New Study Argues Against Ban on Chocolate Milk in School Cafeterias

chocolatemilkResearchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab have released a new study regarding school chocolate milk that’s getting some press.

The study looked at milk consumption in 11 Oregon elementary school cafeterias in which chocolate milk had been banned.  After the ban, total daily milk sales declined by almost 10%, white milk sales increased by around 160 cartons per day but almost 30% of that white milk was thrown away, and overall school meal participation dropped by about 7%.

The Cornell Food and Brand Lab is led by Dr. Brian Wansink, whom I’ve referred to here as a “master of lunchroom trickery:” Wansink is the leading expert on how subtle changes to the physical layout of cafeterias can induce people to make healthier choices without being aware of the manipulation.  But as my 2011 TLT interview with him made clear, he’s not a proponent of removing less healthy options altogether.   

So, not surprisingly, the research team in the Cornell study concluded that rather than banning chocolate milk outright, food service directors should consider the following techniques, all of which may boost white milk consumption:

(1) keeping all beverage coolers stocked with at least some white milk; 2) white milk representing 1/3 or more of all visible milk in the lunchroom; 3) placing white milk in front of other beverages, including chocolate milk, in all coolers; 4) placing white milk crates so that they are the first beverage option seen in all milk coolers; and 5) bundling white milk with all grab and go meals available to students as the default beverage.

Stacy Whitman of School Bites had an excellent post last Friday examining the study in detail, questioning the interpretation of some of its findings and raising some reasonable questions about possible researcher bias.  She noted:

While I cer­tainly don’t mean to sug­gest any impro­pri­ety, it’s inter­est­ing to note that Wansink served as exec­u­tive direc­tor of the USDA’s Cen­ter for Nutri­tion Pol­icy and Pro­mo­tion around the time that MilkPEP started a $500,000 to $1M Raise Your Hand for Choco­late Milk cam­paign to increase choco­late milk con­sump­tion in schools.

But regardless of the merits and interpretation of this particular study, it doesn’t surprise me that overall milk consumption may have dropped when chocolate milk was removed from the cafeteria.  Back in 2011, I wrote an epically long and somewhat controversial post on chocolate milk in schools and noted there that:

 A recent study which looked at 58 elementary and secondary schools found that on days when only white milk was offered in cafeterias, milk consumption dropped an average of 35 percent.  Yes, yes, I know that study was funded by the dairy industry, and maybe it’s all bunk.  But on a purely anecdotal basis, I have never heard of any school district that did not see a significant, lasting drop in milk consumption when flavored milk was discontinued.

Stacy asked in her School Bites post whether the study findings might have been different if the Cornell study lasted longer than a year:

What would hap­pen if they gave it more time? Would more kids start choos­ing and drink­ing white milk as it grad­u­ally became the norm?

But as I noted in that same 2011 TLT post, this hadn’t proven true in Houston ISD as of the last time I discussed this issue with our Food Services department.  Our district’s breakfast program only offers white milk  and

. . .  HISD indicated that — almost one year after the breakfast program was fully rolled out — kids still don’t want the white milk, disproving the notion that children inured to flavored milk will eventually drink plain if they have no choice.

So, all of this said, where do I come out on chocolate milk in schools?

The main point of my 2011 post was to question why Jamie Oliver (whose “Food Revolution” show was then on television) was focusing so intensely on banning chocolate milk in American schools at a time when there were, in my opinion, far more pressing school food issues which would have benefitted from his celebrity and clout.

And even now, three years later, there are so many other sources of sugar in kids’ diets I’d rather address first, such as the ubiquitous but completely “empty-calorie” sports drinks and sodas many kids consume on a regular basis.  Because while I agree with many experts that dairy is not a necessary part of anyone’s diet (despite relentless dairy industry propaganda to the contrary), the fact remains that dairy, unlike soda and sports drinks, provides children with protein, calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin D and phosphorous. It’s also more readily consumed by most kids than other foods providing some of those nutrients, such as calcium-rich sardines, canned salmon with bones or dark green, leafy vegetables.

It’s also worth noting that not all chocolate milk is created equal.  Here in Houston ISD, for example, our cafeterias have been offering for years a flavored milk called TruMoo which has 18 grams of sugar per serving.  That might sound high, but 12 of those sugar grams are from the lactose that’s in white milk as well.  So for 1.5 teaspoons of added sugar, kids are consuming an otherwise healthful beverage.  Contrast this with traditional flavored milk, such Horizon, which has almost 6 teaspoons of sugar — four times as much! — per serving.

That strikes me as a reasonable nutritional compromise, but if the almost 70 comments that came in on my 2011 post are any indication, passions about flavored milk run high!  Let me know in a comment below your thoughts on the Wansink study and/or flavored milk in schools generally.

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Help Get Food Education Into Every American School!

The longer I blog on The Lunch Tray, the more I become convinced that the keys to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and improving kids’ health rest with kids themselves.

That is to say, we absolutely must do what we can to improve our children’s food environment — school food reform, improved competitive food, reining in children’s junk food advertising and more — but unless kids also understand why healthy eating is important and what healthy eating looks like, those efforts may not be effective.   Junk food and fast food will always be available, tasty and cheap and, absent sufficient motivation to avoid them, they unfortunately represent the path of of least resistance for many Americans — children and adults alike.

