Breakfast in the classroom is an effort by school districts and the USDA to help kids eat something before the school day starts so that they will perform better academically (some research here). Breakfast is offered in most school cafeterias, but to eat breakfast you have to come early, before school starts. Getting to school on time, much less early, is a huge challenge for many families.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that Chicago Public Schools recently announced that they will participate in the free breakfast program for all students. It’s starting next month.
I’m thrilled when I see kids lining up for breakfast, but I know participation is low compared to the high participation in the school lunch program. Occasionally I’ll ask my students if they ate breakfast that day. Many say no. One student in particular often has terrible morning breath (a sign that she hopped out of bed and came straight to school). In the past I asked her if she’s ate breakfast and she has said no. This particular student qualifies for reduced, but not free, school lunch. I know her family works and they are running to get out of the house in the morning. I can’t imagine trying to get multiple kids ready for school — one toddler is challenge enough.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine sending my child to school without breakfast. At the very least I would press a granola bar into my child’s hand, but that is assuming that families have money. Even when my son was eating daycare food and participated in their morning cereal routine, it was a rare day that he didn’t eat something at home with us (my husband and I both eat breakfast). In fact, most mornings the first thing he does when he wakes up is to demand food (his current favorite: “peanut buhder mana” — peanut butter spread on a banana). His usual breakfast is oatmeal or cereal and with fruit, if we have it handy. By the time he gets to daycare, he could care less if the other kids are eating because he’s full.
I think eating breakfast in the classroom is a great idea. Making time in the morning to eat should be something we instill in young people. It appears that many parents don’t make time for breakfast in the morning. Either the families are staying up too late watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the net (guilty as charged) or eating in the morning is not important to them. Does no one care about breakfast anymore?
It’s a symptom of something. I believe our nation lacks the robust food culture that other countries take for granted and which their children absorb simply by being part of society. If food is not taught in our schools and it’s not taught at home, kids don’t have much of a chance to learn how to eat in a way that benefits their bodies over the long haul.
The logistics of breakfast in the classroom make it a little more challenging. There will be a breakfast for every child but individual children can opt out (at first I thought every child had to get a breakfast — now that would be wasteful). Having large quantities of food trash in the classrooms instead of the cafeteria could lead to bug problems (yes, I’ve seen cockroaches in my room). I think the biggest disadvantage is the potential loss of instructional time. But the truth is that there is a lot of “business” to take care of in the morning — attendance being the most important. The first fifteen minutes the kids are settling in to their day, putting away their coats and backpacks, turning in homework, and saying the pledge. Throwing breakfast in the mix could make it more chaotic. Still I think it’s important to power students up with food. So for me disadvantages are minimized — these kids need to eat to learn.
However, what they eat is just as important as eating the meal itself. A sugary breakfast may not make things better for students in terms of focusing mid- to late morning.
For me, it comes down to this: Is it better to eat something for breakfast than nothing at all? My answer: some food is better than no food when you’re a hungry and growing little person. Thoughts?
Breakfast at School: Fast and Healthy Food for Thought (additional research)
From the USDA – 10 Reasons to Try Breakfast in the Classroom (pdf handout)