Breakfast in the Classroom: Good for Nutrition, Good for Schools

It's well known that eating breakfast is key to being productive and attentive throughout the day, and that's certainly true for children and teens. Yet getting students to eat breakfast can be a challenge. As some schools are finding, the path to success may be in moving breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom.

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Why the Classroom?

Schools across the nation offer breakfast to children who need it through the federal School Breakfast Program. Yet less than half of the children from low-income homes who qualify for free or reduced-price take advantage of the program. There are numerous reasons for this. For example, students may skip going to the cafeteria for breakfast to avoid the stigma of being labeled as poor. In some cases, students simply don't have time between arriving at school and the start of their day or the cafeteria is too far from their first class to make it feasible.

Moving breakfast service to the classroom minimizes these issues. It's served after the start of the day, typically during a homeroom period, and it's served to everyone. Schools that have made the switch have seen a dramatic rise in participation. In some schools, breakfast sales have tripled or quadrupled.

Students Need Breakfast

As of 2009, more than one in four children, or 17.2 million children, struggled with hunger. Even children with the financial ability to eat breakfast at home may skip it due to a lack of time, energy or hunger during the frenzy to get to school. Yet this puts students at a disadvantage.

The benefits of breakfast for students of all ages are clear. Eating a healthy breakfast improves overall academic performance. Memory, concentration, behavior, comprehension and attendance are all improved by eating breakfast. In fact, the closer a student eats breakfast to taking a standardized test, the better that student will perform. Furthermore, eating school breakfast has been linked to lowering body mass index (BMI), which means fewer overweight and obese children.

The Business of Breakfast

It's in the schools' interest to encourage the eating of breakfast. Of course, students who eat breakfast will perform better throughout the day, which is advantageous for schools. But there is a strong financial benefit as well.

Schools get reimbursed by state and federal governments for each meal consumed by students. With students who qualify for free lunch or reduced-price lunch, schools receive anywhere from $1.80 to $1.21 per breakfast, depending on the need level of the student. For students who pay full price, schools receive 27 cents per breakfast. Numerous studies have shown that schools with high participation rates have profitable breakfast programs.

A Win-Win Fundraising Opportunity

Too often, fundraising efforts at schools involve selling junk food, such as candy and cookies. Yet partnering with the school breakfast program provides an opportunity to sell students healthy food that's critically needed while supporting a school organization. By targeting students in homeroom, fundraisers have a captive, hungry audience. The Denver-area Adams 14 School District has begun experimenting with this idea and the results have been encouraging.

The Adams City High School Student Council earned several hundred dollars to support Homecoming. The football team and the cheerleaders have followed suit. Even ROTC has joined in. As a fundraising opportunity, breakfast in the classroom involves minimal time and effort. It's a mutually beneficial opportunity that funds programs, gets kids eating in the morning and focuses on providing them with nutritious food.

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