That’s why I’m so excited about the new partnership between Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Food Day to bring food education and cooking classes into schools across America.  I briefly told you about the Get Food Education in Every School initiative when it was announced in May, but now you can read more about it in this week’s Huffington Post editorial by Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (the folks behind Food day).  Jacobson writes:

The anti-hunger group Feeding America estimates that elementary school students receive just 3.4 hours of nutrition education — actual education and not marketing — each year. Fewer than 25 percent of high school students take any family and consumer science classes, formerly known as home economics, and those classes are often the first to go when school budgets are trimmed. And parents have to shoulder some of the blame, when, in all too many harried households, “cooking” actually means “microwaving” or otherwise heating some well-preserved, factory-extruded, combination of flour, fat, salt, sugar, dyes, and other chemicals.

But just as we expect our schools to do the heavy lifting when it comes to teaching geography, algebra, physical education, and history, we should expect schools to teach children about food — where it comes from and how it affects our bodies and our health

In the campaign’s first year, organizers hope to raise awareness about the lack of food education and to build a broad coalition that will build support for food education at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

I’m proud to be one of the early supporters of this effort (you can read my thoughts on Jamie Oliver’s blog here), along with The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, American College of Lifestyle Medicine, American Medical Students Association, Edible Schoolyard Project, Center for Ecoliteracy, The Food Trust, National Association of Nutrition Professionals, Wellness in the Schools, and Nourish.

I hope you’ll join me by signing this petition to show your support as well.  You can also promote the campaign on social media using the #FoodEd hashtag and you can follow the effort on Pinterest.

I’ll be participating in periodic conference calls with the campaign organizers and will share more information about Get Food Education in Every School throughout the coming year.  And when school starts up again, I’ll also be sharing an interview with Michael Jacobson about the effort.  If you have particular questions you’d like me to ask him, feel free to leave them in a comment below.

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What’s Ahead on TLT

     It’s the last day of school here in Houston ISD and if you’re a parent, I don’t need to tell you how busy I’ve been this week with various end-of-year activities and celebrations.  There’s been little time for blogging, but I wanted to share a few things and let you know what’s coming up in the weeks ahead on The Lunch Tray.

First, I wanted to belatedly report that I had a wonderful time last week at PS 107 in Brooklyn.  I spoke on a panel with Michael Moss, author of  the best-selling Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us; Liza Engelberg, Director of Education at Edible Schoolyard NYC; and Nancy Romer of the Brooklyn Food Coalition. The discussion was moderated by John Donahue, New Yorker cartoonist, editor and the blogger at Stay at Stove Dad.  NYC City Councilman Brad Lander also dropped by and I had a chance to meet PS 107 parent Susan Tang, blogger of the now inactive but much-loved Little Ladies Who Lunch.  We had a free-wheeling and stimulating discussion about all sort of food issues, from the broader problems with our food supply and food injustice, to micro-issues like cupcakes in the classroom.  I especially want to thank Susan Quinn, one of the event’s organizers, for inviting me to speak.

I also wanted to share an update on “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory,” my recently-released kids’ video about processed food and advertising.  I was honored to be asked to blog about the video — and why I created it — on both the Food Day blog and on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  The former post also appears today on Civil Eats, a respected source for food policy news.  Even more exciting, Mr. Zee is on the cusp of reaching 10,000 views on YouTube, which was my personal goal for the video.  Thanks to all of you for sharing the video on Twitter and Facebook!

Looking ahead, the blog posting schedule on TLT will slow down a bit as it does each summer, but I’ll continue to post here regularly.  And with the school year behind us, I want to turn from the school food issues often discussed here to some other topics, including the all-important family dinner.  I’ll soon be sharing with you information about an exciting new family dinner initiative started by Aviva Goldfarb at The Six O’Clock Scramble, and I’ll also ask for your help for a TLT reader who’s looking for some reliable weeknight dinner options.

Also, now that I have a little more free time, I’ll be digging into my teetering pile of bedside reading.  Lots of authors have sent me their newly released food-related books, so be on the lookout for more book reviews and giveaways over the summer.

Finally, in the coming days I’m also going to ask you a small favor.  After blogging on TLT for three (!) years, I’m feeling the need to freshen things up a bit and I want to make sure I’m fulfilling all your kid/food blogging needs. (Did you even know you had kid/food blogging needs?  :-)  )  To that end, I’m going to post and send out a short reader survey and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to fill it out and let me know how I’m doing.

Happy summer, TLT’ers!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 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. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Will Ferrell As School Food Reformer? Why I’m Worried

The Huffington Post reported yesterday that the story of Jamie Oliver’s fraught attempt to improve the school food in Los Angeles USD, documented on his Food Revolution show last summer, is going to be adapted into a feature-length movie.   Ryan Seacrest (producer of the Food Revolution show) will be a co-producer of the film, and the actors Will Ferrell and Sean William Scott are reportedly being considered to play the Jamie Oliver role.

The Hollywood Reporter sums up the movie’s plot this way:

The story centers on a hot Los Angeles chef known for his popular gourmet food truck who gets into trouble and is sentenced to work at a school. The chef revamps the lunch program with a ragtag group of kids.

