A Thanksgiving Mini-Cookbook for My Kids

As my kitchen is filling with the Thanksgiving aromas of roasting sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and the spiced pecans I make every year, it occurred to me that I ought to gather for my kids not just my recipes but the hard-earned nuggets of cooking wisdom I’ve accumulated over many years of making this meal.

So all morning, as I’ve been busy cooking, I’ve paused now and then by my laptop to type in another recipe or cooking note:

Thanksgiving

It will be fun to hand off our family’s Thanksgiving cookbook to them when they’re older and, in the meantime, it’s also not so bad for my middle aged brain to have this information – including the all important Master Shopping List! – in one central place.  :-)

Wishing all TLT’ers a safe and happy Thanksgiving!  Before I sign off I’ll share a link, as I do every year, of some of my favorite anti-hunger charities in case you’re moved by the season to make a donation.

See you all next week!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

In the Worry Over Halloween Candy, Are We Missing the Bigger Sugar Picture?

This Halloween is a bittersweet one for me and Mr. TLT:  for the first time, neither of our kids are going trick-or-treating!  Our 14-year-old daughter will be out of town but doesn’t seem especially bothered that she’ll miss the ritual, and our son, aged twelve, declared he was “over it” and that he’d rather pass out candy at our front door.

That’s a big change from years past, when I fretted, as many parents do, over what to do with the massive amounts of candy my kids would bring home on Halloween night.  Should you let your kids eat all they want and hoard the rest?  Should you have them throw out all the candy that doesn’t meet certain nutritional standards?  Does the Switch Witch come by your house and leave a present in exchange for the candy?  (Or do you dislike the idea of the Switch Witch?)  Do you take the candy to the dentist’s office as part of a “buy back” program?  Do you send it to the troops?  Do you make a gingerbread house out of it?

In prior TLT posts I’ve told you how, when I was a kid, I was given total control over my candy bag — my mom came by to comment on that post, explaining her rationale – and that’s pretty much what we’ve done with our kids, too.   Each parent has to find the solution they’re most comfortable with, of course, but the fact that my kids aren’t missing the candy this year makes me think our laissez-faire approach paid off.

All of that said, though, maybe the attention we devote each year to Halloween candy is misplaced. As dietitian Andy Bellatti noted last year, if our kids’ diets were lower in sugar overall, a little candy binging wouldn’t be such a big deal.  But take a look at this startling new infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

UCS infographic sugar

In light of current World Health Organization and American Heart Association recommendations for much lower daily sugar consumption, that’s a real problem. So here are some things you can do to help your kids cut back on sugar year-round:

Go Halfsies

I love this recent post from Sally Kuzzemchak at Real Mom Nutrition sharing her easy “fixes” — such as mixing quick cooking oats with flavored oatmeal packets —  to cut in half the sugar in many kids’ favorite foods.  These tweaks are a great way to significantly improve your child’s diet, likely without your kid even noticing the change.

Cut Back on Sugar in Baking

Even sugar’s greatest nemesis, Dr. Robert Lustig, admits his family eats sugar-sweetened treats at home.  But as he points out in this interview, his baking enthusiast wife has found that cutting back sugar by 1/3 not only doesn’t adversely affect most recipes, the flavor is actually improved.  I’ve found that to be the case in my own baking, too. (Remember these once-very-sugary pumpkin muffins?).

Kick Sugar Out of the Classroom

Many of us know first hand that school classrooms can be an unexpected source of sugar in our kids’ daily lives, whether due to parents bringing in birthday cupcakes, junk-food-heavy classroom celebrations or teachers handing out candy rewards.  I’m currently working on compiling into one document a huge trove of resources to help with these issues, but here are a few favorites to share right now:  School Bites’ awesome guide to healthier classroom parties, US Healthy Kids’ white paper advocating against the use of food rewards, and my Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto.

Watch Fed Up With Your Kids

If you’re kids are older (say, fourth or fifth grade and up), you may want to sit down as a family and watch the recent documentary Fed Up, now on DVD (disclosure: I’m on the film’s advisory board).  The film was criticized by some as being a bit too focused on excess sugar in our food supply but, putting that criticism aside, I found that it was useful way to get this message across without having to be the messenger — in which case my kids would likely have tuned me out! My 14-year-old is now an avid reader of labels, sometimes putting sugar-filled products back on the store shelf without even asking me if we can buy them.  It’s a relief to have the burden of saying “no” to such foods taken off my shoulders.

