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.

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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!”

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Halloween Candy: Buy-Backs, Donation Ethics, Werewolves and More!

Well, TLT’ers, it’s the time of year kid-and-food bloggers live for: Halloween.  No matter how much I’ve blogged in the past about the candy conundrum (what to hand out; what to do with the haul), it seems there’s always something new to share. . . .

First, for those of you who are new around here, let’s recap some past TLT Halloween posts:

In 2010, my first year of blogging, I explained to you why I was fine handing out candy to trick-or-treaters and I also told you how, when I was a kid, I was given complete control over my candy bag.  My mom actually commented on that post, explaining her rationale for giving us free reign.  (And, by the way, I never did turn into a wild-eyed candy addict in later life, so I think she was on to something.  More on that below.)

In 2011, I took a different approach to what we hand out, opting for trinkets instead of candy, and the next day I told you how that went down.

And in 2012, I shared with you some ideas for candy alternatives, and also tons of ideas for what do do with the candy haul.

So now let’s turn to a link round-up of some more interesting posts on Halloween candy:

Is It Ethical to Donate Candy to Food Pantries?  

It seems to be a growing trend among dentists (and some parents) to offer to pay kids for their candy as a way of reducing sugar consumption.  But then where should all that candy go?  Is it ethical to donate it to a food pantry, where patrons might lack the resources for adequate dental or medical care?  The New York Times‘s resident Ethicist took on that question earlier this month. Turns out he’s not a fan of “buy-backs” in the first place, but he’s fine with the donation.  Read why here.  For a contrary view on donating candy – or any food that’s nutritionally subpar – to those in need, check out this 2010 post from Spoonfed.

Switch Witch: Yay or Nay?

Similar to a dentist’s buy-back, many parents offer their kids a present in exchange for the candy, and the magical agent behind this transaction is the “Switch Witch.”  Given the growing popularity of the Switch Witch, I applauded Bri of Red, Round or Green for daring to say on her blog’s Facebook page that she’s not a fan of the custom.  You can read her interesting reader exchange here.  [Ed update: Oops!  I didn’t realize Bri had a whole post on this topic.  It’s great, and you can read it here.]

Just Let ‘Em Eat It

As noted above, my mom let us have a lot of freedom with our candy and the older my kids get (and the wiser I become as a mom, hopefully) the more I think this is the right approach.  To read why, check out this post that I first shared back in 2011 from the Motherlode blog’s K.J. Dell’Antonia, entitled  “What to Do With the Halloween Candy?  Eat It.”  A newer post along these lines comes from Rainbow Plate — “Halloween Is Scary. Are You Brave Enough to Try This?”  What do you think?

Should You Fill Your Kids Up Before Sending Them Out?

In 2011, I mentioned in passing that I like to give my kids one of their favorite dinners before trick-or-treating as a sly way of avoiding candy overload.  (As a side note, many of you wanted the recipe for that dish – lamb and yogurt whole wheat flatbreads – which I provided a few days later.)  But Dr. Dina Rose of It’s Not About Nutrition actually doesn’t love the idea of filling kids up before trick-or-treating.  Read why here.

Is Halloween Sugar Just a Distraction?

In the Huffington Post this week, registered dietitian Andy Bellatti asks parents to focus less on the Halloween sugar rush and more on the excess sugar most American kids consume on a daily basis.

Please Don’t Kill a Baby Werewolf’s Mom

However you feel about letting your kids eat Halloween candy, this truly hilarious post from Momma Be Thy Name, railing against handing out healthy treats tonight, is a must-read.

Finally, What Not to Do – EVER!

This year a North Dakota woman reportedly is going to hand out scolding letters instead of candy to any overweight kids who are unfortunate enough to visit her house.  I don’t think I have to tell you why this is a truly horrible idea.

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Wishing all TLT’ers and their families a happy and safe Halloween!

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!”

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Fourth Annual “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch!”

Perhaps in your neck of the woods the leaves are just starting to turn and there’s a hint of crispness in the air.  Or, if you live here in Houston, the temperature has dipped from the high 90s to the mid 90s and the mosquito population has dropped from biblical-plague-level to a mere swarm. . . .  Ah, autumn!  :-)

Either way, the calendar tells us it’s mid-September and that means it’s time for The Lunch Tray’s fourth (OMG – fourth!) annual “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series!