Now, I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, anything that brings widespread media attention to improving school food is a net good in my book.  But at the same time, no one wants to shell out $9 on a movie ticket to see Will Ferrell deal with the real complexities of school food reform.  We’re unlikely to see him poring over dense regulations, struggling to meet an underfunded budget, lamenting the lack of a real school kitchen in which to cook and store food, dealing with a cafeteria too small to accommodate his students, competing with fast food outlets because of an open school campus, or, most importantly, battling an unyielding Congress for more school food funding.

Instead I think we can fairly anticipate a “feel-good” ending to this film that’s unlikely to bear any relation to reality.  And that’s fine for entertainment purposes  — yikes, even don’t want to see the real thing on screen — but it’s not fine if it leaves moviegoers with the impression that all it takes is “heart” and “pluck” (and, apparently, “a ragtag group of kids”) to fix school food.

In fact, it was just that sort of nonsense that led me, normally an ally of Jamie Oliver, to strongly criticize the Food Revolution show last summer.  I was ticked off by Oliver’s failure to tell viewers that the school he featured as a model for organic, scratch-cooked food actually receives significant outside funding, money which is not currently available to the vast majority of American schools.  In not sharing that relevant piece of information, by comparison every district not serving amazing school food looked poorly run — or just plain uncaring.   And that unfair implication was only reinforced when Jamie asked a worker at this school about the stunning difference between its food and the usual processed junk we see in most districts.  Instead of mentioning the funding differential, she answered, “Well, it helps us to really enjoy our jobs.”

In other words, if a school just has enough “heart” and “pluck,” kids can eat organic lettuces and free-range chicken instead of canned peas and nuggets.

That notion does a real disservice to the thousands of school food directors in this country who are doing their best to serve decent school meals with the appallingly few resources they’ve been given.  And a film selling that false message will only compound their problems.

Still, though, when it comes to a movie about school food, who do you think is going to be first in line on opening night?  I’ll save you a seat and a box of Junior Mints.

[Hat tip to Dana Woldow of for tipping me off about the upcoming film.]

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Really? 20% of Kids Surveyed Think Pasta Comes from an Animal

Well, that’s apparently true in Australia, anyway.  But would the results of a food literacy survey here in the U.S. be any different?

We’ve talked a lot on The Lunch Tray about the sharp decline in food knowledge and cooking skills in America, a country which ranks last among 20 surveyed nations in terms of time spent in the kitchen.  And who can forget Jamie Oliver’s first season of “Food Revolution,” in which kids in Huntington, West Virginia couldn’t identify common fruits and vegetables by sight?

These issues matter.  When we turn the cooking over entirely to restaurants and the makers of processed foods, we gain convenience at the expense of reasonable portion size and control over ingredients.   The adverse effect on our health, at least as measured by rising obesity rates, is clear.

As I discussed at length in this post a while back, there are no easy fixes for widespread food illiteracy.  While I certainly support the idea of public schools playing a role, I’m not sure how much they can accomplish during this era of No Child Left Behind and budget cuts.  Still, though, it’s worth checking out this new infographic from the Food Revolution demanding compulsory food education.

Guess where 27% of Australian kids think yogurt comes from?


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Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Supports Our Petition With Pink Slime Website!

I am SO pleased to announce that Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution team have thrown their support behind our petition:

stop pink slime

Please go check out their new website, Stop Pink— you’ll see a prominent link to the petition, information about Lean Beef Trimmings, plus endorsements from supporting organizations and individuals.

THANK YOU, Food Revolution!

And maybe with Jamie’s help we can push the current signature count (near 237K) over the one-quarter million mark — or even beyond!


Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 2,500 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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“National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day” Is Tomorrow

The School Nutrition Association, the association of school food service workers, has proclaimed this week National School Lunch Week and tomorrow, October 12th, is “National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day.”   On that day, parents are encouraged to

to line up with a lunch tray, eat with your child, and talk to the people who serve up the food day in and day out. National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day is about communication—talking to your school and to your child to learn about what’s going well, and how you can work together to make school food even better.

Jamie Oliver is asking parents to go a step further and take a picture of the school lunch and post it on the Food Revolution website.  And school food consultant Kate Adamick has a great (and funny) post on J.O.’s site listing questions to ask yourself when you’re in the cafeteria, including “Are the foods served in my school’s cafeteria aglow with colors not found in nature?,”  “Does the cafeteria smell like a cheap diner?” and “If I melt down the cans from which the food came, will I have enough metal to build a small submarine?”

All of this talk of visiting the cafeteria has made me realize I’ve really fallen down on the job.   Longtime readers may remember my  “Notes from the Field” feature, where I’d pop into my kids’ elementary school lunch room regularly to snap photos and talk with the kids about what they were eating.  I encountered the good (sliced oranges, fresh grapes and broccoli), the bad (Frito Pie and pepperoni pizza, both served with mashed potatoes) and the ugly (spinach steamed beyond recognition.)

frito pie pepperoni with mashed potatoes
Frito Pie and pepperoni pizza, with mashed potatoes

These days, my preteen daughter would die of mortification if I dared show up in her middle school cafeteria, but my son told me yesterday I’m still “allowed” to stop by his elementary lunch room.  I’m going to take him up on the offer and will revive “Notes from the Field” as soon as I can.