And Speaking of Labels….

If you haven’t yet seen it, definitely take a few minutes to watch this recent and hilarious segment from comedian John Oliver, in which he skewers the food industry for trying to obscure on the new nutrition facts label just how much sugar it adds to our food. (Note: the clip contains some off-color language and humor.)

Have a safe and happy Halloween, all!  And let me know in a comment below how you manage your kids’ sugar intake, whether on Halloween or year-round.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

Interview and Book Giveaway: Lisa Leake (100 Days of Real Food) on Packing “Real Food” School Lunches

lisa leake
photo credit: Kelly Trimble

Continuing with TLT’s 5th annual “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series, today I’m sharing my recent interview with Lisa Leak, blogger at 100 Days of Real Food.  Last week I reviewed her fabulous new cookbook which, Lisa reported this morning on Facebook, has already made the New York Times bestseller list!  That recognition is well deserved, and today I’m so happy to chat with Lisa about the challenges and rewards of packing “real food” school lunches.  After our conversation below (complete with a lunch box recipe), I tell you how to enter to win your own free copy of  100 Days of Real Food:  How We Did It, What We Learned and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love,

TLT:  When your family made the switch from processed foods to real food, what challenges did you face at first in packing your girls’ lunches? 

LL: To be honest my biggest challenge was not only sticking to real food, but also adhering to our school-wide nut-free policy at the time. I was terrified of messing up and accidentally baking a batch of whole-grain muffins with nuts in them! So, at first it felt like one more “limitation” to stick to, but – as with any big changes in life – once we got over the initial transition it eventually became much easier and our “new normal.” My favorite real food nut butter substitutes are sunflower seed butter and cream cheese. Yes, we classify organic cream cheese (and anything out of a package with 5 or less whole ingredients) as real food!

TLT: A lot of parents rely on processed foods like snack packs and Lunchables because they make lunch packing so incredibly convenient.  In your opinion, how much more time does a parent have to invest in preparing real food for school lunches?

LL: I am not going to lie – it does take more time to eat real food than the premade alternatives. But you have to think of it as an investment because the extra 10 minutes or so that you might spend actually making a sandwich (after you’ve sourced high-quality ingredients of course), washing some fresh fruit, and putting it all together will go a long way when it comes to teaching your children healthy habits. Not to mention many experts think if you spend more (time and money) on real food now you’ll spend less on healthcare costs later in life. So it’s honestly up to you to prioritize and decide that wholesome family meals are just as important – or even more important – than other responsibilities in your life.

TLT:  Can you offer any tips or shortcuts for parents who want to cut processed foods out of their children’s home-packed lunches? 

LL: My #1 tip for packing real food lunches is to make homemade items in advance (like waffles, smoothies, muffins, soups, etc.) and freeze them. It’s basically like making your own convenience food! So when it’s time to pack lunch you can just reach for a couple of those premade (homemade) foods instead of a packaged one. My second tip is to not experiment with new real food choices at school. I would stick to the ones you know they love and save breakfast and dinner for the new food introductions!

Lisa shares her recipe for this cinnamon raisin bread below!
Lisa shares her recipe for this cinnamon raisin bread below! Photo credit: Carrie Vitt

TLT:  Do your daughters participate in packing their own lunches?  Do you think that’s important? 

LL: Yes and yes! My daughters do help and sometimes even pack their lunches themselves (although not always). I recommend getting them involved as soon as possible and putting out a variety of real food choices for them to pick from. And the bonus is that they’re more likely to eat everything in their lunch as a result!

TLT:  Do you have any favorite tips on reducing lunch packing waste?  

LL: I try to pack waste-free lunches as much as possible, and now that I am used to the idea I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I love the Ziploc divided (reusable) containers because they are easy-to-find, really inexpensive, and make lunch packing easy. Once you’ve filled up all the compartments in the container you know you are done! In addition to the reusable container we also send insulated Thermos cups with water, little cloth napkins, and inexpensive stainless steel silverware I found at Target. My girls do a pretty good job keeping up with everything, but most of it’s labeled just in case!

