School Breakfast Feeds Bellies and Brains

Children eating breakfast
August 31, 2015
by Dr. Katie Brown

Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, and no child should miss a morning meal. Recently, through a grant from Feeding America, generously funded by General Mills Foundation, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation conducted an assessment to explore the role food banks are playing and could play in helping every child in America get the breakfast they need.

The assessment was conducted with a handful of select Feeding America member food banks across the U.S. In it, food bank staff indicated that they do consider breakfast promotion to be important, they are using a variety of strategies to increase the number of children eating the school breakfast and they would like to expand their efforts to work with more schools to increase participation throughout their service area. These efforts can play a major role in decreasing the number of missed meals in all communities, but it can be particularly impactful in low-income communities where many children struggle to get enough to eat.

Food bank staff bring a unique set of skills and expertise to the table that could benefit school breakfast promotion. The staff who participated in this assessment, for example, understand what it takes to lead community coalitions that bring together key players with the goal of increasing school breakfast programs and participation rates. They also have expertise in school meal regulations, food distribution and food insecurity. All of these qualifications are valuable to coalitions and school partners in understanding the benefits of increasing breakfast participation and providing technical assistance to do so.

Initiating and sustaining successful school breakfast programs requires support and buy in from many stakeholders including the superintendent, school district nutrition director, principals, teachers, custodial and food service staff and parents and students. Resistance at any of these levels threatens positive change.

According to the assessment, food bank participation in promoting school breakfast is making a difference. We found that the impact they have is evidenced by an increase in the number of schools that serve breakfast, an increase in the number of students participating and an increase in the awareness of school stakeholders about the importance of school breakfast on children’s health and readiness to learn.

The Feeding America network of food banks can serve as leaders in community efforts to promote school breakfast as part of comprehensive childhood hunger activities. Offering grants, dedicated staff time and professional development opportunities for more network food bank staff to learn about school meal regulations, community coalitions and advocacy, are recommended to increase the reach and impact of food banks across the country in addressing hunger through the promotion of school breakfast.

Dr. Katie Brown

* Dr. Katie Brown, EdD, RDN, LD is the national education director for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.

Tags: Fighting Hunger in Action , Child Hunger

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