Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Recipe: Smoothie

Wouldn't smoothies be a wonderful snack option at school, especially when the days are still warm?  Smoothies can be packed with ingredient rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.  They're perfect for a quick break.  I made a smoothie 2 weeks ago to “test” it out, and I enjoyed it so much I’ve had one almost everyday since. 
I start with a base recipe of non-fat plain yogurt, orange juice, and frozen, ripe bananas, which I accumulate in my freezer since they’re nice to have around for banana bread, (or now, for smoothies).  Next, I add whatever fruit I have on hand.  Last week I used strawberries, today mango.  Everything goes into a large measuring cup, and I buzz it with my immersion stick blender until smooth.      
For two one-cup servings, use about ¾ cup of yogurt, half cup of orange juice, and one large banana.  For today’s mango smoothie, I scooped out the flesh of half a large mango.  The smoothie was so sweet, I threw in a dozen cranberries from my freezer.  As you can see, the recipe is extremely free-form and you can adjust ingredients and their quantities as you see fit. 

Local peaches are available from my local farm in September, so they will surely make it into my school smoothies then.  I bet they’ll sell out during snack time.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Strawberry Season

The last time I went strawberry picking must have been over twenty years ago when I was no more than five years old.  It was a family trip, and my brothers and I had a blast running between rows of strawberries and, of course, sampling just plucked berries.  To celebrate the summer and the end of the school year, I decided to go strawberry picking with my fiance, just for fun.  And it was!   

Bring your family to one of the pick-your-own-farms in Massachusetts (or wherever you live) this summer– it’s a great way for kids to see where food comes from while supporting local agriculture.  Plus, many farms are family-friendly and have playgrounds, ride, and tours just for kids.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brave New Lunch On

Jamie's Food Revolution has made my job of improving school lunch easier because people are finally talking about school lunch and treating it as an important issue.  I support Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and have signed Jamie's petition.  ( You can too.)

Recently I was asked to write an article about Brave New Lunch for Jamie Oliver's website.  Click here to read it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Allergies and Lunch, Part 2

Gluten-free and lactose-free products

Our lunch program
 All students participate in our lunch program with the exception of our youngest students with severe allergies.  Their parents may bring in food for their lunches, and the school nurse takes care of preparing this food - from assembling a gluten-free corn taco to baking a lactose-free pizza in the oven.  Playing short-order cook is a lot of work for the nurse, who also works the cafeteria making sure our young students are eating food on their plates.    

If students are old enough to take responsibility of their allergies – sometime in middle school - they resume participation in school lunch and simply avoid food items that cause reactions.  For example, we serve hummus on our salad bar and place bread with sesame seeds in our bread box, even though several students have sesame allergies. 

Working with allergies
Among parents, teachers, kitchen staff, and the nurse, my school will work together to make sure student allergies in the 2010-2011 year are properly and effectively addressed.  We already know of new students with some severe allergies, including tuna-fish and gluten allergies.  Although we aren’t planning to remove these items from our cafeteria (and in fact, it would be practically impossible in the case of gluten, found in wheat), we will work with these students to see how they may be as safe and as well fed as other students.  The kitchen may begin stocking a few gluten-free and lactose-free foods in our packed-to-the-brim freezer.  We might move tuna, a mainstay on our deli bar, to an isolated spot in the cafeteria to prevent cross-contamination with other foods.     

Keeping all parties informed is critical in handling the ever-increasing number and types of food allergies.  Our nurse assembles a master list of students with allergies each school year for school staff.  The kitchen staff refers to this list frequently.  Even though there is plenty of adult supervision in school, allergy attacks may occur despite precautions.  Parents need to teach their children with allergies to be discerning with what they put in their mouths, especially when they aren’t familiar with the food. 

As you can see, there is no simple way of handling allergies.  Each case requires a lot of time and individual attention of the school staff.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Allergies and Lunch

Banned from school

Today, many kids have allergies, and schools must deal with them.  A few years ago, a young student’s airway started closing up and the school nurse gave her an Epi-pen shot.  This student is extremely allergic to peanuts.  Althought she didn’t ingest any nuts, the nurse believes this student accidently exposed herself to it while in the cafeteria.  As a result of this severe anaphylaxis reaction, my school banned all nuts on campus.

Allergies are scary for students and schools.  Parents don’t want food in their school cafeterias that could impart harm, or even death, to their kids.  Schools don’t want this either.  When it’s just a few ingredients like nuts, schools can find substitutes.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we make for lunch are actually sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches.  My kitchen carefully screens all new products and even foods we order for catered special events.  Too often we find nuts as garnishes or just hidden in the middle of a long ingredient list.

But what’s the right balance between accommodating one student at the expense of everyone else?  Nuts are a great source of protein and certain vitamins and nutrients, particularly for vegetarians.  It’s quite unfortunate for them. 

Next post: How my school is planning around allergies next year 

Thursday, June 3, 2010


School lunch desserts are a thorn in my side.  A parent requested 100% juice popsicles for lunch.  Unfortunately, the only ones we found were twice the size of our normal 1.6 oz bars and correspondingly twice the calories and sugar.  A vendor gave my cafeteria samples of new whole-wheat cookies made just for schools.  The cookies tasted awful and were loaded with more preservatives and sugar than comparable normal cookies.  The “better” dessert eludes me.            

Here’s what we serve for dessert: 

2 x a week:  Frozen treats – fudge bars, ice cream sandwiches, Italian ices, creamsicle etc.  

1 x a week: Canned peaches, pineapple or pears in juice or fresh fruit such as grapes and oranges 

1 x week: Baked goods such as cookies, cake or brownies

1 x week: miscellaneous desserts - jello, pudding or an extra baked good

Dessert in moderation is a perfectly nice way to end a meal.  Some schools have banned desserts from cafeterias all together.   My school hasn’t gone there yet though it might in the future.  Next year, I’d like to offer a wider variety of fresh fruit – and more often - especially when it’s in season.  I bet strawberries from our local farm make a great last-day-of-school dessert.