Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Out With the Pyramid

Last week, the USDA announced it was replacing the food pyramid with a new plate diagram. The USDA plate gives the largest portion to vegetables, with one the same size for grains. Fruit and protein round it out in equal portions. Off to the side is dairy, represented by a circle that might be a cup of milk or yogurt. Gone is any reference to fats, oils or sweets.

Some of the other tips on the USDA's new website are:

Balancing Calories
● Enjoy your food, but eat less.
● Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase
● Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
● Make at least half your grains whole grains.
● Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce
● Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers.
● Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Go to for more info

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Teacher Appreciation Week

This week (May 2nd through 6th) is Teacher Appreciation Week. Teachers play a huge roll in every child's life and they deserve your appreciation. They put in more time for less work than almost all other professons out there. So take some time to show some appreciation to your teachers this week. Also, we at OSP are working to improve the school food that those teachers sometimes also eat. (Sometimes they Blog about it too Fed up with Lunch) So Happy Teacher Appreciation Week and also, Happy Cinco De Mayo!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Study Finds: Family Time Can Help Waist Lines!

Derived from 17 previous studies, researchers found that, "youngsters who joined family members regularly for meals were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods than kids who rarely ate with their families. They were also less likely to suffer from eating disorders," reports US News Health.

Amber Hammons, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as the study lead author for the findings that were recently published in May 2 issue of Pediatrics wanted to find if there was a relationship between family and nutrition.

Verdict: Yes and here are some of the findings:

3 or more meals with the family
- 12% less likely to be overweight
- 20% less likely to eat sweets, fried foods, pop, and other junk foods

5 or more meals with the family
- 25% less likely to practice poor nutritionn habits

The study suggests that eating with the family serves as protective benefits for children, but the reasons are unclear.

Families play important roles in children's lives. Most kids actually see their parents as their role models the article says, which could be a reason why there is a positive link between families and nutrition. Think of the potential the positive link has. If a child's parents helped him be more involved by growing and picking produce from the family organic garden, cooking, and sitting down to enjoy the work all of them put in, can you imagine the benefits? Not only would the child be more involved, he could also learn about good nutrition during the process.

I think the benefits can be two fold too. Parents can pack a lunch for the next school day made from leftovers, (because who doesn't want leftovers of a meal made from love? I don't think those people even exist...), which could continue the suggestions made by the study and lessen the chances of childhood obesity.


Read the original article yourself here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

OSP Webinars!

"Healthy Recipes Made Easy"

OSP will be doing webinars starting next week. It's a
free webinar series featuring easy healthy recipes for children.
For School Foodservice Directors, Managers & Registered Dietitians who are inspired to introduce children to healthier recipes during the school day.
Webinar supports why healthy cooking is needed in schools and presents 3 different recipes during each part of the webinar series that are easy to prepare and use healthy and fresh ingredients.

You must register in advance for the "Healthy Recipes Made Easy" Webinar. There is no charge for this event.
Click here to reserve your place.

Dates and times:

May 10th or May 12th at 2pm or 4pm CST

Lunch 1
May 17th or May 19th at 2pm or 4pm CST

Lunch 2
May 24th or May 26th at 2pm or 4pm CST

Side Items
May 31st or June 2nd at 2pm or 4pm CST

Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Blog Post from the Green Parents Network

Chicago's Green Metropolis Fair April 16!

Chicago's Green Metropolis Fair on Saturday, April 16, at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox, Chicago is a fun, inspiring event for conscious and curious individuals and families to celebrate Earth Month and spring! Jointly presented by the Green Parents Network, an online community of 2300+ families, and Chicago's Mindful Metropolis Magazine, the Fair will be open from 10-4 with both indoor and outdoor activities rain or shine.

Do you want to learn new ways to achieve and maintain a more sustainable lifestyle? There is lots going on at the Fair, including:

- Presentations on gardening, composting, bee keeping, and urban farming;

- an outdoor barnyard experience with live animals;

- Delicious, organic, and locally sourced food and drink available for purchase;

- 100+ earth friendly vendors.

- Special showings of the "Dirt! The Movie" and "Vanishing of the Bees"

Admission is free - a donation of a non-perishable food item is requested for a local food bank. There will be $5 admission to see the movies.

