31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Peas on Earth

Now that the holiday hustle is almost over and food comas are common throughout the land, it is time to begin looking toward 2015. New Year’s Day is but a week away and, before you know it, it will be time to think about starting next spring’s garden plants.

All my wishes for 2015 can really be summarized by this simple graphic. 

Peas on Earth1

Like so many others around the globe, I can imagine no greater gift than a more peaceful planet. If only we could ‘beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.’ If only we would war no more and so that all children could have the nourishing foods they need to grow strong and well.

My dedication to #RealSchoolFood is an extension of my love of growing food, cooking food and enjoying food. While world peace may continue to elude us, I am totally confident that 2015 will bring more good news about school meals, school gardens and local foods for local districts. I am grateful for the opportunity to share that news here on this blog and School Meals That Rock on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Please join me whenever you can!

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: #MerryChristmas from the New York Times

Jane Brody, longtime New York Times columnist, cookbook author and all nutrition guru has just sent all school nutrition programs an early Christmas present. It came wrapped in a 12/22/2014, Personal Health column called “Why Cafeteria Food Is the Best.” A version of the article appeared in print on 12/23/2014, on page D5 of the New York edition with the headline: Food From Home Fails Nutrition Test.

In fact, Ms. Brody did not say anything dramatically new; she merely reviewed the results of several school nutrition studies published in the past year. She also did not say anything different that what you or I say multiple times a day. This column is important because of WHO wrote it – a respected, authoritative voice in America’s nutrition life – and because of WHERE it was published – one of the most influential newspapers in the world.

Jane Brody, Personal Health, Why Cafeteria Food Is the Best, NYT, 12/22/2014

Jane Brody, Personal Health, Why Cafeteria Food Is the Best, NYT, 12/22/2014

You don’t have to read the whole thing now – it’s Christmas Eve and you need to spend time with your family and friends. BUT, here is what you need to do when you head back to school on January 5, 2015.

  • Print a PDF of the online article for your files. (Use the print version if you live in NYC and happen to have a copy.) You can do this right from the PRINT command at the link above.
  • Forward the link and attach a copy of the PDF (or deliver a hard copy) to your superintendent, chair of your district school board, and any school meal ‘bashers’ in your community.
  • Use the links in the article to download copies of the research articles that Brody cites. Read them carefully, save them in your files and use them to pitch a story to your local media about why “Cafeteria Food is the Best.”

But, Dayle, it’s Christmas Eve and you just said that we should be with our family and friends. NO worries – you don’t have to download or read anything today. I’ve done all the downloading for you – and am going to remind you in January. That’s my Christmas present to you!!

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Fruitastic Santas for #Christmas

Tomorrow night is Santa’s time to shine – and I totally agree with milk and cookies as the preferred snack of bearded men who drop down chimneys. However, I also think that sometime you need some fruit to go with your cookies and milk. With that in mind, here are two Fruitastic Santa Snacks – and a veggie one too, just for good measure.

These Strawberry Santa Snacks are super easy – and you still have time to buy the three ingredients you need: berries, cream cheese (or substitute whipped cream) and mini-chocolate chips. These are so sweet that Santa may just need a glass of ice cold milk with them.

Fruitastic Strawberry Santas

Fruitastic Strawberry Santas

These clever Santa Poppers have three more ingredients: Bananas, marshmallows and red candies. That’s a little more sugar – but also perfect with a tall refreshing glass of ice cold milk. Step-step-by-step instructions are available at the link above – and you get to eat all the extra fruit pieces while you are making them!

Strawberry-Banana Santas

Strawberry-Banana Santas

And, because I could not resist, how about some Tomato-Goat Cheese Santas? The recipe link calls for some brand name cheeses, but I am guessing your favorite soft cheese combination would work just as well. I would definitely make these if I hadn’t already committed to a ‘pine cone’ cheese ball made with almonds. So many cheesy appetizer opportunities, so little time!

Tomato and Goat Cheese Santas

Tomato and Goat Cheese Santas

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Tis’ the Season for Citrus

The price of citrus fruits, like clementines and grapefruit, looks pretty good in the produce aisles these days. That’s because citrus season is really kicking in high gear, especially for mandarins and oranges. Sunkist® has a great Seasonality Calendar listing a wide variety of refreshing citrus options and their peak seasons.

Everyone can benefit from a little extra vitamin C and other citrus nutrients right now – since colds and flu are also in season. Need a super EASY, super REFRESHING smallish gift for friends or coworkers? RD colleague Sarah Chellberg shared this Orange Wreath idea with me last week and I love it. You could, of course, make this wreath from any fruit – alternating red and green apples would be quite festive too. All you need is some plastic wrap and ribbon!

