Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

If getting your kids to eat healthy food or choose healthy food options is a regular struggle, maybe you’re going about it the wrong way.  Most kids will be happy to learn to eat healthy foods using the techniques I have previously suggested (here, here, here, and here), but some kids really make it a struggle.  What if there was a way to get them used to eating healthier foods without fighting? If only there was some way to trick them into eating healthier.

The idea of tricking kids into eating healthy food may seem disingenuous, but it doesn’t have to be. The idea of tricking kids into eating veggies often means hiding veggies in cake, lying about the contents of a dish, or giving kids green juice in an opaque bottle.  I’m not opposed to disguising the color of an item or hiding vegetables in a food kids already enjoy, but outright lying is only going to damage your child’s trust.  If we want kids to value what we have to say and to really take on board the lessons we are trying to teach them, we have to maintain a high level of trust.

But we can still trick them into eating healthier.

There is a lot of research out there about how different psychological factors impact how much and what we choose to eat.  If we have concerns about obesity, we can start by reducing the amount of food our kids eat, and we can do it all without their even knowing.  We can do it by using psychological tricks.

In a Restaurant

Americans eat 43% of their food away from home, so it is good to have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to eating out.

Where are you eating out?  Most restaurants offer a range of healthy and unhealthy foods, so just picking a “healthier” restaurant may not be enough.  Consider the atmosphere and mood of the restaurant.  Sound and lighting can actually influence what we eat.  A restaurant with dim lighting and loud music will encourage you to eat more calories.  Also consider that certain types of music will enhance your dining experience.  Higher pitched music makes sweet food taste better while deeper notes improve the taste of bitter flavors, so if you’re trying to stick to an enjoyable savory meal and avoid the dessert, find a restaurant that tends to play deep orchestral music, rather than one with a piano in the corner.

Choose the right seat.  In a conventional restaurant, select a spot near a window, which increases the likelihood of ordering salad by 80%.  Avoid dark corner booths where nobody can see you – instead choose a spot near the front door – they increase your chances of ordering dessert by 73%.  And if you can, choose a high-top bar-style table.  These tables make you sit up straighter and reduce the risk of you ordering fried food.

When it comes time to order, resist the urge to order healthy food for your kids, or to pressure them to order that healthy salad.  People who are pushed to eat healthy food make up for it later by “treating” themselves, and you don’t want your kid dipping into the cookie jar as soon as he/she gets home.  (I think a lot of people do this with the gym, too, which is why exercise alone is not enough to lose weight.)  Instead, trick your kids into ordering a healthier option by asking them what someone else they admire – say, Batman or Dora the Explorer – would choose to eat.  Having to order for someone else encourages kids to think more deeply – and often they will change their order.

Going to a buffet?  Sit as far away from the buffet as you can – it encourages you to eat less.  Make sure your kids are facing away from the buffet, as well – they won’t be as likely to keep returning for more if they aren’t staring at it.  As above, encourage them to use small plates, rather than large ones.  Walk them through the buffet and look at each option before taking any food.  (Letting them take before looking encourages them to just grab the first things they see and end up eating those things in addition to what they really want.  Buffet-goers who look first only take those foods they really want to eat.)  Finally, if it’s an Asian buffet, teach your kids to eat with chopsticks.  Many Asian restaurants even have some special chopsticks for kids, to help them learn.  People who eat with chopsticks rather than forks tend to eat less, probably because chopsticks force you to eat more slowly, and allow the signal of fullness from your stomach to reach your brain before you’ve eaten too much.

At School

School lunches have improved in recent years… and also haven’t.  Consider packing a healthy lunch for your kids.  People at work who bring bag lunches eat less food than people who eat out, so why not apply this principle to your kids?  You also have more control over how healthy the food is that you are sending your kids.  Healthy lunch ideas like falafel plates, shish kabobs (and more shish kabobs), and roasted vegetables are filling and nutritious.  Homemade snacks like pizza crackers, fruity muffins, and even healthy cookies or mini cakes will be more nutritious than the snacks your kids are likely to eat from the school vending machines – even if they meet new health standards for “smart snacks”.

If you are going to send your child to school with snacks, consider some ways to get your child to snack less.  Try transferring snacks to clear bags.  If you are sending a snack that would normally fit in a sandwich size bag, send it instead in two or three small snack sized bags.  Studies show that snackers who have one big bag are likely to eat the whole thing, whereas snackers with the same amount of food in multiple small bags often only finish one of them.  And if you are concerned that your child might waste the healthy fruit you are sending, try cutting it up – one study found that 48% fewer apples were wasted when they were cut up, as opposed to served whole – and that there was a 73% increase in kids eating more than half of their apples.

Conclusion

These tips will help you trick your kids into eating healthier even if they are eating a lot of their meals away from home.  When kids are not eating at home, where are they most likely to be eating?  Primarily at school and a restaurants (whether with or without parents).  If you use these tricks, you can help get your kids to eat less and to eat healthier.

But that’s not all, folks!  Stay tuned for a new post soon, on how to trick your kids… at home!

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Last month I posted a series about American school lunches and the changes they have undergone during Michelle Obama’s leadership.  The lessons we can learn from this “experiment” in good childhood nutrition are applicable all over the world.  However, at the time I was writing, there was no scientific report yet out about the impact of these changes on kids, although I did share about one inspirational case study.  That report was released just days after my post on the subject!

Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future is a report by Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA and Jeffrey K. O’Hara, PhD that was released at the end of February.  This report highlights that although healthier school lunches on their own will not solve the childhood obesity epidemic or make our kids instantly healthy, they do have a meaningful impact.  Kids who eat the healthier school lunches consume more fruits and vegetables, which is really important when so many kids today eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day.

Obesity is a huge problem for the children of today.  Obese children are ten times more likely to become obese adults.  With one third of kids in America overweight, this means we are raising a generation of unhealthy children who will become unhealthy adults.  The United States alone spends $210 billion treating obesity-related diseases every year.  And those are just the obesity-related diseases, not the figure for all diseases that could be prevented with a healthy diet.  This affects everyone in society, as we are all affected by the economy that bears the brunt of this heavy burden.

Minorities are especially at risk, with African American kids 43% more likely to be obese and Hispanic American kids 59% more likely to become obese.  Interestingly enough, minorities are also those groups most likely to be granted free or reduced lunch status, as minority groups in America have a greater likelihood of having a lower socioeconomic status.  In a surprising twist of fate, this could actually be a good thing – it means they are most likely to benefit from positive, healthy changes to school lunch regulations.

