While We Were Out: A Kid/Food News Round-Up

while you were celebratingHappy 2015, TLT’ers!  

I think I forgot to mention here that I was taking a hiatus from blogging, but if you happened to notice my three weeks of silence on TLT, you probably figured that out.  :-)

My blogging break started in late December, when I had the pleasure of attending (and speaking at) a conference in Washington, DC arranged by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Pew Charitable Trusts.  It was a gathering of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity “Council of States,” which meant I had the chance to meet and talk with leading food policy advocates from all over the country.  For someone who usually does this sort of work alone at her kitchen table, it was an incredibly stimulating and educational two days, so huge thanks to CSPI and the Pew Charitable Trusts for inviting me to attend!

And now here’s a round-up of some of the kid/food news you may have missed while you were relaxing and celebrating with your families:

More On Home-Packed vs. Cafeteria Lunches

Another study has found that home-packed lunches are, statistically speaking, nutritionally subpar as compared to cafeteria lunches.  I addressed another study’s similar findings back in July and my take is this: school meals may well be superior to home packed lunches from a “nutritionism” standpoint, in that every nutrient in school meals is analyzed and accounted for.  But a myopic focus on nutrients can still result in a very highly processed, chemical-filled meal that many parents choose to avoid. That said, for parents with few resources or little nutrition education, school lunch is no doubt vastly superior to home packed lunches, if a lunch can even be packed at all.  That’s why I so strongly support the National School Lunch Program and will continue to work hard to defend the new, healthier school meal standards.

Which leads us to….

Republican Congress Gearing Up to Weaken School Nutrition Standards

We’ve certainly known this was coming, but Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico has written an informative preview of how the new, Republican-controlled Congress is planning on rolling back several key Obama administration food policy initiatives, including improvements to school food.  This is a serious challenge for school food advocates, and we’ll be talking more about it in the weeks and months ahead.

Maybe Family Dinner Isn’t So Endangered After All

Or so says the Washington Post.

Getting Junk Food Out of Classroom Parties

Out of concern over student health and food allergies, several school districts in Pennsylvania clean up their classroom parties.  (Hat tip: SNA Smart Brief)

Is Fast Food Adversely Affecting Children’s Brains?

A study discussed in the Washington Post (and many other news outlets) found an inverse correlation between children’s fast food consumption and their test scores, even when factors like socioeconomic status were ruled out.  What was most astonishing to me was this troubling 2008 statistic cited in the WashPo story: “Nearly a third of American kids between the ages of 2 and 11 — and nearly half of those aged 12 to 19 — eat or drink something from a fast food restaurant each day.”

Does the Timing of Recess Reduce School Food Waste?

It’s long been believed that allowing kids to take recess before lunch leads to greater fruit and vegetable consumption and less food waste, but a new study reported on by Reuters says otherwise.

Coming Soon: The Lunch Tray’s Makeover!

Finally, before the month is out I’ll be unveiling an entirely new look for The Lunch Tray.  I’ve been working on the design with the super-talented Rita Barry, aka Blog Genie, and while I might be a tad biased, I think it’s just so pretty.   :-)  In connection with the blog’s relaunch I’ve also created lots of helpful new resources which I can’t wait to share with you.  Stay tuned.

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Mr. Zee = The New Birthday Cupcake?

My kids are in middle school now, which means we’ve mercifully moved past the annual dilemma of what to bring to class to celebrate their birthdays.  But for a long time, the topic of classroom birthday cupcakes loomed large on this blog.  Over the years, I’ve shared with you:

  • My utter hypocrisy in quietly bringing donuts to school for my son’s birthday, even while I loudly complained about other parents loading my kids up with junk.  (“Outing Myself“)
  • My plea to Lunch Tray readers (“Don’t Make Me Eat My Words“) to share their non-food suggestions for my daughter’s birthday, to which you responded with incredible creativity and enthusiasm.

Happy Birthday Cupcakes with candles and white background

That list doesn’t begin to do justice to the number of times I’ve talked about classroom birthday treats here on TLT, where I’ve sparred with with readers who thought my kids just needed more “backbone” to resist classroom treats, or who thought I must be a weak parent and even “anti-freedom.”  (You can see a semi-complete list of classroom-treat-related posts in the “Related Links” below.)