If you’re new around here, this is the time of year when we help each other out with the sometimes-onerous task of daily school lunch packing.  And the highlights of this year’s series are two giveaways of brand new cookbooks devoted entirely to the lunch box:  Associated Press Food Editor J.M. Hirsch’s Beating the Lunch Box Blues and Katie Morford‘s Best Lunch Box Ever.  Both look terrific and I’ll be reviewing and giving away a free copy of each of these books in the next few days.

But covering other kid/food news is keeping me pretty busy at the moment, so I’m going to cheat a little this year by offering TLT readers a “Best Of” this series, with links for every concern.  Here goes . . .

I need inspiration and healthy new lunch ideas!  Where can I turn?

In addition to the two cookbooks mentioned above and many lunch packing sites on the Internet, here are a few resources I especially like:

100 Days of Real Food

Red, Round or Green

EasyLunchboxescompendium of lunch box blogs

Laptop Lunches

Back in 2010, we had a Lunch Box Reader Exchange and you can still check that out for ideas from other TLT readers.

And Kelly Lester of EasyLunchboxes last year edited a whole book of lunch box ideas for Trader Joe’s, collecting recipes and photos from other bloggers and including a foreword by yours truly.  You can read all about that book, and find a link to purchase it, here.

I want expert help – bring in the big guns!  

Here are some previous TLT guest posts on lunch packing that are worth revisiting.

A Lunch Box Strategy Session,” by Red, Round or Green.

Eight Great Tips from Meal Planning Magic” by Meal Planning Magic.

The Argument for Packing an Unhealthy School Lunch” by Dr. Dina Rose.

I know what to pack, but how should I pack it?

In the last three years I’ve done round-ups of cool lunch box gear (bento boxes, reusable sandwich bags, drink bottles and more).  Some of these can be found herehere and here.  (Note: any promo codes in these links are no longer valid).

My tried and true tips for using a Thermos are here.  This was a hugely popular post!

And while the Lunchblox system from Rubbermaid may have been around for a while, I just discovered it a few weeks ago and am loving it for my two older kids who find a bento-style box “too babyish.”

lunchblox rubbermaid

Happy packing, people, and stay tuned for those two book giveaways!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 6,400 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also 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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A Beautiful Way to Celebrate Food Day

Happy Food Day, TLT’ers!

What are you doing today to celebrate Food Day?

In the past we’ve celebrated this day with a “virtual progressive dinner party” hosted by me and several food blogging friends.  I’m sorry we didn’t get our acts together this year for another party, but one of those fellow bloggers, Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round or Green, has come up with an even better way to mark the day.

Bri’s idea is an initiative called “Second Helpings” and it’s easy to become a part of it.  Between now and Thanksgiving, all you have to do is one thing (or more!) that accomplishes one of the following goals:

  • Feeds a hungry person;
  • Provides a meal to a busy family in need (and it doesn’t have to be financial need, it could be a family taxed by illness or a new baby, etc.);
  • Supports a small farmer or food assistance program;
  • Helps change policy about food and hunger assistance;
  • Raises awareness about child nutrition, food allergies, or another food-related issue you care about; or
  • Provides a healthy food option to someone who could use it.

Whenever you accomplish one of these goals, tell everyone about it by posting a comment here on TLT, on one of our Facebook pages (mine is here, Bri’s is here) or on Twitter with the hashtag #secondhelpings.  Bri also suggests that we pass along a notice like this to friends and family:

Guess what I just did?  I __________________ as part of the #secondhelpings project.  We’re raising awareness about hunger, food distribution, and food policy in the United States by making small changes that everyone can be thankful for.  I’d love to see you get involved, too!  Feel free to ask me about it, or get more information at Red Round or Green or The Lunch Tray.

And here’s my favorite part:  around Thanksgiving time, Bri and I will post a round-up of all the #secondhelpings stories we’ve received.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate both Food Day and Thanksgiving, two days devoted to food and fellowship.

Thanks so much, Bri, for coming up with this great idea and for letting me come along for the ride!  :-)  I hope other food bloggers join in and I’ll be sharing my own “Second Helpings” stories in the coming days.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 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” – Thermos Tips and Tricks!

I just looked at the calendar and realized that September – the designated month for TLT’s “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series — is almost over.  How on earth did that happen?  Well, get ready for a lot of lunch-packing resources and information in the next few days!  (And yeah, I might drift into October a little bit.  I trust you won’t mind.)