Lessons from the Lunchroom reveals some surprising proof that healthier school lunches have a meaningful impact on kids who consume them.  The report analyzes kids’ eating habits over time and concentrated on kids who consistently eat school lunches, i.e. kids on the free or reduced lunch program.  This study found that kids in the fifth grade who receive free or reduced lunches ate three more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than their peers.  This benefit carried forward into the future as well, with the study finding these same kids ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers three years later.

Three more servings per week of fruit and vegetables on the face of it may not sound like a lot, but with 30% of 6-year-olds consuming fruit less than once daily and nearly 20% of 6-year-olds consuming vegetables less than once daily, adding an extra three servings of fruit and vegetables per week into kids’ diets can make a huge impact on their overall nutrition and health.

Furthermore, this study confirms yet again that positive dietary habits formed young continue to impact kids.  It is never too late to start teaching kids good nutrition habits!  However, the younger kids are, the more likely the changes are to stick.  Repetition helps as well.  Kids who take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch every single day are more likely to eat that fruit or vegetable and are also more likely to form a lasting habit.

Remember, as taxpayers we are all paying for school lunches.  School lunches are subsidized not only directly, in the form of free or reduced lunch programs, but also indirectly, through agricultural subsidies.  Later in life taxpayer dollars help underwrite the healthcare system that pays for obesity-related diseases.  The health of our nation’s youth depends on us making a statement and pushing for healthy change!

This is of concern to all of us, now.  This is not some nebulous issue or even something that requires you as an individual to overhaul your local school lunch program (although I applaud you if you do attempt this!).  This is an issue that each and every one of us has a stake in and has a say on.  The report’s press release says it well:

By September 30, 2015, Congress must again reauthorize the National School Lunch Program and related programs—another chance for Congress to improve school nutrition. UCS recommends that Congress maintain the gains made in the 2010 law, while increasing funding to programs that support serving nutritious produce in schools. Congress should also increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches to assist schools with providing healthier lunches.

So go forth and contact your representatives in Congress! Let them know what you think and agitate for change.  Together, they will listen to us.  Together, we can make a change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also published a snazzy infographic summarizing the report, which you can share with your friends:

Inspire Healthy Kids: Teaching Healthy Diet to Kids in Schools

Inspire Healthy Kids: Teaching Healthy Diet to Kids in Schools

When it comes to healthier school lunches and eating better, kids have been notoriously critical.  And this comes as no surprise, as habits and tastes once formed are exceedingly difficult to change.  Classes teaching health and diet in schools have been disappointingly unsuccessful.  Today I would like to look at some ways to change our school health and diet education programs to make them more fun, compelling, engaging, and effective so we can get kids on board and make them partners in healthy change!

There are two main elements at work in school programs that teach kids about healthy diets: what they teach and how they teach it.  All too often classes on health and diet are underfunded, so teachers turn to industry publications for assistance.  Coloring pages and activity sheets from source like the dairy industry or the cereals industry become important teaching tools.  This has to be the first thing to change.  Another major problem is that too much classroom learning involves sitting at a desk for long periods of time, and health and diet education has been no exception.  Teaching kids about health and diet needs to become a fun activity.  More than any other subject, what kids learn about health and diet will affect them every day, several times a day, for the rest of their lives.  Schools need to teach the right things and they need to make it fun.

Teach Substitutions

Firstly, we need to teach our kids about how to substitute unhealthy food with healthier options.  Kids need to learn that just because something is unhealthy does not mean they need to give it up altogether. They can learn how to substitute in healthier options that taste similar or in some cases exactly the same.  Kids can learn about how to substitute foods like zucchini and squash for spaghetti so as to decrease their caloric intakes.  They can learn to substitute cheesy vegan red pepper dip for processed cheese sauce.  It is even possible to make healthy cake and healthy cookies that are delicious!

Teach Portion Sizes

With childhood obesity on the rise, many kids are simply eating too much.  Even kids who eat a relatively healthy diet can become overweight if they are eating too much high-calorie food.  In addition to teaching what kids should eat, schools need to teach kids how much to eat.  Make it fun and entertaining by actually having the foods in the classroom and having kids select how much is in a healthy portion – if they get it right, they get to eat it!

Teach About Nutrition Labels

Kids can only make good food choices if they have the right tools.  Nutrition labels are meant to be a tool for helping kids make good decisions, but they only work if kids know how to read them.  Teaching kids what each of the lines on a nutrition label means, and showing them how to tell what ingredients are in a food are essential skills.  Kids won’t know that the snack foods they are eating are unhealthy if they have no idea what is in them.  But if we teach kids that ingredients like sugar, fat, and salt are going to hurt them, and they know how to find those elements on a nutrition label, they are more likely to avoid them.

Teach Practical Skills

Forget the workbooks, activity sheets, and drawings of a “healthy” plate of food.  Teach kids skills they can actually use!  Get them in those home economics kitchens and teach them how to cook healthy food.  Even very young children can learn the basics of cooking and putting together a few healthy dishes.  Teach kids how to make healthy snacks they can have when they get home.  Kids who learn how to cook are much more likely to actually implement their new healthy food skills.  When I took home economics, I learned how to make super sweet and buttery cinnamon buns.  I want my kids to learn how to make healthier foods!

Another practical skill kids should learn is gardening.  Let kids get their hands dirty and plant something in school.  Some schools have space for a garden plot, but if your school doesn’t, give each child a pot and teach them to grow something.  If your schools doesn’t have money for such a project, try asking around at some local garden centers and inquiring if they would be willing to donate some of the materials you need, like pots and soil.  Many local companies will be happy to give to such a cause, especially if they can then claim they donate to schoolchildren to help them learn about gardening!  When children learn about gardening, they feel a sense of ownership over the vegetables they grow and are more likely to eat those healthy foods.

Getting kids involved in activities like cooking and gardening makes it fun for kids.  Not only are they both creative processes that result in kids feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride, but they are also fun activities that get kids up and moving.   In a world where kids spend too many hours of every day sitting immobile at desks, any chance to get them moving around is a chance to capture their attention and excitement.  Associating cooking, gardening, and overall healthy eating with a feeling of “recess” gives it fun associations for kids that will last a lifetime.

