This is a guest post from Dani Bois, Child Nutrition Consultant with the Vermont Agency of Education.
Brimming bowls of whole grain cereals, egg and cheese sandwiches on whole wheat English muffins, bunches of bright bananas, local apples, cartons of 100% orange juice and low-fat milk can be found lining the counters at numerous schools throughout Vermont. These, along with other favorites like breakfast burritos, bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter, and yogurt, are some of the most seen items on a typical school breakfast menu. Sound good enough to eat? Kids all over Vermont think so, as schools continue to implement and improve their school breakfast programs.
While lunch programs have been a critical part of the school day for decades, the importance of breakfast to the health and academic success of students has been gaining more attention in recent years. Also, with the implementation of the new federal breakfast regulations through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, schools are reassessing their breakfast programs in order to make changes to meet the new menu and nutrient requirements. This also provides an opportunity to look at the program as a whole and make other changes to increase the effectiveness of the program.
Studies show that there are huge benefits to students who eat breakfast, including a better overall diet and nutrient intake, decreased risk of obesity, increased attention and focus, and fewer complaints of disruptive headaches and stomachaches that can be associated with hunger. The positive effects on academic achievement are notable, too, as breakfast has been shown to support learning, memory, creativity, and even attendance rates.
Not only does breakfast affect the students who eat it, but there are benefits to the school, staff, and parents as well. Parents have less pressure in the busy mornings to prepare a meal when their child can get a healthy breakfast at school. Teachers have a class full of more attentive, ready-to-learn students that aren’t being disruptive or struggling mentally due to hunger. The school benefits from better attendance, less tardiness, and fewer suspensions and hunger-related behavior problems, which creates a more positive school environment.
Schools have been looking more closely at their breakfast programs to see what is working and what is not, and the result has led to creative solutions tackling the multi-level challenges schools face. Bus schedules, class time requirements, resources, and students’ appetites are just a few obstacles to school breakfast programs. Coordinating funding, scheduling, regulations, and student acceptance can be tricky, but schools are rising to the challenge and coming up with unique and individualized ways to feed breakfast to kids. Some schools have a cart in the entrance or hallway filled with breakfast items students can grab as they walk off the bus and to their first class. Sometimes older students aren’t hungry for food first thing in the morning, so having breakfast available between periods allows for students to eat when they’re ready. Breakfast in the classroom is another option that can be found in many variations. It allows for a more relaxed and less rushed meal time to students, and students aren’t late or missing from class to get breakfast in the cafeteria.
As schools and communities continue to prioritize healthy breakfasts as an essential part of the school day, we hope to see the gains students and schools can make by supporting well-fed, healthy, attentive students. If we can help students develop lifelong, healthy habits and practices, why not start with breakfast?
For more information, resources, and ideas, visit:
Vermont Agency of Education, Child Nutrition Programs: http://education.vermont.gov/new/html/pgm_nutrition/school_nutrition.html
USDA, Child Nutrition Programs: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sbp/school-breakfast-program
No Kid Hungry: http://www.nokidhungry.org/pdfs/school-breakfast-program-factsheet.pdf