* * *

Many thanks to Lisa for coming by TLT today — and now for the giveaway!  For a chance to win your very own free copy of  100 Days of Real Food:  How We Did It, What We Learned and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love just leave a comment below by Monday, September 8th at 6pm CST to enter.   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 announce the winner on TLT’s Facebook page, too.  This offer is open to U.S. residents only.

And now here’s Lisa’s no-fail recipe for a bread that works well in kids’ lunch boxes.

Cinnamon-Raisin Quick Bread

from 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake

Lisa says:  “This bread is divine. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. No bread machine or fancy equipment needed . . . all it takes is a little bit of time and a few wholesome ingre- dients, and you’ll be incredibly pleased with the outcome. Toast a slice and top it with butter for breakfast, create a sandwich with some softened cream cheese in the middle for lunch, or eat it plain as a snack. You won’t be disappointed!”

Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: Less than 20 minutes
Bake Time: Less than 1 hour
Special tools needed: 5 x 9-inch loaf pan

Makes one loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 and 1⁄2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 and 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3⁄4 cup raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a loaf pan with butter and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, bak- ing soda, baking powder, and salt.

3. Using a fork, mix in the eggs, applesauce, melted butter, and syrup until well combined, taking care not to overmix. Gently fold in the raisins.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.

[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 8,600 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 almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see 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!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

Guest Blogger Brianne DeRosa: “Little Known Lunch Secrets”

On day two of TLT’s “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series, I’m so happy to turn the floor over to Brianne DeRosa, a busy mom of two young sons who blogs regularly at Red Round or Green.  When it comes to family dinner, Bri is a master of the art of advanced planning and today she brings that same expertise to lunch box packing.  Take it away, Bri . . .

Little Known Lunch Secrets

by Brianne DeRosa

Brianne DeRosaI’ve been packing lunches for 7 years now, which means that my kids’ lunch boxes and I are, I think, officially in a common-law relationship. Some days, it certainly feels that way. I swear there are evenings when I think I’ve seen more of the insides of those bento containers than I have of my husband.

Seven years of pretty much non-stop lunch packing doesn’t come without a few epiphanies, good ideas, and excellent shortcuts. (These moments, of course, are fewer and farther between than the moments of cursing and bemoaning the fact that my boys attend a school where lunches have to be ordered a full week in advance – so there’s no emergency lunch-money fallback available in our house!) Somehow, I still kind of enjoy the packing ritual. How? Not sure. But here are some of my lesser-known lunch packing secrets, which may shed some light on how I’ve managed to stay sane.

  • Make it while you sleep. Got a slow cooker? Got a chili recipe (or soup, or baked oatmeal)? You’ve got a lunch-packing weapon. Set it all up the night before, let it cook while you’re snoozing, and when you wake up in the morning you won’t have much to do beyond pre-heating a Thermos and tossing in a couple of side items.
  • Make it while you prep. You’re probably spending at least SOME time in the kitchen doing things other  than packing lunches, right? When you’re making dinner, slice an extra pepper or cut up a spare carrot or two to stash in the fridge for the next morning. Cube a couple of portions of cheese before you grate the rest of the block. And make just one or two extra servings of rice, pasta, or roasted potatoes that you can re-purpose for lunch boxes.
  • Make it while you’re making breakfast. So many people make waffles, pancakes, eggs, and quick breads for their kids’ breakfasts, and many of them think of freezing the leftovers for additional breakfasts – but not for lunch boxes. Many kids love breakfast for lunch. Scrambled eggs can be made into egg and cheese burritos; today’s waffles are tomorrow’s waffle sandwiches. Good food is good food at any time of day.
  • Make it when you pack up the leftovers. As long as you’re putting away the rest of that roast chicken from dinner, throw some of it into the lunch containers (or between two slices of bread) and you’ll be that much closer to a finished lunch in the morning. If you’re putting away soup or stew, stash a few single-portion jars in the freezer – that way, on a hectic bare-fridge morning, you’ll have emergency portions of healthy meals ready to heat, throw in a thermos, and go.
  • Make it when you need it least. Who wants to think about lunch-packing during the summer? Or on a Sunday? Or anytime when you’re not facing the daily pressure of hungry kids who need to be out the door at a certain time with some form of nourishment packed by you? Well, actually, I have a theory that the daily pressure of packing lunches is what wears us down, not the task itself. So think about lunches on Saturday night before you hit the couch to watch a movie and unwind with your spouse. Think about them on Sunday afternoon, when you’re calm and relaxed and don’t have an immediate chore that needs to be done. And think about them during school vacations, when you can stock up a little here…pop something into the freezer there….and slowly build up a sanity-saving stash that you can turn to when the actual rush of the school year hits. Doing a little (or a lot) of work when you’re not rushed and are in a positive frame of mind can get you set up for a much less stressful experience later on!

