Everyone’s heard the expression that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for the 11.2 million children that are food insecure — 13.9 percent of U.S. households with kids — breakfast isn’t a guarantee. For many food insecure children, school meals are their most reliable source of food. And the benefits of healthy school meals go beyond fighting hunger: Children who eat school breakfast have improved behavior, decreased depression, better focus and alertness, and reduced absenteeism.
Unfortunately, participation in school breakfast continues to fall short in the United States. In the 2017-2018 school year, for every 100 lunches served to low-income children, only 57 breakfasts were served. Action for Healthy Kids has worked for years to address this issue by granting underserved schools the funds needed to implement breakfast programs that reach more kids.
Data from a recent study shows that the biggest barriers to 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.
When you break down these barriers and work to champion support among families and school staff, the numbers don’t lie. Breakfast participation significantly increases, especially among elementary students and when serving breakfast in the classroom. Action for Health Kids’ partner schools also report that breakfast participation improved students’ self-management skills and social awareness while fostering a sense of community and positive connections. Moreover, more than 90 percent of respondents recently reported that school breakfast participation improved students focus or behavior in the classroom.
What does all this mean?
Eating a healthy school breakfast fights hunger, is an effective strategy for developing social emotional skills, and contributes to student performance in the classroom. From parents and caregivers to school administrators to legislators, we need to be advocating for breakfast. Being a breakfast champion means spreading the word; it means funding healthy meals and removing the hurdles that prevent access to those meals.
Together we can make the most important meal of the day as accessible as it should be.