School Breakfast Helps Students Make the Grade in 2015

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

While the buzz about National School Breakfast Week, is now behind us, the reasons to expand morning meals at school sit in America’s classrooms every day. Many children are still coming to school too hungry to focus on their teachers and too hungry to learn. In the 2015 Hunger in Our Schools Report from No Kid Hungry, 3 out of 4 public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry and 81% say this happens at least once a week. Educators report that hunger results in an inability to concentrate (88%); lack of energy or motivation (87%); poor academic performance (84%); and tiredness (82%).

Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). McMinnville, Oregon

Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). McMinnville, Oregon

Fortunately there are solutions. USDA’s School Breakfast Program, which is growing across the country, is the front line in helping all students be well-nourished and ready to learn. Every year the FRAC School Breakfast Scorecard lists participation rates for every state and the District of Columbia. On the plus side, the 2015 report (data from school year 2013-14) shows steady increases since 2003, with a total of 320,000 more low-income students eating a school breakfast each day compared to the prior year.

Sadly, significant school breakfast gaps still exist for low-income children in many states. This is a serious problem because breakfast improves students’ nutrition, health and their ability to focus and pay attention in class. Hungry children cannot listen to their teachers – because they are listening to their stomachs. The just-released Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reinforces the importance of breakfast for young people noting that “[B]reakfast eating is associated with more favorable nutrient intakes compared to nutrient intakes from other meals or snacks. Adolescents and young adults are the least likely to eat breakfast, and targeted promotion efforts are needed to reach these groups. For children and adolescents, the school breakfast program is an important venue for promoting breakfast consumption and efforts are needed to increase student participation rates.”

As a mom and a child nutrition expert, my mantra is simple. Breakfast. Every Child. Every Day. Research clearly shows that breakfast helps everyone be ready to succeed – and you probably make certain that your family enjoys these benefits every morning. I believe we all must go beyond our own families and support breakfast in every school – even if our kids eat at home. Here’s what you can do to help:

While your child may be able to opt out of a school breakfast program, their friends and classmates may not have that luxury for a myriad of reasons. Breakfast is a simple, cost-effective way for high-performing schools to help every child be well nourished and ready to learn. That’s a strategy that I support as a mom, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a taxpayer.

Apple-Maple French Toast, Windham-Raymond RSU #14, Maine

Maple Apple French Toast, Windham-Raymond RSU #14, Maine. Recipe from Vermont FEED, New School Cuisine Cookbook (http://www.vtfeed.org/materials/new-school-cuisine-cookbook)

This blog post originally appeared on the Midwest Dairy Makes Sense blog as School Breakfast Makes the Grade.

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Eaten with a Smile

At a training last summer in Killeen, Texas, a woman came up afterward and said, “I’m just a clerk in a school cafeteria. but I feel every customer that comes through my line the same thing. if you smile when you eat that _______, it will taste better.”

First of all, no one is just a clerk or dishwasher or cook or _________ in a school cafeteria. Everyone plays an important in making sure that hungry children get the food they need to succeed in the classroom. Remember, S.M.I.L.E. = Schools Meals Improve Learning Environments. Secondly, she was right! Things do taste better when we smile and think positively about them – and children are more likely to taste a new food if it is served with a smile .

I love the “12 Days of Great School Meals” campaign that Director Cleta Long is doing in Bibb County School District, School Nutrition Department, Georgia. Through her Eat Right, Be Bright Facebook page and Twitter account, Long is sharing gorgeous meals from around the district, with kudos to the her staff for their food, their decorations and their photos. What I noticed immediately were the smiling faces of the happy children.

Holiday Meal at Morgan Elementary, Bibb County Schools, Georgia

Holiday Meal at Morgan Elementary, Bibb County Schools, Georgia

Morgan Elementary selected this handsome student to present their Holiday Meal complete with a spring of holly. The Holiday Meal included Savory Turkey and Dressing with Gravy, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Holiday Fruit Salad, Cranberry Sauce, Whole Grain Hot Roll and a variety of Cold Milk.” The student is handsome and the food looks delicious. Bibb County is offering a free breakfast and lunch to all students using the Community Eligibility Provision. For some students, this will be one of their most festive and nutrition meals of the season.

