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Sorry to have disappeared… Let’s do lunch!

Flight Academy

The girls with the mascot, “Soonie”, at OU’s Flight Academy

Sorry that I have not be blogging lately, but the end of school and start of summer have been a busy time for us.  This week, the girls are attending a wonderful day camp, the OU Sooner Flight Academy.  Not something that is in our budget for four kids, but thankfully we received a partial scholarship from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

The girls are there for seven hours each day, so we send a packed lunch with them.  Since this will be a short post and folks have expressed an interest in our lunches in the past, I thought I would share a picture of yesterday’s lunch.

Lunch consists of: a nitrate-free turkey and organic cheese roll-up with olives, baby-cut carrots, grape tomatoes, a sprouted grain pretzel, plain yogurt with honey, and cut-up bananas and pineapple.  For camp, we’ve been sending ice water as the beverage, although we normally send white milk during the school year.

Day Camp Lunch -Summer 2012

I’ve been trying out some new recipes on the girls and should be posting those soon.  Some were hits, such as a chilled strawberry soup, and some were misses, such as a new honey-lime slaw dressing that I tried on broccoli slaw.

Again, I am a better correspondent on my Facebook page, so please join me there for more frequent updates and information.

– Stacey


School Lunch with the Girls today – special Thanksgiving meal

Mike and I had lunch at school with the girls today.  It was the day the cafeteria serves their Thanksgiving meal, so it was a “special” menu.  Normally, the lunch is $2.00 for kids and $2.80 for adults, but today’s was $3.50 for everyone, so not really a reflection of a typical lunch. 

Since the girls bring a homemade packed lunch everyday it was exciting and a little confusing for them to get to go through the lunch line.  Normally, the cafeteria provides a choice of 2-4 different entrées, but today it was just one.  So, as we were going through, I said to the girls “Look, everyone gets the same thing, just like when I was in school.  And, everyone gets vegetables too.” 

At that point, one of the women serving said to me “Did you watch the news last night?” Since I assumed she was referring to the local news which I rarely watch, I said no.  Then, she proceeded to tell me in a shocked voice that the congress wants to declare pizza to be a vegetable.  So, I said that I had heard that and mentioned that when they wanted to declare ketchup as a vegetable in the Reagan years, it was protests from citizens that stopped that.

But, I was glad to hear this food service worker from the girls’ school show the same concern and shock at pizza being declared a vegetable that I did.  I think that many food service employees feel trapped in the middle.  They truly want to serve healthy food to kids, but the limited funding provided and the way that the food industry groups keep pushing them to adopt processed foods doesn’t help.

Here is a fuzzy picture of today’s lunch that I snapped after Leah had already started eating hers.  There was also canned cranberry sauce available on the table where the plasticware and napkins were, but she didn’t get any.  My girls all chose 1% white milk to drink along with a tiny handful of other kids; most kids had either chocolate or strawberry milk.

The “garden bar” which is not really a salad bar, more a row of bins with 3-4 selections of fruits and veggies (sometimes canned) was not open, so potatoes and green beans were the only veggies available and there was no fruit choice.  I like green beans, but from what I have read, they are not nutritional powerhouses, to say the least, especially the canned ones we had.  But, they are supposed to be a good source of fiber.

– Stacey

The menu described the meal as: 

Thanksgiving Lunch

  • Turkey & Dressing
  • Potatoes & Gravy
  • Green Beans
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Fresh Baked Dinner Roll (packaged white roll, Leah had eaten it before I snapped the pic)
  • Sweet Potato Bars w/ Whipped Topping (note: what we got was white cake, not a sweet potato bar)

Update: Just saw a link to this Chicago Public Schools lunch lady’s opinion of pizza being called a vegetable…love it.

The 2012 Farm Bill – get your voice heard in support of kid’s nutrition

Michael Pollan in a recent video says that while we need to continue to vote for better food with our forks, we also need to vote with our VOTES. 

I am not by any means an expert on the wranglings and backroom deals that influence how legislation is based in D.C., but I am an American and a concerned parent.  It saddens me to hear about how much influence food industry lobbyists have in getting things like PIZZA DECLARED AS A VEGETABLE under the school lunch program.