Need more intensive lunch-packing help? Get my downloadable e-guide, “Back to School the Organized Way,” offering 12 weeks of lunch menus, recipes, and a game plan for making and freezing 60 school lunches and 14 family dinners – all fully customizable for both vegetarian and gluten-free diets.

* * *

Brianne DeRosa is a freelance writer who blogs at Red, Round, or Green. She’s also a regular contributor to HandPicked Nation and a team member for The Family Dinner Project, and was a featured contributor to the “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunchboxes” cookbook. Bri has packed approximately one skillion lunches, by her modest estimation.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 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 almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see 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!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

TLT’s Table: Three Savory Fruit Ideas for Kids

When the school food policy stuff starts getting really heavy around here, as it certainly has this week, I sometimes like to take a head-clearing break by sharing a recipe or a fun kid/food idea with you.

A while back, I told you how my veggie-averse son (he’s getting better, really!) used to spurn what I thought was a really kid-friendly dish (sweet potatoes mashed with orange zest, butter and brown sugar), but then he surprised me by digging into some burnt (and therefore very bitter) kale chips.  A reader of that post pointed out that my son might just prefer salty, bitter and sour flavors over sweet and so, armed with that advice, I’ve found that both of my kids often eat more fruit if I present it to them in savory or salty dishes.

One example is my attempt to re-create a side dish at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, a place specifically devoted to Mexico City street food.  (Yeah, when you live in Houston, the Mexican food scene is so vast it can get that segmented!)  It was just a simple salad of orange slices, jicama and cucumber and sprinkled with lime juice, salt and chile powder.  My kids aren’t huge cucumber fans, so I left that out and just winged it.  It’s a nice change of pace from plain sliced oranges:

IMG_3492

More recently, I served this beautiful dish at a summer dinner party.  (Well, not this exact iteration — this photo is from Epicurious because my own photo somehow disappeared on my cell phone.)

Photo credit: Sang An / Epicurious
Photo credit: Sang An / Epicurious

It’s just cubed watermelon topped with crumbled, sharp feta and shreds of fresh basil. (Recipe here.) At the party I set aside a plate of plain sliced watermelon for kids, but my son (consistent with that TLT reader’s insight) preferred this “grown-up” version and I even wound up making another batch for him later in the week.

And another way I work fruit into savory dishes is via a recipe from the wonderful Katie Morford of Mom’s Kitchen Handbook.  I adore her book, Best Lunch Box Ever, and in it she suggests packing kids a sandwich filled with Gruyere cheese and apple slices and then pressed in a waffle iron.  My kids love that version, but sometimes I skip the waffle iron in favor of a traditional frying pan, and I always add some spicy arugula, which contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the apples.  (I’ve also subbed out thin slices of pear for the apple.)  Here’s a picture I took before the sandwich went into the pan:

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 8.40.06 AM

I typically serve these sandwiches with homemade soup and, honestly, my kids would eat this dinner every week if they could.

So, do you ever do the savory/salty fruit thing for your kids?  Share your thoughts — and recipe links! – in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 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 almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see 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!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

A Mom Says, Just Leave the Snacks at Home!

A few months ago, I shared on Facebook and Twitter a terrific piece in Parents magazine about how today’s kids are being offered food more often than ever before.  Written by Real Mom Nutrition‘s Sally Kuzemchak, “The Snack Epidemic” reported that:

In the late 1970s, the average kid between the ages of 2 and 6 ate one snack a day between meals, but today kids typically eat almost three . . . .  Obesity experts now believe that the frequency of eating, not just bigger portion sizes, is also to blame for the uptick in calorie intake for kids and grown-ups alike.

