Sunday, 26 February 2006

The most important meal of the day

When I was a child it would never have occurred to my mother to let me go to school ‘breakfastless’, as it were. I don’t think it would have occurred to any mother at the time. Breakfast was a ritual. You had to allow time for it; get up early enough to partake of the traditional café au lait served in a big bol, with tartines beurrées and confiture or miel. Most people only had croissants on holiday, in hotels or pensions de famille, for instance, or on special occasions: they were a luxury (which was just as well since they’re very fatty and not very good for you at all).

I know there are children who go to school in the morning without so much as a glass of water in their tummies. How are they supposed to be alert and able to take in anything they're taught? I can’t think at all when my blood sugar is low (I may have lost a job once, years ago, when I went for an interview several hours after lunch, without realizing I was bound to get hungry halfway through it. Had they asked what my name was at that point I wouldn’t have been able to answer, let alone respond to a grilling from a potential employer). When I am very hungry I stop being compos mentis, and I’m an adult.

Everyone needs nourishment after hours of nocturnal starvation, but because these days children cannot be told what to do and cannot be persuaded to eat or drink anything that is good for them just because it's good for them, and because everything has to be fun fun fun, the clever people at Kellogg’s have come up with another gimmicky breakfast product: Coco Pops Straws. They’re biscuits lined with chocolate, through which you can drink milk. Chocolate-tasting milk and biscuit is yummy and everyone loves it – the Australians have Tim Tams (you break off opposite corners of the biscuit and suck milk through it) – but biscuits are full of sugar and fat, and therefore unhealthy, and cannot be deemed to supply growing children with adequate amounts of vitamins and other nutrients. The advertisements for the product have been called ‘socially irresponsible’ and have been referred to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading. Kellogg’s answer was that they were trying to encourage children to drink milk. But of course you were!

Irresponsible advertising directed at adults is bad, but irresponsible advertising directed at children is unforgivable. Slap!


  1. LOL -- I'm sure we will end up with those in the house, but we certainly won't eat them for breakfast so I hope I'll escape the slap. We use Cocoa Krispies for an ice cream topping and they are very good that way. Breakfast is just plain old oatmeal around here.

    And if schools didn't start so blasted early, we could have a proper breakfast.

  2. If I didn't have an intolerance to everything to do with those biscuity thingies (I'm not following a trend: I'm really not well, digestively speaking) I would probably buy them myself as a treat. They sound nice.

    I'm glad you're not indulging your kids, R. They will thank you later (yes, they will!). I wish I could have porridge too. I love it. That gluten allergy is such a nuisance.

    School in France, back in the '50s and '60s, used to start at 8am, with a short break at 10. We would be sent home for lunch at noon, and lessons would resume at 2pm until 4 or 5. It was a very long day, and there's no way one would have survived it without proper nourishment. We were given free milk for a while, when I was four or five, but a right-wing government put a stop to it.

  3. I never had breakfast before school, even though I had a 50-minute walk and five stops on the Underground to get there. I only used to get out of bed 10 minutes before it was time to leave.I used to eat all my packed lunch at morning break, and then buy chocolate at lunchtime and on the way home.

  4. hear! hear!
    I can't believe what crap is supposed to pass for breakfast these days. I'm an ogre in the morning. The kids aren't allowed to dodge breakfast!

  5. The lack of breakfast for most kids comes from the fact that their mothers work and are in such a hurry. Our mothers mostly didn't work outside the home. Apparently fathers aren't expected to do anything but take care of themselves, if that.

    Parents should provide breakfast for kids, but since they often don't, I think that schools should. And school in my area does start way too early!

    Advertising aimed at kids is just plain wrong. Should be against the law.

  6. Very few mothers of the children I teach work outside of the home, so it can't be that. Admittedly the children come from pretty large families, and I believe caring for masses of children does take its toll, but I think the breakfast crisis is a combination of don't know and don't care. I'm a horror when my blood sugar descends. A HORROR. And so are children. Behaviour/diet is SO clearly linked.

