LocalHarvest Newsletter, August 27, 2010

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

The quality of food served in our nation's schools has been the focus of much attention recently, and if you have so much as walked through a school cafeteria in the last decade, you know why. Our kids deserve better. We at LocalHarvest have great admiration for those who are working to reform the complicated system that is our national school lunch program. A significant opportunity will come when the House takes up the Child Nutrition Act after their summer recess. The current school nutrition bill expires on September 30th, so stand by for an action-packed couple of weeks in late September. If you want updates, you can sign up with our friends at Slow Food USA who have been working hard on this.

There ends the overtly political part of this article. The remainder is devoted to another, perhaps even more difficult aspect of our children's nutrition: the food we feed them at home.

When I was a little kid, maybe five or six, my mother got religion about nutrition. One day the cupboard held Honeycomb cereal and Wonder Bread, and the next day we were eating Grapenuts and dense Russian black bread. As you might imagine, plenty of whining ensued. We still ate dessert and very occasional processed snacks, but by and large, the junk was gone and the garden was in. Nutrition was taken seriously. Mom took a lot of flak from all of us, but her response always was, "I feed you this way because I love you and I want what's best for you."

Kind of hard to argue with that.

Yet so often we parents take the easier route. We feed our kids a steady diet of mac and cheese and hot dogs, bananas and sugar and call it "kid food", as if the young of our species require soft, sweet, pasty food for survival. By and large, the culinary expectations of children in our society are ridiculously low. That could be chalked up to a cultural oddity if the consequences weren't so high. Research on the impact of daily nutrition on a child's ability to learn in school is unequivocal: kids must have real food to learn. And in this age of soaring obesity rates, the fact that eating habits picked up in childhood carry over to adulthood is a grave concern.

It's hard. We all know that in a media environment of merciless child-focused junk food marketing, parents' job is made even harder. For those of us who want to choose really high quality foods, the definitions and choices can be dizzying. I have a lot of compassion for families who are too busy, worn out, overscheduled, and unsupported to cook good food and model disciplined eating habits. But it's worth the effort. Kids aren't born knowing why adequate protein, vegetables, and whole grains are important. They need to be taught, and until they can make good choices for themselves, good choices must be made for them. I think Mom was right: it's what love requires.

Last year, my daughter's daycare was considering making some changes to its food plan. They invited input from parents, and I ended up writing a document with some suggestions for serving more nutrient-dense foods, getting kids to eat them, setting priorities, and budgeting for higher quality foods. It's by no means comprehensive or authoritative, but I offer a version of this document below in the hope that it may spark some conversation about how we as a nation, and as individuals, feed ourselves and our children. We love to hear from you.

As always, take good care and eat well,

Erin Barnett

From the LocalHarvest Store:

CSAs - they aren't just for summers anymore! The LocalHarvest directory includes more than 1000 CSAs that offer winter shares, some of whom sell these shares through our store. To see if there's one near you, click here and then enter your zip code to narrow the search.

In many parts of the country, it's time to start planning the fall garden. Running low on seeds for some of your favorite cool season veggies? Seeds for fall garden can be found in plenty in our seed department.

Have you browsed through the LocalHarvest catalog lately? There's some intriguing items in there, all from family farmers, direct to you. Want to guess how many products America's family farmers now offer through our catalog? I'll give you a minute to think. Got it?

Did you guess 8,199? You did? Amazing, isn't it?

Feeding Our Children Well

Changing a family's diet comes down to gradually serving more of what is healthy, and less of what is not. Change happens more effectively when taken in small steps. No one wants the kids (or the adults!) to freak out with too many changes all at once. At the same time, it doesn't seem very helpful to kids when adults make food choices based on what they think kids will eat, instead of what's healthiest. My dietician friend tells me that it's the adults' job to serve the best meals they can, and the kid's job to eat when she's hungry. Sometimes it takes many exposures (like 8-15) before some kids will like a new food. Hopefully, taking it slow, serving food that really does taste good, and having some adventurous eaters in the group will help those who are a little reluctant.


Special Offer for LH Readers: YES!

If you ask me, there's little enough good news in today's media. Not so at YES! magazine, where positive ideas and pragmatic suggestions for better living are what's worth writing about. It's a hopeful read, and well worth a spot on your bedside table, I say. I got a sneak preview at the current issue which is devoted to the notion of resilience. It is filled with thoughtful articles about how we as a people can face the future with creativity and integrity, even as we round out our personal skill set for maximum resilience.

Again this year, the good folks at YES! are offering a great deal on an annual subscription to LocalHarvest newsletter readers. Clicking on this link will take you to a page where you can subscribe to a year's worth of YES! for just $10. Really, just $10 (and there's no advertising!) If you order soon, you'll receive the not to be missed "Ready for Anything" issue. Onward!

Camp Joy Tomato Basil Pasta

I guess most people have a food that defines summer. For me this tomato pasta dish is it. I mean it is IT. The meal I wait for. All year long. The dish that means summer is really, truly here. This is a little problematic because where I live the tomatoes don't come on in any kind of serious quantities until the end of August, and we could get snow in October. And it could last until May. It would be so much better for my mental health if summer began for me when, say, the first zucchini ripened in June. But one has only so much control over these things, and my personal gastronomy is ruled by a simple formula: tomatoes = summer. I suspect I'm in good company.