Author Archives: Amber Coleman

fast food, image from morguefile

Central’s Week in Brief: October 21, 2011

Every Friday Central brings you stories from the week that you might have missed, but that are definitely worth a look. We’ll feature food news covering everything from the weird to the wonderful in the world of restaurants, schools, the military and more.  It’s our way to help you go into the weekend with a little extra knowledge and maybe even a project or recipe to try out!


1)      Have you ever taken a trip to McDonald’s and felt like the only thing missing was a TV?  If so, then your fast food experience will soon be complete with the premiere of an in-store McDonald’s television channel.  The channel’s programming will be community specific and include everything from local news to movie previews and about eight minutes per hour of advertising as well.   According to the L.A. Times, “The venture, which has already been tested in L.A., San Diego and Las Vegas, is expected to reach 18 million to 20 million people a month, which ChannelPort executives said would be one of the largest daytime audiences in the region.”


2)      In what may seem like a setback for First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move campaign, the U.S. Senate has voted against an effort to limit potatoes in school lunches.   This limitation of potatoes and other starchy vegetables to a maximum of two servings per week was part of an effort to combat childhood obesity and promote serving healthier vegetables.   Time Healthland says the ban “…angered the potato industry, some school districts and members of Congress from potato-growing states, who say USDA should focus on the preparation instead and that potatoes can be a good source of fiber and potassium.”  In the end, it was judged as more important to find a balance in what is served and how it is prepared rather than putting a limit on servings.


3)      In the nation’s current economy, Detroit has suffered more than most.  One big example of this hardship is the budget cuts for 43 of the city’s soup kitchens and food banks.  While many might feel that they could do nothing, 65 popular restaurants and caterers have decided to step up to help those in their community by participating in the “Feed the Need” program.  By taking part in the program, restaurants will prepare and cater lunch once a week for those in need at Detroit’s Cass Community Center. The Detroit News says, “More than 12,000 meals are expected to be served annually.”  The program, originally started in South Carolina by Detroit native Mickey Bakst, is expected to expand to six other cities in the near future.


4)      Starbucks announced that it will be introducing a light roast (aka less strong) version of their coffee called the “Blonde” roast.   While Starbucks is traditionally known for their dark roasts, according to Nation’s Restaurant News, they are aiming “to attract the estimated 40 percent of American coffee drinkers who say they prefer a lighter roast flavor.”  This change is also an effort to compete with lighter coffee roasts from outlets like McDonald’s which has become a bigger player in the coffee market in the past few years with the introduction of their McCafe line.



5)      Halloween season is upon us and while this holiday is traditionally associated with candy there’s nothing wrong with switching it up a little.  If you’re throwing a special party at your school or restaurant or just looking to serve up a creative new dessert check out these Chocolate Spider Web Cake in a Jars from the I Am Baker blog.   Not only are they festive and a little creepy, but they’re also a great, simple way to personalize a treat for each guest.

vegetables, Image from Morguefile

Nutrition Education: Another Key to Healthy School Lunches

For years, Americans have been hearing about the rising rate of obesity in the country.   Books and movies like Fast Food Nation (2001) and Super Size Me (2004) have warned against the harm of eating an unhealthy diet based mostly in convenience foods.   But even with all of this cautioning, only when First Lady Michelle Obama’s introduced the Let’s Move initiative in February of 2010 did the message really begin to make an impact on both parents and schools.   Due to this new take on feeding children a more nutritious diet, many cafeterias have begun providing healthier options for students with a large focus on following the newly introduced MyPlate nutrition guide.  While this turn for the wholesome in the lunch room has been a step in the right direction, it seems to be apparent that there is still something missing in the equation as much of the healthier choices are being wasted or overlooked.  So what is the key to getting children to eat their vegetables?  While parents have been wondering this for years, recently teachers, cafeteria workers and even chefs have begun discovering what might just be the key to solving the mystery.

One huge push coming from everyone from Mrs. Obama to Chef Jamie Oliver is that of educating children on what they eat while involving them in the process of how it comes to be.   A big reason for the average child’s aversion to eating healthier items could be that they simply don’t know what it is.  Chef Oliver found out the hard way that currently children aren’t getting the food education that they need as a base to grow as health eaters.

