Monday, September 30, 2013

Hot Topics-School Cafeteria Teams Have CAN DO Spirit

Here is a Hot Topic about School Daze, covering two of my blog's pages.  A report released today,"Serving Healthy School Meals" found 94% of school meal operations would meet updated federal nutrition standards for school lunches by the end of the last school year.

This survey, sponsored by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Food Project of the PEW Charitable Trust, looked at school divisions' needs for training and for kitchen infrastructure and equipment. I was fortunate to attend a meeting this summer as a guest of the Project where they solicited detailed comments and suggestions from school nutrition operators.

I can tell you we are meeting the standards not just because we have to but moreso because our entire team has a CAN DO spirit.  The standards were set with an implementation date that was before we had time to do staff training.  We said we CAN DO it.  The standards were established without funding for equipment.  We said we CAN DO it.  The standards changed during the first few months of implementation.  We said we CAN DO it.  The standards were released without details on how we would get a little bit of help (6 cents per meal) to pay for it.  We said we CAN DO it.
From the report: "The standards—which called for schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products—were the first major change to school meals in more than 15 years."  Yes, many schools had begun to work on meeting or exceeding the standards well before the feds.  This was, in part, due to wanting to "do the right thing" for our student customers and offer healthier food.  This reflects the CAN DO spirit.
What do the standards mean in terms of day to day operations that require a CAN DO spirit?  When more fresh produce and whole grain items are offered, the food cost is higher program directors.  When nutrition standards change, research and development costs are significant for food vendors.  When fresh produce and scratch recipes are used, labor demands are greater for kitchen staff.  When federal government standards dictate that a student MUST take a fruit or veggie and it is often thrown away, frustration is high for child nutrition services staff.  Despite all of this, the entire team is forging ahead with a CAN DO attitude towards continuous improvement of food service operations.
The CAN DO attitude is of greater worth than the funding, training, infrastructure, and equipment.  It is that CAN DO attitude that will sustain school food service teams through future tightening of nutrition regulations (for example, sodium limits will continue to decrease through 2020) and government oversight.
Hold onto your hair nets and tighten your aprons lunch ladies - you got this!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

School Daze-School Garden Resources

Resources for teachers, sponsors, volunteers, funders and movers and shakers working with school gardens are exploding.  Or sprouting!

"" is a professional online learning and social network for educators.  A new community has been formed called "Growing School Gardens".  Tools available to you include a Blog, Discussion Forum, Resource Library, Shared Calendar, Polls, Wiki links, webinars and of course, inspiration.

Google "" for more information and get those good ideas germinating!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

School Daze-School Gardens

I am so excited about the potential that school gardens offer:  links to standards based curriculum, outdoor education, hands on learning, mini field trips, community service, parental involvement, cooking club lessons, environmental education, intergenerational projects, local business sponsorships and more.  Here is an article about one of our school gardens from July 2013:

As our school gardens evolve, we even see the most local food you can get (grown on school grounds!) at the best price (free!) for our cafeterias.  We have successfully harvested and processed red and green peppers, prepping and freezing them for later use.  We have supplemented school garden harvests with product from local farms to provide the side veggie on the menu, such as roasted potatoes.  We have had adequate harvest of some crops such as lettuce mix to provide the side salad for the entire school.  And you can imagine how excited the kids are to eat something grown in their school garden!

Try this at home - if they grow it, they will eat it!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hot Topics-Would You Like A BETTER Veggie With That?

In a win-win deal, McDonald's agrees to offer a side salad, fruit or veggie instead of fries with Value Meals.  Here's an infographic to better represent the deals of this agreement.

For kiddos, a Happy Meal will now be promoted as including milk, water or juice - the beverages of choice for healthier children - rather than soda.

Will McDonald's food cost go up?  Yes.  Are they doing the right thing?  Yes.  They can't go wrong with offering more consumer choice, improving their reputation in the fast food community, and promoting healthier choices for children.

Will consumers and parents choose the healthier options?  Probably and hopefully.  McDonalds is attempting to make the healthy choice the easy choice.  And this puts My Plate into action-helping consumers fill half their plate with fruits and veggies.  Healthier veggies that is.

