Last year, 29 schools offered breakfast in the classroom. This year, students at an additional 14 schools, including four middle schools, will have access to a free meal to start the day without filling out any kind of application or even leaving the classroom to eat it.
Here is a list of participating schools:
Pre-K: Dobie Pre-K, Uphaus ECC
Elementary schools: Allison, Andrews, Barrington, Brooke, Brown, Campbell, Cook, Galindo, Govalle, Guerrero Thompson, Harris, Hart, Houston, Jordan, Langford, Linder, McBee, Metz, Norman & Sims, Oak Springs, Ortega, Overton, Padron, Pecan Springs, Perez, Pickle, Pleasant Hill, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Walnut Creek, Webb Primary, Widén, Winn, Wooldridge, Wooten and Zavala.
Middle schools: Martin, Mendez, Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Webb.
With the school year upon us, it’s time to stock up on easy recipes that you don’t have to think about too much.
This chicken pasta is from “Family Table: Farm Cooking From the Elliott Homestead” by Shaye Elliott (Lyons Press, $24.95), and although it’s not quite a one-pot dish, it’s easy enough to make while you’re helping kids with homework or unwinding from the day. Omit the peppers, shallots and/or tomatoes if your family is on the picky side.
2 tablespoons butter
4 boneless chicken thighs or 2 boneless breasts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 shallots, minced
2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
4 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups cream
1 pound fusilli pasta or pasta of choice
2 small tomatoes, diced
Fresh basil, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Heat butter in a large cast-iron skillet. Add chicken thighs or breasts and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Remove to a plate to cool. Into the hot skillet, add the shallots and bell peppers. Saute for 5 minutes, until softened.
Cut the cooled chicken into strips and place the chicken strips back into the skillet with the shallot and peppers. Add the cream cheese and cream, stirring gently to combine. Cover the skillet and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes of simmering, boil the pasta in a pot of water until al dente. When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, then add to the skillet. Combine the chicken mixture and the pasta, stir in the diced tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh basil and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 6.
As Austin-area parents and students are getting back-to-school supplies in order, local school districts are preparing menus, placing orders and preparing staff for another school year of feeding thousands of elementary, middle and high school students.
Austin ISD serves more than 73,000 meals every day, but they only serve only about third of the students at breakfast and only about half at lunch.
My kids eat breakfast and lunch at school every day. Even if I weren’t a single parent, they would eat the school lunch. From having packed countless ham sandwiches and bags of chips for myself as a kid, I know that a hot meal made from whole ingredients is better than the granola bars and cheese sticks that constituted many of my own elementary and middle school meals.
But not every parent in AISD is as big a fan of the food as I am. I’ve heard from plenty of you who have said that you’d let your kids eat the school lunch if they served organic produce or grassfed beef.
AISD food services director Anneliese Tanner has heard that argument a lot.
In a profile of her in 2017, she explained that the school district has more buying power when they serve more students, so the more students who buy school lunch, the better quality food they can serve everyone.
So, what would it take for AISD to be able to make those changes to the menu? Ahead of this school year, Tanner crunched the numbers to find out how many students would have to start eating the school lunch to serve grassfed beef, organic produce and organic milk.
Here’s what she found:
If every student not currently eating school lunch made the choice to do so once a week, all beef served in Austin ISD could be grassfed.
If every student not currently eating lunch ate school it twice a week, AISD could serve entirely organic produce.
If students who aren’t eating school lunch now ate it three times a week, AISD could serve organic milk at every meal.
I recently republished a column I wrote in 2009 about why my mom and dad did not make our school lunches when we were kids. If you’re making that transition in your family, here are some tips to help you get started.
Don’t dump the lunch duty on kids on the morning of the first day of school. Talk with them a few days or a week ahead of time to prepare everyone for the change. Practice making a few lunches before school actually starts.
Be patient with them and show them how to do the various lunch tasks. Kids can get frustrated easily if they don’t know how to do something, but parents also avoid frustration themselves by just doing it for them. Remember: Give the kid a lunch; they’ll eat for a day. Teach them how to make their own lunch; they’ll eat for a lifetime.
Avoid rushed mornings by packing lunch the night before. Get creative with a Thermos. It’s great for soup, but you can also keep smoothies cool or things like chicken nuggets relatively warm.