The answer to this problem could be as simple teaching students about the different foods available.  In today’s society with schools being required to tighten budgets and raise scores on standardized tests, many nutrition programs have disappeared.   However, several institutions aren’t giving up and instead have found new ways to both educate and involve their students while incorporating nutrition in the daily curriculum.

file00067364915In an article from Natural Vitality Kids, one example of food and education was discovered at Abernethy Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.  The school has a garden classroom and a “harvest of the month program” that allows students to get first-hand experience on various levels with a particular crop each month.  While a local farm provides the crop to serve in the cafeterias, the students also grow it in the school’s garden and learn about it in the classroom.

The nutrition education program has been taken a step further at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in New York.   At this school for 6th through 12th graders, they recently took on the topic of food, because as Principal Damon McCord told Serious Eats, “Food is a great lens through which to look at history, nutrition and science.”  For six-weeks, students learned about nutrition by doing things like studying crops around the world in Social Studies, learning about the growing process and diseases caused by food in Science, reading and writing about industrial meat production in English and even starting their own community garden.   The school’s goal is for students to learn about topics covered in standardized testing while at the same time providing them with nutritional information that can be carried on with them into the real world.

A final move for educating students about nutrition is the national movement Chefs Move to School (part of the Let’s Move! Campaign), run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   This program helps schools partner with local chefs to help their schools meet dietary guidelines and budgets and at the same time educate students on nutrition and healthy choices.  According to My West Hartford Life, three charter schools in West Hartford, Connecticut are currently testing this program out with a fair amount of success among students.   In this case, while students are already currently learning about food as part of their curriculum, it seems the cafeteria staff is receiving more of an educational benefit from the program.  Local chef Hunter Morgan has come in to teach cafeteria staff members how to make meals that are healthy in all aspects, like spinach lasagna and broccoli, in order to provide them with the skills and recipes it will take to keep the healthy food coming once he goes back to his usual job as executive chef of local restaurant Max Downtown.

While not every school has the money and resources to do a complete overhaul like many of these schools have, there are still plenty of ways to help bring nutrition education in at some level.  Check out low-cost educational programs like Veggiecation or research grants and resources at The Lunch Box for more information on improving or building a program at your school.

What does your school do to educate about food and nutrition?  Please share your comments below. 

Central’s Week in Brief: October 7, 2011

Every Friday Central brings you stories from the week that you might have missed, but that are definitely worth a look. We’ll feature food news covering everything from the weird to the wonderful in the world of restaurants, schools, the military and more.  It’s our way to help you go into the weekend with a little extra knowledge and maybe even a project or recipe to try out!


1)      Sadly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday, at age 56, after fighting pancreatic cancer since 2004.   And while you might not typically associate Jobs with food (other than an apple), it seems that his influence has reached the dining world more than we may have realized.   In an article on the Miami New Times website, it’s made apparent that Jobs shaped the way we all find and discuss food.  The article sites everything from the growing popularity of using the iPad to order in restaurants to the many apps like OpenTable and Urbanspoon that are now always on-hand thanks to devices like the iPhone.  Along with these helpful items, Jobs also had a huge part in ensuring a healthy diet for his Apple employees, setting a precedent with an on-site cafeteria that provides everything from freshly made sushi to vegan fare (check out this cafeteria review from Mac|life for more on the offerings). 


2)      Michelle Obama had made her Let’s Move! Campaign even more interactive by using Twitter to personally speak with followers of the @LetsMove Twitter account.  Eighteen followers were invited to the Washington, D.C. this week for the White House Tweetup, a chance to view the harvesting of the kitchen garden, meet White House chefs and even chat with Mrs. Obama about the campaign and the fight to end childhood obesity.  And for those not lucky to be one of the eighteen chosen there was also an opportunity to post questions for the First Lady about the program using the #AskMichelle hash tag.