They are working on the 2012 Farm Bill right now and Farm Bills are only done every 5 years.  So, go to one of the sites below and read how to contact you member of Congress to voice your opinion about how the Farm Bill, or as Pollan calls it, the Food Bill, affects local farmers trying to grow actual fruits and vegetables (not commodity corn and soy, they are well protected by industry lobbyists).  Also, show your support of continuing the ability of SNAP benefit recipients to use those benefits at local Farmer’s Markets. 

And most importantly, because is affects so many kids and they are our future, voice your concerns about unhealthy processed foods such as pizza being classified as a vegetable.  As you can see from a few of my previous posts about school lunches, they need to improve and increase the amounts of real food including fruits and vegetables, not make things worse.  What is next, calling corn dogs a vegetable because they contain corn?

Find out more about the Farm Bill and how to contact YOUR government about this:

Over 50% of the kids that go to my daughters’ school receive either free or reduced lunches.  I understand that there are several school in disadvantaged parts of Oklahoma City, were that figure is 100%.  So, this bill directly affects the kids in our neighborhood, town, and state, not just farmers.  Even  if you are lucky enough like we are to be able to pack and send your kids a healthy lunch, what about all their classmates?  We know the food industry doesn’t care about kids, but we need to encourage our elected officials to care because we do.

– Stacey

Our local FOOD DAY event was GREAT!

Food Day BagI posted a few weeks ago about our PTA’s plans for celebrating Food Day at our local elementary school.  Our school if from Pre-K to 5th grade and has just over 530 students.  Well, I wanted to let you know that it went great.

Fruits and veggies prepped for Food Day

Fruits & veggies prepped for one grade for Food Day

We had a lot of support from the community and from other PTA parents, as well at the teachers.  Our speakers included: Matt Runkle of Native Roots Market, Becky Black from the OSU Extension Office, a local farmer William Edgar, Wanda Danley from the Norman Farmer’s Market, Prof. Deborah Dalton from OU’s Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Environment program, and one of our PTA moms that did double duty, Laura Vaughn, who is an enthusiastic home gardener.  We are very thankful to all our speakers, especially considering the short timeline in planning the event.

We had gotten produce donations from Native Roots Market, Natural Grocers, and our local Homeland store.  That was supplemented with some extra veggies funded by the PTA and then several parents sent enough of their kids favorite fruit or veggie for that child’s class.  All the kids got to taste broccoli, apples, celery, spinach, grapes, bananas, summer squash, carrots, mushrooms, and peppers.  We also had samples of fresh ginger and basil to try.

Volunteers from OU’s OUr Earth student organization helped throughout the day.  They guided the speakers from class to class and helped the teachers serve the fruits and vegetables during the tasting.

Prior to Food Day, we put posters up around the school announcing it and we also included a flyer in the kids’ “Thursday Folder” that goes home to parents each week.  That is where we invited parents to send additional fruits and veggies for their child’s class.

Teacher Food Day Tasting

Blindfolded Teacher Fruit & Veggie Tasting

The morning of Food Day, the school started the day with their regular Monday Morning Assembly, but it included an introduction to Food Day and a blindfolded fruit and veggie tasting with three of the teachers.  The kids loved that part.  We had the teachers taste all of the fruits and veggies that the students would be trying later that day.

Then, during the class’ regular “snacktime” the speakers talked for about 10 minutes about where your food comes from and making healthy food choices including eating more fruits and vegetables.

The cafeteria also joined in during lunchtime by highlighting the Sodexo “Fruit of the Month” for October which was grapes.

– Stacey

Here are some pictures of our Food Day speakers in the classrooms:

Food Day - Pre-K

Matt Runkle of Native Roots talking to the Pre-K kids

Food Day - 1st grade

1st grade learning about cantaloupes from farmer William Edgar

Food Day - 1st grade

1st grade learning about cantaloupes from farmer William Edgar

Food Day - 2nd grade

Matt Runkle of Native roots talking to a 2nd grade class

Food Day - 4th grade

Wanda Danley of the Norman Farmers Market talking to 4th graders



National Food Day is coming up

  • So, they have been having World Food Day for years and it primarily focuses on hunger and social justice issues related to food production and distribution; this year it is on October 16th. 

But, this year is the first for National Food Day which is being held on October 24th.  It is being spearheaded by CSPI, and the advisory board includes folks like Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Barry Popkin, and Alice Waters.  