Soup and Grilled Cheese, A SUPER Meal at Hartley Elementary, Bibb County, Georgia

Soup and Grilled Cheese, A SUPER Meal at Hartley Elementary, Bibb County, Georgia

I’m now sure if the photographer posed this photo on purpose, but the student sure looks SUPER excited to enjoy his SOUP-ER meal. On the “Fifth Day of Great School Meals,” Hartley Elementary served hot house-made vegetable soup with a crispy grilled cheese sandwich,golden baked ‘fries,” fresh grapes and cold fat-free milk.

Looks like SMILES all around in Bibb County School Nutrition Department – where I’m certain the food tastes as good as it looks!

 

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Breakfast Changes Everything

As I walked off an airplane yesterday in Denver, the large Food NetworkNo Kid Hungry sign was straight in front of me. The only thing that would have made it a more appropriate greeting would have been my other mantra: Breakfast. Every Student. Every Day. 

Denver International Airport, December 1, 2014

Denver International Airport, December 1, 2014

Breakfast does change everything for children. Breakfast changes their ability to focus, concentrate and learn – to listen to their teachers rather than their stomachs. Breakfast changes behavior too. Hungry children are often anxious, distracted and attention seeking. Breakfast changes school attendance patterns as well. A November 24, 2014, article in JAMA Pediatrics confirmed that a Breakfast in the Classroom program can dramatically increase breakfast participation and improve school attendance as well.

The accompanying editorial “Continued Promise of School Breakfast Programs for Improving Academic Outcomes: Breakfast Is Still the Most Important Meal of the Day” summarizes the research to date. The authors conclude with the powerful statement that … “innovative breakfast programs, with their wide reach and high implementation rates, have the potential to address the achievement gap in the United States.” A 2013 report, Ending childhood hunger: A social impact analysis prepared by Deloitte for No Kid Hungry reached basically the same conclusion: Breakfast Changes Lives

Breakfast Changes Lives, 2013 No Kid Hungry Report

Breakfast Changes Lives, 2013 No Kid Hungry Report

The good news for hungry students and their families is that #RealSchoolFood is not just for lunch it’s for breakfast too! School nutrition directors are meeting the challenge of the new Breakfast Meal Pattern with all whole grain-rich cereals, breads, bagels and more – and additional servings of fruit available to every child. Read all about how districts are managing – with limited budgets – to provide brain fuel for students in my article on School Breakfast 2014: Can Cafeterias Rise and Shine? in the November 2014 issue of the School Nutrition Magazine (page 72).

Rise and Shine with School Breakfast article begins on page 72

Rise and Shine with School Breakfast article begins on page 72

While a simple grab-and-go breakfast of whole grain cereal, milk and fruit offers nutrient-rich fuel for learning, many schools go way beyond the basics. Such programs are regularly featured on the School Nutrition Foundation’s Beyond Breakfast blog and the American Association of School Administrator’s Courageous Conversations with superintendents. You can also find more than a hundred photos, tips and recipes ideas on the School Breakfasts That Rock Pinterest board. Breakfast changes everything by putting a smile on a child’s face!

Breakfast in the Classroom, Goddard Elementary Worcester, Massachusetts

Breakfast in the Classroom, Goddard Elementary Worcester, Massachusetts

 

 

Does the current school food fight benefit hungry kids and hard-working nutrition professionals?

To all my friends and colleagues in the school nutrition world: AASA, AFHK, AHG, AND, CSPI, CIA, SNA, USDA, agriculture, industry and food advocates of all flavors … 

Those who know me professionally know that I have devoted my life to excellence in child nutrition programs. You know how strongly I believe that every child in American deserves to be well nourished and ready to succeed.

Those who know me personally will understand that my family situation (caring for my father in hospice at his home in California) prevents me from jumping into the current whirlwind of school lunch politics. I do not have the time or energy to sort through the conflicting claims and feeding frenzy of media messages to choose a particular side in this food fight. From what I have read, there are valid points on all sides. School meals are a complicated, nuanced issue, one that does not benefit from polarizing tweets and political rhetoric.

I am taking the “side” that I know best – one that often gets lost as the food fight heats up. I am supporting those who eat and cook school meals that rock. Millions of American children depend on school meals for the nourishment they need to succeed in academics, arts and athletics. Very often the quality of school breakfast, lunch, supper and snack far exceeds what they are fed at home or choose for themselves out in the world.

