Teachers Write 7.24.18 Tuesday Quick-Write with Hena Khan

Today’s Tuesday Quick-Write is from guest author Hena Khan. Hena grew up in Maryland, with her nose in a book. She’s the author of the picture books GOLDEN DOMES AND SILVER LANTERNS and CRESCENT MOONS AND POINTED MINARETS as well as novels like AMINA’S VOICE and the new ZAYD SALEEM: CHASING THE DREAM chapter book series.


I spend more time than I like to admit thinking about and sometimes agonizing over what I eat, to improve my health and at times to help me shed a few pounds. A recommended strategy to stay on top of your diet involves keeping a food journal and tracking what you eat all day. But like most other recommended strategies, I find that one to be incredibly tedious and usually abandon it after a couple of days.

In POWER FORWARD, the first book in my new chapter book series, my protagonist Zayd is a 4th grader who’s small for his age but doesn’t let his size get in the way of his dreams. He is underweight and gets frequent stomachaches. Zayd’s mother asks him to keep a food journal to help figure out what might be causing them, and to help him potentially GAIN weight. She even labels the pages for him with DATE, WHAT I ATE, HOW I FEEL. But he finds it no less tedious.

When Zayd does occasionally write in the food journal, he ends up editorializing his meals and the things he eats (e.g. “pretty good with barbeque sauce,” “not as good as beef, but edible”) and how they makes him feel (“like a basketball is dribbling on my insides,” “grateful”). He is very specific about quantities or flavors (“seven goldfish crackers,” “watermelon jolly rancher”) and adds extra details that probably won’t help mom very much but make the journal a lot more fun to read.

Your Assignment:  Think back on what you ate yesterday, and create a food journal for the day. But not any regular old, boring food journal! Instead, bring each of the meals to life with descriptions that would make the most over-the-top food critic wannabe Yelp reviewer jealous. That vanilla flavored non-dairy creamer in your coffee? Even it can have a starring role if you desire. Give each of the foods you consumed context and meaning. How did they make you feel about yourself and your purpose in life? Can you find any symbolism between what you ate and your mood? Can you write any amazing metaphors or similes? Your journal entries for the day can be an ode to the food you ate, or hate mail, or a combination of both. You could keep the food descriptions simple and add categories if you choose, like “WHAT I WISH I ATE INSTEAD” or “HOW THIS RATES COMPARED TO THE BEST MEAL I EVERY HAD” Let your imagination run wild.

Don’t forget snacks. And feel free to fictionalize if it’s more fun. The pantry is the limit! I’d love to read your favorite lines or entries in the comments. Happy writing!

47 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.24.18 Tuesday Quick-Write with Hena Khan

  1. Dear Hena,
    Thank you for this wonderful prompt. What a neat thing this will be to share with my students. Here’s a short journal entry.

    Breakfast: egg McMuffin, half eaten
    Lunch: gooey, melted cheese on cranberry bread with cherry butter. Sounds terrible but so yummy
    Dinner: Fried chicken, must have been a massive chicken because there was too much to eat.
    Snack: cookie with frosting filling but with raisins, so totally healthy.
    Tomorrow repeat. Vacation meals are the best.

    1. Thank you! This is so great. The commentary on the cookie being totally healthy sounds like something Zayd would say, and made me laugh! Enjoy your vacation!

  2. I am sort of developing a balance between what I eat and what I want to eat. The caloric obsession I feel after eating too many slices of pizza isn’t going away any time soon, but one cheat day a week helps me obsess less and live more. Yesterday was not a cheat day, but here’s my attempt at spicing up a meal plan.
    Breakfast was a morning meditation with a chewy chocolate chip protein cookie and a cup of coffee. Each bite of the cookie was made more delicious and energized by drenching it into hot Keurig coffee. Bring on the day!

    Lunch- Tuna salad with cats. A rainy Monday for all. I opened a can of tuna and added it to a bed of shredded lettuce for a lazy lunch. No cutting necessary, but I did have to share some with my cats.

