Archive | August, 2012

Back To School: the brown bag

26 Aug



Most of the school districts in the country have just finished with their first week of school.  As a first year teacher I am relearning what it means to need to bring your lunch to school everyday.  I know that teaching isn’t the only profession with an almost non-existant lunch break. So, what do we grownups do about lunch?  We need to revert back to a childhood strategy: the brown bag.

Being active in the field of public health has exposed me to many health conundrums that individuals must work to overcome despite the fact that the real answers to these problems can only be solved by city planning and public policy.  One such problem: food deserts. The food scenes in these deserts are dominated by fast food restaurants and mini-marts.  You can drive for miles without seeing a healthy food option.  These food deserts impact the health of lower-income, both urban and rural, communities across the country.  For a Celiac, the prevalence of food deserts are exponentially greater because options that are typically considered “healthy” are  often unavailable to us. A gluten-free-food-desert is an area with very limited GF options.  Maybe it is near where you live. Maybe it is where near you work. Either way these GF deserts make planning a necessity for any successful Celiac.

My current job happens to be in a food desert.  When my school had a faculty meeting we had to pass up six proximal pizza places because none of them had a salad option.  We ended up picking Lido’s pizza which was much further away than the other six pizza options near my school.

The lunch break for a teacher can more accurately be called a lunch moment.  We have about twenty minutes to take care of anything personal (eating, restroom, making phone calls, organizing, grabbing something we left in the car, etc.), then it is back into the trenches.

This is where the brown paper bag comes into play.  I don’t have time to run out to a local fast food place to grab lunch.  To boot, none of the places near me have viable GF options.  My school is surrounded by a buffalo wings place, Chick-fil-A, a couple of pizza places and a supermarket whose buffet is made up of chicken strips, mac n’ cheese and fresh baked bread.  The only viable solution to daily hunger-induced grumpiness (grumpy teachers aren’t good for the children) I could come up with is packing my lunch.

my lunch bag

So what should we put into these brown bags?  I like to pack a combination of nutritious and filling foods.  For example, blueberries are great for you but if you are hungry they really aren’t going to do the trick. That being said, opting for filling or calorie laden foods at the expense of nutrition will eventually wear your health down, breaking down your immune defenses and daily stamina.  If your job requires interacting with lots of people then you really need to make sure your immune defenses are at their best.

Here are some of the things I will have in my lunch this week.  Keep in mind that packing a lunch often requires either planning and prepping the night before or getting up a little bit earlier than you would like.
MONDAY

Using my favorite tupperware from Target, I pack the tupperware full of dark leafy greens, leftover meat (did you make chicken or steak this weekend? Save leftovers!) and grilled eggplant.  I do not like dressing.  It is messy, it makes the salad limp and the ingredients always make me nervous. Instead of dressing, I use other components like meat or grilled veggies to compliment the salad.  I think of it like a breadless sandwich.

Grilled Eggplant Recipe:

1. Slice eggplant vertically


2. Heat up a grill-pan or sauté pan

3. Cover both sides of the sliced eggplant with a light coating of olive oil

4. Season with salt and pepper. Feel free to spice up your seasoning by using onion powder, chili powder, paprika etc.

5. Let the eggplant cook on each side for about a minute and a half.  When the sides look dark (they will turn from off-white to an olive green) they are ready!

Once your salad is ready pack an apple, a bag of baby carrots and a yogurt.  Don’t forget utensils! If you don’t finish everything that is ok! You can nibble what is left on your commute home. Your goal should be bringing the perfect amount of food but if you have to miscalc on that you would way rather have too much than too little.
WEDNESDAY

Wednesday I am packing a good old fashioned sandwich. The best GF sandwich bread is Udi’s whole grain loaf (the one with the green label!). It stays together really well, it isn’t too dry/crumbly and it has a nostalgia-inducing classic sandwich bread taste. 

When you buy sandwich meat at the grocery store make sure it is GF! Giant market (this is an east coast thing) has GF meat at their deli (it is labeled and everything!).  I have been using honey-roasted turkey, sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, dijon mustard, cracked pepper and (of course) I sub out iceberg lettuce and opt for dark leafy greens. Don’t forget to pack up snacks likes carrots, berries, yogurt, rice chips or a banana.

FRIDAY

Let’s say it is the end of the week and your groceries are running low.  What do you do?  One of my favorite lunches is leftover chipotle burrito bowls.  Chipotle (or Qdoba) has all GF ingredients for their burrito bowls.  Chipotle is notorious for overstuffing their bowls. I can never finish them! So, to facilitate the leftover lunch making process, I divide the bowl in half before I start eating.  By dividing it in half early on, I guarantee that I will have enough leftovers to make my lunch the next day.

Don’t have any leftovers like this?  You can make a salad with dark leafy greens but instead of using leftover meat or eggplant, make your own dressing.  My personal favorite is an orange vinaigrette. You should make this the night before because there is no way you are going to be down to supreme oranges early in the morning!

Here is how it works:

1-2 oranges

1 tablespoon minced shallot (sweated with a splash of rice wine vinegar)

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

chopped herbs of your choice (dill, tarragon, basil etc)

salt and pper to taste

splash of olive oil

Instructions:

Remove the peels from the oranges using a sharp knife, cutting all the way through the pith. Section the oranges into supremes by cutting between each membrane. Click here for a “how to” on cutting out supremes. Squeeze each membrane of its juices into a bowl (save this for dressing!). Corasely chop the orange sections and place in the bowl with the juices. Then add the sweated shallots, vinegar and herbs to the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the splay of olive oil.

You can make this fancier and more complicated by adding diced cucumber to the dressing OR you can make this recipe simpler and quicker to assemble by taking out the shallots and/or herbs.