Potato chipsI think these findings jibe with the observations of many parents.  Even those of us who get annoyed when our kids are offered junk food by others might admit to engaging in some “over-snacking” ourselves, such as always carrying around a packaged snack (healthy or otherwise) to ward off crankiness or boredom — but not necessarily hunger — when we’re out with our kids.

In light of all that, today I’m sharing this post by blogger Karen Perry, urging parents to take kids to the playground without bringing any snacks along at all!   Radical!  

While Perry believes kids need to work up a healthy appetite before meals, she’s really arguing for a return to a time when kids were less hovered over by parents generally.  (And given that thesis, it’s no surprise that I learned of Perry’s post via Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, to whom I owe a hat tip.)

What do you think of all this, TLTers?  Do you agree that kids are “over-snacked,” even when the offerings are healthful ones?  Or do you think frequent eating is no big deal?  Let me know in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,000 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 almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see 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!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

Gatorade Pulls Anti-Water Video, And How to Protest This Campaign

I want to update you on yesterday’s Lunch Tray post, in which I shared Nancy Huehnergarth’s excellent reporting on a Gatorade video game which was explicitly designed to teach kids that “water is the enemy” of athletic performance.

In that piece, Nancy linked to a video created by Gatorade’s media agency in which it explained the strategy behind the game (research showed that teen athletes believed water was adequately hydrating) and in which it crowed about how successful the game has been in countering that (entirely true) belief.

Nancy’s post garnered a lot of attention (I noted that the New York Times‘ Mark Bittman tweeted it this morning)  and, clearly feeling the heat, Gatorade pulled down the video yesterday.

Gatorade video sorry

Fortunately, Civil Eats, the outlet in which Nancy’s piece appeared, had at the ready a complete transcript of the video which now appears in the original post.

Meanwhile, Nancy has been asked how we, as consumers and parents, can express our concern over this particularly egregious, kid-targetted campaign.  She writes on Civil Eats:

My suggestion is to write your state attorney general and ask him/her to investigate Gatorade’s claim that Gatorade is superior to water and that water is the enemy of athletic performance. Here is a link that gives contact information for each of the U.S. state attorney generals: http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php -

I’ll keep you posted of any further developments.

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!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel

Cooking with Kids on Food Day!

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 8.16.14 AMHappy Food Day, TLT’ers!

As most of you know, Food Day is an annual, nationwide celebration of healthy, sustainable and affordable food and a campaign for better food policies.  In the past we’ve celebrated Food Day on The Lunch Tray in a variety of ways, including some fun “virtual dinner parties” hosted with my fellow food bloggers.

But this year I’m especially excited because the 2013 Food Day focus is on teaching kids to cook.

As I’ve written about often here, teaching children basic cooking skills may well be the most important thing we can do to reverse current trends in childhood obesity and poor nutrition.  And in support of that goal, Food Day organizers are offering a range of free resources to help kids get cooking, including a downloadable Food Day Cookbook with easy recipes from celebrity chefs such as Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, Mark Bittman and Dan Barber.  There’s also a set of free Food Day Recipe Cards, a nutrition toolkit (available in English and Spanish), and more.

Most of my readers are already in the kitchen cooking with their kids, but I hope you enjoy these free recipes and resources and share them with others.  And speaking of cooking with kids, next week I’ll be hosting a reader giveaway of a new kids’ cookbook from one of my favorite magazines, ChopChop.  Stay tuned!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 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 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 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 video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

What We Missed While We Were Talking About Chicken (A Kid/Food News Round-Up)

While this blog was dominated by the discussion of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals, a lot has been going on in the kid-and-food-news world.  Here’s a quick roundup to keep you up to speed.

First Lady Addresses Problem of Junk Food Marketing to Kids

On September 19th, Michelle Obama convened a landmark summit at the White House to discuss the food and beverage industries’ marketing to children, a matter of great concern to me and many other food policy activists.  Representatives from industry and the public health and academic communities were in attendance  and the First Lady’s speech was widely lauded for its candor.  (See, for example, Marion Nestle’s recap here.)  But Michele Simon laments that it was the wrong Obama taking on the issue.  Whether anything productive comes from the summit remains to be seen, but kudos to Mrs. Obama for at least squarely addressing the issue.

