This Valentine’s Day, #LoveHealthy!

Love HealthyIt’s February 4th and that means in just a few days it will be Valentine’s Day, an occasion for love, romance, friendship — and a whole lot of sugar, especially in our kids’ schools!

That’s why I’m glad to be one of the bloggers participating in the #LoveHealthy campaign.  Led by Allison Howe, the blogger behind Don’t Panic Mom, the campaign promotes all kinds of alternative, healthy ways to celebrate the day.

Between now and February 14th, I and some of your other favorite healthy family bloggers will be sharing posts on this theme.  Here’s the line-up:

My post, regarding a really sweet middle school initiative called “No One Eats Alone” will appear the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13th, and Sally’s post is already up on Real Mom Nutrition – “Three Healthy Moves for a Happy Valentine’s Day.”

If you “like” the #LoveHealthy Facebook page you can easily follow all the posts as well as enter giveaways from companies like Applegate, Kids Konserve, and Laptop Lunches.  You can also follow our Pinterest board, which is full of even more fun and healthy ideas.

And, by the way, have any of you noticed that Valentine’s Day candy is coming into stores earlier and earlier every year?  Check out this great post from Dana Woldow in Beyond Chron, in which she examines how the confectionary industry has turned pretty much every holiday into “candy day” —  and makes sure our store shelves are always stocked with the latest seasonal sweets.

Finally, since we’re talking about the impending Valentine’s Day sugar deluge in schools, don’t forget that you can download at any time my totally free, 40-page guide on getting junk food out of your child’s classroom.  The ebook includes links to my all-new, updated Pinterest boards, which include one specifically devoted to healthy Valentine’s celebrations.

#LoveHealthy, people!  :-)

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New Report Debunks Notion That Kids Are Running From Healthy School Food

For the last year or so, the School Nutrition Association has been intent on creating the impression that school children are running away in droves from the new, healthier school food mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  This characterization, if true, would provide the food-industry-backed SNA with a strong justification for rolling back several key nutritional standards in Congress in the coming year.

fraclogoBut a new report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) turns the SNA’s story on its head.  FRAC’s long-term data analysis finds that school meal participation among low-income children — the very children the NSLP was designed to serve — has actually increased significantly in recent years, while participation among higher income children has dropped, likely due to changes in meal pricing and the lure of competitive foods.  Most importantly, both of these trends, according to FRAC’s analysis, were well in the works many years before the new school meal standards were introduced in the 2012-13 school year.

Reports like this will be critical in fighting back against SNA’s high powered lobbyists, who are already gearing up to weaken meal standards during the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Congress.  But as FRAC’s data show, low-income children need school meals that are as nutritious as possible – now more than ever.

I encourage you to read the whole report, here.

 

 

 

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Stunning and Perverse: SNA Challenges a Study Finding That Kids Like Healthier School Food

Imagine a restaurant getting a great review, only to have the chef call the newspaper to complain that the critic was sorely mistaken and the restaurant’s food isn’t as good as the review made it out to be.

That bizarre scenario was all I could think of when I received an email yesterday from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), relaying SNA president Julia Bauscher’s refutation of a new, peer-reviewed study in Childhood Obesity finding that kids actually like the healthier school food mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA).

Specifically, University of Illinois at Chicago researchers asked school administrators at 537 elementary schools about their students’ reactions to school meals after the HHFKA’s nutritional improvements went into effect.  Just over half of the respondents said their students initially complained about nutritionally improved school meals, but 70% agreed their students now actually like the lunches.  Even more encouraging, the study found that at socioeconomically disadvantaged schools (where school meals are of obvious, critical importance to student health), administrators perceived that “more students were buying lunch and that students were eating more of the meal than in the previous year.”

For anyone who cares about school food reform and the health of America’s school children, these findings are great news.

But, perversely, this good news actually poses a serious threat to the SNA, the nation’s largest organization of school food professionals.  That’s because, despite having supported the HHFKA’s passage back in 2010, the SNA is now fighting vigorously to roll back in Congress many of the law’s key nutritional requirements — and it is doing so on the grounds that kids are allegedly rejecting healthier school food en masse.

The organization has so become entrenched in promoting this pessimistic view of student acceptance (despite contrary evidence from school districts around the country), that it raised eyebrows even among some of its own members by refusing to allow Sam Kass, former White House chef and Executive Director of Let’s Move!, to speak at its annual national conference in Boston last week.  And the SNA previously saw 19 of its past presidents break ranks in an open letter to Congress — an extraordinary, public display of the internal strife over the SNA’s current legislative agenda.