Chicago's Green Metropolis Fair

Saturday, April 16 - 10AM-4PM

Irish American Heritage Center

4626 N. Knox, Chicago, 60630

Plenty of free parking around the Center - conveniently located off 90/94, CTA Blue Line, and multiple bus routes.

The Green Metropolis Fair welcomes the support and collaboration of The Organic School Project - and we applaud and thank OSP for the good work they do every day to make sure our children grow up healthier and happier! Come see them April 16 at the Fair!

Mary Beth Rebedeau

Green Parents Network - Where 2300+ families meet online! /

Follow Us On Twitter - @GreenParentsNet!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Making Changes to Stay on School Menus?

Courtesy of BNET

Because of the new USDA nutrition standards for school lunches, food companies such as Schwan, Tyson, and Simplot, (big names that produce pizza, chicken nuggets, and french fries for schools), are feeling the squeeze.

They needed to regroup and reformulate their offerings in order to meet guidelines and be able to stay on school lunch menus. Below are some changes:

Schwan’s new improved pizzas contain about 230 less mg of sodium, 8 less grams of fat, 100 less calories, and 51% more whole grain.

Tyson is adding whole grain to their breading and cutting sodium levels. They are also promoting chicken options that are not nugget-esque and also meet USDA guidelines like their dark meat strips with spicy orange sauce, which has 490 mg of sodium, 6 grams of fat, and about 220 calories per serving.

Simplot is having a little more trouble though. The USDA suggests kids should only consume one cup of starchy vegetables a week because on average, kids consume about two, mostly in the form of fries. They’re arguing that most fries served now are oven baked, and calorie count is around 80 to 100 per serving. The USDA is limiting how much of the starchy stuff can be offered for lunch.

The only drawback to less sodium, fat and calories is that there is a loophole-sugar. Though the other categories have been slashed, sugar levels go up a little bit.

OK, so the changes aren’t ground breaking, but they are changes. Looking at the bigger picture, less sodium, fat, and calories is still an improvement. But I still think kids are better off bringing their own lunches; that way, parents can have a say in what kids eat. Maybe if junior could pick carrots or grape tomatoes from the home garden themselves, they’ll be more prone to eagerly eating them when lunch time finally arrives.

Read the original article from bnet here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Family Farmed Expo

Organic School Project will be set up at the Family Farmed EXPO this Friday & Saturday with info on our programs. Please stop by and see us!

"The Midwest’s Premier Local Food Event returns featuring 3 great days of programming at the fantastic UIC Forum on the campus of University of Illinois at Chicago.

The MUST ATTEND EVENT for: Family Farmers ~ Local Food Businesses ~ Foodies ~ Industry/Trade Professionals ~ Restaurants ~ Artisan Food Producers ~ Investors ~ Food Policy Advocates Local Food System Stakeholders

Please check out our newly announced programming for the sixth FamilyFarmed EXPO – it’s three full days packed full of workshops, chef demo’s, exhibits, parties, business to business conferences, and more! We invite you to join us for the Midwest’s leading good food conference and festival."

Please see their website for more info. Tickets are still for sale and it is open to anyone!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Close Your Eyes, Imagine…Food!

How many times have you said OK, this time I’m going to eat more fruits and vegetables, but by the second week that memo slowly disappears?
Well now, researchers are suggesting if we develop a concrete plan and actually envision ourselves carrying out that plan, for example imagining ourselves going to the store, buying, and eating fruits, then it may help us follow through.

Barbel Knauper, an associate professor of psychology as McGill University in Montreal did a study on 177 students. She asked them to set their goals at eating more fruit a week. So some developed concrete plans, wrote them down, and envisioned themselves carrying out their plans. Of course, all the students ate more fruit during that time period, but the ones that visualized themselves carrying out their plans consumed twice as much fruit.

This is interesting because we all want to include more fruits and vegetables in our diets, but with massive workloads and hectic schedules, we first pick up some other alternatives than fruit, especially on the go. To combat this, maybe right before you get out of bed, or while you’re waiting for the train, or whenever you have a spare minute, imagine yourself getting to those fruits and veggies and eating them. Telling kids to do this might be just as useful too.

