What’s worse: a mayo sandwich or school lunch?

The fact that I used to eat the occasional mayonnaise sandwich – on Wonder Bread – might have something to do with my current cholesterol problem.

Or it might not, as high cholesterol runs rampant in my family.

That said, I’m sure it didn’t help that I truly did eat mayo sandwiches in grade school, then graduated to ‘kosher salami on white with mayo’ in high school (my best friend’s brother was so horrified, he phoned his parents at what the crazy shiksa girl was eating…but that’s another story.)

Now, of course, the thought of a mayo sandwich is truly revolting.

How it wasn’t revolting then is beyond me. But hey, I was a kid. I didn’t know any better. I ate what was there.

Which is why Lunch Wars, by Amy Kalafa, is a must-read for anyone concerned about the food served in our nation’s schools.

Are schools serving up Hellman’s or Miracle Whip sandwiches on Wonder Bread?


But they might as well be, given the poor nutritional value of school lunches.

In Lunch Wars, Ms. Kalafa details the many serious failings in our nation’s school lunch programs.  There are scores of issues with the lunches served in most schools – from the inner city to the wealthiest suburb. “I found equally poor quality food and toxic food environments in both wealthy and poor school districts.”

She goes on to say, “I didn’t realize that the school system was actually undermining our family’s healthy food habits until I went to my daughter’s middle school… she had been purchasing Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispie Treats, French fries and soft drinks on a daily basis.”

In Lunch Wars, statistics abound regarding childhood obesity and nutritional failings in our schools:

“By their own assessment, our government determined that American schools are flunking lunch: A 2007 School Nutrition Dietary Assessment concluded that the vast majority of schools in America exceed USDA guidelines for the quantities of saturated fat, total fat and sodium in school lunches.”

Further, Ms. Kalafa explains that change is incredibly difficult because schools depend on meeting governmental regulations – many of which defy logic – to qualify for subsidies and reimbursements. Worse, many schools actually use food service to MAKE MONEY and are thus more interested in the revenue potential of what they are serving rather than in the nutritional value for the kids

It’s a sad state of affairs. And those suffering are the kids.

That said, Lunch Wars also features success stories. In particular, I was captivated by the stories of two kids who incited huge change in their schools.  In Virginia, Nina Gonzalez successfully petitioned to add vegetarian dishes to her high school’s lunch menu and has testified before Congress.  And seventh grader (that’s 11 years old, people) Gabby Scharlach wrote a “Proposal for an Edible Schoolyard at Miller Creek Middle School,” and then got it built.  Her blog, Miller Creek Edible Garden tells her tale in photos – and OK, she clearly had help (her mother is a landscape architect), but still, what this 7th grader did — and is still doing today — is inspiring.

If you want to do something about the food program in your kids’ schools, this book is for you. At its core, Lunch Wars is a ‘how-to’ book for inciting change in your own school district, with many step-by-step, realistic suggestions.

It’s also worth a visit to their really well-done website. Amy Kalafa is a filmmaker whose movie, Two Angry Moms, “shows not only on what is wrong with school food, it offers strategies for overcoming roadblocks and getting healthy, good tasting, real food into school cafeterias. The movie explores the roles the federal government, corporate interests, school administration and parents play in feeding our country’s school kids.”

To read more about Lunch Wars, visit the BlogHer Lunch Wars page, where in addition to other book reviews, you’ll find interesting discussions like, ‘Do you know what your kids are really eating in school?’ and ‘School lunches I have known.

Disclosure: This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Especially, and sadly, the mayo sandwich part.


The Good, the Bad and the Lo-Co

A few days ago my friend Christine told me she was worried about me. “Why?” I asked. “Because,” she said, “You keep posting on your blog about the things you are doing wrong, like eating burgers.”  After a pause she added, “Are you even trying to eat right?”

So, I thought I should mention a few things…to, um, set the record straight:

  • While writing last week’s burger post, I was actually lunching on a very healthy curried chick-pea salad…
  • The last time we went to the Shake Shack, I had a ‘bird dog’ instead of a burger, did not get a milkshake though I wanted one, and did not eat even a single fry. (OK, so I hate their fries, but still…)
  • Roasting in my oven right this moment is a veritable garden of vegetables: brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower & eggplant disks. Some are for dinner tonight, but I roasted them all at once to have them available for lunch this week…

But Christine’s comment really made me think about what I’m posting and why. Turns out, it’s far easier to write about my lo-co failings rather than my (marginal) successes.