It was hard for me to imagine the situation getting much uglier, until yesterday’s email presented the truly bizarre spectacle of the very people dedicated to preparing healthful school meals seeking to discredit reliable evidence that kids actually like those meals.

I’m disgusted and saddened by this turn of events.  Back in May, I wrote a post (“School Food Professionals vs. Kids: How Did It Come to This?) to convey my respect and empathy for school food service directors (FSDs) around the country, who I sincerely believe have one of the hardest jobs imaginable.  Through no fault of FSDs, the National School Lunch Program, as it is currently conceived, often directly pits their legitimate financial concerns against the nutritional needs of the children they serve. But instead of trying to bridge that gap by fighting for funding and other support for struggling school districts, the SNA, which claims in its mission statement to be “committed to advancing the quality of school meal programs,” chose to take the easy way out.

Just imagine how differently things would look today if the SNA had decided to stay the course on healthier school food. Instead of engaging in an unseemly, public battle with the White House, the organization could be closely allied with a still-hugely popular First Lady to jointly advance the cause of improved school nutrition, able to take advantage of all the prime PR opportunities only someone like Michelle Obama can offer.  Instead of using its considerable muscle on Capitol Hill to weaken or kill hard-fought legislative gains, the SNA could be using its clout to push Congress into helping the schools that need it.  And instead of churlishly lobbing criticism at this latest school food study, it could rely on the study to support its efforts — as well as joining with the rest of us in celebrating what is, unequivocally, very good news.

Nonetheless, despite this study’s encouraging findings, I’ll be keeping my champagne on ice.  Because regardless of what happens with SNA’s desired one-year waiver language in the pending 2015 appropriations bill, the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is looming large and the SNA clearly views the CNR as its best chance to permanently roll back key HHFKA nutrition standards relating to sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and a la carte offerings.

So, all those elementary school kids* who grew accustomed to — and eventually grew to like — healthier school food?  If the SNA has its way, they might not be seeing it for much longer.

_________________

* Many of us in the school food reform world have long predicted that elementary school kids would be the first to come around to healthier school food because they haven’t had years of seeing junk food in their cafeterias. More here: “Putting My Money on the Class of 2024.”

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Book Giveaway: “Super Snacks For Super Kids”

Well, I’m really spoiling my readers with book giveaways lately – it seems like we’ve been having almost one per week!  I hope you’re enjoying them as much as I enjoy getting to read all these new kid/food books.

Today I’m giving you a chance to win Super Snacks for Super Kids.  I first learned of this book when its creators asked TLT readers (via my Facebook page) to join in a Kickstarter campaign to make the book a reality.  All proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Wellness Committee in the authors’ school district of Mineral Point, Wisconsin.

Amazingly, the Kickstarter campaign earned $10,000 in 30 days and the final product is really nice.  This hardback book has over 100 pages of vivid color photography featuring 60 different healthy snack ideas for kids, from Apple Oat Bars to Fruit Pizza. My kids found it on my desk and were thumbing through it, letting me know what they wanted to try.  It’s great to see a community come together to support childhood wellness, and the rest of us benefit by getting lots of new snack recipes!

For a chance to win the book, just leave a comment below by  Tuesday, November 13th at 6pm CST.   You can tell me why you’d like to win or you can just say hi.  I’ll use a random number generator after the comment period closes to select one lucky winner and if you comment twice (e.g., to respond to another reader’s comment), I’ll use the number of your first comment to enter you in the drawing.   I’ll email you directly if you win and I’ll announce the winner on TLT’s Facebook page, too.

Good  luck!

 [Blogger disclosure:  As with most of my book reviews, I received a free copy of this book for my perusal.  However, I never accept any other form of compensation for the book reviews you see on The Lunch Tray.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 4,500 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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“It Takes A Village to Pack a Lunch” – A New Cookbook Just for Lunch Packing!

For me, the hardest part of daily school-lunch-packing is they way my list of regular lunch items seems to shrink over time, as old standbys fall out of favor and I just can’t seem to come up with new ideas.  By year’s end, we’re crawling to the finish line.