Look over the school’s lunch menu and pick out a few days each month to eat the cafeteria lunch. It will give your kid a break from lunch-making duties and might encourage them to eat the school’s lunch more often.
Some quick, easy-to-pack foods include dried fruit, cheese, crackers, lunch meat, rice cakes, yogurt, applesauce, cottage cheese and fruit, such as apples, oranges, nectarines, plums and bananas. Use a reusable container to pack them, if you can.
Grains such as couscous and quinoa, which can be eaten at room temperature, are a blank palette for vegetables, nuts, herbs or anything your kids like. You could make a grain salad for dinner and plan to have the kids take leftovers to school the next day.
Now that school lunches are significantly better than they were when I was a kid, I would definitely recommend eating school lunch on the days that the menu item sounds appealing, even if the kids are hesitant at first.
Editor’s note: I wrote this column in 2009, not long after I started writing about food for the Statesman. As you can read at the bottom of the story, Sinda’s daughters are now in high school, and though they made their lunches all through middle school, they now eat the school lunch.
The week before I started second grade, my mom told me she wouldn’t be making my lunch anymore.
I’d just turned 8. It wasn’t just that my mom, a teacher in another rural town not far from our own, wouldn’t have time in the morning to make sandwiches for my sister and me. “I didn’t want you to feel like you were an elitist who was too good for school lunch,” she says now.
I was both a picky eater and the new kid in a small school, and I knew the reputation school lunches had. We’d just moved to Missouri, and I was already self-conscious about how my new classmates would view me, so I decided I’d make my own lunch.
With the exception of pizza or chicken patty days on the school’s menu, I made my lunch every day for 11 school years. My mom says she was surprised that I stuck with it for more than just a few weeks.
With school starting soon for many area students, maybe this is the year your kids start making their own lunch.
Sinda Mitchel’s daughters, Hannah and Hazel, started making their own lunches last year when they were in first and second grades at Austin Montessori School, where Mitchel says the culture encourages kids to do as much for themselves as possible. “Not only are they expected to have good food, but they are expected to be as independent as they can be,” she says. Before each school day, the girls pack a lunch that includes a grain, protein, fruit, vegetable and sometimes dairy, and no prepackaged foods are allowed. But within these rules, she says, anything in the house is fair game.
“It wasn’t hard for me to let it go,” Mitchel says. She says it would be easier to just do it for them, but she’d rather give them the opportunity to build a healthy relationship with food, to learn what they like, how much makes them full and how to prepare it. “The more choices we give them, the better,” she says.
For the first three years I made my own lunch, my choice was turkey and cheese sandwiches (no mayo) or peanut butter and jelly. Then I started to get more creative, packing favorite snacks like cheese quesadillas or cottage cheese and black olives in Tupperware containers.
I learned tricks for packing food to be eaten later. To stop pickles from leaking out of plastic baggies, you have to wrap them in paper towels. Chicken noodle soup stays warm in a Thermos. Crackers stored in the same bag with cheese get soggy by lunchtime.
I had always enjoyed grocery shopping with my mom, but now I had a vested interest in what went in the cart. I learned early not to ask for Lunchables because my mom showed me how many more crackers and cheese you could buy for less per serving. As we strolled the aisles, instead of indulging every gimmicky prepackaged food I reached for, my mom explained how that kind of food is marketed toward children and where to find the better-tasting, more-healthful and less-expensive alternatives. After all, she was making her lunch with what we bought, too.
My mom, who is a guidance counselor now, knew she was empowering my sister and me by not doing everything for us. “Anytime kids have input in what they eat or do with their time or the rules that are made, it makes them more responsible,” she says.
Of course, making my lunch every single day was a bummer sometimes, but once it became routine, I started to look forward to it, especially when I graduated to a cafeteria with a microwave. Hello, leftovers.
In high school, my football player buddies would complain about their mothers, who’d made them another turkey sandwich even though they’d asked for ham. “Make your own damn sandwiches,” I remember thinking to myself as I enjoyed reheated lasagna or Chinese takeout from the night before.
I grew to relish the control over what I ate. I knew how to make what I liked to eat, or at least how to reheat it. As you can imagine, these skills carried me into college: I already knew how to feed myself, which was one less thing to learn when I moved out.
