In the stress of getting out the door in the morning, younger kids may look for something quick to grab for breakfast on-the-go, while teens may reach for an energy drink to sip on the way to school. And worse yet, many students skip breakfast entirely as they rush out the door. You’ve seen the result: Students nodding off in class or having a hard time staying tuned in to their teachers.
It’s difficult for students to be studious, let alone enthusiastic and courteous, when they’re running on empty. About 38% of students arrive at school without having eaten a balanced breakfast. And that number continues to trend upwards. Want to have the best possible students in their seats ready to learn? It turns out that feeding them may be key.
The Importance of Breakfast
For decades now, research has shown that breakfast boosts student brain power. Studies suggest that eating a balanced breakfast—like whole-grain cereal with milk or yogurt with fruit—improves a child’s:
- Problem-solving skills
Test scores confirm that kids who get a good morning meal do better in academics. On average, students who eat school breakfast achieve 17.5% higher scores on standardized math tests. Offering breakfast at school also increases school attendance and punctuality.
A balanced breakfast has both complex carbohydrates and protein. It stabilizes blood sugar and keeps hunger at bay, which improves executive functioning—the brain process that controls attention, planning, self-control and the ability to remember instructions. So kids that eat breakfast are in a happier mood, mentally sharper and better able to tackle challenging assignments.
What You Can Do
As a community leader, you have an important role to play in making sure students get what they need to succeed. Look for ways to encourage students to eat the meal that helps them rise and shine. It doesn’t matter whether they consume it at school, at home or on the go. Here are a few ways you can promote breakfast:
1. Teach kids good nutrition.
Help students understand what a nutrient-rich breakfast looks like. For example: Peanut butter on whole-grain toast with a glass of milk, a smoothie with fruit and yogurt, or a breakfast burrito with eggs and cheese. Healthy breakfast options provide nutrients that many kids don’t get enough of the rest of the day, including calcium, potassium, fiber and vitamin D.
2. Offer free breakfast.
Consider offering free breakfast to every student (universal breakfast program), if your school qualifies. Providing all students access to a nutritious breakfast at school wipes out the stigma that can be associated with getting free breakfast. It also allows students an opportunity to eat when hunger hits later in the morning after rushing out the door to get to school, which can be difficult to eat a healthy meal before leaving home.
3. Assist the food service program.
Connect with the food service director and ask how you can support their program. Get an understanding of what they need in order to provide the best possible start to the day for your students. The cafeteria can be considered the biggest classroom in school.
Discover What Works Best for Your School Community
Every school is different. So any approach to encourage students to eat breakfast has to fit the needs of the students and staff. Start with small tweaks to your program and see what impact they have.
Already have a breakfast program? Consider serving it in the classroom or having grab-and-go kiosks. Try changing the schedule and serving breakfast after the bell. Welcome students to eat in class during the first 15 minutes of the school day. That way, students arriving late don’t have to miss out on getting the kickstart they need, and students get to enjoy breakfast when hunger starts to kick in later in the morning.
Most importantly, encourage foods that deliver maximum nutritional value. Many kids enjoy dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese. Incorporating dairy foods in breakfast at school provides essential nutrients for growing brains and bodies. And, they’re a convenient, affordable option for schools.
Launching or enhancing a successful breakfast program may take effort, but don’t give up. The payoff is worth it. Because kids that are well-fed are primed to learn!
Murphy, Michael. (2007). Breakfast and Learning: An Updated Review. Current Nutrition and Food Science. 3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228638584_Breakfast_and_Learning_An_Updated_Review.
Childhood Obesity 180 at Tufts University, The Breakfast Effect, 2013. https:// www.childobesity180.org/breakfast-effect.
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), School Meals are Essential for Student Health and Learning, August 2019. https://frac.org/wp-content/ uploads/ School-Meals-are-Essential-Health-and-Learning_FNL.pdf.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – 5 Reasons Your Teen Needs Breakfast: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/5-reasons-your-teen-needs-breakfast
John Hopkins Medicine – Wake Up to the Benefits of Breakfast: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/johns-hopkins-childrens-center/what-we-treat/specialties/nephrology/programs-centers/obesity-hypertension-clinic/_documents/eating-right-wake-up-benefits-breakfast2.pdf
National Conference of State Legislatures – A Guide to the School Breakfast Program: https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/a-guide-to-the-school-breakfast-program.aspx
Proceedings of the Nutrition Society – Skipping breakfast is associated with nutrient gaps and poorer diet quality among adults in the United States: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society/article/skipping-breakfast-is-associated-with-nutrient-gaps-and-poorer-diet-quality-among-adults-in-the-united-states/C7943690D97E913FA19B936BFBDB0F2A
Today’s Dietitian – Rise And Dine! — A Breakdown of Breakfast’s Benefits With Experts’ Best Meal Suggestions: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090111p44.shtml