That’s why I’m so excited to share this news:  Kelly Lester, creator of the acclaimed EasyLunchboxes system, has just published Cooking with Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Easy Lunch Boxes.  That’s right, an entire cookbook devoted exclusively to lunch box packing, with over 80 creative, healthful lunch box recipes!

You’ll find everything from fanciful, bento-style lunches (the kind where everything is cut into adorable shapes) to options you can throw together quickly on a rushed morning.   There are choices for vegetarians and vegans, and the photography is beautiful (click on the photo below to enlarge).  All the recipes come from food bloggers, including TLT friends Red, Round or GreenThe Six O’Clock Scramble and 100 Days of Real Food, and you can read each blogger’s back story along with their lunch ideas.

And guess who wrote the foreward for the book?  Me!  I’ve never had that honor before and I’m grateful to Kelly for giving me the opportunity.

The book is available in bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.

[Blogger disclosure:  As with most books I review on The Lunch Tray, I received a free copy of this book for my perusal.  However, I never accept any other form of compensation for any of the books or products I review on this blog.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 4,200 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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TLT Guest Blogger Dina Rose on “The Argument for Packing An Unhealthy School Lunch”

Continuing with our annual September series, “It Takes A Village to Pack a Lunch,” I wanted to share a thought-provoking post by Dina Rose that originally appeared on her blog, It’s Not About Nutrition.  Even though Dina and I don’t always agree on every kid/food issue, I love the way she delivers sometimes unwelcome truths to parents in a direct, no-nonsense way.   In today’s post, Dina chastises parents who pack “model” healthy lunches with the full knowledge that some of those healthy items are routinely being thrown away.  (Um, that hand you see raised right now is mine: when it comes to the fresh fruit I pack daily in my son’s lunch, I have no illusions that much of that fruit is actually being eaten.)  Instead of focusing so much on food, Dina wants us to focus on broader principles of proportion, variety and moderation.  See what you think.

 

The Argument For Packing An Unhealthy School Lunch

by Dina Rose

There’s a lot of pressure at this time of year to write a back-to-school healthy lunch post.

But I want to make an argument for packing an unhealthy lunch.  Not one filled with Coke, Fritos and Ring Dings, but not the vegetable-kabob, salad lunch of nutritionists’ (and bloggers’) dreams.

I’m talking about a lunch that might not have fruits or vegetables in it (yet).

Dina Rose of It’s Not About Nutrition

Packing an unhealthy lunch can be better than packing a healthy lunch if…

 1) Your children routinely throw out/ignore the carrot sticks or apple slices you pack.

I know a lot of parents who insist on packing fruits and vegetables (or yogurt, cheese…) knowing full well that their children will never, in a million years, eat these items. I get the rationale (you want to send the message that fruits and veggies are important, and you hope that today will be THE day) but it teaches the unintended lesson I call “Seek and Destroy.” For more on “Seek and Destroy” read The Bad News About Healthy Lunches.

2) You routinely send “healthy” versions of “unhealthy” foods. Think of this is as The (Chocolate) Milk Mistake argument on steroids. Eating pizza produces a pizza eating habit, even if the pizza is healthy. “Healthifying” food also distorts what kids think of as healthy, and this affects their habits too. Read Cookies and The Cycle of Guilty Eating to see how healthy cookies make it harder to teach your kids to eat vegetables.

3) You send the same healthy lunch everyday because you know your kids will eat it. This strategy limits your children’s palates, reinforces their ideas about what they should eat and teaches your children to expect the same food every day. Try introducing new foods after that.

You can use unhealthy lunches to teach your children healthy eating habits.

These lessons may not seem like much but these three principles translate everything your kids need to know about nutrition into behavior and, in doing so, they lay the foundation for better eating down the road.

  • Proportion: Eat foods in different amounts and frequencies according to how healthy they are.

I know this sounds like an impossible lesson to teach using unhealthy foods but it’s not. Help your children learn this concept with whatever group of foods they eat. Even if what you’re distinguishing between are not-so-healthy and really-unhealthy foods, you can still teach the lesson that “we eat this more frequently than that because it has better things for your body.”

  • Variety: Eat different foods from day to day.

Most parents think variety means new.  It doesn’t. Variety means different. Send a different, less-than-healthy lunch from day-to-day and explicitly tell your children why you’re doing this.  (Be up front: this is the foundation for new foods.)  I call this The Rotation Rule and it changes minds and taste buds.