Today’s weighty topic is . . . [drum roll] . . .  the Thermos!

If you’re a regular reader you know that I rely heavily on Thermoses in packing my kids’ lunches, particularly for my sandwich-spurning daughter.  But I haven’t been so happy with my old jars, which looked like this:

I never felt they were keeping the food warm enough, plus the black lid made it hard for me to tell if I was thoroughly cleaning the cap’s inner grooves, which are already so maddeningly recessed that it’s hard to get a soapy sponge in there.

A reader mentioned on TLT’s Facebook page that she found a new type of Thermos jar she liked, so I did some digging. I’m not sure exactly what she was referring to, but I just bought two of these at Target:

It’s from the Thermos Sipp line and I like it so much better than my old jars.  It has a wider mouth so it’s easier to fill, it has a white lid that’s easier to be sure is clean, and I swear it’s keeping food warmer than the old jar did.  It also seemed easier to open than the plastic Thermos food jars (based on my unscientific test in Target), and the sleek design is nice for older kids who no longer want Hello Kitty or a superhero in their lunch box.  If you have another brand or style you like, be sure to let us all know in a comment below.

And now for some tips on using a Thermos:

Warm It Up

First, I urge you to follow the advice of blogger Bri of Red, Round or Green and first fill the Thermos jar with boiling water, letting it sit for ten minutes or so while you prepare the food.  This tip has helped a lot in keeping food warm at lunch time.  And yeah, I know the little instruction sheet that comes with the Thermos tells you to do this (with hot tap water), but I paid no attention until Bri told me to!  :-)    Neat freak that I am, I also like the added (possible?) sterilization from the boiling water.

Take Off The Gasket

You might already know this, but you really need to remove that thin rubber gasket from around the inner rim of the lid every time you clean the Thermos.  Over time, failure to do so will result in . . . well, let’s just say it’s not pretty.

Be Creative In Filling It Up

A few of you have asked me what exactly I put in the Thermos and the answer is – everything!  I pack soup, of course, but also turkey and bean chili; vegetarian chili; whole grain spaghetti and turkey meatballs; steamed Asian dumplings; all-natural ravioli or tortellini; a frozen, all-natural saag paneer (an Indian spinach dish) my daughter likes, and much more.  My theory is, if you can eat it hot, you can put it in a Thermos.

Make Meals Just for Thermos Use

I used to rely on leftovers to fill the Thermos but those aren’t always on hand and some days, when I was low on non-Thermos choices, I’d be at a loss for what to pack.  So I finally forced myself to make entire batches of some of my kids’ favorite dishes just for school lunch, then I divided the cooled food into small containers and put them in the freezer.  It’s a pain to do — a lot of cooking without an immediate payoff — but in the morning it only takes a few minutes to defrost a serving (while that Thermos is heating!) and it’s such a boon to have a hot, nutritious lunch at the ready whenever you need one.

Any Thermos tips I forgot?  Share them with the rest of us!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 4,100 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, 2012 Edition: “Lunch Box Inspiration”

Wondering what to put in that daily lunch sack?

Welcome, TLT’ers, to the 2012 edition of “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch!”

For newcomers to this blog, this is my third annual series of posts, shared on an ad hoc basis throughout the month of September, designed to help parents with the sometimes challenging task of packing healthy and creative school lunches on a daily basis.

In the past I’ve hosted reader exchanges of lunch ideas, shared round-ups of clever and sustainable lunch gear, and enlisted other bloggers to motivate and inspire you.  And this year I have a lot more in store!

Today’s theme is “Lunchbox Inspiration,” a few useful sources to get you thinking outside the (lunch) box.

LaLa Lunchbox

It’s a good idea to get kids involved in school lunch planning to ensure the packed food actually gets eaten, and here’s a high-tech way to do just that.  The LaLa Lunchbox iPhone app allows each of your kids to create a unique monster avatar and then plan a week’s worth of school lunches.  Parents set the template for a standard lunch (i.e., how many fruits, how many vegetables, etc.) and can also edit the list of lunch items, including adding new foods that aren’t pre-programmed into the app.  Once your kid has made his or her selections, a weekly shopping list is generated for you to take to the store.  Neat!

Red, Round or Green Monday Menus

Blogger Bri of Red, Round or Green is known for sharing delicious, healthful recipes throughout the year, but right now she’s offering her readers a special bonus:  six weeks of free, weekly lunch box menus!  She’s about halfway through the series, posted each Monday, and has already shared eighteen new lunch ideas in categories like Easy BitesMini-Meals, and my favorite,  Stuff in Other Stuff.

