple Jacks and Chocolate-Frosted Mini Wheats the schools were serving last year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Muffin & Apple Sauce

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Breakfast doesn't get much simpler than this: a muffine, apple sauce and orange juice.

Chartwells at its menu website called for "whole grain apple cinnamon breakfast bar," so I suppose the muffin was a substitution. I rarely look at the menu before we arrive at school, so I'm not expecting anything in particular. Still, the kitchen ladies usually tell me when they're "off menu." They're pretty flustered when that happens. Should they be?

My beef with school menus isn't that they don't match, exactly, what's being served. It's the hyperbole and gamesmanship that's deployed to make the food sound better than it is. Why not just call the food what it is, rather than try to make it sound like the schools are serving something they're not.

The lesson is, you can't judge school food by the menus. The only thing that counts is what actually shows up on kids' trays. Fortunately, the food in D.C. schools has gotten much better. Could it be better still? Absolutely. But what, exactly, is our measure for good school food?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

A new study estimates that 17 percent of all U.S. medical costs are obesity related, resulting in a total health tab for the nation of $168 billion annually. The study also doubles what was previously thought to be the added cost for individuals to deal with weight-related illness, putting it at $2,800 per year.

What's to blame for the nation's horrible eating habits? An article in the journal Nutrition says the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Dietary Guidelines for Americans have failed. Americans have followed advice to limit fat and cholesterol consumption but keep getting fatter. Could it be because of all those grains and starches the USDA has been recommending?

Nutrition says, "the macronutrient content of the diet has shifted in the direction recommended since the 1977 dietary goals. Total and saturated fat intakes have decreased as a percentage of caloriesd for men, the absolute amount has decreased, whereas carbohydrate intake has increased. Notable from the DGAC Report is the absence of any concern that this shift in macronutrient content may be a factor in the increase in overweight/obesity and chronic disease; the proposed recommendations suggest that this trend should not only continue but also become more pronounced."

Even toddlers are at risk. The food giant Nestle, in a recent study, reports these findings:

One-third of toddlers and 50 percent of preschoolers eat fast food at least once a week.

25 percent of older infants, toddlers, and preschoolers do not eat even one serving of fruit on a given day, and 30 percent do not eat a single serving of vegetables.

French fries are still the most popular vegetable among toddlers and preschoolers.

71 percent of toddlers and 84 percent of preschoolers consume more sodium than recommended on a given day.

The USDA appears to be taking its own stand against too many carbs by crossing potatoes off the list of foods that needy mothers can purchase with their federal food dollars under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

The USDA issued an interim ruling on the potato following a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine, which has also recommended more greens and orange vegetables and less potatoes in school lunches, where the potato is treated as a vegetable--not a starch--and is the second-most favorite food among children, after pizza.

The USDA is said to be considering a permanent potato ban for the WIC program beginning next year.


It's nothing new for the federal government to promote lousy food. The so-called "check-off" programs mandated by Congress and overseen by the USDA collects funds from food producers and use them to boost consumption of various food products. Here are some of the accomplishments to date involving one such program--the dairy check-off--according to a recent report:

Partnering with Domino’s Pizza to develop pizzas using up 40% more cheese than usual. This worked so well that other pizza chains are doing the same thing.

Partnering with McDonald’s to launch McCafe specialty coffees that use up to 80 percent milk, and three new burgers with two slices of cheese per sandwich. The result? An additional 6 million pounds of cheese sold.

Partnering with General Mills’ Yoplait to develop yogurt chip technology that requires 8 ounces of milk.

Maintaining momentum for single-serve milk by offering white and flavored milk in single-serve, plastic, resealable bottles.


Parents send their kids to school hoping they might find a safe haven there from outside influences such as the rampant marketing of commercial products and especially food products that kids otherwise are routinely exposed to.

Unfortunately, corporations are relentless in their pursuit of young minds and the parents' dollars, as evidenced by the many promotions and tie-ins to extra-curricular activities sponsored by food businesses.

