Guest post by Alison Maurice
Why celebrate school breakfast? Because it not only fights hunger and improves children’s nutrition, but it is a vital tool for improving the academic achievement of your students.
Tight family budgets and hectic morning schedules make eating breakfast before the school day difficult for too many families. The School Breakfast Program plays a critical role in ensuring your students receive the basic nutrition they need to start the school day ready to learn.
Studies show that students who eat breakfast at school, closer to class and test-taking time, perform better on standardized tests when compared to students that skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home. Additionally, children and adolescents who are experiencing hunger have poorer grades and slower memory recall. Participating in school breakfast allows students to focus on the tasks ahead of them, rather than their empty stomachs.
Hunger also can contribute to student behavioral problems. Research suggests that students who eat school breakfast are less likely to exhibit behavioral and psychological distress and have lower rates of absence and tardiness. Furthermore, schools that are providing school breakfast through after the bell programs, such as breakfast in the classroom, “grab and go,” and second chance breakfast, have observed fewer behavioral problems requiring disciplinary office referrals, allowing educators to spend more class time on the curriculum.
The School Breakfast Program is an essential tool for ensuring that students have the nutrition needed to thrive academically, but it helps support health, too! Studies have found that children and adolescents who participate in school breakfast are less likely to be overweight and have more favorable weight outcomes such as a lower body max index (BMI), an indicator of excess body fat, while skipping breakfast has been associated with a higher risk of obesity in the short and long terms. School breakfast also reduces visits to the school nurse, especially in the morning.
The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recently released its annual School Breakfast Scorecard: School Year 2016–2017, which further details the benefits of school breakfast, strategies for successfully increasing participation, and state and national participation rates in the program.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
- 2 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program on a typical day in the 2016–17 school year.
- 6 low-income children participated in school breakfast for every 100 that participated in school lunch.
- Breakfast after the bell programs, and those that offer free breakfast to all students, increase low-income students’ participation in school breakfast.
- Community eligibility, the most recent federal option for high-poverty schools to offer breakfast (and lunch) to all students for free with less administrative work, helped drive school breakfast participation.
While school breakfast participation continues to grow and reach more students than ever before, there are still millions of low-income children missing out on school breakfast. The 2018 National School Breakfast Week offers an important opportunity to celebrate the amazing benefits of school breakfast and to spread the word about successful strategies to increase participation.
For ideas to celebrate National School Breakfast Week in your school, please visit the FRAC/NASSP co-branded Secondary School Principals’ Breakfast After the Bell Toolkit. In this toolkit, you will find tips for a successful breakfast after the bell program, sample outreach materials, and event planning materials.
Visit FRAC’s school breakfast page for more information and countless resources on the National School Breakfast Program.
Alison Maurice is a child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center. Contact her at [email protected] or 202-986-2200, ext. 5056.