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The Most Important Meal of the Day



As one expert put it, “This is a really important 10 minute investment.”
With research showing that school breakfast leads to higher test scores, increases student attendance and lowers students’ risk for obesity, more campuses are looking to strengthen breakfast programs. Doing so isn’t always easy, as schools face fiscal constraints, tight class schedules and even classroom logistical challenges. 
Our friends at the Healthy Schools Campaign addressed some of those difficulties and offered insider tips to combat them on Monday with the webinar “Breakfast Matters: Successful Strategies for School Breakfast.” The hour-long online presentation studied the benefits of the morning meal, with school administrators sharing how they implemented breakfast programs in their communities.
“Ultimately, we want what’s right for our education system. We want to have students and teachers that are set up for success in the long run,” said Mark Bishop, vice president of policy and communications for the Healthy Schools Campaign (and a Leader). “Successful school breakfast is part of that intersection of health and environment and it ultimately sets students up for success.”
Like school lunch, breakfast in many schools is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Nutrition guidelines for school breakfast also were recently updated by the USDA, with schools required to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and reduce the amount of fat and sodium.
Schools that implement breakfast programs show a decrease in tardiness and disciplinary referrals and increase in attendance. Student math and reading scores improve and schools report improvements in attention, focus and memory among students who eat breakfast, studies show.
Students also are less likely to become overweight or obese. 
But while the benefits are clear, actually getting kids to eat breakfast can be a challenge. Research shows that left to their own devices, students aren’t very likely to eat breakfast, which is why it’s so important for schools to step in.
“The real key is how and when it’s served,” said Madeleine Levin, a senior policy analyst at the Food Research and Action Center.
Experts now recommend that schools incorporate breakfast into the school schedule, typically in the first few minutes of class, with students eating their meal during morning attendance and announcements, Levin said.
Several big-city school districts have implemented classroom breakfast in the past several years and already have seen the benefits. In Chicago, elementary schools have launched a “grab and go” process, in which students grab a pre-bagged hot or cold meal on the way to class, eat it during morning attendance and then clean up before lessons begin.
The Houston Independent School District, meanwhile, operates a system in which cafeteria workers bring a food cart to each classroom as school begins. Students eat their meal, and place their trash in a trash bag that’s left outside the door for pickup. 
Since beginning the breakfast program, Houston has garnered one of the highest rates of breakfast participation in the country. “The key to having higher participation is really about making breakfast convenient and easy for kids,” Levin said.
Levin noted that there while some schools are hesitant to increase their breakfast participation because of cost, it’s actually more beneficial to have higher rates of participation. The USDA reimburses for each meal served — even giving schools money for students who pay full price for a meal — which means that having high participation lowers labor costs. 
Bishop also noted there are grant opportunities for schools wishing to launch breakfast programs. Click here or visit for more details.
The webinar was part of a springtime series offered by the Healthy Schools Campaign. On March 22, the campaign will host an event titled “Farm to Cafeteria: Supporting Student Health and Local Farm Systems.” Click here to register.