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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Back To School, Part 1: Start The Day Off Right

The first thing every student needs to have a good day is a healthy breakfast. Author Janet Poppendieck talks about what is right and wrong with school lunch.

kids walking to a school bus

Photo: woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

Every good school day begins with a tasty, nutritious breakfast.

Eat Your Colors

Janet Poppendieck thinks fresh and healthy foods should be a part of every child’s school day. In her book Free For All: Fixing School Food in America she talks about why that’s not happening.

Throughout her research, instead of colorful fruits and vegetables on school lunch plates, she noticed mostly monochromatic meals, specifically “golden meals.” Those tend to include a breaded chicken patty, chicken nuggets, a roll and an order of potatoes, usually fries or some sort of tater-tot-like product. But how does a meal like this pass the nutritional standards?

She explains that there are two approaches to menu planning: food-based and nutrient-based. In the food-based approach, which is the one used by the majority of school systems, the meal must include these five components:

  • 1 serving of fluid milk
  • 1 serving of meat or a meat alternative (i.e. peanut butter or beans)
  • 1 serving of a grain
  • 1 fruit
  • 1 vegetable

That looks good in theory, but if you cover the protein with breading as with nuggets and patties, and if you count potatoes and corn as vegetables – and the regulations do – the meal ends up being very starchy. “I think we would have better meals if ‘Eat Your Colors’ was our primary standard,” she says.


Photo: University of California Press

Janet Poppendieck is the author of "Free For All: Fixing School Food In America." She is also a recipient of a 2011 James Beard Leadership Award.

Learning Over Lunch

Poppendieck goes on to say that there is a tendency with academic administrators to regard the lunch period as an interruption in the school day. “I think of it as a black box model,” she says. “Kids go in one side and come out the other side and hopeful they’re fed, but that’s not part of education. That’s our break time.”

But this is the wrong attitude to have. She says a fundamental characteristic of our species is that we have to teach our young what’s good to eat. “If you look at our national eating habits,” she adds, “it’s an area where education is urgently and vitally needed.”

Her ideal scenario would be to see the cafeteria as a classroom where students learn where food comes from, how to select a healthy diet, and “the ways in which food can add not just vitality and energy, but joy to life.”

More: You can read and listen to the complete conversation with Janet Poppendieck here and here.

Silky Strawberry Smoothie

This smoothie includes tofu, but you’d never know it! This protein source is important so that you don’t experience the sugar rush that comes from eating fruit by itself.

This recipe takes only a few minutes to make, and as Chef Daniel Orr says, “The hardest part of it is cleaning up the blender.”

Silky Strawberry Smoothie pouring into a glass

Photo: Jessie Wallner/WFIU

This vegan smoothie could not be easier to make!

Silky Strawberry Smoothie


  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 2 ounces silken tofu
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 scoop ice

Cooking Directions

  1. Combine ingredients and blend until smooth and silky.
  2. Pour into chilled glass. Serve with a straw and garnish with a strawberry and a slice of orange.

Frittata Of Squash Blossoms With Sauteed New Potatoes

Frittatas are baked, open-faced Italian omelets that you can eat directly from the pan if you like.

This one uses squash blossoms. Chef Orr picked these blossoms from his compost bin. Even though we’re only using parts of a half dozen blossoms for in this recipe, he picked all the fully-bloomed flowers. That’s because the flowers will wilt if left on the plant, but they will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days — long enough to invite friends over for weekend brunch.

This recipe uses a number of Chef Daniel Orr’s spice blends. You can read the recipes for the Aux Poivres Spice Blend, New Regime Spice Blend, and Mediterranean Herb Blend.

And don’t forget the goat cheese!

Frittata of squash blossoms with sauteed new potatoes

Photo: Jessie Wallner/WFIU

If you can't find squash blossoms for this frittata, you can use some thinly sliced zucchini or summer squash in their place.

Frittata Of Squash Blossoms With Sautéed New Potatoes


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Mediterranean Herb Blend (see recipe)
  • 6 small new potatoes
  • salt to taste
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aux Poivres Spice Blend (see recipe)
  • 1/2 teaspoon New Regime Spice Blend (see recipe)
  • 15 pieces fresh zucchini blossoms
  • goat cheese

Cooking Directions

  1. Pre-heat broiler. Put the potatoes in a medium-size sauce pot and cover with cold water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook three-quarters of the way (still slightly-firm). Cool the potatoes in their liquid. Peel and slice into 1/4" rounds.
  2. Heat the oil in a 10" sauté pan and add the sliced, parboiled new potatoes and Mediterranean Herb Blend. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together the eggs, spices, water, and a pinch of salt. Fold in the fresh zucchini blossoms and pour over the potatoes.
  4. Incorporate with a spatula, and when the eggs begin to set, add chunks of goat cheese and place the pan under the broiler. Cook until nicely colored and firm.

News Stories In The Podcast:

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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