As McDonald's website says, "You're trying hard to get your kids to be more nutrition minded. To think about what they are eating."  That goes for adults too.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

School Daze-Parents As Role Models

This is from an interview I did in 2010.  Love that last line.  After a whole article about school lunch, it reminds us that parents are the best role model for healthy eating.

"Parents are their children's best role models for everything, including what they eat."

Hope that's not a "gotcha" but a motivator!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

School Daze-Providing Nutritious Meals

From May 2013 - Here is the story about how we are trying to measure if our meals are more consistent school to school, more appealing to our student customers, and more diverse with a variety of options.

We are changing from a supply side focus (what we are offering-is it healthy?) to a focus on demand (does it look and taste good, is it kid friendly, what can we do through preparation, production and presentation to make it more appealing?).

In our first snapshot review, all our schools scored As and Bs.  Trends will be more revealing as will self-assessments by our cafeteria managers.

Stay tuned!

School Daze-Food For Thought for School Boards

The VA School Boards Association took on the childhood obesity cause and solicited best practices throughout the state to develop a Healthy School Meals Database.

Here is some information we submitted from our strategic plan, which focused on cafeteria offerings, participation and consumption, nutrition education, marketing, and Child Nutrition Services staff training.

Information sharing can go a long way to help school divisions both large and small.

School Daze-Not Your Parents' School Lunch

We've been about the business of improving the school food environment for a long time.  Here is an article from September 2010 that talks about not just the food environment but also the comprehensive effort that school systems are making:

Kids are not experiencing their parents' school lunch.  When is the last time you experienced lunch in a public school cafeteria?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? Mid to Late September 2013

September 21:  A thorough nighttime rain really perked up the collards and broccoli.  Anticipating a nice broccoli harvest in time for my broccoli casserole at Thanksgiving Dinner.

September 20:  Finally, some green peppers are ready!

Week of September 15:

Mesclun & romaine lettuce seeds planted
Radish seeds planted and emerging
Broccoli starts-this has done really well in the fall in the past-very tender!
Collards starts
Late tomatoes (Rutgers) & Roma tomatoes are coming in
Green peppers-seem slow this year, not ready yet!
Raspberries-just finished their second yield
Zinnias! Always bright and beautiful!
Asparagus ferns are tall and full-need to read about what to do with those?!
Waiting for space to plant turnip green seeds as a cover crop - plus the chickens love them!
Wish I had room for kale!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chuckles From the Chicken Coop-They Say Don't Name Your Chickens

Tater and Whitey.  After owning 40+ chickens over the years, those are the only 2 we named.  Our adventure with chickens started with buying 12 Andalusians, unsexed.  We quickly culled the roosters (a story for another day).  We then found out that breed is known for their feathers more so than their eggs.  We still have one of the original Andalusian hens.

Over the years, we added Rhode Island Reds, sticking with pullets (egg laying hens).  They are the consistent big brown egg layers.  We also had 6 Americaunas that lay the colored eggs - mostly green, from our experience.

So, back to the named hens.  Tater was the all time favorite, a little Bantam with striking reddish-brown feathers.  She laid cute little eggs.  Though small, she was large and in charge.  She would waddle around the outdoor chicken yard, fluffing her feathers to look bigger.

My daughter worked for Chick-Fil-A and for a company Christmas party, she took Tater as a "gift" for the manager.  Boy, was he surprised when he opened the box.  Tater was the life of the party and loved every minute of it.  She loved to be held.  She was one of our originals and we had her for about 4 years.  Then she got sick and we nursed her in the basement for a few days, to no avail.

Whitey was, of course, white.  Another little Bantam.  Cute as a button.

They say don't name your chickens, but it does help with the fond memories. 

Who knew having chickens could be so entertaining?  My husband will occasionally sneak up on me at the coop, catching me talking to "my girls".  When we let them out to free range and I go out to that part of our little farm, they come running, following me like little ducklings.  When I approach the coop with kitchen fruit and veggie scraps, they start singing and chattering away.  When I throw grubs from the garden into the coop, they scurry around trying to steal the grubs from one another, looking like a Powder Puff football game.  Okay, so I'm easily entertained.

