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: #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

 

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

 

 

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. N is for NO Kid 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.

N is for NO Kid Hungry

There is so much work that needs to be done. Sometimes it makes me cry and sometimes I am glad to have so many partners working to insure that NO Kid Hungry becomes a reality. This interactive State of Hunger map allows you to check state rankings and initiatives. Some states are clearly doing a better job than others; I guess I should feel better that Montana is somewhere in the middle. Honestly, I am just so sad that we live in a country that has not yet figured out how to feed all its children. NO Kid Hungry

No Kid Hungry: State of Hunger Map

No Kid Hungry: State of Hunger Map

Eat. Play. Learn. M is for MICHIGAN

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.

M is for MICHIGAN

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in several Michigan healthy school events over the years and I am honored to be invited back in March (23-27) to present a series of four “First Fuel” School Breakfast Challenge trainings across the state. The Michigan goal is to have 60 percent or more of free/reduced lunch participants also eating a school breakfast by 2015. The recently released Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) 2014 School Breakfast Scorecard found reported that Michigan’s rate of school breakfast participation is 53 percent of lunch participation – an increase of 2 percent since 2010.

While the Michigan school breakfast goal is ambitious, they have strong support and the right partners for the job. At the Michigan Department of Education, support comes from the very top, since Superintendent Mike Flanagan is a strong and vocal advocate for school breakfast as the foundation for academic success. I know several other states that wish they had such a knowledgable and supportive state superintendent! Other active partners in the “First Fuel” School Breakfast Challenge include the Michigan Team Nutrition Program, which has a extensive reach on Twitter and Facebook, as well as Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Dairy Industries of Michigan who are offering $250,000 in grants for marketing and equipment. I am looking forward to being part of the Michigan work to insure that all children are well-nourished and ready to learn.

FRIST FUEL Promotes School Breakfast

FIRST FUEL Promotes School Breakfast

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