Start Young

Get a health and nutrition education program going in your local preschool and kindergarten.  Even daycares can begin teaching these things!  The younger kids begin learning about healthy food choices, the more likely they are to stick. This is especially true in care centers where food is provided.  Mealtimes can be important teaching times even for very young children.

Make it Fun

Teaching kids about food doesn’t have to be boring!  One business startup promoting healthy kids that has been meeting with success is called FoodPlay Productions.  They have won awards for their entertaining teaching of nutrition, which involves theater productions, juggling, and bright colors designed to catch kids’ attention. By acting out funny interactions on stage, they get kids curious and leave them amused. Older kids in the classroom can make up skits in groups and perform them for the whole class – teaching information makes it more likely to stick in students’ minds.  They combine nutrition education with other basic skills, like math, as they count the number of teaspoons of soda in a can, calculate how much money the average child spends on soda in a year, and figure out what other fun (and healthy) toys, like skateboards and bicycles, they could be buying with that money.  Activities like puzzles and games are also good tools  for making teaching nutrition fun.

Get Families on Board

Schools running nutrition programs need to do more to get parents active in the program.  Running a parents’ information night and explaining to them the basic concepts of healthy eating and portion control can help get them involved, too.  If parents understand the importance of doing something for their kids’ benefit, they usually will do it.  After all, most parents want their kids to be happy and healthy, and giving up something like white bread at dinner every night will likely seem a small price to pay for kids with healthier future outcomes.

Getting schools to change their nutrition education programs may take some work and some time, but it is being successfully done in schools all over the world.   It is possible to get such a program integrated into your school, too!  Let’s teach the whole world to inspire healthy kids!

Roasted Vegetables: A Healthy Meal How-To

Roasted Vegetables: A Healthy Meal How-To

Roasted vegetables sounds like the easiest healthy meal/side dish in the world.  And in some respects, it is.  It is simple to prepare, highly versatile, and is usually very healthy.  But there are a lot of ways to roast vegetables, some better than others.  This is a guide for how to make the very best healthy roasted vegetables.

 Preparing a huge batch of roasted vegetables

What Vegetables?

Before making roasted vegetables, you have to ask yourself what kind of veggies you want to roast.  Do you want it to have a more savory flavor or more sweet? Do you want to do winter/root vegetables or summer vegetables?  You can’t just mix and match any vegetables.  Some cook slower and others faster, plus some flavors just go together better.

Some vegetables can go either way, which I tend to think of as onions (especially yellow/white/brown/Spanish onions for winter vegetable roasts and red onions for summer vegetable roasts) and garlic primarily.  Tomatoes can also be nice in a winter vegetable roast, especially if you’re planning to puree it into soup later.  I find eggplant can also go either way.  If you do want to mix it up a bit, for instance to mix carrots in with “summer” vegetables, put them in to roast for a while before adding your other vegetables.  For the most part, however, I divide vegetables into “summer” and “winter” vegetables, although there may be some crossover as to when the veggies are actually in season.

Winter Vegetable Mix for Roasting

Winter Vegetables
Winter vegetables tend to be hard vegetables that take a bit longer to cook.  The ones in bold below are especially sweet and can be mixed in with a more savory mixture or selected on their own to make a sweet mix that will appeal to kids’ sweet tooth palates.

  • Carrots
  • Parsnip
  • Turnip
  • Rutabaga/Swede
  • Celeriac/Celery Root
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Pumpkin/Butternut/Winter Squash
  • Kholrabi
  • Radish/Daikon
  • Yam
  • Cassava/Yuca/Manioc
  • Jerusalem Artichoke/Sunchoke

Summer Vegetables
Summer vegetables tend to be softer, quicker to cook, and more varied in type.

  • String Beans/Green Beans/Wax Beans
  • Asparagus
  • Summer Squash/Button Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes/Cherry Tomatoes/Grape Tomatoes/Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Corn
  • Capsicum/Bell Pepper
  • Sweet Mini Peppers
  • Spring Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Brussels Sprouts

Unusual Additions
Some foods are not “traditional” additions to a tray of roasted vegetables, but can actually complement a tray of roasted vegetables, make it “pop,” or become a great talking point.  If you’re making a savory dish, adding one sweet or tart element, like fruit or berries, creates an added flavor dimension that takes a dish above and beyond.  Who says roasted vegetables have to be simple or boring?!  For instance, adding sliced star fruit into a tray of green and red summer vegetables will be both visually and flavorfully appealing, but will also be a great talking point around the table.

  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers (salt first to draw out extra moisture)
  • Olives/Capers
  • Berries (Strawberries, Blackberries, Raspberries)
  • Figs
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Apple
  • Grapes
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan

Cut Them Up

Vidalia Chop WizardCutting up veggies to roast sounds simple, but some techniques are better than others.  I used to just roughly chop up vegetables into big bite-sized pieces, but after having kids I realized this was less than ideal.  Not only did it mean I had to cut them up further for my kids, but uneven sized meant some small pieces were overcooked while other big pieces were undercooked.  If you’re just planning to whiz them into soup, this won’t matter, but if you actually want to eat your roast vegetables, you need consistency.  Ideally, you want all pieces about the same size and you want them small enough for your kids.

Vidalia Chop WizardI use a Vidalia Chop Wizard to attain an even dice on all hard vegetables.  The cubes it makes are always the same size and are perfectly bite-sized for babies and toddlers.  Because they are smaller, they cook a faster, but it is so easy to use that you won’t have to spend lots of time chopping your vegetables.  I just slice them and then push them through my Vidalia Chop Wizard.  I have been using this thing for at least 10 years now and it’s still going.  I have tried other brands, but I’m nowhere near as enthusiastic about them.  This one, I would actually buy again.  It’s cheap and it saves me loads of chopping time. And it is apparently indestructible. What’s not to love?

For summer vegetables, I just try my best to get them in bite-size pieces all of approximately the same size.  I might slice beans and asparagus all into one-inch pieces.  Zucchini I will slice lengthwise in quarters and then slice into sticks or chunks depending on how skinny my zucchini are.  (Zucchini are my favorite summer vegetable.  LOVE their versatility!).

Seasoning

I use a huge variety of seasonings and I tend to season winter and summer vegetables differently.  In fact, seasoning roasted vegetables really merits its own post, which I think I’ll save for tomorrow.