3)      A new machine could put an end to all of the foodborne illnesses that have seemed to run rampant over the past few months (including the current Listeria outbreak in cantaloupes).  According to a press release, “The ?Screen is a portable, rapid pathogen screener that could allow screening of up to 100% of food produced in processing plants, before it is delivered to the consumer.”   This groundbreaking invention, created by a group of students from Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, just won the grand prize of $20,000 (to be put towards getting the product to the market) in the “Create the Future” Design contest.


4)      Betty Crocker has caught on to the rise in gluten sensitivities and allergies and is partnering with the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Celiac Research, The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center and the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition to hold the Baker’s Challenge Gluten Free Recipe Contest. While the submission time has passed, voting will continue until October 15 when a $5,000 Grand Prize Winner will be chosen.  For more information on living gluten free, be sure to check out this post on the dietary restriction.


5)      And speaking of gluten free eating, Central had the chance this week to interview the infamous Mrs. Q of Fed Up With Lunch about her own gluten free lifestyle as well as her thoughts on schools going gluten free.   This week was a big one for Mrs. Q or as she can now be known Sarah Wu (and not just because of her interview with us).   Wednesday morning, after blogging anonymously for almost two years about her perspectives on the state of school lunch, the Chicago public school speech pathologist came out into the open to promote the release of her book “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”.  Check out her experience in this video from ABC News.

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Eating Gluten Free Q&A with Sarah Wu of Fed Up With Lunch

A few years back, public school speech pathologist Sarah Wu forgot to pack her lunch and decided to grab a meal in her school’s cafeteria along with the students.  After seeing the “nutritious” meal that was being served to children every day, Wu was inspired to challenge herself to get involved and get the word out to others, especially parents that may not realize the lack of healthy foods their sons or daughters were being fed each day.  In order to do this Wu ate school lunch every day in 2010 while anonymously blogging, tweeting and sharing photos of the meals under the pseudonym Mrs. Q.

Mrs. Q’s Fed up with Lunch blog caused quite a stir and while Wu did continually fear that at any time she could be ousted and possibly lose her job, she continued to share her thoughts on the state of school food.  This persistence has paid off with national recognition of her efforts on outlets like Good Morning America and National Public Radio.  This public acknowledgment went a step further on Wednesday, October 05, 2011 when Wu relinquished her anonymity as Mrs. Q in order to release a book about her experience called “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”.
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And while Wu is now busier than ever, she will continue to blog, as she has since the challenge ended, about school lunch reform and to share the eating habits of her own family and her decision to eliminate   gluten from her own diet.  Because of this dedication to a healthier, more balanced diet, as well as her first hand knowledge of food allergies, we asked Wu to share with us her experience with dietary issues and how similar eating habits could play a part in school meals.

Central Restaurant Products:  What was your diet like before the lunch project and looking back how did it affect your health?

Sarah Wu: I always thought of my diet as healthy. I made sure we ate balanced meals and planned dinner with a meat, a grain, and a veggie. But I wasn’t focused on ingredients or organics like I do now. We never ate fast food on a regular basis, but we did eat out quite a bit. My health was ok, but I have been suffering with IBS for almost ten years.

CRP: Without the school lunch project, do you think you would have looked into going gluten free?  Why or why not?

SW: As I discuss very briefly in the book, I went gluten free for a couple of weeks about four years ago. In the book, I said that my brief voyage into gluten free living was because of my IBS. It was also because I was having difficulty getting pregnant and I was reading fertility books obsessively. One book mentioned going gluten free and drinking whole milk. I was desperate to get pregnant so I tried their recommendations. I felt really good (and I ended up getting pregnant that month) and did a little research online and found “Celiac disease.” Because my IBS was better, I thought I must have Celiac disease so I went to a GI doctor (gastroenterologist) for a test. The blood test was negative and the doctor told me, “You do not have a problem with wheat so go ahead and resume a normal diet.” Although I was relieved that I didn’t have an autoimmune disorder like Celiac, I was stumped because I felt oddly better without wheat. Since I trusted the doctor, I started eating wheat again.

I never would have questioned the doctor’s recommendations again because the test results were clear. Additionally my father is a doctor and we believe in medical science and technology.