The 6 National Food Day Principles are :

  1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  2. Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  4. Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
  5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  6. Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Several of those are directly related to helping children have healthier food, especially #1 and #5.  So, sounds like a great idea, right?

The PTA at our local elementary school, the school were all my girls attend 1st grade, is getting more focused on helping create a healthier school.  So, in addition to the fundraising Jog-a-thon that we have every year about this time, we have decided to celebrate Food Day this year.  Our plans are to:

Make a short presentation at the Morning Assembly on Monday, Oct 24th

  • Introduce the Food Day event, explain that they will be tasting fresh fruits and veggies today, some familiar and some maybe not.
  • Show a short video clip about healthy foods, probably one of the ones from the FoodPlay website.
  • Have a teacher taste some fresh fruits and veggies, possibly while blindfolded.

Continue with an In-class Fruit & Vegetable Tasting

  • During regular snack time for each grade, the tasting will take place in the classroom.
  • Offer 2-3 vegetables and 2-3 fruits for tasting (prefer local if possible, and in season).
  • Include whole fruits and vegetables for demonstration, as well as cut up ones for tasting, so children can see what the whole food looks like.
  • Invite a mentor from the community to come talk to each class for about 10 minutes while the kids are tasting.
  • Ask mentors to talk about advantages of eating fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables. Mentors can talk about their role in food production and distribution.
  • Possible mentors include: Farmers, Master Gardeners, Produce Manager from a grocery store, Representative of the Farmer’s Market or local Food co-op, Extension Agent, or a Botanist

Follow up to Food Day will include putting a sheet of kid-friendly recipes for fruit and veggie dishes that kids can make with their parents in the weekly folder.  We also plan to include one such recipe a month in the PTA newsletter.

We have a very interested group of parents and teachers that are helping with the planning and the administration is supportive.  The principal said that he is in favor of any program that encourages kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.  🙂  We have also gotten some support from local stores in providing the produce.

Is your school introducing or expanding on healthy lifestyle programs?  If so, what are they and how successful have you been? 

How may of you are celebrating National Food Day this year?  It is not just an event for kids, in fact, many of the principles are really only something that adults can do anything about. 

– Stacey

P.S.  As a bonus, the Food Day group had created a free Food Day recipe booklet featuring recipes from Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Ellie Krieger, Nina Simonds, and other top chefs and cooking authorities.  Check it out!

School Lunch – What We Pack

First Day of First GradeToday is the first day of school for the girls and they were pretty excited to be starting First Grade. 

As the school year was approaching, I talked to several other moms that are concerned about nutrition about what their kids would be doing for lunch. Last year in Kindergarten, the girls took a homemade lunch almost every day. About once a month, we have something come up where we just can’t get it together that morning and we let them buy lunch at school that day. But, we check the menu online and talk to them about what choices are the better ones and emphasize the white milk, not chocolate milk, rule. Also, my husband or I have lunch at school with the girls about once every couple of weeks, so we are familiar with how the lunchroom is set up and the procedures.


There are lots of options here. We have the Laptop Lunches  system and this is the second year we are using our set. I also have a Laptop Lunchbox and that is what I bring when I eat lunch at school with them. This is the one my daughter Julia, who loves PURPLE, has:

Laptop Lunchbox

Laptop Lunchbox "Purple Party"

The good thing about the system is that it lets you create a lunch with no unnecessary wasted packaging.  I watched a little girl in my daughters’ class today eat her Lunchable and it was shocking how much trash it generated (not to mention the questionable nutritional value). She also had trouble opening some of the individual packages inside.  We also use cloth napkins that IZiploc Lunch Container wash; got about 20 of them for very cheap in the Michael’s clearance bin last year. 

The downside of the Laptop Lunches system is that  the initial cost for the Laptop Lunches system is a little steep, Pre-K and Kindergarten kids may have trouble opening the main compartment themselves, and with four kids, we can almost fill the dishwasher each evening with just their lunchboxes and inside containers.   So, sometimes, I use the lunch containers from Ziploc.  They are very cheap (like $2.50 for a 2-pack) and you can re-use them several times.  They are liquid-tight, so I can put yogurt in one of the compartments with no leaks.  They also fit well inside our Laptop Lunches insulated carrier bag.