Simple citrus wreath

Simple citrus wreath

Or how about a Rudolf Orange? All you need are some citrus fruits, edible markers (available at most hobby stores, and some bits and pieces of ribbon, pipe cleaners and other wrapping/craft leftovers. These are simple enough for children to make themselves!

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Orange

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Orange

This fun Snowman Fruit Snack is also simple enough for children to make. A variety of other fruits and veggies could be used to make the hat, face and scarf – just let your fruit-tastic imagination go wild!

Snowman Fruit Snack

Snowman Fruit Snack

Need more ideas? Visit the School Meals That Rock Christmas Food Fun Pinterest board!

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: #Hunger Doesn’t Take a Winter Break

Yesterday I was doing a little exploring in a new-to-me Billings neighborhood and I drove down a dead-end road on the outskirts of town. There sits, as my friend Ginny Mermel describes it, the “second worst trailer park in town” – muddy roads with thawing snow, dilapidated homes, rusty cars and many young residents based on the school bus just turning around after dropping off students for winter break.

While most children are excited about a two-week vacation with holiday celebrations and presents under the tree, winter break has a whole different meaning for kids who live in poverty. It means two weeks without school meals – two weeks without the guarantee of a hot breakfast and lunch every day. Thanks to my friend and colleague, Virginia ‘Ginny’ Mermel (far left) and the Billings Public Schools BackPack Meals Program, the situation is not as bleak as it could be in our community.

Archie Cochrane Ford donates $2500 to the BackPack Meals Program (May 2014)

Archie Cochrane Ford donates $2500 to the BackPack Meals Program (May 2014)

Ginny received one of the 2014 Hunger’s Hope Award from the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) in November. In presenting this prestigious award, MFBN noted … “Ginny has the challenging task of feeding very low-income, food insecure students in Billings through school pantries and BackPack programs. Many of the students she serves are emancipated or homeless and rely on the assistance provided through her programs in order to eat. She has steadily expanded the reach and scope of child hunger programs in Billings and the surrounding area while working tirelessly to ensure stable funding and administration for child hunger programs.”

While I see the work of Billings Public Schools BackPack Meals Program and Teen Food Pantry Program personally, I know that thousands of schools and other volunteers work year round to bring healthy food to families in need. Here are two of the many recent Facebook entries that impressed me.

The San Diego (CA) Unified School District Farm to School Program posted this photo on the Friday before their break: “Since today was our last day of school before the 2 week winter break, we donated our leftover fresh produce to 11 San Diego food rescue agencies including Feeding America San Diego, Bayview Charities, various churches, mental health agencies, etc.! Trying to do our part to help those in need.” Rather than letting beautiful produce go to waste, they made sure that it went to those in need.

Produce Donations from San Diego School District

Produce Donations from San Diego School District

In Greensboro, North Carolina, the Guilford County Cooperative Extension School Garden Network had a great idea on December 16tth: “The Donation Station at the curb market at Yanceyville St. was a hub of activity Saturday as shoppers donated mounds of beautiful produce for our food insecure population here in Guilford County. Volunteers Melissa Tinling, FoodCorp service member and Cynthia Nielsen, GCCES School Garden Network Coordinator for Farmer Foodshare.”

Donation Station in Guilford County, North Carolina

Donation Station in Guilford County, North Carolina

It’s not too late to make the holidays better for hungry children in your community. Wherever you live your local donation station is as close as a food bank, food pantry or mission. Confused about what to donate? How about MILK – one of the most requested, least donated food items? You can donate milk directly or through The Great American Milk Drive. Thanks to America’s Milk Companies and Farm Families, you can help fill the milk gap – and have your donation matched gallon-for-gallon. Honestly,  it doesn’t get much better than that!

FinalGAMD_infographic_3

 

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: What Makes Fantastic #FoodArt?

If you like fun food and spend any time on Pinterest or even Facebook (especially on school lunch bento box pages), you may have already over-dosed on holiday cuteness. I myself have blogged about #RealSchoolFood art here twice – using actual school photos on Days 7 and 18. So why talk about it again? Like with many Christmas things gone awry, I’d like to blame it in the Grinch – specifically THIS Grinch, shared recently by Chartwells K12 on their Facebook page.

Fruit and Veggie Grinch, Cadillac Area Public Schools, Michigan

Fruit and Veggie Grinch, Cadillac Area Public Schools, Michigan

After just a few hours, it is already one of School Meals That Rock’s most liked photos – and the question is WHY? What makes #FoodArt FANTASTIC? I’d like to suggest three factors – and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. 

