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.

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.

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. P is for PLAY

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.

P is for PLAY

I could hardly wait to get to P is for PLAY. I love the powerful simplicity of this graphic from Plan Australia, whose tagline is Every Child Has the Right to PLAY! As this clearly shows, having active fun is much more than mere child’s PLAY. Experts in child health, education, development and many other fields agree – PLAY is good for the body, mind and soul. The American Academy of Pediatrics – the MDs who care for children – actually have an official position on the topic: The Importance of PLAY in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.

Turns out that young bodies, mind and souls can benefit from different kinds of PLAYactive PLAY, free PLAY and outdoor PLAY to name a few. I am an especially big fan of getting kids outside to run, jump, explore, discover and PLAY. The National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There website is a terrific resource for research, tips and programs to get children outside. Basically, we need to get children and adults of all ages unplugged from screens and into PLAY together – anytime, anywhere we can.

Graphic Courtesy of the Plan Australia (www.facebook.com/planaustralia)

Graphic Courtesy of the Plan Australia (www.facebook.com/planaustralia)

Eat. Play. Learn. F is for FUEL Up

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.

F is for FUEL Up

I’ve been a serious fan of FUEL Up to Play 60 since its 2007 kickoff. I’ve seen the frontline benefits in my hometown (Billings, Montana) and in many states across the USA. I wrote the SNA toolkit: Make Fuel Up to Play 60 Work For Your School Nutrition Program and know for certain that the program can enhance school environments, nutrition programs and academic achievement.

In my playbook, FUEL Up to Play 60 scores a touchdown because, at the school level, all plays are planned and implemented by students themselves! If we want to raise a healthier generation of Americans, it is today’s youth who need to make a commitment to wellness in their own lives. FUEL Up to Play 60 grants and resources support and inspire young folks to make the program’s tagline a reality. Here are three examples of how student leaders are making health happen in their schools.

  • EAT HEALTHY. The FUEL Up to Play 60 Willow Creek team (pictured below) served yogurt parfaits and whole-wheat breakfast burritos made with turkey sausage during a National School Breakfast week celebration.
  • GET ACTIVE. The creativity of FUEL Up to Play 60 teams really shines when it comes to fitness fun – and the added minutes of physical activity have helped kids get fit and schools meet the criteria for USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge.
  • MAKE A DIFFERENCEFUEL Up to Play 60 helps motivate me to stay in the school wellness game. When kids make presentations to school boards, start grab-n-go breakfast carts or plant school gardens, I believe that real change is possible.

Want more details FUEL Up to Play 60 plays or help in bringing the program to your school? Contact your state/regional dairy council and check the FUEL Up to Play 60 website.

Willowcreek Middle School, Lehi, Nevada, Goes BIG with FUTP60!

Willowcreek Middle School, Lehi, Utah, Goes BIG with FUTP60!

Eat. Play. Learn. D is for DISCIPLINE

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.

D is for DISCIPLINE

If you have ever worked in schools, you know that discipline problems can take up lots of time that could be better spent on teaching and learning. What you may not know is that discipline and behavior can be improved with something as simple as active recess or classroom energizers or PE class. It’s true – there is a definite Learning Connection between student’s physical activity and their levels of physical activity.

I am a huge fan of programs like Fuel Up to Play 60 (see Maine photo below), Move to Learn, and Playworks that get kids up and moving throughout school campuses – in classrooms, gyms, playgrounds and even hallways. While the strategies and activities vary from program to program and school to school, the overall goal is the same: Increase student physical activity in order to improve behavior, reduce discipline referrals and, ultimately, to enhance cognition and academic success. Does it work?

According to the experts, the answer is another resounding YES. Short bursts of activity, moderate activities like walking and dancing, skill-building PE classes and active recess all help students become more fit, more focused and ready to learn. Need some proof? Here are links to evaluations, assessments and research about the connection between physical activity, behavior and school discipline issues:

Students in PIttston, Maine, jump for joy (as well as health, wellness and academic success)

Students in PIttston, Maine, jump for joy (as well as health, wellness and academic success)