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Photo by Judy Baxter

Food is full of so much more than nutrients or lack there of. It has become a hot topic, a confusing topic and a very big deal. This week I sat on a panel to discuss food in schools and at home. I was on the panel as a parent advocate for better food in schools in my district. Last year I became passionate about real food after being exposed to our nation’s industrial food growing ways while watching Food Inc. and even more enraged after viewing the documentary Two Angry Moms which highlights two mother’s crusade against school cafeteria food.

Here are a few of my recent insights:

  • I don’t hold all of the answers. I think that Michael Pollan’s book “Food Rules” does.
  • The balance between eating well and enjoying life is a difficult one to gauge at times.
  • Packing lunch everyday is as boring as eating that packed lunch everyday. (Yes, this one is for the kids.)
  • A highlight for me from the panel discussion was when a local pediatrician discussed the school menu. Dr. Weinberg said that while most people talk about the long term effects of processed food, she could show the daily effects cafeteria food has on kids and began to point out different menu items declaring what ailments your child might come home with later that day after consuming that days main entree—from asthma from the shrimp poppers and tater tots to migraines from the french toast sticks with ham.
  • My pediatrician once told me not to stock ice cream in the freezer. I can attest to the true treat it was to actually take the kids out for a special ice cream dessert tonight. It was more than a treat. It was an outing. It was family time and I think most importantly, it turned eating into a mindful and enjoyable act. I did notice that the adult menu’s sundae serving size was 3 scoops and the milkshake contained 5 scoops.
  • Restaurants need to become accountable. My pediatrician once told me that eating out should be limited to once a MONTH. I think that is almost impossible to uphold. However, until restaurants begin reducing portion sizes back to true portions, we must help our children make good choices and we must follow suite. Take half the meal in a container to go before it is served, split entrees between family members, avoid the bread basket and explain the menu to your children—what does breaded mean, why the kid’s menu should be bypassed, how a healthy salad can be turned into a disaster if ordered with the dressing premixed.
  • The hardest part about packing lunches everyday is that those lunches must be cold. Yes I have thermoses. No they don’t seem to hold heat. If you have a thermos that actually keeps soup hot enough to see the steam please give a shout out!
  • Organic isn’t just about the lack of commercial pesticides or hormones or antibiotics. It is also an issue of eating food with higher nutrients from animals that have been treated more humanely.

These are just a few of the thoughts on my mind about food. There are so many more to contemplate. Here is a list of great food resources. Bon appetit!

A local journalist writes with insight in her blog Spoonfed about raising children to think about the food they eat.

J.M. Hirsch, the Associated Press food editor and author of my newest favorite cookbook High Flavor Low Labor, also writes a blog called Lunch Box Blues. Hirsch writes about his son’s bento box lunches. I am a huge fan of the the bento styled lunch boxes but could not get my son to buy into the cool concept. Too bad.

The rest of these links are being shared from the panel discussion. Educate, share and eat!

Blogs (many of these are also linked to a web site):

www.thelunchtray.com

www.theyummymummy.blogspot.com/

www.fooducate.com/blog

www.theslowcook.com

www.foodwithkidappeal.blogspot.com

www.fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com

www.whatscookingwithkids.com

www.foodpolitics.com

www.itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com

www.littlelocavores.blogspot.com

www.foodietots.com

Lunch/wellness sites:

www.betterschoolfood.com

www.healthylunches.org

www.jamieoliver.com

www.meatlessmonday.com

www.vegmondays.com

www.farmtoschool.cce.cornell.edu

www.schoolwellnesspolicies.org

www.foodpsychology.cornell.edu

www.cspi.org

Childhood obesity and school nutrition are hot topics these days. I have been a proponent of changing cafeteria food being offered in schools ever since I began my own awareness of its shortcomings after viewing the movies Food Inc. and Two Angry Moms. The first movie exposed the sorry state of our national food industry and the second inspired in me the desire to make some changes at a local level.

What can YOU do to help the cause? I’m glad that you asked!

1. Get educated! Watch the movies listed above, really look at the menus being offered to your kids in school cafeterias and restaurants, read the book Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.

2. Eat lunch with your child in the fall in the school cafeteria. Actually buy the lunch. Decide whether the food served was nutritious, fresh and enticing to eat. Notice the waste. What is being thrown away? What are the kids drinking? Are whole fruits being tossed out? Does your school’s kitchen have actual pots, pans, cooking utensils or ovens? Does your child’s school offer knives? Do kids have access to lunch food extras such as ice-cream, cookies and chips ?

