Food and Nutrition

Learning About Breakfast in the Classroom

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Today we have a guest blog by Allison Joseph, a healthy food advocate in Chicago. Allison is a graduate of the Harris School of Public Policy and has an established career in food and nutrition policy and programs.

Let’s start with a quick quiz to see what you may already know about school breakfast.

1. The School Breakfast Program is:

A. An important way to fight hunger in America
B. A federal program that has been in operation since 1966
C. An excellent way to increase attendance and attention from students
D. All of the above 

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A police officer saw a young black couple drive by and pulled them over. What he did next left them stunned:

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A police officer saw a young black couple drive by and pulled them over. What he did next left them stunned:

2. Universal School Breakfast is:

A. Offered to all school children, regardless of income
B. An important way to increase participation in school breakfast
C. A way to reduce the stigma associated with taking part in school meals
D. All of the above

If you answered D to both questions, you are correct!  If you were surprised by the answers, we invite you to learn more the program that may improve the health and education of our nation’s children.

Here in Chicago, we’re taking a moment to review what we know about school breakfast as Chicago Public Schools considers adopting Breakfast in the Classroom for all 295,000 students in the district’s 474 elementary schools.  While Chicago already offers a more traditional breakfast format in many schools and Breakfast in the Classroom in some schools, this change would bring Breakfast in the Classroom to everyone. 

Chicago implemented a wide-reaching school breakfast program in the 2007-2008 school year, making traditional school breakfast and Breakfast in the Classroom options available to many schools. However, Chicago still lags behind many other large cities in having as many children participate in school breakfast as participate in school lunch. (For details, see the Food Research and Action Center's recent report, School Breakfast in America's Big Cities [pdf].)  District-wide Breakfast in the Classroom may be just the change Chicago needs to encourage more kids to eat breakfast.

Breakfast in the Classroom brings breakfast to all children, in their classrooms, during the first ten to fifteen minutes of class time.  This differs from traditional school breakfast which is served in the cafeteria before class begins. Breakfast in the Classroom increases participation dramatically, takes away stigma and helps children learn that breakfast is part of a normal routine. Numerous schools across Chicago –- and across the country –- have used Breakfast in the Classroom as a successful strategy to bring the benefits of breakfast to all students.

Research shows that students greatly benefit from starting the day with breakfast.  Students display improved cognitive function, improved attention span and better behavior when they have eaten breakfast.  Students who eat breakfast show up on time more often and have higher attendance than students who skip breakfast.

Unfortunately, many students do not get breakfast at home. For instance, 89 percent of Chicago students experience poverty to the degree that they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.  Even with the option of eating breakfast at school before classes begin, many young students choose not to in order to avoid the stigma associated with eating a subsidized meal.  Even if children would choose to eat school breakfast, they may encounter other challenges such as arriving to school sufficiently early to receive breakfast or understanding why breakfast is a priority.  Schools can help students perform better by helping them all to start their day with a nutritious meal.

Moving breakfast from a more traditional school breakfast to Breakfast in the Classroom stands to address hunger, classroom behavior, and the potential stigma associated with eating meals at school.  In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama asked if we as a nation were willing to give every child what they need to succeed.  With a nutritious start to every day, we can certainly give each student the best chance possible.