School Lunches

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As a student, I have been amused to see school lunches on everybody’s mind this week. As you probably heard, last Monday, Congress overruled a proposal to turn down the nation’s school lunch program, in which tomato sauce on pizza is counted as a vegetable. The new rules would also have cut sodium in school meals and reduced the overwhelming number of potatoes that are served to kid (white potatoes, no doubt, and I’m guessing quite a few end up in the “fry” form).

It’s grim stuff, but no matter how incensed I’d like to get about it, I’ve decided to channel my frustration into hopeful imagining. What if more lunchroom sandwiches looked like this?

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That’s avocado, lettuce, tomato, and tahini dressing on flax and chia bread, served with an apple (and some un-pictured butternut squash and apple soup).

OK, so that’s an extreme example of vegetable infatuation. I realize that few kids will gobble down the stuff I eat with utter abandon (though I’m sure there are some kids out there, raised on veggies, who would!). Even so, imagine: rather than white flour in white bread that would raise the kids’ glycemic index after eating, and lunchmeats packed with nitrates, sodium, and the shadow of factory farming, and sodas packed either with corn syrup or with aspartame, kids could enjoy the following nutrients:

From the raw chia and flax bread: Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, calcium, protein, fiber, and what’s leftover from numerous veggies

From the avocado: Heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats, which have the added bonus of helping to signal satiety and prevent overeating

From the lettuce and tomato: Vitamins A and C; lycopene, alpha-tomatine, and powerful antioxidants.

From the tahini dressing: Traces of calcium and minerals, as well as a lot of taste.

What a world that would be.

Here at school, I’ve noticed a lot of unhealthy eating—diet soda and nibbling at soy crisps among some of the young women (it’s strange, by the way, to be exposed to college age eating disorders again at this point in my life) and Taco Bell, Subway, and lots of white bread and potato chips for many others. Both approaches are pretty void of nutrients, which is the main source of my concern. In spite of how people always say doctors have poor eating habits themselves, however, my fellow post-baccs are a pretty healthy bunch: lots of awareness about good eating habits, and a tremendous collective zeal for exercise (those who suffer through Orgo together, sweat together). I like to hope I bring a little inspiration to the group through the daily experience of bringing “weird food” to campus: chia puddings, raw bars, and salads that take up more room in my bag than do my textbooks. I’ve even got some of my peers hooked on kale chips.

So for now, while I can’t do much to change the stubborn, bottom-line driven thinking among the powers that be here in the nation’s capitol, I can at least share my passion for veggies with the world. Starting now.

Gena’s Favorite Raw Sandwich (raw, vegan, gluten and soy free)

Serves 1

2 squares Chia Flax Sandwich Bread (follow my instructions for chia juice pulp crackers, adding 1/4 cup flax and using 1/2 cup water. Score and cut into sandwich size pieces rather than crackers!)


  • Avocado
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Beet
  • Lettuce
  • etc.

Drizzle of my tangy tahini dressing

1) Pile bread high with veggies.

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Close it all up:

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And enjoy with fresh fruit, as well as some raw or cooked soup, some salad, or some whole grains/beans.

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Delicious. With fingers crossed, maybe vegan—or even high raw—lunches will be more commonplace in twenty or fifty years. Maybe they’ll even be in school lunchrooms.

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A girl can hope.

Before I sign off tonight: more Thanksgiving ideas!

Vegan Colcannon with Kale


Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas


Raw Stuffing!


Roasted Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup


Back here tomorrow, in the midst of cooking…


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  1. At least we know that any offspring that you produce will be eating healthy! It starts with the parents. You and Mama Pea will be/are doing it right.

  2. If I ever have children, there’s no way I’m letting them eat school lunches unless they look more like yours. As a kid even I was horrified at school lunch offerings!

    I just got a dehydrator, so this lunch is definitely in my own future 🙂

  3. ok that looks delish even to the meat eater in the room. i was so annoyed at the thought of pizza as a veg. seriously? childhood obesity is on the rise and this is our solution? sad! i also feel sorry for jamie oliver since the food revolution has done so poorly in the US, his intentions re quite honorable yet we as a nation and big agriculture allow this crap to be fed to our next generation? ugh.

  4. Add some hummus and you have my ultimate favourite sandwich! Love the gorgeous colour of that bread. If in 10 years school lunches are even half as good as this I’ll consider myself lucky.

  5. It’s scary to think we give over our children for 8 hours a day to an establishment that is supposed to help and protect them yet cheese pizza counts as a vegetable. No wonder childhood obesity and preventable diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart attacks are on the rise. I’m glad to hear there is going to be a health conscious doctor out there soon.

  6. It’s always shocking to me how people don’t want to stray from “what they know”. When they look around (at childhood obesity, cancer rates, diabetes rates etc), don’t they realize that “what they know” might not be working? Isn’t it time to try something new?

    All your pulp crackers have convinced me to put a “dehydrator” on my Christmas list this year!

  7. Our government is definitely frustrating and it is a shame that large corporations have their hands in all of the decisions about food and nutrition in this country. That sandwich looks fabulous and hope you get some time to rest and enjoy Thanksgiving. happy Thanksgiving!!