    I think this deserves a tete a claques myself. The implications are so wide. Essentially these parents are condemning their children to fail. Never mind their brains are sluggish and easily distracted but they misbehave, so they learn less, so make slower progress, so get written off behaviourally and academically (the blood's boiling now) and live down to our expectations.

    I of course know this happens so give everyone the chance to succeed free from my prejudices: each hour is a new hour. I eat a lot of fruit in front of the kids too, to set a good example.

    But generally, and why we must slap the advertisers/crap food producers, when the parents do make an effort they've bought into the latest supposedly healthy fad that I saw through on day one. The one-oat-seven-tons-of-fat-and-sugar bars. Grr. Slap slap slap. (both sides of the hand are whirring)

    I feel better now. See: you are a great writer, Bela.

  7. My twins don't get on the bus until 8:30 AM so that always gives me enough time to prepare anything from bacon,grits,cereal and toast.I too,often worry about them being hungry during school but surprisingly my twins don't seem very hungry in the morning and often can't handle anything heavier than toast or cereal.But they have only 3hrs before their lunch so I don't fret too much about it.I am fortunate enough to call myself a full time mommy,which in today's time is almost unheard of.My husband and I wouldn't have it any other way for them.But economic and social reasons sure can throw a wrench even in the best of intentions so I certainly don't feel right passing judgement on parents but would hope that either parent would care enough of their offspring to see that they were nourished properly before school.

  8. It seems odd-- parents expect so much from their children-- good grades, excellence at sports, etc., -- and then they don't feed them what they need to accomplish anything.
    Our schools here run breakfast programs, supported by one of the big magazines and some other institutions. And not just in the needier neighbourhoods. Glad they do it, but still -- not really their responsibility. .

    I use a grocery delivery service-- and one of the reasons it is a boon for me is that I no longer have to see the junk in other's shopping carts aimed straight at kids. These "prefab" lunches of fatty crackers, rubbery "cheese" and chemical filled "meat" slices, with a cheap candy bar for dessert. The ingredients would scare off a chemical warfare expert, and yet they are flying out of the stores. Aside from the nutritional damage, how do you teach children about good food, and about cooking and different tastes when you use prepacked flab as the standard?

  9. Lulu, it can't have been good for your health, can it?

    Good for you, K!

    I suppose you’re right in some cases, TLP. My mother started working full-time when I was 14. I remember getting my own breakfast from that time and not minding it at all. But there are parents who truly don’t care or don’t know how to provide for their children. They haven’t got a clue. Perhaps because they were themselves neglected when they were young. Who knows? When Jamie Oliver started his campaign to improve school dinners (I talked about it a while ago), he said that the main obstacle he had to overcome were the parents. Ok, manufacturers produced all that rubbish, but it’s the parents who buy it.

    Schools are already responsible for so many things to do with the kids’ welfare; there must be a limit.

    I hope the Advertising Standards Authority will ban Kellogg’s from advertising those silly biscuits, at least. What about all the other cr*p on offer, though?

    I’m glad you’re setting the kids you teach such a good example, JvS. It must very tough for you to be confronted with inattentive children day in day out.

    Oh, those cereal bars are such a con, aren’t they? Pure sugar and fat, as you say.

    CH, that breakfast sounds delish. I’d never had a cooked breakfast until I moved to England and even then I couldn’t really cope with it: too much protein in the morning. LOL! It is a very sad fact that not every parent is a ‘good’ parent.

    SE, it is paradoxical, isn’t it? Those parents probably don’t see the correlation between adequate nutrition and brain power. You’re fortunate to live where you do.

    I sometimes look at other people’s shopping baskets and recoil in horror. There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium in my area: it’s either yuppies buying very posh stuff or harassed mothers filling their trolleys with brightly coloured foods (and I’m not talking about fresh vegetables). I feel queasy just reading your description. Yuck!

  10. I seem to remember a lot of Captain Krunch, Chocula, and cereal with marshmellows in it marketed in the US. as a child. I think they were always around, so It hasn't gotten much worse here.

    You're right on the money with the blood sugar thing, I feel the same way if I give in to sweets.

    I am surprised it's gotten that bad in Europe. I always thought European people had more sense than Americans when it came to eating habits. Pity. Kids deserve better.


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