Poll: Americans want real food in school lunch

Posted by on Apr 28, 2010 in food politics, healthy food, lunch time, raising children, school food | 0 comments

The W.K. Kellog foundation, which has been advocating for equal access to good food and exercise for children for 80 years, took a poll and found that a majority of Americans believe nutrition in local school meals falls far short of what children need. Pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers – old standbys in school lunch are just the foods they (we, the Americans) believe should be drastically cut from school menus.

One of the biggest obstacles I hear when discussing changing school lunch, is the idea that kids won’t eat healthy food (The other biggest obstacle is the idea that it costs too much – we can come back to another day), or that they won’t eat “adult food.” At Butter Beans, we ask the grown ups, to let the students try.

Today I had lunch at Bay Ridge Prep, where Butter Beans recently started serving lunch. I sat down at a table with fifth graders for lunch. I asked the table what were some of their favorite menu items so far. Among vegetable lasagna, lo mein and pasta was chicken! Children like chicken that looks like chicken. It doesn’t need to be breaded and shaped like a dinosaur to appeal. The young girl I was sitting next to went on to point out her younger brother, who she described as a picky eater, in line for salad today. She tells me that since Butter Beans has been at their school, he’s gotten into eating salad. I asked her why she thought he got into it at school and not at home. She thinks it has something to do with having his friends around eating it too. I think she’s right. Peer pressure can indeed be made to work in our favor.

Food is nourishing and delicious. My  plate of lunch today, brimming with flavor and colors was beautiful. School is where we send our children to learn all sorts of things. If we can get the learning to continue in a relaxed and community sharing moment that lunch is, we get healthier happier kids in school, and kids that are much easier and enjoyable to be with at home.

Three cheers for our fellow Americans, ready for change. Now we just need enough parent volunteers to connect with other parents and with school directors to get programs like Butter Beans in their schools, or to get a salad bar in their cafeteria, and to join the Food Revolution and the other Angry Moms. Three cheers indeed.

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Quinoa Vegetable salad – the recipe

Posted by on Apr 26, 2010 in Recipes | 0 comments

Somehow the recipe got lost in yesterday’s post, so here it is again:

(*Here’s a picture of plain cooked quinoa)


2 cups quinoa (golden or red)

3/4 cups cooked garbanzo beans

1/2 cup diced bell pepper, any color (red or orange are sweeter)

1 cup sweet potatoes cut into small cubes and roasted

1/2 cup diced onion

1TB ground cumin

2 tsp ground cinnamon

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil for sautéing peppers and onions

Optional: toasted seeds and raisins


Cook 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water in a covered pot on low heat for about 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. In the meantime, cut the vegetables. Take quinoa off the burner when it’s ready. Leave covered until everything is complete. Saute the onions and peppers in a frying pan. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. *the flavor gets better with time, so make enough to eat immediately, and enough to refrigerate until tomorrow.


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Quinoa – breakfast lunch and dinner

Posted by on Apr 26, 2010 in healthy food, Recipes | 0 comments

Last week in our after-school cooking class, we made quinoa salad.

Yay! Quinoa, I love it! Cheered one first grader. She is a fan of the quinoa pilaf we serve at her school at lunch some days. I am originally from Ecuador where quinoa is a staple, but never had it outside of soup until a handful of years ago. It is a delightful little grain. It unfurls into tiny spirals when cooked, and has a balanced content of essential amino acids – meaning it is  a great high quality protein food. It also is  good source of vitamin E, thiamine, iron, magnesium and zinc. What’s to love is that it is so versatile. You can use it in any grain or pasta recipe. You can make a quinoa porridge for breakfast (like oatmeal) or add some cooked quinoa in with a couple of veggies to make a breakfast egg scramble. You can saute it up with veggies for lunch, add it to a wrap or top it on a salad. You can cook it with potatoes and leeks for a simply delicious dinner soup.

On this day, in this class, it was a salad. Truth be told we ate this warm, but it is great cold and even better the next day cold, so I maintain calling it a salad. The students got to chop peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes. They measured out ingredients and tasted spices. They looked at pictures that showed how quinoa grows and is harvested before making it’s way to our table. Everyone added love and good thoughts to the pot as we stirred (Spiderman, playdates, sunshine, farmers..), and then set the table to partake in our work. It was delicious.

Here’s the recipe:

You can substitute any vegetables in this and be assured a pretty tasty result. Have a favorite quinoa recipe? Share it!