So, given the centrality of the birthday treat issue on The Lunch Tray, it was with great delight that I read this message sent to me last week by a friend and TLT reader:

My daughter . . . had her birthday yesterday. The tradition is that a parent comes in to share a favorite story and baby pictures.

OK, let’s pause here for one second and give some big kudos to this school for instituting such a charming tradition, one that’s actually meaningful to kids and  doesn’t involve food at all.  Now, to continue . . .

Instead of having me read a story. She decided to have a showing of the Mr. Zee’s story for her second grade class. The kids enjoyed it. A girl or 2 cheered when the brave girl took a bite of the apple.

 Squeeeee!  :-)

Obviously, this story makes me happy because it means my little rhyming kids’ video about healthy eating, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory,” is actually resonating with my intended audience, and that’s incredibly gratifying.

But this story also proves what I hear from parents so often.  It takes courage (and sometimes a lot of push-back from your kids) to go against the sugar tide, but when we bring non-food treats or find other ways of celebrating classroom birthdays, we are almost always pleasantly surprised to find that it’s really the adults, and not the kids, who feel that a birthday celebration at school just isn’t legitimate without junk food.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this smash hit birthday celebration, shared by School Bites, where only fresh fruit was served, or this junk-food-free party described by Caron Gremont of First Bites.  Kids are even happy with no food at all (my preferred approach in the classroom), as I saw with my own eyes here and here.

So, have you pulled off a successful classroom birthday celebration with either non-food or healthy food treats?  Help other parents out and share your stories with us here!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join over 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Epi-Pens In Every School: How You Can Help

PeanutsBack in February, 2012 I told you about  a seven-year-old, peanut-allergic girl who died in Virginia because her family hadn’t supplied her school with an Epi-Pen, and the school nurse was constrained by rules prohibiting the use of an Epi-Pen prescribed to another child, even in an emergency.

As I mentioned then, Virginia (and other states) have passed laws to prevent this tragic outcome from happening again, but the legislative landscape is patchy and doesn’t always provide clear directives to schools.  The good news is, there’s also federal legislation in the works to provide needed uniformity across the states.  That bill, entitled the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, passed in the House in July and is likely to come before the Senate soon.  If adopted, the law would condition federal grant money on states allowing qualified school personnel to administer Epi-Pens in an emergency and, most importantly, to keep a stock of undesignated Epi-Pens for anyone who might need one.

Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld, a parent of a food allergic child, took to the New York Times editorial page this past Sunday to urge passage of the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act.  (You may remember an earlier, provocative piece by Sittenfeld asking parents to keep their children from running around with snacks on the playground to protect kids with allergies.  That article stimulated a lot of conversation on Salon, where it was published, and also here on The Lunch Tray.)

The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act seems like a no-brainer but it needs our support to ensure its passage.  FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) lays out here a list of things you can do, even if you’re not a parent of a food-allergic child.  Because as Sittenfeld chillingly notes in her Times piece:

. . .  a significant portion of severe allergic reactions at school occur among students with no prior allergy diagnosis. . . .  As a nurse at the office of my family’s allergy doctor has said to me repeatedly, “Anyone can develop an allergy to anything at any time.”

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 6,400 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 4,000 TLT fans on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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A Neglectful Blogger’s Link Round-Up

I know I’m not supposed to be blogging daily anymore (to preserve my health and sanity), but it just doesn’t feel right not to share with you some of the many interesting articles and links that come across my screen at a rapid clip each day.  Lately, though, I’ve been playing catch-up on life – and laundry – after spending almost three weeks doing nothing but producing “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory.”  So please forgive this down and dirty “link dump” of articles and posts worth reading:

Dirt and Kimchee:  Your New Best Friends

Run, don’t walk, to read Michael Pollan’s cover story in last Sunday’s New York Times about the role of microbes in fostering human health.  While this topic might sound far afield of TLT’s focus on “kids and food,” you’ll soon learn that our “microbiomes” may play a role in some issues frequently discussed here, including childhood obesity and childhood food allergies.  Fascinating stuff.

Pay People To Cook?

