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The gift of Second Breakfast

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Of course it’s hobbits who are famous for second breakfast, that meal that you have after first breakfast and before lunch. Bilbo takes second breakfast in The Hobbit, and in the Lord of the rings film, Pippin is distressed to learn that Aragorn may not know about second breakfast.

In the UK there is the post breakfast, pre-lunch snack known as elevenses, a type of second breakfast popular with bears such as Winnie the Pooh and Paddington. A version of second breakfast or a type of elevenses is found across Europe. Common in Poland second breakfast is known as drugie śniadanie in Hungary it is tízórai, once in Spain and konkelstik in the Netherlands. The contents of second breakfast can vary from a small lighter sweet snack with coffee, such as pastries, after a more substantial first breakfast or a more solid protein rich breakfast after an early start and lighter first breakfast that was had before early chores were done. (Most second breakfast does seem to include coffee, which maybe explains why all those bushcrafters start their tasks in their videos with getting the coffee on first!)

Working outdoors, second breakfast is really useful. When I have worked with groups with a packed lunch, they are often tempted or actually do eat their packed lunch before 11-which is fine if there is something else to sustain them for the rest of the day but tricky if not. In our own groups we provide food as default and so there’s no option to chip into a packed lunch as they are waiting for the lunch to be prepped and cooked over the fire. We do then have second breakfast as a standard.

When groups arrive, and even in schools, they may have had a great breakfast at home but in order to go about a physical, outdoor based day or session, second breakfast is usually still needed by all. It is known that particularly in colder temperatures our bodies use more calories to just keep warm so it should be no surprise that some groups of young people particularly, seem to use up energy pretty quickly and can be hungry all of the time!

Second breakfast staves of the problem of groups becoming “hangry” and even having silly accidents or injuries from low blood sugar. It may only be 10 or 10.30am but if they have been up for ages then first breakfast may have worn off and they could be irritable or "teasy" as they say in Cornwall. Maybe second breakfast helps to explain the good nature, mood and resillience of hobbits? In North America in farming communities just over two hundred years ago, second breakfast was the norm for those who had risen early and had several hours of hard labour before some more food and the next shift before lunch. Apparently, it was a ritual for Agricultural 19th century Americans to also have some whiskey for their second breakfast!

There is though, the elephant in the room, the fact that many children don’t have enough food at home or home life is difficult and complicated and they may not have even had first breakfast. There’s no way of really knowing who these children or young people are, or maybe even the adults that may work with us, so the easiest solution is to always provide second breakfast for all. Make it a group or community ritual.

My sister told me of a time (before breakfast clubs) when at school she noticed that a boy was given some breakfast by the teacher. My sister asked the teacher if she could have breakfast and the teacher replied that it was only for children who didn’t have enough food at home. Unbeknownst to this teacher, our family frequently had little food in the house, we rarely saw our parents before school in the morning, it was not the norm to be supported to get off to school or have food before we left and there was probably nothing for breakfast anyway. We were all free school meal kids for all of our school lives but somehow, my sister (and the rest of us) slipped through the net and were never identified as being hungry, even though we usually were.

My own parallel story to my sisters’ is probably the one, some have heard me tell about being in the playground (at around second breakfast time) waiting for my friend to finish her apple so that I could eat her apple core. I wasn’t concentrating on much else other than my hunger and certainly was not running about with boundless energy. Food poverty and poverty generally, does not come dressed like a Dickensian orphan, and we obviously forgive those who have not seen the signs as it may be hard to recognise if you have not experienced it. The easy solution to the possibility of missing the signs of hunger is to make providing food default. Second breakfast can sustain us until lunch is made but it’s good to remember that sometimes second breakfast is actually first breakfast.

I realised when working in a school some time ago now, that the food we cooked over the fire as a snack was not just a snack for some kids. As a low income freelancer, I didn’t have the funds to provide more food than I already was and the school budget was already stretching to have me there at all and so I looked for ways to be able to provide more food to the groups without needing more cash. I did loads of research and eventually stumbled upon collecting food surplus from supermarkets and businesses. This was several years ago and so it wasn’t such a mainstream solution then, now it is possible to join any number of initiatives to help share food with your communities. This has helped us to do some environmental good and prevent waste but also make sharing food default in our work-this was basically the birth of the Curious School of the Wild second breakfast idea.

Second breakfast is a great meal to support adventure too. You can be up early have first breakfast, prep for a whole day out adventuring and guaranteed as soon as you are actually out and have walked a bit on a crisp fresh morning you will be wondering when lunch is, even though it’s only 10am! For outdoor cooking, breakfast is a gift, easy to manage on a fire, or a stove, even for beginners. Second breakfast can help us as a family to have adventures where we can go out and cook food but the prep and journey time before eating would leave everyone a bit hangry if we went out to specifically cook breakfast. You can have breakfast and then go out and still cook a second breakfast! This is one of the things we might choose to do a s family as a pocket adventure-a small, local and easy to organise adventure using whatever you have got wherever you are with whatever time you have to spare.

This weekend, second breakfast was a perfect antidote to a week of being indoors too much and in front of screens and online way too much! Check out the very silly video that we made and dream up your own excuse for a second breakfast adventure!

9.8.23 EDIT The organisation Active Cornwall have added the suggestion of providing 'second breakfast' to the offer for participants of the Time 2 Move Programme. This is such great news. We have worked on this programme for some time and have been able to feed back the importance of second breakfast at meetings and I even emailed the organisation in November 2022 to express my concern that hungry children were required to turn up and do physical activity before they were given access to any food and highlighted that second breakfast supported some basic needs being met so that children and young people could better access the physical and social activity. I also raised concerns that many children and young people were walking several kilometres to reach us as not all families have transport and to wait until lunch time for food would cause difficulties. I am so pleased that second breakfast is now being offered as a staple approach to the Time 2 Move activity in Cornwall, for children who access free school meals. It is always a bit sad when work or ideas are not acknowledged or credit given where due but we do this work so that changes are made to support those who most need it.

A note on creative thinking

(and the origin of the term second breakfast in the context of working with groups of people in outdoor activity).

It is common for creative ideas to be adopted by others and the origin be lost. Creativity is often taken for granted and frequently not credited. Many creative people are not financially recompensed for their greatest asset-creativity. All creative people know this to be true. But for the record-even the title of Second Breakfast was puzzled over for some time so that the cultural links were appropriate and so that it would be memorable. Above all, second breakfast became the term that we used as it was specifically designed to be a low stigma way of offering breakfast without inducing the shame of assuming who had or had not had breakfast. Well meaning folks can unitentionally trigger or harm those who need support by being clumsy about how that support is offered. By calling breakfast "Second Breakfast" it did not assume that you had gone without. There are many reasons why you may need second breakfast, an early start, a rush to leave the house etc. If it's not clear yet, the term second breakfast was very carefully considered, inline with my practice and extensive academic research about poverty and stigma, to remove poverty based microagressions and the shame frequently associated with food support.

Finally this is achieved by everyone being offered second breakfast by default, not a special breakfast club for poor kids or poor families. It seems on the surface, as simple as a term borrowed from hobbits (Tolkein) but it's application in outdoor practice, youth and communities who often have fewer resources, is layered and not accidental.

Second Breakfast is one of my most important creative ideas fed by my lived experience of being a hungry child.

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