Friday, September 10, 2010

What's for Breakfast: French Toast with Yogurt

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Here's a different way to serve French toast: dressed with yogurt and blueberries. It sure beats the high-fructose "syrup" the D.C. Public Schools served in the past.

Chartwells at its menu site called this French toast "homemade" and it did look quite a bit different than the processed French toast strips that arrived at school frozen from a distant factory. I didn't have a chance to ask the kitchen ladies how it was prepared, but I imagine they could have dipped the bread in batter and baked it in the oven.

Of course this wouldn't really work for the many schools in the District of Columbia that have switched to serving breakfast in the classroom and no longer serve breakfast in the cafeteria. But those are only schools where 40 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Their breakfast menu called for turkey ham and egg on a whole wheat English muffin, or the same breakfast that was served in my daughter's elementary school on Tuesday.

One of the interesting questions in school cafeterias is how you eat something like this French toast without a knife and fork. Our schools only offer a plastic "spork" as eating utensil. What I was unable to capture with my camera was the boy who was eating his toast smeared with yogurt like an open-faced sandwich--with his hands. In this photo, you see that my daughter asked for her yogurt on the side. She also used her hands to eat the toast, since it is otherwise very difficult to cut.

Notice also that there's been a switch in yogurt, from a fruit-filled yogurt served in sealed, individual four-ounce containers made by Upstate Farms, to an organic, vanilla-flavored yogurt from Stonyfield Farm. The Stonyfield yogurt has slightly less sugar in it--but it's still a lot, 14 grams (2.5 teaspoons) in a half-cup serving, the same, ounce-for-ounce, as Classic Coke.

The question is still on the table: Can't anyone make a decent yogurt for kids without so much sugar?

This was the alternate breakfast: a parfait of yogurt, homemade granola and canned peaches. You have to love the presentation.


  1. But even 4 ounces of plain (ie - not added sugar) Stonyfield yogurt has almost 8g of naturally-occuring sugar, so the yogurt you describe has a little more than 6g added sugar (about 1.5 teaspoons); by contrast, the sugar in the Classic Coke to which you are comparing it is entirely added sugar. What's more, the soda contains no nutrients at all beyond the calories in the sugar, while yogurt is nutrient dense, containing protein, calcium, and many other vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

    What is the purpose of comparing two foods solely on the basis of how much total sugar they contain? A serving of three Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies contains 11g sugar, while a banana contains 12g sugar and a large apple contains 23g sugar; does this mean thecookies are a better choice nutritionally than a piece of fruit?

  2. Sugar is sugar, Dana, whether its lactose, fructose, sucrose, maltose. We've eliminated flavored milk, so now we are left with the naturally occurring lactose in plain milk. There is also naturally occurring fructose in fruit juice, but much less in whole fruit. The object is to reduce sugar to a minimum because of its metabolic impact on the body and strong connection to obesity, hypertension, unhealthy cholesterol, atherosclerosis, fatty liver disease. As dangerous as sugar is, schools should be minimizing the amount of it kids consume. The question is, What's the best we can do with yogurt?

  3. Sugar may be sugar, but nutritionists generally advise that one does not need to be concerned with the sugar which occurs naturally in foods, such as fruit, some vegetables, and dairy. I understand your position that students will get sufficient sugar from that which naturally occurs in food without the need to add a whole lot more, but unless you differentiate between the grams of sugar which are added, and those which naturally occur, you are not giving your readers a true picture of the magnitude of the problem. The problem is not the 14 grams of sugar in the vanilla yogurt, it is the approx. 6 g which are added.

    How can we have an honest discussion about reducing sugar in our kids' food unless we are very clear about how much of that sugar is within our ability to reduce or eliminate?

  4. Dana, I don't happen to agree with the nutritionists you're citing who say we shouldn't be concerned with sugar that occurs naturally in food. Until very recently (in historical terms), foods like the fruits you buy at the grocery store did not contain nearly the current level of sugar, nor did humans have access to them every day of the year. The foods people find in the grocery store have either been bred or formulated to contain high amounts of sugar. Milk consumption past infancy is largely a Northern European phenomenon, and certainly was never consumed to the extent it is today until fairly recently in human history. Schools should be taking all of this into consideration, but instead they use sugar as a cheap means of adding the calories the USDA says school meals should contain. In fact, we can reduce quite a lot of the sugar in schools, first by eliminating the junk foods sold in vending machines and a la carte lines, secondly by replacing juice with whole fruit, replacing canned fruit in syrup with fresh fruit, eliminating flavored milk, striking desserts from school menus, using yogurt with a minimum level of added sugar, and so forth. Kids are consuming entirely too much sugar in all its forms and schools shouldn't be part of the problem.

