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Relieving Family Budgets Through Universal-Free Breakfast in the Classroom

Sep 27, 2017, 10:53 AM

Photo credit: Des Moines Public Schools

Imagine being able to send your children to school every day knowing that they will receive a healthy breakfast in the classroom at no charge at the start of the school day. Imagine what that would mean for your family’s monthly budget and the positive effects it would have on your child’s ability to learn and focus during morning instruction.

Free school breakfast for all students regardless of their family income level is fast becoming a reality for families with children in high-poverty schools across the country.

As parents, you know that the morning hustle doesn’t always provide time for your children to eat breakfast before heading off to school. Long commutes and non-traditional work hours often make it difficult to sit down in the morning long enough to eat a nutritious breakfast. Additionally, many families are living on very tight budgets and can ill afford to buy breakfast at school.

School breakfast can be a big help for families, but the traditional school breakfast model, where breakfast is served in the cafeteria, just misses too many kids due to a variety of factors. When given a choice, students will almost always choose to play with their friends outside or visit with their peers in the hallways over going to the cafeteria to get the fuel they need to maximize their classroom performance. Late bus schedules, long security lines, and the stigma associated with the program being for “poor kids” are constant barriers to school breakfast participation.

Photo Credit: Des Moines Public Schools

Photo Credit: Des Moines Public Schools

Schools that move to serving breakfast to all students – for free – and in the classroom are finding that more children start the day with this important meal.

In this growing number of schools, breakfast is moved into the classroom and made available after the morning bell. The meals are either delivered to the classroom or students pick-up their meals from kiosks located around the school building, also known as Grab n’ Go. Students enjoy their meals in the classroom after the morning bell during morning announcements, while the teacher goes over the day’s lesson plan or collects homework, or during individual reading time so that no instructional time is lost. In just a few minutes, your children are nourished and ready to learn.

Though the number of high-poverty schools that offer Universal-Free Breakfast in the Classroom is expanding, there is still work to be done. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) works in a number of school districts across the nation to expand access to school breakfast through the implementation of alternative service models like Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab n’ Go. Our research is showing that this works: schools and states saw dramatic increases in the number of children eating school breakfast when they moved to these programs. Significant too are the educational benefits of increased school breakfast participation.

Children who eat school breakfast are more focused and less distracted due to hunger. Increased school breakfast participation is associated with reduced visits to the school nurse, fewer disciplinary and behavioral issues, reduced tardiness, and improved student attendance. Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast at school closer to test-taking time show improved performance on standardized tests.

This week, in honor of National School Breakfast Week, FRAC, along with five of the nation’s leading education groups, launched the Breakfast for Learning Education Alliance with the goal of promoting the link between school breakfast and academic and achievement as well raise the profile of school breakfast and its benefits among educators. Members of the Alliance include: the National PTA; AASA, The Superintendents Association; the Education Trust; the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Foundation; and the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN). Local PTAs can help us move the needle even further on school breakfast participation.

As a first step, PTAs across the country should contact their school district food service department to get more information about how many students currently participate in the school breakfast program and whether or not offering free breakfast in the classroom is a viable option for schools in your district. Local PTAs can also reach out to parents, school district administrative staff, school board members, school nutrition staff, principals, teachers, and community leaders through letter-writing campaigns, social media and online networks, mailings, e-newsletters, and in-person meetings to educate them on the benefits of the program and encourage them to implement Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab n’ Go. Not only will it have a positive impact on young minds in your schools, but it will have a tremendous impact on families who would no longer have to worry about providing breakfast at home or coming out of pocket for breakfast served at school.

With the help of parents, we have no doubt that we can win the war against hunger in our nation’s schools and ensure that no child struggles to learn on an empty stomach.

For more information, please visit FRAC’s “Expanding School Breakfast Participation” website at www.frac.org/breakfast.

Eyang Garrison joined FRAC in January 2012. As a child nutrition policy analyst, she works in targeted states, school districts, and schools in collaboration with national and local anti-hunger organizations to increase the number of children participating in school breakfast and the number of schools offering breakfast in the classroom free to all students.