    Dinner- Who cares what I ate, Is there anything tastier than dinner waiting for you? Well, maybe a clean up crew too, but let’s not get carried away.

    1. I love the idea of a morning meditation! And seriously, dinner made for you is the dream. Enjoy your meals today, and keep writing!

    2. My favourite part is the tuna salad with cats. My cat come running whenever we use the can opener. It would be impossible to eat this without sharing.

  3. Yesterday’s Food
    Posted on July 24, 2018 by showgem
    Yesterday morning my husband made me eggs with an onion bagel. I would have preferred a cooked egg rather than scrambled eggs. It was crunchy and oniony. I ate most of it. He had put it in the toaster so some parts were a bit too crunchy. I had a cup of coffee with almond milk. There was no sugar. I ate some raspberries. We went to the beach and I had some wine and a peach. I did have a few Utz Potatoe chips. I love when they are all curled up. I am a big fan.

    In the evening we went to a local restaurant that we have gone to many times. We had some shopping to do so we ordered salads for everyone and two small pizzas. I had a pasta salad with chicken, greens, tomatoes and pasta. I had dinner with my husband and my 2 daughters. The mushroom pizza was good. My daughter ordered a mozzarella pizza. There was a one small piece of mozzarella on each slice with a lot of basil. Very disappointing.

    We all talked about how in the past when we went to this restaurant they chopped up the salads into small pieces. We noticed that they were not doing it anymore. There were big pieces of lettuce and it didn’t taste as good. We all have leftovers for today. I will likely chop up my salad when I eat it for lunch. Eating the chopped up salad is like reaching nirvana

  4. Irreconcilable Differences
    by Amy S. Bortnick

    I’d like a divorce
    I’ve been married to my stomach for over forty-nine years
    We simply cannot get along
    Irreconcilable differences
    There’s always an issue, a complication
    If I eat one thing, it’s dissatisfied
    Another, it’s furious
    I simply cannot win
    Sometimes it hurts to drink water
    Water should not hurt
    Food should not hurt
    I cannot tolerate the anguish
    The pain is real
    I’d like a divorce
    Irreconcilable differences

    1. Did you really just write this poem from scratch this am? Great word choices to reflect the agony of smart as well as poor choices that probably plague all of us at times — especially when we are emotional eaters who swing.

    2. This is excellent! I wonder what inspired you to write poetry for this prompt. It reads with so much passion. Great job! (And I’m sorry for your troubles. My husband has a similar relationship with food.)

      1. Thank you!

        I’m sorry for your husband’s struggles, as well. It’s doable, but takes a lot of energy and time to figure out what works.

    3. Wow, this is so palpable. I feel your pain! Great job. And way to elevate the assignment to a new level! 🙂

  5. Thank you for this writing prompt. I think food has some many meanings to people but I have never considered including it in my writing!

    The ice cream cone was heavy. It surprised me how heavy it felt. But, this was Costco after all. Everything was “go big or go home.” It was the best choice of treats on offer, at 400 calories, the equivalent to the entire dinner I had eaten before coming to Costco to “look around.” Really bad idea. After a week of holiday eating, this ice cream cone was the tiara on a day spent eating penance salads. All the good wiped out by this chocolate vanilla swirl in a waffle cone. Should have shared it. Should have resisted. Should have thrown half of it out. But I didn’t.

    1. Ha! I love that. My mother loves the hot dogs at Costco—they are so enormous and so good! I love the phrase “penance salads”! And “go big or go home” was a title I was considering for my third book in the series, but it was too long.

  6. Yesterdays food:
    Breakfast: I’m going to do this today. Weight is out of control and I need to cut back or none of my pants are going to fit. Nobody wants to see me at work without pants. Here we go.
    2 egg whites, fried with cooking spray
    2 oz low-fat ham
    1/2 oz low-fat cream cheese
    1 everything bagel thin, toasted
    Coffee in mass quantities
    (Smug grin of satisfaction for having resisted the waffles)

    Way too busy for lunch so I’ll just grab a snack. Something light.
    20 Whisps parmesean cheese crackers
    2tbsp pimento cheese spread
    …and just a little bit MORE cheese spread
    Mmmm…and the crusts from the kid’s pb&j
    maybe also a spoonful of peanut butter
    And hummus
    And a carrot. Carrots are healthy. This is good.

