Chef Ann Cooper on The Case for Universal Breakfast: It Really Is the Most Important Meal of the Day
April 25, 2011 | Written By: Healthy Schools Campaign
Today we have a guest blog by Chef Ann Cooper, nationally-recognized “renegade lunch lady” and advocate for healthy school food. This post originally appeared on The Lunch Box blog and Chef Ann's blog.Thanks to Chef Ann Cooper for sharing this post!
I have been working as a chef for over three decades and in school food for over one. As a chef, I cooked or oversaw the cooking of tens of thousands of breakfasts. In every restaurant, hotel, cruise ship and catering operation I worked in, it was always taken for granted that breakfast was the most important and perhaps the hardest meal to prepare and serve of the day. The guests are often tired, perhaps cranky; they want food and beverage fast and they all have “important” things that need to be taken care of immediately. To top it all off, breakfast has the lowest price point of almost any restaurant meal, so we need to be fast, efficient, smiley and cheap, not easy in today’s world – never mind in the world of school food.
In every school and district I’ve worked in over the past twelve years, we have served or given access to breakfast to all of the students. Over the years of working in schools across the country, it has become apparent that the best way to assure all students eat breakfast is for it to be served in the classroom.
There are so many reasons why we need to change how we feed our children:
- The CDC has stated that of the children born in the year 2000; one out of every three Caucasians and one out of every two African Americans and Hispanics will have diabetes in their lifetimes.[i]
- The CDC has stated that those same children will be the first generation in our country’s history to die at a younger age than their parents – because of what we feed them.[ii]
- Both the achievement gap and the life expectancy gap – between rich and poor have grown over 20% in twenty years.[iii]
- Over 72% of all Americans are now overweight or obese.[iv]
- Over 30% of all children between 4 and 19 are now overweight or obese.[v]
- We currently spend over $260 billion a year (on the healthcare costs), over $5 billion a week on just two diseases: diabetes and obesity.
In realizing how important healthy food is to our children, it should be mandatory to make sure they all begin every day with a healthy breakfast! There are all kinds of pros as well as perceived cons to Universal Breakfast in the classroom; however I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The naysayers will often tout the following as reasons why we shouldn’t serve breakfast in the classroom:
- Kids spill – there can be messes to clean.
- Who will take out the trash?
- What about ants and mice?
- Breakfast takes time, as much as 20 minutes, and teachers are trying to teach.
- Union negotiated agreements often state that teachers do not do food service work.
- The government should not be paying to feed kids breakfast – that’s the parent’s job.
All of the above issues are true, but NONE of them should be a barrier to feeding our children the most important meal of the day.
When I ran the Food Service in Berkeley, CA we implemented Universal Breakfast in the Classroom in all of our schools and now where I currently run Nutrition Services in Boulder, CO we have implemented it in numerous schools. Large districts all across the country are also realizing the importance of breakfast in the classroom and children in DC, Memphis, Maryland and New York, to name a few, are now eating with their fellow students at their desks.
- Do kids spill? Well of course it can happen, but that would certainly be a ludicrous reason to not ensure they receive a healthy breakfast! In my experience, it has never been an overwhelming problem.
- Does breakfast in the classroom mean that trash needs to be emptied? Yes – however, there are many ways this can be accomplished, including having the students participate in recycling and composting.
- Does it take time for kids to eat and can this cut into teaching time? Of course – however, talented teachers all across the country have figured out ways to use this time as teaching time. From reading and journaling, to discussions about food, farming, and nutrition – there are so many ways to use breakfast time as teaching time.
- Should teachers be required to help their students at breakfast? – I’ll leave this discussion for the teachers and their unions – but hungry kids can’t learn and malnourished kids can’t think. It should be all of our collective responsibility to ensure that no child is hungry in school and that they can learn to the best of their abilities because they are well nourished.
Should the government be responsible to feeding our children? Well, I guess the same question can be asked of education; shouldn’t parents be responsible for teaching their children to read and write – why is it the government’s job? In America we have made education a priority and that should include the entire school day.
It should be a birth right in our country that no child is hungry in school and that every child, every day has delicious/nutritious food in school – universal breakfast in the classroom is one avenue toward this goal.
Finally I’d like to add that for many, many school districts with a high free and reduced population, universal breakfast in the classroom can be cash-positive and can help assure healthier food for lunch as well as breakfast.
For more information on breakfast in the classroom programs, check out the following:
The Lunch Box: http://www.thelunchbox.org/search/luceneapi_node/breakfast
Universal Breakfast Video on thelunchbox.org: http://www.thelunchbox.org/videos/universal-breakfast
Nutrition Explorations: http://www.nutritionexplorations.org/educators/school-nutrition-breakfast.asp
Meals 4 Kids: www.meals4kids.org/sb/How2Start_BIC_FY08.doc