For most of us moms around the country, we wake up before the sun, sleep long after the moon has risen, and spend a majority of that time (or so it may seem) cooking for our kids. Many of our children, at least infant to elementary age, awake starving and we know in order to avoid those early morning meltdowns that breakfast better be ready and available soon after waking. As the mom of 3 growing boys, and a husband who literally cannot function until he has had breakfast, I am all too familiar with the need to have a hot and hearty meal awaiting my kids 7 days a week. As it stands, if they are dressed and breakfast is not ready, the snacking will begin before I even hit the kitchen.
In our house quick breakfasts of cereal or pop-tarts just don’t cut it, because with minimal nutritional value and a less than filling effect, my kids will be starving long before their scheduled lunch times at school. Ensuring they have a nutritionally filling, if not entirely balanced meal, allows them to go to school happy and satisfied…at least until snack time. With my younger children in pre-school there is at least a morning snack available soon after entering their classrooms if they get hungry, but with my older son in elementary school there is not.
Unfortunately for many children in our U.S. School System from pre-school through high school, a hearty morning breakfast is not available in their household and so these kids are heading to school hungry and cranky as a result. With many people and politicians around the country believing the cost of feeding our kids free or reduced school breakfast or lunches is simply too high we are here to spotlight National School Breakfast Week and why feeding our kids is a benefit to all.
Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day
We all know breakfast or “breaking the fast” is the most important meal of the day because it jump starts the body’s metabolism, provides fuel for the activities ahead and basically allows the body to become mentally alert and energized. Consuming a nutritionally balanced, high fiber and nutrient meal also allows the body to begin burning off those calories at a faster rate than waiting until later in the day to eat.
With obesity and childhood eating disorders as a growing public health trend in our country, breakfast should not be an option for any age group and as parents we need to pay attention to whether our children are eating quality foods for this important meal.
Calcium, protein, vitamin D and carbohydrates are just some of the important energy boosters that are key to a healthy breakfast. Further, a breakfast laden with these healthy nutrients will keep your child full and energized for longer than foods or drinks high in caffeine and sugar. Allowing children to consume caffeinated drinks such as coffee or energy drinks in the morning is a recipe for disaster as by mid-morning they will crash, becoming irritable, unfocused and without energy to complete their necessary academic tasks.
The Impact of Breakfast In the Classroom
As adults we know that if we skip breakfast, or do not have our morning cup of joe, we are often grumpy and unproductive for at least the beginning of our day. Frequently, the attitude we go to work with or wake up our children with tends to affect the remainder of our day for better or worse. Knowing how our bodies respond to early morning hunger, or lack of energy, it should be perfectly understandable why the academic abilities of children are severely affected by whether or not they have eaten breakfast.
For most children school performance has been found to be better in the morning than later in the day, so kids report to school for early morning learning activities such as classroom work, projects and tests that are imperative to their academic futures.
As such, we need to ensure that all children are entering the classroom fed, energized and awake to start their day. Children who eat breakfast regularly exhibit better behavior in the classroom such as:
- Better concentration and attention span
- Better memory
- Better test scores
- Decreased irritability
- Improved cognitive function
- Decreased absenteeism
- Improved mood
Facts about the School Breakfast Program
Around the country, public schools from elementary through high school serve breakfast every weekday to our low-income and at-risk youth. Meeting strict guidelines that have been implemented for nutritional value, while these meals may not meet each and every one of our personal standards, they are in compliance with the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations recommendations.
- School breakfast programs began in 1966 and were implemented permanently in 1975.
- The program is administered at the federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service.
- The School Breakfast Program has been implemented in more than 78,000 schools nationwide.
- Subsidies are paid to the schools participating in the programs serving free or reduced priced breakfasts to low-income kids through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- School breakfasts must meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and include a fruit and/or vegetable, whole-grain rich foods, protein and milk.
- Any child enrolled at a public or non-profit private school can purchase a breakfast, but children whose families are at or below 130% of the federal poverty level receive free meals.
- Participation in the program continues to grow (unfortunately) with more than 8.2 million of our countries children receiving free or reduced breakfasts (and lunches) daily.
- The School Breakfast Program costs upwards of $1.6 billion dollars a year.
The Necessity of School Breakfast Programs
Whether we like it or not, as members of this society we are responsible for feeding our country’s children. We are a nation founded on christian principles and our basic morals and values make it clear that we cannot allow children of all people to go hungry. Further, as many of our own children are being educated in the same schools as those qualifying for free and reduced lunches we must concede that having our kids educated in a classroom with attentive, better behaving peers is a much better option than with irritable, hungry, misbehaving ones. As parents we all have a vested interest in retaining the school breakfast programs or some equivalent thereof.
With these programs having been implemented not only to ensure these children are fed but also to improve classroom performance, studies have shown success measured by better test scores and behavior throughout the school day. And like it or not, for a significant portion of these children, education aside, the breakfast and lunches they receive at school may be the only meals they are fed all day.
Parents and teachers are in agreement that our schools are being expected to take on too much responsibility for a majority of our nation’s children these days, but unfortunately there is no good resolution to this problem. Schools have gone from being instruments of education to now being tasked with feeding, clothing, counseling, medical screening and a whole host of other parenting activities that truly should not fall on our teachers and guidance counselors shoulders. However, considering that these are young children, we really have no choice. Looking on the bright side, the lasting positive impression of these role models – teachers, volunteer parents and community leaders – who step up to help these low-income and at-risk children provide hope for our nation’s future.
Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula