May 13th, 2009

Open Letter to the Bklyn Children’s Museum (Easy Hand-Held Syrian Spinach Pies)

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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.

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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.

Sincerely,

Stacie Billis

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!

26 Responses

  1. michelle says:

    stacie:

    a wonderful letter. i see the beginnings of a petition. where do i sign?

    michelle

  2. Christina says:

    beautifully written. would love to help out with this WHEN it goes into action!!!!

  3. rebecca says:

    i couldn’t agree more! and you’ve written a very thoughtful letter.

  4. Kim says:

    Do you cook the spinach ahead of time, or just toss it raw with salt after washing it? Thanks for your great letter and as always great recipes.

  5. Chrissy says:

    Really, really well said! And a great recipe, too! Hand pies are a favorite of mine when I need to use up left-overs.

  6. debbie says:

    Hear, hear! We usually bring lunch, too, but I must admit their chicken fingers are miiiighty tasty.

  7. stacie says:

    you don’t cook the spinach. amazing, right? You wash, chop, toss with salt, let sit, squeeze out excess water, then toss with the other stuff. Then it’s ready for filling the dough. so easy! and, you can make it even easier (ie, avoid stove top cooking all together) by skipping the carmelized onions. i don’t believe they are a traditional element–i just like them. more traditional versions call for tossing in diced raw onion (and sumac, which i didn’t have on hand).

  8. stacie says:

    hi bklyn mamas! thanks for the support. glad i could speak up for all of us. i sent the letter to the museum, as well. i’ll let you know if i hear back.

  9. Carolyn says:

    YES!!! I was really surprised by the food at the museum. It seemed particularly unhealthy and very processed. I also felt like there weren’t very many choices for young children. I would love to see this changed! Also, I really, really wish they would be open earlier – 10am would make a morning trip to the museum during the week much more possible!

  10. Kate says:

    Do you cook them before freezing?

  11. stacie says:

    in the past, i have cooked these before freezing. with so many big appetites in my house, i never know how many will go. i let them sit in the fridge for picking and packing for 3 days and then throw what’s left in the freezer.

    i was thinking that i’d make an extra large batch soon and par bake them before freezing. maybe let them bake 10-12 min, cool completely, pack, freeze and then pop them in a preheated oven for another 10-12 min or so when we’re ready to eat.

    hope this helps!

  12. [...] I want to jump on board with her: if YOU agree, please post a comment under her open letter to the Brooklyn Museum so we can be heard. NO MORE junk for our [...]

  13. Melissa says:

    I’ve been to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and always felt like there were no healthy food options for kids. What a great surprise to see that some many of us feel the same way.

    Stacie/Karen: Thanks for putting this out there.

  14. amybnyc says:

    Thanks for writing so well what I think each time I go to the children’s museum with my home packed lunch! I’d love to be buying more than an orange there! There are other places that do a good job of making the cafeteria wholesome and welcoming and in a way that I’m sure brings $ in…first that pops to mind is the Natural History Museum. We believe in your Children’s museum!

  15. Daniela says:

    Great initiative! I think it is absolutely vital that we teach our children the importance of healthy nutrition, and the Brooklyn Children Museum should be a partner in this. Petition anyone?

  16. karen says:

    Please bring healthy food into your wonderful museum. I want to see a change!

  17. bri says:

    Amen! I agree completely.

  18. Amanda says:

    MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY!

  19. Tara says:

    Thank you so much for bringing this to light.

    I just hosted my sons 2nd birthday at the museum. The children had a wonderful time, but the food was appalling. I was shocked that the museum didn’t offer healthier selections.

    The choices for the toddlers were Chicken Fingers (fried & salty), Hot Dogs (shriveled & unrecognizable), Pizza (frozen & micro-waved). The healthiest option was the turkey wrap (boring). The worst may have been the juice boxes (liquid sugar). The option was given to upgrade to 100% apple juice for a cost. Sugary, colored syrup should not have been an option in the first place.

  20. L Navarro says:

    It’s shameful that a museum for children is offering such unhealthy food and drinks. The most disappointing part of the museum is undoubtedly the food.

  21. WeddingGuide says:

    Having better choices on our plate is always a good idea. This is especially true when it comes to our children. We must teach them to eat the right way or when they are grown they won’t do it on their own. I am not sure how spinach will appeal to kids, but it’s worth a try.

  22. michelle says:

    Yep! Stacie and I like to say that we’re laying a foundation for a lifetime of healthy and adventurous eating. And I can attest that spinach, delivered in the right way—the way we like to eat it (ie, not boiled and bland!)—can be incredibly appealing to kids. This pocket of Stacie’s is a perfect vehicle. Crusty, handheld, and well flavored. And, of course, if your kid is in the I-refuse-to-eat-anything-green phase, these are so good that you can keep making and offering them until they get past the pickies. Just means more for you! Yay!

  23. Andrea says:

    I am excited to try this recipe! It looks fabulous and healthy! I am also looking for a Syrian cream cheese hand held pie recipe. It is very much like the spinach pie or a meat pie with just a different filling. I have tried it in a restaurant and loved it but can’t find a recipe. Do you have a recipe for cream cheese pie? I would love to try it!! THANKS for the great recipes and good luck with the museum!

  24. [...] Easy Hand Held Syrian Spinach Pies: I love these and they really are simple to make (a no-cook spinach filling!). They also freeze great and are a good recipe to have on hand for back-to-school. [...]

  25. [...] temp), dosas (made easy if you get a mix, make like crepes and freeze), and hand-held pies (these Syrian spinach pies are made with store-bought pizza dough and a no-cook spinach filling). All of these things are easy [...]

  26. [...] for a quick dinner or school lunch—but I tend default to Mediterranean flavors, like with these Syrian-style Spinach Pies. I was recently inspired to take a new tack, though. A Latin approach. I was recently inspired to [...]

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