Believe it or not, nearly 1 in 6 children in America doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. Breakfast is vital for everything from learning in school to developing lasting friendships. Just imagine how friendly or sharp you are when you’re hangry — I’m guessing, not very.
Across the country, there’s a movement where chefs and culinary professionals are rallying (and riding bikes) to make sure every American child has a healthy breakfast so they can get a jumpstart on success. It’s called Chefs Cycle, which benefits Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry — a national organization that’s making it possible for kids to enjoy healthy breakfast at school.
When I was a little girl (and sometimes still now), I would wake up overwhelmed with excitement for breakfast. The meals would vary between big bowls of cereal and granola to perky fried eggs with yolks smiling up from my plate.
These beautiful first-meals-of-the-day inspired me to become a chef, but breakfast is so much more important than just inspiration. Now, as an adult and an athlete, I know eating breakfast is part of what keeps my body performing at its peak because breakfast keeps my glycogen stores topped off, and gives my system the boost it needs for a full day — on and off the bike. A healthy breakfast keeps me focused, creative, riding strong and working efficiently. Without that nutritious boost, my creativity suffers, my efficiency drops and low blood sugar equates to a low-energy mood.
If these are the benefits that I see from enjoying a healthy breakfast, you can imagine just how important the same breakfast is to a growing child in school. Every child deserves this sort of great start that helps them keep focused, inspires them to be inquisitive and gives their bodies and minds the nutrients they need to perform and learn.
RIDING FOR A CAUSE
From May 16–18, nearly 250 chefs, myself included, rode 300 miles over three days to raise money, build awareness and ultimately solve childhood hunger in America. Our efforts help safeguard the well-being and food security of children in the United States by positively impacting free breakfast programs in every community across the nation. More than 20 million kids get free or reduced-price school lunch on an average school day. But only 9.8 million — fewer than half — of those kids receive free or reduced-price school breakfast. No Kid Hungry is helping to craft, execute and protect innovative ways of serving breakfast to this population — and to every child in need of a healthy start to the day. A healthy breakfast not only fills bellies, it ensures that children have the energy and focus needed to make the most of their school day. The National Institutes of Health reports that “undernourished children don’t learn as fast or as well as nourished children,” and that children who eat breakfast also are more likely to attend school, less likely to be tardy and less likely to exhibit behavioral problems when they’ve eaten breakfast. When those children stay in school, engage in their studies and graduate, they create a positive educational shift that, on the grandest scale, is key to ending the cycle of poverty in America.
WHAT CHEFS EAT BEFORE A LONG BIKE RIDE
As you can imagine, over the course of 300 miles, 250 chefs have lots of conversations about food, and “what’s for breakfast?” was an appropriately common topic of discussion. If you’ve ever wondered what an active chef eats for breakfast before a long ride or workout, here are a few ideas:
- Chef Seamus Mullen, of Tertulia in New York City, enjoys “roasted sweet potatoes with two fried eggs, crispy bacon, avocado and greens tossed in olive oil. And coffee. Always coffee.”
- Chef Ted Cizma fuels the minds behind SpaceX and knows a few things about how food helps keep brains focused. He enjoys “poached eggs with avocado, grapefruit juice, raw cashews and cold brew coffee … any time of year.”
- Chef Jeff Mahin, of Stella Barra Pizzeria and Do-rite Donuts in Chicago and Santa Monica, spends his day making crispy pizza crusts and soft cookies, but enjoys a virtuous breakfast of “bananas, almond butter and coffee.”
- Lucas Clarke, the self-proclaimed Head Lettuce Evangelist at Mad Greens, the fast and fresh salad chain, says his bowls of “gluten-free oatmeal with blueberries, walnuts, maple syrup and a fried egg on top are sweet and savory fuel for any big day out on the bike, or in life.”
- Chef Kevin Nashan, of Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker in St. Louis, Missouri, enjoys a morning smoothie with a handful of almonds, frozen strawberries, bananas and protein powder. “I make two, and have the other one post-workout.”
- Mary-Frances Heck, author of the “Sweet Potatoes” cookbook and former test kitchen director at Bon Appetit, likes chia pudding, made with 1/4 cup chia seeds, 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 can water, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, combined and refrigerated overnight, then served with a bowl of fruit. “It satisfies like yogurt without the dairy,” she says.
- Says Philip Tessier, 2015 winner at Bocuse d’Or: “I’m an eggs guy in the morning. I’ll load up on eggs and toast, but I stay away from dairy. Sometimes PB and toast.”
For each of us, breakfast is simple, but vital, to keeping our bodies ready to ride, but also to keep our minds sharp to focus on the world that awaits us when saddle time is over. Imagine just how important a simple, healthy breakfast is if you’re a child learning to read?
Studies show a positive correlation between children having breakfast and good academic performance. As chefs and athletes, the positive correlations to breakfast make sense to us. On our bikes, the “bonk,” means noodly-legs, a foggy mind and a quickly diminishing sense of enthusiasm to keep riding. But, in the classroom, the same feelings are destructive and symptomatic of diminished physical development, mental development and emotional stability.
Whether we’re riding one mile or 300, giving $1 or $300, and whether we’re helping one healthy breakfast get into the mouth of an aspiring child, or helping 300 enjoy a meal to start the day, this work is important and something we can all relate to. Doesn’t every American child deserve to have a good morning?