Feeding Your Family: Reading, Writing and Eating!

By Larissa Phillips

Should Schools Be Teaching Kids about Food?

Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

Where to Start?

If there's no food committee at your child's school, consider starting one and pursuing some of these ideas: o Find out if there's a local farm or a farmers' market for a class trip.

Get the PTA or PTO involved in improving school lunches - and then network with other schools in your area.

Create a recommended snack list.

Teach an after-school cooking class, or ask your child's teacher if you can come in once a week and cook with the kids. Remember, even changing one thing can make a difference.
Mortar-and-Pestle Pesto

Sure, there are easier ways to get pesto into your kitchen, but I have found that most kids, from my own toddler up to the tweens in the cooking classes I teach, love making it the old-fashioned way - with a mortar and pestle. And the taste really is much better when the basil has been pounded. Leftovers are great to pack for lunch.


  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry with paper towels

  • 3 Tbs. pine nuts or walnuts

  • 1 tsp. coarse sea salt

  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 Tbs. butter, softened (optional)

  • 1 lb. cooked pasta


1. Cut off the stem and then lightly smash the garlic in the mortar, just enough to split and loosen the skin, which you can then remove and discard.

2. Add a few leaves of the basil, the nuts and salt into the mortar with the garlic. Using the pestle, mash all the ingredients in the mortar. Keep adding basil leaves. When they have been ground into a paste, add the cheese and grind into the mixture.

3. When thoroughly mashed, scrape into large bowl. Add the olive oil and then the butter, if using, distributing it evenly.

4. When mixing the pesto with the pasta, dilute it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked.

5. Toss with cooked drained pasta.

My son learned two incredible things in school last year. One was how to read. The other was that he loved salad.

Last spring, my son's first-grade class made weekly trips to a nearby inner-city vegetable farm. They planted lettuce. They searched for bugs in the compost. They tasted spinach right out of the ground. At the end of the school year, they harvested their greens and had a salad party.

"Mom," my son, who is a champion among picky eaters, said to me repeatedly that evening. "I loved that salad."

Maybe it's too much to expect that schools take on the challenge of teaching kids about food and nutrition and the joy of a fresh garden salad. We are having enough trouble with reading and math, and keeping art and gym and recess in the schools.

On the other hand, something's got to be done. We as a nation are experiencing an unprecedented epidemic of diet-related diseases. Thirty-percent of American children are overweight and at least that amount are expected to develop preventable, diet-related diseases like diabetes in their lifetimes. As our nation gathers forces to reverse this epidemic, it is only natural that the schools come under scrutiny.

On paper, school food has never been healthier. Strict Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations enacted in 1996 proscribe the exact amounts of fat and calories allowed in school lunches. But the reality is a little different: fast food is sold on school grounds, candy is given out by teachers, vending machines are stocked with junk, and cafeteria staff dish out highly processed meals.

It's gotten so bad that a spontaneous, grass-roots movement has virtually exploded across the country. Parents and teachers are forming groups, creating gardens, writing petitions, teaching cooking classes, trying to change the way food is represented and served in schools. But there are roadblocks and resistance.

"Many school food services feel that their lunch is already healthy," says Amy Kalafa, one of Two Angry Moms, a film team that is about to release a documentary about school lunch in America ( And, Kalafa says, there is the fear that if food is too healthy, kids won't eat it. "Add to that budgets, commodities, processors, vendors, safety, branded marketing, government regulations and myriad other issues," she says, "and you will begin to hear many excuses for why [improving school lunches] can't be done."

But Kalafa's documentary shows otherwise - and so do countless undocumented examples across the country.

My son is starting second grade this month. I look forward to watching him grow this year into a more confident reader - and, under the influences of teachers, volunteers and parents, a more confident eater as well.

Larissa Phillips is the contributing food editor for United Parenting Publications.

More Resources:

Feeding Your Family Archives
Web Wise: Better Breakfasts