If you think your children will only eat PB&J for lunch, think big. There are breakfast and dinner foods, and plenty of snack combinations that could fill a lunch box (raisins, crackers, yogurt and a granola bar for instance).

If your child must eat the same sandwich every day, at least put it on different bread or cut the sandwich into different shapes.  Do anything you can to make the sandwich different from day to day.

  • Moderation: Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. 

Don’t ask your children to finish their food. Rather, teach them to eat a little of everything in their lunchbox before they finish any one item.  The rationale?  Kids don’t know when they’re going to be full and so they devour the foods they favor and leave the rest as leftovers.  (This doesn’t seem like an important rule now, but it will stand your kids in good stead when they start eating better.) Read My Child Asks for Seconds of Pasta Before She’s Even Touched Her Peas.

It’s tempting to throw in the towel when your kids don’t eat well. 

Focus on teaching your kids how to eat, however, and you will still set your kids up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

* * *

Thanks to Dina for letting me repost this entry on TLT today.  Let me know what you think.

 

From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine: Summer Camps Go Gourmet

With many of us packing our kids off to sleep-away camp, be sure to check out the article in today’s New York Times on the growing focus of some summer camps on healthful, local and well-prepared food.   The shift from hot dogs to haute cuisine not only accommodates parents’ growing concerns about their kids’ diets, but also meets the discerning palates of little gourmands weaned on restaurant dining and the Food Network.  You can read the full story here.

And in case you missed it the first time around, this seems like a good time to remind you of my interview last September with one truly inspring summer camp director who makes ethical, healthful and sustainable food a real priority for his campers.

My own kids are headed off to their sleep-away camp in just a few days.  But when it comes to food, that camp is sadly more of the “bug juice” and Froot Loops variety.  What’s the food like at your kids’ summer day and sleep-away camps?  Is food a big factor in your decision making?  Would you be willing to pay significantly more in camp fees for better food?  Let me know in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 3,500 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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House GOP Wants to Gut New School Food Improvements, Food Safety and Children’s Advertising Guidelines

Although regular readers of TLT may have a sense of my liberal politics, I generally try to keep this forum neutral and nonpartisan.  (Except when I’m talking about Rush Limbaugh.  Or the Heritage Foundation.  Or conservative pundits who want to end the school lunch program and let poor kids fend for themselves.  Or right wing crazies who demonize Michelle Obama for her Let’s Move! initiative.  OK, maybe I’m not so good at hiding my biases.)

But this morning it took all of my self control not to just title this post “OMG, GOP – WTF????”

The Associated Press reports that late Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an agriculture appropriations bill which would essentially gut all of the recent, hard-won legislative victories to improve the health of Americans, especially children.

Remember how hard it was to get the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed, the law that will for the first time in fifteen years meaningfully improve the nutritional quality of school food?  Sorry, says the House GOP.  Too costly to implement, not to mention that Representatives from potato-growing states aren’t pleased with the fact that french fries and tater tots can no longer stand in as the daily vegetable on school lunch trays.

And remember the recent, landmark inter-agency effort to issue voluntary guidelines on the marketing of junk food to kids? Nanny-state overreaching! says the GOP.  The AP quotes a spokesman for the Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga):

“Our concern is those voluntary guidelines are back-door regulation,” he said, deploring the fact that kids can watch shows that depict sex and drugs on MTV, but “you cannot see an advertisement for Tony the Tiger during the commercial break.”

But as the always-incisive Melanie Warner writes, the real reason the packaged food industry is fighting tooth and nail against those new guidelines is because, lo and behold, they might actually work, as compared to the current, utterly toothless self-regulatory scheme:

. . . the proposed rules are so good (from a health standpoint, anyway) that food manufacturers can’t easily reformulate their products in order to make them OK to pitch at kids. The FTC, which is spearheading the crackdown, doesn’t want to admit this, but the guidelines are actually a blueprint for a world where most highly processed fare isn’t marketed to kids at all.

Meanwhile, as we’re watching people falling ill and dying in unprecedented numbers in Germany from an E Coli outbreak, what does the House GOP want to do to the FDA?   Cut almost 12% of the the agency’s budget, seriously undermining its ability to implement the Obama administration’s newly passed food safety rules.

And at a time when over 17 million American children are growing up in food-insecure households, the House GOP proposes a cut of “about $650 million — or 10 percent — from the Women, Infants and Children program that feeds and educates mothers and their children.”

