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 (

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

There’s No Need To Ban Flavored Milk From Schools

As a Registered Dietitian (RD) who has dedicated 30+ years of work and volunteer life to child nutrition, I believe flavored milk has a place in school meals. Disclosure: I am proud to work with the National Dairy Council and regional dairy councils, including Western Dairy Association. However, all the opinions here are my own. This blog was first published as Guest Blog: No Need to Remove Flavored Milk.

First, the facts about today’s flavored milk in schools: This is not the chocolate milk served ten – or even five – years ago. Dairy processors have responded to nutrition concerns and continually renovate their products.

Gonzales Unified, Monterrey (CA) Home-style Chile Verde, Beans, Rice and fresh local tortillas

Monterrey (CA) Home-style Chile Verde, beans, rice and fresh local tortillas

Secondly. the real nutrition issues: While some US children are getting too many calories for their activity levels, many are under-nourished. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans listed four nutrients of concern for both children and adults: calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber. Our low consumption of these nutrients can affect our health today and in the future.

Just like white milk, flavored milk provides three of the four nutrients of concern – all of them except dietary fiber. All types of milk are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D, and good sources of potassium. All are nutrient-rich beverages, packed with many other nutrients kids need for strong bodies – protein and phosphorus, along with vitamins A, B12, riboflavin and niacin.

Banning flavored milk could potentially lead to a small reduction in calories consumed by kids at school. However, it also can have serious unintended consequences as documented in the recent study of 11 Oregon school districts. When flavored milk was removed, total daily milk sales declined by nearly 10 percent. Although white milk sales increased by 161 cartons per day, almost 30 percent was thrown away. Eliminating chocolate milk was also associated with about 7 percent fewer students eating school lunches.

I am not surprised by these results. They confirm previously published studies and the experience in many cafeterias. Flavored milk bans do all the wrong things in child nutrition programs. We need more nutrient-rich food for hungry students, more students who are well-nourished and ready to learn – and fewer expensive-to-replace nutrients dumped into trashcans.

Lake Stevens (WA), Customized 'Power Bowls' with fresh, local produce

Lake Stevens (WA), Customized ‘Power Bowls’ with fresh, local produce

Finally, working together to improve nutrition in schools: There has been a revolution in school nutrition programs across the USA, but we have still have plenty of work to do, especially in low-income, at-risk communities.

  • Want kids to consume less sugar at school? Let’s provide nutrition education for families (lots of sugar is brought to cafeterias from home). Let’s implement USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rules and shift the focus toward smarter choices everywhere on school campuses. Flavored milk is not the most significant source of added sugar in children’s beverages by a long shot. Soft drinks, sport drinks and juice drinks have more sugar and fewer nutrients.
  • Want students to drink more white milk? Forget bans. Let’s institute positive nutrition and culinary education into the curriculum, Let’s use smart marketing techniques to make white milk the more convenient choice at the front of milk coolers. Let’s not put nutrient-rich milk in the garbage and throw important nutrients out with misplaced concerns about small amounts of sugar.
  • Want healthier kids, schools and communities? Let’s put our passion for child nutrition toward effective partnerships on positive ways to improve access to delicious nutrient-rich at school and at home. Let’s look for ways to get kids active before, during and after school with programs like safe routes to school and active recess. Fuel Up To Play 60 is great way to bring nutrition and physical activity to schools – along with grants to purchase equipment and training to implement sustainable changes.

Let’s stop wasting our time, resources and food on negative nutrition campaigns. Let’s work together to make the learning connection for all children – because we know that healthier students are better students.

Eat. Play. Learn. L is for LUNCH

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.

L is for LUNCH

We hear lots of talk about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, especially for children in school. And, when we talk about childhood hunger, most of the conversation is again about insuring that food insecure children have access to school breakfast. But, what about school lunch? Is lunch any less important than breakfast at school?

School lunch is just as important for focus, concentration and learning as breakfast – just in the afternoon instead of the morning. More children have access to school lunch than school breakfast, but sadly many children may not have enough time or the right atmosphere to actually eat and enjoy the lunch they are served. Experts agree that students need at least 15 to 20 minutes of seat time for lunch. Unfortunately many children have 10 minutes or less to sit and eat at lunchtime – and often the cafeteria is loud or managed more like a prison with whistles, lights out and silence for bad behavior.

The good news is that some schools are creating Comfortable Cafeterias, which encourage students to socialize and enjoy their lunch – without being pressured to eat or to hurry. I have worked with Montana Team Nutrition on resources for Pleasant and Positive Mealtimes. The goal is make cafeterias inviting places for children to eat – so that the food goes into them rather than into trash cans. It is only nutrition when they eat or drink it!

Just look at the wonderful tray that this student in Bethel, Oregon, chose on the lunch line and consider for a moment how long it will take her to eat it – even without distractions from other students and cafeteria aides! With a a beautiful lunch like this, children need time and encouragement to eat, so they can pay attention and learn in the afternoon.

First Grade Student in Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

First Grade Student in Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

Eat. Play. Learn. B is for BREAKFAST

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.


Want the low-down on the benefits of breakfast for school-aged children? Just ask those on the front lines of education – classroom teachers. That is what Share our Strength did in the No Kid Hungry 2012 Teacher’s Report Hunger in Our Schools.

Teachers know the realities of hunger in America’s classrooms – and they know the educational, behavioral and health benefits of breakfast (see graph below). What they may not know is that school breakfast also helps to fill the nutrition gaps experienced by US children and teens. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee Report, American young people, especially teenage girls, have numerous nutrient ‘shortfalls.’ Many are not getting enough vitamin A, C and E, magnesium and phosphorus. Even more are lacking the four nutrients of concern: vitamin D, potassium, calcium and dietary fiber.

The good news it is that a simple school breakfast – fruit, whole grain cereal or bread, and low-fat dairy – helps to fill those nutrient gaps. School breakfast also provides the protein and energy that students need to focus, concentrate and learn until lunch time. Such a simple meal – with so many breakfast benefits!

2012 NKH Teachers Benefits