School Lunch, Bethel School District, Eugene, OR

School Lunch, Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

Thousands of dedicated, hardworking school nutrition professionals do their best every day to serve the healthiest meals possible –with reams of regulations, serious financial constraints, and complaints from every corner. I am not naïve; I know that nutrition nirvana in not found in every school. I also know that school nutrition programs do not serve “unlimited pizza and french fries every day,” kill kids with junk food, or want to roll back ten years of delicious improvements in school meals. Most are trying to develop farm to school contracts, plant school gardens and write grants for new kitchen equipment, while also helping kids to make healthier choices at school and home.

Farmer Delivers Vegetables to Moharimet School, Oyster River District, Durham, New Hampshire

Farmer Delivers Vegetables to Moharimet School, Oyster River District, Durham, New Hampshire

If I could wave a magic wand, I would ask everyone who cares about kids’ nutrition to take a deep breath, step back and think about how we can truly support school meals that rock. How can we find the middle ground without getting involved in a raucous election year debate that is more about being right than feeding hungry kids? How can we learn from districts that make smart nutrition work – recognizing vast differences among states and communities – to help those that are struggling? One nutrition solution does not fit all, but solutions in one district can help to inspire excellence in others.

We need many hands – from field to fork – to continue the positive changes in school nutrition programs. Legislators, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, dietitians, chefs, superintendents, school nutrition professionals, parents and students need to talk with each other more –and yell about each other less. If everyone agrees that some flexibility in the meal standards probably makes sense, then let’s sit down and figure how to make that happen.

I doubt anyone inside the beltway is going to listen to my advice. Positions are now entrenched and politics are driving decisions more than science. For everyone else, if you want to get involved in school nutrition, here are my suggestions.

  • Go eat a meal in your local school to experience the daily reality of feeding hundreds of hungry kids in minutes rather than hours.
  • Spend some time in a school kitchen listening to what works under current guidelines and where flexibility would be helpful.
  • Join your local school wellness committee, anti-hunger coalition or local food group to create strategies that work.

What am I going to do? Continue my virtual tour inviting Katie Couric – and anyone else who cares – to do school lunch in cafeterias around the country. Every day I discover a new school serving amazing choices, a new program planting actual seeds of healthy food or a new hero teaching children to cook delicious nutrition.

Why You Should Support School Breakfast, Even If Your Kid Eats At Home

It’s National School Breakfast Week and the buzz about breakfast at school is louder than ever this year. I’ve also been hearing pushback from parents who feed their children home – “our family doesn’t need school breakfast, why should we support that program?

Every student should start the day powered by breakfast

Every parent in America has probably used this phrase many times: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” If you recognize the multiple benefits of breakfast for strong bodies and smart brains, that’s great. If you make certain that your children never leave home without a breakfast of whole grains, fresh fruit and Greek yogurt or backyard eggs, that’s awesome for your kids. Their metabolism got a great kick-start and their brains have the fuel they need to focus on the teacher and learn new information – until lunchtime – every day.

But what about Jane, Johnny, Sam, Suzy and all the other students sitting around your child’s desk or table at school? Did they have a balanced breakfast? Did they have breakfast at all? In fact, did they have anything nutritious since they ate lunch at school the day before? Why should you care what your child’s classmates have or have not eaten? Why should you support a breakfast program at your school even if your kids will never need it?

According to Share Our Strength’s Teacher Report 2013, the answers are quite shocking:

  • Too many children are too hungry to learn. 87 percent of principals see hungry children in their schools at least once a week and 73 percent of teachers have students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough food at home.
  • Hungry children cannot listen to the teacher because they are listening to their stomachs. When children come to school without a morning meal, it impacts their ability to concentrate, their attention span, and their classroom behavior. In the Share Our Strength report, 90 percent of educators say breakfast is critical to academic achievement.
  • Even if your family is blessed with a perfect breakfast every day, other inattentive, unfocused, under-nourished children can affect your child’s ability to succeed at school. It happens directly when hungry children need more of the teacher’s time -and indirectly when your child is distracted from the lessons at hand.