    Daughter is getting orthodontic work tomorrow and will be banned from sticky and hard foods for two years. WE MUST EAT ALL THE HARD AND STICKY THINGS TONIGHT! I’m such a good mom!
    Garden salad with crunchy raw veggies and croutons (so healthy)
    2tbsp homemade Caesar dressing (hmm, no preservatives?)
    Grilled ribeye steak (so much protein!)
    Green beans with nuts, olive oil, and dried cranberries (good fats, right?)
    Corn on the cob (I’m supporting local agriculture!)
    Crusty roll with butter (carbohydrates aren’t the enemy)

    Caramel corn, caramel apple, jolly ranchers, maybe a little bit more caramel corn, salt water taffy, OH MY GOD THAT CARAMEL CORN IS SO GOOD, maybe a few more jolly ranchers, TAKE THIS CARAMEL CORN AWAY FROM ME PLEASE!!!!

    ((Sigh)) I guess I’ll start again tomorrow. Mondays are terrible days to start diets. Everyone knows that. (Crunches on the last of the caramel corn as she shuffled off to bed)

    1. Haha! Zayd would so connect with this. Especially the part about the eating all the hard and sticky things, and the parenthetical commentary. Love it. I need to go get some caramel corn now.

  7. Monday, June 22, 2017

    Decaf, man I need caffeine instead, cup of coffee.
    Whole wheat english muffin with almond butter and banana.
    Half of a “Mom, Mom, I want a” take one bite and say your done banana.

    Straight off the grill veggies and chicken, Mixed them up with some quinoa and hummus. Served with a succulent reminder to feed the 7 and 4 year old.

    Sliced apples and almond butter with a side of Atlas screaming in my ear.

    I think I’m winning mom of the year spaghetti and meatballs with a side salad for adults only.

    Strawberry Daddy is awesome and takes everyone to the creamery for ice cream in a waffle cone!

  8. This writing prompt really allowed me to focus on what I am familiar with from one of fav summer activities — going to several local farmer’s market. Visiting the vendors is such a feast of all the senses. Reminds me of some of the best historical fiction or that vividly describe the settings.
    As a millennial couple with baby strapped on dad’s torso and mom pushing their runner’s stroller with a child who squirms to walk, the apparent newcomers to the farmers market ask the deeply tanned farmer how to select the best cantaloupe. She smiles at the changes in parenting since her own children were that age and wanders over to the sweet corn and asks the sullen farmer’s daughter with the freckles on her nose what she would prefer to be doing as they count the baker’s dozen ears of bicolor corn that has fresh nectar oozing from the tips.
    As the post rain sun glints in at the corner of the next vendor’s tent, light catches the bright red cherries in a few baskets. Though she pretends to mosey over, she really wants to dart over for the best selection before someone else notices the size more akin to the grocery store type but missing the freshness of the local produce that will drip from the fruit as her sons’, home for a nights rom college, enjoy the compote later that evening.

    More Thoughts
    As much as setting is important it’s what the characters are doing in that setting that reflect the priorities and values. So I wrote a couple of different passages that describe my hands doing things after the stain of cherries sets in from putting to bake a desert.

    So I also wrote about my red stained fingers on the steering wheel and later on the yoga mat that afternoon.

    1. I enjoyed how you really got into the descriptions of the cherries and continued with it. Could make a great series of short stories about interactions with cherries.