McDonald’s Improves its Kids’ Meals — But With a Catch?

Last week McDonald’s announced that it was partnering with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation to improve its Happy Meals.  (Read the text of the announcement here.)  One of the commitments made by McDonald’s was agreeing to promote only water, milk and juice as the standard Happy Meal beverage, including removing soda from its menu boards.  But Casey Hinds of KY Healthy Kids decided to look at the actual text of the McDonalds/AHG agreement and found that soda can indeed still appear on menu boards as a Happy Meals beverage choice.   The Center for Science in the Public Interest cried foul.  And Marion Nestle pointed out that, at any rate, the promised Happy Meal improvements are going to be a long time coming.

Is Biased Reporting Hurting the Food Movement?

Food policy advocate Nancy Huehnergarth had a great piece in The Hill earlier this week pointing out how news reporting regarding food policy initiatives, such as the healthier new school meal standards, is often misleading and sensationalistic, which only harms those efforts.

WashPo Special Report on Childhood Obesity — Good News?

Last week the Washington Post issued a feature on childhood obesity and the degree to which the tide might be turning.  You can find all the collected stories here.

Sugar and the School Food Environment

The Center for Investigative Reporting has issued a today a good report on the lack of regulation on sugar in the school food environment.  You can read that here.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 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 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 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 video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

Join Me For Tonight’s TweetChat Re: McDonald’s and School Marketing

Tweetchat graphic 2A public school child is taught reading literacy with McDonald’s-branded materials.   A teacher hands a child a McDonald’s restaurant coupon as a reward for good performance.  Schools raise money through McTeacher Nights where the school staff dishes out fast food for students and their families.

What do you think about these incursions by McDonald’s into the school sphere?

Join me tonight from 8:00-9:00pm EST for a TweetChat sponsored by Corporate Accountability International as part of their “Moms Not Lovin’ It” initiative to share your thoughts.  Jut follow hashtag #momsnotlovinit to chat with me and the rest of the panelists.  It’s a great line-up!

Leah Segedie (@bookieboo) (Tweetchat Host)

Corporate Accountiblity International:  @StopCorpAbuse

Casey Hinds: @CaseyHinds

Yale Rudd Center on Food Policy & Obesity: @YaleRuddCenter

Food MythBusters: @FoodMythbusters

Nancy Huehnergarth: @nyshepa

Kia Robertson: @eatingarainbow

Jessica Gottlieb: @Jessica Gottlieb

Jean Layton: @GFDocotr

Kimberly Grabinski: @Whatsthatsmell

Chrystal Johnson: @HappyMothering

Bettina Elias Siegel @thelunchtray

I’ll see you tonight and, in the meantime, check out my “Related Posts” below for previous Lunch Tray posts on the issue of junk food and fast food marketing in schools.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 6,200 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. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

Is It Wrong to Market Even *Healthy* Food to Kids?

That’s the contention put forth by public health lawyer Michele Simon (Eat Drink Politics) and Susan Linn, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, in a recent article.

Noting — as I often have on this blog — that cognitive deficits make children especially vulnerable to the persuasive power of advertising, Simon and Linn object to any use of cartoon characters and other standard tactics for marketing to kids, even for objectively healthy foods such as this:

kung fu edamame

Here’s the crux of their position:

Some advocates argue that deceiving children to eat healthy food is good strategy. But such tactics are actually harmful. A primary goal for advocates should be for children to develop a healthy relationship to food. Foisting character-branded products on children undermines that effort. Marketing to children does more than sell products — it inculcates habits and behaviors. Marketing branded produce such as Kung-Fu Panda Edamame to children instills the unhealthy habit of choosing food based on marketing cues such as celebrity, rather than on a child’s own innate hunger, taste, or good nutrition.

Simon and Linn then point to some countries in Europe with bans (to varying degrees) on children’s advertising and assert that “[w]ith enough political will, lawmakers could pass new laws banning marketing to children without running afoul of the First Amendment.”

Putting aside First Amendment issues (which are not, as the authors seem to imply in the article, a matter of settled law),  I do fervently hope that someday our kids can live in a commercial-free world.  But, speaking as a realist, I also think it will be a very long time before the necessary “political will” manifests itself in this country.

