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Making Sure Kids Are Healthy Starts With Breakfast

Ellen Dillon

Senior Manager, School Breakfast Programs, Action for Healthy Kids

We’ve always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It helps fuel the body for the day ahead and supports good physical health and cognition in adults and children. While we may not all be running marathons on a daily basis, having the energy to get through the day is something from which we all can benefit. Studies have also shown those eating a healthy breakfast report lower levels of LDL or bad cholesterol, improved heart health, reduced risk of diabetes and reduced risk of obesity. A well-balanced breakfast can improve your mood and keep you from feeling “hangry” — that combination of hungry and angry some experience when a meal is missed or skipped. 

Breakfast challenges

The need for a well-balanced morning meal is especially critical for children. Aside from providing the necessary nutrients for children’s growing bodies and brains, according to the CDC, children starting their day with a healthy breakfast are able to perform better in school. Studies have also shown children who eat a healthy breakfast are able to focus better in class and demonstrate more on-task behaviors.  Yet, too many children start their day without a healthy meal. There are many reasons children (and adults) aren’t starting their day with a nutrient-rich breakfast. Families may be challenged with starting their day together and eating breakfast as a unit. Work schedules, early school start times and bus schedules can all impact a family’s ability to sit down to a morning meal. Food insecurity is also a primary cause of children starting their day without a healthy breakfast. According to USDA, 6.5 million children living in food insecure households may not know where they will get their next meal. Food insecurity isn’t occasional missed breakfast; it impacts children on a more consistent basis.

Providing a solution

During the week of March 5-8, schools around the country will be celebrating National School Breakfast Week. Schools provide a solution for many families looking for ways to help their children start their day with a well-balanced meal. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 created nutritional guidelines for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and improved the nutritional value of school meals.  Schools are meeting these guidelines and working to feed all students a healthy breakfast so that no child goes hungry. Schools around the country are finding ways to improve both the meal quality and access to the most important meal of the day. Alternative breakfast programs help increase breakfast participation by moving breakfast out of the cafeteria before the bell rings in order to meet children where they are located in their classrooms or in key entry points within the school. Breakfast in the classroom, whereby students actually receive and eat breakfast in the classroom, has demonstrated improvements in participation, attendance and academic performance.

Schools can start or expand these types of programs with the help of grants, such as those from Action for Healthy Kids. School breakfast provides a level playing field at the start of the day, ensuring all children begin their day with a healthy meal and have the opportunity to grow and learn.

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