As Tom Laskawy writes on Grist, the House GOP’s moves are more than just political grandstanding; rather, the situation is “deadly serious”:

On the one hand, this is just the House, which, in the iron grip of the Tea Party, is spitting out one destructive piece of legislation after another. The Democrat-controlled Senate will have no interest in much of what the House disgorges. But the two houses of Congress must ultimately agree on spending legislation. The question is how the houses can meaningfully meet when one side has gone so far afield.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I may be a liberal, but I understand the need for budgetary constraints and the desire for fiscal responsibility.  It’s just that these proposed spending cuts are, pardon my French, utterly ass-backward.

For example, according to this report, the Congressional Budget office estimates that the FDA will need $1.4 billion to implement the food safety law, but a recent Pew Trusts report estimates that the annual health-related costs of food-borne illnesses is somewhere between $75 and $150 billion.  Similarly, the GOP’s own estimates of the costs of requiring more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy in school meals is $7 billion over five years, but the direct cost of obesity-related diseases in this country is pegged at $147 million (putting aside the other benefits of feeding children well, apart from curbing obesity.)  And when it comes to cuts in food assistance programs, do we really need to discuss the long term societal costs of letting children going hungry, let alone the morality of doing so?

So I guess the jig is up — my bleeding heart liberal biases are now on full display.

But I’m curious to hear from politically conservative TLT readers — presumably you support many of the legislative programs discussed above or you’d be unlikely to follow this blog.  What do you think of the House GOP’s latest move?  Let me know in a comment below.

[Ed Update: You can read a summary of comments and my thoughts in response here: “As the Dust Settles, A Follow-Up to Yesterday’s House GOP Post“]

 

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Why Hungry Kids Sometimes Still Go Hungry in American Schools

A reader recently sent me a Reuters article describing a study from Canada which demonstrates (not surprisingly) that adolescents from food insecure households perform better academically and have better behavior in school when the schools provide meal assistance.

The study reminded me that way back in July (and then again in August!), I promised to explain how it is that hungry children in American schools often still go hungry — and how the Obama administration is trying to increase their participation in school food programs.  Under the heading “better late than never,” here’s my post on that subject.

Some children who are eligible for free/reduced price meals choose not to take advantage of the program because of the stigma attached to such meals, especially when there’s an “a la carte” line in the same lunchroom offering such “cool” foods as Papa John’s pizza and fruit slushies.  That’s a critically important topic worthy of separate examination, and I’ve discussed it here previously (“A La Carte – A World Apart?”).

But as Janet Poppendieck discusses in Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, many kids who qualify for free/reduced price meals never get those benefits in the first place (regardless of whether they then use them to get the “uncool” meal).  She cites four major obstacles to children’s participation in the free/reduced price meal program:

Application:  Parents of hungry children may not always apply for free/reduced lunch.  The reasons can include being unaware of the program; feeling a sense of stigma at having to rely on government assistance; finding the forms too daunting to fill out, especially in the case of new immigrants; or a (misplaced) fear of the form being sent to immigration authorities.

Certification: Innumerable errors can (and do) occur in the processing of applications by schools which can result in a child never getting certified by the program, even if a parent has tried to apply.

Verification:  A subset of applications will be selected for random verification, in which the parent must provide documentation of household size and income.  This can be daunting for many parents, including the new immigrant or the parent who is paid in cash at work (such as a cleaning lady or nanny).  According to 2002 data cited by Poppendieck, 50% of those parents from whom documentation was sought simply didn’t respond and their child’s meal benefits were terminated.

Price:  Parents who don’t qualify for free meals may be able to receive reduced price meals for their children.  However, the reduced price can still be unaffordable to a family in that income category. Poppendieck lays this out well in her book, showing how, after normal household expenses, such a family could struggle to come up with the reduced price each day, five days a week, for their children.

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, up for a vote as early as today, would attempt to fix some of these problems through a variety of means, including allowing schools in high-poverty areas to offer free meals to all students without any paperwork, making foster children automatically eligible for free meals, and giving incentives to states that improve their certification rates.

Until we fix this problem, however, we’re confronted with the sad paradox of hungry kids enrolled in schools offering food, yet still going hungry.  And as the study cited above makes clear, the resulting consequences — poor academic performance, behavior problems and school absenteeism — hurt us all in the long run.