The lunch at the School Food Rocks conference last weekend featured the healthiest, greenest recipes that School Food can make. Vegetable stir-fries, Pasta Bolognese, a salad bar with sesame noodles served in the Department of Education's more environmentally friendly new “trayless” paper boats, and vegetarian and Cuban paninis.
In addition to its new, greener menus, School Food was pushing a host of opt-in programs, available to any school that wants them.
One page in the conference program, from the Brooklyn School Food Coalition, was called “Food Changes You Can Make At Your Own School Today.” It featured ideas that cost nothing to the school, such as salad bars, meatless Mondays, and a fresh fruit and vegetable program. Many of these changes can be made just by working with your school food manager, with the support of your principal. Some, like salad bars or scratch cooking, create extra work for the cafeteria staff.
Other programs, like school gardens, require TLC from a teacher, parent or group of students. The city organization Green Thumb was at the conference promoting edible schoolyards. The organization will provide supplies and training; schools have to come up with the enthusiasm and commitment.
Another opt-in program that principals can request from the DOE is Breakfast in the Classroom, a “grab-and-go”cold breakfast in a bag: juice, muffin, and yogurt, that one parent complimented as looking “just like something from a deli.” Keith Graham, who manages the program, says the breakfasts promote health and learning, but agrees that the program is a little hard to find on the School Food website. Interested schools, with support of their principals, can call Keith at 718-707-4523.
Schools that can raise $1,000 were invited to request that School Food install a Water Jet in their cafeteria. This is an anti-obesity initiative (apparently unfunded except for installation labor) designed to get students to drink chilled, filtered water instead of high-calorie drinks.
The conference, organized by City Council member and public school parent Brad Lander, was filled with parents, teachers, and organizations that are providing healthier food, growing crops, recycling food scraps, educating kids about food. They believe that we can make healthy and green cafeteria changes with these new, available options.
This is not to say all problems are solved, or even solvable in the near future. Budget for the federal School Food program is less than $9 billion a YEAR around the country. The charismatic Chef Ann Cooper pointed out that the U.S. spends $3 billion a WEEK on the war in Afghanistan, and $5 billion a WEEK on diabetes and obesity. Legislation to increase funding for school food nationwide is still pending, and activists are still organizing in support of the Child Nutrition Act.
Knowing your options for greener healthier food is a good first step. What greener school lunch initiatives does your school have?
How do you get your kid to break the chips and fries lunch habit and eat more lettuce or apples at school?
Check out Friday's editorial page in The New York Times (preferably the print version which shows a chart). Two Cornell professors, along with an illustrator, have diagrammed what they say is a more inviting school cafeteria lunch line. A "Lunch Line Redesign" appears to entice students into choosing healthier foods than the usual snacks and pizza that have contributed to an epidemic of childhood obesity.
According to the authors, upstate schools have successfully adopted some practices which encourage children to choose healthier food, such as:
- Creating a speedier checkout for kids who skip dessert and chips
- Charging for cookies
- Moving fresh vegetables, like broccoli, to the front of the line
- Providing smaller bowls for breakfast cereals
When Insideschools reporters visit schools, we've noticed an increased number of salad bars, and big bowls of fruit prominently displayed in some cafeterias. Last spring the Department of Education teamed up with TV celebrity Rachael Ray to promote healthier school food and even school gardens.( On the other hand, parents and students aren't happy about banning all sweets and treats -- especially when sold in fundraisers.)
We're wondering if the lunch line redesign is trickling down into your school. What's happening in your cafeteria? What ideas do you have for persuading kids to choose peas over pizza at lunchtime?
No more Phineas and Ferb or Spongebob cartoons in the morning -- only the replay of last night's Mets game will do. He knows the teams, the lineups, the batting orders, and he often paces back and forth in his overstimulated way and tells me: "Angel Pagan did a diving catch and got an out at first base, but that was only the second out and if they get one more out then they switch sides and the Mets can get up and hit singles or doubles or triples or maybe a sacrifice fly..." and he will happily go on and on unless I redirect him.
This age-appropriate interest is a gift that we're milking for all its worth. It's making him a better athlete because he's willing to practice running the bases for hours, it's fostering conversations with other kids about their favorite players and teams, and he's actually learning many of the basic rules of the game (although he still occasionally comes out with: “He tried to dunk the runners over” or "One more out and it's a grand slam!") Regardless, his unbridled enthusiasm for the sport is not going anywhere anytime soon.
It is especially poignant for me to watch my husband share his childhood sports team with our son. Until now, Brooks has been averse to the idea of "having a catch" and showed zero interest in these stereotypical father/son activities. These days, when they're not out in the park, they're on the couch shooting the breeze about Jose Reyes, stolen bases, and double plays.
Our biggest challenge is protecting Brooks from the lure of the Yankees—let's face it, when you're seven years old you care less about family history and more about a winning team!
Last night, Brooks found a football game on TV and asked me: "How many outs are there in this game?" I smiled and told him to go ask Daddy.