And speaking of Bri, here’s a recent article about lunch box packing in which she and I (along with Jeanne of The Jolly Tomato) are quoted, and here’s a great post Bri wrote last year for this series to get you “strategizing” about lunches more effectively.

EasyLunchboxes 

Kelly Lester, CEO of EasyLunchboxes, has been a friend of TLT since the very beginning.  In addition to selling her wildly popular lunch box system, Kelly has acquired a big fan base among bento lunch packers willing to share their ideas, recipes and tips.  Kelly’s compendium of lunch box blogs will keep you surfing  — and inspired — for hours!

A Special Offer from The Six O’Clock Scramble

Finally, I wanted to share an item which appeared with perfect timing in my inbox today.  Longtime TLT friend The Six O’Clock Scramble, a wonderful meal planning service for busy families, has a special offer going on right now. For every meal-planning subscription purchased through the end of September, you also receive a printable chart of The Scramble’s 25 Mix and Match Healthy Lunch and Snack Ideas, plus you’ll be entered into four weekly drawings for a variety of items that will help with lunch packing, including gear, food items and a cookbook.  You can sign up here.

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What are some of your go-to sources for inspiration when  you hit a lunch rut?  Don’t leave a desperate mom or dad hanging – let us know in a comment below.

[Blogger disclosure:  I did not receive any compensation from any of the companies or individuals mentioned here.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 4,000 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 Brianne DeRosa: “Kid Food or Dog Food: The ‘Beneful’ Test”

In keeping with my goal of bringing new voices to TLT this summer, today I’m pleased to share a guest blog post from Brianne DeRosa, blogger at Red, Round or Green.   The subtitle of RRG is “just trying to get everyone fed,” and Brianne’s blog documents her efforts to do just that “with as much grace, humor, taste, style, and locally/responsibly produced food as I can reasonably achieve.”  Today she looks at gourmet dog food and the food typically served to American kids and asks the provocative question, “Who do we care about more?  Our kids…or our pets?”

 

Kid Food or Dog Food: The “Beneful Test”

by Brianne DeRosa

We were at a playdate with friends when their 14-month-old daughter toddled into the room with a Milk Bone for the dog.  He eagerly snapped it from her chubby fingers and crunched happily, large crumbs dropping to the carpet.  I knew exactly what was going to happen next.

The baby picked up one of the Milk Bone chunks, squealed, and stuck it in her mouth.  Her father looked horrified.

“If it helps at all,” I said, “I don’t think it’ll hurt her any.  My mom remembers that her brothers used to eat the dog’s Milk Bones too, when they were little.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, relaxing back into the sofa as the little girl wobbled away with her prize, “We’ve actually asked the doctor that.  We even knew a kid who ate kibble for, like, a week straight.  I mean, it’s gross, but it’s really just made of exactly the same stuff we eat anyway.  Right?”

Gulp.  Actually…right.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I know I can’t be the only one who’s seen them – the commercials where people are opening their mammoth stainless-steel refrigerators, taking out an attractive package, and serving up their pet’s totally-perishable-and-completely-gourmet-looking dinner.  These are the commercials that make Chef Gordon Ramsay’s constant admonishment to his trainees, “It looks like a dog’s dinner!” sort of a moot point.  Heck, if half of the kids in this country ate dinners that looked as good as those high-end pet food glamor shots, we’d probably be a lot better off than we are right now.

Leading me to the question: Who do we care about more?  Our kids…or our pets?

Let me hasten to say that I LOVE animals.  I’m still capable of going all misty over photos of my beloved childhood dog, who has been gone now for well over a decade.  I believe animals do become like family…but I draw the line at treating them better than we treat our children.

In just four minutes on Google, I found a pretty comprehensive list of “quality” dog foods that are, for the most part, readily available in supermarkets and run-of-the-mill pet supply stores.   In the top 10 alone, almost all were proudly advertising themselves as gluten-free, soy-free, or even entirely grain-free.  Each promised a rich mixture of fruits and vegetables, touting the “antioxidant” component and the extra fiber.  Heck, there are even certified organic foods out there, foods that contain “human-grade” meat (!), and foods that are supplemented with flax, fish oil, and other healthy fats for the “Omega-3 content.”  And if that’s not enough proof that the stuff will be good for your dog, you can go ahead and splurge on the entirely RAW-FOOD OPTION.  That’s right.  Even dogs are going raw.