Here’s a thought-provoking opinion piece by Kristin Wartman arguing that the government should foster home cooking through financial incentives and the tax code.

Is Anything OK to Eat?

I love this post on today’s Real Mom Nutrition blog in which Sally Kuzemchak is fed up with the culture of fear that surrounds food discussions on Facebook.  Just a few hours after reading Sally’s piece, I read on Facebook about the “dark side” of Greek yogurt (the production of which creates environmental toxins), reminding me of another recent piece I saw on Facebook about the “dark side” of quinoa (now so expensive it can’t be eaten by the native populations that grow it).  All of these concerns are valid, of course, but it’s hard to know what to do about them while still feeding yourself and your family well.  Sigh.

School Food Is Better in Japan (and France, and Italy, and Lots of Other Places)

I tire sometimes of sharing glowing reports of how great school food is in other countries, mostly because those countries’ governments give their schools far more funding than our Congress provides, and because those cultures often think about food in a very different way than Americans do, so their schools aren’t forced to fight the same uphill battles.  Nonetheless, to the extent we can learn anything from other countries, here’s the latest report about superior school food – this time in Japan.

Does Teaching Kids About Healthful Eating Cause Eating Disorders?

Christina Le Beau of Spoonfed answers with an emphatic “no” in this recent post.

Marion Nestle Tells It Like It Is

This is now a few weeks old but I wanted to share this Politico op-ed from Marion Nestle (Food Politics) and Rob Waters explaining – in response to another op-ed by a Republican Congressman – why it’s actually OK for the Center for Disease Control to tell Americans that some foods are, you know, not very good for us.

Happy reading!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Can We Crowd-Source A Reader Question re Food in the Classroom?

Between my recent laptop crash and this mysterious “Lunch-Tray-third-anniversary-project” I keep alluding to on Facebook, I’m falling woefully behind on various promised posts.  One such post is the answer to a question left on TLT’s Facebook page by a reader named Allison who is concerned with junk food in her child’s classroom.  Since I’m pressed for time, I’m going to share my bare bones advice for Allison, but I’d love it if my readers could chime in, too, with their own thoughts and experiences.

Here’s Allison’s post:

I have read some of your articles re: food in the classroom – and want to try to encourage our school to consider food-free classrooms (or at the very least – junk free classrooms). Can you give me advice on the best way to plant this idea w/the admin? I was thinking of compiling a notebook with articles/resources (some of yours if that is ok) to share with the principal – stuff to back me up rather than just telling him why we should go this direction. Food/junk in the classroom has always been a concern of mine – but even more so since my youngest has a severe food allergy – and will begin K in the fall. My oldest does not have food allergies – but is constantly coming home reporting to me the crap she has been given throughout the day – as rewards – as incentives – as manipulatives in learning a subject. The worst offenders tend to be the teachers who do not have children themselves (and interesting to note also have weight issues themselves). Any advice you can give me to help me try to make a difference for the health of all students I would greatly appreciate. I know there are other parents who agree with me at this school – but are not willing to step forward b/c of the backlash that most likely will occur from those parents who see nothing wrong with kids grazing all day on sugar. Thanks!

My answer:

Allison:

I totally feel your pain.  When it comes to food in the classroom, what you’re taking on is not just a classroom problem, but a much larger societal mindset which doesn’t see any problem with these practices, or which doesn’t view junk food as particularly harmful, and changing those attitudes is a very tall order for any one parent to address.  Even in my own kids’ schools, I’m glad to report that the incidence of food-as-a-reward has gone down over the years, but the practice certainly hasn’t stopped entirely.

Before turning your question over to TLT readers, here’s my quick answer:

1.  Forming a coalition of parents is always easier than going it alone.  There likely will be a backlash from other parents, and it’s good to have other people standing with you so you can’t be portrayed as some nutty outlier. I’ve found that health-conscious parents often suffer in silence, and you might be surprised at how many parents feel as you do once you broach the subject with them.  This can be done informally, through casual conversations, or you could raise the issue at a PTA or other school meeting to garner support that way.

