Posts Tagged ‘new food ideas’

A better school lunch: Greeley in the New York Times Breaking News

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

It's time for a better school lunch

I was reading the NYT breaking news on my Kindle this morning, when to my surprise I saw an article, “Schools Restore Fresh Cooking to the Cafeteria,” on school lunches in Greeley, Colorado. We live 20-25 miles northwest of Greeley and I’d never thought of the city as being a hotbed of innovation.

At a tad under 93,000 inhabitants, Greeley is mid-sized at best, but 60% of its 19,500 students qualify for lower-priced or free meals, so they have decided those meals will be healthy ones.They’re not alone in this endeavor. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has a campaign whose motto is,”Foods served in schools should promote the health of all children.” Their 2008 school lunch report card ranked twenty school districts across the nation with letter grades from A to F.

Here’s that URL: http://www.healthyschoollunches.org/reports/report2008_intro.cfm

At the top with A’s were schools in Montogomery County, MD, Omaha, NE, and Pinellas County, FL, I was pleased that my grandson Jordi’s schools in Fairfax County, VA got an A-.  At the bottom were schools in two areas of Louisiana. I bet Greeley will climb up the list in the next few years.

So what’s their plan? Like many Colorado schools, they’ve participated in Cooks for America, a group that runs a chef’s boot camp for school cooks  Here’s what that organization’s website says: “Distinguishing the Cook for America® approach from that of countless other school food reform projects is its emphasis on holistic, systemic change through the creation of a school foodservice work force that is both capable of preparing healthy scratch-cooked meals from whole, fresh foods, and empowered and motivated to do so.”

Greeley schools will be cooking from scratch, roughly three-fourths of the time at the start of this school year according to the NYT article, and aim to reach 100% in the 2012-2013 time frame. They’ll be using fresh ingredients, avoiding chemicals (e.g., their bean burritos will have 12 ingredients this year versus 35 last year).

Although Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the nation, Weld County, where Greeley is located, had rates growing faster than much of the state. So the numbers were crunched with amazing results: cooking from scratch will actually save money. A large foundation grant helped with construction and new equipment and the old central kitchen was renovated, so the budget for staff was actually reduced.

Chenically-colored macaroni and cheese

The district hired an experienced executive chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) and worked in high-end restaurants. He hopes his concepts for healthy cooking will wend their way back to the districts homes. One of his innovative ideas is to replace the chemically-colored commercial macaroni and cheese with a version whose familiar yellow will come from the Indian spice turmeric. His salad dressing will have no sugar and only a quarter of the sodium that’s been present in the factory-made variety.

My hat’s off to Greeley.

 

Let us eat lettuce…and more

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I want more to a salad than just iceberg lettuce

Some years back I told my wife, “I’m tired of the same old salad; could you make a different one?”

We both cook, though she does more of of daily cooking than I do, but salad making is my least favorite part of cooking.

Over the next six weeks she never made a salad I had tasted before; her mix and match approach led to some surprises, but I’m always happy to try new dishes and almost all of them were successes. She added edamame, sunflower seeds, unusual greens; I ate them all. I finally told her, “I didn’t mean an entirely new salad every time, just less of the iceberg lettuce, store-bought tomatoes and cucumber with familiar dressing.

We still eat salads at least once a day, sometimes as our main dish with chicken or fish added for protein. Sometimes we’ll have a brand new mixture; sometimes I can recognize we’ve had this blend before and put it on the “keeper list.”

Today I read about food companies attempts to get more Americans on the same dietary pathway. The Wall Street Journal had an article titled “The Salad Is in the Bag.” I was amazed to read that the typical US adult eats salad with a meal only 36 times a years, roughly once every ten days. Less than half of Americans eat even one “leaf salad” in meals they serve at home in a two-week period.

The two of us are clearly on the far end of that scale when it comes to salad making. Our share of this weeks’ vegetables from Grant Family Farms, our CSA, included summer squash, English peas, cabbage, carrots, kohlrabi, cilantro, parsley, green onions, a little broccoli, cylindra beets (new to us) and romaine lettuce. All of those veggies will find their way into salad

I’ve even gotten more enthusiastic about preparing some of the new salad combinations myself.

So what’s going on with the “store-bought” salad concept?

A market research group reported the biggest issue is making salads. Apparently people don’t want to take the time to wash produce, inspect it, cut it and come up with mixtures the family will eat (we won’t even get into those who abhor greenery).

So some of the major food companies are responding by making salad preparation easier. One concept being explored is adding more kinds of vegetables to bagged lettuce or spinach. That way all you have to do is buy a bag, bring it home, open it before a meal and pour the contents into a salad bowl.

Well that sounds easy, but it turns out to be a bit more complicated than the simple version. One company found wheatberries absorbed moisture; their research director spent six months resolving that issue. Then there’s the price issue; bagged salads cost more. Past history and the view of CPSI says there’s more risk of pathogen growth and therefore of food-bourne illness.

But pre-washing with newer chemical mixtures, eliminating the need for a second wash at home, may help.

A new and improved version

Salad, anyone?

 

A gastronomic slant on invasive species

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

So that's a lionfish

I normally think of invasive species as plants that are non-indigenous, kudzu comes to mind. Actually, in our Colorado garden areas, a plant called bindweed invades and takes over unless we are diligent about weeding. When I Googled it, I found it did indeed meet the definition more commonly used, a plant or animal imported from another country or continent (in bindweed’s case Eurasia), sometimes for seemingly logical reasons (e.g., as an ornamental or to control another species regarded as a pest).

But let’s switch gears. There was an article in The New York Times on July 10, 2011 that caught my attention. Its title was “Answer for Invasive Species: Put It on a Plate and Eat It,” and it began with a photo of a flamboyant fish, the lionfish. That led me to the website for Food and Water Watch, a non-profit, independent organization with an impressive and eclectic Board of Directors and a mission to ensure the food, water and fish we consume are safe, accessible and sustainably produced.

Their 2011 Smart Seafood Guide now has “Recommended Invasive Species” Many of these, once introduced into a new habitat, have no natural predators, so the suggestion is that we fill that niche. For instance we could eat the lionfish, which, according to the NYT article, is devastating reef fish, both in the Caribbean and coastally, off Florida. But caught by spearfishing and braised in brown butter sauce, lionfish tastes wonderful.

The Nature Conservancy sponsored a lionfish food fair a year ago, paying local fisherfolk $11 a pound for the pesty fish. The fritters made from this invasive species went over well with the crowd. There was concern with lionfish, as with many other species, about the possibility of toxins from microbes, so selective fishing from “clean” areas was necessary.

The Smart Seafood Guide I downloaded from Food and Water Watch lists eight other species as potential menu items. Asian carp, which are not bottom feeders, are caught with nets of several kinds or even on hook and line. They’ve spread from the Southeast through floods and are moving toward the great Lakes. They eat plankton in amounts out of proportion to their size and thus compete with native fishes. They’re a bony fish and a NYC chef, the James Beard Foundation and Food and Water Watch have combined in an effort to develop recipes for these and others of the unwanted species.

The Beard Foundation’s VP noted that we’ve gone from weeding out some plant species to regarding them as delicacies; perhaps we can do the same with our Asian crabs, Asian carp, lionfish, Asian swamp eels, Chinese mitten crabs, European green crabs, rusty crayfish, walking catfish (able to live out of water for short periods and move short distances on land), and two species of tilapia.

spearfishing is the way to catch lionfish

There are a number of other avenues being explored to control these critters and we’ll also need to prevent their deliberate further spread once the profit motivation comes into play.

But to me, it sounds like it’s time for a fish dinner