Beverages and Food

Their school does provide a water dispenser with cups for kids that want water instead of milk. The drink we send everyday is what they would have if they were eating at home which is organic white milk. The Laptop Lunches bottle holds 12 oz., we just put in 4 oz. of milk. When we put in more, they don’t drink it all. We try to limit juice to a special treat since it is really just sugar water. So, juice is something they get maybe 2-4 times a week as a treat when they are with us, not as part of a meal. I also do use juice (grape or apple) to make homemade jello (using unflavored gelatin) so they also get some then.

Our lunches generally consist of a main dish that is either a meat/cheese roll-up using nitrate-free turkey or ham and real cheese or an egg salad or tuna salad sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread; plain yogurt with honey; some cut-up fruit; and some kind of veggie (either broccoli slaw, grape tomatoes, carrot sticks or snow peas, etc. sometimes with homemade ranch dressing or hummus). The laptop lunchbox has 2 big sections and 2 small sections, so 4 items works out well for them.

The Laptop Lunches website has a photo gallery with lots of ideas for what to pack for lunch.  You also get a little booklet with the box.  Our lunches are a bit monotonous, but the kids don’t seem to mind. When I have tried pasta salads or things like that to make it more interesting, they don’t eat them. But, they will eat these same things at home, so go figure. 

Sometimes, we do put dinner leftovers in, if it is something that can be eaten cold, for example, leftover grilled chicken breast strips.  There is no way for them to heat up any of the meal, so we always pack a cold lunch.   We just used the re-usable ice packs to keep the food cold until lunch. I have tried a couple of different thermoses for soup, but have not been impressed with any of them.

What are you packing for your kid’s lunch this year?

– Stacey

8/31/2011 Update: These are a few of the lunches we packed for the girls this week:

Monday’s Packed School Lunch:
Monday's Packed School Lunch
Monday’s Packed School Lunch: Nitrate-free turkey and cheese rollup plus olives, grape tomatoes and sugar snap peas with homemade ranch, plain yogurt with honey, peaches and cherries, plus white organic milk
Wednesday’s Packed School Lunch:
Wednesday's Packed School Lunch

Wednesday's Packed School Lunch: Organic hard boiled eggs, cherries, peaches, broccoli slaw, plain yogurt with honey and flax seed, organic white milk


Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity

Who watched “One Nation Overweight” on CNBC this week?  I think I had seen parts of it last year…some was familiar and some was not.  You can watch it on hulu here or on CNBC here.

There were lots of remarkable parts…did you notice the number of overweight or obese doctors, nurses, and orderlies in the section about bariatric surgery?  That shows what it means that 2/3 of American adults are either overweight or obese. Even the people who work in healthcare have the same struggles.  But, as a parent the most unsettling piece was on childhood obesity here.

On Saturday, we went to the Oklahoma City Zoo with the girls.  I guess I am just becoming more observant, but I really noticed the numbers of overweight and obese children that were there.  For some reason, the numbers seemed to be higher than what I see around my girls’ elementary school.

We all have heard that the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has been increasing over the years.  Federal government data  shows:

  • Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese. Another significant chunk is “just overweight”.
  • Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.
  • There are significant racial, ethnic and socio-economic disparities in obesity prevalence among U.S. children and adolescents.

For example, back when I was a “kid” in the late 1970’s the rate of obesity among 6-11 year old was 6.5%. In 2007-2008, the rate in this same age group was 19.6% according to the data here.

childhood obesity graph

While I was an overweight teen and am an obese adult, I was not either as a child.  In Oklahoma, a state where over 30% of adults are obese and thus I “fit right in”, I wonder how many of them were a “healthy weight” as children…probably most.  The fact that so many American kids are now starting out overweight or obese really scares me about what their health futures will be.  It is predicted that this generation of children is the first that will have a shorter lifespan than their parents and a lot of that is attributable to weight-related health problems.

For more on the data, there is a new CDC report “Children’s Food Environment State
Indicator Report, 2011” available here  and there is also some interesting information here.

So, why do we care as parents and as a society?  Well, as parents, I would hope that we would all care about the health and happiness of our kids.  I think that almost all parents care, they just don’t realize how inundated they and their kids are by food marketing and how surrounded they are by a poor food environment from which to make choices.  As a society, we will be paying for the medical costs of this trend for years to come.  So, even if you and your kids are a healthy weight, you need to care
about their friends and classmates, especially if they are reliant on the government through various social programs to provide them with much of their food.