The best part?  An endless supply of fresh, dark yellow yolked eggs that make the most stunning, flavorful scrambled eggs or omelet you can imagine!

Check out your locales' ordinances for keeping chickens.  It's a hoot!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

School Daze-If The Schools Can Do It, You Can Do It

May 2011-Look how far we've come.  This was written 2 years ago just as the new school lunch meal pattern and nutrition regulations were about to be released from USDA.

A few lessons learned:
  • Kids didn't even notice the switch from 1% to skim flavored milk - try this at home!
  • Prices did go up, but school lunch is still a deal at around $2.50 for an entree, 2 veggies, a fruit and a milk.
  • Each year, we add more whole grains.  First it was cereal, rolls and sandwich bread, then it was pasta, breadsticks and wraps, now it is brown rice, next year it will be buns.  Baby steps - try this at home!
  • We keep working on the sodium content of our meals - testing new products from manufacturers, making recipe substitutions.  Try this at home - if you can use just ONE low sodium ingredient in your favorite recipe, you come out ahead.
  • We plan and then analyze our menus for nutrition targets using a weekly average.  Try this at home! It is how you eat over the course of the week that matters.  Some meals will be better than others, some days will be better than others.  Aim for balance over the week.
Remember my mantra:  balance, variety and moderation.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Was For Dinner Tonight?

In keeping with the tips presented in my post "Menu Planning 101", tonight's dinner was:

Fresh Corn - because my daughter stopped at a farm stand on her way home from college for the weekend

Grilled Steaks - and I specifically defrosted 3 for the 4 of us because some of us prefer smaller portions of meat

Pasta Salad - made with the colorful noodles that include a half serving of veggies (RONZONI Garden Delight) and with veggies from our garden

Banana Bread - for dessert - because I can't stand to throw away bananas and banana bread is just too quick and easy.  It calls for 2 cups of flour and I use 1 1/2 of all purpose and 1/2 of whole wheat.  It calls for sour cream and I use lite.  I usually cut back on the sugar a little bit (don't tell my husband).

And there you have it - dinner! 

Take-away tips:
  • think about your veggies and fruit first
  • plan on smaller portions of lean meats and protein
  • go for the whole grains
  • go with what is fresh and in season
  • Enjoy a family meal around the table!

Healthy Kids Cooking-Upscale

April 2012-This was a classy affair at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science with local seafood, dignitaries, and gourmet chefs.

I think the kiddos got the whole "local" angle because they started in a room with crabs in a tank and then transitioned, physically, to a kitchen space where they helped prepare a crab dish.

You can do this at home.  Start with a trip to the garden, farm stand or farmer's market. Then get your kids in the kitchen and prepare the item together while talking about how it grows.

If you buy a new fruit or veggie for them to try, buy an extra so they can explore the whole form while eating the prepared form.  For example, have a whole spaghetti squash at the dinner table and talk about where the stem connects the squash to a vine that grows low on the ground.  Talk about how the squash starts as a beautiful flower before it turns into the fruit of the plant.

Imagine the leaps of thought required for a young child to go from a bag of baby carrots, ready to eat, to seeing that carrots have full, bushy, fern-like tops and understanding that they grow underground!

Let them help you shuck the corn, shell the peas, and wash fresh produce.  Food becomes so much more of an experience than opening a can.  And it is healthier too!

Hot Topics-Supermarket Superstar

Have you seen the new show on Bravo?  Supermarket Superstar has 3 entrepreneurs vying for $100K in product development money to get their product on the shelves.  They present their dish to 3 judges with an overview, price point intentions and nutrition benefits.  Some of the initial health claims are a little shady. 

Contestants are then given 90 minutes to reformulate, working with chef mentors.  Consideration is given to price, taste, nutrition and shelf life. Mentors help reduce the food cost, ramp up the flavor, improve the nutrition and extend the shelf life. 

To make the dishes healthier, for example, sodium is cut and frozen entrees are baked in a convection oven rather than fried prior to freezing.  Just subbing soy sauce for table salt in a recipe cut the sodium by 5/6 (!) and added a slightly different flavor profile.  Veggies were added to a "complete meal" frozen dinner and portion size was decreased on another entree.  The good news?  These are all tips you can transfer to your test kitchen.