Unlike dressing you buy at the store, this dressing is made of 100% fresh ingredients, no preservatives AND it is nutritious. Fresh oranges and herbs are great for you!  Instead of adding empty calories to your salad you end up adding vitamin C, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

As for kids, a lot of my ideas are for a grown-up palate, although I do find that Celiac kids have pretty sophisticated taste for their ages!  When it comes to packing a kids lunch try and do things that will look like what all the other kids have.  Again, I recommend Udi’s bread because it really does look and feel like classic glutinous bread. Udi’s also has cookies that look and taste great.  I would try and stay away from GF products that…look like gluten free products. Being GF can be very isolating which is difficult for children to cope with. Making sure to buy products that are similar to what the other kids are having is a great tool for any Celiac of GF parent.  Kinnikinnick has delicious products for kids like their graham crackers.  These don’t look exactly like what the other kids will have but they really are delicious. They even have an animal cracker that will work well with school lunches!  In addition, for kids, you can always stick with the basics.  A PBJ with some baby carrots and string cheese.

Enjoy your lunches! If I get bored with these, as I am sure I will over the next few months, I will post my new creations!  This way we can keep our palates and our bodies happy and healthy throughout the year.

-CC

Expectations.

4 Aug

Expect: to consider reasonable, due or necessary

Up until very recently my GF expectations have been low.  I did not consider it reasonable that all people should know what gluten is. I did not feel that I was due a gluten free meal at catered or work events.  I did not think it was necessary that people put in extra effort to accommodate my dietary needs when I could always work my way around it on my own.  I expected people to be accepting of the fact that I might bring my own dinner to a catered event but I did not expect the event to accommodate me. Even though precedent dictates that people with alternative diets should be accommodated (look at how mainstream providing vegetarian options has become), for some reason, to my shame, I did not hold those same high expectations for myself or my gluten free community.

Now, my expectations have changed.

I realized that my expectations were being shaped by experience and patterns and not based on what is reasonable, due or necessary. It took  sustained positive experiences to break the pattern of my experiences with food to adjust my expectations.

I was recently accepted into Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to close the achievement gap in the United States.  In order to begin teaching in the Fall I needed to complete a six week training program.  The catch? Room and board were to be provided. Most people rejoice at the news that they get free room and board for six weeks but as someone with Celiac Disease, I expected nothing but trouble.  My experience with Teach For America (TFA) has changed my expectations for the better.  Check out what happened:

The room and board arrangements at Temple University for close to 1,000 corps members and staff members were made by my new organization Teach For America.  Although Temple University already had the infrastructure in place to accommodate people on the gluten free diet, it would not have been operational during the summer without the insistence of Teach For America. The fact that TFA went out of their way to communicate with the dining hall specifically about GF options is pretty astounding for several reasons:

1. TFA was accommodating close to 1,000 people’s needs.  They made accommodations for vegetarian diets, Kosher diets, vegan diets, rooming issues due to disabilities and many more issues.  There were so many needs and people to accommodate. I was so pleased that the Celiacs did not fall through the cracks.

2. TFA had to coordinate with twelve public schools in Philadelphia, finding summer teaching jobs for 800 corp members.  This took much time and effort due to sheer mass of teachers, schools and students. Add in the complicated and ever-twisting bureaucratic channels that TFA had to navigate and I think we can consider the GF accommodations close to a miracle.

Temple designated GF toaster with my Udi’s bagel warming up.

Temple’s GF zone — the GF food options are located in a designated “gluten-free/Kosher zone.” It remains unclear to me why you would combine the Kosher and GF options but…what can you do!

Temple’s GF microwave — Temple had many frozen GF products stored in a freezer in the GF zone.

I was very impressed with Temple’s gluten free infrastructure.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. The food was bland and unhealthful but that wasn’t because it was GF. It was college cafeteria food!  In addition to the GF zone and availability of GF products the dining hall provided all TFA corps members with bagged lunch. The people with restricted diets (ranging from GF to Kosher to Peanut Free) would pick up their lunches in a separate, designated area.  Each food item (entrée, sides, snacks and drinks) was labeled with the person’s name and dietary restriction. Mine read: Cecilia Bonaduce — Gluten Free

In addition to the five weeks at Temple I spent one week in Washington DC at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel.  The accommodations there were even more impressive than at Temple.  The hotel served breakfast sandwiches every morning for the Teach For America people but at the end of the buffet line there were individually packaged and labeled GF breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs and fruit.  When they served Italian food for lunch they had a labeled and separate area with GF pasta and sauce.  Though the salad had croutons mixed in it took nothing more than a simple request to one of the waiters to receive a fresh crouton-free salad.

This was my absolute favorite food moment:

The hotel provided bagged lunch and instead of a wilted, undressed salad or a couple of carrot sticks (my old expectations for an “accommodation.”) I opened my brown bag to find a brown rice wrap.  Real food!

After this experience I realized that even if you are going to a catered event with 1,000 people like I did this summer we should be accommodated.  I have officially raised my expectations.  I am hoping for a Pygmalion effect of sorts in which my high expectations will yield positive results in terms of promoting awareness and making accommodations for gluten free people as reasonable, due and necessary  as providing options for vegetarians has become in recent years.

It is time that you, just like me, adjust your expectations in order to protect your health and well-being. I used to hold low expectations because I did not think that GF accommodations were possible. I am telling you now that I am positive that it is possible. I witnessed such accommodations this summer and I hope to continue to experience such positive and inclusive events.  Furthermore, in the event that accommodations are not met, I will be holding myself to higher expectations as well. I expect myself to be an advocate, to speak up and to stand up for what I believe is reasonable, due and necessary.

-CC

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