Here's a case where a mother who didn't own a television couldn't figure out why her child was so excited about buying SunnyD, until she learned that the company was sponsoring a book giveaway in exchange for purchases of its products. A handout her son had brought home from school read as follows:

Dear parents and guardians,

I’m very excited to tell you about a program our class is participating in that will bring free books to your child’s classroom. It’s called the SunnyD Book Spree, and the program will donate 20 books when our class sends in 20 SunnyD UPC labels. The program will also award hundreds of books to the ten schools that collect the most labels. Please help us get our free books!

In San Francisco, law makers are flirting with the idea of barring the use of free toys as a incentive to sell fast food loaded with sugar, salt and fat.

The food industry usually wins such battle with its huge lobbying clout and well-constructed talking points aimed at blaming consumers for their own health problems. This article describes five of the industry's favorite tactics for obfuscating the issues.


Here's something to raise the "yuk" factor over school meals: More than half of public school in Philadelphia failed their most recent health inspection, and a staggering 66 percent of charter schools were out of compliance.

Some schools on the list were hit with as many as 20 risk-factor violations, ranging from mouse feces found on cooking utensils to food being stored next to chemicals.

In New York, kids have other reasons not to like the food. The New York Post recently asked students to rate the food served in city schools and they didn't hold back.

"I am one of the haters," proclaimed one 10-year-old girl. "Only because I think that cheeseburgers that are squished like someone slept on them for a week, mushy and gushy fruit, and milk that tastes sour and smells like a rodeo (or public bathroom) are barf-worthy."

"The hamburgers are nasty. They are my least favorite because they have no taste," echoed one eighth-grade boy. "Can't they make real hamburgers that are fresh?"

So how do you get kids excited about food?

J.M. Hirsch, food editor for the Associated Press, tells PBS how he's taught his six-year-0ld son to share kitchen experiences and learn to appreciate different foods. And don't miss the video in which Hirsch explains why he gave his son a chef's knife of his own at the ripe age of two.


Congress still can't get its act together to renew the Child Nutrition Act that funds school meals. The U.S. Senate, in its infinite wisdom, would take $2 billion from the food stamp program to fund a measly six-cent increase in the federal government's school lunch subsidy. What's going on?

CNN recently took a look at the miserable state of the school food and in one episode highlighted San Francisco parent activist Dana Woldow, who has been a frequent commenter at this blog. Elsewhere Woldow posted a poignant essay on how the USDA has failed on its promises to deliver healthful meals to school children.

What's the solution? Some researchers think the use of clever psychology could help guide children to making better food choices. But really: hiding the chocolate milk behind the plain milk, or making desserts less obvious? Why not just eliminate them entirely?

If the federal government won't step up, is charity the answer? Debra Eschmeyer, communications director for the national Farm to School Network, is building FoodCorps, a cadre of volunteers who would help tend school gardens, provide nutrition education and work to incorporate local produce in school meals.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cheese Sandwich Strategies

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

I'm always captivated by the different ingenious approaches kids routinely take toward the food their served in school. Some things, for instance, simply do not lend themselves to being eaten by a plastic spork. Other foods inspire the most creative improvisation, sometimes involving a complete deconstruction of what the menu writer and kitchen cooks intended.

In this case we have what Chartwells at its menu webiste called "whole wheat toasted cheese triangles, tomato dipping sauce, seasoned fresh vegetable medley with locally grown zucchini, chilled pineapple cup."

Is a cheese sandwich by any other name still a cheese sandwich? Basically, this is two slices of whole wheat bread warmed in the oven with grated mozzarella cheese.

Some of the kids took this as a challenge. As you see here, one girl who described the bread as "nasty" pulled the sandwich apart and dove for the cheese. I watched this become quite a project as the girl attempted to separate the melted cheese as much as possible from the bread, to which it was determined to adhere.

But she was largely successful. And here's where the "tomato dipping sauce" entered the picture for her. She dipped the cheese in it. Perhaps this was vaguely reminiscent of pizza for her.

And here's one fifth-grade boy's solution. He opened the sandwich and spread the tomato sauce over the cheese. Suddenly, things are beginning to look a whole lot more like pizza.
And in case you're wondering, the vegetables were fresh and delicious. Unfortunately, kids don't go for vegetables much. Some were picking at the zucchini, while others bargained with their table mates for the broccoli. Still, it sure beats the cooked-to-death broccoli we've seen in the past.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whats for Breakfast: Lots of Canned Fruit

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

And now, something totally different: canned pears with cheddar cheese on a biscuit. And on the side, canned peaches. Have you every eaten anything like this before? Sort of like a fruit shortcake without the whipped cream. Toss in the carton of orange juice and you have pretty much an all-fruit breakfast.

