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Give Every Child a Free Breakfast

If medical professionals ignored research, they would be sued for malpractice. So why is it that decision-makers for public schools can ignore the research on the impact of a nutritious breakfast on the success of our children and suffer no consequences? This is the week to raise the consciences of those decision-makers and make new commitments to implement breakfast programs that feed every child in our schools.

This is National School Breakfast Week. It's a time to spotlight the research, showcase those schools that are leading the way, and examine the policies that could change the way we serve our children. Currently, only 47 percent of children who eat lunch at the free or reduced rate participate in the same breakfast program. Late buses, embarrassment at being identified as receiving free breakfast, and social time trumping breakfast time are all contributors. We can overcome all of those obstacles.

The Food Research and Action Center offers the research that cannot be denied. They have found that children who eat a nutritious school breakfast are less likely to be overweight, perform better on standardized tests, improve speed and memory in cognitive tests, eat more fruits as well as a greater variety of food, and drink more milk. Also, schools that offer universal breakfast report decreases in discipline problems, fewer visits to the school nurse, and less tardiness. The bottom line is that learning thrives because attention and attendance improve substantially. What I found most interesting is that students who had school breakfast not only did better in school than those who skipped breakfast, but surpassed those who ate breakfast at home.

The National Education Association Health Information Network and Share Our Strength have taken this research and created information, advocacy, and best practices. Their work is a lighthouse for any school or school district. They have clearly demonstrated that giving every child breakfast is doable. Every superintendent, principal, cafeteria manager, and union leader should read the report, "Start School with Breakfast: A Guide to Increasing School Breakfast Participation." This will provide everything you need to get started on instituting universal breakfast programs.

While there are several meal service models, "Breakfast in the Classroom" has been one that teachers have told me is very efficient. This model has the children report to their classrooms at the official start of school. All children receive an "easy-to-eat and easy-to clean" breakfast that takes about fifteen minutes. Teachers tell me that it settles the students and prepares them for a calm day of study and learning. It does not add to their teacher load because it is efficiently executed by cafeteria staff or volunteers as well as students taking leadership roles. It has become a routine part of getting students ready for their day. Teachers love having all children get a free, nutritious breakfast in a quiet setting. They see the impact on discipline and learning.

Celebrate National School Breakfast Week by speaking up for universal breakfast programs for the schools in your community. All children deserve the best start to their day.

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