My School Lunch Revolution

Click here to go to my recent post on Chicago Moms Blog about my three-year long battle with our school lunch program and what we can do about it now (write your representatives!).  Also, see this recent article here (not written by me) and one in the New York Times (also not by me).

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How to Live a Healthy Life (Book Review: National Geographic’s Green Guide Families)

Look Inside the book at Amazon.com (I don't have any affiliation w/Amazon other than the fact that I'm a customer)

Did you know that if you are good to our earth that you will also be good to yourself?  I don’t mean in an indirect way, that we’ll all have have a better place to live, etc.  I mean, if you, for example, use cleaning products that don’t pollute the earth’s water, then it just so happens that you won’t be polluting the air you breathe in your own home and the table you are eating your food off of will be safer too.  I’ve been “going green” ever since we adopted a dog in 1999 with severe respiratory problems.  I had to discontinue using those popular brand cleaning products which contained  bleach or ammonia in exchange for non-toxic, non-polluting cleaning products like vinegar and baking soda.   Because I am sensitive to chemicals and would suffer a sore throat whenever I cleaned with those toxic products, I was thrilled with the change!   When we moved into our suburban home a year later, we continued to protect our dog from harmful toxins by refusing to use artificial fertilizers and weed killers on our lawn.  Ten years later, our lawn may have  few more dandelions than the lawn next door, but it is still beautiful, and it doesn’t poison me, my dog, or my children.

Thanks to Chicago Moms Blog, I was given a copy of National Geographic’s Green Guide Families by Science Editor Catherine Zandonella.  This book’s secondary title, “The Complete Reference for Eco-friendly Parents” is, in my opinion, a misnomer.  It should be, “The Complete Reference for Healthy Families and a Healthy Planet,” because the information in this book should be of interest to all parents, not just the “eco-friendly” ones. This book makes it easy to protect your family and the earth from toxic pollutants because all the research and data is consolidated into this one easy guide.  Oh, how I wish I had this ten years ago.  Oh, how I wish I had this book when I was pregnant.  It would have saved me the countless hours I spent pouring over medical journals, magazine articles and books trying to make sure everything in our home, from the clothes we wear, to the paint we put on our walls, to the food we put in our mouths was as healthy as possible.  There is an amazing amount of information packed into this 400 page book and every parent should know what is in here, from  the hormone-disrupting toxins found in popular sunscreens( p.212) and endocrine disruptors in many baby care products (p. 208) to weighing the health risks and environmental impact of reusing carseats (p. 214).

I love that this book suggests that parents go to my favorite site for ratings on the health risks for make-up, cosmetics and sunscreen:  www.cosmeticsdatabase.com.   The guide explains ingredients such as sweeteners and preservatives in a way that is easy to reference and easy to understand.  It has ideas and guidance for healthy birthday parties, Easter, Passover, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  The book even explains how to pick a healthier toy and a healthier chocolate treat (for you and the planet).  I’m so excited about this guide that I’m going to buy one for my brother who is expecting his first child.

Book Reviews: Annabel Karmel’s Top 100 Baby Purees and Top 100 Finger Foods

Participants at Chicago Moms Blog and our sister sites were fortunate to receive free copies of two of  Annabel Karmel’s books, Top 100 Baby Purees and Top 100 Finger Foods which, I believe, were originally published several years ago in the U.K..  These books contain beautiful photographs and the recipes are user-friendly because they clearly set out the ingredients and the time it will take to make the recipe.   The baby puree book, in particular, describes appropriate ages for particular foods, but I would suggest consulting your pediatrician on these matters.

In regard to the baby puree book, unfortunately. and maybe this is my own “thing,” but I simply can’t endorse any baby puree book that doesn’t stress the importance of using organic ingredients.  I scoured the book and could not find any mention of “organic” in any of the recipes.  Her “quick and easy meals for a healthy and happy baby,” will not, in my opinion, result in a healthy baby without explaining to mothers why using organic ingredients is so important.  Karmel discusses “nutritional needs,” allergies, and lactose intolerance in children quite a bit, why not discuss organic ingredients as well?  Furthermore, her recipes incorporate many purees with beef and chicken [we don’t eat this at all in our family], with no mention of the dangers of bovine growth hormone or the unhealthy amount of antibiotics found in non-organic beef and chicken.  I don’t think this is a problem in the U.K. as they don’t use bovine growth hormones there but since she has decided to bring her book here to the U.S. this issue, in my opinion, must be addressed  for new mothers.

I was ready for some new ideas for my children, so I was excited to receive the Top 100 Finger Foods book. There is not a lot in there for vegetarians like our family.  I did make one recipe that was almost a success.  I tried the Baked Parsnip and Sweet Potato Chips recipe.  Baking took a long time and although the edges got brown, those were the only crunchy parts.  This was the first time my husband ate parsnips so I will be making it again.  My children preferred the baked sweet potato I prepared in case it was a flop.

Overall, I was disappointed by the lack of creativity in some of the dishes.  I was hoping to add some new items to our tired repertoire.  However, some of the dishes featured were commonplace recipes for pancakes, french toast, pizza, and quiche.  I was surprised she included nachos as one of her “healthy” finger foods.  The recipe was not a revamped nutritious version.  Karmel uses real store-bought tortilla chips.  Indeed, the recipe is similar to the very same nachos we are desperately trying to get off the cafeteria menus of our public schools.   At one point, even she concedes that she can’t think of anything else to make the number of recipes add up to the 100 the title promises “for a healthy, happy child,” stating, “I have included recipes for brownies and mini jam tarts [not even whole wheat by the way!].  After all, you are only a child once.”   Her jam tart recipe has two “ingredients” which are jam and store-bought pie crust.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve been disappointed by these two books.  I expected something comparable to Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron.  No matter how many books Karmel has published and no matter how many beautiful photographs she includes, Yaron will, and still remains, my “go to girl” for all things food, babies and toddlers.