  8. School lunches are kind of a sore spot for me. I used to work at a Y program that offered free lunch to the community, and one day they served pizza, a drink, a cookie, some canned pears, and a cup of pasta salad. I wondered, “Where’s the veggie?” Then I realized that it was either the pizza sauce, or the tiny flecks of celery in the pasta salad. Fries are often counted as a veggie. Another program I worked in often offered pizza and fries for lunch. My high school had a deli line where fries were the only vegetable available.
    And the teachers wonder why the kids struggle with their homework and why ADD is such an epidemic. There are lots of other reasons, but I’d put diet at the top.

  9. I felt compelled to comment. My son is 3.5 and very picky. Of course he loves the white bread, white pasta, cheesy goodness he gets at Nana’s but I have to say he also really loves almond milk and kale chips (as two examples of what he eats at home). Sometimes you just never know and you always ought to try.

  10. The sandwiches look great! I never can believe the stuff people put in their cart when we go to the regular supermarket…….it is always shocking to me. Even at Whole Foods, it seems that some folks either have money to burn or don’t spend wisely for the nutrients per dollar ratio when I see lots of packaged foods that cost a lot and often the ones with lots of sugars, etc….and maybe they are healthy because they have no “food dye”.

  11. I would have loved this sandwich, even as a kid. Then again, both my parents are vegetarians, so it would have seemed totally “normal” to me to eat this while my friends ate lunchables (and yes – I begged my mom to buy those too. Ick!).

    I was also really disappointed to hear that pizza is considered a vegetable. It’s sad, but I appreciate your optimism that more vegan options will be available in lunchrooms down the road. It certainly won’t be easy, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get there.

  12. Great post (as usual), Gena! School lunches can be such a force of good or bad in a student’s overall diet. There is great opportunity there. Your sandwich is a feast for the eyes and I’m sure it’s delish too. We’re looking forward to making the soup for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I wonder how many tables will be graced with your recipes this holiday?
    You mentioned chia puddings in your post. What’s your gut feel – if I substitute chia seeds for the Irish moss in the pumpkin pie? First off, do you think it has a good chance of setting and turning out nicely? And second – I was thinking of just adding 1/4 cup of water to the carrot juice to bring it up to a cup. For that amount, what measure of chia seeds would you use? I was thinking that I’ll probably just put all of the filling ingredients into the Blendtec together so that it can go straight from there to beginning to set up in the freezer. I hope the chia seeds will still form a gel even after they’ve been blended. This is gonna be one healthy pie! Thanks ~ and have a Happy Thanksgiving!! It’s all good – Janice

  13. Great post, Gena! That sandwich out-tastes any other school lunch by far!

    I discussed this on my post yesterday, and it’s definitely a disheartening subject area – especially because the people that represent us are allowing themselves to be swayed by large companies like ConAgra and Schwann.

    On the other spectrum, it is very hard for food service operations to overhaul their systems because they have strict jurisdictions from the USDA that require the inclusion of dairy and meat due to direct financial ties to the industry. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t start incorporating healthier foods into the operation! All it takes is work – and if people are passionate enough about it, it can happen.

    Stay lovely,

  14. Mmmmm wish I had this when I was in school!! LOVING your site and recipes, thanks for feeding me well in Paris! Bon appétit!

  15. I had wondered about how many eating disordered people you’d find yourself face-to-face with on campus and how that would feel. I would find it impossible, I think…

    But I’m in awe of your optimistic approach and your passion to create a better vision through your imagination and positivity.

    I’ve never been a sandwich eater–the aesthetic has never appealed to me even aside from having celiac–but that sandwich of yours entices me!

  16. Hmm this sandwich sounds good! Though what could we put in the sandwich for protein?

    Yeah-college diets are pretty carb-laden, especially with our late night snacking. I like to do it from time to time, but eating healthy, regular meals feels the most fulfilling to me. Think of it though, imagine how we would be better students if we ate more nutritious foods!

  17. Funny how kids like colors in most areas (although not all kids, I don’t want to overgeneralize) but some are afraid of some color in their food. I think a few would scream if they saw purple bread. I used to scare a few with my green smoothies. After awhile they got used to seeing me with them though. I think it’s a matter of developing that palate early. Hope you have a good break over Thanksgiving.

  18. What a beautiful raw sandwich! I want one. 🙂

    I was also upset when I saw the news about school lunches and vented about it a bit on facebook. It reminded me of two girls I student taught who petitioned for a salad bar and didn’t get anywhere (I signed the petition, of course!) The time I spent teaching in public schools was short, but it was enough time for me to see how heinous the food is. Of course, I have my own memories of my public school lunch days and how much I struggled with it. It’s really no surprise that so many suffer from eating disorders when the only thing offered in schools really can’t qualify as food. You don’t have to be knowledgeable in nutrition to know it’s not nourishing!

  19. Your pics in this post are gorgeous, Gena! Love the vibrancy of the colors in your sammie! Sooo pretty! Great lighting, great colors, beautiful.

    Yes, there is quite a dichotomy in terms of how many bloggers eat or how one segment of society eats contrasted with another. From the land of kale chips and fresh fruit to the land of Cheetos and gummy bear ‘fruit’ snacks.

    Not saying that I don’t get down with some Cheetos every now then or some gummy bears but as a general rule, not so much. As in, like once a year, max. But what they serve kids in schools and what many people think is healthy always blows me away. Like soy crisps. Are they healthier than Cheetos? Probably. But are they ‘healthy’? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder 🙂

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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