School Breakfast Does More Than Just Feed Students
March 5, 2021
What’s in a breakfast? According to our research, in addition to providing critical nutrients at the start of the day, breakfast comes with a side of improved behavior, a helping of focus in the classroom, and a dollop of social emotional development.
Since 2009, Action for Healthy Kids has implemented school breakfast programming, thanks to grants sponsored by Walmart Foundation and Kellogg Company Fund, in 573 school districts to help 3,627 schools produce an additional 70 million new breakfast meals for hungry students. We do this because there are nearly 11 million food insecure children in the U.S., and they deserve a nutritious meal that also helps reduce absenteeism and improve academic performance. Unfortunately, participation in school breakfast continues to fall short in the U.S. In the 2017-2018 school year, for every 100 lunches served to low-income children, only 57 breakfasts were served.
In order to improve breakfast access, our programs focus on alternative breakfast models, such as breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go breakfast, and second chance breakfast. But we wanted to see how these programs benefit schools and students over the long-term, so we performed a longitudinal study with schools that successfully increased their breakfast participation from 2015-18 in order to understand the sustainability of that success in future years.
Results show that some of the biggest barriers to sustaining breakfast participation include buy-in from school administrators, quality and diversity of food options, stigma associated with eating school-provided breakfast, and logistics such as competing schedules or school infrastructure. Yet championing support for alternative models of school breakfast amongst school staff and families, as well as making breakfast more flexible, can break down those barriers. Our study determined that these actions facilitate sustainability of breakfast participation, especially among elementary students and when serving breakfast in the classroom. Our partner schools also reported that breakfast participation improved students’ self-management skills and social awareness while fostering a sense of community and positive connections. Plus, more than 90% of participants noted that it improved students focus or behavior in the classroom.
Read the full study results here, and then advocate for school breakfast in your school district. Anyone can be a breakfast champion—all it takes is your voice to help schools implement alternative breakfast models or to help families understand the importance of breakfast participation. Shouldn’t everyone be able to start the day right?