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May I See What You Have in Your Lunchbox?



Why cook? Cooking is a satisfying experience. Planning your meals and budgeting your time makes it even more so... Using whole, nutritious foods and cooking from scratch will cost less and be healthier for you and your family.

-- from LunchBox Envy

I did not learn to cook until I was an adult. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who devoted a fair amount of time to cooking, particularly lunch, but she preferred to cook for me instead of with me. I often wonder how things would be now had I been allowed to experiment in the kitchen from an early age, when "failure" was not a word in my vocabulary and every new step brought the excitement of an upcoming adventure.

Cooking is a great activity for children: While it allows them to be creative, it also asks them to channel their energy and pay attention to details. And it requires them to use math skills when they measure ingredients. I believe that learning to cook should be part of every child's education.

The book LunchBox Envy: An adventure in healthy eating for kids and families offers help to families who want to put cooking and eating on a healthier and also more efficient footing. The whole family can learn and have fun following the suggestions and explanations in the book.

LunchBox Envy is a collaborative work. The authors are eight women who collectively call themselves the Heirloom Tomatoes: Ann Anderson, Pat Bitton, Lauren Cohn-Sarabia, Martha Haynes, Kate Jamison-Alward, Ann King, Carol Moné, and Suzanne Simpson. If the name Heirloom Tomatoes sounds familiar, it's probably because you have heard about their previous book, Locally Delicious: Recipes and Resources for Eating on the North Coast, and/or their activities in the community in the three years since its initial publication (see "Foods With a Name and a Home" Table Talk Dec. 3, 2009).

The seed planted by Locally Delicious grew into something bigger. The authors incorporated Locally Delicious into a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supporting the re-localization of the North Coast food system and advocating for re-localization of food nationwide using money received from the sale of the book (now in its second edition).

News that the Heirloom Tomatoes were involved in a new undertaking came last year in the form of an invitation to attend a presentation of projects created by HSU students enrolled in Prof. Lonny Grafman's "Introduction to Design" engineering course. Locally Delicious had asked the class to create food-related projects for young people. The exciting results ranged from a worm bin composter made from two half-gallon milk or juice cartons, to a solar food warmer built with cardboard and foil, to a human-powered blender, to name just a few.

The presentation was an enticing appetizer for the full meal, a book overflowing with ideas that was being prepared. The result, LunchBox Envy, is just now coming off the presses and will debut at the December edition of Arts Alive! (see details on that and other book events at the end of the article).

LunchBox Envy is aimed at children aged eight and older (and their parents) and focuses on how to prepare healthy, affordable lunches that will be envied by their peers. LunchBox Envy is a "how-to" guide as well as a cookbook. It makes the topic of lunch preparation a concerted activity from which the whole family benefits. It provides tools for addressing nutritional needs and for meal planning, suggestions about finding affordable healthy food, basic time-efficient cooking techniques, suggestions on how to involve kids in food acquisition and preparation, as well as food-related do-it-yourself projects, including the worm bin composter and solar food warmer mentioned above.

LunchBox Envy does not assume prior cooking knowledge, so it covers kitchen safety, basic kitchen tools (with photos) and actions (boil, steam, etc.). It then presents basic recipes - for example, how to cook beans, rice and pasta, how to prepare pie and pizza dough - and introduces formulas, that is, guidelines to be used as starting points, followed by a lists of ingredients to be mixed and matched to create personalized versions of sandwiches, soup, Asian noodles, and more. Popular recipes, like mac & cheese and burritos, and foods children enjoy, like fruit leather, pizza, flavored waters, granola bars, are all covered. Japanese griddle cakes anyone? Or may I tempt you with some three-color coleslaw?

In addition to photographs supporting recipes and concepts, LunchBox Envy is enriched by illustrations, graphic design and a graphic novel by a group of talented high school students from the Arcata Arts Institute. The long list of people on the acknowledgement page shows how the Heirloom Tomatoes have drawn from the expertise present in the whole community to make something for Humboldt County and beyond.

LunchBox Envy advocates early involvement of children in their nutrition, from food purchase and preparation to food growing. The book also proposes collaboration between parents and children to make the process of shopping for food and preparing meals a family activity where children are involved. At the same time, the book provides useful tips for parents to improve the quality of their food purchases with an eye to expenses.

The topic of children's nutrition cannot be addressed by keeping the kids out of the room while the adults debate: The sooner children are brought into the discussion, the better for them. Reduced to its essence, this is about education, and it cannot be limited to the classroom, but must acquire a comprehensive character. Creative approaches that work with children instead of fighting against them are necessary.

Preparing an enviable lunch is a worthy goal that children should claim as their own, something that would get other students' attention, that nourishes them, giving them enough energy for the day and also protects their health for the long run. Connecting or re-connecting a child to his/her nutrition is a gift that lasts a lifetime - of health.


LunchBox Envy book signings in December:

Dec. 1, 6-9 p.m. at Eureka Books, 426 Second St. during Arts Alive!

Dec. 6, 5 p.m. at Blake's Books, 2055 Central Avenue, McKinleyville during McKinleyville Open House night.

Dec. 8, 11a.m.-3p.m. at Pierson's, 4100 Broadway, Eureka.

Dec. 14, 6-9 p.m. at Northtown Books, 957 H St., Arcata during Arts! Arcata.



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