It’s all in your head.

Read the article from US News here.

Speaking March 18th

The NW Suburban Chapter of the Holistic Moms Network will be hosting OSP's Greg Christian at an "Evening of Fresh Foods". He will be speaking about the "Grow. Teach. Feed." collection. The event is Friday, March 18th at 6:30pm Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

Contact Mary Green at or 847-230-0544 if you have any questions

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March: National Nutrition Month

Sponsored by the American Dietetic Association, this year’s theme is: Eat Right with Color because children tend to eat a bland, beige colored diet, which includes chicken nuggets, fries, and white bread. Not much excitement there…

Fruits and vegetables come in an array of colors and adding them to their diets not only makes the food visually more appealing, but also children can learn how the colors can be indications of nutritional density, says Chicago Sun Time.
Here is a breakdown of the colors:


-Good sources of anthocyanins, the purplish phytonutrient that put blueberries on the map as a superfood. Other blue and purple foods offer similar benefits.

Choices: Purple grapes, plums, raisins, dried plums, purple asparagus, purple cabbage, purple carrots, eggplant, purple potatoes


-Ample amounts of antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta carotene (vitamin A) in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.

Choices: Apricots, cantaloupe, mangoes, oranges, tangerines, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes


-Flag for health-promoting compounds like lycopene and anthocyanins.

Choices: Cherries, cranberries, red grapes, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, beets, red peppers, tomatoes


-Signal for chlorophyll, and green vegetables are potent in folate and such phytonutrients as carotenoids, lutein and indoles.

Choices: Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, peas, snow peas, spinach, zucchini

So remember taste the rainbow!

Read the original article here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The release of OSP's Grow Teach Feed: A Complete Curriculum to Inspire Healthy Lifestyles in Schools is coming THIS MONTH! Intended to foster healthier, environmentally and nutrition conscious kids, the three-volume publication provides school and kitchen staff with the resources to grow, teach and feed every child.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Interview with Mrs. Q

Organic School Project had a chance to interview Mrs. Q. If you don't already know who Mrs. Q is and didn't hear about her on CNN, she is a teacher who ate school lunch for a year and blogged about it.

Mrs. Q: Fed up with School Lunch – Interview Questions

1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what your connections to school lunches or school children are?

I am an educator who works with students in public school. I never had any special connection with school lunches until I got it in my head to eat them for a year.

2. Can you tell me about your school lunch project and why did you want to do this in the first place?

I saw the lunches in the cafeteria only in passing for a few years. They didn’t look too great, but at the time I was new and didn’t want to make waves. Plus, the average teacher doesn’t go into the cafeteria that often to critique the food. It wasn’t until I ate a couple lunches myself in the fall of 2009 (because I was running late to work and didn’t have the time to pack), when I thought more deeply about the food that the students were consuming. I worried that my students’ best chance for healthy, real food was at school, and for a real education about good food and nutrition, was being missed. Part of why I started caring more was that I had a one-year-old who was making that scary transition to real food. I started to examine my relationship with food and it extended to what I saw around me and at work.

3. How do you feel about the project ending on December 17, 2010?

I can’t believe it’s over. I’m shocked I did it physically, but I can’t believe I wasn’t found out and was able to finish the project. I really assumed that I would have been discovered by June. I’m only guessing here, but I guess no one thought it was me.

4. Did you see any improvement over the year and what have you learned from it?

The strange beauty of doing the project over a calendar year was that I was able to see if there were any changes to the menu between school years. I’m happy to report that there were changes. First, in the fall they offered more fresh, raw vegetables including an iceberg salad mix on some days and on other there was packages of broccoli. The same frozen and then reheated vegetables were served too, but the small changes were encouraging.

Additionally, when a plastic tray wasn’t available, they changed from Styrofoam to paper trays. It was really terrific to see that someone was thinking about waste.

5. Did the project affect your personally in any way (health, etc.)?

I avoided fast food and ate lots of veggies prior to eating and blogging school lunch, but looking back, now I know that my Food IQ still was quite low. Although I didn’t ever want to discuss it on the blog, I ended up having to bring up that I have a diagnosis of IBS. It was super naïve of me to think that eating school lunches for a year wouldn’t bother my sensitive system.