2.  Try to locate your district’s wellness policy and see if it has any language regarding the use of food in the classroom.  The policy should be somewhere on your district’s website, often housed wherever there is information about your SHAC (that stands for School (or Student) Health Advisory Council (or Committee)).  It’s likely the topic is not addressed, but if it is, then it may be persuasive to show your principal that his/her school is not in compliance with stated district policy.

3.  It is always much better if you can marshal facts in support of your position.  So rather than making vague complaints about “unhealthy” food, a standard which is open to broad interpretation, it’s much more persuasive to be able to say, “On such-and-such day, the children were given such-and-such sugary foods as a classroom manipulative, with each child likely consuming X  teaspoons of sugar during the lesson.  However, the American Heart Association recommends no more than about 3-4 tsps of sugar (130-170 calories) in a young child’s day, which is far less than the amount consumed in the classroom that day.  And the candy eaten at school was likely not the only source of sugar in most students’ diets that day.”  That sort of thing.

4.  There are lots of resources on the Internet to help you make your case to a principal, teacher or other parents.  Here’s a list from a recent TLT post:

KY Healthy Kids has a useful list of medical organizations which discourage the use of food rewards, a list which may carry weight with your child’s principal or teacher.  My own Food in the Classroom Manifesto lists ten important reasons why classrooms should be food-free.  (A clean, easily copied Word version — no fancy “parchment” background to gobble up your printer ink— can be downloaded here.)  The awesome Rudd ‘Roots Parents website, run by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, has loads of additional information and guidance for parents to draw upon, as does the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the many other sites in my list of parent resources to the right of this post.

To that list, I’d also add this PDF handout from the Spoonfed blog.

OK, TLT’ers, anything to add?

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Readers Respond: What Are Our Societal Obligations to Food-Allergic Kids?

PeanutsI was a little scared to post yesterday’s piece about novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s request that parents of non-allergic kids take certain precautions to protect kids with food allergies at the playground.  The degree to which society needs to collectively accommodate such kids can be a hot button issue, and I had no idea what to expect in terms of reader reaction.

But in the end I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer niceness of TLT readers, both here on the blog and on TLT’s Facebook page.  Here are two typical comments that came in from parents not affected by food allergies in their own families:

We generally avoid taking peanut butter to the park. If we do you can bet we wipe up good when we’re done. I don’t get why this is so hard. I do not want to be the cause of another child’s suffering, regardless of whether the general public thinks I am responsible or not. It’s just a decent thing to be aware of. It takes a village people!

And . . .

No snacks on the playground. Water only. When it is time for snack, we exit the play area, find a nice shady spot in the grass and have our snack away from everyone else. When providing snacks for a group, I steer clear of nuts, berries, kiwi and soy. Or I just ask the parents ahead of time if there are any allergies or food avoidance in the group. I know I would appreciate the thought if one of my children had food allergies.

And many parents felt that Sittenfeld’s requests would serve all kids well, regardless of allergies.  Here’s a comment along those lines from Alissa Stoltz of Simply Wholesome Kitchen:

. . .  there are so many benefits to ALL kids to not allow them to run around eating and dropping food all over the place, that the fact that it will also help protect kids with potentially life-threatening allergies makes it a no-brainer.

Dana Woldow of PEACHSF had a similar view:

Letting kids run around while eating is a bad idea on many counts, including increasing the likelihood of choking. Also, part of learning healthy eating habits is to value eating as an activity worthy of one’s full attention, not something to do while also doing something else (like watching TV); distracted eating not only can lead to less enjoyment of the food itself, it also makes it harder for the child to realize when he or she has had enough.

I wasn’t the only one pleased to see such widespread acceptance of Sittenfeld’s proposal.  Here’s an email I received yesterday from my sister-in-law, Lisa Siegel, whose daughter has a severe nut allergy and was one of the first kids to undergo the type of desensitization program discussed on the blog here.  Lisa has been a committed advocate for food-allergic families and had this to say:

I had to share that I am surprised and encouraged by the supportive comments made on yesterday’s TLT allergy post.  I was recently a part of a national conference call hosted by FARE to gather testimonials on how the stress of having a food allergic kid affects the entire family.  One recurrent theme shared by parents was the frustration of reading new stories/blog posts written by those unaffected…and reader comments filled with judgement and insensitivity.  No one can truly understand what we go through until they are faced with their own adversities.  But the posts on your blog may show that the tide is slowly turning.  Thanks for putting the dialog out there!

