What’s For Breakfast in America?

I live in New York City and frequently travel to small towns and cities around the U.S. I talk to patients with diabetes, inspiring them to take better care of themselves. That includes how they eat.

Last week on one of my trips I was yet again disappointed at how we encourage people to eat healthfully and not 14 hours later I was staring at a remarkably unhealthful breakfast buffet.

It was included with my hotel stay, and I could barely find a thing to eat.

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Here’s what was on offer:

Cupcake-like muffins
Cheap, frozen bagels
Commercial white and whole wheat bread
Artificial waffle mix product with additive-loaded commercial maple syrup
Sweetened vanilla yogurt
Mixed berries swimming in sugary syrup
Processed egg patties
Overcooked breakfast link sausages
4 cold cereals, two of which were sweetened
Thin and watery oatmeal
Fresh red apples

I had just spoken to a group of people with diabetes in Batavia, N.Y., a small hamlet midway between Buffalo and Rochester. One hundred people had traveled up to an hour to attend.

I shared basic information regarding blood sugar management and my own success story managing my diabetes. That includes making healthy food choices, watching portion sizes and getting daily exercise.

After the lecture all the questions were about food: Do you count calories? How do you eat well when you travel so much? How can one eat healthy on a budget? What do you eat?

I suggested when traveling that one should make the healthiest choices available: Even McDonald’s now offers apple slices. Also, whole grains, beans and pasta are healthy and inexpensive items to prepare at home if you’re on a budget. (And no, I don’t count calories.)

Yet there I was the next morning in a fair-sized city, Rochester, N.Y., staring at a stunning array of cheap, fake, sugar- and fat-loaded breakfast choices. I was steamed at the disparity between the daily barrage of media messages and government food guidelines to eat healthfully and how we make it so infuriatingly difficult to do so. Really, what would it take to add bananas and oranges to that buffet? Keep some of those berries out of the sugar dip? Offer plain yogurt as well as flavored? Real hard-boiled eggs?

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The friend I was traveling with, who happens to be a home economist, explained to me that there likely wasn’t a kitchen on the premises of our little hotel, so all the edibles had to be defrosted or microwaveable, limiting their choices. All right. But for each of the foods that they did serve, there are more healthful alternatives that they could have offered; the usual culprit is cost. So now explain to me how we  can expect Americans to lose weight and eat healthfully when corporate profits are more important than our health?

Why does no one seem to realize that dollars reaped today by serving cheap food will come back to bite us when everyone has one or more chronic illnesses and we’re paying exorbitant costs for healthcare and job absenteeism? Surely there must be tens of thousands of people smarter than I who know this.

As I went around taking photos, I watched a mother and her three children munching on the oh-so-fun-to-make, highly refined waffles with high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden syrup. Does she know she’s turning her children into little sugar, fat and salt addicts?

After trying and discarding the inedible oatmeal and the plastic egg patty puck, I finally toasted a piece of refined whole wheat bread, slathered it with peanut butter and put some sugared berries on it.

Leaving the dining room, I walked over to the manager behind the registration desk and politely said, “I’m wondering, would it be possible to put a few healthier items on your breakfast buffet?” Johnny (I read his name tag) was immediately defensive. “What do you mean ‘healthier’ items? What’s not ‘healthy?” he asked. So I told him. My friend moved a few feet away.

He listened, but I knew I hadn’t reached him. So I pulled out my ace card. “I have diabetes,” I said sweetly, “and I can’t eat much sugar, and there was almost nothing on your breakfast buffet without sugar.”

Remarkably, he softened, and within a minute he said, “You know, I agree with you.” I reached across the desk and shook Johnny’s hand. His eyes sparkled; he was part of the mission. My friend and I went up to our room to pack. She said to me in front of our door, laughing, “You never cease to amaze me how you do that. Before you know it, they’re on your side.”

When we came downstairs 20 minutes later to check out, Johnny said, “I was just looking to see whether you were going to be with us for breakfast tomorrow. I was going to order whatever you needed.” I was moved and impressed. He continued, “If you ever stay with us again, please call us ahead and we’ll have what you need here for breakfast.” Johnny, you’re the man!

The moral of the story: As they say on the New York City subway, “If you see something, say something.” Who knows? We might just win this war for health one voice, and one Johnny, at a time.

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Comments (6)

  1. Judi Hoskins at

    But how sad that the hotel would have what you needed the next day as opposed to making the buffet healthier every day for everyone.  If there were more nutricious and healthy choices available children and even some adults would possibly learn to make better choices.

  2. Susan Pollard at

    This is why I bring my own food.

  3. Karmel Allison
    Karmel Allison at

    Yikes– forget caloric health, that berry tray looks like an attack on my bacterial health as well! Where are the New York Food Safety Regulators on that one?

  4. Chris at

    Hello,
    I think that the NY Food Safety Regulators have the same problem like the city officials with the expanding rat population….it is overcoming them after having ignored the problems for years. It is really not a good publicity for a hotel when the breakfast looks like that one pictured here but I guess the rats would love it.
    Regards,
    Chris

  5. Riva Greenberg
    Riva at

    I think the culprit is the value we put on profit before health., short-term gain before long-. Companies that “do the right thing” are the exception, but the beauty is people, everywhere, can do the right thing like Johnny.

  6. Tom at

    While I can appreciate what you are saying I would keep in mind that neither the hotel nor the hotel industry are blasting the messages about healthy food that you refer to. You didnn’t mention what hotel you stayed at but did throw out the scary buzzword ‘corporate profits.’ I grew up in a small town and most of the hotels there are locally owned (even the ones with a national name are mostly locally-owned franchises.) Rather than ‘corporate profits,’ what is at stake here is the livelihood of local people in this small town.  When you booked your hotel room did you ask about the quality of breakfast and choose the hotel with the healthiest food, or did you simply book the hotel with the cheapest price? If you went with the cheapest price how can you expect these local people to pay for healthy food for a breakfast buffet included in the price, and how can you be surprised if the cheap hotel’s breakfast buffet looks just like every other cheap hotel breakfast buffet in the country? This ‘problem’ will be fixed as soon as a majority of travelers start choosing more expensive hotel rooms with healthy breakfast buffets over the cheapest room that Trip Advisor offers.

    By the way I think that ‘cup-cake-like muffin’ is redundant – a muffin is a cupcake that traditionally has no frosting. I realize that because they are occasionally made with bran that some marketing geniuses have convinced a lot of people that a muffin is somehow different from and healthier than a cupcake – this just helps convince me that the average consumer is not a genius. A muffin is a cupcake, so what you are describing is a cupcake-like cupcake or a muffin-like muffin.

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