PoweredByBreakfast-3

The important connection between breakfast and school performance is well known. When standardized tests are given, every school in America tells students to “get a good night’s sleep and eat good breakfast.” Unfortunately, breakfast during test week is too little too late! Children need breakfast every day to get new information and skills into their brains, not just to get them out on test day.

Here are three things that every parent can do to support breakfast, classroom performance and successful schools for every child — including their own:

  • Digest the facts about breakfast and hungry children in America. The 2013 and 2012 Teacher Reports are good places to start. You may also want to Map the Meal Gap in your state or county. A 2013 USDA report estimated that 1 in 5 American children (21.6 percent) live in food insecure homes. In my opinion, it is a moral imperative that we change this fact. Even if you do not agree, think of all the educational problems that hunger causes in classrooms from coast to coast.
  • Explore expert views on the power of school breakfast. Many forward-thinking educational groups understand the breakfast research. On March 3, 2014,
    five leading education organizations and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) announced the Breakfast for Learning Education Alliance to encourage schools and states to increase school breakfast participation. The alliance includes the major national associations representing parents (PTA) and virtually everyone who works in schools – teachers, principals and administrators. Honestly, can all these groups be wrong about such a simple and effective program.
  • Advocate for breakfast in your community. Students from every income level benefit from a balanced morning meal every day, whether they eat it at home or school. Fuel Up to Play 60, a national program to improve school nutrition and fitness, has made healthy breakfast choices and effective school breakfast programs a priority. Check out their breakfast “plays” and you’ll find fun ways to get all students more excited about getting a smart start on every day.

While your child may not need a school breakfast program, their friends and classmates may not have that luxury for a myriad of reasons. Breakfast is a simple, cost-effective way for high-performing schools to help every child be well nourished and ready to learn. That’s a strategy that I support as a mom, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a taxpayer.

March is National Nutrition Month – and a great time to make sure your family is powered by breakfast. My takes on better breakfast bites can be found at Make Time for Breakfast and 4 Tips for Better Breakfasts from Kids Eat Right and the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics.

PoweredByBreakfast-2

Follow Dayle Hayes, MS, RD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SchoolMealsRock      

Eat, Play, Learn: Y is for YAY!

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

Y is for YAY! 

I admit that I was struggling with what to use for Y – and then my latest blog for the Huffington Post was published today on the Parents page: 6 Secrets Every Parent (and School) Should Know About Academic Success, by Dayle Hayes, MS, RD. Hope you will take time to read it online – or below!

You would do anything to insure your children’s academic success, right? Helping with homework, meeting with teachers, arranging for tutors — whatever it takes to give them that little extra boost. You also care about your kids’ health — and want them to eat right and get enough physical activity to stay healthy.

What you may not know is how closely connected academic success is to what kids eat and how active they are. Experts in both education and health are beginning to realize that more attention to children’s bodies will also help their brains work better. Whether you call it the Learning Connection or the Wellness Impact, the message to parents and schools is clear: Eating smarter and moving more are essential for optimal performance and behavior in the classroom. Here are six ways you and your school district can work together to help all students succeed.

1. Start with Breakfast, Every Day

We all know that mornings can be crazy busy and some kids just aren’t hungry before school. But, this is a no brainer — literally! Without fuel for morning classes, students cannot focus, concentrate and learn. At home or school (or even in a car or bus), breakfast changes everything. Any breakfast is better than no breakfast and a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk and fruit can actually be a good source of key nutrients. Even if your kids eat at home in the morning, your support for school breakfast is critical for those children who need it. One kid who is too hungry to learn can disrupt an entire classroom. On the other hand, breakfast in the classroom, like this one in Reynoldsburg (OH), helps students fuel up for learning.

2014-02-20-3Desk.JPG

2. Safe Routes to School

Some of the hottest research on activity and brain function comes out of Dr. Charles Hillman’s lab at the University of Illinois. Brain imaging and other tests show that a simple 20-minute walk can improve a student’s performance in both reading and math. Takeaway for caring parents? Walking (or biking) to school means your kids arrive with brains that are ready to learn. Concerned about their safety? Get your workout by walking or biking with them — or get involved in a Safe Routes to School group. For example, our community is having a Walk-Bike Summit in March.