Is that a good thing? Maybe not, if the fruit is canned with a sugary syrup.

Meanwhile, this is the standing alternate breakfast for Wednesdays, featuring the granola and yogurt parfait that we like so much. Lots of peaches here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What's for Lunch: Cuban Turkey Sandwich

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chartwells on its menu website described this as a "roasted Cuban turkey sandwich with Swiss on a whole wheat roll" with "fresh locally grown cucumber coins" and "locally grown sweet potato salad."

A Cuban sandwich traditionally is made with roast pork, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese and pickles, all heated and crushed between two slices of Cuban bread in a panini press or something like it. This, is other words, was a very rough approximation. But who's complaining?

The local cucumber coins turned out to be steamed zucchini and yellow squash: no problem with that substitution. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call those sweet potatoes a salad. In fact, I do make a terrific salad with roasted sweet potatoes, pecans, raisins and other stuff tossed with a maple-flavored vinaigrette. These look more like cooked sweet potatoes.

The schools score big points for the local vegetables, and in fact receive a five-cent bonus from the District for any lunch meal that contains a locally grown component. The only trouble is that kids don't really like vegetable side dishes for the most part, and they really didn't eat much of this either.

Here's the standing Wednesday alternate: hummus with pita wedges, an apple and finally those locally grown cucumber coins.

The commercial hummus is quite good. It comes from Kronos Greek Specialties in Glendale Heights, Ill.

What's for Breakfast: French Toast

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chartwells calls the Stonyfield vanilla yogurt in this photo a "dipping sauce" to go with the French toast. As you can see, there are also some blueberries in that yogurt, but I didn't see any of the kids dipping their French toast into it.

This, however, is a big change from last year when the accompaniment to the French toast would have been a tub of high-fructose corn syrup mascarading as "pancake syrup." There's still sugar in the vanilla yogurt for sure, but not nearly the jolt delivered by that HFCS.

As best I can determine, the French toast is made from scratch using "whole wheat" bread and liquid eggs. It's a bit dry, but still palatable. Kids love almost anything having to do with bread. The pre-sliced oranges are also a helpful innovation. Not only are whole oranges difficult for the kids to peel, but so often they only eat a small portion before throwing it in the trash, just as they do with those huge Red Delicious apples schools love so much to serve.

We've been seeing smaller, more kid-size apples on the cafeteria trays lately. Very smart. When I spent a week in the central kitchen in Berkeley, CA, I learned that the schools there had contracted with a local orchardist to receive his less-marketable small apples. They may not sell so well at the farmers market, but they are just the right size for a kid's lunch.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Washington Post Readers Hate Feeding Poor Kids at School

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

How much do Americans hate feeding poor children at school?

Along with a story about D.C. schools beginning a program to feed some 10,000 needy children dinner at school, The Washington Post today asked readers to respond to a poll on the question and nearly half--47 percent--said this is a BAD IDEA.

Why would schools spend money--some $5.7 million in this case--to feed hungry children who should be eating at home? these readers wanted to know.

If you were wondering whether racial stereotyping still had a pulse in the nation's capital, just peruse some of the comments to this story.

"Neither Michelle Rhee, nor different teachers are the answer to what ails DC public schools...what ails DC public schools are DC public school parents...and their malnourished, under-parented spawn...," fumed one reader.

"They might as well feed them dinner. And while they are at it, clothe them also," ranted a second. "The year will be 2050 and blacks will still be complaining about being held down and not being able to handle life's requirements without ongoing, permanent government welfare. It's the black circle of life."

"I think a better balanced article should have included how many of the kids have cell phones and those $100+ sneakers," snarled a third. "Having grown up on peanut butter sandwiches, I make choices as to what to spend my money on. If a person cannot afford to feed their child then maybe that person should not have become a parent."