But not everyone felt that Sittenfeld’s requests were realistic or desirable.  Reader Kate had this to say:

While the article doesn’t quite say it, it sort of assumes every park going kid has mom and dad hovering nearby with a wipe. I’m not trying to be disrespectful here, but is that really the sort of culture we want to create? Many kids are of an age to play in a park by themselves. Some I know might even cut through the park on their way to or from school, and take a quick ride on the swing. Sure we can teach these kids to be respectful of their environment, but it wouldn’t be realistic to think they were 100% free of contaminants at all times, or would be carrying a packet of wipes.

And finally, I wanted to share this interesting perspective from Justin Gagnon, CEO of ChoiceLunch (a school food provider in California) and also a parent and sometime TLT contributor:

. . . I have to say I’m disheartened by an environment where nuts are villainized and banned in so many schools, but highly processed foods that have “clean” allergen statements are not perceived to pose a threat. One is actually a great source of protein and energy for kids, but is life threatening to a small minority with dramatic and immediate consequences. The other is seemingly innocuous, but has dramatic and long-term negative consequences that many refuse to even recognize.

My 2-year old son and I were thrown out of my daughter’s preschool class Halloween party because I gave him a bag of trail mix that had nuts. We were ushered away immediately and almost incredulously at our brazen ignorance. The classroom, unbeknownst to me, was nut free. At the same time, the class was enjoying store bought, artificially colored cupcakes, go-gurts, goldfish and fruit juice – all parent provided in strict accordance with the nut-free snack policy of the school. 

There has to be a middle ground here. Schools implement drastic elimination food policies because they don’t know how to deal with severe allergies. Many times these policies restrict far more nutrient dense and wholesome foods than are otherwise allowed…all in the name of safety.

I think Justin’s point could be the topic of a separate post: does vigilance about food allergies result in kids eating more processed food?

Thanks to all who wrote in and engaged in this important discussion.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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What Is Our Collective Obligation to Protect Food Allergic Children?

PeanutsLast night I read a thought-provoking piece in Slate by novelist Curtis Sittenfeld in which she asks parents to take precautions at the playground to protect her food-allergic daughter and others like her.  After explaining how chance encounters with various foods on the playground could potentially cause her child to suffer fatal anaphylaxis, Sittenfeld makes these requests:

If your child snacks at the playground, please don’t let her run around while she’s eating. Please don’t leave the food unattended and accessible to other kids. If your child spills, help her clean it up. And after she’s finished, please use wipes to wash her hands, not antibacterial gel; hand sanitizer doesn’t kill the proteins in most foods that cause allergic reactions, and tiny amounts of such proteins can literally be lethal.

The comments on Sittenfeld’s piece, predictably, have gotten a little nasty.  A typical entry:

Honey, they are YOUR kids. Don’t be looking to the rest of us to do your job for you. You made your bed, now lie in it.

Lovely.

Before I read last month’s New York Times Magazine cover story on childhood food allergies and a possible cure (discussed in this TLT post), I might have dismissed Sittenfeld’s views out of hand.  But having read about the unrelenting anxiety and other burdens shouldered by parents of food allergic children, and the unpredictability of a child’s allergic responses (hives one day, anaphylaxis the next), I honestly don’t know how some of these families hold it together at all.

Even before reading the Times story, my concerns about food allergic kids led, in part, to my writing my Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto (in which I argue that school classrooms should be food-free), and I certainly support accommodations for food allergies in school cafeterias.  But schools are unique in that parents can’t supervise their children there, and they must trust third parties to take reasonable precautions.  When we move outside the school context, though, what’s our societal obligation to protect food allergic kids?

Do you think Sittenfeld’s requests are reasonable or overreaching?

Whether or not you have food allergies in your family, I’d love to hear what you think.  And be sure to check out this 2010 guest post on The Lunch Tray from the Wellness Bitch, a parent of a food-allergic child who asks essentially the same question.