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Every Day Earth

Posted by on Apr 23, 2010 in Food for thought | 1 comment

I love Earth day, in a similar way that I love New Year’s day. On New Year’s day, people across the globe are considering ways in which they can start anew. It’s pretty powerful to unite so many people in this way. Earth day is similar in that, across the globe, people are taking the time to notice, talk about and care for the Earth, all at the same time. Of course one can start anew everyday, and we can make every day Earth day.

I spent a few hours today celebrating the day with the community at PS58 in Brooklyn, NY. Butter Beans was asked to have a table, and I was glad to oblige. I came with picture cards of different growing foods that went over quite well, but definitely, the raffle was the hit. In order to enter the raffle, students had to fill out a brief questionnaire:

What are your favorite vegetables?

Do you think it is important for kids to learn how to cook?

Do you think, if we live in New York, that we should eat food that was grown in New York?

Do you think trying new foods is fun?

The prize: 4 tiffins – 1 to raffle every 30 minutes.

The questions were meant to inspire thought. The answers provided some insight for me, as to what kinds of conversations students have had about these subjects already. Many learned today that tomatoes are fruit, that corn is a grain and that peas are legumes. Broccoli and carrots were by far the favorite vegetables. Most thought it important for kids to learn to cook, though a few clearly said no. Most said yes we should eat food grown in NY if we live in NY, but a couple said no, one said why not? another said sometimes, and another said, only if it is clean!

As for trying new foods.. this is admittedly hard for some.

After many conversations with parents, I have come to realize that many of us make great choices about the food that we serve our families. We are looking for fresh food, for local food. We are learning to look at labels and consider where our food is coming from – but we forget to highlight these choices to our children.

If we choose to shop at the farmers market, we can tell our children why we make this choice. How is this different from shopping at the grocery store? Do we choose the California grapes over the Chilean grapes? Why or why not? Do we know where our eggs come from? Share the details! It could be said that everything we love revolves around food. (Our land and our water, our relationships, our gatherings…) Getting young people connected to the food (growing, shopping, cooking, eating), goes a long way in getting them connected to the Earth.

For those of you in Brooklyn looking for events to celebrate this weekend, check out this site.

For those of you anywhere – check out the launch of Shared Earth. This is a new online organization that connects people who have land they’d like to see produce but don’t have the time or know how, to people without land who want to  grow things. It’s a free site to post your land or your skills, and it makes for great use of land, where food and flowers and friendships grow for free.

Every day ideas, for our every day Earth.

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Are you an environmentalist?

Posted by on Apr 20, 2010 in families, Food for thought, food politics | 0 comments

Staying up until 3am, as a parent (when sleeping in is not an option), feels completely out of line. However, preparing for The Green Schools Alliance resource fair, thinking about how to engage our communities in sustainable ways, found me up until such a wee hour. I felt a sense of solidarity when the first speaker John Shea, CEO, NYC DOE Division of School Facilities (DSF) began his speech by admitting he’d also been up until 3am thinking about how to engage the attendees in a way that would better inspire and prepare them for the work we all do in our smaller communities in the name of environmentalism.

Of course in our smaller circles, we don’t all call ourselves environmentalists. Though I’m not sure why not. If an environmentalist is someone who loves their homeland, this great land we call Earth, that loves to breathe fresh air and drink clean fresh water, then shouldn’t we all be proud to be environmentalists? If we simply call ourselves people who love life, are we conveying this message?

It makes me think of the word organic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across people, who in bright defiant spirit have said something about not wanting to eat organic, because it is healthy and expensive. There is a connotation that organic is some fancy new thing, and people like good old traditional food, not fancy new food. And yet, it is the good old food that never needed a name fancier than food, that has been hijacked and altered by the overuse of pesticides and herbicides due to unsustainable farming practices.

I had this conversation with a group of 4th graders not too long ago – about organic food. They were all against it.. but when I asked them what organic meant, they didn’t know. I began to describe the life of a farmer. I presented the difficult decisions that farmers and gardeners face when the food they are working so hard to grow gets eaten by animals or insects and pests. There are practices that require alternating fields, covering grounds, digging stakes and strategically preventing or dealing with pests in a way that doesn’t involve adding toxins that are dangerous. Then, there is the alternative of adding toxins that are dangerous.

It doesn’t take long for kids to catch on.

Sustainability. I salute the organizers of the Green Schools Alliance for taking on the task of organizing all of our children. We can turn the tide. We can lead healthy happy sustainable lives. We are creative beings, and our children, even more so.

Cooking classes continue this week.. look out for yummy recipes soon.

For now, catching up on sleep is first.

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