Sprinkle Sandwich: The Happiest Children in the World

Would you consider yourself a good parent if you gave your children sprinkles for breakfast each morning? Did you know that the happiest children in the world are Dutch kids? And did you know that most mornings they eat Hagelslag (‘hailstorm of sprinkles’) – sprinkles on bread with butter for breakfast? 

Let me give you some context and perhaps we can make up our minds together.

Years ago on a family trip to Amsterdam we stayed in a great little boutique hotel just off Vondel Straat beside VondelPark. 

At breakfast on the first morning we noticed 2 jars of sprinkles beside the toaster with a section of delicious breads and pastries. Puzzled and amused we carried on with our cereal, coffee and then an order of eggs. I had no idea why the sprinkles were there and after explaining to Isabella how crazy it would be to eat them for breakfast a wonderful middle-aged waiter came over and explained how it was the traditional breakfast in Amsterdam and we should try it. Again I politely refused and continued.

That afternoon, in between a trip to the Van Gough Museum and the National Concert Hall for a lunch time performance of Strauss we hung out in the Park playing and people watching. 

What we noticed: little kids were well wrapped up, running and chasing with each other, older kids on skateboards, grandparents out strolling with little ones, new mums jogging and pushing buggies and lots of families cycling. There was such a lovely sense of calm, contentment and well happiness – all on a Tuesday afternoon.

After our little break away I was more intrigued than ever and decided to explore this notion of sprinkles for breakfast a little more. 

For over a century, Dutch children have grown up eating chocolate sprinkles, or ‘Hagelslag’, on buttered bread as a breakfast food or snack. And while they may look nearly identical to the sprinkles found at any American ice cream stand, hagelslag is far superior because they have flavour. Hagelslag have robust chocolate flavour—all while looking just as celebratory as a regular sprinkle and has a minimum cocoa butter content of 32% to be considered chocolate.

According to the 2013 Unicef report – it declared Dutch kids were the happiest in the world, it also stated that 85 percent of the Dutch children aged 11, 13 and 15 surveyed ate breakfast every day. 

Is there something special about eating Hagelslag (sprinkles) for breakfast? Is that really what makes Dutch children so happy?

Well according to the Oxfam index “Good Enough to Eat, “ the Netherlands has emerged as the healthiest place in the world for children to eat based on factors such as relatively low food prices, low prevalence of obesity and diabetes and great nutritional diversity. But surely sprinkles on white bread doesn’t just account for this. Is there something more – well yes .

In my opinion there are two very important factors here that far surpass the odd portion of sprinkles. 

These Danish families are making a conscientious decision to sit together each morning around a table, as a family before school and work and eat together. In so many other countries, Ireland now included, this does not happen very often. Life is busy, commuting is becoming crazy here again and people are trying to dig their out of the recession day-by-day and that means compromise. 

For me, in my home, we do not eat breakfast together every morning – I have my breakfast at 5.45am and leave the house at 6am to be in my office for 7am so I can leave early, beat the traffic and get home to collect my little girl and have reasonably level of “mommy time”. I’m sure thousands of houses are the same with Dads and Moms leaving early, shift work, commutes, school buses and a million other reasons.

I get it – it’s really hard. We have made one small change though – weekend breakfasts have always been very important to us and I intend to keep it that way. Normally, in my home we make a conscious effort to be at the table chatting, colouring, making, eating, doing for at least one hour and since returning from our trip to Amsterdam I am now staying at home for breakfast one morning a week. ( This involves getting up at 5 am and working til 7 am at home and then hitting the road and maybe working a little later instead).

The importance of a good breakfast has been lauded since the beginning of time and perhaps we under-estimate just how important it is. It’s said to reduce the risk of snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day, decrease the risk of obesity and increase a child’s ability to concentrate at school. It is more than that though, it is the quality time, that bonding, that checking in with everyone and feeling like a family before we all go out to face the world alone that can sometimes be far more important than an argument about sprinkles or no sprinkles. 

Also, the second takeaway for me is that realistic perspective on parenthood the Dutch have. They appreciate we live in the real world and they don’t apply that level of pressure for perfection that us Irish Moms tend to be doing more and more. Lets give ourselves a break and enjoy parenthood. 

Sometimes in life the best memories and moments in our childhood come from those little interludes and surprises that present themselves. So rather than being too hard on ourselves lets take the realistic perspective – everything in moderation, balance in our diet, make more of an effort to get fresh air and play outside with our kids and leave the guilt at the backdoor. 

So will I be serving Sprinkles for breakfast every morning from now on – NO – I won’t but I might surprise Isabella with a few bright, happy and magical sprinkles on top of her porridge this morning. 

Let’s live a little

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