In the meantime, let us know in a comment if you visit your own child’s lunchroom — tomorrow or any time — and tell us what you find there.

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Would Education and “Inoculation” Keep Kids in the Cafeteria — and Away From the Food Trucks?

Blogger Alissa of The Simply Wholesome Kitchen  (she of the excellent pumpkin muffins) last week posted on TLT’s Facebook page an article from the New York Times which she knew would be of interest to me.  It describes how students at a high school in California are spurning the healthier offerings in their school cafeteria for the junk food offered by several food trucks that park on campus each day:

For $3.50, Edgar, a sophomore, purchased a bag of Hot Cheetos, a can of Coca-Cola and a package of Airheads Xtremes candy.

In the school cafeteria, the menu included a chicken sandwich with roasted potatoes or a veggie burger with garlic fries for $3.25. While there were chips for sale, they were Baked Lay’s.

None of those options appealed to Edgar, who buys his daily lunch from the snack food trucks that park during lunchtime just down the street from the school.

“They don’t have good food over there,” he said of the school cafeteria. “They have, like, fruits and vegetables.”

The article says that concerned residents are seeking to create a 1,500 foot protective zone around the school in which food trucks would be barred (a similar ordinance was passed in San Francisco) but one wonders, based on a student quoted in the story, just how effective it would be:

“It’s not going to do much,” said Nathan Estrada, 15, a sophomore, who had a sandwich from home for lunch, but was buying Hot Cheetos as a snack for later. “We will just walk over there.”

For someone like me, actively involved in trying to improve school food in my own district, stories like this are incredibly dispiriting but not at all surprising.  I’ve seen first hand when my district tries to clean up its act only to have students look at the unfamiliar food and proclaim — often without even trying it — “That’s nasty!”

Again and again I come back to the (perhaps obvious) conclusion that the most effective weapon in our arsenal against childhood obesity  is education, plain and simple.   Because no matter how much we improve school food, no matter if we tax soda and subsidize fruits and vegetables, it seems to me that we will always live in a food environment in which junk food and fast food are readily available, relatively cheap — and, above all, precisely geared to satisfy our primal cravings for salt, fat and sugar.  It will always be very hard for many people, and especially kids, to resist.

But children armed with knowledge can make better choices.  Despite all my complaints about last season’s “Food Revolution” show, I applauded Jamie Oliver’s efforts to teach the kids at West Adams High that eating junk food on a daily basis is not without consequences.  You may remember how he offered students an array of snacks, everything from a large cup of soda to an orange to a piece of pizza.  After the kids chose and ate their snack, he explained the concept of daily caloric needs and how just a month or two of poor choices could result in weight gain, and he strapped weighted backpacks on them to show what that gain would actually feel like.  He then sent the kids around the school track to burn off whatever snack they chose:  e.g., those who ate an orange (62 calories) only walked three laps while those who ate a chocolate bar (220 calories) had to walk eleven laps.

Exercises like Jamie Oliver’s teach kids in a visceral way that a steady diet of fried Cheetos and soda will most certainly affect weight and ultimate health.  And obesity aside, we also need to teach children exactly what happens to a body that is deprived of nutrients on a long term basis, because as I note frequently on this blog, even thin (and therefore seemingly “healthy”) children might well be undernourished  if they subsist solely on a highly processed, refined-carb-heavy diet.

I’m also still a proponent of the idea I posited in my essay for the Slate anti-childhood-obesity Hive, which is using public health messages to make junk food just as “uncool” as tobacco now is for many kids.  As I wrote there:

But finally, and most importantly, we need to invest children with a sense of ownership of this issue.  Without this piece of the puzzle, I fear that any educational efforts fall on deaf ears.  One solution is a widespread, well-funded public health campaign to inoculate kids against the forces that lead to unhealthful eating, akin to that used to discourage teen smoking.  Kids generally don’t like having someone try to pull the wool over their eyes, so just as we’ve made them savvy about the tobacco industry’s insidious techniques to get them to use cigarettes, we need to show kids that the food industry is, in a very direct way, making money at the expense of their own health.

So, what do you think about all this?  Am I putting too much faith in nutrition education?  Are the societal forces that lead us toward obesity just too strong to counter with classroom lessons and public health ads?  If so, what hope to we have in reversing the present trend?


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A Round-Up of Jamie Oliver News, Including a Fantastic Home Cooking Skills Website

Here’s a potpourri of a few Jamie Oliver-related news items I wanted to share with you.

First, earlier today Jamie Oliver spoke about the global obesity epidemic to the One Young World summit in Zurich, Switzerland — his first public speech since his acceptance of the TED Prize last year, according to his publicity team.  (One Young World is a group of delegates, all under age 27, drawn from all over the world to address critical, global problems.  More on the group here.)  When/if there’s video of Jamie’s speech, I’ll share it on The Lunch Tray.  Meanwhile, in connection with the event, the Food Revolution Community has renewed its effort to gather over one million supporters for Jamie’s petition seeking better school food for, and the teaching of home cooking skills to, children.

