January 20, 2012

under construction.

Wow, it has been a really long time since my last post. The past six months have been pure craziness over here and it has taken me this long to finally catch up! Here is a quick recap for everyone who keeps sending me emails wondering if I have indeed fallen off the face of the earth…(close, but not quite). 

1. I moved…to another state. 

Yep, I’m no longer in Texas. This was probably one of the hardest decisions I had to make in a long, long time. The crazy thing is that my child’s new school has recess. They have three in fact, including a lunch recess. Contrary to popular belief, the students at his school are still smart. They can, indeed, play without a lesson plan. Also, get this, they can talk at lunch. I know, nuts right? Imagine, children, eating and talking at the same time. As crazy as that sounds, here out west, lunch still gets done. Unlike my blog lately, because..

2. Turns out, I have a brain tumor.

Nothing sucks more than finding out you have a tumor in your head. Luckily, my tumor isn’t a big deal. I’m taking some gnarly medication that is putting it in check. Unfortunately, it put blogging on the back burner for a bit, but I’m back just in time for the upcoming elections, which is why…

3. This website is getting a major over-haul…and by major, I mean MAJOR.

Now, I realize that folks at the Texas state capitol are probably high-fiving one another right now, but before you get too excited, know that the push for a state wide mandatory recess is still happening. Actually, a push will be taking place everywhere. I get so many emails from parents in different states asking me how they can make things happen in their area. So many in fact, that it can get overwhelming at times. 

Because of that, this site will be getting an all new makeover and a new name. I’m actually pretty excited! I will be able to roll it out hopefully in a couple of weeks. So bear with me! 

Till then!


May 12, 2011

thinking capped~ texas school lunch get served up a whole new kind of stupid.


 {disclaimer~ for those of you new to this blog due to the recess bill, you should understand that I tend to get riled up and talk like a sailor when it comes to school lunch. Because lowering the sodium content is a new school lunch initiative, I too, will attempt to lower the salty talk of my posts. Luckily, though, I have 10 years to cut that amount in half…}

So, back when I talked about my initial meeting with Rep. Burkett about recess and HB3770, I didn’t divulge the whole story.  

What I didn’t mention, was that I had actually asked her to file two, yep two,  bills. She said yes to both. Many of you have been reading this blog since the beginning, and you know that reforming school lunch is another huge priority of mine. You may remember HealthyTara, the Chicago senior, who took on her school district and ARAMARK when they wouldn’t give her the  school lunch ingredients. Being mom to a child with severe food allergies, I  joined her fight for school lunch ingredient transparency.

In addition to a recess bill, I asked Cindy Burkett to file a bill mandating schools make full ingredient disclosure and nutritional content available to parens. Any parent of a child with severe food allergies will tell you, they have to know the ingredients. Further, any parent of a child concerned about their child’s health wants to know the nutritional content of the food they eat.

Long story short, Cindy and her staff drafted and filed both bills. (Thank you!!) The recess bill came back with a fiscal note stating no anticipated cost. The ingredient transparency bill came back with one stating there would be a cost. Although, I can’t imagine why…by law, schools already have this information, so letting parents see what they already have should not cost anything. Regardless, Cindy called me and was very honest and forthcoming about my options. She told me that the House had made it very clear  they did not want to pass any mandates that would cost schools additional money. She said she would still keep the ingredient bill in the game if I wanted, but that she didn’t think it would have much of a chance with the current education budget climate. I agreed. I made the decision to not go forward with it this session for a couple of reasons. One, I am fully aware of the food industry’s lobbying power. I was not prepared to take them on in such a short amount of time. And two, I really wanted my school lunch blogging friends to be a part of the process. I knew that Dr. Susan Rubin, Mrs. Q, and Bettina over at The Lunch Tray would help make sure the bill had everything right. A bill this important needed to be perfect: researched, detailed, and not rushed.

So, you can imagine my newly refreshed disdain for the USDA when I was forwarded this Associated Press article by practically everyone I know. I’m sure you are already familiar with it. It’s the one about the $2 million USDA research grant that will take pictures of school lunch in Texas using high-tech cameras and highly sophisticated software. (clearly, not the only thing “high” around here…)

Some key quotes from the article:

Researchers hope parents will change eating habits at home once they see what their kids are choosing in schools. The data also will be used to study what foods children are likely to choose and how much of if they’re eating…

Here’s how it works: students are assigned lunch trays with a unique bar code. After the children load up their plates down the line — mashed potatoes or green beans? french fries or fruit?

