A Healthy Day Starts in the Classroom with School Breakfast Programs

December 28, 2009

by Tara Kennon, HSC communications manager

CWs-SandovalBfast_Nov09-119
Kids at Chicago's Sandoval elementary school receive breakfast each day.

Our partners at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) recently released their annual report on the state of school breakfast in large urban school districts. The scorecard, which analyzes school breakfast participation in cities across the US, comes with a simple message:  more students are eating school breakfast than last year, but many more who could benefit from the program aren’t participating.

“Nationally, we’ve seen a real increase in breakfast participation among low-income children both because of the recession and because states generally have slowly been increasing breakfast use, but participation is just not growing fast enough,” said Jim Weill, FRAC president, in a press release about the report.

The report provides some context for these findings: “At a time when the nation is in a long and severe  recession, the School Breakfast Program is more indispensable than ever to maintain the health and well-being of low-income children. In 2008, nearly 16.7 million American children, or almost one in four, lived in food insecure households where their families faced a constant struggle against hunger.” (For more on these numbers and their relevance to school food, see our recent posts on the USDA’s 2009 food security report.)

We know that breakfast helps kids focus and do their best in the classroom and that schools can play a vital role in making sure kids have access to a healthy bite in the morning before classes begin.

That’s why we’ve been so impressed by efforts such as those in Chicago and Washington, D.C. public schools to provide universal breakfast in the classroom – a program that brings breakfast to all children, in their classrooms, before they begin their studies for the day. The program increases participation dramatically, takes away stigma and helps children learn that breakfast is part of a normal routine.

These programs also involve a certain level of logistical coordination to bring breakfast to each class, take away trash, and transition to the start of the day. And they are not without problems: critics have pointed out opportunities to improve the nutritional content of breakfast items served in the classroom, for example. 

But the benefits are huge: the report points out that the districts that were most successful in making sure kids had breakfast were the ones that served it in the classroom. FRAC also urges broader adoption of universal in-classroom programs like the ones in Chicago and D.C.. According the report: “The key strategy that urban school districts across the nation should adopt to expand breakfast participation among low-income students remains the adoption of universal classroom breakfast programs, especially in schools with high percentages of low-income students.”

Kudos to the school districts across the country doing their part to make sure all kids have a healthy start to their day.