Second, Mike McGalliard of LA’s Promise (who appeared on last season’s “Food Revolution” and commented frequently on The Lunch Tray’s recaps of the show) has a new post up on the Food Revolution website.  It summarizes why he agreed to let Jamie’s cameras roll at West Adams Preparatory High School and what he feels the students got out of the Food Revolution experience.  [Ed Update:  Mike also has a separate post about his experience here (“Was It Worth It?  My Fifteen Minutes, I Mean“), in which he mentions [hanging head in shame] my totally unwarranted, snarky critique of his wardrobe!  You can read more about his experience at LA’s Promise on his new blog, Getting Schooled.]

And finally, a while back I told you how my son was learning to cook but I lamented the lack of widespread, basic cooking education in this country.  Well, blogger Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules (a great blog, by the way) sent me a link to one of Jamie Oliver’s websites in the U.K. that’s a really fantastic resource for teaching home cooking skills.  Apparently Jamie convinced the British government to make cooking instruction mandatory in public schools and his free “Jamie’s Home Cooking Skills” website – replete with how-to videos and hand-outs – can be used by teachers there to satisfy that educational requirement.  While some of the recipes are pretty Brit-centric (bread sauce, Victoria sponge), the multitude of cooking skills he explains and demonstrates are universal.

I might be the last to know about the Home Cooking Skills site, which launched almost exactly a year ago, but I wish it were better publicized in the U.S. or that an American version could be created.  At any rate, if you have a budding chef in your house (or just want to improve your own cooking skills) be sure to check it out.

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More Behind-the-Scenes Info From “Food Rev” Insider Mike McGalliard

If you followed TLT’s “Food Revolution” Watch Party you know that Mentor L.A.’s Mike McGalliard, who had a big role on the show this season as the head of West Adams High, has been coming by the blog regularly to comment on my recaps and reviews.  So in my discussion of the season finale I asked a few questions with the hope that  Mike would again provide his insider’s input.  Sure enough, he left a comment on that post today.

One of the things I’d asked is whether the West Adams culinary team, which won Jamie’s cooking contest in the last episode, had yet visited the Culinary Institute of America in New York City and, if so, what that experience had been like.  Mike answered that question with some really heartwarming news, and then went on to provide a lot more information about the show and his overall take on working with Jamie Oliver at West Adams this year.

Here is his comment reprinted in full:

Hello Bettina. Yes the students did go to NY and CIA. Here’s a link from their site:

One of the students, the fellow who slammed the hell out of the beef carpaccio at the cooking competition, received a 50k scholarship to CIA.

Did Jamie make any change happen here? Was the show worth it? Etc. I hope I have a balanced perspective, and one that’s well informed (I did work with the guy nearly every day he was here in LA, and I was VERY involved in all the back and forth between Jamie’s crew and LAUSD – in fact, i was caught up in much of it myself). There is little doubt that Jamie was the catalyst for the ban on flavored milk (in fact, though it passed the school board, one board member refused to vote for the ban out of spite for Jamie!). What else? We are working on the scratch cooking pilot – that’s all Jamie (point of correction: the Orfalea Foundation won’t actually fund the work themselves, but rather provide the expertise and training. They only fund in Santa Barbara County. Just want to be clear about that.)

And don’t read too much in that letter by Ray Cortines. It isn’t evidence of much. It was written after the show was filmed, after the fight was documented in the press, and the letter was written in defense of those promo’s that villianize poor Ray. And the offers for Jamie to “put requests in writing,” serve on committees, or what have you, and that Jamie was somehow negligent on that point and therefore insincere in his desire to help… c’mon. Those “offers” were all attempts to throw Jamie a few bones to keep him busy, or make him look bad, but not sincere requests for assistance. Jamie certainly didn’t come to town (with ABC in tow) to serve on a committee and “put requests in writing.” Can you imagine how bad the ratings would have been then? :)

Like I said in a number of my comments during interviews on the show (though I don’t know if any made it to primetime), I don’t fault Ray for keeping Jamie out of the Central Kitchen. I’d probably do the same if I were Supt. It’s not the distraction you need when you are battling a 500 million dollar budget crisis. But the lunch program, the schools, LAUSD and the show would have been so much better if LAUSD hadn’t started off with so much animosity.

Thank you Bettina, I’m glad you noticed the new specs!

In response to Mike I’d like to say, first and foremost, thank you so much for taking the time to come by The Lunch Tray these past few weeks.  It’s been a real treat for me (and presumably TLT readers) to get your insider’s perspective on the show and I’ve appreciated your candor and perspective.

I take your point about the letter from Ray Cortines but I do still wonder whether the “new menu”  (for which  Jamie seems to take more than a bit of credit in the season finale) was already in the works before he came to L.A.  My guess is still yes, just because there’s likely to be considerable lag time in planning and procuring a new menu for a district of 700,000 kids.  But as for the rest of the letter, about committees and written input, I take your point.  Even if those offers were made sincerely by LAUSD (and I know you think they weren’t), I’m not so naive as to think hearing Jamie talk about a committee meeting that took place off camera would make for scintillating television!  :-)

Second, thanks for the clarification about Orfalea, although maybe I was unclear in my post.  I was just trying to say that the foundation will generously train West Adams food service workers to scratch cook but neither West Adams nor LAUSD has to pay for the training.  If that’s not right, feel free to set me straight.

