Tag Archives: school lunch program

Potatoes Saved My Life


My name is Cynthia and I eat  potatoes.  In fact, I might not be thriving today were it not for this humble inexpensive food.  I was very likely one of the top 100 pickiest eaters as a child.  True.  Let’s swap stories and see.   Continue reading

Hands-on Enthusiasm at School Food Service Workshops

“I feel inspired and inspiring” Marta wrote in an email post-teaching one of the first two  Discover.Cook. Nourish. workshops for school food service workers (part of the national CPPW grant).  Eight workshops down and a few dozen more to go, we’re getting a big thumbs up from the participants.

The school food service workers in attendance fill out evaluations after the 8-hour day rating various criteria on a 1 (low) to 5 (highest) scale.  There are 10 topics to score such as effectiveness of power points, thoroughness of presentation, relevance to self and work, teacher’s ability to answer questions and so on for a maximum of 50 points.  “Session overall” and “would you recommend this workshop to others” is currently getting averaging 4.8 out of 5.  The overall average, combining scores for all 10 topics is 46.8 out of 50.  Everyone working on this project is jazzed about the kudos we’re receiving.

What aspect do participants like best?  Hands down, the most frequent praise on the evaluations is for the hands-on cooking sections of the workshop.  Auburn and King County food service workers simmer quinoa, spice up black beans, take chicken for a swim in yogurt, curry up chickpeas, get down with braised greens and slice and dice fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to adorn each dish.  Their “Build a Bowl”  lunches evoke yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy.

The workshops represent steps toward bettering the cash-strapped school lunch program.  How to implement what participants are learning will more time, more push.  Luckily the second favorite aspect of the workshops, as reported by participants on the evaluations, is “sharing ideas”.  The day ends with a game called “Cauldron of Insight” which stimulates this type of conversation.  Groundbreaking ideas are being offered by Alice Waters, Ann Cooper and Jamie Oliver but the way to change may also emerge from the hearts and minds of the people who work in the school lunch program Monday through Friday.  I can’t wait to see what bubbles up.

Answers to the evaluation question: Which part of the training did you find most useful?

  • Learning to cook with ingredients I’ve never used.
  • Loved being able to try food that I wanted to try but did not know how to prepare.
  • All because it will be helpful in my job and my personal life
  • I enjoyed every part of the training class.  I can’t wait to implement certain ideas at school and in my home.

Salt Wars

The workshop for school food service workers (discover.cook.nourish; part of the CPPW grant) has an accompanying  workbook with about 33 recipes in it.  A group of volunteer master’s in nutrition students from Bastyr University calculated a nutritional profile for each recipe as well as a retail cost per serving.  Seemed like good information to add.  But honestly, I was nervous about the sodium content for a couple of the recipes – like Vegetable and Chicken Teriyaki.

salt you will eat no more

Salt no more you will eat!

The fear comes from the battles being fought against salt (sodium chloride) in food.  The new USDA food guidelines recommend that children and people over 50 should consume 1500 mg or less daily.  Why?  Because 70% of the American population is at risk for high blood pressure and hypertension is correlated with high salt intake.  Americans currently eat about 3,400 mg of sodium daily.  It is important to note that 70- 80% of that  sodium intake comes from packaged food and restaurant food.

This guideline puts a real crimp in the typical school lunch which relies heavily on processed foods to keep costs low (see “Please Don’t Condition my Dough“).  No picnic for the makers of packaged food either.  Salt is a low cost way to create taste and texture when your base ingredients have none.  If food manufacturers had to replace salt (lower the sodium content) they would have to resort to more expensive ingredients and lose profits.  Higher food costs are not an option for school lunch programs either, who are not generating profits and operate within a very tight budget.

But wait a minute.  Hold the no-salt phone. Apparently hypertension has been increasing for years without any change in sodium intake.  No kidding.  According to a report in Food Navigator, “rising obesity rates may be a more important factor for hypertension than rising sodium consumption” claim the authors of a new study that notes US sodium intake has remained relatively constant over the past 50 years.  Then why is the USDA recommending these extremely low amounts of sodium?  I don’t know. Is a symptom being addressed rather than the cause (people consuming too much sodium-laden junk food because the ingredients come from subsidized crops so the food is cheap; weight gain from eating these foods cascading into other health problems such as hypertension and diabetes)???  I have so many questions.

Marion Nestle, PhD,  feels that the whole salt thing is a consumer choice issue.  If you want to keep your sodium intakes lower (and your weight reasonable) don’t buy Cheetos and Coke.  In her thread of posts on salt Marion also quotes Judith Shulevitz’s piece in The New Republic, “Is salt the new crack?”  Ms. Shulevitz writes:
“We need to stop ingesting all these substances in ludicrous amounts…We need to be taught not just what’s in processed food, but how historically anomalous its manufacture and our consumption of it are. We need to understand the mechanisms that addict us to it. We need to relearn how to prepare real meals, and we need to start rethinking the social dynamics of that chore (it can’t just be up to wives and mothers anymore).”

Yup.  Let’s cook.  Less than 5% of our sodium intake comes from salt added to foods prepared from scratch at home. That’s why half of the workshop for school service workers is hands-on cooking.  That’s one of the many reasons for launching Cookus Interruptus.

Do you worry about salt intake? And if you do, what do you do about keeping sodium intake low?  What do you think about the guideline to keep school lunch food under 1500 mg?  Will that help?

(from Cynthia)

Jamie Oliver vs. Chocolate Milk

Jamie Oliver spells it out.  He’s passionate about fighting obesity.  This is a 20 minute watch from the magnificent TED talks worth a sit at the computer.

Our effort on Cookus Interruptus is not just about giving folks an impressive kale salad to take to their next pot luck.  Our mission is to normalize healthy home cooking so that our children and our children’s children can grow up with the vitality to pursue their dreams.

Rock on Jamie.

School Lunch: Are We Doggin' It?

In 2007 I served on the voluntary Nutrition Advisory Committee of  the Seattle public school lunch program.   Members made field trips to schools, ate the cafeteria lunch food and wrote reports with observations and comments.  As I understood more and more about the politics behind the school lunch program I felt heavy-hearted about the downward spin of how we feed our children in school.  The  program is woefully underfunded.  The only way to provide the 30 million lunches U.S. kids eat everyday is to rely on cheap processed foods made from government subsidized crops.  The result of our kids eating nutrient-poor food has been disastrous.  One in three children born in 2000 will become diabetic.  Twenty-seven percent of our children are overweight.  No surprise.  A random sampling of school lunch menus this week features hot dogs (Lubbock), corn dogs (Yakima) and cheese dogs (Peoria).

The Child Nutrition Act determines what kids eat in school. The current Child Nutrition Act expires September 30, 2009, meaning it’s up for reauthorization, and in that process we have a chance to really improve on how food for our smallest citizens is funded, sourced, defined, and prioritized.   One way to have a voice is to support the legislation for the Farm to School program.  In 2004, the National Farm to School Program was established as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, creating a seed grant fund for schools to set up farm to school programs. This program received a $10 million authorization, but never was appropriated funds.

Your suggested reading this week is a short pdf file called Nourishing the Nation One Tray at a Time:  Farm to School Initiatives in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. This document explains the situation clearly and simply. You can sign a petition to support new legislation here.

Cookus Interruptus endeavors to help improve meals on the family table, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.  What kids are fed at school constitutes half of their daily calories.  Our children deserve better.