ALEXANDRIA, VA – As students at Lyles-Couch Traditional Academy took their breakfast sandwiches at the cafeteria counter this morning, the smile on the face of Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Executive Chef Jason Tepper grew bigger and bigger. Because he knew that, while the sandwiches looked like those you might find at Chick-fil-A or Burger King, they were very different.
“It’s a very complete breakfast,” Tepper said. “Although its food that looks like something you’d get at a fast food drive thru, ours is much healthier. We’re using whole grains, less processed foods, and less sugar. Today’s sandwiches, for example, are on whole grain breads, with turkey bacon or sausage.”
Tepper, who has been the ACPS Executive Chef for 2½ years, was at the Saint Asaph Street campus as part of ACPS’s celebration of National School Breakfast Week. He was joined by Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who assisted in handing out breakfast sandwiches to the students, and ACPS School Board Chair Meagan L. Alderton and Chadwick’s Restaurant owner Trae Lamond, who chatted with the students at the end of the breakfast line.
Tepper explained that, in addition to healthier sandwiches, each student was encouraged to take a fruit (oranges or bananas at today’s breakfast). He added that even the milk options were healthier, noting, for example, that the strawberry milk was colored with beets, instead of artificial colors.
National School Breakfast Week is an annual event that takes place in March. It is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of breakfast and its impact on students’ health and academic performance.
“Obviously breakfast is such an important meal, particularly for our community,” Wilson said. “In a school system where over half of our students receive free or reduced lunch, this is an important nutrition access effort for us as a system.” Tepper added that “from kindergarten through 12th grade, they’re going to get the healthiest meals throughout their day at school. So that’s a very high standard that we strive for every day.”
The benefits of eating breakfast are numerous. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast perform better in school, have better attendance records, and are less likely to experience behavioral problems. Breakfast provides the necessary energy and nutrients needed for students to focus and concentrate in class. It also helps to regulate blood sugar levels, which can affect mood and behavior.
ACPS School Board Chair Alderton said that the importance of healthy eating was impressed upon her at an early age, and remains with her to this day. “I always had a fruit or vegetable, because my mom was in my head,” Alderton said. “Even today, apples are my number one go to.” Lamond recalled his grandmother cooking broccoli and green beans for him as a kid, and revealed that he now eats at least one banana a day.
In recognition of this year’s theme – Dig Into School Breakfast – the Lyles Couch Traditional Academy cafeteria area was decorated with construction cones and caution, tape, hard hats, and a small construction site, complete with bulldozers, sand and rocks. Alderton said that that effect on the kindergarten through fifth grade students was obvious. “They’re joyful. I can tell that this is a time of the day that they enjoy. They were excited about their breakfast.”