Ever since our meeting at the Capital Area Food Bank, I've struggled with the nutritional aspects in regard to are food bank recipients getting appropriate nutrition? The average bag of food from a pantry is almost pure starch -- rice, potatoes, pasta -- with a few nutritionally devoid (almost) cans of over-processed veggies. How do families with children get a proper, balanced meal? I don't have kids, but I have wondered nonetheless. I am assuming that a good majority of these children eat one (or more) meals at their schools. But we've all heard how many school districts serve poor quality meals -- pizza, french fries, "chicken" patties, etc. Is that actually what kids in the Austin-area eat?
And then in today's paper, there was my answer. The story by Addie Broyles on local school lunches, inspired by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. It turns out, "Austin schools have been working for more than 20 years to improve the quality of the food, while still meeting federal nutritional standards and staying on budget." In AISD, they do baked sweet potato fries, whole wheat hamburger buns, lean hamburger meat, and even have signs up asking students if they've eaten their fruit or vegetable for the day. They've made the conscious effort to improve the meals of their students. So thanks to Addie's story, I feel a bit more at ease, knowing kids have access to a decent meal.
Back to the food bank project, what have I been eating? There's been a good amount of oatmeal in the mornings, supplemented by a fresh banana or canned fruit cup. The bean dip I made from dried cannelini beans (see previous post) has been eaten with carrot sticks. Dinners have been more interesting! Those russet potatoes? Gnocchi! Baked the potatoes, let them cool, peel them, put through a ricer (or food mill), toss with flour, make a well & add an egg yolk and fresh ground nutmeg, and combine. Roll into 3/4" thick ropes, and cut into 1" lengths. You can leave them as pillow, or lightly squish them with a fork to make indentations, which help to hold your sauce. I squished them, and in a not very patient manner, and they came out rather ugly! Toss them in boiling water, and about 2 minutes later when they float to the top, they're ready. The first night, I tossed them with leftover pasta sauce, and the second night I did them in a brown butter sauce. I melted 2 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet, and slowly let it brown, so it gets that nice caramelly color and deep nuttiness. I tossed in some chopped fresh sage from my garden. One tablespoon of butter actually would have been fine for one serving; both nights, I ate the fresh green beans from my original shopping trip.
I found a can of black beans in my pantry, and made black bean burgers with them (a little protein, where the gnocchi didn't account for much). It probably wasn't the best of recipes, but not horrible; the one in today's paper in the school lunch article looks good, AND it uses oats! (Next time...) The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of salsa, but I used a chipotle sauce from the fridge. I think salsa, BBQ sauce, chipotles in adobo, etc. would all be fine -- the object is flavor. I did add too many breadcrumbs, so the burgers were a bit dry after I pan-fried them with cooking spray. Fries and burgers go hand in hand , but I wanted to do something a bit different with my potatoes, so I made potato chips. I used the slicer blade on my box grater (or a mandoline, or a very sharp knife), and tossed them with a touch of olive oil & salt. Bake at 475 for about 10 minutes, until golden. Remove to a rack, and they crisp up nicely. I sauteed a little onion and red bell pepper, and added the can of corn. The corn isn't as nutritious as say, a fresh leafy green vegetable, but it was a decently balanced meal.
And we can't forget potato salad! I boiled a couple of potatoes, let them cool, and peeled them. This recipe used a little pickle juice and some dill pickle in it, as well as red onion, celery, mayo & mustard.I swear I've barely used half the bag of potatoes, maybe not even that much. Good thing they keep well.
This challenge certainly makes me think more about what I spend on what I like to eat. I am accustomed to shopping in the bulk departments of grocery stores, but I think the average shopper is scared off by them. They see the word "bulk" and think they have to buy a huge quantity. In reality, you can buy a tablespoon of something or two pounds of it. Retailers receive the items in huge 25 pound (and up) bags, but customers can save money and space in their pantry by just buying what they need for a recipe. Get to know the bulk department of the store you shop in the most. HEB's have their "Nature's Harvest" area, which has spices, flours, nuts, legumes/beans, grains, and more. Places like Central Market and Whole Foods will have those, plus much more. Making an Asian dish? The $5 bottle of Chinese 5-spice powder doesn't exactly appear feasible when on a budget. How about a 50 cent bag instead? And now to change tracks....
My friend and fellow participant in this project makes a great point in her blog, Savor the Earth, about how Texas' economy never really tanked in this fiscal depression like it did in places like California. Yet while the state marches on, it's citizens are second from the bottom in food security. Where will their next meal come from? Can we, as some of the citizens who at least have enough food to fill our bellies, go about social change? Can we start our own food revolution to see that everyone gets what they need? The schools are a great starting point. But what about for adults who are struggling to get by? They still deserve a quality meal, made from "real food" as Michael Pollan says in his latest book (and my current read), Food Rules, An Eater's Manual. Not processed foods, real, whole foods. The quality and quantity of foods both count here.
Pick up a copy. Check out Jamie Oliver. Find out what foods are served in your kids' school district. Support your local food bank with time or money, or both, if you can. Can you afford to eat everyday? Can you afford not to?