Third, as for understanding Ray Cortines’s decision not to allow filming in LAUSD’s kitchens, I’m glad you admit that in his shoes you would have done the same thing, because I do think that was the rational choice for someone in his position.  But it’s a little disheartening to hear that you said so on camera and the comment wound up on the cutting room floor.  I don’t expect reality TV to adhere to the highest journalistic standards, of course, but a little balance, in my opinion, would have enhanced the show’s credibility this season.

And finally, about the new glasses, I just have to say again that you were a tremendously good sport for not holding against me my snarky critique of your wardrobe when we first “met.”   :-)   You’ve greatly enriched The Lunch Tray with your comments over the past few weeks and the door is always open if you’d ever like to come back to comment or write a guest post.   I know that Lunch Tray readers, like myself, hope keep tabs on the West Adams kids we’ve come to know through the Food Revolution.

Thanks again, Mike!



Get Your Lunch Delivered and never miss another Lunch Tray post!  Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

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Some “Food Revolution” Back Story from a TLT Reader

I have to say I’m pretty happy that Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” series concluded last week, not because I didn’t enjoy watching the show but because writing up my recap and review each week was a daunting (if entirely self-imposed) task.    I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about J.O. again so soon, and you, too, might be crying “uncle” when it comes to another Food Revolution post.

However, this morning I found two new comments on the blog left by a reader named Dana — whom, I should mention at the outset, is not Dana Woldow, the San Francisco school food reformer who often comments here and is no great fan of Jamie.   This other Dana shared quite a few interesting links pertaining to the show, and for those of you who were getting down into the Food Rev weeds with me, you might find them interesting.

For one thing, I’d speculated in my last recap and review that the much-lauded “new menu” for which Jamie seems to take credit in the season finale was actually in the works well before Jamie’s arrival in L.A.  It turns out my speculation was correct — Dana shares a letter to LAUSD parents from outgoing superintendent Ray Cortines (before Jamie’s revolution began) which makes specific mention of these new menu items.  You can read that letter here.

Dana also shared a recent (June 16th) cover story from L.A. Weekly entitled, “Why Los Angeles Schoolkids Get Lousy Meals,”  which I found eerily reminiscent of some of the problems we discuss on Houston ISD’s Food Services Parent Advisory Committee.  The piece doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions, but I thought it did a great job of capturing the current, entrenched problems in school food, at least in large, urban districts like L.A. and Houston.   (L.A. Weekly chose not to quote Jamie Oliver in that piece but instead published a companion piece of nothing but twelve quotes from Jamie, some of them quite colorful.  Dana shared that, too – it’s here.)

Finally, Dana provided a link to this piece, “How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ Flunked Out,” which I’d read before and have even cited on the blog, but which I hadn’t re-read in full in a while.  It’s a trenchant, well-researched critique of the show’s first season by Arun Gupta, and as I read it again this morning — with my own Jamie Oliver season two critiques fresh in my mind — I was nodding vigorously over my cup of coffee.  I think it is just dead on in laying bare the serious flaws in Jamie’s reality TV approach to school food reform, and in outlining the real causes of bad school meals — issues Jamie basically ignored both this season and last.

What’s the upshot of all of this information?  Just a reminder that school food reform is a highly complex, multi-faceted issue (or, to quote Jamie in last week’s episode, a “beastie”) that unfortunately isn’t susceptible to a quick and easy fix pre-packaged for television viewing.

Thanks to Dana for sharing all these links with us!

Get Your Lunch Delivered and never miss another Lunch Tray post!  Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?


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TLT Watch Party: Season Finale of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”

Last Friday’s episode was the finale of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” and since the series didn’t do very well in the ratings this year, it may be the last Food Revolution show we see for a while. Here’s my recap and review – I’d love to hear what you thought about it, too.

A new Los Angeles USD superintendent has been appointed by the school board — John Deasy — and Jamie sees this as “a glimmer of hope” for his Food Revolution. He meets with Mike McGalliard of West Adams High (formerly known on The Lunch Tray as “Hipster Charter School Dude”) at Dino’s revamped fast food restaurant. (By the way, Dino says he’s busier than ever selling grass-fed-beef burgers providing half the calories of his former burger.) Mike and Jamie talk about John Deasy and Mike expresses hope that school food will be a top priority for the new superintendent. (I know I swore off any further wardrobe critiques on TLT but since Mike himself told TLT readers his style was changing a bit in this episode, just want to say: Mike, loved the new glasses! :-) )

Jamie tells us he’s going to do something “big and noisy” to get Deasy’s attention. He gets seven of L.A.’s top chefs together and surprises them by serving them “typical” LAUSD school meals, hoping to anger them so much over the poor quality of the food that they’ll want to help him out. When the school meals are unveiled, the chefs go on and on about how disgusting the food looks and one says he wouldn’t feed it to his dog. They all recoil in horror when one of the chefs dares to take a bite. One of chefs, Jamie tells us, looks like she’s going to throw up.

