31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: #Hunger Doesn’t Take a Winter Break

Yesterday I was doing a little exploring in a new-to-me Billings neighborhood and I drove down a dead-end road on the outskirts of town. There sits, as my friend Ginny Mermel describes it, the “second worst trailer park in town” – muddy roads with thawing snow, dilapidated homes, rusty cars and many young residents based on the school bus just turning around after dropping off students for winter break.

While most children are excited about a two-week vacation with holiday celebrations and presents under the tree, winter break has a whole different meaning for kids who live in poverty. It means two weeks without school meals – two weeks without the guarantee of a hot breakfast and lunch every day. Thanks to my friend and colleague, Virginia ‘Ginny’ Mermel (far left) and the Billings Public Schools BackPack Meals Program, the situation is not as bleak as it could be in our community.

Archie Cochrane Ford donates $2500 to the BackPack Meals Program (May 2014)

Archie Cochrane Ford donates $2500 to the BackPack Meals Program (May 2014)

Ginny received one of the 2014 Hunger’s Hope Award from the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) in November. In presenting this prestigious award, MFBN noted … “Ginny has the challenging task of feeding very low-income, food insecure students in Billings through school pantries and BackPack programs. Many of the students she serves are emancipated or homeless and rely on the assistance provided through her programs in order to eat. She has steadily expanded the reach and scope of child hunger programs in Billings and the surrounding area while working tirelessly to ensure stable funding and administration for child hunger programs.”

While I see the work of Billings Public Schools BackPack Meals Program and Teen Food Pantry Program personally, I know that thousands of schools and other volunteers work year round to bring healthy food to families in need. Here are two of the many recent Facebook entries that impressed me.

The San Diego (CA) Unified School District Farm to School Program posted this photo on the Friday before their break: “Since today was our last day of school before the 2 week winter break, we donated our leftover fresh produce to 11 San Diego food rescue agencies including Feeding America San Diego, Bayview Charities, various churches, mental health agencies, etc.! Trying to do our part to help those in need.” Rather than letting beautiful produce go to waste, they made sure that it went to those in need.

Produce Donations from San Diego School District

Produce Donations from San Diego School District

In Greensboro, North Carolina, the Guilford County Cooperative Extension School Garden Network had a great idea on December 16tth: “The Donation Station at the curb market at Yanceyville St. was a hub of activity Saturday as shoppers donated mounds of beautiful produce for our food insecure population here in Guilford County. Volunteers Melissa Tinling, FoodCorp service member and Cynthia Nielsen, GCCES School Garden Network Coordinator for Farmer Foodshare.”

Donation Station in Guilford County, North Carolina

Donation Station in Guilford County, North Carolina

It’s not too late to make the holidays better for hungry children in your community. Wherever you live your local donation station is as close as a food bank, food pantry or mission. Confused about what to donate? How about MILK – one of the most requested, least donated food items? You can donate milk directly or through The Great American Milk Drive. Thanks to America’s Milk Companies and Farm Families, you can help fill the milk gap – and have your donation matched gallon-for-gallon. Honestly,  it doesn’t get much better than that!

FinalGAMD_infographic_3

 

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. H is for HUNGRY.

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.

H is for HUNGRY

When I hear that schools are closed for days in a row, my immediate thought is about what those children will eat when they do not have access to school meals. If children regularly come to school hungry, it means that they do not have access to food at home. And, when the weather is bad, their families may be even less able to shop for groceries or visit a food bank. Honestly, for millions of American children, a snow day may be a hungry day. Preliminary 2013 USDA data shows that an average of 18.9 million children ate a free school lunch daily and 10.1 million ate a school breakfast on average.

The numbers in the previous paragraph also tell another story as well – that is the enormous ‘breakfast gap’ of 8.8 million children who are eligible but are not receiving a free breakfast. These are the children who may to be too hungry to learn as reported in the deeply disturbing Hunger in Our Schools: Teachers Report 2013 by No Kid Hungry: Share Our Strength. If nearly 73 percent of teachers regular try to teach hungry children, we are a very serious educational problem in our schools. The simple fact is that hungry children cannot focus, concentrate and learn. School breakfast is one obvious solution and I applaud the administrators and educators who are ramping up their efforts to expand the program. Michigan State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is is a true nutrition hero for promoting the “First Fuel” Breakfast Challenge in his state – and I am proud to be part of the Michigan Team Nutrition training for this effort. Too hungry to learn is unacceptable for any child in Michigan, Montana or any other US state.