[hat tip: Jolly Tomato, for sharing the Sittenfeld piece on Facebook]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray!  Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Kids and Food Allergies: New Advice and a Potential New Cure

PeanutsIn case anyone missed the cover story of last Sunday’s New York Times magazine, it described groundbreaking efforts by one intrepid researcher, Dr. Kari Nadeau, to desensitize highly food-allergic kids against multiple allergens.  (Desensitization isn’t new – my niece was successfully desensitized to peanuts years ago –  but this program is the first to combine a variety of food allergens in a single protocol.)

The article, written by a reporter with a food allergic child, also really brings home what it’s like to manage a child’s potentially fatal allergy, something the rest of us can’t always fully understand:

. . . food allergies amplify a kind of fear every parent experiences — of a child dashing suddenly into the street and, just like that, being gone. Your child is always playing near a precipice that is visible only to you: you may be able to keep her from falling off, but you can never move her away from the edge.

When you read the harrowing accounts of  some of these parents, you’ll understand all the more why I feel so strongly that food-free classrooms should be the norm.

Meanwhile, thanks to Dina Rose of It’s Not About Nutrition, I just learned that there’s been a recent change in medical advice regarding the introduction of potential allergens in a baby’s diet.  Apparently it’s no longer considered necessary or desirable to delay the introduction of foods like eggs and peanuts, a big reversal from what I was told when my children were young.  You can read more in Dina’s post, here.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,200 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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New Laws Mean More Schools Will Use EpiPens in Allergic Emergencies

In this age of rising food allergies and peanut-free schools, I’d long assumed that all school nurses around the country must have EpiPens on hand in case of emergency.

But when a seven-year-old, peanut-allergic girl tragically died in Virginia last month due to a lack of an EpiPen, I was shocked to learn that most schools will only administer the life-saving medication if supplied by the parents of the child in question.   That is to say, if the nurse has an EpiPen belonging to another child, technically he or she is not supposed to administer it to a different child — even in an emergency.

That situation might be about to change, however.  Check out this informative Education Week post by Nirvi Shah detailing legislative activity in Chicago, Virginia —  and the U.S. Senate — which should make EpiPens more likely to be used to prevent fatal allergic reactions at school.

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 1,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

 

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Does Having a French Mom = Veggie-Adventurous Kids?

Those of us with kids who are, to put it mildly, a tad veggie-resistant often scratch our heads and wonder where we went wrong.

In my own case, I’ve long been baffled by my son’s (now lessening, but still an issue) vegetable avoidance, given that we’re clearly doing a lot right. For example, my husband and I love vegetables and have modeled our enjoyment of them since my son’s birth. Following what I believe is sound advice, I’ve tried (when humanly possible) not to make too big a deal out of it, lest our pressure backfire. In keeping with the notion that kids eat what they grow, my son has had the experience in school of growing his own vegetables — but nonetheless passes on a chance to taste the harvest. And, not to be immodest here, but I’m a pretty decent cook and my vegetable side dishes are, in general, tasty and kid-accessible.

So where did I go wrong? Turns out the problem is quite simple: I’m not French.

french tomatoes
Just havin' fun with the stock photo credits, people. TLT does not in any way endorse the dyeing of one's tomatoes blue just to make a cool French veggie montage.

OK, I’m being a little glib here, no doubt because I’m feeling pretty bitter. Go check out Dina Rose’s fascinating post today on It’s Not About Nutrition, discussing why French kids may be eating more vegetables than your kids do, and what we can all learn from the differences between how the French and the Germans approach early childhood feeding. It’s such an interesting read.

And as for my son and the ways in which I may have failed him as an infant? Well, what can I say now except “C’est la vie?”

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TLT Guest Blogger Justin Gagnon: Looking for the School Food “Silver Bullet”

[Ed Note:  Justin Gagnon is the CEO of Choicelunch, a school food catering service in the Bay Area.  We somehow “met” through The Lunch Tray and I was taken not only with Justin’s passionate commitment to providing school kids with healthy, delicious and sustainable meals, but also with his nuanced and clear-headed thinking about school food issues.  And it didn’t hurt that he’s also a great writer!  

