Friday, May 19, 2006

Canned Chicken, Fresh Lesson

Note, this post appears as part of an Eat Local Challenge Web site. I will be posting here at least once monthly for the next year.

I found an old can of chicken in the pantry, a remnant from my misspent experiments of trying to find ways to pack a semi-healthy lunch for under three dollars and in 30 seconds or less. I knew better once I saw the pinkish chunks floating in semi-gelatinous liquid. But, I ate it anyway, or rather am, at the moment, forcing myself.

It sucks. But then I knew that going in. This is about as far as you can get from an organic, free-range chicken. In fact, the only range this bird’s ever seen had a skillet on top of it. By definition, meat is organic, being well, a living creature at one time. Isn’t it odd that we can develop chicken in such a way that it can be labeled organic or not? Sounds rather, uh, fowl, to use one of my spouse’s awful puns.

I don’t like thinking about how the canned chicken lived prior to processing. And even the ones that don’t end up in a can are a far cry from their locally farmed, organically-raised cousins. You can taste the difference. Apparently even without an experienced palate. I learned this from my then infant during our first forays into the world of table foods.

Gerber makes these little ravioli stuffed with, you got it, the same chicken that’s in the can in front of me. Going against my organic-loving instincts, I thought this would be a good, easy finger food. It was, but apparently only fun to push around the tray, and definitely not for eating. I tried one. Ironically, unlike every other generic white meat, it did NOT taste like chicken.

The next week I got a free-range bird, herb-roasted, straight off the rotisserie. It was devoured, and I learned the real reason my kid had refused meat up to that point. It was not meat.

At that point, I swore off the idea that Gerber knew better than I did. No more special infant finger foods. It was time to come to the table for the good stuff. Not an easy task for a working mom, but so far, we’re making it without any of the pre-packaged drive-thru moments.

Convinced that “start ‘em young, train ‘em right” was the higher road, I instituted the “Fruit and Vegetable of the Week” program. Every week I introduce a new and different fruit and vegetable into my toddler’s world. We’ve navigated our way through every color and texture I can find as well. It’s been amazing to watch her enjoy every new taste, well, not every one. Brussels sprouts have been eliminated. Who can blame the kid?

This program has been so successful that I am running out of the “garden variety” fruits and veggies. But fortunately, spring has sprung and it has been off to the local farmer’s market for some new options. Ironic that you have to go to a small, local farmers market to get more options than a larger grocery store, but then, irony seems to abound in the food world.

We both loved the market. All the people, colors, smells, tastes. As I went through the herb plants, I stopped and made sure that my little one got to smell and touch each herb as I named them. We looked at flowers and plants, and scored some amazing veggies and some local strawberries — small, dark red and irregular in shape — but with a good hint of the sweet, deep flavor that will come with June’s harvest.

My child chose the berries. She gave me the sign language for “MORE” over and over again, pointing to the berries. She ate the nearly the whole pint of these as fast as my husband could clean and core them. Which is interesting because she had begun to turn up her nose at the huge, perfect and fairly tasteless ones we had been buying.

We came home with spring mix greens, purple lettuce (and heirloom variety), green and purple asparagus, wildflower honey, green onions, radishes, strawberries and herb plants for rosemary, Italian parsley, and Genovese basil. A feast. All local and fresh. That week’s new veggie, purple asparagus, was sweet and delicious and enjoyed by all.

This week’s new culinary explorations await us already. A Korean melon variety sits on the counter, and we tried Florentine cauliflower last night. But, my food dreams are not so global. Even as I eye these exotics, I am waiting for Saturday and another trip to the market.

In the meantime, I will force feed myself the “chicken.” Call it punishment for ever going that route in the first place.

For more asparagus tips on skinny stalks versus the fat ones, try this
NYTimes article.

Great tips on a trip to the farmers' market.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Choice is Elementary

With regard to a current post on my blog, “Toying with Nutrition,” I found these current statistics on the choices offered to ELEMENTARY students from a study on elementary school food programs at SchoolNutrition.org, a Kraft Foods-sponsored organization:

“Twenty-three percent of public elementary schools offered vending machine foods for sale, and 35 percent offered foods for sale at school stores or snack bars.
Most public elementary schools (94 percent) offered foods for sale outside of full school meals.”

The survey collected information on the types of food available at vending machines and school stores or snack bars in 2005, and the times when those foods were available. Information on the availability of foods at vending machines and school stores or snack bars was restricted to the following nondairy beverages and snack foods:

Nondairy beverages: 100% fruit or vegetable juice, sports drinks or fruit drinks that are not 100% juice, soft drinks, and bottled water; and

Snack foods: candy; low-fat salty snacks such as pretzels and baked or other low-fat chips; salty snacks that are not low in fat such as regular potato chips and cheese puffs; low-fat cookies, cakes, pastries, and other baked goods; and cookies, cakes, pastries, and other baked goods that are not low in fat.

Students are also offered other food choices instead of the regular meal. While the percentages favored offering healthier choices, one wonders why the junk food items are even offered at all.

Consider this, is your 6-year-old prepared to make good nutritional decisions? Probably not.

“For example, elementary schools were more likely to offer 100% juice (53 percent), bottled water (46 percent), and green salad or fruit (40 percent) than less nutritious items such as soft drinks (12 percent), candy (15 percent), and French-fried potatoes (17 percent).”

Information on this study can be found here:
http://www.schoolnutrition.org/Index.aspx?id=1970