Because I would never want to sound um, braggy.  Or worse, preach-y.

But in truth, this journey to lower my cholesterol without meds is a roller coaster. Every week I do some things that are good, lo-co-wise, AND some things that are not.

This week’s major failing was Keebler Fudge Stick cookies. After leaping of their own accord into my cart, I proceeded to eat the entire pack. By myself. My son never even saw the bag. Ridiculous, I know. And now, Christine, you are allowed to worry.

But then I manage to do something lo-co great. Even in the face of my fudge-stick-fiasco, I exercised EVERY SINGLE DAY this week. I am sure I’ve never done that before. So this week I hit both a lo-co-Keebler-low AND a lo-co-exercise-high. Is your head shaking? Mine is.

Sometimes, the dizzying highs and lows don’t even take a week.  Sometimes I ride that coaster from low to high in a matter of hours. Today, for example, I was hung over from too much wine last night, so of course I brunched on full-fat eggs accompanied by sausage & hash browns…and did not even consider exercising.

But a few hours later the guilt got to me (and/or the hangover wore off), so I dragged myself off the sofa, sliced every vegetable in my fridge and oven-roasted them all.

Perhaps I should change my name to Sybil.


The Lo-Co Burger-Off

Combine my inability to plan nightly low-cholesterol dinners (all right, any dinner) and the need to feed a teenaged boy who plays sports, and the all-too-frequent result is dinner at a burger joint.

So not lo-co, I know.  But it happens.

Worse, it’s happening more regularly because the famous ‘Shake Shack’ (chef Danny Meyer’s take on fast food) just opened in our town.  We’ve been there a few (ahem) times.

I decided it was time to think about this…not just pretend it wasn’t happening. So I tabulated the nutritional info of what I usually eat at the three burger places we like: Wendy’s, Five Guys and Shake Shack.  And though I knew a burger and fries was not a good meal choice, I was appalled at what I found.

First – they are all pretty bad.  All three chains.  None is far worse than any other.

Second – even my choice of the smallest hamburger option with a small/regular-sized fries has nearly HALF of the daily recommended calories and cholesterol, and nearly ALL of the total fat & saturated fat I should be consuming in 1 day, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.

And that doesn’t even include the small Frostee I always order at Wendy’s (for calcium, right?).  Nor the not-so-small beer offered at Shake Shack.

Huge sigh.

No-Cook, Single Serve   Half Whole Wheat Bagel with  Oatmeal vs Bagel w/ Lox 
Refrigerator Oatmeal1 Tbsp Whipped Cream Cheese, 1/2 oz lox
Nutrition FactsNutrition Facts
Servings   1.0Servings   1.0
Amount Per ServingAmount Per Serving
calories  231calories  18150calories
% Daily Value *% Daily Value *
Total Fat  6   g9   %Total Fat  14   g22   %-8Total Fat
Saturated Fat 1   g4   %Saturated Fat 2   g9   %-1Saturated Fat
Monounsaturated Fat 0   gMonounsaturated Fat 1   g-1Monosaturated Fat
Polyunsaturated Fat 3   gPolyunsaturated Fat 0   g3Polyunsaturated Fat
Trans Fat 0   gTrans Fat 0   g0Trans Fat
Cholesterol  3   mg1   %Cholesterol  8   mg3   %-5Cholesterol
Sodium  199   mg8   %Sodium  325   mg14   %-126Sodium
Potassium  438   mg13   %Potassium  0   mg0   %438Potassium
Total Carbohydrate  39   g13   %Total Carbohydrate  32   g11   %7Total Carbohydrates
Dietary Fiber  15   g59   %Dietary Fiber  4   g14   %11Dietary Fiber
Sugars  8   gSugars  5   g3Sugars
Protein  10   g20   %Protein  10   g20   %0Protein
Vitamin A5   %Vitamin A2   %
Vitamin C2   %Vitamin C0   %
Calcium35   %Calcium3   %
Iron16   %Iron10   %
Burger comparison, INCLUDING Fries.  All have lettuce, tomato, mayo & ketchup.  ShackBurger has cheese.  Five Guys fries are approximately half of an order of regular fries.  Wendy’s is a small fry order, Shake Shack is 1 order of regular fries.

Even without fries, it’s a bleak picture.  I’ll write a separate post that compares the burger & fries with a just-burger order, so you can see the difference.