  5. Actually, we could reduce the amount of sugar in school meals by taking the minimum number of calories now required for a school meal and instead making it the maximum; there is no currrent maximum. Establishing a lower minimum would mean that schools could hit the required caloric target without having to resort to using added sugar to make up the difference. This has been proposed as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, but until that finally clears Congress, school lunches are still required to provide at least 664 calories for grades K-6 and 825 calories for older students.

    I agree with most of what you have listed as ways to reduce sugar in kids' school food. In my school district we got the junk food out of both vending machines and cafeterias 7 years ago; we no longer have a la carte lines, just full meals which are all eligible for government reimbursement; we replaced canned fruit with fresh 6 years ago, as well as eliminating all other types of dessert; as of this year, fresh fruit has replaced juice in our breakfasts and no cereal is served with more than 6g sugar.

    BUT - as a result of all of the healthy improvements we have made to our food (including nothing fried, salad bars in all middle and high schools, a daily fresh raw veg at elementary schools, all whole grains) our meals now do not contain enough calories to achieve the government mandated minimum without chocolate milk! If we eliminated the chocolate milk option, we would have to add in some other source of cheap calories, most likely a cracker, which of course turns to sugar immediately upon ingestion. our nutrition services department already runs a deficit in excess of $3 million per year to provide our students with this better quality food, so adding in an additional meal component is not in the budget, nor would the kids be any better off for it nutritionally, because as you have suggested, sugar is sugar, and a simple carb which turns immediately to sugar is no healthier than the added sugar in chocolate milk.

    But, back to your yogurt issue. If indeed your kitchens are able to take big tubs of hummus and dish it out into individual portions, then they should also be able to take a big tub of vanilla yogurt and combine it with a big tub of unflavored yogurt, blend the two together, and serve it to the students. This would immediately cut the amount of added sugar in the yogurt in half, and shouldn't add anything to the cost either. Or if that was too sudden a reduction in the sweetness level for students, then it could be a 2 to 1 or even 3 to 1 ratio of vanilla to plain yogurt to start, and then every 8 weeks or so, add in more plain yogurt and less vanilla yogurt; rinse and repeat.

  6. Great idea about blending the yogurts, Dana. In fact, carbohydrates are converted into glucose after they're eaten, and those are metabolyzed differently from fructose (sugar), which the body treats as a toxin.

    A good explanation is here:

    But you've stated the problem exactly--schools on their meager budgets can't comply with the current USDA standards without resorting to unhealthy calories from sugar.

  7. Whoa, aren't you the guy who said, "Sugar is sugar, Dana, whether its lactose, fructose, sucrose, maltose"? But now you are saying that the body metabolizes different sugars differently? Well, which is - are all sugars the same, or aren't they?

  8. I am familiar with Dr Lustig and his views, as I live very close to UCSF where he works, and I've already seen the video and heard him speak in person. My question to you stands - either "sugar is sugar" as you initially claimed, or all sugars are not the same. Which is it?

  9. Dana, you're too funny. If you're familiar with Robert Lustig and you've already seen the video, then you already know the answer to that question and why it is so important for schools to stop feeding sugar to kids. Hopefully the USDA will act soon to adopt the proposed Institute of Medicine standards that would, as you say, lower the calorie requirements for school meals so that schools in San Francisco could finally afford to stop serving flavored milk to children.

  10. I don't know. The organic plain yogurt in my refrigerator has 16 grams of sugar per serving. Seems like at a certain point if you want to serve yogurt at all you have to accept that it contains some sugar. As long as the rest of the meal is not loaded with it, I don't think it's a terrible thing.

  11. You may be right. But I'm sure that would be a 1-cup serving. The kids are getting much less than that. I like the idea of mixing the sweetened yogurt with the plain yogurt.