Sentiments like these explain perfectly why the U.S. Senate, in approving a re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act that fund school meals, could only find six additional cents to help support the perpetually underfunded school lunch. School food advocates--myself included--who would love nothing better than to see re-heated chicken nuggets and tater tots replaced with fresh food cooked from scratch, need to wise up to the fact that most Americans just don't care. They grow up in a junk food culture, and do not buy into the idea that children--least of all poor black children--should be eating better than everyone else.

In short, there is no political mandate for spending more money on school food. Maybe it's time for advocates of better school meals to take stock and adjust their message accordingly

Dinner at School

Bill Turque at the Washington Post has a rundown today of the new dinner program in D.C. schools that is serving food to an estimated 10,000 children at a cost of some $5.7 million to alleviate hunger.

New census data show the poverty rate among African American children in the District at 43 percent, up from 31 percent in 2007. Many children are in school from 8 in the morning to 6:30 in the evening and aren't being fed well at home.

Be sure to read the comments, where nearly half the respondents think feeding dinner to poor kids is a bad idea. Where are the parents? they ask. It's a familiar refrain.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Breakfast from Home: Special K

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

While daughter and I were having breakfast at school the other day I noticed that a fourth-grade girl nearby had brought a bag of cereal from home. What did she plan to do with it? I wondered.

I didn't have to wonder very long. I watched as she poured the cereal--Special K, she said--directly onto her plastic cafeteria tray, then covered it with milk.

I guess this is what you do when you don't have your own bowl. Aren't kids clever?

Friday, October 15, 2010

What's for Lunch: Symphony of Browns

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Some of us believe that the current childhood obesity epidemic is simply slow death brought about by too many sugars and starches in the diet. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture loves starches. In fact, grains and other starchy foods form the foundation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as the famous federally-sponsored food pyramid.

Thus, a school lunch such as this one served yesterday at my daughters school can be dominated by starches in the form of a baked potato as the featured entree, accompanied by something Chartwells calls "vegetable chili"--meaning beans that qualify as a "meat alternate" under USDA guidelines--a bread roll, canned peas and "warm baked locally grown apple slices" that look more like diced apples to me.

What do you suppose the glycemic load of this meal would be, especially for a 5-year-old?

Fortunately, perhaps, kids showed very little interest in the "vegetarian chili" or the peas or in many cases the baked potato. "It's dry and it's burned," said one fifth-grader of the spud on her tray. But my daughter gladly snatched it up. "All it needs is salt and butter," she declared.

Clearly, this is one case where the USDA regulations are not aligned with the country's weight issues.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Buttered Muffin

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chartwells at its menu website called for "fresh-baked peach muffin square" for breakfast. Instead what we saw at my daughter's school was a "buttered" English muffin, meaning a "butter alternate" presumably made from vegetable oil and flavored to taste like butter.
The kids seemed to like it well enough.

Next to it is a pool of vanilla yogurt, canned mixed fruit, apple juice and fat-free milk.

What's your vote? Good enough?

Breakfast Bar Breakfast

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

I've written about this "breakfast bar" called "BeneFit" previously, questioning the 48 grams of carbohydrates it contains, including 23 grams of sugar, or only slightly less than a carton of chocolate milk. Presumably, this represents an improvement over the Pop-Tarts, Giant Goldfish Grahams and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins the D.C. schools served previously. And now the kitchen crew has taken to removing the breakfast bars from their individual packaging before serving, so you can't accuse to the schools of helping companies imprint their brands on a captive, school-age audience.

The fruit mix comes out of a can, but since I have not seen the can I cannot tell you how much sugar if any is in the syrup. The Healthy Schools Act approved earlier this year by the D.C. Council requires the schools to post the ingredients for all food being served in a place where the public can see them. The schools have said they plan to introduce an interactive website where ingredients and other information would be available, possibly in November.

There's still more sugar in the small carton of apple juice. My personal favorite, of course, is the cottage cheese. Perhaps the kids will learn to like it as an alternative to sugary milk as a source of the calcium that seems to cause so much concern.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Egg Pita Pocket

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

The scrambled eggs served at school used to arrive pre-cooked and frozen from a factory. This year, the cooks are making them from scratch. This seems like a genius idea, serving them inside a whole-wheat pita pocket.