“My ultimate goal was to raise independent daughters,” my mom says.
We got there, one sandwich at a time.
UPDATE: Mitchel says that her daughters, who are a junior and senior in high school, respectively, continued to prepare their own lunched through middle school. When they got to high school, they started to eat the cafeteria food but continued to cook at home. “Hazel cooked fresh lobsters for Thanksgiving a few years ago, and makes the most amazing pavlovas,” her mom writes. “Hannah loves to poach eggs and make scratch dumplings in chicken broth for a midnight snack, so they both have the cooking bug.”
She says that they are both adventurous eaters and afraid to try anything. “They have an appreciation of food. I never have to cater meals or restaurant choices to them, which I appreciate so much.”
One of the delightful treats we picked up from the Valentina’s location on Saturday morning was this churro Chex mix from Kristina Wolter, my food stylist friend behind girlgonegritsfoodstyling.com. She shared the recipe she used to make this sweet snack.
Churro Chex Mix
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 cups Rice Chex cereal
4 1/2 cups Corn Chex cereal
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Heat oven 350. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. In a pot, add the brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil for 1 minute and then add baking soda and set aside.
Put the Chex in a large bowl, and pour the hot caramel over the cereal and mix until all cereal is coated. Spread the mixture on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top of the cereal. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir and bake for another 5 min. Let cool before breaking up. Store in an airtight container.
The Austin chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier has always offered scholarships for local culinary students, but this year, the organization of women in the food industry is offering stipends for culinary professionals who are already in the industry and who want to seek educational development, such as take the Certified Cheese Professional Exam or attend TEXSOM, the annual Texas wine conference.
This is the second year that the group, which was founded in 2003, has expanded the scholarship offering to include stipends and examination fees. Applications are open to Central Texas women who are pursuing full-time culinary coursework in a culinary arts or food- or wine-related professional development. You can find the application at ldeiaustin.org. The deadline to apply is Aug. 31.
“For years we’ve been helping students finish their studies and pursue their dreams in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries. We’re excited to continue doing that, as well as recognize and assist those professionals already in the industry seeking to further their education with our Beyond The Classroom stipends“ said Kendall Antonelli, scholarship committee chairperson.
According to the website, “LDEI is an international organization of women leaders who create a supportive culture in their communities to achieve excellence in the food, beverage and hospitality professions.”
Scholarship applicants must have completed at least 20 credit hours, have a G.P.A. of 35 or higher, and be enrolled currently in a local certificate or associate’s degree program in culinary arts, baking and pastry, or hospitality and restaurant management. Scholarships are awarded based on academic accomplishments, references, financial need, goals, aspirations, initiative, and culinary-related experience. Scholarship funds may be used for tuition or program fees only. Checks will be issued directly to institutions. Funds may not be applied to living expenses.
If it’s early August, Austinites are getting excited about Hatch chiles.
The New Mexican chile peppers have been a hit in Central Texas ever since Central Market started bringing them here in the mid-1990s. Whole Foods followed, and now both stores — as well as other grocery retailers, including Wheatsville and Central Market’s parent company, H-E-B — sell literal tons of Hatch peppers and Hatch-flavored foods during this time of year.
They’ve released this month’s Hatch cooking classes, which start on Wednesday with a steakhouse-themed class at 6:30 p.m. On Thursday at 6:30 p.m., you can sign up to learn how to make Hatch tamales, and on Saturday night, the cooking staff will teach a Hatch seafood session starting at 6:30 p.m.
If we ever needed cold summer soups, it’s in August, when even the grass and trees are parched. The cold soup that probably comes to mind is gazapacho, the Spanish soup frequently made with tomatoes.
You can find plenty of gazpacho without tomatoes — often called “white gazpacho” and made with cucumbers, almonds and sometimes green grapes — but for a creamy pink gazpacho, check out this recipe from Adam Fleischman, founder of Umami Burger, whose new book is all about that savory “fifth taste.”
To increase the amount of umami in this recipe, Fleischman roasts the tomatoes and adds sherry vinegar when blending the ingredients. Like soy sauce, sherry vinegar is a quick way to add depth of flavor to a dish, and you’ll want to adjust the quantity according to your own tastes. He recommends letting the soup chill overnight to develop even more complexities, but I love the taste and texture of freshly made gazpacho and would serve it after letting it chill for about 30 minutes in the fridge.