Last week, some special education students who took yellow buses to summer school suffered through two-hour rides on non-air-conditioned buses. They now have cooler rides, thanks to efforts by NY1 and the parents of the autistic students who lobbied the DOE for air-conditioned buses.
In its weekly letter to principals circulated during the recent heat wave, the Department of Education cautioned summer school site administrators to "limit children's outdoor recess and playtime between the sun's peak hours, 1o:00 am. - 2: 00 p.m " when temperatures reach 95 degrees and humidity is high. The "high priority" advisory for summer school sites also advises: "Students should have easy access to water and be encouraged to drink often. Clothing should be light-colored and lightweight. Please pay special attention to children who may be more susceptible to heat related illness, including those who are obese, have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and asthma, or are suffering from a gastrointestinal illness. "
We're wondering: should summer school classes be called off when the temperature rises above 90 degrees, especially if the classrooms are not air-conditioned? That's when the city's carriage horses get a day off.
Or, should the city's students, many of whom will be left back a grade if they don't attend summer school and pass the tests in August, study on despite the heat?
Take our poll and let us know what you think.
The Department of Education kicks off its annual free summer meals program today! All children age 18 or under can enjoy free breakfast and lunch every weekday at sites throughout the city through August 27.
This year for the first time, the DOE will also deliver meals directly to select playgrounds and Coney Island, Rockaway, and Orchard Beaches.
Your child does not need to be a public school student to enjoy a free meal; no registration, documentation or identification is required.
For more information and to find a meal distribution site near you call 311 or check out the DOE's website.
Big Apple Games
The annual Big Apple Games, a free recreation program for New York City kids, starts July 6 and runs through August 12. Children can register daily for activities at any of the 56 locations throughout the city and will be served breakfast and lunch at no cost. This year activities include basketball, softball, baseball, volleyball, swimming, football, soccer, lacrosse, cross country, track and field, and arts and crafts programs.
For more information call 311 or check out the PSAL's website here.
Last week was an exciting one at PS29, as Mayor Bloomberg and Rachael Ray visited the schoolyard to hold a press conference announcing greater support for school gardens and school nutrition in New York City. Ray's Yum-o! organization addresses problems of childhood obesity and other diet-related illnesses by encouraging kids to develop healthier relationships with food. Ray sees school gardens as logical starting places.
Bloomberg joked that day that his favorite vegetable is "steak," but he also stressed the need to teach children where their veggies come from. He detailed a variety of resources that will help more schools build gardens, including "mini grants" and an informational website, scheduled to launch this fall, that will supply how-to's and links.
PS29, which participates in the Garden to School Café, has seen its garden program take off, thanks to dedicated parents, involved teachers and Emily Freund, an Americorps VISTA worker who spends time tending the garden and coordinating related programs. On harvest day, kids learned about local food production and got to meet some of the people growing what they eat. Wherever possible, science teacher Tina Aprea-Reres uses the garden as a hands-on learning tool. Parent Alison Cohen, wrote in her blog at WhyHunger.org that "three years ago...we spent a few weekends hauling soil, building raised beds, planting basil, tomatoes and broccoli rabe. But what we really seeded-at least in our little corner of Brooklyn-was a movement." Indeed, what began as a simple feature of the blacktop has since become an integral part of student life.
Down the street at the Brooklyn New School (PS 146), grants have made possible a garden with rainwater collection and composting systems, as well as movable beds called "Earth Boxes". PS 364 in the East Village uses converted pickle barrels as containers for growing vegetables. "Learning Gardens" have sprouted in City Hall Park, at Randall's Island, and Gracie Mansion.
But what if such programs aren't so easy to launch? As schools struggle with budget cuts, administrators may see a vegetable garden as a luxury, particularly if such basics as text books and copy paper are hard to come by. Space constraints may also be hard to get around, or there simply might not be enough momentum.
Adam Schwartz, a high school teacher at Academy of Urban Planning has been cultivating a garden on the Bushwick Campus grounds. To promote the garden, Schwartz started the Bushwick Green Team with faculty from the other schools on campus -- Bushwick High School for Social Justice, Academy for Environment Leadership, and the New York Harbor School. Despite the complex logistics of finding space and time to cultivate a garden on a campus shared by four schools, Schwartz has been able to build raised beds and recruit students to help out in gardens in the Bushwick community. Teachers also chip in, often funding supplies out of their own pockets.
Urban Planning has identified a possible space for a larger garden, but it needs funds for fencing and other materials. Student enthusiasm has taken root, and Schwartz hopes that grants will not be far behind.
Does your school have a garden? If not, what have been some of the obstacles in getting one going?
Recess. The word invites a rush of memories for most of us adults, whether remembrances of freedom or flashbacks to schoolyard bullying. My own memories of those moments of benign anarchy are happy, though peppered with the occasional tears and scrapes.