This was the alternative: warm muffin (heated inside the plastic) and cottage cheese. Some days the cooks remove the muffin from the plastic, other days not. Cottage cheese is one of my personal favorites, but I'm not sure how much the kids like it. Maybe they need to learn. This is a much better source of the calcium everyone is so worried about than strawberry milk, no?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

D.C. Farm to School and School Garden Week

This year our local farm to school network and school garden supporters are joining forces with a week of activities. First, a word from Andrea Northup, coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network:

Imagine a D.C. schoolchild travels to a farm in Maryland and harvests green, leafy kale with his classmates. The students take the kale back to their classroom and prepare a delicious dish with the help of a prominent local chef. He tries kale for the first time in his life - and likes it! And when he sees kale on her cafeteria tray during lunch that week, he eats it and encourages his friends to do the same. He gains a deeper appreciation - through his complete farm-to-table experience - of where food comes from and how it can be prepared in healthy, delicious ways.

During D.C. Farm to School week October 12-15, 2010, nearly 2,000 D.C. schoolchildren will have the chance to harvest seasonal produce on a local farm, and prepare it in the classroom with a professional chef. Additionally, schools across the District (nearly 200 in total) will serve and highlight fresh, local foods in their school meals during the week. The D.C. Farm to School Network is working in partnership with schools, parents, sponsors and community partners to make the week a success. A special thanks to our top-tier sponsors for their support - Whole Foods Georgetown , WGirls DC, and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

For more information, including a complete listing of participating schools and events, visit

D.C. Farm to School Week will begin with an exciting kick-off celebration, featuring battling chefs, a local apple taste test, and a school garden work party/dedication ceremony.

When: Tuesday, October 12th; 1:00pm
Where: Thurgood Marshall Academy & Savoy Elementary’s shared Gymnasium
2427 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Near the Anacostia metro station and many bus lines; parking available in lot across the street
RSVP to Kacie @

Special guests Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and Sam Kass, White House Chef and Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives will join us, as students judge local chefs competing to create the tastiest dish from a local apple harvest. The images from a city-wide School Garden Photo Contest will be displayed and the winning photographers announced. A brand-new school garden, shared by Thurgood Marshall Academy and neighboring Savoy Elementary School, will be named, dedicated, painted and planted. We’ll also celebrate the passage of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act and the exciting changes in school lunches with Councilmember Mary Cheh.

It’s an exciting time for Farm to School here in the nation’s capital - please join us in celebrating!

This week you can tour D.C. school gardens by bus or by bicycle. Here are the details:

Event: 7th Annual Fall Schoolyards Tour
Come and see exemplary and diverse greening projects at various DC schools. At the sites, you will learn how these outdoor spaces can easily be integrated into the teaching curriculum, and get ideas for how to start your own school project.

Date: Saturday, October 16
Time: 9am to 3pm
Locations: Meet at Tyler ES, 1001 G St, NE (near Eastern Market metro). Transportation will be provided to Peabody ES, Miner ES, JC Nalle ES, and River Terrace ES.
Fee: $10 before Oct 8th; $15 after. Lunch will be provided.
Registration: Click here to download the registration form. Please return to Trinh Doan by Oct 14th. Call 202-535-1653 for more info.

Event: School Garden Bike Tour
Join us for a tour of some of DC's best gardens! Riders are welcome to join or leave the tour at any site. Visit 6 gardens on this ten mile route on city roads throughout Southeast, Northeast, and Northwest DC. All ages and abilities are welcome. There will be light refreshments and bike maintenance support provided. Please bring your own water bottle and helmet.

Date: Saturday, October 16
Time: 9:00am-12:30pm
Locations: Meet at John Tyler ES at 9am (1001 G St, SE). We will visit four school gardens and then finish at Harriet Tubman ES (3101 13th St, NW).
Fee: Free!
Registration: RSVP and direct questions to Kacie at Ride will be cancelled with very inclement weather. Check this website or call 732-616-5022 to check the morning of the event. Click here for the flyer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gone Fishin'

The Better D.C. School Food blog will be on hiatus through October 10.

Please resume reading at that time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

More on the chocolate milk front: Florida's state board of education says it will consider in December whether to ban flavored milk, which would make Florida the first state to do so.