Mixing Vegetables for Roasting

The most important part of seasoning roasted vegetables is getting the right amount of oil on.  You want just enough to lightly coat them.  Too little and your veggies will become too dried out.  Too much and you’ll have a disgusting oily layer at the bottom of your pan.  I used to just dump a whole bunch of oil on top of the vegetables in the pan and hope for the best.  The best was never what I got.  No, to get the right result, you really must season first in another bowl where you can thoroughly toss your vegetables.  I always used my hands so I can get a literal feel for how much oil is on my vegetables.  As a rule, I add just a couple of tablespoons, mix, and add more if necessary to coat.  By tossing in a separate bowl, you can make sure oil and seasonings are evenly distributed, but you also avoid gross roasted vegetables if too much oil goes in.  Just leave the extra at the bottom of the bowl when you transfer to a baking tray/pan.  (Don’t just dump the vegetables in – spoon them or scoop them in.)

At their most basic, season your vegetables with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  Roasted vegetables caramelize nicely so they really have amazing flavors on their own, which just need a note of salt to highlight.  As I said above, you can season with all sorts of flavors, herbs, and spices, but that’s for another post…

Now Roast Them!

Roasted Vegetables

For root vegetables chopped small, I will fill a whole tray with them – they shrink as they cook – and I won’t worry about even trying to do a single layer.  I then mix them up during the cooking process so that as the top layer gets a nice caramelized brown color, I mix it to put the bottom layer on top.  This ensures the nice crunchy caramelized bits are distributed throughout and nothing burns.  Summer vegetables, on the other hand, I always try to get in as much of a single layer as I can, because they tend to be more watery types of vegetables and benefit from having more access to the air circulating in the oven.

You want to get the temperature such that it is hot enough to cook the vegetables but not so hot it burns them before they have time to caramelize.  I generally cook mine at 180 C fan forced or 200 C if not (Americans should use 400 F).  Root vegetables take 45-60 minutes to cook through if they are chopped small or 60-75 minutes if chopped large.  Summer vegetables generally take 30-45 minutes.

Serve Them

Roasted vegetables are delicious as a side dish, but I also use them as a main so they can be the star of the show.  Starchy winter vegetables are hearty enough to really fill you up.  Pair them with a less conventional grain dish, like polenta, quinoa, or even couscous.  Roast some marinated tofu or tempeh in the oven at the same time or add cubed tofu or tempeh to your roasted vegetable dish and you’ll have a complete meal.

Roasted vegetables are also good cold.  This makes them an ideal part of a school lunch.  Both winter and summer vegetable roasts are good cold and lend themselves to becoming portions of a school lunch.  You can also send them as filling in a wrap or, rather than using a grain-based wrap, make a flat omelet and wrap that around your roasted vegetables for a high-protein lunch option.  This is where the small dice method really comes in handy – it is just the perfect size and shape for filling wraps and omelets!

So go ahead, enjoy your perfectly roasted vegetables.  Winter or summer, hot or cold, they are a delicious and nutritious addition to your kids’ diet.  Remember, even if your kids are vegetable-averse, you can tempt them by doing a sweet mixture, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut, and beets with apples or peaches mixed in.  Delicious, nutritious, and kid friendly! Yay!

Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Shish Kabobs (Part 2)

Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Shish Kabobs (Part 2)

Yesterday, I posted the amazing lunch idea of shish kabobs.  However, I was only able to get through the cold shish kabobs.  Don’t let that fool you – grilled shish kabobs can be made hot for dinner one night and put in the fridge for a yummy lunch the next day.  Trust me, they are delicious!  Don’t have a grill?  Place them on a tray on the top rack of your oven and turn on the grill/broiler setting (just keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn).  Remember to thoroughly soak wooden skewers so they don’t burn.  Here are some amazing and delicious grilled kabob ideas to help inspire your healthy kids!

Grilled Kabobs

Grilled kabobs can be served hot for dinner and then cold for lunch the next day, so this is a great opportunity to make two meals at one time.  Grilling makes it possible to include a much wider variety of vegetables that are not so palatable raw.  It also introduces a greater variety of vegan protein options.  You can grill kabobs with a marinade or send grilled kabobs to school with a dipping sauce.

Grilled Vegetable Kabobs

Any vegetables and fruits that can go on the grill can go on a kabob.  Zucchini and button or yellow summer squash are my go-to favorites, but cauliflower also ranks very high on my list of favorite slightly-blackened vegetables.  (Just make sure to spear cauliflower and broccoli through the stalk of each floret so they don’t fall off when grilled.)  Other good kabob vegetables are baby eggplant, button mushrooms, capsicum (bell pepper) – any color, banana peppers, red onion, thick asparagus, and cherry tomatoes.  Alternate colors for a beautiful kabob that will be especially appealing to young children.  Slice vegetables more thinly than you might normally to ensure they cook all the way through (if you hate biting into a kabob to discover your zucchini is still raw inside, then why would your kid like it?).  Include a small amount of fruit, like pineapple, to give a different flavor.  Marinades can run the gamut from Asian-inspired to garlic and herb.  Alternatively, grill vegetables plain and provide a simple dipping sauce.

Grilled Cheese Kabobs

If your mouth is watering with visions of a grilled cheese sandwich, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  Processed American cheese isn’t particularly healthy, but it also won’t do well on a kabob.  It will just melt and fall off.  However, there are some cheeses that can stand up to a flame.  Paneer (an Indian cheese), halloumi, and feta are all cheeses that do well on a grill.  You can of course pair them with any of the vegetable options listed above.  With the paneer, marinade vegetables in a (mild) curry marinade before adding them, to give an Indian touch.  Pair halloumi with flavors like basil, oregano, or thyme; vegetables such as red onion, cherry tomato, and zucchini; and fruit like lemon. Feta is amazing with olives, cubed whole grain bread, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and thinly sliced lemon.  Grilling the cheese will give it a smoky flavor it will maintain even once cool and in the lunchbox.

Grilled Seitan Skewers

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Gluten intolerants beware: Seitan is made from wheat gluten, which is awesome if you’re a vegetarian or vegan who thinks gluten is the protein of the gods, but not so good if you’re allergic.  I find the texture of seitan closer to meat than other substitutes I have tried.  It absorbs flavors wonderfully and is amazing on a gril and on a kabob.  You can grill it on its own, as you see above, or you can combine it with vegetables. Be sure to marinade it. Try something with personality like a green goddess dressing and chimichurri sauce if you’re grilling it on its own.  But you can also combine it with veggies.  Pair it with some broccoli and brush with a tamarind glaze, or add some baby corn and snow peas and brush with teriyaki sauce.  You won’t regret it, and your kids won’t even realize they’re not eating chicken.

