A Call for School Breakfast
Believe it or not, food insecurity continues to be a problem in schools, possibly right in your own backyard. The USDA defines food insecurity as meaning “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” The bottom line is students are coming to school hungry. And hungry students have a harder time learning.
Fortunately students who are at risk of food insecurity have options that are available for them to get the nutritious breakfast they need to start the day. However, traditionally there has been a massive stigma centered on eating school breakfast. This stigma has often labeled one as the “poor kid” adding to food insecurity issues we see in our youth. And studies show not eating a proper breakfast can lead to increased absenteeism, behavioral problems in the classroom, concentration issues and poor test scores. To me it’s a hierarchy of needs issue: how can a child concentrate on learning when all they can think about is how soon lunch time will arrive when their stomach is rumbling?
In Michigan only 55% of children who are eligible for a free or reduced school lunch take advantage of school breakfast even thought they are entitled to it. It’s important to note we’ve done quite a bit to close that gap; however these numbers are unacceptable to me as a father when there are so many options for us to combat this shortcoming in our schools.
With two teenagers at home, I know firsthand how difficult it is for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is especially true with getting their day started off on the right track by giving them the fuel they need to excel in the classroom. I know if my kids go to school on an empty stomach, they will be too hungry to learn. That’s why I support my children eating school breakfast, especially my daughter, who typically is not ready to eat first thing in the morning. I appreciate the extra time I get to spend with both of my children each morning, and I know my daughter will grab a nutritious breakfast on the way to her first class of the day.
The good news is some great initiatives are happening right now in our state to reduce the stigma surrounding school breakfast. The Community Eligibility Provision program (CEP) provides schools that need help the most with a free breakfast and lunch for all students. This allows the stigma to be removed by putting all students on a level playing field; no paperwork is involved so it allows for a greater level of anonymity and really helps a family’s pocketbook.
I’m very proud of the work we do at the United Dairy Industry of Michigan to increase breakfast participation in the state. Currently I work with schools to implement or maintain alternative forms for school breakfast. I really like the flexibility of these programs; students still receive the same type of nutritious breakfast as they would in the cafeteria, but have the flexibility needed to meet their busy lifestyles.
Breakfast in the classroom (BIC): A very efficient form of providing a full breakfast to students and is primarily provided at the elementary level. Mealtime can be counted as instructional time, it allows teachers to do attendance or review the lesson plan for the day while students eat. Middle & high school students utilize a variety of flexible hybrid BIC programs that are better tailored to class schedules.
Grab-n-Go breakfast: Students are able to grab a breakfast either in the cafeteria or remote location of high traffic areas between classes. These breakfasts are conveniently packaged and students are permitted to eat in the hallways or take them into the classroom. This method is utilized at all grade levels.
Second chance breakfast: Students who may have been running late or just not physically ready to eat earlier in the day have an opportunity to grab breakfast. This method is particularly popular in high schools.
Breakfast Vending Machines: Convenience is the primary focus here as this method allows students the ability to grab a complete or a-la-carte meal from a refrigerated vending machine. Most vending machines are placed in high schools and located in high traffic areas.
Breakfast on the bus: This method is utilized primarily in rural areas with commutes of a half hour or more. Foodservice personnel package meals the night before so they are ready for early morning pick up from transportation staff.
I’m fortunate to work with some pretty amazing school foodservice professionals and highly encourage you to visit your school during breakfast to see some of the fantastic items offered. From the yogurt parfait bars and smoothie stations, to Belgian waffles or a made-to-order breakfast sandwich, it is not the breakfast I remember. I recall green eggs and ham! Your school breakfast has come a long way, and I encourage you to allow your student to give it a try!