I stroll past the PS 29 playground daily and watch kids of all ages enjoying their unstructured 30 minutes (and yes, sometimes spy on my daughter). And free-form it is, though monitors stand by to break up a fight or hand out hula hoops if an accessory is needed. From what I've gathered from my daughter, that post-lunch period is an opportunity for inventing games, cementing friendships, and even toughening up against the elements. I know how much energy it takes for her to hold it together through all the lessons and activities kindergarten presents, so I'm happy for her to be able to let loose, even if that means running in circles or just staring up at the sky.
What to do, though, when break time is not so carefree? Enter the recess coach, as described in a recent New York Times article. These professionals are being hired by a growing number of schools (most described were in Newark) to tame excessive schoolyard rowdiness–or motivate kids who can't seem to amuse themselves during their down time. The coaches and schools interviewed seem to truly believe that they're teaching kids constructive games and problem-solving skills– and combating obesity by getting their bodies moving. But the article raises a question: is it really recess, and can kids truly decompress, if rules and structure are imposed upon their play? My reaction was: No–they're taking away recess! For goodness sakes, let these kids learn to work out problems on their own.
Perhaps, as a friend of mine believes (and I agree), traditional recess and its occasional unpleasantness "are rites of passage for kids." But what about when extreme cases of bullying and "Lord of the Flies" type behavior turn tragic, as seen with the recent Phoebe Prince suicide? That's an extreme example, sure, but can recess, in some cases, be a breeding ground for such toxic situations?
My friend's husband, who is a high school teacher, observes that "as kids get older, unstructured time at school is less and less productive." Do kids need to be taught to channel all that energy, lest it turn negative (if recess aides–much less coaches–could even be afforded in this time of budget cuts)? Where to draw the line between allowing kids to cut loose, and making them toe the line?
What do you think of the idea of recess coaches? How does your school handle schoolyard problems? And, is there enough supervision?
An angry crowd of parents, kids, and elected officials gathered outside City Hall yesterday to protest Chancellor's Regulation A-812, which bars the sale of home-baked goods at school fundraisers, while sanctioning the sale of foods such as Baked Doritos.
The protest drew more than 100 parents and kids. Some decried the hypocrisy of banning the tradition of selling home-baked goods -- all in the name of wellness -- while approving the sale of processed foods.
"There are so many things they can do before they get into the bake sales, which has been the parents' territory for generations, " said Brooklyn New School parent Larissa Phillips who came to the protest with her daughter. "When they sell Snapple to make money it's OK , but when we try to sell some baked goods, it's unhealthy and not OK -- that's a double standard."
Others who joined the protest, like Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, bristled at the lack of common sense shown in the matter. He echoed the frustration expressed by many protesters in the crowd. "You can't make a school better without involving parents to the fullest, and right now, this decision, like so many others, was made with only the most superficial effort to engage parents. "
Since this was a parent-led event, we'll let a mom have the last word. Check out what the co-president of the NEST+M PTA, Susan Townes-West had to say:
UPDATE: Department of Education spokeswoman, Margie Feinberg contacted Insideschools to clarify that Chancellor's Regulation A-812 allows parent organizations to hold one bake sale per month at any time during the school day during which they can sell home-baked goods.
As I type, concerned New Yorkers are protesting the impending "bake sale ban" outside City Hall. Parents, students and educators organized the "bake-in" to voice their discontent with the ban on selling home-baked goods in school fundraisers, while pre-packaged foods, such as Doritos and Pop-Tarts, are permitted.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council member Gail Brewer are speaking on the issue. View more pictures, courtesy of our own Laura Zingmond, after the jump. We'll have a full report up tomorrow morning.
The regulation sets out policy for when parents can hold bake sales and what foods can be sold by parents and students to raise money in city schools. It is an issue that continues to engage parents' attention, not only because the regulation limits fundraising opportunities, but also because what kids should eat in school and out is a hot topic these days. See our Cupcake Comeback post and the many comments it drew.
In their press release, rally organizers say that, "the regulation prohibits home-baked foods from being sold at school fundraisers, while permitting Doritos and Pop-Tarts instead! " [sic]. These foods are among the approved, pre-packaged foods that the DOE permits.To illustrate the point, the rally will feature two tables, one with approved DOE items and one with home-baked goods, along with a list of ingredients they used. Organizers ask parents to bring their kids and wear aprons, to "SHOW THEM WHO KNOWS FOOD!" A letter writing campaign is also planned.
NYC Green Schools launched its website on the same day that the PEP voted to approve Reg A-12. It is the brainchild of two mothers from Lower East Side schools that share a building. As members of their schools' nutrition committees they worked to improve the cafeteria fare and, for instance, banished Styrofoam trays and instituted Meatless Mondays.
Success in their own schools inspired them to share information with other city parents via a blog. Although it is run by the two: Elizabeth Puccini (Children's Workshop School Parent) and Anisa Romero (East Village Community School Parent), they have several parent "point persons" around the city to help plan the Bake-in and are looking for more.