Grilled Tempeh Kabobs

Unlike tofu, which is rather bland, tempeh has a more distinct flavor, which is pleasantly nutty.  Add it to any of the grilled vegetable kabobs and brush them with any marinade you like.  It pairs with just about anything and adds a great vegan source of protein.  Alternatively, grill it plain and send kabobs to school with your kids with a satay sauce. No peanuts allowed in school? Sub in cashews instead.  Kids go to a nut-free school? No problem!  Use a butter made from sunflower seeds to make your satay sauce!

Grilled Tofu Kabobs

Tofu is more bland than tempeh, but absorbs flavors wonderfully, making it perfect for marinades.  Marinate your tofu and vegetables together before grilling. Before marinating, ensure you are using extra-firm tofu, and squeeze the extra water out by pressing gently on the block with a tea towel.  Personally, I prefer tofu in Asian-style sauces, but it is so versatile there is no reason to limit yourself.  Want to marinate it in herbs and garlic? Go for it!  You can also cut your tofu in long sticks rather than cubes, so your skewer contains only tofu.  Consider coating your tofu in panko breadcrumbs or crushed wasabi peas after thoroughly marinating, for a crunchy outer coating.

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

Another dimension to dessert is actually grilling fruit.  I don’t find many people cook fruit these days, aside from the very occasional stewed fruit or cold fruit soup.  But trust me when I saw that grilled fruit is amazing.  Peaches, apples, pineapple, and star fruit are my particular favorites.  But step outside the box and try including fruits like bananas, watermelon, plums, apricots, strawberries, fresh coconut, and cantaloupe (rock melon).  Fruit kabobs are grilled to perfection in just about 7 minutes, making them easy to throw on the grill for dessert after a meal – just make some extra and chill them to send to school for a fruit kabob with a different and distinctly smoky-sweet flavor.

Get Kids Involved

Getting kids involved is one of the best ways to inspire them to be healthy kids and make good food choices.  They are also much more likely to eat foods they have helped make.  Plus, they might be tempted to snack on the leftover fruits and vegetables.  Putting together shish kabobs is also an entertaining activity for them, which saves you on finding something to entertain bored kids late on a Sunday afternoon, while also saving you time making their lunches!  Just place some sticks on the counter with a wide variety of items they can skewer.  Make sure you supervise them so they don’t hurt themselves (or each other) with the skewers.  That way they can add exactly the things they like.

In general, kabobs are a fantastic lunch food.  They are easily portable and they are lots of fun, especially if you send them with a dipping sauce.  They can be hot or cold, sweet or savory.  They can easily contain vegetables, fruits, protein, and grains all at once, so enough shish kabobs pretty much make up a complete meal.  They are a perfect way to use up leftover largely chopped, sliced, or diced vegetables.  I hope you enjoy these recipe ideas and please let me know how your kids enjoy them in their lunch boxes!!

Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Shish Kabobs (Part 1)

Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Shish Kabobs (Part 1)

Cold kabobs make great party hors d oeuvres, but they can also make fantastic lunchbox additions.  Try Italian style with mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil, or Greek style with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Cold kabobs make great party hors d oeuvres, but they can also make fantastic lunchbox additions. Try Italian style with mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil, or Greek style with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Yesterday, I shared a healthy school lunch idea: falafel plate.  Another great school lunch idea is shish kabobs.  Shish kabobs are basically skewered foods, which can then be grilled or eaten raw.  They are easy to hold in the hand and eat, easily portable, and very flexible. You can make them in so many ways – your imagination is the limit!

Shish kabobs are easily made with short wooden sticks sold at grocery, homewares, or cooking stores.  You can buy metal ones, but because they are sharp and you want to be able to send your child to school without fear of them getting in trouble, I recommend the wooden ones.  They can also be a bit sharp, but the good news is that you can use a scissor to just snip off the sharp ends before sticking them in the lunchbox! If you are grilling with them, just be sure to soak them in water for a while so they do not catch fire on the grill. Here are some of my favorite shish kabob lunch ideas:

Cold Shish Kabobs

Cold shish kabobs can come in many shapes and forms.  The benefit of these is that you do not need to cook them.  They are usually items that can keep well in the fridge, so you can make them the night before, or even make enough to send for lunch for a couple of days.  There’s also the benefit of being able to use raw fruits and vegetables, which contain more nutrients.  You can also use things that melt, like cheese, or that might burn, like cubes of bread.

Sandwich Kabob

A sandwich kabob is like a sandwich on a stick, in little pieces.  Think of what you would normally make a sandwich with and use those items.  This works best with homemade bread or a loaf of artisan bread you can cut into bigger squares (sliced sandwich bread is a bit too flat).  Use chunks of good sandwich foods, like tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum (bell pepper), baked tofu, or cheese.  Then send the sandwich kabobs to school with your kids with a container of a good sandwich spread.  (A slightly more liquid one is best – think tahina rather than hummus.)  It’s a different twist on a sandwich and you can load it up with more veggies than you would normally put on a sandwich.

Breakfast Kabob

Why not send your kids to school with breakfast for lunch?  In general, I think this is a great idea because it mixes things up a bit.  I love an egg or some lox and cream cheese on a bagel (okay, gluten free and vegan people you can hate me now).  But you can also make breakfast kabobs.  For a sweeter version, make some thick whole grain pancakes (these gluten free strawberry pancakes are super yummy) or waffles and cut into squares to put on skewers.  Alternate layers with fresh fruit and berries.  If you need added sweetness, drizzle on a tiny bit of date syrup.  A savory one can include lots of foods.  For an omelet kabob, make a nice thick omelet, let it cool completely, and cut in cubes.  Skewer with vegetables and cheese.  Add some carbohydrates by cutting up a toasted whole grain bagel.  You can also poach some egg whites and skewer those.  They are great with some home fries – cubed potatoes sauteed on the stovetop with diced onion, olive oil, and spices.  You can also add some savory pancakes or folded pieces of crepe for grains on this kind of kabob.  I find that for kabobs poached egg whites or whole egg omelets work better than fried or boiled eggs for staying on the kabob and not falling apart and making a mess.