It just so happened that when I was appearing anonymously on a food blogging conference in San Francisco in October 2010, I started talking to Alison St. Sure, who is a food blogger who has Celiac disease. We just started chatting and she mentioned her diagnosis. I told her something like, “That’s funny, a few years ago I thought I had Celiac disease, but my test was negative.” She said something then that changed my life, “You know just because you don’t have Celiac disease doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with wheat. What the doctor should have said was that you could be gluten sensitive.” I was stunned. I decided that night that when the project was over I would try gluten free living again.
CRP: What sources did you use to go gluten free?

SW: I relied on the internet for my information especially The University of Chicago – Celiac Disease Center for basic information and then I delved into blog’s like Alison St. Sure and other gluten free bloggers like Gluten Free Girl. One thing I really like are Facebook pages like Gluten Free Easily and The Center for Celiac Research.

CRP: What advice would you give to someone thinking about going gluten free?

SW: It’s important that someone who thinks that they have Celiac disease gets tested prior to going gluten free. If you are gluten free prior to the test, your body will stop producing the antibodies to wheat and those are what reveal a problem. Get tested and then try the diet. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease whose rates are doubling every 15 years. It is very troubling. Research the symptoms. Even if you don’t have Celiac disease, you may find a benefit to gluten free living like I had. I feel amazing and I’ll never go back.

Fed Up with Lunch

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CRP: What benefits are there to going gluten free?  What are the drawbacks?

SW: For someone like me, the benefits are incredible. My IBS is totally gone. I also have more energy. Many people who say they go gluten free mention having more energy. For me I think that having chronic digestive troubles drained my energy. Now my body can focus on other things, which makes me feel physically stronger.

The drawback is eating out. It can be hard to find a restaurant that understands what gluten can do to people like me. But I have found lots of restaurants, including major chains, have gluten free menus. All you have to do is ask.

CRP: How have you had to change your shopping routine since going gluten free?

SW: Now I read all labels. I’m aware of ingredients more than ever. Also we are eating more whole foods (fruits, veggies, meats) and those are naturally gluten free.

CRP: Are there any food item substitutes that just don’t measure up to the original?  Any items you or your family miss having?

SW: I think it’s hard to find a perfect match for pasta that doesn’t contain gluten. I have been able to find equivalents to most things. It just takes time. When I feel bad it’s usually when we go out to dinner and we get a bread basket on the table. My son is able to wait for his food, but I just feel bad he has to miss out at certain restaurants.

CRP: What products have been easiest to switch from?

SW: Finding gluten free cereal and oatmeal is not hard. I think breakfast is pretty easy to make gluten free because eggs, bacon and OJ are gluten free (check individual brands).

CRP: What foods do you find yourself eating more often due to your change in diet?

SW: I think that my overall awareness of food has made me eat more fruits and veggies than before. I still eat too many cookies — some things never change!

CRP: How difficult do you think it would be for a school (yours or your son’s daycare for example) to go gluten free?  What specific roadblocks do you see them running into?  If money and administrative restraints were no issue, would you recommend schools going this route?

SW: I think it would be hard to meet the USDA requirements (each school lunch averages about two servings of grain) and not incorporate wheat. But if you look at school lunch, they are serving a ton of wheat –what happened to other grains? Rice? Corn? Quinoa? Spelt? Barley? Rye? I believe everything in moderation and people are consuming more wheat than ever before. Oddly, rates of Celiac disease have been doubling every 15 years. That might be a sign that people should each a more diverse diet.

If money and administrative costs were not a concern, I would advise schools to back off the overabundance of wheat. A varied diet is more wholesome.

CRP: How do you believe students would benefit from going gluten free?

SW: Well, 97% of people with Celiac disease have not been diagnosed. One in 133 people are living with Celiac disease and most of them don’t know it.  This can lead to living with another chronic disease as people with undiagnosed Celiac disease are at risk of developing other ailments including cancer. I consider this to be an epidemic. So I think that if more students ate a varied diet, they might be able to notice a correlation between how they feel after they eat a gluten free meal versus a wheat-heavy meal.

In discussing Celiac disease, I make no mention of people like me who have some kind of undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. Who knows how many people there are who could benefit from eating less gluten.

For more information on gluten-free eating, be sure to check out our post: Living with Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-Free.

