Good news about breakfast

The Grocery Foundation is launching Toonies for Tummies 2016

Isaac has always been an early riser, and he’s always been a big fan of breakfast. Ideally, in his world, I would make him French toast every day, with liberal lashings (read: puddles one could wade in) of syrup. And I do, often. Because there’s not that much else to do at 7 AM, after he crawls into bed beside me and we listen to the news. (“Why do you always want to listen to the news, Mama? It’s always bad news.”)

On the days when I feel less inclined to make the effort for French toast, he’ll eat mammoth bowls of oatmeal (ditto syrup preferences), or muesli, or a smoothie (bananas, yogurt, frozen blueberries, raspberries) or the occasional bowl of Cheerios. If he’s growing a lot — as he seems to be, currently — he’ll eat similar amounts at other meals. If his body is taking a little rest between growth spurts, breakfast may be his most substantial meal of the day.

Either way, I love watching Isaac (both my kids, in fact) eat breakfast. I love seeing him fly out the door in the mornings after eating. I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of parental truisms, but one I do agree with is that little is more satisfying than seeing your child tuck into a healthy meal. Particularly breakfast. It’s no secret that kids who go to school hungry have a harder time learning. And yet, according a 2011 Household Food Insecurities in Canada study, one in six Canadian children goes to half without breakfast.

One in six. That’s 1.15 million children (out of nearly 4 million Canadians overall) who experience some level of food insecurity. That’s one in six children in every class in Ontario already set up to lose out before the day has even begun. That’s one in six kids with a headache, a growling stomach, who feels lightheaded or nauseated. One in six kids who is grouchy, unfocused, irrational, uncooperative. (You know what your kids are like when they’re hungry.) One in six kids without the resources they need to take in information, sit still, pay attention, “behave,” enjoy school, learn how to read or subtract. Those are kids in your children’s classes. That may be your kid.

It literally makes my stomach hurt.

And other people feel the same way. Kaelyn McCallum, who’s in grade 10 at St. Ignatius High School here in Thunder Bay (that’s her below), grew up listening to her parents — both teachers — talk about the students in their classes who came to school hungry, who didn’t have packed lunches or the money to buy them. “It’s a really big thing,” says the 15-year-old. “Everyone should have the right to have a breakfast and lunch and proper meals so that they can learn.”

But here’s the good news (see, Isaac, there is good news): student nutrition programs can and do help. Organizations like The Grocery Foundation are crucial. For the past three years, The Grocery Foundation has championed student nutrition in Ontario, investing $3.34 million to help programs like Breakfast for Learning achieve its mandate of providing healthy meals and snacks to children and youth across Canada. as well as supporting student nutrition programs in high-needs schools last year with a $1 million donation. The Foundation’s voucher program offers schools discounts on several healthy food items, stretching limited budgets and providing school nutrition programs with greater purchasing power for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Most recently, the Grocery Foundation is working in partnership with the Ontario Student Nutrition Program Network (OSNPN), which works with agencies helping to support student nutrition across the province.

All of which is why I am partnering with The Grocery Foundation on the 2016 Toonies for Tummies program. Did you know it costs less than two dollars to feed a kid a healthy breakfast at school? From February 4 to 18, you can donate a Toonie (or, obviously, more) at participating retailers (hint: in Thunder Bay, it's Metro) — or online, right now! — to help make sure that kids in your community get the food they need to learn. Every donation made in your home community stays in your home community. Have a look:

Here’s more good news: high school students across the province — including Kaelyn — are mobilizing to educate their peers. A group of 11 youth ambassadors from around Ontario who will be attending Toonies for Tummies’ Agents of Change Nutrition Summit — the first of its kind — in Toronto on February 8. There, they’ll share their views with each other as well as representatives from industry, on how to collectively engage youth about the issues of food insecurity, and how to promote and advocate for school-based nutrition programs. Kaelyn will present her idea of holding a poster contest across Ontario, with school, city, regional and eventually provincial winning designs of posters highlighting issues of food insecurity to raise awareness.