When I started to really pay attention to what my kids were eating at school and how they were eating at school, it really opened my eyes. Why do my kids use their fingers to push food onto their forks? Maybe because at school they don’t have knives to reinforce proper knife use. I began to notice that much of the lunch time food options were all “side of the highway” finger junk food. The cafeteria claims not to fry anything, but the processed food often already comes pre-fried so the schools just need to reheat. Often whole fruit is tossed away as kids don’t have the time to eat a big piece of fruit. Research has shown that cutting up FRESH fruit and making it finger and mouth friendly makes a huge difference in consumption.

3. Check to see if the school’s health program has a nutrition segment. If so, does it carry over into the cafeteria? Who teaches the curriculum and can you work with them to make changes in the cafeteria? Can you implement the same program ideas at home?

Our school district uses a program called GO, SLOW, WHOA! The nurses teach this nutrition curriculum stressing what types of food you can eat anytime like fruit and vegetables, what food you can eat but with less frequency and what food is a special treat and should not be eaten more than once or twice a week. We are trying to link the program to what the kids eat and see in the cafeteria. Children can see the dual messages and it is confusing. Creating an awareness is the first step. Once a parent or child is aware of the system, then they can decide what should be bought that week. The world is full of choices. We need to teach our kids how to live in this world of choices.

4. Say no to corn syrup and trans fats. Start to read labels and have your kids read them too. There are many great substitutes for regularly eaten food that are healthier. You do not need to eliminate chips, cookies and ketchup from your child’s diet but switch to a brand that has natural ingredients and no corn syrup or trans fats.

The government’s new focus on childhood obesity and nutrition makes it the perfect time as parents to make our voices heard. Take a step to help kids stay healthy. Now is the time.

Links of interest:

Nourishing Thoughts

Farm to School Program Changes Kids’ Views on Food

Healthy Schools Campaign

Action For Healthy Kids

Photo by Harald Walker

I believe a salad is the perfect meal. The combination of carbs, proteins and fats make it a regular lunch or dinner choice for my family.

I noticed a new restaurant being worked on called Halfmoon Creative Salads. I have been keeping my eye on it—eagerly awaiting its opening. Over break if finally opened and I have been there twice in two days!!

The thing about salads is that you never need to have the same type twice. Between the veggie and fruit options, the choices of cheese and meat and the variety of dressings, the variations are endless.

What I love about Halfmoon is that you can either “make your own” salad using a base of 4 choices for a fixed price with the option to add ingredients for 50 cents a piece or you can order from a menu of pre-decided ingredients. The first time I went I decided on the Halfmoon created “Harvest” salad. This salad combines bibb lettuce with apples, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, bacon and goat cheese. I choose a balsamic dressing to accompany.

After selecting your salad ingredients, the person behind the counter then takes your choices and chops everything up using a mezzaluna which is a ‘half moon’ shaped blade with a handle at each end—thus the name of the restaurant. This makes everything a perfect bite sized piece.

Today I had a creation of my own making. I started with romaine lettuce, added beets, carrots, asparagus, sunflower seeds and goat cheese. I used the balsamic dressing again. Yum!

If I could, I’d eat there everyday. The food is great. My only pet peeve is the atmosphere. The space is very “Euro sparse” and cafeteria-like using a bright orange and white color palette. I would have loved a more “green” feel to the place using natural woods and other earthy materials, as well as, earth friendly disposable bowls or even reusable dishes instead of the plastic take away bowls.

I am excited to have a healthy “fast food” option in town. Welcome Halfmoon!

I’m on a food kick. I admit it. I have been enlightened by the movie Food Inc. which focuses on our country’s food industry and it has started leading me in interesting directions. I am suddenly more attuned to the goings on in our media and schools in regard to food and health. I feel inspired to help our children get back to healthier ways.

Rant #1:

I realize that McDonald‘s supports the Olymipcs and the company’s money must help tremendously to pull off this enormous endeavor. However, I find the McDonald’s commercials aired during the Olympics completely insulting. Are the top athletes of the world really eating chicken McNuggets and McDonald’s food as part of their training diet. Really? My husband said that the commercial should actually say something to the effect of  “Let’s face it you’ll never be an Olympic athlete so you might as well eat some McNuggets”.

As an endurance runner and triathlete, I know that what I put into my body affects my training. What I eat before, during and after each workout will affect my next workout,  my energy, my muscle recovery and my sleep. It seems unethical to make the claim that McDonald’s is the type of food that champions eat. Is it not the same as the cigarette industry using actors smoking in movies as a method to promote its product to kids? It seems wrong.