#1. Recognition: This is very clearly the Grinch – in color and expression. In the same way, there is no doubt that this creature from the #FoodArt celebrities in Provo School District (UT) is a snowman.

Mushroom Snowman, Dixon Middle School, Provo, Utah

Mushroom Snowman, Dixon Middle School, Provo, Utah

#2. Serendipity: The red pepper on the produce Grinch looks amazingly like the hat that Dr. Seuss originally drew for How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The mushrooms on the snowman really look like snow balls – while broccoli and cauliflower really make perfect  poodles (one of the School Meals That Rock previous record-breaking posts).

Cauliflower and Broccoli Poodles

Cauliflower and Broccoli Poodles

#3. Simplicity: Perhaps the most important attribute of FANTASTIC #FoodArt is that it is simple – it looks like some thing we could actually make with the implements we have available. The Grinch, snowman and poodles all look pretty easy – almost like why didn’t think of that? These Angry Birds are another example of made simple – real simple.

Pineapple-Watermelon Angry Birds

Pineapple-Watermelon Angry Birds

Want more ideas for simple, serendipitous, recognizable food art? Please check our School Meals That Rock on Pinterest – or scroll through the photos School Meals That Rock’s Facebook page. Our friends from Provo, Utah, are a great resource on Facebook and Pinterest – or just use your friendly search engine. Type is something like strawberry hearts and you will find thousands – if not millions – of ideas.

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: A Toast to Winter Break

Like many folks in the nutrition world, I’ve had a very busy fall – but it’s nothing compared to the intensity of day-to-day operations in school food programs. Up early to serve breakfast and staying late for meetings … applying for grants and rolling out new programs … building farm to school relationships and creating cooking classes … coping with shortages of high demand products and breathing deeply through other round of school lunch bashing … trying to find good employees and handling school closures for storms or bomb threats … for all of this and more … THANK YOU!!

To all those who work in school nutrition, a toast to a job well done and a well-deserved winter break. Here’s hoping that you enjoy your favorite beverage (wine, sparking grape or hot cocoa), find time to renew your enthusiasm for feeding children well, and enjoy all the blessings of the season.

A Toast to All School Nutrition Heroes

A Toast to All School Nutrition Heroes

We’ll finish up the 31 Days of #RealSchoolFood over the holidays … celebrating with your photos and success stories. Happy Holidays!

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Holiday Fruits and Veggies = FUN

Social media has been full of holiday food art. Even ChooseMyPlate.gov got into the act with a very fun snowman sandwich on popcorn snow next to a pea pod tree. While there’s plenty of cute Christmas sweets and treats floating around out there, I’m personally most impressed with the already-very-busy ‘lunch ladies’ and food dudes who go out of their way (maybe on their own time) to make fruits and vegetables special for children. This wonderful winter scene came from Maureen Williams Voll, at Saint Patrick School, Terre Haute, Indiana. I know that Maureen struggles to find even a few minutes for art, so this is all the more impressive: “A little holiday food art before we head off for vacation. The kids have been asking for food art, as we haven’t done any in a while. Our gift to them, and they LOVED it!

Veggie Car and House, St. Patrick's School, Terre Haute, Indiana

Veggie Car and House, St. Patrick’s School, Terre Haute, Indiana

This simple broccoli Christmas tree was decoration on the serving line at West Chatham Elementary today in Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, Georgia. Thanks to Director Lydia Martin for proudly sharing what her staff had created.

West Chatham Elementary (GA), Broccoli Christmas Tree

West Chatham Elementary (GA), Broccoli Christmas Tree

Flat Veggie Trays have been very popular on Pinterest, including the School Meals That Rock Christmas Food Fun board. These two come from districts at opposite ends of the country – Coppell ISD in Texas (L) and South Haven in Michigan (R). Easy to make – and very fun for students!

Texas Broccoli Tree & Michigan Cauliflower Snowman

Texas Broccoli Tree & Michigan Cauliflower Snowman

School lunch can be very festive without being ‘arty’ both this Greek Pizza from Mast Way Elementary Oyster River Child Nutrition, New Hampshire, and the Broccoli Salad from Shaw School, Millbury, Massachusetts, are deliciously colorful examples. Thanks to every school nutrition professional for preparing beautiful, delicious and often fun food for hungry children. Enjoy your winter break – we hope some cooks for you!

Mast Way Greek Pizza, Lee, New Hampshire

Mast Way Greek Pizza, Lee, New Hampshire

Shaw Elementary, Millbury, Massachusetts

Shaw Elementary, Millbury, Massachusetts

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Taste Tests Are Terrific

Two FB photos inspired today’s post – both from districts that I admire. The first is from Lessons from the Lunch Lady, aka Wendy Garman who had the pleasure of meeting at SNAPa meeting last summer. Wendy dedicates her page “to all the little minds I have been blessed to refuel and to all the child nutrition employees who make feeding children a priority” – and often shares the darnedest thins that her small customers say.