The tomatoes are blended with the other vegetables to make a smooth, creamy, pink gazpacho. Tomatoes have the most umami flavor when they’re ripe, and are at their peak umami right off the vine. If you can find tomatoes on the vine at your farmers’ market or grocer, grab a bunch and put them to good use here. I roast the tomatoes for a more complex flavor; it’s an extra step, but worth it. The sherry vinegar is an umami sidekick that will amplify the umami.
— Adam Fleischman
2 pounds very ripe tomatoes
3 slices pain de mie, country loaf or other bread, crusts removed
1/2 medium onion, peeled
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
Pimentón (smoked paprika) or red pepper flakes, for garnish
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the tomatoes on all sides, then roast until their skins start to blister and they start to collapse a little bit, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook and dry out the tomatoes; you want some of their liquid in the gazpacho, too. Peel the skins off the tomatoes and discard. Remove the seeds, then chop the tomatoes coarsely. Place the tomatoes in a blender and set aside while you prep everything else.
Place the bread slices in a bowl or casserole dish and pour in just enough sherry vinegar to soak the bread. Meanwhile, dice the onion, cucumber, garlic cloves and bell pepper. If you prefer a chunkier soup, reserve half of the diced veggies, refrigerate, and mix in at the very end before serving. Otherwise put all of the veggies in the blender with the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of sherry vinegar, the sugar and a big splash of water to thin it out.
Blend everything for a few seconds, then blend in the bread, in batches if everything doesn’t fit in one go. Add more water if the gazpacho is too thick for your liking, or another tablespoon of olive oil if the soup isn’t emulsifying and coming together.
Cover and chill the gazpacho in the fridge overnight. The next day, taste and readjust the seasonings. If you reserved half of the diced veggies, add them in now. Spoon into bowls and garnish with a pinch of the pimentón or red pepper flakes. Serves 4.
Willis first had this tart treat at Crook’s Corner, a Chapel Hill, N.C., restaurant that serves a traditional lemon icebox pie baked in a saltine crust. In some places throughout the South, saltine crackers are commonly used instead of graham crackers for icebox pies, including key lime pie, but it wasn’t an ingredient I’d seen used that way until I saw this recipe in Willis’ cookbook.
I made the pie for a birthday party last weekend, and it was absolutely delightful. The crackers gave a surprisingly light and crunchy texture to the crust, and it wasn’t too savory, especially for this filling that is so sweet, even the whipped cream doesn’t need any extra sugar.
Lemon Icebox Tart with Saline Cracker Crust
Just like graham crackers, saltine crackers can be used for a nice pie crust, but you have to crumble them finely enough to stick together when you add the butter — but not so fine that the crust loses all the cracker texture. This pie doesn’t have as much filling as you might be expecting from a lemon icebox pie, but it is extra sweet and tart, so you need the whipped cream layer on the top to balance it. If you place the whipped cream on the pie when it’s still warm, it will melt, so follow her instructions on cooling the pie first.
— Addie Broyles
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers (about 68 crackers)
8 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Zest and juice of three lemons (About 1/2 cup juice)
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
In a large plastic zip-top bag, use a rolling pin or skillet to crush the saltine crackers into small, fine pieces, but not so much that it becomes powder. (You can crush them directly in the package or in a bowl with your fingers.) Place the cracker crumbs into a large bowl and mix in the melted butter and sugar.
Press the saltine mixture into a pie pan, using your fingers to press the mixture into the sides and a measuring cup to press the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Chill for 15 minutes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees while the crust is chilling, and then bake it for 15 minutes. While the crust is baking, mix together the egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and lemon zest and juice. Whisk carefully so that you don’t introduce air bubbles into the filling.
Remove the crust from the oven, and pour the filling mixture into the hot crust. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes to set the filling.
Place the pie on a wire rack and let it cool to the touch. Once completely cool, refrigerate for an hour.
When ready to finish the pie, place the chilled cream in a large bowl and whisk vigorously until the cream holds soft peaks. Spread the whipped cream on the pie. Use a chef’s knife to cut the slices of pie, and wipe the knife before each cut to keep the slices clean. Keeps for two days in the fridge. Serves 8 to 10.