School breakfast: We know it’s important, but how about exciting?


When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
A.A. Milne

As usual, Pooh has it right. His positive mental attitude about breakfast could be the theme of National School Breakfast Month, March 4-8, 2013.I

Still, for some families the answer to the “What’s for breakfast?” question is wrenching – No cereal, no peanut butter, no fresh fruit because payday isn’t till Friday. And in other homes harried parents face the drudgery of serving frozen waffles to sleepy foot-draggers is a challenge.

Let’s face it, breakfast generally gets short shrift. For many of us breakfast is a meal-in-a-minute routine about as perfunctory as brushing one’s teeth. No charm, no human interaction, as the cares of the day invade, the minutiae of catching the bus or remembering the smart phone. We’d much prefer to get to the job or the pre-dawn meeting or to meet the elder set at the coffee shop to discuss the world situation.

The research is incontrovertible on the topic – breakfast is a good thing for kids. Young learners can stay awake, learn faster, keep up on the playground, develop healthy habits, improve behavior in the classroom, and make friends over a good breakfast. Teachers know that breakfast works. In a 2012 study entitled “Hunger in Our Schools: Share Our Strength’s Teachers Report” 1000 public school teachers made it clear. Nine out of ten teachers say breakfast is very important for academic achievement. Teachers credit breakfast for increased concentration (95%), better academic performance (89%), and better behavior in the classroom (73%). Teachers also say that, thanks to breakfast served at school, students are less likely to be tardy or absent (56%).

The good news is that schools, especially school nutritionists, are working hard to re-imagine how school breakfast might happen. The US Department of Agriculture has published a robust paper outlining “Strategies for School Breakfast Program Expansion”, adapted from a University of Wisconsin Extension Family Living Program. The study considers a host of possibilities, some of which are admittedly controversial.

  • Breakfast in the Classroom, a program through which students start or break in the morning for breakfast.
  • Grab ‘n’ go breakfast where the kids pick up an old-fashioned lunchbag chock full of good breakfast
  • Mobile breakfast carts that visit the classroom,
  • and many more options for serving breakfast to hungry young scholars.

Some of the ideas have more to do with the management of school breakfast programs. Teachers have weighed in on some of these options as well:

  • Allowing schools to serve breakfast at no charge to any students who want it that day, regardless of their household income. The school claims the federal reimbursement based on the eligibility category for that student. The option requires no additional staffing and eliminates the stigma that can be associated with free meals at school by making breakfast free for all kids. (58%)
  • Reducing red tape that limits participation (61%)
  • Most important, 75% of the teachers agree is to increase communication with parents about what school meals are available. Statistics show that of the more than 22 million students who ate a free or reduced price lunch in 2011, fewer than half also ate breakfast at school.

Clearly, more organizations and individuals that care about children’s health and learning need to be involved in promoting and explaining the importance of breakfast and the availability of school breakfast options. Child care providers, grandparents, communities of faith, the medical profession, librarians, the media, the community at large need to know about what’s possible and to make sure that parents sending their kids off to school know their rights. It’s actually a pretty easy sell – it’s just too big a job to be shouldered by a few. The website for the National School Breakfast Week and the Minnesota School Nutrition Association are packed with ideas for campaigns, posters, contests and promotion.

Like Pooh, think about how to make breakfast the most exciting part of t he day!