Today’s Wendy’s photo showcased a Taste Test of simple roasted kale chips. I was impressed that Wendy was even doing a Taste Test during the holiday rush – and even more impressed with the results she reported: “‘I wish you brought more kale! This stuff is great,’ said a third grader sampling roasted kale chips today. I had very low expectations for this sampling as dark green veggies are not usually listed among kids’ favorites. It was exciting to see how willing everyone was to give it a try and even more amazed to learn that nearly 90 percent of the class enjoyed it.” Plus, the kale was a lovely holiday green!

Roasted Kale Chip Taste Test, Lessons from The Lunch Lady

Roasted Kale Chip Taste Test, Lessons from The Lunch Lady

Lesson learned from this Taste Test (and nearly every other one ever done) – children’s reactions to food are often very different that we expect. In fact, the fewer expectations that the adults have, the more likely children are to experience new foods for themselves. Often their reaction is more positive than we expect.

My second inspiration was a series of photos from EATS (Eat Awesome Things at School) Park City from a Taste Test of butternut squash. I was first impressed by the beautifully appealing display of the samples. There are some benefits of serving samples in a resort town like Park City, Utah – the “roasted Butternut Squash was perfectly cooked by the esteemed The Farm Restaurant at Canyons Resort.”

Butternut Squash Taste Test, EATS Park City, Utah

Butternut Squash Taste Test, EATS Park City, Utah

EATS Park City is doing a really terrific job of engaging community support for #RealSchoolFood. I had the pleasure of meeting with EATS Park City last summer and am impressed with how positively they are working with the school nutrition program and other local businesses. The organically grown squash came from Parker Produce, a 140 year old farm in northern Utah – and the Taste Tests are funded by The Park City Community Foundation and the Park City Sunrise Rotary Club

It is important to remember that while the town has many wealthy visitors a significant number of students have not been exposed to fine dining in local restaurants – or to foods like butternut squash. One elementary school student was concern that the squash contained nuts!

Middle School Students Taste Roasted Butternut Squash

Middle School Students Taste Roasted Butternut Squash

Another lesson learned: Children may perceive new foods in ways that we cannot even imagine, especially if the food item is an everyday food for us. While Taste Tests may seem easy enough – just put out samples and have kids eat them, it can also be helpful to take a more structured approach. Fortunately, there are two great resources – both free for downloading – to help you make the most of tasting #RealSchoolFood:

In both these guides you will find tips and forms to make Taste Tests more fun, more successful and more effective in expanding student food horizons. Here are some examples of the forms from the Vermont FEED Guide.

Sample pages from Vermont Feed's Guide To Taste Testing Local Foods In Schools

Sample pages from Vermont Feed’s Guide To Taste Testing Local Foods In Schools

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Chef Robert is a #RealSchoolHero

The School Nutrition Foundation recently announced its 2015 School Nutrition Hero AwardsChef Robert Rusan from Richmond-Maplewood Heights School District in Maplewood, Missouri, is one of the honorees. Robert has been one of my heroes since I started School Meals That Rock in 2011. Very early in the life of our Facebook page, Chef Robert started sending in photos – of his immaculate kitchen, school garden produce and mouth-watering, house-made meals.

Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood, Missouri (2011)

Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood, Missouri (2011)

There are many reasons to honor Chef Robert Rusan. The two that really stand out to me are his ability to connect young people with their food – and his commitment to the freshest ingredients possible. This collage from Food Revolution Day 2014 illustrates both. Serving Asparagus Frittata in a high school would be awesome all by itself, but Robert went way beyond that: “Today MRH Teen Cuisine prepared fresh asparagus frittata. The asparagus are from the school garden at ECC and the eggs are from our own MRH chickens. I would like to give a special shout out to our Seed to Table Coordinator/teacher Chef Almut Marino who organized the day!

Asparagus Frittata, MRH Team Cuisine, Food Revolution 2014

Asparagus Frittata, MRH Teen Cuisine, Food Revolution 2014

It is very difficult to pick out one or two photos which really show the commitment of Chef Robert and his district to fresh food and student involvement. This collage and Robert’s own caption do a pretty good job: “Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students.” To get the full flavor of why Chef Robert Rusan is a 2015 SNF School Nutrition Hero, I recommend going to his Facebook page and scrolling through the photos. I guarantee that you will be impressed!!

Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students

Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students