Breakfast is an important building block for student academic success. It fuels students’ minds and bodies with the nutrients necessary to achieve in the classroom. Research indicates that students who skip breakfast make more errors and have slower memory recall, and teens experiencing hunger are more likely to be suspended from school.
Too many of our students fail to start their day with a nutritious breakfast. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), 47 students miss out on eating school breakfast for every 100 low-income students who eat school lunch. This statistic is troubling, revealing that a significant proportion of low-income students are starting the school day at a disadvantage. It also shows us that traditional school breakfast-where it is served in the cafeteria before the bell rings-doesn’t work for every school.
This is especially true for secondary students. “The reality is that for teenagers, when you have school starting at 7:50 in the morning, it’s hard enough to get [to school] on time … the idea of getting [to school] another 20 minutes earlier to be able to eat breakfast, it just doesn’t happen, even for students who qualify for free and reduced-price breakfast,” explains Keven Wynkoop, a member of NASSP and principal at Ballard High School in Seattle, WA.
Re-evaluating and transforming the way that school breakfast is served at your school is one of the ways you can set your students up for academic success. Principal Wynkoop’s high school has been serving breakfast after the start of the school day for more than two decades. “If you want the best out of your students in the classroom, you need to do whatever you can to make sure that they are as physically prepared as possible to do well there. Some things we can’t control … but we can make sure that we have time within [the school] day for [students] to [eat], and that is such an important piece for success in the classroom,” says Wynkoop, who now sees nearly double the number of students at his school’s breakfast service operated after the first bell.
Americans are busy and on the go-especially American teens. The average American spends 12 minutes eating breakfast, which is roughly half the time that is spent eating lunch or dinner. These societal trends are reflected in the microcosm of our schools as students with increasingly hectic morning schedules seek the quick convenience of being able to grab and go with their breakfast. Schools that integrate breakfast into the school day find such alternative serving methods to be an effective solution for increasing the number of students who eat school breakfast.
There are three common alternative breakfast service models that make this important meal part of the school day: grab and go (prepackaged brown bag breakfasts are served in high-traffic areas), breakfast in the classroom (meals are delivered to the classroom), and second-chance breakfast (breakfast is served during an extended passing period, typically after the first bell). With each of these models, students are able to finish their meals in the classroom. These strategies are designed to encourage students who are culturally wired for convenience to start their day with a nutritious breakfast.
Many secondary schools are implementing such programs, and their experiences will be shared in a soon-to-be-released report from FRAC in partnership with NASSP. Preliminary findings indicate that secondary principals overwhelmingly support the innovative models. Not only are they successfully feeding breakfast to more students, but they are also experiencing benefits that support an improved learning environment such as decreased visits to the nurse, less absenteeism, and fewer disciplinary referrals.
Mieka Sanderson is a child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research and Action Center, an antipoverty, antihunger organization.
Sign up for FRAC’s Meals Matter School Breakfast email newsletter at www.frac.org to get a summary of the report and to get more strategies on how you can ensure that your students are fit to learn by starting their day with a nutritious morning meal.