Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recipe of the week: Pasta with Swiss Chard, Goat Cheese, and Red Peppers

This recipe is delicious and a good way to use Swiss chard which is still somewhat in season. It calls for orecchiette pasta, but sometimes it's hard to find, so I just use medium shell pasta. Additionally, it asks you to blanch the Swiss chard (put it in boiling water, then dip it in ice water, then chop it) but you could just saute it instead. Whatever you have time for.

Orecchiette Pasta with Swiss Chard, Goat Cheese, and Red Peppers

  • 3/4 pound Swiss chard (1 bunch), stemmed and washed in two changes of water
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut in small dice
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 3/4 pound orecchiette
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup) 

1. Begin heating a large pot of water while you stem and wash the chard. Fill a bowl with ice water. When the water in the pot comes to a boil, salt generously and add the chard. Blanch the chard leaves for one to two minutes until tender. Using a skimmer or a slotted spoon, transfer the chard to a bowl of ice water, then drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop medium-fine. Keep the pot of water at a simmer.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet, and add the bell peppers and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until tender, five to eight minutes. Add the garlic and salt to taste, and stir for half a minute. Then stir in the chopped chard and the marjoram. Stir together for a few seconds, then turn the heat to very low.

3. Bring the water in the pasta pot back to a boil, and add the orecchiette. Cook al dente, following the timing instructions on the package. Add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the chard and peppers. Stir in the goat cheese. Drain the pasta, transfer to the pan and toss with the chard, pepper and goat cheese mixture. Serve hot.

Recipe and photo credit: NYTimes

Monday, November 7, 2011

How bad is it? The childhood obesity epidemic

Take a look. Some of these facts are pretty frightening. We need to do something about this.

Childhood Obesity Epidemic Infographic
Brought to you by MAT@USC Masters in Teaching

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The frustrating fight for healthier school lunches

The headline of this article caught my eye: School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute. What is there to dispute, I wondered? The first paragraph, which described the changes that the USDA wants require in school lunch menus, made perfect sense to me. Cut back on potatoes, add more fruits and vegetables, and reduce salt. Kids couldn't have more than two servings of starchy vegetables a week, so this would cut back on French fries and other forms of potatoes, and would add in new produce like spinach and peaches. I like this idea, a lot. Forty percent of children's daily calories come from the lunch they eat at school. So, we should make those lunches healthier. What's not to like about this idea?

Apparently, a lot. The USDA is facing a whole slew of people who don't want these regulations to pass. This includes senators from potato-producing states (who say we shouldn't limit the amount of starchy food kids consume), food lobbyists (who say that kids won't eat the new vegetables), and frozen food companies (who say the reduced-salt guidelines will be too costly to follow). Because these people have so much power and sway in our country, the USDA guidelines will likely not pass.

This frustrates me beyond belief.

As a substitute teacher in an urban Michigan area, I teach in a lot of schools and get to see a lot of school lunches. Not once have I seen a meal that I would be willing to eat. Friday's lunch, served to the kindergarten class where I was subbing, was no exception. The main "entree" was a gigantic piece of bread with an inch of greasy white cheese melted on top. This came with milk (plain, chocolate or strawberry -- and which option do you think most kids took?), tiny carrot sticks, a flavored yogurt tube, and a frozen fruit popsicle. While this isn't the worst meal I could think of, it's laden with sugar, and most students probably didn't eat the healthiest item they were offered - the carrots. It's understandable that the kids don't eat carrots when they can fill up on all the other sugary options.

Who eats these types of lunches? Mostly students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, which means they are from low income families. And which group of children has the highest obesity rate in the U.S.? Children from low-income families, and children of color.

This is particularly frustrating when I compare it to the food offered where I taught last year, at a private school in upstate New York. This school had a daily salad bar with multiple greens, grains, and vegetables offered. The entrees included lentil meatloaf, vegetable stir fry, and curry beef stew. The meat was locally sourced and usually organic, and dessert was only served on Thursdays.

Who eats these types of lunches? Students from middle- and upper-income families.

I know that it's not realistic for all public schools to serve organic beef and an elaborate array of freshly chopped vegetables. They have a tight budget and limited kitchen staff. But no one is asking for that kind of a menu. The USDA is asking for meals that are just slightly healthier. A few less potatoes, a little less salt, and a bit more vegetables. In a country that claims to care about its children's health, this shouldn't be too much to ask.

Photo credit
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