Right away, I noticed that drinking a pint of milk at lunch was giving my tummy troubles. At home, I just didn’t drink that much milk and so that’s how I discovered I was lactose-intolerant in January.

Many of those food discoveries actually benefited my son. We both went dairy-free (for me it was only outside of school) in September and gluten-free in October. School lunches are heavily wheat and dairy based, but even removing some gluten and dairy from my diet helped me. It wasn’t a boutique diet trying to be trendy. My son had chronic diarrhea and with my IBS, I continued to question if something in our diet was bothering us. Well, I’m happy to report that my son is doing terrific now. It was wonderful to see how quickly his body responded to the change in diet. It hasn’t been quite as quick for me – it seems like my tummy is still upset after everything I ate last year! I’ve also been diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency so I’m treating that.

6. How do you think people will be inspired by and learn from your project of eating cafeteria food for a year?

There are a few things that I want people to take away from the project. First, I want them to believe that one person can do something. I didn’t do very much, but what I did to raise awareness is really spectacular. I want people to believe in their crazy ideas and go for it.

I’d also like to encourage people to be critical thinkers about food in their environment and question assumptions. It’s ok to speak up.

7. What’s your next step to help improve school lunch after the school lunch project?
I’m doing what I can in my own school to start a wellness committee. It’s an uphill battle. Additionally, I will be revealing myself later in the year. I can’t wait to finally take the veil off. Being anonymous is safe but also burdensome because it’s a lot to carry around. I don’t like keeping secrets and this one is a whopper.

8. How do you think schools and parents can do better in improving school lunch system as well as educating the children? What are your suggestions?
The issue of school lunch is so complex. I think it goes back to valuing the meal. What is more important than food in our lives? We have lost that connection and we have forgotten our place in the food change, and treating food with respect. I sound like a hippie, but our roles as eaters are part of our ecosystem. Right now our food system is broken and to create change we all have to be active, aware consumers, even our kids.
The way that school lunch is structured is a huge missed opportunity. Kids get little to no nutrition training, they get no time to physically eat, they are given food with additives and food dyes, and then they don’t get recess. It’s a recipe for disaster and if you look at a lot of schools in low income areas, the students are suffering and so is their classroom performance.

9. You are located in Midwest. How do you think Midwest is doing in school food system compared to east coast and west coast? What are your thoughts on this?

I like the Organic School Project, The Healthy Schools Campaign, Common Threads, and Purple Asparagus, all of which are based in Chicago. I’m aware of REAP in Madison, but aside from that, it doesn’t seem like there is much action in the Midwest. Certainly, I’m sure that there are schools that are doing good things, but in comparison to efforts in New York and California, there is room for improvement.

10. Could you please comment on the recent news such as the House voting to send child nutrition bill to President Obama?

I’m really excited that the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act passed and that President Obama was able to sign it into law. I realize that $0.06 per meal isn’t a vast sum, but it is the first increase in decades to a program that is having trouble keeping up with the increasing cost of food. Call me hopeful, but I do believe that the law is more than just lip service, especially considering it gives the USDA more control over competitive foods in schools, which students choose over healthy, hot lunches.

11. Please say something to people who don’t yet understand the importance of a better school food system.
My dad would be one of the people who doesn’t understand why we have to fix school food. He believes that his taxes are too high and that he is already paying for public programs. I’ll tell you what I told him: it’s all about prevention.
We have to put money into school food now so that we aren’t paying for it in skyrocketing healthcare costs down the road. Part of why his taxes are so high is that he’s paying for the healthcare of many people with complications that are the result of a poor diet. Where are the kids from this generation getting education about nutrition? A one-time seventh grade home ec class? Or year after year in our school cafeterias?
We can continue to feed kids crappy food and our country will continue to lag behind other countries that have more robust food cultures and lower rates of diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. To me, it’s a no brainer.

Check out her twitter and facebook too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For the First Time in 15 Years…

Mark Humphrey, AP

The US Department of Agriculture wants to raise the nutrition standards for school meals!! They believe obesity has become that pressing of an issue and need to help fix it.