I suppose that the athletes that sign these sponsorship deals are also partially to blame though they are young and perhaps vulnerable to the sudden limelight. Which leads me to my second rant that also involves the young and vulnerable.

Rant #2:

My children’s elementary school is most likely not very different than yours. The school lunches are really just fast food. The kids have a mere 20 minutes to wolf down their lunch. The cafeteria menus are filled with Tyson chicken products, pizza, burgers and hot dogs—basically your standard highway stop food. I am not sure if this is the case in other states or schools, but at our elementary school the kids can also buy extra items besides the entrees like pretzels, chips, ice cream, fruit roll ups and gummies to name a few. Is it really OK to give your children this option at such an impressionable age when they don’t have full impulse control.

The way our school handles lunch is to hand the children pre-paid lunch atm cards. The website MyNutriKids.Com helps a parent track the money their child spends and it allows parents to see, to a limited extent, what is being purchased. Would you as a parent ever give your child of 5-11 years old a credit card and let them go into a store to buy whatever they want? That is what we are doing; sometimes on a daily basis. Not only do we give our kids free reign to buy whatever they want but we are introducing them to buying things on credit (yes, it is a debit card but the point is that money is not being exchanged and they have no way to connect their purchases to the money on their cards). In my school district, you can get back some control of the situation by calling the cafeteria or school lunch director to request specific food items to be forbidden for your child to purchase. I wonder how many parents take that step.

Rave #1:

The chef Jamie Oliver has won a TED award for trying to change the world by attacking childhood obesity. Watch his incredible video here.

He has been making strides to change school lunches in both England and American, he has started a tv series called “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” which debuts on Friday March 26th on ABC. Check out his website to see what you can do to help.

Rave #2:

There is a huge drive to connect children with food and where it comes from and how it’s made which is a good step in creating healthy eaters and bodies. In the above mentioned speech by Jamie Oliver, he went into a school in West Virginia and the kids could not identify vegetables. It was astounding. Like Oliver, another notable chef, Alice Waters, has made strides in food education. She began a program called the Edible Schoolyard which educate students in all aspects of growing, harvesting and preparing seasonal produce. Watch her inspiring video and see how you can make a difference in your community.

As consumers and parents, I believe it is our responsibility to make our voice heard in the realm of our children’s health. The market is dictated by the consumer and we can make a difference if we educate ourselves and the generations to follow and by putting our money where our mouths are.

Photo by Joel Dinda

I have food issues. It started yesterday. I have been watching 30 minute snippets of the movie Food Inc. while on the treadmill and am just appalled by what I am learning about food in our country. This idea that our food comes from idyllic farms with cows and chickens grazing on green pastures is all an illusion. Our farms have turned factories and these factories are created to make a product at a profit. The health of the animals and the people that eat them and the safety of the farmers that tend to them are not as high on the priority list as making a cheap product. How the food that we eat and rely on for our nutrition and health has become an engineered product is frightening.

I will not go into the details of the film or book. I encourage people to investigate on their own. Personally, I will be making some lifestyle choices for myself and my family including making vegetables and fruit the focus of the meal with proteins as the side. The protein I use will be farm raised, free-ranged, organic and local (if possible). I will not be eating meat out at restaurants unless I know it is grown locally or free-range and organic.

My biggest frustration is that there is so much junk in school cafeterias. We see a rise in childhood obesity and allergies and yet still provide school cafeterias with Tyson brand chicken products, sugared up Intense Milk, and other equally unhealthy options. Tyson chicken might claim to be baked but it doesn’t get to the bottom of why this type of chicken isn’t good for us. Tyson is one of a few chicken “manufacturers” in the country. The power these companies yield is ridiculous. Again, investigate more about how these chickens (and the farmers that raise them) are treated. I don’t want to disgust anyone reading this so I will just send out the idea that it is worth looking into. More over, it is even more worthwhile to pack your kids lunches and take back control of what is feeding their brains and bodies. I don’t see an end to this injustice until the consumer makes a stand. Stop buying school lunches. Demand healthy and nutritious food in schools.

Being a runner and yoga teacher, I know first hand that what you put into your body and mind affects performance. Take a stand and have a food issue. It might just be what the doctor orders.

Current Classes:

MIDTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

Mondays:
6-7:15am Power Vinyasa (H)

Thursdays:
6-7am Power Vinyasa

Story Time Yoga
1-1:45pm

Sundays:
5-7 year olds
9:45-10:30am
8-11 year olds
10:45-11:30am

STUDIO MOVE!

Wednesdays:
10:30-11:30 Power Vinyasa

Fridays:
Yoga for Athletes
9-10am

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