May 13, 2009
To Whom It May Concern:
My family and I love the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. We find our membership invaluable, and are always happy to support the museum in whatever way we can. Brooklyn is lucky to have such a world class institution at our fingertips. But with every visit (and we visit quite a bit!), I’m more and more astonished at the extremely limited healthy food options available to your patrons.
I’ve included some photos from a recent lunch break in your cafeteria. While you thankfully offer salads and fruit, most of the choices are processed foods (eg, frozen pizza and chicken fingers), with a focus on overly salty and sugary snacks (eg, liquid cheese nachos, chips). I didn’t see a single organic option (the yogurt—an easy and affordable product to offer organic—was not just conventional, but one of the highest in sugar available). And the central focus: an illuminated wall of soda that was visually enticing to me, never mind my 2-year-old!
As an entrepreneur and the wife of entrepreneur and business owner, I understand the challenge of balancing critical business priorities (like finances) and lofty values. It’s no surprise that your cafeteria seems an afterthought. Understandably. I can’t imagine that it makes much money. But while I certainly don’t expect it to be as carefully curated as your exhibits or even the gift shop, I can’t help but wonder if positive change can come from a shift in perspective. What if you treat the cafeteria as an extension of your educational initiatives?
As an educator with a background in child development and media, I see an exciting opportunity for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum to extend learning into the cafeteria from the greenhouse (where children help plant seeds), the garden (where they get to see fresh herbs and veggies on the vine), and “World Brooklyn” (where children can explore pretend markets with foods from all different cultures). Some signage, natural food choices, and an occasional food-focused program that connects growing and eating food to the greenhouse, garden, or “World Brooklyn” could do the trick.
As for the additional expense of offering healthier foods, there are an increasing number of models for taking affordable steps towards greener dining. This article in The O’Mama Report gives a thorough (but not complete) run down of exciting things happening at public and private schools and universities around the country. Perhaps some inspiration. And I think I speak for most parents when I say that we’d prefer fewer, healthier options than a huge variety of unhealthy options. Maybe start by simply eliminating junk food and soda?
There are many exciting ways to integrate the cafeteria into museum exhibits and educational initiatives. (Michelle and I would be over the moon to talk about some ideas with you!) But, in the spirit of making small steps towards big change, any change you can afford would be a welcome change for families.
I hope you find this productive. I write not in criticism, but in deep respect for the influence the Brooklyn Children’s Museum wields in our community and beyond. It is a nationally recognized, progressive educational institution that has an invaluable opportunity to extend its meaningful work to food education. Or at least help parents make healthier choices.
Have a similar concern with the food choices available at a school or family-focused institution near you? Let them know! And, in the meantime, pack lunch. We often tote these hand held Syrian style spinach pies whenever we hit our beloved Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
Hand Held Syrian Style Spinach Pies
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)
1 medium organic onion, chopped
about 1 lb organic spinach, washed and chopped
2 heaping tsp salt
2 cloves organic garlic, finely minced
fresh juice of 1 organic lemon
1/4 cup organic olive oil, plus extra for sauteing onions
organic feta cheese, crumbled
organic mozzarella, shredded
2 rounds pizza dough (I use store bought to keep this easy!)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In the meantime, carmelize onions in olive oil over medium-high heat. Set aside.
2. Toss chopped spinach with salt. Let sit 3 minutes or so before squeezing the spinach of excess water. Mix drained, salted spinach with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, feta, and carmelized onions.
3. Divide dough and roll out 5-6 inch rounds. Place a little mound of shredded mozzarella in the center of the round, top with mound of spinach (about 2 tbsp), and a little more shredded mozzarella. Fold in half and seal the edges. When I have the time, I shape these into nice 1/2 moons or triangles. When I don’t have time, I don’t pay any attention to what shape these tasty pockets make.
4. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil. Place pies on the foil and brush the tops with olive oil. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Note: These are easy to eat on the go and taste great warmed or at room temp, making them a great packed snack or lunch. They also freeze well, so make a double batch to make sure you always have some around!