Beefing Up School Breakfast is Smart Thinking

Students, schools and parents all benefit from enrollment in the School Breakfast Program.
A smiling girl holds a tray of food

Nearly 13 million students participate daily in the School Breakfast Program. That sounds like a healthy number until you learn that 31 million students eat lunch each day as part of the National School Lunch Program. That means there’s a gap of about 18 million youngsters not eating breakfast at school. Some may be eating breakfast at home. Others may not be eating breakfast at all.
Every parent knows how important it is for kids to start the day off with a good breakfast. But during the morning rush to get kids out of bed, dressed and ready to head out the door each day, breakfast sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That’s why it’s beneficial for schools to consider breakfast opportunities. They’re good for students, schools and parents.

Benefits to students

According to the No Hungry Kid breakfast program, one in five children in the United States lives in a home that struggles to put enough food on the table. The nutritional benefits alone are important, says Amy Klinkoski, a breakfast coach who works with the School Nutrition Association (SNA) of Michigan to educate schools about the importance of breakfast programs. “Students who eat school breakfasts are getting foods that are high in vitamins and low in fat—their diet quality is often much better than they if they eat at home,” she says.
The National Education Association’s A Guide to Increasing School Breakfast Participation report cites other benefits for students who eat a school breakfast:

  • Improved attendance. Students attend an average of 1.5 more days a year.
  • Better concentration. Instead of listening to their rumbling stomachs, they’re able to focus on lessons.
  • Higher test scores. They average 17.5 percent higher on math test scores.
  • Reduced obesity. Breakfast programs have been shown to encourage better eating habits that reduce the risk of obesity.

Benefits to schools

Not only do participating students get an extra edge, schools notice an improved learning environment. The SNA’s Growing School Breakfast Participation report notes academic improvements—greater gains in standardized test scores as well as improvements in math, reading and vocabulary—for kids who eat school breakfast. Absenteeism, tardiness and classroom outbursts also decline, Klinkoski says, as do visits to the school nurse.

“If you think it’s only important to feed the students who are poor and hungry, you’re missing the point,” Klinkoski says. “Students who miss breakfast affect everyone’s ability to learn.”

Schools also benefit from federal reimbursement for taking part in the School Breakfast Program. According to the USDA, schools are reimbursed 31 cents for paid breakfasts, $1.54 for reduced price breakfasts and $1.84 for free breakfasts. Schools that feed students with a severe need are reimbursed 31 cents for paid breakfasts, $1.90 for reduced price breakfasts and $2.20 for free breakfasts during the 2019-20 school year.

Benefits to parents

For working parents and families with busy lifestyles, knowing that breakfast will be offered at school is one less thing to worry about at the start of each day. It also saves money in the household food budget, time spent buying food at the grocery store and also allows parents to make sure their kids are out of the door on time for school.

Parents also can rest assured students who eat school breakfasts are getting nutritionally sound meals, Klinkoski says. The USDA meal pattern calls for one cup of fruit, one dairy and one entrée, which means students are eating apples, oranges, pears, vegetables, juice, fat-free white or flavored milk, bread and protein—“The kinds of food that allow students to learn and grow,” she says.

Structure breakfast so it fits the school

If you don’t have a breakfast program, now is a good time to think about starting one, Klinkoski says. She notes that there are many ways to deliver breakfast and choosing the right service model depends on a school’s capabilities and facilities. There are a number of common breakfast service methods:

Grab-and-go in the cafeteria. This is allows students to enter the cafeteria and get food before the school day starts. It also allows students to socialize in the cafeteria, hallways or common areas as they eat.

Breakfast in the classroom. Food is served at the students’ desks right after the school bell rings. This requires transportation to the classroom and cooperation from school staffers, teachers and volunteers.

Second-chance breakfast. After the first class of the day, food is served in the hallways or cafeteria in the same manner as the grab-and-go breakfast. This benefits students who arrive late or aren’t ready to eat at the start of the day.

Breakfast vending. Hot and cold food is sold at vending machines in the hallways, cafeteria or common areas before the school day and between classes. This method is usually only available in high schools.

For meals prepared in a central kitchen and transported to school buildings and for breakfasts served outside the cafeteria, it’s important to preserve the quality and safety of the food. Stackable, top-loading and front-loading boxes like the Cambro Cam GoBox provide temperature retention and reduce the risk of cross-contamination. 

Strategies to beef up breakfast

Offering food and getting students to eat it can be a challenge, Klinkoski says. Marketing and school involvement are important and make a difference. Making sure parents know about the breakfast program and getting students engaged can be a big help.

At Ealy Elementary in the Whitehall District in western Michigan, Foodservice Manager Dan Gorman helped start a student-run oatmeal breakfast on Fridays. The Oatmeal-icious program allows students to pick toppings from an oatmeal bar that they operate. It helped the school increase breakfast service from 80 breakfasts to more than 130 breakfasts in four years. As the students have grown older, the program also is used in the middle school.

“I was doubtful this would take off at first, but one day I overheard a student say, ‘Oh, good, it’s oatmeal day!’” Gorman says. “I knew right then it was going to work.”

Other strategies include having teachers incorporate lessons about food or have reading time while breakfast is served in the classroom. Inviting parents or local celebrities as guests also can generate awareness and interest.

There are many resources available to help you start or improve a school breakfast program, and Gordon Food Service is ready to help. Customers can visit Gordon Experience > Resources > Great for Schools > School Breakfast to learn ways to get more out of your breakfast program. You also can download letters that can be sent to administrators, school staffers and parents that will help them understand the benefits of school breakfast participation.

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