To learn more about Sarah Wu and her book “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”, visit her site Fed Up With Lunch.

Dining Out to Raise Funds for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October marks the 27th annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.   The point of dedicating an entire month to the cause is to educate people on the importance of things like early detection, possible causes and treatments as well as recognize those who have been touched by it.   According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure site it was estimated that in 2011 alone there will be about 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 57,650 new cases of in situ breast cancer in women and about 2,140 new cases of breast cancer in men in the United States alone.

Because of these facts, October has also become a huge month to raise funds for finding a cure for breast cancer with a plethora of events and fundraisers to fit just about anyone’s lifestyle.   While most people might think of participating in the Race for the Cure or even wearing pink to raise awareness and funds, there are also several ways to help the cause while stimulating the economy and experiencing a delicious meal.   All over the country, restaurants are lending a hand in the fight to find a cure for breast cancer.  Whether you live in a big city where several restaurants have joined together for the cause or you’d rather help out at your favorite chain we’ve gathered several ways for you to participate in raising funds to fight back and raise awareness.

Cities Helping the Cause

Washington, D.C.
In the nation’s capital, some of the hottest restaurants have
pledged to Take a Bite Out of Breast Cancer.  According to
campaign’s site, “For one day, a week, or the entire month, participating restaurants generously donate a portion of their food and beverage sales so that we can continue our work to save lives.”   There is also another layer to this fundraising campaign which involves local D.C. food bloggers and food writers.  These writing Ambassadors are each adopting a participating restaurant to encourage loyal readers to go to the restaurant they are sponsoring.

New Orleans
Restaurants in New Orleans are carrying the trend of the number 31 (the number of days in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month) throughout their campaign.   The NOLA Goes Pink campaign site describes it as, “With 31 days in the month, 31 participating New Orleans restaurants will be offering $31 prix fixe dinners or entrées in support of breast cancer awareness throughout October.”  During the campaign all participating chefs are even going a step further and wearing pink chefs’ coats and
ensuring that the foods on the prix fixe menus are “clean, healthy, non-cancer-
causing, nutrient-dense, plant-based and lean-in-animal-fat offerings.”   Not only will this fundraiser be very pink and very health-minded, it will also donate ten percent of sales at each restaurant to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Several eateries in the windy city have also teamed up to collect a minimum of $1 per check (or more if the patron desires) for the Lynn Sage Foundation’s Chicago’s In Good Taste campaign.   A list of participating restaurants is listed on the Lynn Sage Foundation site and reservations for many locations can be booked through the reservation site Open Table.   According to the description on the Open Table site for the campaign, “100% of all proceeds will go directly to breast cancer research at Northwestern University.”

National Chains Helping the Cause

On the Border
At On the Border, they’ve created a Fiesta for the Cure and committed to donate a minimum of $250,000 over the course of the year to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.   The most basic way the restaurant is raising money is to encourage visitors to add a donation to their check.  As a thank you for this donation, diners are given a scratch off card which could reveal free items from On the Border as well as breast health facts.    Another food donation event at On the Border is the Give Back Night.  This designated night (check with your local restaurant for dates) means On the Border will donate 10% of all sales that night to the Komen foundation when customers present a Give Back Night flyer.  Along with these different edible options, there is also the chance to purchase merchandise like Fiesta for the Cure bracelets ($7 with $4 going to Komen) and caps ($12 with $6 going to Komen)

McAlister’s Deli
Building on customer’s love of McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea™ and unsweet tea, McAlister’s is partnering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure for the Drink for Pink program.  All month, McAlister’s will donate $1 of each Gallon to Go of their tea sold to the foundation.   McAlister’s is dedicated to donating a minimum of $100,000 in addition to sponsoring various Race for the Cure events.

Jersey Mike’s Subs
Back in May, Jersey Mike’s Subs launched the Mike’s Way to a Cure ® six-month long multi-phase fundraiser.   The first phase was an introduction of a special “Pink Ribbon Combo” as well as a branded plastic cup for fountain drinks with 70 cents of each drink going to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and.   The second phase provided the opportunity for customers to purchase a Mike’s Way to a Cure ® t- shirt with all proceeds going to Komen.  During this time they also began using special pink paper to wrap subs and pink to go bags to raise even more awareness.   Finally, in the third phase taking place this month, all of the previous items continue to be available and many Jersey Mike’s employees are also participating in Race for the Cure® events.