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S TEACHERS REPORT 2013

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S
TEACHERS REPORT 2013

Why You Should Support School Breakfast … from HuffPo Parents

A school nutrition director recently wrote to me about how difficult it was to start a Breakfast in the Classroom program in her Pennsylvania school district. One parent had gone so far as to write a blog about the fact that her child did not need breakfast because “she ate at home.” As the director said in her message to me, “I’m beginning to lose sight of why I ever wanted to do this in the first place. I’m sure that the majority of the students and parents will appreciate my efforts, it’s just those few who tend to bring one down!”

Thanks to Betsy, I was inspired to write my second article for The Huffington Post Parents page on “Why You Should Support School Breakfast, Even If Your Kid Eats at Home.” Check it out and find out the three things that every parent can do to support breakfast at school, like signing up for Fuel Up to Play 60.

My mantra: Breakfast every day for every day. At home or at school, breakfast changes lives – and t’s the very least we can do for education.

Breakfast Changes Lives

Breakfast Changes Lives

School Breakfast Makes Sense for School Success

As a mom, registered dietitian (RD) and national school nutrition expert, I’ve been a broken-record about breakfast for decades. I can honestly say that I talk about breakfast at school in every one of the many presentations I give every year from coast-to-coast. The reasons are both simple and profound:

  • Breakfast helps fuel smart brains by improving students’ ability to focus and pay attention in class. Hungry children cannot listen to their teachers because they are listening to their stomachs. A 2012 Share Our Strength survey reported that 3 out of 5 teachers say they have “children in their classrooms who regularly come to school hungry.”
  • Breakfast helps build strong bodies by providing nutrients most American children are currently missing. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified four nutrients of concern – calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. A nutrient-rich school breakfast helps students grow strong and play hard – and it turns out that physical activity also helps them perform better in the classroom.
Erza enjoys breakfast in the classroom, Minneapolis, MN

Erza enjoys breakfast in the classroom, Minneapolis, MN

Schools across the Midwest are serving up breakfast to thousands of hungry kids every day in school cafeterias, classrooms, and even hallways – where students can pick up a nutrient-rich, grab-n-go breakfast to kick-start their morning. It’s been such a pleasure to work with Midwest Dairy Association’s School Nutrition Institute this year, helping school nutrition professionals learn creative ways to revitalize breakfast so that every student is ready to learn in the classroom.

National School Breakfast Week – March 4 through 8, 2013 – is the perfect time to find out what’s happening with school breakfast in your community. I know you’ll be impressed with the quick, simple, delicious choices – like yogurt parfaits with fruit and granola, whole grain cereal with low-fat milk and fresh fruit, or breakfast burritos with eggs and cheese. It’s so reassuring to know that school breakfast programs across the Midwest are dedicated to building smart brains and strong bodies for school success.

Breakfast Bar in Parkside Elementary, Grants Pass, OR

Breakfast Bar in Parkside Elementary, Grants Pass, OR

Originally published on Midwest Dairy’s blog, Dairy Makes Sense on Monday, March 4, 2013

Food Insecurity: A Real Reason Kids May be Hungry at School – and What We Can Do About It: Part 3 of 3

For millions of American children, school lunch is often their best – and sometimes – only real meal of the day. According to Feeding America, 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011. The numbers can tell the scope, but the not very painful effects of food insecurity for children. 

School nutrition professionals know that Mondays and Fridays are often the worst days of the week for food insecure children. On Monday morning, many children really are “starving” after a weekend without enough food to fill their stomachs well. At school breakfast on Monday morning, children can seem insatiable and want more than one serving. How would you feel after a weekend without enough to eat?

On Friday’s school lunch, food insecure children may tend to overeat and/or to hoard food that they can scavenge from other student’s trays. This not bad behavior or a hunger game. It is a very real and natural response to being deprived of food. It is the body’s response to being chronically underfed, as documented in Ansel Keyes classic study of starvation in healthy young men.

Middle school students wait for breakfast in Billings, Montana

We do not completely understand the complex interactions of food insecurity, obesity and undernutrition, especially in their effect on children. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) offers an excellent summary of the key factors that make low-income and food insecure families more vulnerable to overweight and obesity, including:

  • Cycles of food deprivation and overeating
  • Lack of access to healthy, affordable foods
  • Fewer opportunities for physical activity
  • High levels of stress
  • Limited access to health care

While we have a national discussion about the merits of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the the 2012 Nutrition Standards for School Meals, we must never forget those students who are truly hungry – not just YouTube sensations because they didn’t approve of their new food options in the cafeteria. Whether you call it childhood hunger or family food insecurity, this is a real and tragic problem in our country.

In terms of what we can do, there is no better role model than Senator George McGovern, who passed away today after a decades of public service. We can each look around our own communities and ask a simple question: What is the most effective thing that I can do to end hunger? 

With gratitude for your decades of service

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)