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.

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!