History of the Kids’ Menu

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Happy Monday! How was your weekend? I had an awesome time relaxing at the beach. I’d been feeling super-run down to the point of actually going to my favorite urgent care for a strep test earlier in the week, but after some relaxation and sun and yes, lobster , I felt back to my usual energetic self.lobster

Funny story about lobster—as a kid, I was terrified of it. Those claws! Then I realized around age 18 that it was delicious. However, the summer I was 19, something really embarrassing and hilarious happened—I was in my first month adjusting to oral contraceptives and basically crying every day as the hormone levels worked themselves out, so everything was a little unpredictable. While on a trip, my family went to a seafood place for dinner. I ordered lobster, as I was wont to do, but when it came on the plate, so cutely curled up like it was peeking at me over its claws, I just started bawling. After a few minutes of wiping my eyes and laughing at myself, I realized that really, the only true way to honor the creature’s death was, well, to eat it. So I did.

Clearly, times have changed. My dining companion and I took down 3 lobsters on Saturday—honored the hell out of ’em. I did most of the hands-on work myself. God, lobster-eating is so barbaric, but so freaking good. Sorry I’m not sorry?

Now that I’m in my late twenties, this happens less and less, but whenever I would go out to eat with my family, the hostess would ask if they needed a children’s menu. When I was a snarky teen, I’d be, like, “Seriously, man? I’m  f***ing old enough to drive. I can eat real food.” Let’s not talk about that time last month when I got carded going into a rated R movie. Or that time when I was 26 and had to snatch a glass of wine back from a waiter who’d taken it from me mid-sip at a fancy family event.  Even as an actual kid, I wasn’t too dazzled by chicken fingers and french fries. My mom is a great cook, and I was exposed to many delicious things, growing up.

Did you know that the kids’ menu actually was first created with wholesomeness and health in mind? No sh*t. Check out this article for more. It’s kind of sad how far we’ve managed to stray. The idea that kids even need their own “type” of food is a little ridiculous, but when you look at the dumbed-down crap we feed kids who need healthy chow to grow and develop into functional adults (with functioning tastebuds), it’s kind of maddening. Cheers to all you parents out there letting your kids eat real food.

Food Traditions & the Seven Fishes

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My sister and I are basically the embodiment of “melting pot” heritage. I remember grade school discussions about ancestors and geography and having to take a deep breath before listing all the different places my family comes from (As I’ve gotten older, that list has only turned out to be longer and longer). However, at least I had a wide range of options when it came time for whatever day it was where everybody brought in a food from “their country.”

My mom loves to torture us with this picture
My mom loves to torture us with this “refugee children” picture

Growing up, we used to spend Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family. My grandparents would fly up from Florida and we would get together with my aunt and uncle and cousins. Since I didn’t see any of them very often, I always looked forward to it. As for the food, leg of lamb has often been the “Christmas Eve Meat” of choice in my parents’ house, which may or may not have anything to do with my dad’s Greek/Turkish(?) roots.

My dad is also part-Italian (my grandfather was born & raised in Queens and had the best accent ever), but we never did, like, the feast of seven fishes that a lot of my “really” Italian friends did on Christmas Eve. I think the closest we came was the assorted sushi platter my mom started putting out with the appetizers when my sister and I were teenagers. Sushi became its own little Christmas Eve tradition, and I guess if you count, you can spot seven different varieties of fish, but yeah, nothing too elaborate.

I do think the seven fishes thing is a neat tradition, though, especially if you have a lot of hungry Italians to share with.   In recent years, however, there has been some concern over how to make it more sustainable and promote kindness toward the environment. This article by Paul Greenberg and Carl Safina, which appears in this week’s New York Times Sunday Review, shares some ideas for making your feast of seven fishes more earth-and-fish-friendly.  I know it’s a little late for this Christmas Eve, but hey, if nothing else, something to keep in mind for that random “it’s the middle of March, let’s throw a big party for no reason” meal. Or next year.

Do you have any holiday food traditions in your family? Where is your family from?  