  9. This was fun! And happened last night. I do this with my first graders–and even have them write on a paper plate. Usually it’s what they would want there. lol

    After many meals of many colorful, raw and cooked vegetables
    from the garden,
    a burger was craved.
    But no meat, thank you.
    My friend, Food Processor, helped with these.
    Snowy cauliflower and like-a-forest broccoli, riced.
    (Who thinks of this stuff?)
    Bright red roasted peppers.
    Almost drained. Almost.
    Two cans of hearty black beans,
    Always rinsed.
    (Not just for breakfast.)
    Fresh basil.
    (The aroma on my fingers makes happy sparkles in my brain.)
    Sprinkles, heavy or light, of
    Burgers made.
    On the grill.
    Smells like a picnic.
    Top with thick slices of tomato.
    An eyes closed, slow chewing kind of mmmmmmm.
    Burger crave–conquered.

    1. I love how you created a recipe in a poem! I’ll have to remember this as an idea for my students. So creative.

    2. This is such a great idea. I want to make these! I love the poem recipe!!! Nice take on the prompt!

  10. Thank you for the prompt Hena. I keep a food journal because I have a sweet tooth that can get out of control. I have never thought to write about it though. I’ll just do breakfast because it is my favorite meal of the day and yesterday’s didn’t go so well.

    Porridge made from Quaker Steel cut oats. The oats were expertly cleaved by the finest steel in the land. I added dark brown sugar flavored with molasses, and natural chunky peanut butter. The final touch is a sprinkle of Salvia Hispanica. I allow the porridge to sit while I prepare my coffee. The beans are harvested from Kenya and roasted to perfection over a fire fueled by rosewood and mahogany. I grind the beans by hand to release their oils and gently pour them into a French press. I add 178 degree spring water and allow them to steep for 3 minutes before serving. By this time the Salvia Hispanica have had a chance to swell to perfection. The flavors of peanut and molasses have blended but are still distinct. The oats have a slight chew and provide a contrast to the crunchy peanut butter that makes each bite an adventure.

    This meal was actually steel cut oats with chunky peanut butter, brown sugar, and chia seeds. I let it sit too long because I forgot to make my coffee and when I sat down to eat it had started to firm up a bit. I ate it anyway.

  11. This was a fun prompt that I can totally see using with my students. What I liked about it was how the framework of food helped me see beyond the food and recognize the joys in my day. Since my writing was mostly personal and in my journal, I am not sharing, but I loved how I came to a realization through the act of writing.

  12. Lunch Menu: Chicken Fajitas & a tall cool glass of water

    The assembly: fresh soft tortilla shell, juicy chicken slices warmed to perfection, a drizzle of old orange cheddar, a few slivers of crispy onions, some mildly chewy chopped up red peppers, a dusting of crunchy lettuce, a drip of spicy salsa and a dollop of low-fat yogurt.

    The wrap: a tight yet gentle roll up, then fold and tuck-in one end

    The taste: gooey, crunchy, spicy, warm and enjoyable leftover lunch

    The joy: watching my kids create their own version of their chicken fajita heaven!

    The aftermath: satisfied bellies

  13. Hena,
    Thank you for this prompt. I bought Amina’s Voice last year, and I look forward to looking at your new chapter book series.

    For me, food is a means of fueling. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy food, but for the most part, I just eat without thinking about it too much. I spent years making food for 5 children and a husband. My husband and I were/are into healthy eating. But we do love ice cream and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Now that I am older with kids out of the house, I am enjoying food a bit more. I found out that I have a love affair with Italian food as I spent two weeks there in June. Here is a sampling of what I wrote in my journal, and I changed a few things. (Babysitting grandkids today, so I am rushed)

    After spending 3 days in Rome, we were in northern Italy in a small town called Trento. We walked to this little cafe and I ordered tea and yogurt with fresh berries. Why do I like greek yogurt so much? It is kind of like an ice cream treat to me, the sweet sourish taste with fresh berries. European yogurt is so creamy, like eating a dessert.

    Hours later after walking through a castle (Castello del Buonconsiglio), we stopped for a late lunch of herb and ricotta ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs. The fresh herbs and spices are like some sort of orgastic (yes, I stole this word from The Great Gatsby’s ending sentences) party in your mouth. The cheeses, the bread, the sauce, and the romantic atmosphere. Italy is so exotic.

