Better With Breakfast
Schools are responsible for filling students’ minds, but that can be hard to do when their bellies are empty.
Providing breakfast to help students learn was the topic of the Michigan Learning Connect Summit on May 2, presented by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM), United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
More than a hundred Michigan school administrators, food service directors, public health and nutrition professionals came together at Ford Field in Detroit to share facts, research and best practices on how breakfast and physical activity can contribute to a healthy, successful student.
Why Does School Breakfast Matter?
School meals, including breakfast, provide a safety net for children. For some, the breakfast, lunch and snacks they get at school are the only meals they have access to on any given day.
Food insecurity isn’t the only challenge some Michigan students face when it comes to learning. Other obstacles include homelessness, inadequate nutrition and abuse, according to the 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Databook, which tracks child wellness measures.
The One-Two Punch
More schools are eliminating recess and/or physical education at the same time that kids are becoming more sedentary outside of school, according to presenter Lauren Raine, PhD.
That’s a concern since there may be a positive link between physical activity and fitness and academic scores, said Raine. Increased physical fitness in kids leads to increased cognitive control – which includes focus, memory and ability to switch between tasks.
In addition, there is consistent research showing that kids who start the school day with full stomachs do better in school, according to pediatrician and presenter Dr. Elizabeth Zmuda, DO. Hungry students have more trouble concentrating, learning and behaving, while those who have started the day with school breakfast have better behavior, memory, and standardized test scores.
Success Stories: Each school is unique
Schools across Michigan have found creative approaches to offer breakfast in a way that meets the needs of school teachers, students, and staff.
At the Pontiac Academy for Excellence Elementary School, breakfast in the classroom, which counts as instruction time in Michigan, was the solution for morning chaos in the cafeteria, according to principal Thursenia DeHart-Jones, PhD. Teachers now love the program because they can continue their morning duties while the students eat, said DeHart-Jones.
Putting Words into Action
Conference attendees got a taste of some popular school breakfast foods, such as Peaches n’ Cream Overnight Oats served from mobile carts, an option used in some schools for grab-and-go breakfast served outside school cafeterias. These carts were not rolled out at the Summit until after the first round of speakers, giving participants insight into how hard it can be to concentrate without eating breakfast. Some schools have implemented this type of Second Chance Breakfast program to offer grab-and-go breakfast to all students between the first and second period of school.
The real fun was Recess before Lunch, where members of the Detroit Lions football education team, as well as Lions Legend Jason Hanson and mascot, Roary, led 45 minutes of football drills that got participants up and moving and laughing.