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsak Not Serious Enough about Child Nutrition Reform

I just got off the phone on a conference call with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak and my “sisters” at the Silicon Valley Moms Group where I blog for Chicago Moms Blog.  He claimed to be seriously concerned about childhood obesity, confiding that he was overweight as a child.  However,  when he was asked whether high fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”) will be eliminated as an acceptable ingredient in child school lunches under the soon to be revised Child Nutrition Act, he said, “I honestly don’t know if we would be as prescriptive as eliminating this . . .” and suggested that there would be a “push back” from Congress or a “push back politically.”    I had the opportunity to ask him why government surplus food with high fructose corn syrup and dairy with artificial hormones and antibiotics are being “dumped” on our schools.  I also asked him why it is more expensive to buy an organic apple than a cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant.  His response showed me that he is not really serious about reducing the obesity rates and that it is more important to support and subsidize powerful corporate groups like the Corn Refiners Association, the American Corn Grower’s Association, the National Corn Grower’s Association and the like.     He said that we will always be growing corn in our country and “we won’t stop providing resources to those who grow corn”.  He said nothing about the dairy industry (perhaps my question was too long anyway).  I wish I had a chance to follow up on his praise of corn and corn farmers.  I would have suggested that we turn to a much better, much more nutritious and hardier crop — hemp.  Yes, hemp oil contains wonderful omega 3s to feed our brain, while corn is a grain to bulk up in our tummies and feed to cattle which should be fed grass anyway.  Growing hemp (which is illegal in our country)  can also  help with our deforestation of the globe as it is a hardy fast growing  plant (no need for pesticides!) to use for making paper products and many many other useful things.  Indeed, the Declaration of Independence is written on hemp. Vilsak had some promising things to say about the USDA’s plans to help to improve school lunches, but it all comes down to business as usual in politics.  Those who have the money (corn lobbies) will always win over those who don’t (children receiving free lunches).  Who will pay the cost?  All of us.  If any of these politicians will just look to the bigger picture here.  What cost should we bear?  The cost of losing the money from the corn growers or the cost of losing human lives to obesity and diabetes?  There is no middle ground here.  We need a Secretary of Agriculture who is committed to the people of the United States of America not to the corporations of America.  Mr. Secretary, I implore you, stop the U.S. tradition of catering to our corn industry.  Give our children healthier food and give our farmers a better crop to grow!

Giveaway! Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Julie & Julia Paperback

NOTE: This Giveaway is over! Congratulations to the winners selected by Random.org who are Thiien-Kim, Bonggamom, and Annalene. They have been contacted via email and addresses have been requested so the goodies can be sent. Thank you to everyone who entered!

According to Scharffen Berger, Julia Child was one of its biggest fans, once proclaiming it “America’s best dark chocolate.” Scharffen Berger chocolate contacted me and wants to give away some of their wonderful baking chocolate (they didn’t even know I use it in my own baking!) and a copy of the paperback Julie & Julia by Julie Powell to my blog readers in honor of the DVD release. All you have to do is leave a comment by this Friday the 18th answering the following question:

What is the easiest vegetarian dish you cook often that everyone enjoys?

Random.org will choose three lucky winners (U.S. addresses only) and I will contact you via email for your address and Scharffenberger will send you the Julie & Julia paperback ($7.99 retail) along with a 9.7 oz 70% Cacao Bittersweet baking bar ($9.95 retail) and 3 oz. 82% Cacao Extra Dark Chocolate bar (retail $4.95) directly.

Good luck!

Mommy and Healthy Cook Tamara Davis Rocks!

Make Me Something Good To Eat:  Tamara Davis' Cookbook

Make Me Something Good To Eat: Tamara Davis' Cookbook

I just discovered this online cooking show created by Tamara Davis (wife of Beastie Boy Mike D.) and, like her husband, she rocks! She has a cookbook out too. Check out her yummy online show and start cooking healthy food w/your kids. I’m going to try the spinach and ricotta ravioli w/my children. We already love the one from Trader Joe’s but oh how I wish it could be organic cheese and organic spinach. If we make it ourselves, it will be! Thanks Tamara! Oh, and I’m adding you to my blogroll so I never miss a show.

Chicago Moms Blog Brunch Was Yummy!

Thank you to Cindy Fey and Kim Moldofsky for organizing our awesome Chicago Moms Blog brunch two weeks ago. The location, a luxurious party room in a posh downtown building, was perfect. The locally donated food sublime.   We had delicious cheese and nut selections from Pastoral Artisan (check them out for their cheese-making classes).  The pickled veggies and old-fashioned jams from the Jane Addams Hull House were colorful and yummy, and the Eli’s Cheesecakes simply decadent! Thank to all those companies who donated! A special thank you to Virginia Montgomery, a massage therapist with magic hands (and, as you can see on her website, quite a unique location for a massage)! Also, it was such a great idea to have all the guests bring books for donations to Bookworm Angels, a worthy cause indeed! Oh, and by the way, I just loved listening to my fellow bloggers read some of their posts and poems. I am humbled to be a part of such a talented group! I can’t wait to see you all again at our Blogher pre-party!