He and I have discussed  privately in emails how hard it can be for any school food provider, whether a private catering service like Choicelunch or public schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, to serve many masters, i.e., parents and administrators with countless — and often competing — agendas.  I asked him if he’d share those thoughts in a guest blog post on TLT and am thrilled to be able to present it here today.]

Looking for the School Food “Silver Bullet”

by Justin Gagnon

This evening I had the pleasure of discussing school lunch with Amy Kafala of Two Angry Moms.  A local book store in the Bay Area was hosting her at a book signing.  Also in the audience was Dana Woldow, of SFUSD fame.  By any objective measure, there was a lot of school lunch reform “power” in that room, and the conversation was intelligent, insightful, and informed.  There was only one problem – everyone in that room was already on the same side.  It turns out that conversations around school food activism tend to draw, well, school food activists.

justin gagnon
Choicelunch CEO Justin Gagnon

There were some people in the community attending who were interested in hearing more about what they can do, and Amy is perhaps the perfect person to lead the charge in this regard.  Her work as an “Angry Mom” has mobilized thousands to get active, and continues to draw more people into the discussion.  But perhaps what troubles me most is that after eight years of building a healthy school lunch company virtually from scratch, I still find myself awake at night tossing and turning because I can’t seem to unearth that school lunch “silver bullet”.

Of everyone in that room tonight, I should, in theory, have it the easiest when it comes to making school lunch that everyone loves.  Many of the schools we serve are private schools, and the public districts we do serve have Free and Reduced rates below 10% [i.e, fewer than 10% of the kids qualify for free or reduced price lunch.]  Our price point is far higher than the typical school lunch (most of our full meals cost in the mid-$4 range), and as a result, we have more money to spend on ingredients and making meals from scratch.  Combine all of that with the fact that we’re in California, which is the epicenter of our nation’s produce growing, and you have all the ingredients for amazing school lunch.  A foodservice director working within the confines of the National School Lunch Program probably looks at a program like mine and thinks, “If we could charge those prices, we’d have a program everyone could get behind.” But as the guy standing on the greener grass and striving to make everyone happy, I can tell you it’s not all organic peaches and cream.

In fact, I often feel tortured by this industry.  No matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to please everyone.  On one hand, I’ve had parents refer to organics and tell me their kids don’t eat “that way” and tell me verbatim “get rid of all the healthy crap.”  On the other, I’ve had an admitted meat eater read us the riot act for describing local, organic, grass-fed beef as coming from “happy cows” (he guaranteed they were not happy as they marched to slaughter for the sake of school lunch).  I’ve even had a parent demand we serve Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and tell me that trans fats don’t matter because their child will “run them off on the playground anyway.”  No matter the demographics of the community – low-income or wealthy, private or public school, ethnically diverse or homogenous – there simply isn’t a consensus of what parents want from school lunch.

But the saddest thing about ALL of this is that food isn’t a celebration anymore.  It’s a contentious, heated battle with everyone arming themselves with different weapons and very different agendas.  Junk foodies, vegans, “green team” waste hawks, ABF/GMO-free/organic proponents, locavores, and the allergen-impacted are all demanding you meet the needs of their family, and the majority of parents are sitting there going “I just want something wholesome that my kid enjoys.”   The fact is, it is impossible to please everyone, and school food is a near thankless gig for the conscientious.

Food, and school food specifically, is not unlike many of the other challenges facing this country.  It’s a multi-faceted issue fraught with complexities.  And since everyone eats, it’s an issue that everyone has an opinion on.  But there is no right or wrong, black or white, or right or left when it comes to food.  The way I see it may be completely different than the way you see it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I n fact, it is the diversity of perspective that allows for an even more richer discussion to take place.

If there’s one takeaway I would have for TLT readers, it would be to start talking.  Start talking to schools, start talking to foodservice directors and employees, but most importantly, start talking to other parents.  Don’t just talk though.  After you start talking, just listen.  Do they share your concerns?  Is there something in their perspective that you haven’t thought about?  Do they agree with your position on what should be done in your community?  Are there things happening that you didn’t even know about that are moving the tide in the right direction?  chances are you’ll find someone in your community or in the foodservice operation itself who is passionate and dedicated to the cause and has already picked up the banner.”