3. Active Recess Before Lunch

Physical activity at recess is good for kids brains (and their bodies) for the exactly the same reasons as walking or biking to school. However, recess before lunch has been shown to have some other very important benefits. When children are active before coming to the cafeteria, they eat better and behave better. Studies show that they actually eat more entrée, vegetables and fruits — and drink more milk. When kids rush through lunch so they can run out to play, lots of food goes into the garbage can and students are short-changed on afternoon fuel. Breakfast helps children learn in the morning, but lunch is just as necessary for afternoon classes.

4. Comfortable Cafeterias

As just noted, there is a critical academic reason to be concerned about those half-eaten lunches that your children bring home — and the full garbage cans in some school cafeterias. Sadly, many cafeterias are not pleasant, positive places to enjoy a meal. The good news is that they can be. All they need is a bit of bright décor and adults who are trained to encourage appropriate conversations rather than just patrolling between the tables and telling everyone to hurry up and eat. Parents can help create Comfortable Cafeterias by eating with their children and making positive, pleasant mealtimes part of a local wellness policy.

5. Classroom Energizers

Remember that brain research about the benefits of a 20-minute walk? Short bouts of aerobic activity in the classroom can also work wonders. A short activity break re-energizers young brains and their bodies too. Research shows that a brain break can be especially valuable when transitioning from one topic to another. Free online programs like Jammin’ Minute and Move to Learn can bring fun videos and activity tips into any classroom. Check with your children’s teachers to see if they are taking advantage of this effective and educational technique. Teachers are finding that the few minutes spent on activity actually add minutes of instructional time and putting a smarter student in the chair.

6. Smart After-School Snacks

Since children are all-day learners, they need regular refueling throughout the day, including after-school snacks — for sports, homework and academic enrichment programs. Many snack foods (candy, chips, soft drinks, etc.) do not offer the lasting power that kids need. USDA’s Smart Snacks in Schools regulations are coming to school-day sales this fall — and it is important that students have access to the same nutrient-rich foods after the school day ends. Fruits and veggies are always good, but protein power is even more important. Yogurt, string cheese, nuts, nut butters, sliced deli meats, beef jerky, hard cooked eggs and hummus can all be incorporated into at home or on-the-go smart snack routines. Programs like Fuel Up to Play 60 can engage students as leaders, like these middle schoolers in Naches (WA), in making changes in what their school offers for meals, snacks and physical activity.

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Next time you review a report card or discuss your child’s performance at school, be sure that nutrition and fitness are part of the conversation. Using the Learning Connection to your advantage can make a significant impact on their school success.

Eat. Play. Learn. T is for TIME

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

T is for TIME

Let’s be honest: Many school cafeterias are not conducive to a pleasant dining experience  (that’s why few adults want to eat in them). Many barely give kids enough TIME to eat and drink what’s on their tray. I have been in a few school lunchrooms with the feel of a prison – adults patrolling the aisles, prohibitions on talking to your friends, and stoplights when things get “out of hand.”

The most important question about school breakfast and lunch meals is how do we get the food into kids? My manta is that is it only nutrition when a child eats or drinks it. If school food goes into a trashcan, it’s garbage, not nutrition.

If we want children who are well-nourished and ready to learn, we have to create more positive and pleasant mealtimes in schools. If we truly believe that school nutrition programs are critical for children’s overall health, we have to give more TIME and attention to HOW we feed children in school as well as to WHAT we feed them. Here are three tried-and-true tips for getting more fuel for learning into students and less food into trashcans:

  1. Schedule recess before lunch. Research shows that the best sequence for children is playing first, then eating, and finally learning in the classroom.
  2. Establish reasonable ‘eat-tiquette’ expectations. Like anything else in school, children can learn to behave well in the cafeteria.
  3. Provide TIME to eat and adult role models. Create a comfortable cafeteria where administrators, teachers, aides, parents and grandparents want to eat with kids.

We need a new approach to HOW meals are served in school cafeterias. The “herd-em-in/herd-em-out” mentality is not the path toward healthful eating habits. If our goal is competent eaters who make smart choices for lifetime health, we have to do better.  We have to allow enough TIME for children to eat in pleasant, positive places, like this dining room in MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School, Tampa, Florida. Every child should have at least 15 to 20 minutes of seat TIME to enjoy a school lunch.

MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School located in Tampa, Florida

MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School located in Tampa, Florida