Public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions looking to prepare students for a long day of learning are presented with a challenge in the morning. Many children do not receive a nutritious breakfast before they leave home for school due to financial constraints, long commutes or busy lives that leave little time to sit down for a healthy meal. However, ensuring students are ready to learn remains a top priority.
Studies show that students who don’t eat breakfast have a harder time performing the best they can at school. However, research indicates that if children can get the vital nutrients provided by a healthy meal to start the day they receive numerous benefits including:
- Increased math, reading and standardized test scores
- Improved speed and memory in cognitive tests
- Better health and nutrition, including lower risk of weight problems and obesity
Schools that have well-nourished students also reported advantages like:
- Decreased rates of psychological and disciplinary problems
- Less absenteeism
- Fewer visits to the school nurse
- Generally improved learning environments
With benefits like these, schools have so many incentives to encourage students to eat a healthy breakfast. But what options do they have if children cannot get a quality meal at home?
The national School Breakfast Program is an answer to that problem faced by many school district administrators. It allots federal cash reimbursements for breakfasts that meet certain nutritional standards. The meals must provide approximately one-fourth of the daily nutritional requirements and no more than 30 percent calories from fat and less than 10 percent calories from saturated fat. These guidelines help ensure students will receive the nourishment to perform and behave well not just in the morning, but also throughout the day. Children from lower-income families are even eligible to receive the meals for free or at very reduced costs.
This program has proved to be a major success, with nearly 12 million children and 87,000 schools participating on a normal day. 2010-2011 statistics show almost 85 percent of students received those meals at free or reduced costs.
Participating schools have a lot of freedom when deciding how to prepare and distribute breakfast, so long as it meets the standards. Many food service directors have chosen to vary their offerings, including hot, cold and even prepackaged meals. This flexibility allows students to eat in a traditional cafeteria, on the go at the playground or even in the classroom. Prepackaged meals are becoming even more popular, especially because they save so much in labor costs. The got Breakfast? Foundation discovered that it requires four labor hours to assemble 600 breakfasts of individual components, but only one hour for 600 prepackaged breakfasts.
Schools are jumping on board and expanding this movement, with almost 50 percent offering breakfast in the classroom in 2012 as opposed to 30 percent in 2009. These prepackaged meals include breakfast foods such as muffins, juice, fruit cups and cereal. This method appeals to children, especially to those in the Scranton School District. After the district implemented a bagged breakfast program, student participation increased 20 percent in only two weeks.
Many schools are using breakfast carts and kiosks to distribute breakfast items and other snacks throughout the day. The Elgin Area School District in Illinois recognized the problem of malnourishment among its students and asked student advisory boards for their opinions. Students agreed with the move, and the school allocated funds toward a breakfast cart. As a result, students will have additional options and more opportunities to stay well fed throughout the day when they take to the classroom next fall.
What is your school doing to prepare students for the day?