(Speaking of raising awareness, I'll be participating in a Twitter chat on food insecurity #TooniesforTummies with The Grocery Foundation on February 2, from 1 to 1:30 PM EST, and again at 9 to 9:30 PM. Join us @Groceryfndtn to talk #Toonies4Tummies !)

“The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that food insecurity is way more common than I thought it was,” says Kaelyn. “It’s in every school, in every city in every province across Canada. And people don’t know about it. It’s such a silent problem, but so many people have so much that if they know about it, they can give. I feel like it’s a problem we can eventually, hopefully, solve. People need to be aware of it so they can help get children and youth the food they need.

“Every kid,” says Kaelyn, “needs and deserves a full stomach to learn.” And every parent needs and deserves that security for themselves and for their kids. Together, we can make it happen. Please donate what you can to Toonies for Tummies, and spread the word.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for writing this post. All opinions, including my decision to support this campaign, are my own.



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Eating on the edge

Perfectly edged.

Perfectly edged.

You know when you haven't blogged in so long that Squarespace makes you sign in again? Yes, that? Well, guess what? I'm still not blogging. I've been writing like crazy, just not here. One day soon, I will blog again here. It's just that the muse is elsewhere, and I figure as long as the muse is musing (or amusing, ha, sorry), you follow her where she goes, and you don't ask too many questions.

Instead of writing a blog postabout not blogging, though, what I'm actually here today to tell you is that I wrote something else for somewhere else. Psych! This week, I'm blogging over at Interfaith Family, about my own family's perfectly charming inability to just cut a piece of cake and eat it, for God's sake:

To the untrained eye, to the casual outside observer of our family rituals, it would be tempting to assume that edging is a way of pretending that we aren’t actually eating dessert even though we are. And there may be some very slight truth in that. After all, a sliver of Bundt cake or a corner of a pecan flan has, objectively, fewer calories than an entire serving. But that’s only part of the story. Look, we’re not trying to fool ourselves, and we are not stupid: None of us actually imagines that a long, narrow strip of brownie is calorie-free, nor are we unaware that a pie consumed in 63 Tetris-shaped chunks still contains exactly the same number of calories as a pie cut into a dozen normal pieces.

It’s just that we like to eat our desserts this way. Edging is the way that we’ve always done things. It’s what feels comfortable. You know you’re home, with family, when you can walk by that plate of cookies and break off a chunk and pop it in your mouth, and everyone will think that that is a perfectly reasonable thing. Take a whole cookie and just eat it? On a plate? That would be uncouth. That’s not what we do.

Read the rest over at Interfaith Family. And happy edging.

This is the sandwich

This is the sandwich that Rowan will not eat in his lunch today at school.

It won't matter that he ate, enthusiastically, this precise sandwich — chicken salad and lettuce packed into a whole-wheat pita — on the weekend.

It won't matter that I carefully lined each inside surface of the pita with a vapour barrier of lettuce, so as to prevent sogginess. He will preemptively declare it soggy anyway. It won't matter that I have written him a loving note on a Post-it, explaining my lettuce strategy, and stuck it to the outside of his lunch container. (It will not matter that I also wrote on said Post-it, "And have I told you that you look gorgeous today?" He will see right through my flattery, but maybe he will smile.)

Rowan will say that he likes pitas at home, but not in his lunch at school. Unless, of course, the pitas at school come from the annual Pita Day, in which sandwiches are ordered from a restaurant and you have to pay for them. Those sandwiches are edible at school. But this one won't be.

And here we are, at an impasse. Me, making the sandwich. Him, not eating it. We are partners in a complicated dance, balancing nutrients with ease of preparation, health and appeal, texture and cost, availability and variety. There's no foolproof solution: some (rare) days, he eats everything. Other days, the exact same lunch comes home untouched. And so I try, hoping that today he will eat the sandwich (and even enjoy it), girding myself for the likelihood that I will dump its uneaten remains into tonight's garbage.

This is the sandwich that Rowan will not eat in his lunch today at school. Unless, of course, he does.