{big, big sigh..} OK. Ready for it? Here we go:

This (apparently) just in! Texas elementary school cafeterias are not free-for-all buffets. While the last thing I want to do is defend processed school lunch,  I will, however, defend our lunch ladies. Our kids are not loading anything onto their own plates. Why? Because they aren’t the cafeteria workers and allowing them to do so would be unsanitary. Plus, a school in Texas will not allow a child to take mashed potatoes and french fries on the same day. More importantly, you should understand that kids are choosing between what is being served at school. How can you expect them to choose something healthy if it isn’t there? Last, but not least, Texas already has restrictions on portion limits…no picture neccessary, just ask the lunch lady.

When lunch is over and the kids return their plates to the kitchen, another camera takes a snapshot of what’s left on the tray. Software then analyzes the before and after photos to calculate calories consumed and, according to Trevino, a report of nutrients in the foods.

I wonder how Dr.Trevino plans to get the “actual” nutrients without my bill? Because each school gets their food from different suppliers, the nutritional content and ingredients will vary.I also wonder how excited the cafeteria is to take the time and effort to make sure each kid gets his or her assigned tray…while keeping the lunch line moving. 

The grant from the USDA will fund the study for four years. Trevino said the coming school year will be very experimental, with programmers fine-tuning the cameras and imaging software to accurately identify what’s a pear and what’s an apple.

Obvioulsy, I’m no scientist (although I do like to play one on my blog) and my idea is hardly “sophisticated”, I would just like to throw this idea out there…

My nutritional content and ingredient bill + the school lunch menu + asking your child “what did you eat today?”  =

a hell of a lot less than $2 million dollars.

Example: “Hey junior, I’m looking at your school menu. It says they had apples today. Did you get an apple or pear? An apple? Yes, that makes sense. Did you eat it?”

Ta daaa!! Please make that $2 million check paid to the order of “just a mom in mesquite”.

Now, I understand you may be unwilling to hand that money over to me. If that’s the case,  I will suggest the following not-so-crazy ideas:

1. Take that cash, purchase an actual kitchen for those schools and cook real, healthy meals from scratch for the kids. Take a picture of the kids before the healthy food, and then four years later…after the healthy food. Record their behavior, weight, and test scores during that time. Show the improved results to the parents. Once they see that their kids do like healthy food, they may want to adopt the same healthy diet. Plus, when kids ask for food like the kind they eat at school…it will be a good thing. #winning

2.  Take that two million dollars and donate it to the local food bank.They can turn that money into 8 million meals for hungry children here in Texas. Especially since,

Five San Antonio elementary schools will take part in the program. Researches selected poor, minority campuses where obesity rates and students at risk for diabetes are higher.

Seriously USDA? You and these researchers intentionally hand-picked  poor, overweight, minority children at risk for diabetes? And you think a four year, $2 million photolog scrapbooking “How your kid became overweight and diabetic~in pictures” is a good idea? What the hell is wrong with you? You don’t think poor parents already know they can’t feed their kids better? You want to give them pictures of their financial short-comings in action?

3. However, since you seem to have already committed to this food-o masochistic plan…

Give one school a kitchen and feed those children non-processed lunches made from scratch. Help them plant a school garden and encourage hands-on parental involvement. Show families and children how to transition into a healthy lifestyle. While they do that, continue taking pics of the other four schools’ lunches. Instead of just adding up the calories (since that doesn’t really matter),  add up the amount of additives those kids are eating with their processed food. Factor in the lack recess time. When the four years are up, parade the healthier kids around in front of the un-healthy kids’ parents. Tell the un-healthy kids to hold up those pictures of all the crap you allowed them to “choose” at school…include a list of all the non-food ingredients they ingested. Have the parents analyze the results. Tell them you thought a photoshoot would be better than feeding them well.

Now, run for the hills. Once parents realize that you are using their kids as lab monkeys under the guise of “counting calories for your own benefit”, they’re going to get pissed. You are “research scientists”…you know what’s making our kids un-healthy. You also co-incidentally chose a community with a high hispanic population. I have a feeling you took into account the higher probablity of parental language barriers with a greater chance they are under-educated about food choices.