Cold Vegetable Kabobs

I suppose in a way you can think of this as salad on a stick, minus the lettuce or cabbage (they aren’t so great for skewers).  For a less messy approach, try using cherry or grape tomatoes rather than cutting up regular tomatoes.  Cubed cucumber is also good, as is capsicum (bell pepper) cut in squares.  Avoid vegetables like carrots, that will be too hard to spear, or those, like onions, that will be too strong in large squares or cubes.  Don’t limit yourself to these traditional things, though.  Add some cheese or olives for a treat.  Wide leaves of herbs like basil also give a nice flavor and a different dimension.  For a grain component, include cubes of toasted bread (actual “croutons” will shatter but homemade ones that are just slightly undercooked will stay together but still give lots of yummy crunch). You can even add a small amount of fruit for a different flavor – fruits like strawberries, mango, pineapple, and figs all go exceptionally well in salads and do well on kabobs. Include a small container of a healthy olive oil vinaigrette for dipping.

Fruit Kabobs

Fruit kabobs are a great healthy dessert option and a good way to get your kids to eat their vegetables.  Basically the sky is the limit as to what fruits you can include, although for lunches some are definitely better than others.  Exceptionally juicy fruits like oranges can be a bit messy (unless you get mandarin sections), but more solid fruits like melons, berries, and pineapple are all great.  Apples and bananas can work well but you need to sprinkle them with lemon juice to prevent browning.  Sandwich tart fruits like berries between sweet fruits like melon so you do not need to artificially sweeten.  Want a super treat? Drizzle with a tiny bit of raw vegan chocolate drizzle mix extra virgin raw coconut oil, raw organic agave nectar, and raw vegan unprocessed cocoa powder (not Dutch process!) in equal amounts and drizzle over the kabobs, then chill.

More To Come…

These are just the cold kabobs.  However, grilled kabobs also work really well for school lunch boxes.  They taste delicious cold and provide you with a good opportunity to make dinner one night that you can send for lunch the next day.  They also include more protein options than the raw kabobs.

If you have any other uncooked kabob recipes or ideas suitable for lunchboxes, please do share in the comments section!

Healthier School Lunches: Getting Kids On Board

Healthier School Lunches: Getting Kids On Board

Some of the biggest critics of new healthy school lunch regulations have been kids themselves.  So, it would make sense that winning them over is likely a good strategy for both increasing the amount of support for Michelle Obama’s new school lunch program and also for just plain inspiring kids to eat healthy food!  The most important way to get kids on board is simply to teach them about food.

Jamie Oliver TED Talk

Yesterday, I shared Jamie Oliver’s TED talk in which he emphasized the importance of teaching kids about food.  This is really a major key to inspiring healthy kids.

I’ve spoken in the past about ways to inspire teenagers to eat healthy food, and also ways to get toddlers to try new foods.  Teaching kids about food is a crucial part of these strategies.

In those posts, I focused primarily on parents as a motivating factor.  Over the last week, however, I have been looking at school lunches.  Where do the two collide?

Kids should be taught about food both at home and at school.  Michelle Obama’s school lunch plan, in fact, has teaching kids about food as one of its goals.  But what if that’s backwards? What if healthy school lunches are not teaching kids about food; but, rather, kids need to be taught about healthy food in order to appreciate the healthier lunches?

Most schools have a health and physical education curriculum.  However, these programs are often underwritten by companies that have an interest in selling certain foodstuffs.  For example, kids will learn that milk is a vital source of calcium (even though it isn’t) but won’t learn about the many great vegetable sources of calcium because the teaching materials on calcium are being provided to the schools by the dairy industry.  Similarly, kids get messages on how important it is to get enough protein (provided by the meat industry) or how healthy grains are (provided by cereal companies).  This is not true in every school system, but for many cash-strapped schools, it is a reality.

The first place to start is by working one-on-one with teachers.  Can you convince teachers to use nutrition texts and activities not provided by interested companies?  What about getting local nutritionists to come speak to classes about healthy dietary practices?  This could be a form of community service they could do that would be much more meaningful and impactful than just donating money to charity.

Start young.  Jamie Oliver showed that many young kids could not identify basic vegetables.  So suggest to your kids’ teachers that they have a day where the kids learn about (or try) new fruits and vegetables.  Get other parents on board.

Teach to learn.  Perhaps it can be a weekly activity (like show & tell) and each week a student can introduce a new fruit or vegetable to the class.  Participation makes each child feel invested.  It also inclines them to be more open to learning about things, if the person introducing the new thing is a friend and classmate.

Teach kids to cook.  When I was a kid, home economics was not mandatory.  And although I did take it for one term, I didn’t learn anything particularly useful.  I learned how to make biscuits (delicious but not healthy and too complicated to remember) and how to cross stitch (not the best for fixing torn school uniforms).  But teaching kids how to cook, by lobbying to make home economics or cooking a required part of your school system’s curriculum, is a great way to teach kids about food.  Focus on teaching techniques they can use to make really healthy food in the simplest way possible.  You can even volunteer to come in one day and teach the class how to make something – most teachers would love a break!

Make it a game.  Whether it’s playing with flash cards or coloring in pictures, kids can learn about food and have fun at the same time.  Some of these, like flash cards and coloring, are well-adapted for use in the schoolroom.  Some are best played at home or even in the store.  Hold a competition and amass points for which child can identify the most marketing tricks aimed at selling to kids (such as bright colors or cartoon characters).  Ask your kids “Who’s the momma?” for items in your refrigerator – for example, oranges come from trees, berries come from bushes, and cheese comes from a cow.

Those are just some ideas for ways to get kids on board with healthy eating habits, both at home and at school.  Please share in the comments section any other ideas you have and/or what’s worked for you!

Healthier School Lunch Requirements: A Business Opportunity!

Healthier School Lunch Requirements: A Business Opportunity!

I’m not currently living in the United States, but if I was, I would definitely be jumping at the business opportunity Michelle Obama’s new healthier school lunch plan presents.  I would not be the first or the only one to want to take advantage of this chance.  So here I will share with you a couple of success stories that might inspire one of you out there to start your own business inspiring healthy kids!