I’m not going to say I think dogs don’t deserve high-quality food, or even that they don’t deserve organic grain-free food with blueberries and pumpkin and flax oil.  In fact, since dogs are frequently nicer than most people I know, I’m thrilled that we have the means to provide them with such health-supportive food, much of which is even apparently free of “artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.”  It seems natural to me that, since we’ve nailed down the secret to providing quality meats, organic vegetables, healthy fats,  nutritious grain options, and foods entirely free of preservatives and artificial additives to our children, we ought to absolutely begin passing those benefits along to our pets!

Wait, I’m sorry…we…huh.  We didn’t figure out how to feed kids this well yet?

Then, pardon me, but what the expletive-deleted are we DOING?

I once had a job where I created service-learning curriculum for kids as part of my regular duties.  Whenever I would bring an idea to my boss that involved service to animal shelters or endangered species programs, she’d veto it.  Finally, one day, she looked me in the eye and said: “Every kid loves the animals.  But I want you to teach them to love the people that much FIRST.”

I’m not sure we’re doing such a good job, collectively, of loving the people first.  There’s something very wrong to me about giving dogs “human-quality” meat when rising food prices across the country will increasingly mean that many HUMANS won’t be eating human-quality meat (whatever the heck that even means).  There’s a part of me that’s simply amazed at the use of cranberries, green beans, broccoli, and carrots in our pet food, while cafeteria pizza is allowed to constitute a daily “vegetable” serving for children.  And above all, I cannot for the life of me figure out why our dogs can have food without added soy products, preservatives, and artificial food coloring, but I can’t take my youngest child to our trendy neighborhood cupcake shop because there’s not a flavor there without food dyes (never mind what’s on offer at the groceries and convenience stores along the same street).

Incidentally, that same cupcake shop shares space with a gourmet pet bakery.  Which sells 100% natural dog treats without artificial dyes.

I guess what I’m saying is…our priorities, friends, may be just a touch out of whack.  And I’m sure the right answer isn’t to take the good stuff away from the dogs.  What I think I’d rather see is more people running their choices for their kids through the filter of these pet-food commercials.  We can call it the “Beneful Test.”  That steady diet of Cheetos and Lunchables?  I’m pretty sure it won’t pass the Beneful test.  Sports drinks and “fruit snacks?”  There’s no way a responsible vet would let you feed those to Fido.  Cafeteria menus packed with refined starches, French fries, and mechanically separated meats?  There’s nothing on that list that even barely resembles the grain-free, Omega-3-rich, “human-quality meat” benchmark pet owners are now using as the measurement of their dog’s nutrition.

In my ideal world, the Beneful test would be the first line of defense against the overwhelming stream of junk that passes for food in our children’s diets.  I used to think it was as easy as saying, “If you wouldn’t feed it to yourself, don’t feed it to your kids.”  But clearly, that’s not good enough – not with a whole nation hooked on fast food, freezer food, and faux food.  So instead, maybe it’s time to admit that we are unconsciously placing more value on our animals than we are on ourselves, and just leave it at this: If it’s not good enough for your dog, it’s not good enough for your kid.  Or for you.

God help me, I actually just wrote that.  And I meant every word.

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4/4: Latest LFTB Link Round-Up

LFTB posts worth reading from the last few days:

  • Iowa governor Terry Branstad, who has called for a Congressional probe of the “smear campaign” against LFTB, sends a letter to fellow governors seeking support and urges Iowa schools to continue to use groundbeef with the filler.
  • But some in Iowa are “queasy” at his attempt to “muzzle” food advocates.
  • Wall Street Journal‘s Market Watch opines: no matter what the beef industry does or says, maybe people just don’t want to eat this stuff.
  • Mark Bittman tries to draw larger implications from the LFTB controversy, as does David Katz, director of the Yale Research Center.
  • And if you haven’t seen it yet, do check out Stephen Colbert’s riff on LFTB –  and its nakedly political defense by the “Beefstate Governors.”

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 2,700 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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My 2012 Food Resolutions

I’ve don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions but for some reason this year I couldn’t stop making them, coming up with lofty goals for almost every aspect of my life.  (I figure if I keep even a quarter of these resolutions, I’ll be a greatly improved individual.)  Here are my 2012 food-related resolutions; at the end of the year I’ll revisit them and report on my successes and failures.

