CEDAR RAPIDS — The smell of chlorine hits you first. Chlorine, then a hint of cinnamon.
In a small room tucked under the Kennedy High School pool bleachers, breakfast waits. One day in early October it was steel cut oats with a granola topping, scrambled eggs, yogurt and granola, baked apples, bananas and cinnamon rolls.
It isn’t special day. The team isn’t celebrating a victory or seeking comfort after a loss.
It’s just breakfast. Many studies tell us, though, that this first meal of the day is the most important one. And many high school athletes are likely to skip it or load up on junk food.
Knowing this, for roughly 12 years, the parents of Kennedy’s boys and girls swim team members have provided a hot, healthy breakfast for their student athletes. The idea for the Kennedy Swim Kitchen came from a parent who noticed his son and other swimmers grabbing breakfast from the vending machine after their morning practice.
“He said we needed a better option for them,” Coach John Ross says.
A signup system was developed, with parents volunteering for at least one breakfast shift during the season. The girls’ season ends next week; the boys’ first practice is Nov. 5.
Planning ahead is key to preparing breakfast for more than two dozen teen athletes. Recipes must stand up to make-ahead preparation and transportation. The meal is prepared off-site and brought to school, early. Both teams have practice at 5:45 a.m. Parents usually arrive at the school around 6 a.m. to set up.
Parents are happy to do it, though.
“We’re all keyed into their tradition and we’re happy to support them,” says Janet Jacobsen, who has two daughters on the team.
The swimmers eat in shifts.
“It’s something to look forward to,” says Senior Amanda Jacobsen, 17. “We walk in and it’s like, ‘Oh, a McCoy breakfast!’”
A fruit smoothie or an egg casserole can make a busy day just that much easier to tackle.
“We do ask a lot of these athletes physically,” says Ross, who currently coaches the girls’ team and was the boys’ team coach when the breakfast tradition began. “With their class load and the work that they do — it’s a grind.”
It teaches healthy habits, too.
“I never used to eat breakfast, but now I do all the time,” Senior Sydney Hofferber, 17, says.
It doesn’t end at breakfast, either. The Kennedy Swim Kitchen is also stocked with fresh fruit, granola bars, string cheese and bottled water — nutritious and filling snacks the students can grab before their afternoon practice.
“When I took over the program, my goal was to offer as many healthy snacks as we can,” says Kara McCoy, the mother of two Kennedy swimmers. “I think we all feel good that they have a healthy option.”
The athletic department hasn’t conducted a study to see what impact the breakfasts have had on Kennedy’s swimmers, but Ross says the athletes are happy, parents enjoy getting to know the team outside of the pool and grades are good.
“Academically, we had a team GPA of 3.58 last year,” Ross says. “This just makes sense.”
Triple Berry Smoothies
This recipe can be prepared ahead and frozen. Simply defrost before serving.
Source: Janet Jacobsen, parent of two Kennedy High School swimmers
Coat 6-quart slow cooker with non-stick spray. Stir together oats, water, and salt in slow-cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or overnight. Nearly all of the liquid will be absorbed. Stir well. Serve with your choice of toppings.
Options include dried fruits, flax seed, cinnamon, berries and walnuts.
Source: Christine Botkin, parent of two Kennedy High School swimmers