OK, maybe it’s just me, but did anyone else find this whole scene disturbingly elitist? Like these chefs’ palates are so rarified they can’t bear to take a nibble of this oh-so-awful food? Because I totally agreed with one of the chefs, Seth Greenberg, who noted that these mock school meals didn’t look as bad as some real school food. I would even go so far as to say that some of the meals would be an improvement over the food many school kids get every day.

Consider Jamie’s lunch of a corn dog, fries, apple sauce and celery sticks:

Here in Houston, we on the HISD Food Services Parent Advisory Committee were THRILLED when we got celery sticks onto the menu, a recent development. Now look at a real school lunch corn dog, along with some overcooked spinach:

Take a look at Jamie’s green beans — made from fresh, not canned, beans:

Here’s what green beans really look like in most school cafeterias:

Meanwhile, HISD’s Food Services Parent Advisory Committee recently asked the district if we could put edamame on our menu but the request was rejected on the grounds that it would cost too much. Yet here’s Jamie’s plate with our sought-after edamame on the side:

I make these comparisons not to denigrate Houston ISD’s school food, which is often quite good (and steadily improving), but to offer a reality check. Scratch-cooked, produce-rich Carpinteria High-style meals are the goal, and I live for the day when all American kids have access to them. But the meal shown above — grilled cheese (if this were served in HISD, it would be on whole grain bread), tortilla chips (in HISD, the corn chips are baked) and edamame — is hardly dog food. Indeed, I would serve this exact meal to my own kids for lunch — and I’m pretty sure no one would throw up.

At any rate, the chefs all agree to mentor student culinary teams from eight schools across L.A. in a cooking competition hosted by the Food Revolution. Winners will get a trip to New York City to visit the Culinary Institute of America, and a company called Pro Start will also teach a two-year culinary training program at their school. I understood from context that the competing schools serve underprivileged/minority populations (one team is from West Adams) and Jamie tells us — correctly, I think – that winning the contest will be life-changing for these kids. The competition is reminiscent of Jamie’s Fifteen charity, which offers young adults aged 18-24 a chance to learn culinary skills and break out of a life of poverty or crime. And it’s stuff like that which makes me really like J.O., despite the disagreements I’ve had with the Food Revolution show. No one can question the sincerity of his commitment to improve the lives of kids, both in terms of the food they eat and the opportunities offered to them.

Jamie next shows us his mobile Food Revolution kitchen (previewed on TLT months ago) and hopes that it will get “kids, parents and communities excited about food how important food education at school is.” (By the way, that’s a topic I hope to dig into further in a few weeks – the roles schools should or should not be expected to play in teaching kids about food. Stay tuned.)

Now we get to the actual cooking competition, the part of the show I most enjoyed watching. You could really feel the drive and passion the West Adams kids brought to their work and how much winning the contest would mean to them. There were funny moments, like the look on the kids’ faces when Jamie urges them to make carpaccio (raw beef) as their second-round entry. Sofia is under the gun to come up with a perfect salsa for the raw beef and you can see how pressured she feels – I was sweating on her behalf. In the end, the West Adams team wins the competition (I’m sure some will feel the contest was rigged in favor of Jamie’s team but I’m not so cynical) and they’re overjoyed. It’s a sign of how well we’ve gotten to know these West Adams kids that I actually teared up when the winners were announced (or maybe I’m just a softie). If Mike McGalliard stops by here again to comment, I’d love to know the postscript here – have the kids yet gone to New York? If so, what was the experience like for them?

Next Jamie gets a one-on-one meeting with John Deasy and when he shows up at LAUSD offices he “happens to stumble” on a group of parents seeking to get flavored milk out of LAUSD, J.O.’s pet cause. Deasy seems somewhat more open than former superintendent Ray Cortines to letting Jamie into LAUSD. At the very least, Jamie is again allowed to film at West Adams High, and Deasy says he supports a flavored milk ban (later we see Deasy and J.O. on Jimmy Kimmel’s show – also previewed here on TLT a while back – making the ban public). Deasy also alludes in the meeting to the “new menu” at LAUSD and Jamie, unlike viewers, seems to know what he’s talking about. As we’ll see in a bit, Jamie also seems to take credit for these menu improvements as a Food Revolution victory.

Jamie returns to West Adams where he’s enthusiastically greeted by Mike and the students. He gets to see the school garden planted in last week’s episode and for the first time he brings cameras into West Adams’s kitchen (but not, I noted, the LAUSD central kitchen, Jamie’s main goal at the beginning of the season). Mike says to Jamie that these West Adams food service workers are “ripe for scratch cooking.” Viewers might not understand what he means here, but readers of The Lunch Tray know from Mike’s comment here last week that West Adams will be getting outside funding from the Orfalea Foundations (just like Carpinteria High School) to train its workers in scratch cooking. That’s a wonderful development for West Adams but it’s important to note that LAUSD is not picking up this tab, so it can’t fairly be pitched as a LAUSD concession caused by the Food Revolution.

Jamie and the kids meet with LAUSD’s Deputy Food Services Director David Binkle to cook and taste one of the previously mentioned “new menu” items, a roasted vegetable quesadilla with freshly chopped cilantro. (Wow – with 700,000 kids in LAUSD, that’s a going to be a LOT of cilantro-chopping.) Binkle agrees with Jamie that LAUSD Food Services needs more funding and lauds Jamie as a “national hero.” Even Jamie looks a little stunned that a LAUSD representative is being so supportive on camera.

