Welcome to The (NEW) Lunch Tray!

Say hello to my shiny new Substack!

Hello, and welcome!

For those who don’t know me, I’m Bettina Elias Siegel, a writer, former lawyer, and mom of two.

From 2010 to 2020, I wrote a popular WordPress blog called The Lunch Tray, and my writing about children and food has also appeared in outlets like the New York Times, Civil Eats, and the Houston Chronicle. In late 2019, I published my first book, Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World, which the New York Times called “a blueprint for how to raise healthy eaters in a fast-food culture” and Real Simple named a best book of the year! (More here.)

I’m really excited to launch this new Substack newsletter, which will cover all things kids and food—from school food policy to family dinner recipes to picky eating help. Each week, I’ll share a rundown of the kid/food links I find interesting or important, in a format you can easily scan to find what most interests you.

And by the way, if you happen to work in the kid/food world and have something to share—an article or op-ed you've just written, an innovation in your school food program, a new advocacy campaign or policy initiative, recently published research, or any other news or tidbits—I’d love to know about it!

OK, let’s get to it, shall we?


Top Kid/Food News 🧒🏽 📰

  • I’m sorry to lead with awful news, but the most significant (and ongoing) kid/food news story is increased childhood hunger due to the ravages of the pandemic. It’s estimated that a shocking 17 million American children—that’s 1 in 4—are now experiencing food insecurity. The most recent $900 billion Covid relief package, passed by Congress late last month, provides $13 billion in overall for food assistance—including a 15% boost to SNAP (food stamp) benefits for six months, and allocating $400 million to food banks and $175 million to other critical nutrition programs. But anti-hunger advocates say it doesn’t go far enough to meet the unprecedented need. (Readers interested in donating to hunger relief efforts will find several worthy organizations here.)

  • Depressingly, Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich also reports that $2 billion in P-EBT (pandemic school food benefits) from the March relief package is still tied up in red tape, even as needy families go hungry.

  • ICYMI, President-elect Biden last month nominated former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak to again head up the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which administers federal child nutrition programs), a post he held for eight years under President Obama. But even though (or perhaps because) he’s such a familiar face, the nomination is one of Biden’s most controversial cabinet picks. Read why at The Counter.

  • The recently released 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines drew fire for ignoring scientific recommendations about adults’ alcohol and added sugar consumption, but they’re also the first to address the nutritional needs of infants, toddlers, and pregnant women. One key takeaway: no added sugars at all for kids under 2, and for older kids, added sugars should comprise less than 10% of their total calories. (As I discuss in Kid Food, though, most American kids are blowing past those sugar limits every day.) CNN’s rundown on the DGA’s and kids here.

  • Pandemic remote learning turns out to be just another way for Big Food to market to your kids (because of course it is). Some experts recently offered their recommendations to put a stop to this nonsense.

  • Alarmingly, British pediatricians report that kids’ eating disorders are on the rise during the pandemic.

  • The Associated Press publishes a devastating exposé of child labor in the palm oil industry, using Girl Scout cookies as the narrative lens.

Cafeteria Corner: School Food News 🍎 🏫

  • The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) turned 10 last month; here’s a recap of everything the Obama-era law has achieved so far, courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

  • But despite these clear wins for kids’ health, the Trump administration is still doing what it can to weaken HHFKA nutrition standards before heading out the door. This past Tuesday, Democrats on the House Committee on Education and Labor sent a letter to the USDA in protest.

  • You really can’t overstate the contributions of Chef Ann Cooper to school food reform in this country. Cooper retired last month and reflects on her work here.

  • School meals can advance the Biden administration’s priorities, argues an op-ed in Agri-Pulse.

  • It’s time for universal school meals, says the Children’s Defense Fund.

  • Want to see a 1979 Houston ISD lunch menu? Of course you do . . . .

A friend found this menu among his old school papers, though he never actually ate school meals. Did the mysterious “Cutlet” scare him off? If you have an old menu lying around, please send me a picture so I can share it here!

For Little Eaters—and Those Who Feed Them 👶 🥣

In this section, I’ll be sharing links especially useful to parents and other caregivers, from picky eating help to family dinner recipes. This week’s edition rounds up some notable food literacy and cooking resources just for kids:

The Grown-Ups’ Table 🍸🍴

Just some fun food links that caught my eye:

  • A hilarious deep dive into the Bucatini Shortage of 2020. Seriously, you won’t regret a minute spent reading this.

  • Are you a cookbook fanatic like I am? If so, Paula Forbes’s Stained Page News is your new required reading.

  • If we ever host another cocktail party (um, what are those again?), I’m totally making this tarte soleil from Smitten Kitchen, which looks incredibly impressive but seems pretty easy—aka, my cooking sweet spot.

  • Chocolate lovers may scoff, but the very idea of this beverage rocked my world.

A Quick Note About Subscriptions

This newsletter is free for everyone until March 3, 2021, but if you subscribe now, you can lock in forever an Early Bird rate of $4 a month—(that’s less than one fancy Starbucks drink, people!) or $40 a year. After March 3rd, subscriptions will be $5 a month or $50 annually.

Nonpaying subscribers will still be able to read this newsletter after March 3rd, but in the form of a monthly, condensed digest that will lack some of the timeliness and breadth of the original weekly posts. But every now and then I may still send you a weekly dispatch—especially if something big is going on in the kid/food world. Because I’m nice that way. ☺️

Until Next Time!

OK, that’s it for this week, and thanks so much for reading this debut edition of my newsletter! The content and format may evolve a bit as we go along, so feel free to send me your feedback. If you liked what you read, please share it . . .

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. . . and you can always connect with me via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and Insta. Learn more about me and my book at my author website, bettinasiegel.com.