According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, some board members are encouraged by the move here in the District of Columbia earlier this summer to take sugary milk products off the menu. The Florida school board says it wants to hear from experts on the subject and it sounds like there are mixed feelings among the various board members.

Board member John Padget, a former schools superintendent from South Florida, says schools should not be serving milk with added sugar in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

"When you think about it, we probably have a million overweight or obese children in our schools," Padget said. "I think the clock is ticking in terms of personal health."


TIME magazine reports on a new study that shows parents discriminate against their own overweight children. For instance, parents are less likely to help a chubby kid buy a new car.

It may be that parents correctly fear that their overweight kids will be less likely to succeed in life. Statistics show that heavy people are discriminated against in the workplace as well.


On a more encouraging note, CBS recently ran this intriguing video on school meals in France.

In France, even 3-year-olds get a five-course meal served on real china with a metal fork (no plastic "sporks" here, please). The schools recommend dinners to be served at home so they don't duplicate the lunch menu. And look what the kids are drinking with their school meal: no milk, chocolate or otherwise, but plain water in an actual cup.

In Paris, each of the city's 20 school district's has a central cooking facility with high-tech safety features. On the day one reporter visited, the were serving Bouillabaisse, the classic fish stew. They're not afraid to bread and deep-fry the broccoli so that kids will actually eat it (it usually gets thrown in the trash here.)

In Paris, school lunch costs between $5 and $6. Parents pay what they can afford and the government pays the rest.

Meanwhile, in a town about 400 miles outside of Paris, a seasoned chef makes meals for around 800 high school students for about half that amount, but everything is prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients. One lunch consisted on roast beef, handmade ratatouille turnovers, roasted carrots and mussels.


On the other side of the food world, as it were, in Billings, Mont., schools are thrilled to be serving kids what they want: mini-burgers and fries.

"We want the food to be as nutritious as possible," said state nutrition director Tamra Jackson, "but we have to have foods the kids want to eat."

Thus, the biggest sellers in Billings schools are the burgers, chicken nuggets and chicken drumsticks. It seems kids prefer foods they've seen in restaurants, and Billings schools need to sell more meals in order to keep their federally-subsidized program afloat.

Higher food and employee benefit costs have forced the schools to raise the cost of a full-price lunch for the first time in two years. Adding 15 cents to the price brings lunch to $2.15 in elementary school and $2.40 in secondary school.


In a compelling essay, the political editor of The Progressive talks about the conflicting views adults bring to school meals. Some parents help clean and prep the vegetables bound for their school's snack program. Other parents resent being told that kids need to eat more healthfully: they only want to serve what kids will actually eat.

She notices that immigrant children have no problem bringing containers of vegetables and rice for lunch. So why do American kids throw their vegetables in the trash?

Apparently, we all have a lot to learn about what food is best to serve in school.


Finally, an anesthesiology resident at the Mayo Clinic, writing in Minnesota Medicine, weighs the pros and cons of removing non-nutritious foods from school vending machines and other sales points, and argues that while schools can offer choices, they should stick to selling healthy foods.

The Child Nutrition Act re-authorization pending in Congress for the first time would give the USDA authority to regulate the sale of non-nutritious foods in all public schools nationwide.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What's for Lunch: Lunchables Pizza

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Now here's a concept I totally do not understand: building your own cold pizza.

Don't get me wrong. I've been a huge fan of leftover pizza all my life, even though I try to avoid starchy foods now. But this Lunchables one fourth-grader brought from home looks more like wafer crackers with sides of processed cheese, pepperoni and a packet of tomato sauce. Then again, pizza is kids' favorite food.

According to the packaging, this lunch contains 36 grams of sugar--or 9 teaspoon--but I think that comes from a packet of "all natural fruit punch flavored 100% juice from concentrate" and a cherry-flavored Airheads dessert.

Airheads apparently attact kids with their neon colors. According to the company website, the cherry version is made from sugar in various forms, including, well, sugar along with corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, modified food starch (corn), artifical flavors, Red 40 and some trans fat in the form of partially-hydrogenated soybean oil. A real treat, eh?

In fact, the little Airheads package is open before the pizza's even been touched.