There are certain rules most businesses follow, whether they want to or not.  One of those is that smaller businesses react faster and bigger businesses react more slowly.  Think about it: a little speed boat can turn, move, and zig zag much faster than a giant ocean liner.  Think about the flexibility and dynamics of a smaller car company like Tesla versus a bigger car company like Ford.  When it comes to innovation and quick reaction speeds, Tesla can outmaneuver Ford anytime.

The same concept applies to the businesses that provide food for our kids’ lunchrooms.  Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodex have overwhelmingly provided food for purchase in schools.  The Cornell Policy Review writes that “[w]ith a combined annual revenue of about $43 billion in 2009, the school lunch sector is highly concentrated and dominated by these three giant multinational companies.”  These are the Ford, GMC, and Toyota of the school lunch sector.  But with the new changes in school lunch regulations, there’s room for the Teslas to move in.

Two such companies are Revolution Foods in Oakland and Edibles Rex in Detroit.  They produce healthy food and cater for both school systems and private corporations.  Edibles Rex has been growing dramatically, showing “a 60% five-year growth rate and 2013 revenue of nearly $4.5 million. The company recently won a $250,000 grant from Chase to support its continued growth.” (Fortune)  Revolution Foods also shows impressive movement, with “a five-year growth rate of 479% and 2013 revenues of over $76 million.”

The key to these business is producing food that’s tried and tested.  They know it’s healthy and they know it tastes good.  The only new challenge the new school lunch regulations present is that they have to comply with calorie limits.

I know I cook delicious food, and I guarantee you it’s healthy.  Most of my readers do as well.  But we are in the minority, which gives us an advantage when it comes to starting a new business.  You never want to be in a business where what you have to offer is something anybody else can do.  You want to offer something others have a hard time reproducing.  If you know how to cook a wide variety of really healthy, delicious dishes, you could start a catering business and be in big demand.

Remember, healthy options are not only in demand for school systems.  Corporations are now waking up and realizing that poor employee health costs them money, be it via increased insurance premiums they underwrite or be it due to increased days off and lower employee productivity.  Parents are looking for healthy catered options for kids’ parties.  Go ahead, make some yummy and healthy lamingtons for kids’ birthdays!  There are lots of opportunities for you to build a healthy catering business – it is a niche for which demand will only continue to expand.  And if you can get a school lunch contract, you will have a booming business on your hands.  It’s okay, you can thank me later! 😉

So far, these healthy catering companies are still pretty localized.  In spite of their massive growth projections and their impressive revenue scales, they are still limited (right now) to their local areas, or, at most, their states.  That leaves lots of room for others to fill the void.  As school systems struggle to figure out how to implement the new regulations, there is more room than ever for an enterprising businessperson to step in and provide what is needed!

For instance, schools are having a difficult time sourcing certain whole grain foods that actually taste good.  Major companies, which have the most money to invest in innovation, are, ironically, slower to respond because of the massive amount of effort it takes for such a large institution to implement change.

Do you have a recipe for whole grain grits that’s been passed down in your family for generations? Now is the time to start producing it for sale!  What about a healthy biscuits’n’gravy?  You bet that’s going to be in demand.  Whole grain tortillas, whole grain pasta, and any other specialty foods not generally available with whole grains are now going to be in huge demand.

These products I’m referring to are products that are either not currently easily available or, if they are, are products that really suck.  No kid wants to eat food that doesn’t taste good! Neither do adults!  But if you can produce one that does, you could have a lot of customers to market to.  Food markets are notoriously hard to break into, but you can always go straight to the source.  Either begin with building a catering business (I know several small ones run from home, so it is realistic and achievable; just start small!), or market your yummy product directly to the people who get to decide.  Nothing is stopping you from showing up at your local school board meeting with some of your great-grandmama’s mouthwatering homemade wholegrain grits for all the board members to try!

Let’s take things a step further.  What if your community is full of parents who are health-conscious but, like me, don’t want their kids eating the lunches served in the school cafeteria?  Start a business selling directly to the parents!  Pre-packed brown bag lunches, delivered weekly.  I’ll make sure to share some great recipes and packed lunch ideas with you in the coming weeks.  Don’t worry – I will only be happy for you if you launch a business that succeeds!

There are lots of great marketing tools out there for you to use if you want to start your own business.  Here is a list of 300 awesome free things for business startups – I am going to have to use more of these for myself!

Well, now that I’ve convinced myself to abandon InspireHealthyKids.com in favor of starting my own catering business, I’m going to sign off by saying I hope I’ve inspired some of you to at least begin pursuing your own business dreams.  You can be in charge of your life and your job!  You can be an entrepreneur.  Who ever thought Michelle Obama’s new healthy school lunch regulations would be the key to inspire that?!

Some Schools Taking New Healthy School Lunch Regulations Too Far

Some Schools Taking New Healthy School Lunch Regulations Too Far

Aristotle came up with the concept of the golden mean – the idea that, in essence, we should strive for moderation in all things.  Personally, I don’t always agree with him.  Poison in moderation can still kill you, after all.  But in most things, moderation is the way to go.  And when it comes to regulating school lunches, moderation is definitely the way to go.

Reactions to Michelle Obama’s school lunch program have been overwhelmingly critical.  Of course, it is easier to put things down than to build them up, so this should be no surprise.  It is always easier to be the bully than to defend the kid being bullied.  That’s why I’ve said repeatedly that I think the new school lunch regulations are a fantastic step in the right direction.  Sometimes doing the right thing means swimming against the crowd.

But there can be too much of a good thing.  Corn is healthy for you, but if you eat nothing but corn you will die.  So, too, with the new school lunch regulations.  They are meant to regulate the kind of foods sold on school property, but some schools have taken it further.

For me, this extremism hits close to home.  In Richmond, Virginia, where I used to live, the school system sent notes home to parents telling them they needed to present a doctor’s note in order for their children to be allowed to bring lunch from home.  Chicago is following suit, considering banning bagged lunches unless parents present evidence of a medical concern.

I can see why school administrators might be concerned.  After all, parents sending kids with unhealthy lunches is a big part of why the new healthy lunch program is not working.  It makes sense, if forcing nutrition on kids is the goal of school lunches, to ensure that these junk food lunches are prohibited.  But therein lies part of the problem: the government is not meant to be forcing kids to eat healthy.  It is supposed to be inspiring kids to eat healthy.  By only providing healthy food choices at schools, the government is becoming a role model of sorts.  But providing only healthy food and forcing kids to eat only healthy food are two very different things.