* * *

I want to thank Justin Gagnon for sharing his thoughts on today’s Lunch Tray.  Early on I published a similar post from another person “behind the lunch line,” TLT’s anonymous school food professional whom I refer to as “Wilma.”  Though Wilma works in a public school district rather than a private catering service, I think you’ll see that she and Justin share many of the same challenges. 

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A School District Bans In-Class Birthday Treats (And You Know How I Feel About That)

If you’ve been reading TLT for a while, you know there was a time when it seemed like I was talking 24/7 about my opposition to birthday treats in school classrooms.


The ubiquitous in-class birthday cupcake (or cookies or ice cream or candy) was the subject of one of my very first posts on this blog, and then a libertarian mom  took issue with me and the debate heated up.   I wrote about the issue again when Sarah Palin made the treats in classrooms a conservative rallying cry and again when I was flooded with reader comments about that post.  And I didn’t stop there – I wrote about banning birthday treats for my local free newspaper, I guest posted about it on The Wellness Bitch, and I was even quoted on the issue by the Atlantic Monthly‘s Newswire.  (Frankly, by then even I was getting sick of hearing myself expound on the subject.)

So of course it was with great interest that I read last week (via a tip from PEACHSF‘s Facebook page) that a school district in north central Illinois has decided to ban in-class birthday treats in all of its elementary schools.

Interestingly, the reasons cited in favor of the ban were not just rising rates of obesity (although that was clearly a factor in the Mendota school board’s decision) but also an issue much discussed in my posts above, namely, the legitimate safety concerns of the ever-growing number of parents with food allergic children.  According to the news report, the district nurse who briefed the school board on the issue mentioned the specter of “cross-contamination in home kitchens,” as well as the fact that birthday treats mean that “staff members need to learn the many ways food allergies can affect a child and have plans in place for each child with a known allergy.”

Another problem with birthday treats (apart from nutritional concerns) was cited by two Mendota principals in favor of the ban (and also raised by some teachers in response to various Lunch Tray posts about this issue): namely,  the lost instructional time when teachers must dole out treats, wait for them to be eaten, and clean up afterwards.  When treats are brought in several times a month, this is not an insignificant problem.

A few years ago, my adopted state of Texas passed –I kid you not — a “Safe Cupcake Amendment” to make sure nothing infringed on parents’ apparently inalienable right to bring their children a sugary birthday treat at school.  But maybe the Mendota school district is a bellwether.   Rising childhood obesity rates alone might not have been enough, but maybe obesity plus the documented rise in childhood food allergies plus the pressure on teachers created by “No Child Left Behind” could finally kill the birthday cupcake tradition for good.

Or am I dreaming here?

 

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Jerome Groopman on the Mysterious Rise In Food Allergies

The current (February 7th) issue of the New Yorker has an interesting piece by Jerome Groopman, the talented New Yorker staff writer who covers health and medical issues for the magazine.  Entitled “The Peanut Puzzle,” the article ponders a question currently vexing the medical community (and many parents):  why are food allergies, including peanut allergies, so clearly on the rise — and what can be done to prevent them?

The article describes the work of Dr. Gideon Lack, one of the first doctors to challenge the prevailing advice that children be kept from commonly allergenic foods (peanuts, etc.) until their immune systems can fully develop.   It also examines various theories about the cause of food allergies, including the “hygiene hypothesis” (i.e., our children’s environments are too sterile) and the theory that vitamin D may play a role (doctors in cold states write three to four times as many prescriptions for epinephrine than doctors in warm states).  Dr. Lack also mentions something I’ve never heard before:  in developing countries (where allergies are less common), food is often pre-chewed by a parent before being fed to an infant, leading to the speculation that the enzymes and antibodies in the parent’s saliva might naturally prevent an allergenic response.  I found that fascinating.

Unless you’re a New Yorker subscriber, the link above will only take you to an abstract of the piece, not the full article.  However, if you’re among the many Lunch Tray readers with children affected by food allergies, you may want to stop by the newsstand and pick up this issue.

On a related note, in the coming days I’ll have a guest blog post from my new friend Robyn McCord O’Brien, founder of the Allergy Kids Foundation and author of The Unhealthy Truth.