An extraordinary "ordinary" breakfast.
aka, "Yesterday, we got to feed the children"...and in that moment, we knew it was the reason we do what we do. So...what do we do? I teach people nourishing, traditional real food cooking classes deeply grounded in holistic nutrition, and Ruth Gresser runs three successful restaurants. But the thing that moves our hearts is the desire to feed people. To feed people good food. "Real" food. Food that will not only fill the belly, but deeply nourish.
We got involved with the Chefs Move! to Schools program because we care about the children, we care about the future of our country and our world (sounds lofty, doesn't it?) and we wanted to make a difference. Chefs were "called upon" by the First Lady to step into the conversation that is our children's health. And so we did. The children ARE our future. And if this is so, then the HEALTH of our children is important. And if the health of our children is important, so then the things that account for one's health. And in my book, food counts and is directly related to health and well-being.
The moment happened as we stood side by side at the stove, ladling out big bowls of breakfast. I looked at Ruth. She looked at me. And I said, "we're feeding the children". She said, "yep, we are." And we both got kind of choked up. And the kids couldn't get enough.
What did we feed the children?
To them, it looked like an ordinary bowl of oatmeal. But it was far from "ordinary" or "average" or "hum drum" or "breakfast as usual" for any of them. One could tell by the way they scarfed it up. Came back for seconds and sometimes thirds. And by all the "mmm"s , "yum"s , "awesome"s and "love it"s heard all over the room. All three periods. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders ATE HEALTHY FOOD AND LOVED IT. When we told them we "strongly suggested they eat their oatmeal with either butter** (grass-fed of course) or cream (organic, grass-fed), or both", they couldn't believe it. "We can eat butter?" You must eat butter (or another healthy fat) to absorb the nutrients in the grains. Point well taken. We had a run on butter and cream.
Why was this such an event for these children? A bowl of humble oatmeal, dressed appropriately with butter and/or cream, a bit of cinnamon, a pinch of celtic salt, and a splash of maple syrup? We took a poll--25-30% of the one hundred or so middle school children HAD NOT EATEN BREAKFAST THAT DAY. And this was a normal occurrence according to them. They "never ate breakfast." The rest of the children ate "a piece of toast", "a bagel", "Pop Tarts". And a variety of cold cereal, of course. In one class, only one child in 33 had eaten an egg. The maximum number of children that ate an egg for breakfast in a class was three. NO CHILDREN, not one in 100 or so had eaten bacon or sausage (nitrate free and sustainably raised or not). And there was a RESOUNDING lack of butter.
So...what were the extraordinary characteristics of this "ordinary" breakfast of oatmeal? The oats had been soaked for 18-24 hours so that they were easily digested. The soaking made the nutrients available and the addition of butter or cream or both made those nutrients easily absorbed by their bodies. No sugar crashes here, no blood sugar spikes an hour or two later, which is almost guaranteed when one eats grains that are not pre-digested (and the majority of whole grain products are not pre-digested, and so will result in a crash. They are also not served with healthy fats, since the nation is fat-phobic...read on). Eating predigested grains with healthy fats guarantees a slow, easy entry of complex sugars into the bloodstream and the neutralizing of any remaining phytic acid that would rob the body of important minerals. The lesson was basic, but they got it: The "whole grain goodness" of the oats and all grains is locked inside the grain, and must be "unlocked" by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting (aka sourdough). Then you need to add a healthy fat--butter from pastured cows, sheep or goats, raw cream or milk, or coconut products (see below) to absorb the nutrients in them.
What is worth noting about the breakfasts our children are currently eating (for those who are so doing) is the SEVERE LACK OF NUTRIENTS necessary to grow healthy brains and bodies. Virtually no eggs. (Eggs from pastured hens are rich in brain nutrient choline and in Vitamins A and D and DHA--brain food!) No bacon or sausage. (Read "healthy fat" when it comes from sustainably raised animals.) An alarming lack of butter. (Butter from pastured cows provides a "perfect fatty acid profile". That means it contains the right amounts and ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It also has immune stimulating and anti-microbial properties. Butter is used directly by the body for energy because of the structure of the fats in it. Why butter from grass-fed cows? Butter made from the cream of pastured cows contains conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which has strong anti-cancer properties.) The children have a pervasive belief that butter is not good for you. (Sad to say, the "no-fat/low-fat" dictates from our misinformed medical industrial complex and the USDA has made its desired impact on the parents of these children, and I would bet the majority of Americans, who have warned them against butter.)
I daresay I anticipate I will receive some inquiries from the parents of these children--as in our lesson today, we certainly "went against the grain" of the current trend of "no breakfast", but also of low-fat, nutrient-deficient, sugar-laden (47% sugar in the cereal box we used for a demonstration) and blood sugar spiking, improperly prepared and indigestible toxic cereals, toast, frozen waffles (yes, we had a few of those too) and bagel breakfasts. Sounds a little strong, doesn't it? Well, I figure I have to start a revolution here. A REAL FOOD revolution.
Please. Feed your children real food. Their health and our future depends upon it.
For more another article I wrote on this subject, including a recipe for soaked oats, see Boxed Cereal is Not Food.
To learn to soak your whole grains, purchase a chart, Preparing Whole Grains and Legumes for Ease of Digestion and Nutrient Availability
For "real food resources" click HERE.
For the Weston A. Price Foundation's reply to the USDA Food Pyramid, click HERE.
For information on healthy foods for children, see the Nourishing Our Children campaign.
**Note: In the case of a dairy allergy, coconut butter, oil, milk or cream is also delicious on oats and whole grains and provides healthy fat.