Less Food Waste

As you know, I started working on this goal late last year but it’s still always a challenge not to over-buy or let produce languish in the crisper drawer.  I wanted to share this post on food waste from the National Resources Defense Council [hat tip: The Six O’Clock Scramble] and I continue to follow the Jolly Tomato’s tips on reducing waste.  I’m also trying to “shop my pantry” more often, using up some of the less perishable food that tends to get forgotten until it’s too late.

More Homemade Food

This goal might surprise TLT readers since you know I love to cook and am not a fan of highly processed foods.  But I’ve been inspired by a lot of you out there, especially Bri of Red, Round or Green, who take that extra step and make many of your own staples like cereals, breads and tortillas.

Better than store-bought!

Thanks to the Meal Makeover Moms‘ latest cookbook, I’ve already replaced my old, store-bought frozen waffles (healthy but not so tasty) with homemade pumpkin waffles that contain whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal and wheat germ.  I’ve been making huge batches and freezing them.  Just this past week, inspired by a friend who makes divine granola, I made my own with great success (who knew it was so easy?) and I’m also going to try making my own flavored, instant oatmeal.

I’m pretty lazy when it comes to baking yeast breads, so I thought I might also invest in a bread machine to make tastier sandwich bread than I can buy in the store and my own weekly challah using at least some, if not all, whole wheat flour.  So if you own a bread machine and have brand recommendations or buying tips for me, please share!

By the way, I’m going to do all this additional scratch cooking not to be super-crunchy or holier-than-thou, but because I’m finally waking up to the fact that making these foods myself means total control over the ingredients and flavor.  (As my nine-year-old son would say, uh, DUH.)

Upping the Ante on Fruits and Vegetables

photo source: Whole Living

I already know the importance of eating lots of fruits and vegetables but recently I was thumbing through Whole Living (a Martha Stewart magazine) which, every January, provides recipes and resources for a one-month “cleanse.”  I’m not following the diet plan but I was quite taken by the photographs of beautiful, entirely-plant-based meals, practically jumping off the page with vibrant color.  I was reminded anew that there are infinite ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into our meals and I feel inspired to brighten up our plates even more this year.

Happy New Year!

To that end, you can see at the left two veggie-rich sides I made for our New Year’s Day dinner — a kale and Brussels sprout salad with lemon and pecorino cheese (really good — here’s the recipe) and a black-eyed pea salad (it’s a Southern tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck) with carrots and cherry tomatoes, served alongside BBQ chicken drumsticks for the rest of the family.

And that leads me to my last food resolution . . .

Taking Vegetarianism for a Spin

Back in 2010 I shared my musings on possibly adopting a totally meat-free diet (for myself, not my kids) and TLT readers responded with their thoughts and advice.  I decided then to continue with my “just eat less meat” approach but for some reason (maybe it was that Whole Living photo spread!) I now want to explore vegetarianism a little more.  So just for the month of January I’m going to go meatless — I’ll let you know what I think about it at the end of the month.

* * *

So, what food resolutions did you make for 2012?  Go on the public record with me and we can support each other throughout the year!  :-)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 1,430 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.

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Obese Ohio Third Grader Placed in Foster Care

The Plain Dealer‘s Cleveland.com site and other media outlets report today that a 200-pound eight-year-old has been removed from his Cleveland Heights, Ohio home and placed into foster care due to an alleged failure by his mother to follow doctor’s orders to address his obesity.

According to The Plain Dealer report, the child originally came to the attention of Cuyahoga county social workers after his mother sought medical attention for his sleep apnea, a weight-related condition.  He was monitored by the county for a year under “protective supervision,” during which time his mother agreed to enroll him in a weight reduction program at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

While the child’s obesity no doubt places him at increased risk of obesity-related diseases down the road, he reportedly has no such conditions now and is, according to the public defender assigned to his case, “a normal elementary school student who was on the honor roll and participated in school activities.”

Earlier this year we discussed this very issue (“Should Parents Lose Custody of Morbidly Obese Children?“) after a highly controversial opinion piece by Dr. David Ludwig appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association arguing that in cases of life-threatening childhood obesity, the state should intervene and place the child in foster care.  That Lunch Tray post generated a lot of reader response, and fellow blogger Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round or Green was inspired to write her own passionate argument against foster care in such cases, which I encourage you to read (“The News Item I Can’t Shake“).