Final dishes are presented to a focus group for judging so there is "real people" input to the process.  The bad news?  I can't tell you who won because I fell asleep before the end of the show - probably more a commentary about me than the show.

Menu Planning 101

How do you plan the menu at your house?  Think about My Plate and how it shows half your plate as fruits and veggies. 
We typically pick the entree first and then the sides but actually, we should be choosing our fruits and veggies first, to fill half our plate, and then round it out with some protein and whole grains.

One way to do this is to think about what's in the garden, what's at the farmer's market, what's on sale at the grocery store - and choose that veggie to start your menu planning.  When I have an abundance of snow peas from my garden in the spring, I'm throwing them raw in salads, sauteing them in a little butter (yes, I am an RD who uses butter!) with a pinch of sugar for caramelizing, snacking on them raw, and stir frying them.  When I'm loaded up on broccoli from the garden in the fall, we have broccoli salad, broccoli soup, broccoli in casseroles and of course, good old steamed broccoli. 

Yesterday, I got green peppers and Roma tomatoes from the garden so they went in the pasta salad today!  Talk about fresh!

The benefits of growing your own are not only the ready supply of fresh veggies but you can be sure that after the hard work of planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, sorting and washing - you are going to eat it!  You are not going to throw it away!  And the shelf life of home grown veggies is so much longer than anything from the store - so that reduces waste as well.

Change the way you think about menu planning and pick your veggies first.

Friday, September 20, 2013

School Daze-A Review of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs

2011-With all the focus on school meals, here is a well written piece from the policy level.  It offers a short history of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs and an overview of the new school meal regulations, proposed when this piece was written, but then released in 2012.

Here's the take-away:

"Providing healthy meals at school is a powerful strategy to address childhood obesity but there are a variety of recommended approaches that schools can use to improve students’ health. Methods recommended by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, for example, include increasing recess time, providing for more sports clubs, and implementing a comprehensive health curriculum. To effectively address childhood obesity, solutions should be multi-faceted and should target several areas of the food and physical environment."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Introduction to F4: All Things Food: Food, Farms, Fun, Facts

Food, farms, fun and facts.  That about covers the things I want to blog about.

After stewing over the who, what, where, when, how of starting a blog for years (really!) I decided to "just do it".  My teenage daughter started a blog and a high school friend has a blog entitled "Today I Started A Blog" so those were some of my prompts to "just do it".  Plus, I watched "Julia and Julie" (or is it "Julie and Julia"?) last night - a blogger AND foodie film if there ever was one.  If you never start something, you can never do it.  (Not very profound, but you know what I mean.)

So, food is the common thread of the topics of interest to me - and I hope to you!

Between my work as the Registered Dietitian for the Child Nutrition Services department of a school division and my home life as a wife, mother of 3, fruit and veggie gardener, and hobby farmer, I have thoughts (and more!) to share.

Farms - we live on a hobby farm which is the source of many stories -mainly funny- to come. Plus, I am a Master Gardener so I may have a few tips for you.  And I coordinate our school division's farm to school program - another source of some funny stories as well as success stories.

Fun - eating should be enjoyable.  I develop curriculum for cooking clubs and classes for our students and families, to teach the basics of food prep, healthy eating and nutrition.  The enjoyment that the kiddos - and parents - get from the classes is gratifying.  Plus, as a Registered Dietitian, I want us to return to the joy of eating and get away from the compulsions, guilt, and obsessions over calories, grams and other units of measure and back to eating and enjoying good food (and growing it, but that's a tale for another day.)  You'll read more about the fun and pleasure of family meals, the fun and enjoyment of having your children help you in the kitchen, and the fun and satisfaction of eating a healthy, wholesome meal.

Facts - As a Registered Dietitian, I feel compelled to share and interpret current research related to food and nutrition.  Some of it will fit right in to "Hot Topics" posts as I try to keep you up to date (thereby keeping me up to date).  With all the TMI, misinformation, and information overload out there, I think I can offer some good, solid, mainstream advice.

So bear with me as I get started.  It's a journey, as my yoga teacher says.