Not cool.



May 9, 2011

texas is the new titanic {just a bit more low budget}


You’ve seen the movie (ok, maybe not the one above..that’s apparently from a no budget remake, ‘Titanic 2’ ); over-the-top impressive boat, fit a ton of people, faster, bigger, ahead of its time, and according to the folks at the helm, unsinkable. Texas and her education system isn’t much different. She claims to be the envy of all other states, she’s bigger, she’s faster, ahead of her time, she teaches more students, she’s spared no expense obtaining the best curriculum to get to the finish line first.

Our education vessel just has a different, albeit, lackluster, cast of characters and plot. Instead of taking a maiden voyage across the Atlantic, we’re charging towards our future. You have your first class citizens on deck played by school administrators, lobbyists, and the people who fund them. Steering the boat and playing “Captain” is the public education committee and legislators. Finally, you have your third class citizens locked below deck played by our children, teachers, and yours truly, the parents. Oh! We can’t forget Governor Perry. He’s he conductor that tells the band to “keep playing the music” so that people don’t panic. He’s not so much the driving force, but he’s there to put a happy tone on our trip to the bottom of the ocean.

Instead of Jack and Rose, the star of our movie is that big huge iceberg that sunk the unsinkable. Our iceberg, is called HB400. Our education boat is an expensive, ridgid and highly structured machine that can break in half and sink with the right impact. With HB400, we are charging full-steam ahead for that impact. And, like the movie, don’t have nearly enough lifeboats.

In sessions past, legislators worked to ensure we added more lifeboats. They implemented a coordinated school health program. It gave parents an opportunity to come up on deck and have a say about keeping our kids healthy. They gave us the Fitnessgram to measure kids health and allowed us to work with schools on this issue. They ensured schools would recycle- a big deal considering the amount of waste schools produce. They gave us pre-kindergarten. They capped our classroom limits, making sure kids wouldn’t be packed like sardines. They ensured that teachers could count on a fair paycheck.

Unfortunately, our Captains today are only concerned with the first class citizens on the top deck. HB400 is trying to repeal the “unnecessary” lifeboats of students and teachers. HB400 keeps the third class irrelevant and locked below deck to sink with the boat. They are too consumed with preserving the luxury status of the top deck that they can’t see what’s looming up ahead. We are so far down that they can’t hear our iceberg warning.

They forget, that we are all in the same boat.

Churning out unhealthy, socially inept children is not the answer. Bubble filling for test scores isn’t part of the real world.

As for me and the recess bill, I’m that parent that has managed to pick the lock and found the staircase to the top deck. I’m charging up two stairs at a time. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs with the other parents that have joined me (btw, I’ve also called shotgun on a lifeboat and have one foot in with my child intow…it’s called the S.S. Private School).

Recess and HB3770 isn’t just about playtime. It isn’t trivial. It’s about fostering our kids’ future and making them sustainable. It’s about being proactive instead of reactive. It’s realizing that one day, these kids will be making laws. It’s understanding that they are the future lifeboat.

It’s about teaching kids how to swim when our Captain’s over-confidence finally rams that iceberg.

Our Secretary of State delivered a speech to our legislators at the beginning of this session, here’s a reminder:

As a mother and a grandmother, I would ask that you stand firm in your resolve as you ensure a Texas that is just as successful for our children and grandchildren, for they are our most precious resource….Reflecting upon the task before you, I am reminded of an old maritime saying, ‘Strong ships are safe in port, but that’s not what they are built for.’  Ladies and gentlemen of this esteemed institution, you are the strong ships that will guide our great state toward its continued prosperity. And over the course of the next 140 days, there will be times when you are sailing with the wind, and other times when you might feel as though you are working against it. But I submit to you that what matters most is the direction Texas is moving, and that directionmust remain forward. As you intently chart the course of our state, I encourage you to move full speed ahead so that Texas will continue to advance, and not merely drift, or worse, become lost at sea like so many other states have during these times.

So, one more time: Hey Captain! There’s an iceberg ahead. Don’t be the jackass that drives us into it.

Because, as we all know…the Captain goes down with the ship.