The implication of both the meeting with Deasy and the cooking session with Binkle is that pressure from Jamie is responsible for the new menu in LAUSD. Intrigued, I tried to find out exactly what’s going to change next year but I could only find vague media reports. For example, this article quotes Deasy as saying that ““the board has done a number of steps in terms of removing soda and junk food, and reducing sodium, and completely revamping the menu,” but no further details are provided. Another report says that the menu will now include “Salvadorean beef stew, chicken tandoori, Asian pad thai, California sushi roll and teriyaki beef and broccoli with brown rice,” but also notes the district says the changes were already in the pipeline well before Jamie even showed up in L.A. (And given what I know about school food procurement in my own large urban district, which I’m told can have a year-long lag time, that seems likely to be true.)  [Ed Update:  A letter from Ray Cortines, provided by a TLT reader, confirms that the menu revisions were already in the works when Jamie arrived.]

We’ll have to wait to learn more about the new LAUSD food when the 2011-12 school year begins. But I just want to note that HISD has also removed soda, lowered sodium, increased the amount of fresh produce (including yellow and orange vegetables) and has new international entrees along the lines of those listed above, including many with brown rice and whole wheat tortillas. But when you’re serving 250,000 meals a day in Houston (or 700,000 in L.A.) on limited federal reimbursement dollars from a central kitchen, I can tell you with some confidence the food is going to look a lot more like the pictures I showed you above than it’s going to look like the West Adams culinary students’ brightly-hued, scratch-prepared wraps and salads.

Put another way (and coming full circle from Episode One of this show), I still understand why LAUSD – including the “more transparent” John Deasy, as J.O. called him — didn’t want Jamie in its lunchrooms or central kitchen, even despite this much-lauded “new menu.” A district can be doing a lot right – maybe not everything, but a lot — and still get slammed on a reality TV show for the appearance of the food. (Along these same lines, HISD Media Relations was not at all happy when I asked for permission to take photos of school food at Milby High School, site of a student-led school food boycott this past spring. I eventually received permission from the district, and will go there in the fall to take pictures, but I understood HISD’s concern. Even good school food can be made to look bad if the photographer isn’t playing fair.)

The show ends with Jamie telling us that “the battle is not won.” He describes school food reform as a “war against a beastie,” which made me both laugh and nod in rueful agreement. He says he’s succeeded in showing his viewers the sorry state of school food and how worried children are about obesity-related diseases (at least in hard-hit communities like West Adams). He concludes by urging us to “expect more and demand more.”

On all of those points, I completely agree. While I still feel that “Food Revolution” fell short when it came to showing viewers the hard realities of school food reform, the show was invaluable for its vivid depiction of serious problems in our society, problems which we hear about so often in the media that it’s easy to tune them out. I personally will never forget Denny Barrett, a middle or upper middle class father who is so food-ignorant that he feels he has no choice but to rely on fast food to feed his kids. I won’t forget Sofia, whose sister tragically developed Type 2 diabetes as a mere child. And I won’t forget the obvious anguish of the West Adams students who fear for the health of their families and their own futures. Jamie put human faces on what might otherwise be statistical abstractions and that, in my opinion, has been his greatest contribution.

So that’s my take on the season finale and the series as a whole. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Get Your Lunch Delivered and never miss another Lunch Tray post! Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love. ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

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Lunch Tray Friday Buffet: June 24, 2011

With my new relaxed summertime posting schedule, I realized that I actually forgot do a Friday Buffet last week!  An unprecedented lapse in over a year of blogging!   (And I’m sure you all were lying awake last Friday wondering about it. . . .  You were, right?  . . . Anyone? . . . [crickets])

Anyway, just a few small items to round out the week:

Jamie Oliver Season Finale Tonight

If you’re part of the TLT Watch Party, be sure to catch the season finale of “Food Revolution” tonight at 9pm EST on ABC.  I’ll have my usual recap and review up on Monday.  And then, mercifully, there will be no pressing need to talk about school food reform for a while, a subject that I find fascinating but more than a little taxing lately.  😉

TLT Summer Book Club – I Haven’t Forgotten!

The poll results are in and “food literature/memoir” is the winning genre for the book we’ll be reading together this summer.  I’ll round up some good titles in that category and post them in another poll next week so we can make a final selection, and then we can start reading.  I’m secretly relieved that “food policy” and “school food reform” didn’t make the cut — just not as fun to read on the porch with a glass of lemonade, you know?

Some New Faces (Er, Voices) on The Lunch Tray

One aspect of my plan to relax a little this summer is offering more space to guest bloggers on The Lunch Tray in the coming weeks.  We had a great guest post today from Consume This First‘s Cat Delett, another one coming next week from Kia at Today I Ate a Rainbow, and more guest posts in the pipeline.  I hope you enjoy hearing new voices and perspectives on the blog as much as I do!

Have a great weekend everyone!   More Lunch Tray on Monday . . .





Get Your Lunch Delivered and never miss another Lunch Tray post!  Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

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