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Beyond chicken patties: How to improve school lunch without spending more

Kate Adamick thinks changing school lunch is as easy as changing the way cafeterias spend money.

Kate Adamick is a firm believer in the old saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” A food systems consultant and co-founder of Cook for America, she has put the adage to work in hundreds of school districts nationwide through her Lunch Teachers culinary boot camps. In these weeklong workshops, Adamick teaches food service staff how to most efficiently manage their limited budgets -- to the penny -- toward providing students with freshly prepared, whole foods-based meals.

Adamick’s new book, Lunch Money: Serving Healthy School Food in a Sick Economy, captures those strategies in print, from capitalizing on commodity food products to generating additional revenue from a breakfast-in-the-classroom program. It's likely to make a valuable read for school food service directors working to revamp menus in accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new school rules and determining how best to utilize an additional subsidy of 6 cents per meal. But Adamick's clear reiteration of the importance of a better school lunch now also makes the book worthwhile for school food reformers, teachers, parents, and anyone who cares about what kids eat at school.

I spoke with Adamick recently about her new book, the new federal school lunch rules, chocolate milk, and the role of "lunch ladies" in all this. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

Q. You’ve worked as a corporate attorney, a chef in a four-star French restaurant, and you’ve owned a large wholesale and retail bakery. Why did school lunch become important to you?

A. Obviously, I change careers more often than some people change their clothes. About 10 years ago, I had just sold my bakery business when a friend asked me, "What are you going to do when you grow up this time?" When she asked, I had just finished reading one of the early reports about the rising rates of childhood obesity in America. I decided then and there that I wanted to do something about it. School food turned out to be -- at least for me -- the clearest route for effecting positive change in the lives of as many children as possible.

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With her new gardening book, Michelle Obama stays away from politics

On the cover of her new book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, Michelle Obama is smiling into the camera and holding a huge basket of vegetables, the bounty of a garden planted, she writes, as “a starting point for something bigger.” That something bigger is the first lady's campaign to get Americans -- and especially children -- thinking differently about what they eat. And behind the pride in her eyes is something a little trickier, a sly nod to the fact that for the past three years, she’s been getting a lot of kids to eat their vegetables.

It’s a challenge Jon Stewart summed up best recently when the first lady appeared on the Daily Show to promote her book. He asked, “Wouldn’t you have been more successful with, say, colonization of Mars?” She laughed at the question, but, in the book, she makes it clear that she takes this impossible mission very seriously.

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Processed red meat: The worst of two worlds

Photo by Masa Assassin.

The meat industry has fallen on hard times. After a steady decline in meat consumption in past years, it took a couple of hard hits last month, with the breaking of the pink slime scandal, followed a week later by the publication of a Harvard study linking red meat to a higher mortality risk. If you’re feeling a little less hungry for a burger these days, it’s no wonder.

Pink slime aside, does red meat really deserve such a bad name? Or is it what’s added to red meat that’s to blame? The Harvard study was not the first to suggest that red meat is bad for us, but it was the first to differentiate unprocessed and processed red meat and identify a relatively greater risk involved when eating a processed product than, say, pure, unadulterated steak. What makes processed meat worse? The study authors surmise it’s the additives and preservatives.

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