While the options above are a great way to get involved with both raising awareness and funds for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are many more opportunities to help no matter where you’re from or what you’re interested in.  Check out the Susan G. Komen site or your local chapter for more ways that you or your restaurant can get involved.

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Soy

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Soy

For many, when the word soy comes up in conversation the first things that come to mind are sauce and vegetarian.  The first is an obvious staple in most Asian cuisine and the second is often associated with the tofu that is regularly a staple in the vegetarian diet.   However, those choosing to enjoy Asian and Vegetarian cuisine aren’t the only people eating soy products.   On a daily basis virtually everyone enjoys some type of food that involves an element of soy.   While this may simply be a revelation for the typical person, for those with a soy allergy it can really put a crimp into the average meal.   Although soy products are almost impossible to avoid, it is thankfully one that occurs less often than the other top eight food allergies (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish and wheat).  According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “It is estimated that approximately 0.4 percent of American children, or about 298,410 under the age of 18, are allergic to soy, which is a member of the legume family.”  Still while this isn’t necessarily the most common of food allergies, it is still vital to know what the risks are and the many products that should be avoided.

Living with Dietary Restrictions: SoyWhat is a soy allergy and how does it develop?

Just like many other allergies, reactions to soy come from the body seeing the proteins of the food as something that shouldn’t be in the body.   In order to get rid of this foreign object, the body develops a reaction to fight it off and get rid of it.   While doctors do know that proteins are what causes the allergic reactions they still are 100% sure exactly which particular protein causes it.  The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says, “Researchers are still not completely certain which component of soy causes the reactions, but so far 15 allergenic proteins have been found in soy.”  With all that said unlike other legumes (peanuts, tree nuts, beans, etc.), soy usually brings on much more mild symptoms, although anaphylaxis can still happen in rare cases.

As with most allergies, soy allergies most often develop and/or become evident early in life.   These allergies come into being in infancy so often mostly due to formula.  The Mayo Clinic states, “Soy allergy in infants often begins with the introduction of a soy-based formula. Soy allergy may develop when a child is switched to a soy-based formula after an allergic reaction to a milk-based formula.”   However, this early introduction isn’t necessarily the only reason for the sensitivity to develop.  Other factors like family history (others with the allergy) and reactions to other food items can put a person more at risk for developing this intolerance as well.

What should be avoided?

Today soy is found in almost everything, especially processed food.   This makes the list of items to avoid virtually endless.   This means it is still extremely important to know what to keep an eye out for, read labels carefully and make decisions using this information.  WebMD provides the handy chart below to know what base items to look out for.

Soy Products Soy-Containing Ingredients Soy-Containing Food
Soy flourSoy nutsSoy milkSoy sprouts

Soybean granules or curds


Soy proteinTextured vegetable protein (TPV)Hydrolyzed plant proteinHydrolyzed soy protein

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein

Natural and artificial flavoring (may be soy based)

Vegetable gum

Vegetable starch

MisoSoy sauceWorcestershire sauceTamari


Vegetable broth

Some cereals

Some infant formula

Baked goods


Due to the items on this list, it is very important to avoid most Asian cuisine because of  the use of broths, soy sauce, vegetable starch and even tofu.    Since soy is a legume it may also be necessary to avoid other members of that family like peanuts, beans, lentils, peas and licorice.  However, soy allergies don’t always mean reactions will occur with any legumes.   It’s important to discuss with your doctor which you may need to avoid and which may be safe to consume.   Finally, a somewhat hidden item to be aware of is food that has been injected.   Often meats and other food items are injected with salt water or broth to enhance flavor and moisture which seems harmless but if broth is used it could cause an outbreak.   If you believe an item could be injected with broth, don’t hesitate to further investigate or request a substitution.