    Later that night, we ate at our friend’s outdoor table with small tomatoes, mint, and basil picked just steps away. Fresh bread, homemade lasagna, apricots, salad, and cheeses. There were two kinds of balsamic vinegar. One was more fruity tasting. We think we figured out why Italians are somewhat healthy: no sauces such as mayonnaise, ranch, or ketchup. And they enjoy life at a more leisurely pace. It is nice to sit around the dinner table and talk.

    I think we ate gelato every day while we were there! Chocolate, pistachio, the flavors go on, just to look at the flavors in the glass case is a mouth watering pleasure.

    1. Thank you! That is so nice to hear!

      I’m traveling to Italy later this year, and your food journal is getting me super excited about it, and inspired to keep one while I’m there.

  14. Thank you, Ms. Khan, for this fun writing prompt. I loved, loved, loved Amina’s Voice. I made sure that it found its way into the hands of many of my sixth graders. They, too, loved, loved, loved it.:)

    I had a ton of fun with this writing prompt. I log all of my swimming and running in an exercise journal (and online – mapmyrun.com). I’ve been doing it since I started running in 1996 (the technology has changed over the years, but my journal have everything). While doing the food list, I realized that I eat a ton of tomatoes.:)

    Toast with fresh-cut tomatoes – super delicious, and so delicious that two of my children joined me for the toast and tomato breakfast

    Toasted bagel with tomatoes, turkey, and lite mayonnaise – my wife came home for lunch and ate a salad with tomatoes – she is SO much healthier than me, but I did not care because my bagel sandwich was awesome!

    Cheese and Supreme pizza – with some delicious tomato sauce.:) We polished it off quickly, but left room from vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup (it is summer after all – almost every summer dinner ends with ice cream during the summer months).

    Thank you again for the writing fun!

    1. Oh I’m so happy to hear that! Thank you! I hope they will enjoy the new series, even though it’s being marketed toward younger kids, I’ve had older kids give me great reviews.

      Aren’t tomatoes a super food? This is an impressive line up of tomatoes! Sounds like a delicious celebration of a summer fruit! And the ice cream conclusion is PERFECT.

      Thanks for writing with me!

  15. I had no idea how much I could write about just breakfast! I had fun playing with a few style techniques that I like to teach my students to try in their writing.

    I woke to a hollow in my stomach and knew it would be a hafta-eat-before-the-gym morning. I rushed through my routine and dug into my hafta-eat-before-the-gym standby: banana chips with WOW! Butter spread. I was generous on the spread, but after four chips, slowed down as usual. My hafta-eat-before-the-gym routine is nearly flawless: full and ready in less than 10 chips.

    Alas, time, and my daughter, played tricks on me. Thirty minutes later, in full frustration, while awaiting a difficult daughter’s dressed departure from her room, I wandered back to the kitchen. Realizing she lacked the time to enjoy fresh fruit, I considered the waste of today’s offerings. It became clear I had over-purchased our summer delight and I was not about to allow a rationed plum to spoil. Just-enough juicy and thoroughly ripened, I enjoyed the flavor of the perfect plum.

    All was well, until 3/4 through my workout when I clutched my side, holding a plum-sized cramp during my third thirty-second all-out run.

  16. I love this prompt!

    On my last night in Austin, I decided that I wanted a good steak dinner. I combed the web for recommendations and finally settled in the Austin Land and Cattle Company. I plugged the directions into my GPS and was on my way!

    The restaurant was dimly lit and I navigated the space carefully. I’m not the most graceful person and I didn’t want to end up sprawled out on someone else’s table. As I reviewed the menu, my mouth began to water at the descriptions. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I decided to add an appetizer to my order.

    While I waited, I dove into the bread basket. The bread was fresh from the oven and so hot that I dropped it into the bread plate. I scooped up a pat of golden butter and smeared it on the bread. The butter immediately melted into a river of gold. I tentatively picked up the bread and took a bite. The flavors exploded on my tongue. The sweet butter and the hearty bread wash perfect combination.