USA Today said, “The new meal standards are designed to improve the health of nearly 32 million children who eat lunch at school every day and almost 11 million who eat breakfast. Overall, kids consume about 30% to 50% of their calories while at school.”

Some of the requirements are:

-Decrease the amount of starchy vegetables

-Establish calorie max and mins for all grades up to 12

-Serve better milk options: fat-free flavored or 1% milk

-Increase the fruits and vegetables offered to students

-Substantially increase whole grains

-Keep trans fat at a minimum

Ahhh! So exciting because prevention /correction early can really make a difference in the long run.

Get more details from the article here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Skip the Fast Lane

“Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. It was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world,” says the website.

Courtesy of Slow Food

Slow Food’s biggest advocates are young people and their Boston division is one of the most active, and fastest growing chapters because of the high level of participation.

The organization’s supporters are called “slow foodies” and they go out on trips to learn more about local food producers, partake in potlucks, and find chefs to go to colleges to show students how they can make their own slow food.

They have a division called Slow Food on Campus. “Slow Food on Campus is a network of Slow Food USA chapters at colleges and universities across the country. Run by students, these chapters engage their communities and the next generation of Slow Food leaders by working towards a good, clean, and fair food system.”

Personally, being a college student, I know how exhausting it is to juggle academics and activities. Sometimes after the trek back home the last thing I want to do is cook and getting fast food seems so easy since it’s around every corner. But I know if I cook my own food, it’ll be more fulfilling all around; that’s why I do it. I think Slow Food is great because we’ve changed into a society where all we want to do is get things done fast. We need to slow down and reconnect.

Read the original article here from

And to explore Slow Food, go here!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Interview with Monica Eng

For those of you interested anything food related in Chicago, chances are you’ve read an article by Chicago Tribune reporter, Monica Eng. Writing stories on food in Chicago for the better part of 20 years now, she has become a well-known and trusted source in the journalism community. In her travels covering food news in Chicago, Monica has written many in-depth stories on food policy, and in recent years, the food policies of the Chicago Public School (CPS) system. Since we here at the Organic School Project have worked closely with a number of CPS schools and administrators to work toward serving better foods to kids, we were excited to sit and speak with Monica about her experience covering stories like these, and how she’s seen the efforts to improve school food progress over the years.

Organic School Project (OSP): How did you get started reporting stories like these? and making relationships with people in the food business in the interest of serving better food to kids?

Monica Eng (ME): In terms of looking at school food policy and efforts to improve it, it started with a piece I wrote on Greg Christian for the Chicago Tribune magazine, which is no longer in existence. I was asked to go interview a chef that was trying to make school food better. Then I did a news story right around the same time that looked like he was going to leave the program at Alcott because CPS was not allowing him to expand the feeding portion of the program to their schools, I think that was in 2007.

OSP: Did you start writing these revealing food stories to follow a trend in the media, or was it something that you found yourself to be passionate about, and pursued it?

ME: It was an assignment. I really had not looked at this issue at all. I was a feature writer, basically writing about restaurants, recipes, and restaurant trends, leisurely topics. But the editors of the magazine asked me to interview Mr. Christian.

OSP: Since you’ve been following the movement here in Chicago as a reporter for quite a few years now, do you see any changes? improvements? lessons learned? in the way that organizations (like OSP) go about making changes to the food that we’re feeding our children in school?

ME: There is certainly much more attention nationally and locally, that sort of has to do with the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. Some of it has to do with the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which has profited a lot of the campaigns out there. And Jamie Oliver didn’t hurt either, with his TV show. So, I think that there has definitely been an increase in coverage of it and I think OSP was a real pioneer that predated a lot of these other efforts.

We would like to thank Monica Eng for taking the time to speak with us here at OSP, and are glad to be in such great media company as we continue to work toward serving better food to our nation’s kids!

Check out some of her articles featuring the betterment of school food:

Most school garden produce is forbidden fruit in CPS lunchrooms

Changes in store for school vending machines

Red tape tangles chefs wanting to improve school lunch

Chicago chefs spice up schools' new push for healthy eating

CPS unveils push for healthier school meals