Soy alternatives and eating on the go

Being allergic to soy and its inclusion in a plethora of processed foods can make it seem like the only foods available are those made at home with only food fresh from your garden.   While eating this way can be a great healthy option, it’s also not always possible.  Luckily there are great foods made outside the home that are also perfectly safe for those with soy sensitivities.   The Your Not-So-Professional Personal Chef blog has compiled an extensive list of great alternatives that don’t contain soy.   Among this list are items like Earth Balance Soy-Free Natural Buttery Spread (also great for those with dairy allergies), Kitchen Basic’s Stock (beef, vegetable, seafood and turkey),  some Frito Lay products and even many non-microwavable popcorn like Popcorn, Indiana.  The Allergy Free and Sugar Free Snacks site also recommends  vegetables and fruits that are either frozen or packed in their own juice.

The choices don’t just stop at in-home food products for those with soy allergies though.  Eating out, while a bit difficult, can still be possible when you’re careful, aware and do the research.    However, you may not always have the opportunity to look into restaurants.  If you run into this, it’s helpful to know that there are many convenient establishments like Zaxby’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts and even Baskin Robins that have soy-free options and are always willing to cater to those with the allergy while also providing plenty of choices for fellow diners.

Along with knowing which places are safe to dine at with a food allergy it is also extremely important to talk to your wait staff to ensure that they are aware of your food needs.   With this, if your wait staff is attentive to these needs it’s important to treat them with similar respect by both commending them and tipping well.   Eating With Food Allergies recommends this and adds that, “If you do, you’ll probably get to know the chef and restaurant staff and you’ll find that they are even more willing to take good care of you.”

Delicious soy-free recipes to try at home

Chicken Goat-Cheese Quesadillas from Women’s Health

Caramel Banana Crepes from Prevention

How do you or your family members deal with being Soy-Free?  Please share your story. 

Alternatives to the College Cafeteria

Last month we told you about The Latest News and Trends for College Foodservices focusing on the ways campuses are working to provide alternatives to the usual cafeteria lines.   This month we’ll take a look at how students are taking dietary matters into their own hands and going outside the traditional food provided on campus.  With alternative kitchens, convenient delivery and even a hands on approach, students are taking it upon themselves (with a little help from outside chefs, restaurants and local farmers) to make sure they’re never caught wondering what’s for dinner.

Sorority/Fraternity Kitchens

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Though students living in a Sorority or Fraternity are still located on campus, they often have the distinct advantage of living in a location with its own private kitchen.   Along with this private kitchen usually comes a cook or chef of some sort to provide those living in the house with their meals.  This chef is frequently chosen and paid for by the members of the Sorority/Fraternity.   The downside to this is that it usually also means finding the most affordable person available rather than someone that will provide the healthiest or best tasting meals.   However, one of Central’s own customers, Campus Cooks, is helping to change all of this in over fifty Sorority and Fraternity houses across the country.   Campus Cooks sets itself apart from the average campus cafeteria by providing quality food and kitchen management at a flat per person rate to ensure that students are getting the most out of what little money they have to spend.  The company takes on the responsibility of hiring on-site cooks to make fresh lunches, dinners and snacks for each house.   In order to develop these healthy and creative menus the cooks use feedback from the students living in that particular house so the food is customized their specific tastes and preferences.   This in-house option is also a great alternative for those suffering from food allergies and dietary restrictions because the cook can make meals specifically for these individual to avoid any adverse reactions.  Cooks are even trained to incorporate the newest food trends to keep the meals interesting and nutritious on a daily basis.

Online Ordering from Local Restaurants

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While not all students are lucky enough to have a chef cater to their specific tastes, any academic with a little extra cash has the ability to order out.   However, ordering food has never been as easy as it now is with the recently launched Deals4MealsOnline, a concept created by former college students for current college students.  

While attending Seton Hall, founder Kenneth Cucchia and his friends ran into a problem that he was sure others on campus had also encountered…they didn’t know where to order food from.  Cucchia told The Sentonian, “I was just sitting on my couch one day with my roommates, and we were trying to figure out where to go to order some cheap food.  I Google’d it and it took me forever to find a list of places to order from in South Orange (New Jersey), and that’s pretty much where the idea came from.”  This desire for take out inspired Cucchia to solve the problem for years to come by developing Deals4MealsOnline, a site that allows students to search for just about any type of food they’re craving in their area, order online and have it delivered right to their door.  And on this new one-stop food delivery site, students are the only ones to benefit.   Restaurants also reap the benefits of  having the ability to receive online orders at a more afforable price as well as the advantage of targeted advertising on the site and via social media. 

