Schools aim to boost number of kids eating breakfast on campus
(Calif.) More than 50 California schools have over the past year begun offering breakfast after classes start in an effort to increase access to school nutrition programs for low-income students and improve their academic outcomes.
The state’s branch of No Kid Hungry–a D.C.-based non-profit that aims to end childhood hunger in the U.S.–has awarded nearly $500,000 in grants since 2017 to support the effort in California.
Advocates say research supports the notion that offering breakfast at the beginning of the day boosts student focus in the classroom.
“We are tackling child hunger in California one step at a time, and with the help of these grants, more students are eating breakfast at school every day,” Kathy Saile, director of No Kid Hungry California, said in a statement.
More than 13 million children in the United States face food security issues at home, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. In California, one in six children live in households that struggle with hunger.
Breakfast has long been hailed as the most important meal of the day, and research shows that eating a healthy breakfast is associated with stronger academic performance, reduced tardiness and absenteeism rates, improved health and a reduced risk of developing an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.
While district leaders and state legislators often agree that it’s important that children eat in the morning, many schools report that fewer eligible students actually participate in school breakfast programs compared to the number who eat school lunches.
According to a report released earlier this year from Utahns Against Hunger, low participation rates in school breakfast programs can be improved if administrators instead serve food to all children after school starts. Low-income students most in need of free- or reduced price meals miss out if they arrive just as school starts or if they want to avoid the stigma of eating meals reserved for poor students served in the cafeteria, researchers concluded.
No Kid Hungry’s Breakfast After the Bell program provide meals in a way that is more convenient and accessible to students, resulting in increased student participation. Making breakfast part of the regular school day, just like lunch, can help ensure that students in need aren’t singled out and that more children are prepared to learn and participate in class. Doing so can also benefit working families who struggle to get their children to school with enough time to eat before the first bell.
At least six states have passed legislation requiring breakfast be served after the bell in schools that already have a large percentage of students from low-income homes, according to No Kid Hungry.
California lawmakers have also sought to expand access to school meals for eligible students in recent years. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into a law a bill that automatically certifies students for free and reduced-price meals using existing Medi-Cal data. Nearly 800,000 low-income children are expected to receive free school meals under the measure.
A second bill, passed earlier this year, allows schools to use their cafeteria funds to offer Universal Breakfast–a program that provides a nutritious breakfast at no charge to all students.
Such efforts have had a positive impact. According to No Kid Hungry, more children eat school breakfast in Los Angeles than any other city in America.
Eighteen schools in the Inland Empire located east of Los Angeles County are among those that have received grants to expand or implement Breakfast After the Bell initiatives, including eight high schools, seven middle schools and three elementary schools.