In just a few days Texas schools will start putting a new, more positive spin on the old schoolyard taunt, “I dare you to eat that!” March 6th marks the start of National School Breakfast Week, and this year’s theme is “Take the School Breakfast Challenge.”
Many adults may not particularly want to be challenged at breakfast, at least not before we have had our coffee, but the kids who take this particular dare are significantly more likely to be more attentive in class and have higher test scores. That is because the benefits of breakfast are extensive. Unfortunately, a shocking number of Texas kids do not have breakfast at home nor do they take advantage of the school breakfast program.
During National School Breakfast Week, school districts across Texas and the country will have a great opportunity for their nutrition staff to highlight the importance of a healthy breakfast by engaging students, staff, and parents through social media campaigns, special menu items, and competitions all centered on the partaking of the morning meal.
In 2015, 96 percent of School Nutrition Association members reported that student participation increased during National School Breakfast Week. This exciting week is certainly a great step toward strengthening school breakfast programs. However, progress cannot stop in March. Rather than pushing breakfast one week out of the year, districts must support their breakfast programs year round to ensure that students have a healthy start to their day.
One in four children are food insecure in Texas, meaning that the only meals that these kids might receive are those provided by their school. While this statistic is certainly dismaying, it is not insurmountable. Public schools are making great strides in reducing food insecurity through their breakfast programs, using innovative models such as Grab N’ Go carts and Breakfast in the Classroom which are designed to streamline meal access and make breakfast a better fit for the busy school day.
However, there is still much work to do as not all schools in Texas are utilizing best practices.
In 2013, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 376, requiring school districts with 80 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals to offer free breakfast to all students. This bill was passed to reduce food insecurity, while also supporting Texas farmers and agriculture. The effects have been tremendous, but again, not all districts are taking advantage of the available resources.
With 1.8 million food insecure children living in Texas, school districts must do more than passively offer breakfast; they must be proactive. Through better implementation methods and interactive events like National School Breakfast Week, Texas school districts can help us get one step closer to eradicating food insecurity among Texas children.
With National School Breakfast Week fast approaching and the data on the positive impact of breakfast on learning becoming more compelling, meaningful action around school breakfast is even more essential. The research has proven that kids who aren’t distracted by hunger do better in school and, unsurprisingly, are less disruptive in class.
Please visit schoolnutrition.org to learn more about National School Breakfast Week and call your school district for information on what they have planned around National School Breakfast Week and how you can get involved to make sure your local school is doing all they can to make sure kids are getting fed.
A healthy breakfast is not something we should support one week out of the year, every child needs breakfast every day. It’s just like you’re mom always told you: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
Dr. Sanborn is president and CEO of Children at Risk, a Texas based research and advocacy non-profit and is executive editor of the Journal of Applied Research on Children. Sublette is a VISTA/AmeriCorps volunteer at Children at Risk.