Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's for Breakfast: Sugar Wrapped in Plastic

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Originally I had planned to publish this as the alternate breakfast to the ball of oatmeal that was served at my daughter's elementary school this week. But it's just as well to focus on how much of the food offered in D.C. school cafeterias consists of processed package foods, especially at breakfast. Missing from this tray is the cereal, such as Apple Jacks, that comes in a sealed plastic tub and the ubiquitous strawberry or chocolate milk the kids pour on it.

The juice you see here is typically frozen, or at least partially frozen. It arrives that way at the school, then is moved into a walk-in refrigerator to defrost, but rarely spends enough time there to defrost completely.

What I want to focus on today is the Otis Spunkmeyer "Delicious Essential" apple cinnamon muffin. Otis Spunkmeyer was the creation of Kenneth B. Rawlings and his wife Linda, who began in the food business in 1977 with a fresh-baked cookie store in Oakland, CA. After expanding to a chain of cookie stores, they eventually left the retail business to sell frozen cookie dough nationwide, and later muffins and other baked goods.

The name "Otis Spunkmeyer" was the creation of the Rawlings' 12-year-old daughter.

After the company reached some $200 million in annual sales, the Rawlings sold it to a private investment group, and in 2006, the company passed to IAWS Group for $561 million. IAWS is described as an "international lifestyle food business" with operations in the United Kingdom, France, Canada and the U.S.

In 2008, IAWS merged with Hiestand Holding AG, a Swiss baked goods and convenience food company with operations in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland, Malaysia, Japan and Australia. The new company is called ARYZTA AG, which reported combined revenues of $2.3 billion.

ARYZTA AG continues to operate Otis Spunkmeyer out of San Leandro, CA.

Otis Spunkmeyer continues to do a land office business selling frozen cookie dough for school and other types of fundraisers. The company advertises its "Delicious Essentials" muffins this way on its website:

Made with Whole Grain (1.8oz size only)
Fortified with 25% Daily Value of 10 nutrients
No more than 30% calories from fat
Less than 10% calories from saturated fat
0 grams trans fat
Less than 35% added sugar by weight
No partially hydrogenated oils
3.6 oz muffin size meets CN requirements for two bread servings
1.8 oz muffin size meets CN requirements for one bread serving

In other words, the muffins have been designed to meet standards for school meals set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These muffins are engineered using a number of industrial food additives. Here are the ingredients for the apple cinnamon muffin, as listed on the company website:

Enriched Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Eggs, Invert Sugar, Apple Sauce, Brown Rice Flour, Soybean Oil, Water. Contains 2% or less of the following: Food Starch—Modified, Leavening (Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Corn Starch, Whey Protein Concentrate, Cinnamon, Salt, Potassium Sorbate as a preservative, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Propylene Glycol Monostearate, Monoglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Caramel Color. Nutrient Blend: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Vitamin E Acetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Sulfate, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Vitamin D-3, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Riboflavin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Biotin, Vitamin B-12.Contains: Milk, Wheat, Eggs

Oh, and each apple cinnamon muffin contains 15 grams of sugar, almost four teaspoons worth.


  1. My compliant about school breakfast is there is no proteins. Look at what you have pictured... carb,carb,carb, and the missing cereal-carb. Your body converts carbs to sugar! That's not counting all the sugar(natural and artifical)added in the ingredients. IN our state they removed all bacon and sausages from breakfast(and biscuits) because of sodium. Why can't they use turkey bacon or something else?

  2. All sugar and carbs and no protein to help fuel a growing body. This is one of several reasons why my kids don't buy breakfast or lunch at their schools.

    I'm actually stunned that the ingredients list does not include high fructose corn syrup.

  3. I think the schools offer milk, even though it's not on this tray, and that counts as the protein. Not saying that's right, but that's how it is.

  4. Milk is always offered. But it's not counted as a protein or "meat" or "meat alternate." It's just counted as milk.

  5. may i ask why this meal is called breakfast? what time is it served?
    i can understand a lunch or dinner meal being served at school, but never breakfast - that's something one is supposed to eat before going to school, ie at home
    here is my what my (greek) kids eat for breakfast on every school day:
    (i let them eat cornflakes and milk, their favorite breakfast meal, at weekends, as i have explained to them that cornflakes and cocopops are processed food rather than natural food)

    the teachers at school complain that kids come to school withot breakfast, and they notice sluggish behaviour

    sugar-in-plastic has become a way of life for many of my chidlren's classmates during the morning break

  6. You are so quick to criticize. I would like to see you feed your family breakfast and lunch, meet the calorie and nutrient requirements on the reimbursement dollars that we get. Make sure you include labor and utility costs! Do something productive besides criticize and ridicule the people that work hard every day to feed the kids the best meal they can with the funds provided.
    Head Lunch Lady!

  7. Head lunch lady, I'm sorry you take this personally but I understand. We really need to get beyond the circular firing squad where everyone blames everyone else for the quality of school food and no one takes responsibility. Parents have a right to know what children are being served at school, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Perhaps you would be willing to write a guest post for this blog explaining your point of view in more detail?

  8. head lunch lady, you cant call what we see in the foto as 'the best meal' one can possibly provide - there's nothing remotely associated with decent food and for the morning staff in a kitchen, it's hardly difficult to assemble, i mean you don't even get your hands dirty (it's all prepacked and you just place plastic packages onto a tray)

    i find it very hard to satisfy my 8 and 9 year old every morning: sometimes they simply dont want to have their simple bread-and-butter-and-honey toast with warm milk, and when they come home, they complain that the piece of fruit and home-made portion-controlled banana cake muffin (or beetroot-hiding-in-chocolate muffin) that i pack into their bags for morning break at school is 'boring', and that last night's leftover meal which becomes their school lunch meal is not 'cool'.

    but, and i beg everyone's pardon on this one, they wear clothes for children their age, they are not overweight, and we constantly talk about why it is important to eat healthy food, and why it is sad to see children in a rural greek village that is a major source of fruit and vege production in our region looking overweight and eating sugar-and-fat-in-plastic (which shows that there is something wrong in or society too)