Local Food Programs

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Students are not only creating new ways to find meals, they are also growing, selling and cooking the food on many campuses.   Through programs like Farm to College, many students are getting the opportunity to know exactly where their food is coming from by being a part of it in every stage.   Over 150 colleges and universities participate in this program where students can participate in activities like product research, planning gardens, farming, preparing food and even coordinating the purchase and delivery of products to dining halls that are available locally, but not necessarily on-campus.   Although currently the majority of the Farm to College programs are still overseen by campus foodservices or other administrative services many of the programs were initiated by students and at least twelve of the schools programs are currently completely student run.

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In addition to growing and preparing food on campus, some students are event selling it for both student and community use.  One example of this is the student-run farmer’s market at the University of Massachusetts (also a participant in the Farm to College program).   This year, three of the schools sustainable living programs joined together to put on the farmer’s market in order to raise awareness and promote farm-to-table living.   According to an article in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, “In addition to the farmer’s market stand, the Student Farming Enterprise – a six-credit course consisting of two one-semester sections – runs a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.”  These programs allow students, faculty and other community members to receive education on healthy food as well as a trusted local source to buy it from.

What cafeteria alternatives have you seen popping up on campus?   How do they compare with the typical campus cafeteria?

Central’s Week in Brief: September 16, 2011

Every Friday Central brings you stories from the week that you might have missed, but that are definitely worth a look. We’ll feature food news covering everything from the weird to the wonderful in the world of restaurants, schools, the military and more.  It’s our way to help you go into the weekend with a little extra knowledge and maybe even a project or recipe to try out!


1)      Wednesday, in the wake of all of the salmonella and E. coli outbreaks this year, the FDA announced a new network called Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation or CORE Network.   A press release from the FDA says, “The CORE Network is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of epidemiologists, veterinarians, microbiologists, environmental health specialists, emergency coordinators, and risk communications specialists.”   These professionals are working together to prevent and respond to human and animal foodborne illness outbreaks and ultimately prevent these outbreaks from happening in the future. 

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2)      In an effort to bring in even more customers while at the same time raising money for their Whole Kids Foundation, Whole Foods joined together with Living Social to sell half-off coupons for their stores.  The offer was for $20 worth of goods for just $10.  $5 of each deal will go to the Whole Kids Foundation which improves the nutrition and wellness of children in an effort to end childhood obesity.  Living Social spokesman Andrew Weinstein told the Washington Post that the deal sold, “…more than 115k per hour, or more than 30 per second.”   In the end, Whole Foods actually sold out of 1 million offers in just one day.   


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3)      In support of the Let’s Move campaign, Darden Restaurants Inc., owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52,  unveiled changes to all of their menus with first lady Michelle Obama on hand.   According to the Washington Post, “The company will pledge to reduce the calories and sodium in all its meals by 10 percent over five years, and by 20 percent over 10 years.”   Darden will also make sure that all kids’ meals automatically come with a fruit or vegetable side and 1 percent milk instead of sweeter, more fattening options like soda and French fries to better support the efforts against childhood obesity. 


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4)      This Saturday, September 17, Slow Food USA™ is challenging everyone to Take the $5 Challenge by gathering up family, friends, etc. and making or participating in a dinner that costs no more than $5 per person.   The overall goal is to make people realize that it’s possible to eat healthy, local food while on a budget and to see what changes need to be made to make affordable food available to everyone.  If you’re interested in the program you can take the pledge to participate on Saturday or even donate to the efforts.


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5)      Since football season is now in full swing, it’s the perfect time to try out some new tailgating foods.  This weekend while enjoying all the big games, try a great meal including the following:   Tomatillo-Poblano Guacamole from Delish, All Day Pork Loin Chili from Food Network and Salty Peanut Squares from Taste of Home.

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