Let’s not forget that in 2011 even purely voluntary children’s advertising guidelines — a far cry from an outright ad ban — fell victim to the food industry’s powerful lobby.  Worse, as the Reuters news agency noted in a 2012 special report on food industry lobbying and childhood obesity:

At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity.

Until such a time as we might have a blanket ban on advertising to children, the processed and fast food industries are reaching our kids at an unprecedented rate – to the tune of almost $2 billion in annual expenditures — and not just through traditional channels such as television, print and school sponsorships, but also through new media such as mobile devices, “advergaming,” interactive campaigns and contests, YouTube videos and more.  And, almost invariably, such advertisements promote unhealthy foods.

Faced with this grossly uneven playing field, I’m not especially troubled by putting Dora the Explorer on a bag of carrot sticks if it helps, even in a small way, to rectify that balance.  On her Eat Drink Politics Facebook page, Simon expressed concern that such manipulation overrides children’s innate hunger cues, but as I responded there:

I don’t believe that positive messaging for whole foods is ever going to override hunger cues.  In other words, I don’t believe any amount of “Sponge-Bobbing” of spinach is going to make kids gorge on spinach. I think overeating has to do with the addictive properties of highly processed food, a la Michael Moss’s “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.”

Ideally, though, I’d want to spend less time putting cartoon characters on any products and far more time teaching kids media literacy, arming them with the ability to see through all attempts to manipulate them via advertising and marketing.  That’s because, even in countries with children’s advertising restrictions in place, the food industry — surprise, surprise — still manages to reach children.  As the Guardian newspaper reported just last week, the World Health Organization found that, despite a British ban on the advertising of foods with high salt, fat and sugar content during children’s programs, there has been an overall increase in junk food advertising at other times of the day, such as the “family viewing” period between 6pm and 10.30pm when  shows popular with all age groups, like “Britain’s Got Talent” and “The X Factor,” are aired.

Putting aside the flaws in the British ad ban (which, the WHO report notes, is not as strong as blanket bans in a few other EU countries), it’s self-evident that no amount of legislation could entirely insulate children from food advertising in today’s world, where even the inside of the bathroom stall is now considered fair game for marketers.

For that reason, I recently was motivated to help teach young children about food industry manipulation by creating my own kids’ video about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory.”  Garnering almost 11,000 views in the five weeks since its release, I’m  gratified by the positive response it’s received so far.

One homemade video is just a tiny drop in the bucket, of course, but there are many others like me out there focusing primarily on the “inoculation” side of the children’s advertising equation. Parents and teachers can access entirely free media literacy curricula from sources like PBS’s “Don’t Buy It” program, the UK-based Media Smart website, as well as the exciting programs and curricula created by the Yale Prevention Research Center under the leadership of Dr. David Katz.  (In a future post I’ll be sharing more about the latter, which have already reached hundreds of thousands of children.)

Ad bans and media literacy instruction are not mutually exclusive, of course, and I certainly stand with Simon and Linn in their desire to limit harmful media messages directed at kids.  But until our legislators are able to resist the allure of food industry contributions and influence, I’m perfectly willing to take some pages from Big Food’s playbook if doing so can help push children in the right direction when it comes to healthy eating.

But what do you think about all this?  Is it wrong to use cartoon characters and similar methods to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

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!”

Have you taken the Lunch Tray’s reader survey?  It just takes 2-3 minutes to fill out and will help me with a redesign of the site.  Thank you! :-)
Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

To ‘Inoculate’ Kids Against Big Food’s Advertising . . . A Lunch Tray Movie!!!

In March, 2011 I was honored to be chosen as one of the winners of a Slate magazine anti-childhood-obesity crowd-sourcing contest.  My submission, entitled “Legislate, Educate and Inoculate to Create Food-Savvy Kids,” argued that we need to fight the problem on three fronts:  legislation to curb the food industry’s rampant advertising to children; widespread nutrition and cooking education; and what I called “inoculation.”  On this latter point, I wrote that we need 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.

Over two years have passed since I wrote that essay for Slate, but I continue to believe that one of our most promising strategies  is showing kids how they’re quite deliberately manipulated by the food industry — to the tune of almost $2 billion in children’s advertising dollars spent each year — into choosing highly processed food and fast food over more healthful options.

