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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The Gideons — not just for hotel rooms, apparently

I haven't been called a fascist by total strangers in what must be WEEKS now, so I decided to write a little post for Today's Parent on why in the H-E-double hockey sticks I will not be giving the Gideons permission to give my fifth grader a New Testament:

Sure: the Gideons don’t just hand out the Bibles any more — although they used to. Sure: I do understand that, nowadays, parents do have to give permission. But the fact that it’s even an option to give permission is problematic. Permission forms that come home from school aren’t neutral, no matter what anyone says. When my kids come home with permission forms, it’s understood that the default, encouraged answer is YES. Yes, Johnny can go ice skating with the class. Yes, Fatima can go on a field trip to the museum. Yes, I give permission for Enrico to join the chess club. Yes, Sook-Yin will take part in the public health dental program. Permission forms imply good things, wholesome things, healthy things, things you should participate in. Just by sending home a permission form, the school has already set itself up as suggesting that receiving a Bible is a good thing. And it may be, and it may not be, but it’s simply not a decision that a public school board should get to make for any of our children.

(Seriously — I can't believe that this practice is continuing at the Lakehead Board of Education. It's been discontinued at the public school boards that cover the overwhelming majority of Ontario's students: Toronto, Peel, York, Durham, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Bluewater, Ottawa-Carleton and Niagara district school boards, among others, as well as in most of BC, New Brunswick and in Iqaluit. Why is it still happening?)


Labour Day

Skipping stones, Hazelwood Lake, last light.

It's Labour Day. With a U, because we are in Canada. And I'm writing this at 5:24 in the morning, because — yet again — I can't sleep. Which reminds me of what it was like to be pregnant and constantly awake. Which is making me think about how the summer itself parallels pregnancy: nine weeks, instead of nine months, ending with a Labour Day.

At the beginning of it all, you're sort of surprised and giddy and excited and just slightly nauseated at the thought of summer: on the one hand, I mean, you made it through that craptastic winter. But now the reward is, you know, nine unstructured or only semi-structured weeks to carefully fill with day camps or travel or camping trips or — what we're doing right now — JUST HANGING OUT.

By the middle of the summer, like the middle trimester, you're more or less used to how summer works — the slower, more casual pace, the later bedtimes, the raspberries and swimming, the not deciding what will be for dinner until half an hour or so before dinner when you throw something on the barbecue. You're even enjoying yourself. It's like it's always been summer/like you’ve always had a tiny human growing inside you and it always will be/and you always will. And it's manageable, sometimes even pleasant, if occasionally slightly unsettling.

But now, at the 11th hour of summer vacation, at Labour Day, I'm done. I am done with the free-flowing schedule and the lack of structure. I am done JUST HANGING OUT and its accompanying nonstop requests for screens or to bake cakes or to arrange playdates, of juggling work obligations with childcare, of trying to write between 7 and 9 AM and conducting magazine interviews with two boys and two friends thundering screaming to the house. I am ready for these children to vacate the premises, much as one is ready, at 40 weeks, for said infant to vacate the uterus and give you back your body.

Except. Except that our school district, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to add a [insert loooong string of exclusives here, beginning — ironically — with "mother”] PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT DAY IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING LABOUR DAY to the school schedule. What kind of asshats schedule a PD day for the day after Labour Day? (I know what kind: the number-crunching, budgetarily minded kind, but that's a different blog post.) For the record, I really haven't experienced full-out labour: Rowan was breech and therefore a planned C-section; Isaac emerged naturally after approximately eleven minutes of intensity. But I kind of imagine that this is the equivalent of being told, after 24 hours’ worth of mind-numbingly painful contractions, that one is only two centimetres dilated and, well, nothing to do but push through the next 24 hours.

Which is what we’re going to have to do.

When these two children leave the house for school on Wednesday (Wednesday!), I will take their picture, and I will hug them both tight, and I will — very likely — get teary. And those tears will be equal parts joy — at my two enormous, beautiful, growing boys making their way out into the world — and part relief: that the labours of summer are over and those two enormous, beautiful, growing boys are back, thank God, in school.