Health Groups Ask Nickelodeon to Limit Junk Food Ads

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My in my Nickelodeon days—I'm the one freaking out in the orange bow
My in my Nickelodeon/Nick Jr. days—I’m the one freaking out in the orange bow

Though I don’t have TV now, I watched a lot of Nickelodeon as a kid, and some of the commercials are almost as memorable as the shows themselves. Because it was the late 80’s, early 90’s, I also remember being told every few hours that you can’t get AIDS from sharing a hot dog with someone.

Memory certainly is a strange thing, isn’t it?

Of the commercials that I remember most clearly, cereal and fruit snacks advertisements top the list. Though it’s been a while since I’ve watched children’s TV, it’s hardly news that the marketing of junk food to children hasn’t gotten any better.

More than 80 health groups, doctors, and nutritionists  just sent a letter urging Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to adopt stricter standards for its advertisers to children. On her blog, Food Politics, Marion Nestle, who was among the letter-writers, discusses the need for such standards and other efforts to develop guidelines.

What do you think of food advertisements on children’s television networks and/or food marketing to kids? 

Never Seconds

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courtesy of Never Seconds

In recent school food news, a 9-year-old girl in Scotland has been posting photos of her school lunch every day in an effort to bring attention to the need for more of the good stuff. And by “good stuff,” I mean fruits & veggies. Check out her blog, Never Seconds!

What’s the best—or worst—school lunch you’ve seen or tasted? 

Nothing but Nuggets

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Stacey Irvine

Did anyone else see this story about Stacey Irvine, a 17-year-old British girl who reportedly collapsed after subsisting on only chicken nuggets for the past 15 years? Granted, this was first published in several tabloids, so consider the source, but still—can you imagine eating one thing for that long? No wonder she’s said to be suffering from anemia and swollen veins along with various nutrient deficiencies. Who wouldn’t if they’d never eaten a fruit or vegetable and ate nothing but nuggets all the time?

“I loved them so much they were all I would eat,” Irvine said. “I just couldn’t face even trying other foods. Mum gave up giving me anything else years ago.” She admits that although she now knows this diet is bad for her, she can’t give them up. Legitimate food addiction or not, that’s still pretty scary!

What do you think about this story? Have you or anyone you ever known been on a crazy food jag? 

USDA Updates School Nutrition Guidelines

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For the first time in 15 years, the USDA has issued new school nutrition guidelines. Meals served under the National School Lunch program and other federally funded school meal services, which serve about 32 million children per day, have been updated to reflect the 201o Dietary Guidelines.

New restrictions (according to age group) will be placed on:

  • Calories
  • Sodium
  • Percentage of calories per meal from saturated fat

In addition, half the grains served will have to be rich in whole grains, and while tomato paste and potatoes still count under the new rules as acceptable vegetables, the foods that contain them (such as pizza and fries) will have to comply with the restrictions on sodium, saturated fat, and calories. Some of these changes will be phased in over time, such as those related to sodium and whole grains. Other measures are to be enforced to ensure healthier meals for school children.

The changes will cost $3.2 billion as they are implemented over the next 5 years, with that cost being offset by a 6-cent-per-meal increase and other federal reimbursements.

To give you a clearer idea of exactly how new school lunches will look, here’s a sample menu comparison from the USDA. I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

What do you think of the changes to the school lunch program? 

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

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I was born into a family of white wine-drinking cheese lovers. However, the gene seems to have skipped me, and I got the dark-chocolate-and-red-wine tooth. It wasn’t until I went to Italy in 2010 for a masters course on the Mediterranean diet (best 6 credits ever) that I realized I actually do like cheese—I’m just picky.

Still, I grew up eating boxed macaroni & cheese, which barely counts.I consider Kraft’s iconic orange cheese sauce to be more of a “cheese-like” product. However, that’s what my taste buds think of when it comes to mac & cheese–bright orange, salty soup with limp pasta. Consider it some kind of inverse mac & cheese snobbery. I don’t care if you dress it up in truffle salt or add lobster and baby peas and charge twenty bucks—I’d still choose the blue box.

When I was working on articles about healthy recipes for kids last fall, I came across a few recipes for  macaroni and cheese made with pureed butternut squash, which gives the sauce that vibrant orange color while stealthily adding a lot of nutrients. I was intrigued, but never got around to making it myself. My mac & cheese cravings are rare, but one of my goals for this winter was to try some new recipes, since I have the time, and this was near the top of the list. Read the rest of this entry »