But what’s immediately important is finding a healthier fast-food option for me (as it’s clear we will still be dining at fast food places.)  So here’s what I’ve decided:

  • Five Guys has basically NO lo-co alternative – their ‘veggie burger’ is just their toppings on a bun. I literally LOL at that. So I guess I’ll be skipping Five Guys trips and let that turn into a father/son dinner option.  Sad, but no choice – just looking at that 52 grams of fat has my head spinning.
  • Wendy’s has healthy choices like salads, but I just have trouble ordering them. They’re actually pretty good (annoyingly, my husband often orders them) but I just usually don’t choose them with the burger lure right there.  But I will now.
  • Shake Shack has a ‘Shroom Burger as a vegetarian option, but it is STUFFED with cheese, so totally not lo-co. In fact, it has nearly double the fat of a ShackBurger!
  • I did find ONE GREAT CHOICE that’s not a salad, is tasty and a much healthier/ lower cholesterol fast food choice than a burger and fries.  The Shake Shack Bird Dog is a healthy option – it’s a chicken sage sausage on a bun.  It is HALF the calories and cholesterol, and 1/3 of the fat of their ShackBurger:
[table “4” not found /]

So, I’ll be bird-doggin’ it from now on.

That should leave enough calories for a beer with my dinner, don’t you think?


A so-not-lo-co post about a book

A brief post that has nothing at all to do with Going Lo-Co. Rather, it’s about my other passion: reading/writing.

Recently, I reviewed Amor Towles’ new novel, Rules of Civility, for the BlogHer Book Club (#BHBC).  I loved this book — Towles’ deft prose and vivid scene setting made 1930s Depression Era NYC come alive. Oh, and the characters and plot were fabulous too.

For those interested in books you can read my review, Rules of Civility: It All Goes Back to the Jazz Club, here – and there are other reviews as well.

For those not into books, I promise to get back to writing about low cholesterol soon…

In fact, a Going Lo-Co reader just emailed me a fascinating question about why some heart-healthy diets endorse NO nuts at all, while many low-cholesterol diet suggestions (including some I’ve posted here) SUGGEST nuts, um, DAILY. As she said, “What’s a girl to do?”

So, I promise a post on that topic shortly…though it’s going to take a bit of time to do some research on that particular conundrum.

I am always interested in your ideas and suggestions – please feel free to post a comment or email me anytime.  Going Lo-Co Email Link


Powered Up

Power restored!  More importantly, all the downed wires blocking our road were cleared, so cars (and emergency vehicles) can drive to our homes.  Woot!

Post Hurricane Irene/Power Back On To-Do List:

  • Most important, I emailed and called the Deputy Fire Chief (he gave me his card with cell phone!) to thank him for getting the street cleared – it was obvious he managed things with the power company.
  • Refrigerator Cleansing.  Should have done before power came back on but didn’t have the energy, but have now cleaned and disinfected every inch of that completely empty refrigerator.  Lemony freshness mixes well with cold air.
  • For future tepid rather than cold showers, the camp shower was dried and stored in garage.  Loved loved loved my hot shower this am.
  • Today’s project:  I will be building a shrine (ok, a box) to hold my three amazing lanterns, a mountain of D batteries and my lifeblood these past days:  my 3 new iPhone battery chargers.  They will be stored in a place of honor.  (A place of honor that is easily accessible for the next storm.)
  • Yesterdays’ phone call to a local Generator Company was unsuccessful as their ‘mailbox is full.’  LOL.  Will place the generator company in my iPhone favorites and will be redialing daily until we get an appointment.
  • Someone has to call tree guys and get the enormous tree trunks littering the side of our small street cleared away. Oh, and the snapped limbs hanging on by bark threating our roof – have to get those removed too. But with others still without power, this is a job for next week.
  • Stop going out for burgers and start planning lo-co meals again.

Thanks to my local friends for all their offers of help and use of their cars while our street was impassable with our cars (and us) trapped behind downed trees and wires.

Now that my scanner is up and running, expect the next post to be for the delicious Grilled Chile-Lime Arctic Char recipe we cooked on the grill for my birthday-in-the-dark dinner.

Off to the store to restock the fridge, and get fixings for dinner tonight.  I’m thinking a low-maintenance low cholesterol meal is in order (still exhausted after all this).  So maybe pasta with vegetables and pesto…