Some Very Real Reasons Why Kids May Be Hungry at School – and What We Can Do About It: Part 1 of 3

I’ve watched the videos from the hungry teen athletes in Kansas and Jon Stewart’s amusing Starved By the Bell segment. I’ve read about the boycotts and heard dedicated school nutrition professionals talk seriously about getting their high schools out of the National School Lunch Program.

I’m very sorry that meals for kids at school are once again fodder for YouTube videos and late night TV. I’m even sorrier that school nutrition has become a political football like so many other issues. I am sorriest for the thousands of school nutrition heroes who have been trying to make the 2012 USDA Nutrition Standards work and the millions of low-income children who reply on schools cafeterias to provide their best meals of the day.

There are some very real reasons why students, especially teens, may be hungry during the school day. If everyone focused on finding real solutions, we could work together to benefit all students – improving their nutrition, health and academic performance. Here are two of the very real reasons that kids may be hungry at school – stay tuned for more reasons in parts 2 and 3.

Greek Pizza with hummus on whole grain crust, Johnston, Rhode Island, High School

Reason #1: Kids, especially teens, are hungry because they don’t eat breakfast.

SOLUTION: Breakfast every day for every student

According to the 2011 Kellogg’ Breakfast in America Survey, breakfast eating dips as kids grow older; 77 percent of young children eat breakfast every day, but this falls to 50 percent in the middle-school years and 36 percent among high school students. If you don’t eat breakfast, the new calorie ranges may not be enough to be both a breakfast and a lunch. And, more importantly, you will have found it hard (if not impossible) to concentrate and learn in your morning classes.

Schools need breakfast programs that are convenient for kids and practical for school food service. There are lots of successful models: Grab-and-Go breakfast options, like new kiosks planned for Medford (MA) schools, breakfast in the classroom being successfully implemented in districts coast to coast, and cafeteria breakfast bars with made-to-order breakfast burritos, as seen in my hometown of Billings, Montana.

Made-to-Order, Breakfast Burrito Bar, Senior High School, Billings, Montana

Reason #2: Most school schedule recess after lunch, so kids rush to get outside.

SOLUTION: Recess Before lunch

When kids are eager for recess, they often dump hunger-satisfying foods into the trash. It’s only nutrition WHEN they eat or drink, so we should maximize scheduling to get the food into the kids. Honestly, it’s not rocket science that children would be hungrier and thirstier when they have the chance to play first – and that exactly what schools report according to Starving for Recess, a 2011 District Administration article.

Scheduling Recess Before Lunch (RBL) isn’t rocket-science either and there are plenty of resources from Montana Team Nutrition to help schools with the process. RBL can even save money since many schools report significant decreases in garbage removal costs when students are active first, eating more food and drinking more milk afterward.

Recess Before Lunch Guide, Montana Team Nutrition (2008)

5 thoughts on “Some Very Real Reasons Why Kids May Be Hungry at School – and What We Can Do About It: Part 1 of 3

  1. Hi Dale, You make so many excellent points! Change is hard for people but I have found that the schools that have gotten ahead of the meal pattern changes are doing much better than those that did not look ahead and begin making some of the changes, a little at a time, over the past SEVERAL years. Although USDA did not actually give the final ruling until this Spring, we in the business could see the hand writing on the wall going back all the way to Dec, 2010. This has been coming for some time and the change is positive and very good for our kids. It’s time that adults become the role models we need them to become. Teach your children about good nutrition and healthy eating habits. Spend time with them in the kitchen. It’s time to socialize our student’s to expect to see healthy food choices and not to socialize them to expect FAST FOOD in our cafeterias!

  2. I enjoyed this very much. Our district has been implementing many of the changes for the last few years now, but we are still tweaking our veggies and fruits. The larger servings are alot for our little kiddos and it does seem like additional waste. However, the kids that are really hungry are eating and that makes me happy.

  3. These solutions are not new. I agree they would be helpful but implementation takes months of planning and for breakfast a total revamp of bus schedules. Not an easy task unless there is overwhelming parental support.
    The hunger issue is a direct result of the limit on grain and protein servings, as well as the cap on calories. Kids are not going to get the nutrition we expect them to have if they don’t eat. My meal count at the HS has dropped by 2/3 because we can no longer serve pizza and chicken tender subs every day as a school lunch. We sell a la carte instead.

  4. alternative for some teenagers, a backpack breakfast: a fresh fruit, a mini bagel and a container of yogurt; eat them at school sometime in the morning; take a few extra items if hungry in the mid-afternoon; refrain from taking too many junk foods.

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