So, what are the problems that childhood obesity can cause?  Some of them are the same as adult obesity, mainly health issues, etc.  But, some are more critical to kids and teens.  Bullying is a big threat when you are overweight or obese.  I recently witnessed some elementary-age boys taunting a girl in their class that is overweight.  They were calling her “fat girl” and she was in tears.  The boys were punished for their behavior by the teacher, but the girl’s self-esteem was already affected by those hurtful words.  As an overweight adult myself, I know how embarrassing it can be when you are singled out because of your weight; it must be so much worse as a kid that is trying to just “fit in”.

What are the causes of this recent trend in children?  Kids’ daily environments – their schools, childcare facilities, churches, and their local communities influence the healthfulness of their diets.   There is direct marketing to children of food items, misleading marketing claims about healthiness of food made to parents, access to and affordability of healthy foods in the school and local community, increased consumption of soda and juice by kids (the leading source of added sugar among children is sugar-sweetened drinks) and less exercise in the daily life of kids.

What are some things we can do as parents and more globally as a society to combat it?  Providing all children with healthy food environments is key to reaching the public health goals of reducing childhood obesity and improving nutrition.  So we should:

  • Reduce the amount of marketing that kids are exposed to.  This is not going to be done voluntarily by companies.  It is only going to be achieved through
    regulations similar to those that keep cigarette and hard liquor ads off TV.  Yes, I am a political liberal, but do you really think that any of the companies advertising soda, fitness drinks, candy, potato chips, pizza and burgers to kids are going to stop on their own because they really care about kids?
  • Reduce kid’s screen time.  There is a correlation between the amount of time kids spend watching TV, playing video games, surfing the web, etc. and being overweight.  Yes, having a statistician husband, I know that correlation does not equal causation, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that kids sitting in front of a TV are not getting as much physical activity as those outside playing.  Also, from a health perspective, it is not a wise thing for a kid to have a TV in his or her bedroom.
  • Build physical activity into everyday routines. Back when I was a kid, it was common for kids to walk or bike to school. When we got home from school we would head off on our own and play outside with other kids all over the neighborhood.  Now, most children are driven to school, whether by a parent or on a school bus. For some kids school is too far away and parents do have justifiable safety concerns about kids walking and biking on their own or playing outside unsupervised.  So, parents have to find ways of adding activity to their kid’s day.  Believe me, I know this is hard to do with working busy parents, but it has to be a priority.  A family walk or bike ride several times a week is a great way to give everyone in the family some exercise and also spend some time together. If the weather is bad, take a page out of the older generation’s
    handbook and walk around the mall.  🙂
  • Ensure that the school breakfast and lunch programs reduce their reliance on processed foods and increase the amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables available to kids.  I posted recently about the lunch offerings in our local school cafeteria run by Sodexo.  To see lots more examples of what kids are really being served, head to the Fed Up with School Lunch blog .  We as a society have to start caring enough to spend more money on school food. Whenever I see criticism of school menus online, there is always a vocal contingent that claims it is elitist to care about food quality when there are hungry kids whose only food all day may be what they eat at school.  To them I say: If that is their only food,
    then it REALLY needs to be healthy food heavy on the fresh fruits and veggies,
    not processed chicken nuggets, white bread and processed cheese sandwiches, rice krispy treats, and chocolate milk. As one blogger recently called it “Carnival Food”.  In the long run, I believe that giving less fortunate kids a good nutritional start in life will benefit us all through reduced medical and other costs in the future.  Also, well-fed kids think better and get more out of school.  So, they will be a greater asset to our society.
  • Eat meals together as a family. Parents have tremendous influence on children’s food behaviors. Eating meals together as a family has many positive effects on children, including the development of healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight. Also, foods prepared at home are likely to be more nutritious than foods prepared away from home.

I hope I have not offended anyone.  As someone who has struggled with her own  weight for years, my hope is this is something that our kids would not have to deal with.  And it is up to us to do our job as “their village” to help them.  So, what are your thoughts on childhood obesity and what do you think we can do to help our kids?


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