We’ve all been there: Sitting in a meeting that’s cutting into lunch. Your stomach is growling and all you can think about is what you’ll eat once Bob stops yammering. Or how about when you’re running late—no time for breakfast! —and you spend the next three hours hangry and snap at everyone.

If hunger can make adults lose focus and self-control, imagine what it can do to kids. Their attention span and self-restraint are still developing. For children, hunger is the enemy of good listening, memory and mental stamina, traits necessary for successful learning. But eating, especially foods high in nutrition, boosts brain power.

How Food Fuels Learning

Did you know that a student’s brain demands more energy than any other part of the body? For instance, the brain of a 10-year-old consumes 50% of the body’s total energy. And some functions vital to learning, like listening, further increase the brain’s need for fuel.

While muscles store extra carbohydrates to use for energy later, the brain doesn’t have a backup energy source. It relies solely on the food students eat. So “food for thought” isn’t just a saying, it’s a literal truth. Students need food in order to think critically. Research confirms that being hungry makes it harder to learn. It shows that children who don’t have enough to eat, on average are less likely to learn than their peers and more likely to have lower test scores.

Giving Every Child the Advantage of Good Nutrition

Many children come to school with empty bellies, lacking the fuel they need to be attentive in the classroom and engage in daily lessons. In more than 12% of U.S. homes with children, there’s simply not enough to eat or nutritious options available. In addition to skipping meals, families struggling to feed their kids are likely to opt for cheaper, processed foods that are likely to be lower in nutritional value.

That’s why school meal programs are an essential part of learning for many children, regardless of economic status. School-provided breakfast and lunch give kids the opportunity to eat healthy foods at school. Students come to class sharper, better able to focus, and ready to achieve. On average, students who eat school breakfast get 17.5% higher scores on standardized math tests. That’s how powerful something as simple as a whole-grain cereal, milk, and fruit can be.

By supporting school meal programs, we ensure every child gets the opportunity to reach their full potential.

How Dairy Helps

For decades, milk products have been a staple in many children’s diets and a healthy option for kids in the cafeteria line. Milk provides a rich source of high-quality protein, which helps curb hunger and can help you feel full longer. And many kids love the taste of milk, cheese and yogurt – three ways to add versatility to getting adequate protein in the diet. In addition to dairy’s numerous health benefits, it is an affordable and convenient option for schools.

To learn more about the importance of including dairy as a part of a nutritious meal program, visit milkmeansmore.org.