    I think I inhaled that first piece of bread, so I reminded myself that this meal was a marathon and not a sprint, so I needed to slow down, take my time, and just enjoy the experience. The waiter delivered my appetizer and for the moment, I pushed the bread basket aside.

    Whole mushrooms were battered and served with a chipotle sauce. There was just a bit of crispiness from the batter before your teeth sank into the soft mushroom. The batter seemed simple and enhanced the flavor of the mushroom without overpowering it. I devoured several mushrooms (there were more than 10!) before I reminded myself again that I hadn’t even made it to the main course. I sipped some of the tea, crunching pieces of ice. My eyes wandered back to the bread basket, but I didn’t reach for it.

    The steak sizzled on the plate. Perfect grill marks criss-crossed the steak. I cut off the first bite and tasted that flavor that only comes from a charcoal fire. The steak was tender and juicy and I kept my napkin close by to catch any stray drips.

    The French fries were crispy, but not overcooked. A little shake of salt and a puddle of ketchup emphasized their flavor. I alternated bites of steak with the fries and I occasionally paused for a bite of bread.

    I lingered over the meal, savoring each bite. Finally, I could eat no more. I pushed back from the table, stuffed but happy. Dessert was out of the question

  17. Breakfast – Raspberry pancakes — On Sunday, I made a huge stack of pancakes – some plain ones, some packed with juicy red raspberries straight from the garden, and some with grated apple and cinnamon. Stored in the fridge for microwaving until they run out.

    Snack – Delicious chocolate cupcake my vanilla-loving daughter didn’t want, the last one. I snatched it and ran out to sit on the deck in the sun to enjoy it, a sweet break from a morning of novel revisions.

    Lunch – the usual boxed mac and cheese, because my husband prepared lunch. I love his efforts to support me with food but I’m working on expanding his culinary choices.

    Snack – A few more raspberries as I pick today’s harvest, and a bowl of delicious salted caramel ice cream because it’s summer and I finished my novel revision. In our house, if you find something you love in the fridge, it’s best to eat it promptly!

  18. Late Entry-Translated from the language of Dog
    dog food, crunch, crunch, crunch gone
    water, lap, lap, lap
    walk-oh, the possibilities
    long stalk of grass smells like my friend Cora
    gum wrapper-minty
    french fry-salty
    napkin with grease-tastier than the tissue
    my walker won’t let me near the dead raccoon
    smells like steak on the grill to me. . .maybe tomorrow
    old tuna sandwich
    no way
    I know what rotten to avoid
    more grass
    candy wrapper hint of chocolate
    which I’ve heard dogs cannot have
    is it because people don’t want to share
    the creamy deliciousness?
    back home
    one last chance before
    going inside
    found it
    my favorite
    an acorn.

  19. Hi Hena,

    I decided to write this ‘Bridget Jones style’.

    Food consumed today:

    bowl of oatmeal with pat of butter
    1/2 mushy brown banana
    cup of chocolate milk made with four heaping teaspoons of ovaltine (plus a spoonful of dry for myself)
    piece of multi-grain bread lathered with a thick layer chunky peanutt butter
    cup of black coffee
    3 licks of raw cookie dough (couldn’t resist when I was baking)
    squirt of Reddi-Wip in mouth (because it was there)
    handful of grated mozzarella cheese (why did I do this–I’m not even hungry)
    7 Life Saver gummies (picked out all green ones–I just had to eat them all)
    2 meatballs in tomato sauce
    small salad (minus red cherry tomatoes)
    5 leftover greenbeans from last night’s dinner (soggy and shriveled but ate them because I felt guilty after eating those snacks)
    Homemade veggie burger (tasteless and dry as cardboard so I dipped it in ketchup)
    2 chocolate chip cookies (to complete the meal)
    2 cups milk
    1 1/2 shots of B&B with sparkling water
    1 shot of Jack on the rocks

    Tomorrow I will not…
    Eat sweets
    Binge snack
    Drink alcohol