Another problem is that officials reason that the food they are providing is more nutritious than anything parents could send their kids with.  I beg to differ!  A school that will serve my kids milk is not serving them healthy food.  A school that will serve my kids meat is not serving them healthy food.  I guarantee you the food I would send my kids with would be much healthier than anything they would get in a school cafeteria.  I realize I (and you, my dear health-conscious readers) am the exception to the rule.  I realize that the vast majority of parents are unwittingly sending their kids to school with meals full of sugars, fats, and salt.  Compared to what many kids are eating, school lunch probably is healthier.  But imposing a blanket ban is like fishing with the wrong kind of net.  Sure, you’ll catch the tuna, but you’ll also catch the dolphins.  And that’s not good.

Let’s not forget that money plays its part here.  It always plays its part. Kids who bring bagged lunches are generally not the kids getting their lunches for free.  They are the kids whose parents can afford to provide them with bagged lunches.  They are the kids who can afford to pay full price for their school meals.  And they are the kids who are choosing not to.  I think the nutrition claims the school systems are making are just distractions from the real issue.  They’re  convenient excuses.  The real issue here is that preventing students from “brown bagging it” means the school system A) is better able to assess how much food needs to be purchased and produced, thereby leading to less waste and less wasted money and B) is bringing in more revenue from their school lunch program than previously.  I remain wholly unconvinced that the nutrition claim is any actual motivation at all for school systems.  I think it’s all about the money.

This theory is further supported by the fact that most school cafeteria employees are members of the Service Employees International Union.  Now, I’m all for unionization, fair wages, and benefits.  But unions do pressure employers to provide those benefits and in this case the employers are the school systems.  Sadly, school systems in America are notoriously cash-strapped.  Schools have to work with what they’ve got, and often that isn’t enough.  Paying living wages to employees and giving them good benefits is the right thing to do, absolutely, but how is the school system to do that if it doesn’t have the money?  That’s right – get students to spend more, by buying more lunches from those very employees that money will go to pay.  To me, it is pretty clear that moves by school systems to restrict food brought from home are motivated almost completely by money concerns, no matter what altruistic mantras they may spew.

Of course for parents and students the most fundamental issue here is one of personal freedoms.  (Here is where I enter a political quagmire.)  Freedom is a really important part of being American.  Forcing people to eat a certain food by prohibiting them from eating any alternative is a form of control beyond anything Michelle Obama ever envisioned.  I’m a self-confessed liberal when it comes to these things, so I do think there should be more consequences for the corporations that produce unhealthy foods.  I like the idea of high taxes on junk food that go to fund the medical system.  Those sorts of things appeal to me.  But outlawing junk food entirely? That’s taking things a bit too far.

And that’s exactly the thing – this law was never intended to be taken to such an extreme.  It was meant to provide only healthy options for purchase in school, not to prohibit kids and parents from making their own (misguided or highly informed) decisions.  What to eat is a highly personal experience and prerogative.  What we choose to put in our mouths and the mouths of our offspring is a really touchy subject.  But the new regulations never intended to infringe upon that freedom.

Schools can only serve a certain type and amount of food at any given time.  This is not the Golden Corral; this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet.  There are only a certain amount of items a vending machine can hold.  There are only a certain number of food options a cafeteria line can offer.  Michelle Obama’s school lunch regulations are only affecting what is going into those limited slots, not decreasing the number of options.  And if the number of options is anyway limited, we might as well make sure the options available are the healthiest around.  But that is a far cry – a very far cry – from what school systems like the one in Richmond, VA are doing.

Healthier School Lunches are… Now Less Healthy

Healthier School Lunches are… Now Less Healthy

Over the past week I’ve been looking at Michelle Obama’s changes to school lunches.  I’ve looked at what changes she has made, what criticisms have come out, and if they’ve been effective.  But it’s hard to know if something has been effective if it hasn’t even been given a chance.  And Michelle Obama’s school lunch program hasn’t been given that chance.  It has been watered down before it even began.

Almost as soon as the new nutritional requirements went into effect, lawmakers lifted limits on carbohydrates and meats in meals, allowing school lunch planners to include as much meat and grains as they’d like.  The caloric limits remain in place, but now the limits on how much meat and carbs can be included has been lifted.  Already, carbohydrate limits were at 60% of the meal, which is pretty high to start with.  Now, kids can get even more carbohydrates.  Not to mention that meat consumption is related to a whole host of diseases, meaning that the more kids eat the higher their likelihood of becoming sick.  Giving kids more meat and grains is definitely watering down the nutrition restrictions that made Michelle Obama’s new school lunch plan more healthy than its predecessor.

2014 was supposed to herald the introduction of 100% whole grains into school lunches, but it was not to be.  Mid-year, Congress allowed schools to delay the introduction of 100% whole grains for up to 2 years if they can demonstrate “significant challenges” in preparing the whole grain options.  Bread and rolls don’t seem to be much of an issues, as they have been on the market for so long that companies have created plenty of palatable options (although the amount of sugar in the 100% whole wheat offerings today make me shudder).  But other products, like pasta, grits, biscuits, and tortillas have not been so thoroughly tested and finessed by companies, which previously had little motivation to do so.

Schools complain the whole wheat offerings don’t taste the same as the highly refined and processed alternatives, so kids don’t like them as much.  And food service staff don’t know how to prepare the healthier options.  So schools have been given a reprieve of two years to figure out how to implement the 100% whole grain mandate.  Of course, in two years’ time the situation could easily repeat itself…

Of course, everything could change again this year.  The school lunch program is up for renewal in 2015 and with a Republican-controlled Congress, there is a pretty high likelihood it will change significantly.  Let’s not forget that it is primarily Republicans shooting down the requirements.  Conservative lawmakers call the nutrition standards “government overreach,” which is anathema to their agenda.

Personally, I think the healthcare crisis in America stems largely from the overall poor nutrition of the population.  To me that crisis speaks of a failure of the government to intervene when it needs to, not the other way around.  A crisis that dramatically affects not only our entire economy but also our health is at once both deeply personal but also starkly political.  If governments regulated corporations selling unhealthy foods and made them accountable for the effects of their products, then we wouldn’t have this crisis in the first place.  What a shame that an attempt to fix the problem at its root, even if not as effective as we’d like, is being undermined before it has even truly begun.

The only solution is to lobby our representatives in government to stand up for healthier standards.