By Tawnya Hallman
I happened to walk into the Breakfast Club room one morning, a few minutes after students had cleared out and I was amazed by what I saw. The leftover food looked gourmet and delicious. Susana Couto, the Breakfast Club cook, was busy carefully wrapping up leftover fruit. “I never waste anything,” she said. Leftover fruit goes into a smoothie later in the week.
I asked her about the food she serves. She listed a whole slew of things including celery with cream cheese and raisins, a variety of fruit, yogurt, egg and cheese on toasted English muffins, whole-wheat pancakes, seaweed, tuna, cereal, milk, roast potatoes and soups. She also makes hummus, which she spreads on rice cakes, whole-wheat tortillas and bagels. She makes applesauce with cinnamon and oats, which she puts on toasted whole-wheat bread topped with a few thinly sliced apples “to hide the oats!” she said. The Ontario Egg Farmer’s Association donated coupons for about 60 dozen eggs this year so lots of protein rich egg-based food will be on the menu this year.
Wait a minute! She makes the hummus and applesauce? Yep. She makes it from scratch, in the breakfast club kitchen. Not only that, but she makes it after her shift is over. She’s paid for two hours, but she volunteers another 1 to 1 ½ hours more to prep food for the next day. She said she simply couldn’t offer the foods she wants to if she didn’t volunteer her time.
The point is that she wants to serve food that’s not just quick and easy, but that’s adventurous, homemade and nutritious. It’s that she gets so much joy out of getting students to try new food. It’s that she loves to cook and loves serving the students. Presentation is just as important to her as the food she serves. She also believes in engaging the students in a conversation about food by encouraging them to try things, even if they don’t think they’ll like them. She talks about nutrition and the importance of eating breakfast so their brains are fuelled for the morning. People, we’ve hit the jackpot with Susana!
Susana is originally from Portugal, and in her very early twenties, she married a chef from the army. “Before that, I was a picky eater” she said. Her husband introduced her to cooking and lots of different foods. Once she became a mother of 3, she became really good at preparing kid-friendly food. She’s held all sorts of jobs: a nurse’s assistant helping deliver babies, a food truck cook, an education assistant (she used to work at Roden as an EA for about 5 years) and childcare provider to name a few. She also crochets (check out her Etsy shop at Crochet By Susana), bakes big trays of cookies to sell in December (visit her in the Breakfast Club if you want to place an order!), she’s a lunch monitor at our school and a dedicated mother of 3 and grandmother of 2!
Our school is so incredibly lucky to have such a dedicated and creative person running our Breakfast Club. If you haven’t ever dropped in, please make a point to and see Susana in action. It’s located on the east side of the school (Ashdale Ave side), down the hall from the main office. It’s open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 8:55 AM and all students are welcome to attend.
Currently Susana is getting between 50 – 60 students each morning. She knows because she counts plates. She’s asked me to spread the word about a few things she needs to outfit the Breakfast Club, as the funding from the Toronto Foundation for Student Success only goes so far.
Breakfast Club Wish List
2 really good blenders (to make smoothies)
Packaged food like cereal (low sugar) and rice cakes (plain)
Fruit (fresh or frozen) or vegetables (potatoes, carrots)
Donations can be dropped off to the Breakfast Club room any day!
One thing Susana has always wanted to do is run cooking classes for parents. I loved the idea and so, we’re working together to create with a lesson that will teach parents some great tips for preparing kid-friendly food that can be prepared ahead of time to make weeknights easier to get through! Watch for more details in early 2016.