As I wrote in my original post about the JAMA opinion piece

I can envision cases where the risk of death from obesity-related diseases might well be imminent, and in those very, very rare cases, I believe state intervention for overfeeding woud be as appropriate as for the starvation of a child.  But those cases would be the clear exception to the rule.  In the vast majority of cases, no doubt the trauma of separating parent and child would far exceed the possible benefits of foster care and, of course, it’s not even clear that foster care would be beneficial in all cases.

Reading the Plain Dealer account (and of course, I have no facts to draw on outside of those in media reports), this certainly does not seem to be a case in which a child’s life is in imminent danger.  Indeed, if the mother’s statements are true, it sounds as though she is struggling, as so many parents are, to address what is a multi-faceted and often devilishly intractable problem.

A court date is set for next month (on the child’s 9th birthday) to resolve the custody dispute.  I’ll share any information I learn here.

[Thanks to Dana Woldow of PEACHSF for the tip.]

 

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A Little More Thanksgiving Gratitude . . .

Following the lead of other bloggers and writers in the past few days, I thought I’d share my list of some people (and organizations) for whom I’m truly thankful  . . . .

People Who Inspire and Challenge Me to Be a Better Blogger

  • Dana Woldow of PEACHSF, for her unfailingly insightful and hard-hitting analyses of school food issues, and for always keeping me on my toes;
  • Michele Simon of Appetite for Profit, for shining a much-needed spotlight on the powerful corporate influences affecting food policy — and our kids.

Sites I Rely on For Solid Information About Kids and Food

People Working Hard Every Day to Improve School Food:

Sites and Blogs That Inspire Me as a Parent, and as a Cook

And Of Course . . .

 YOU, the TLT readership!  ♥

I’ll be taking a holiday break and will see you back here on Monday the 28th.  (I’ll announce the winner of the Turkey Day Bon Appétit magazine giveaway just after noon CST tomorrow on TLT’s Facebook page and in the comments section of that post.)

Finally, before I sign off, the Food Research and Action Center reports that almost 1/4 of all American kids are currently living in food-insecure households.  So at this time of year I like to remind readers that you can always click on the “Feed Hungry Kids” tab above for links to three reputable charities working to alleviate hunger here in the United States and around the world.   I also provide a link to the very addictive Free Rice game, which tests your knowledge of various subjects while helping to feed the hungry.

Have a wonderful holiday, everyone!

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 1,370 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.

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The Food Day Progressive Dinner Party Ends With Dessert, Plus Photos of Houston’s Food Day

What a great food week this has been!

We started our Food Day virtual progressive dinner party at my place with a spinach salad, then we moved on to Red, Round or Green for lamb and pasta, we enjoyed delicious vegetable side dishes at Eat Dinner.org and Dinner Together, and now we wrap up the festivities with dessert today at The Jolly Tomato. Blogger Jeanne Fratello has a beautiful apple-cranberry kuchen warm out of the oven and waiting just for you!

And here in Houston we celebrated our own Food Day yesterday in front of our beautiful, Deco city hall building, site of a weekly downtown farmer’s market.  Every Houston foodie and food organization seemed to be in attendance, and at noon we sat down to what was billed as the largest communal meal ever in Houston.  (A photo of the lunch was taken from overhead and I’ll share it on Facebook when it’s released.)  Here are some pix the day’s events:

 

 

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The Food Day Festivities Continue: Entrees From RRG and News for Houston Foodies

As our virtual, progressive dinner party in honor of Food Day continues, be sure to check out these lovely entrees from Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round or Green.  They both look so good (that woman can cook!), and you’ll get a chance to win a free DVD of Food Inc. just by leaving a comment on her post.  Tomorrow, Grace Freedman of Eat Dinner.org will be sharing a side dish (as will a newly added “hostess” for this event, Kathleen Cuneo of Dinner Together) and on Thursday we’ll virtually enjoy dessert served by Jeanne Fratello of The Jolly Tomato.

Also, just a reminder that you have until noon CST today to leave a comment on my Food Day dinner party post for a chance to win this Food Day t-shirt:

And finally, for Houston Foodies: here are all the details about Food Day Houston, taking place this Wednesday at the downtown farmer’s market from 11am to 2pm.  I’ll be at most of the event and would love to meet up with any TLT readers — let me know if you’ll be there, too!

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 1,285 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.

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