I looked around for an illustrated story book  with this message intended to reach younger children (say, pre-K to early elementary).  But other than great nonfiction books for older readers, like The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids, I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for.  And so . . .

Starting with a bouncy, rhyming story which started popping into my head while I was sitting in my kids’ piano lesson one day, I created illustrations on my iPad and then enlisted friends and family, both here in Houston and around the country, to do the voice-overs.  My narrator is the super-gifted Rachel Buchman, a professional singer, teacher and voiceover artist (and Grammy semi-finalist!) and you’ll even hear fellow blogger Bri, of Red Round and Green, singing a radio jingle!

I had so much fun creating this video and if you like the story and its message, I only ask one thing in return:

Please consider sharing on Twitter and Facebook – thank you!  

:-)

And now settle in (for about 12 minutes) and enjoy.  And if you do show the video to your kids, as I very much hope you’ll do, please let me know in a comment what they think of it.  I’d love the feedback.

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.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

Two New Books Worth Checking Out: Bite This! and The Pantry Principle

One of the nicest perks of writing this blog is being contacted by authors to read and review their books.  I can’t always get to everyone’s book — my nightstand stack is about to fall over! — but I do love sharing what I’ve read with you here.

Today I want to tell you about two new books to help you navigate today’s tricky food environment, both for yourself and your kids.

bite thisThe first is Bite This! Your Family Can Escape the Junk Food Jungle and Obesity Epidemic.  This eBook was written by three New York City parents, one of whom, Katherine Weber, I had the pleasure of meeting at last month’s Family Dinner Conference.

The authors’ description of the book — “If Vicki Iovine’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy had a one night stand with Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, this would be their love child.” – is spot on.  It’s a funny, irreverent and entirely practical guide to feeding kids well even when the world seems intent on thwarting this goal.  You’ll find solid advice on navigating the supermarket, easy ideas for meals and snacks, and strategies for dealing with all those well meaning people (grandparents, teachers, sports coaches and more) who offer our kids junk food.

I was particularly taken with the section entitled “Our House Sucks,” which addresses kids’ embarrassment when other kids come over and are looking for junk food.  This is a real problem I and other health-conscious parents have experienced, but not one I’ve seen addressed in other advice books.  A typically humorous excerpt:

“WE’RE FREAKED OUT NO ONE WANTS TO COME TO OUR HOUSE FOR PLAY DATES ‘CAUSE THE FOOD SUCKS.”

It was nothing any of our children ever came out and said. Worse, it was the looks in their eyes as their hearts dropped to their toes every time a friend was over and they had to open the pantry or fridge only to display whole-wheat crackers, raisins, and spelt pretzels. How they squirmed when they saw their guests’ eyes as they searched endlessly and uselessly for a bag of Doritos or a box of Oreos. No. Our children remained silent. But we saw those looks exchanged, and each of us, in our own way, knew we had to deal with it. Each of us looked down the dark abyss of the future we saw for our kids: no sleepovers at our house, no being invited to birthday parties because what if our gifts were as lame as our snacks … it was a small leap from there to dateless prom nights.

Bite This! assumes you’re a bit of a novice when it comes to feeding kids well, so some of the advice (e.g., scrutinizing product labels) may be familiar to TLT readers.  But for a mere $2.99, I think every parent will find many useful tidbits to make their lives a little easier.  You can find the eBook for the Kindle here and for the Nook here.

The second book I wanted to tell you about is The Pantry Principle from Mira Dessy, the Certified Nutrition Educator and realpantry principle food advocate behind the blog Grains and More.  Mira has written a very comprehensive guide to understanding food labels and the often-mysterious ingredients one finds on them.

I actually regard this book as a perfect companion piece to Melanie Warner’s Pandora’s Lunchbox (my recent interview with Melanie Warner here.)  Whereas Warner gives readers an in-depth understanding of why and how food additives are used, Mira Dessy tells readers whether one should eat particular additives and/or why they should be avoided.  You’ll learn about fats, sweeteners, food dyes, GMOs, preservatives and more.  But Dessy doesn’t just tell you what not to eat; she also provides tips on stocking a healthful pantry and many recipes for additive-free versions of your favorite foods.

You can buy The Pantry Principle on Amazon here.

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.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel