One year later: Revisiting Breakfast in the Classroom

From left bottom corner (clockwise): Crispix cereal, “Danimals” pink yogurt, milk, fruit cup, jelly

A year ago many schools started rolling out “universal breakfast” programs in Chicago Public Schools. I blogged about it then (See 2011’s: The Breakfast Series). Many of the benefits of the program continue:

1) Hungry students get something to eat before they start their academic work in the morning. Many kids were hungry because they didn’t eat breakfast and now they aren’t. Of course this was the main reason that Breakfast in the Classroom was started: to help hungry kids focus by putting food in their bellies.

2) Eating in the classroom promotes camaraderie and increased socialization. Who you sit with at lunch can be different than who sits next to you in class. I really like that kids get a chance to chat with deskmates over a meal.

3) Parents highly motivated to get kids to school for breakfast. When I see parents in the hallways before school, I often see them watching carefully as their children take a brown bag off of large carts. And if a student comes late, they often ask if their child can still get a breakfast. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I can’t be sure, but I really don’t see very many late children these days.

However, disadvantages still remain:

1) Kids eat only the sugary components of the meal and toss the rest. I’ve heard this complaint from teachers about the students.  In my opinion, I think teachers need to educate the kids about a balanced breakfast and what parts of the lunch are protein, carbohydrates, and sugar. Kids need to eat a protein in the morning to feel full longer throughout the day. I really wish I had known this earlier in life. I remember eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast for years and then wondering why I got hungry around 9:30 am every morning. Not having a substantial protein in the morning is a mistake.

2) Food waste and increased trash. The garbage created by the breakfast astonishes me. Every classroom generates a massive black garbage bag. The janitorial stuff works hard to clean everything up because no one wants old food hanging around the classroom (not to mention bugs or rodents).

3) Increased work for lunch staff. The lunch staff has to move several hundred meals to the several different doors of the school so that kids can easily grab a bag on their way to their classrooms. I don’t think their wages were increased in proportion to their workload. Hats off to their dedication to the children!

My support of the Breakfast in the Classroom remains strong. Kids need to eat something before they begin their studies. Do I wish there was less sugar, flavorings, and preservatives? Of course. We’re going to get there without a doubt.

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22 thoughts on “One year later: Revisiting Breakfast in the Classroom

  1. Maybe dental health isn’t a big concern for people who can’t afford (or can’t be bothered?) to feed their kids breakfast at home, but it seems to me that kids’ teeth will suffer if they eat a sugary breakfast at school and have no opportunity to brush their teeth afterwards. As oral health has often been linked with other health conditions (e.g. heart disease later in life) this sounds like another disadvantage of the program.

    Keep up the good work 😉

  2. Is anyone else wondering what the jelly is supposed to be eaten on in the meal above?

    1. I’m actually very curious – seems like an odd thing to include. I kept looking to see if I overlooked toast on the menu.

  3. Especially with the gifting scandal at CPS right now, I’m pretty shocked at the packaged-ness of the meals. How must that bump up the cost of the meal–and the profit to the provider? How much cheaper would be a boiled egg and dish of steel-cut oats with real apples and a light sugar/cinnamon the children sprinkle on themselves?

    We’re fortunate to send our child to Montessori, where preparing the snack is part of the curriculum day. Kids learn sharing and graciousness, counting, responsibility for the environment, and other core lessons. I know it’s pie-in-the-sky to think that many schools will integrate this idea (although the Montessori method actually was developed to teach post-war Italian orphans, not a particularly privileged group).

    What is being learned from “take what you don’t use and throw the rest away”?

    1. The added costs of labor to produce and portion out the items you suggest would negate any potential savings over the items already being useed in the lunches.

  4. I was wondering the same thing about the jelly? It doesn’t fit in with the meal at all. I worked at an apartment complex and would often see kids on the way to the bus, there were a couple brothers whose mom worked at a restuarant and their breakfast would be those little packets of jelly that they sucked out of the containers on their way to the bus. Sad.

    1. That is sad, Heather.

      Sounds like their friends/family/church need to be helping that family.

      How can that mother live with herself?

  5. Natalie, I’m with you about the jelly.

    Recently, my husband and I became concerned about all the sugar our kids were eating in the a.m. Instead of offering them some dry cereal or toast with jelly when they’re still hungry, we started a rule that they can have a serving of real fruit, not a fruit cup. It took some grumbling, but now my 6 and 3 year olds eagerly ask for apple slices or a banana each morning as part of their breakfast. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting there.

  6. I still feel like it’s not the school’s or taxpayers’ responsibility to feed students. Parents should feed their kids in the morning; get up early enough and plan for it.

    Let’s spend money on class content, materials, and paying the wonderful teachers what they deserve and have earned; not on food that should be provided by parents.

    It seems schools are just stand-in daycares and food-providers for children; as a non-parent, this is frightening.

  7. I agree with Elizabeth. While it’s great that kids are being fed, I still don’t see how this is a school or state responsibility. Parents have learned that they can complain to the government to get free food and other services, and consequently put in little effort in raising their children. We should be happy to simply get education, and to demand food too….why not just completely hand the kids over to the government?

  8. Elizabeth-
    Apparently you don’t understand where the funds for school breakfast (and lunch) come from.

    You school district is not paying for these meals directly. The USDA is paying for them from embargo taxes. (other countries taxes to sell items here).

    It is well worth the expense, and costs Americans nothing.

    These funds couldn’t go to teachers or books, they aren’t for that.

    While I agree parents need to be responsible for their children, we as a society have made schools a safe haven. One where they are loved, nurtured and fed. Some parents shouldn’t have children but do. Some can’t afford much food, others have addictions.

    As far as the mother feeding her children jam packets. Someone is really going to say “how can that mother live with herself”. Really? This poor woman probably has nothing, and is giving all she can to her children. If you don’t like poverty donate your time and resources. Don’t judge. (A lot of families use ketchup packets from restaurant to make a “tomato soup”).

    1. Also – taking ketchup and jam from restaurants is stealing no matter how one tries to ‘explain it’ or rationalize.

      Let’s perpetuate the idea that taking ‘just a little’ is okay…stealing is stealing.

    2. I agree with Paul. It may seem a travesty that kids are eating junk in the morning. I’ve seen 4 year olds eat chips for breakfast. Sometimes it’s the kids who do this. They are packed a good meal, but they choose to eat only certain components. This could well be the case for the brothers. We don’t know what they’ve eaten or not eaten prior to waiting for the bus. Maybe that’s a little treat they snagged on their way out. Maybe that’s all the mom can afford.

      As for parents providing breakfast and not relying on the schools, it’s well and dandy if it can happen across the board. But as Paul has pointed out not every kid’s parents are reliable or able enough to do that. So it’s a horrible situation but let’s be a little more compassionate folks. It’s easy to look down and criticize and make all sorts of judgments about other people’s choices, especially when we have the means and time to eat well, but until we really know and even have lived their situations we shouldn’t be so snobby about it.

    3. Thank you, Paul. I am appalled at some of the judgmental things I have seen on this site. “How can that mother live with herself?” Do you know what’s going on in her house? As a single mother of four, I know exactly how hard it can be to make ends meet and still make sure growing children have everything they need. My children eat school lunch and breakfast because I have to stretch everything as far as I can, and every little bit helps. I’m breaking my back to keep it all afloat – working three jobs, no less. Don’t judge me – or anyone else – when you have no idea.

      As an elementary school kitchen manager, I know also that the two meals a day I hand out are the ONLY meals a few of my students can be sure of getting. (Yes, all the appropriate steps have been taken). I know also that the school district I work for offers two different choices of fruits and vegetables daily, and that the new grain and fat guidelines are being followed to the letter. No desserts are offered anymore. Our milk is lowfat or fat free. Some kitchens really are doing their best.

      You keep doing your best, and I’ll keep doing mine… but don’t you DARE judge those of us who can’t afford to give our kids everything we want to give them! (I can’t believe I’m in tears over this… so foolish!)

  9. obviously the jelly is a serving of fruit, right? (sarcasm) Looking at that breakfast, I know my 7 y/o would probably be one of those throwing most of it away. She hates to eat in the morning, no matter what it is. Would it be possible for kids to save the unopened cereal or fruit cup for lunch or to take home?

    1. @JoAnn, being a parent of a child whose public school participates in the breakfast program, they do in fact send home leftovers in the kid’s backpacks. My son’s school also provides a fresh fruit along with a breakfast (not a jelly packet – which is weird).

      Just a random throw out there, they should be including a packet of peanut butter to put onto the fruit. Proteins and healthy fats to keep bellies full throughout the day and probably just as simple as a sugary jelly packet, you know? I don’t see how an orange or a banana or apple is any more difficult than a prepackaged something or other. Of course, it spoils or gets bruised – but of course it’s healthier and doesn’t require any preparation on the school’s part.

  10. Thanks, Paul, for the clarification about the funding; I’ve learned something new today.

    You are right that a mother who gives her children jam packets for breakfast probably has nothing and is giving all she can to her kids; perhaps I am being judgemental? From my viewpoint, her friends, family, neighbors, and charities should be filling this void; not the USDA, the school, etc.

    I do donate my time and money to poverty and other causes/situations that I feel strongly about. I get to choose who/when/where my dollars are applied and am VERY happy with my choices.

    I still do not feel the responsibility solely belongs to a school to feed children.

  11. Actually our education system is not set up in the favor of the poor and working class families that struggle daily. the lunch programs help those struggle families who work extremely odd hours and don’t get the time or have the resources to make a breakfast or lunch.

    The breakfast pictured though is a much nice alternative to the breakfast we serve at our schools. Our students usually get something like mini pancakes with syrup, a weird omelet thing, a peanut butter and soy sandwich, or a “protein” doughnut with a flavored milk or juice. Obviously these kids get time to eat breakfast in the morning in the class unlike mine, as soon as the 7:15 am bell rings my kids have to rush down the hall, go to their classroom, unload their bags, go to the rest room, east breakfast, and complete their morning work before the 7:30 am bell rings. It is insane with the small amount of time they have in the morning this activity to take place and then I have students who had to wolf down their breakfast complaining of stomachaches less then 2 hours into the morning.

    1. How about the kids arrive at school prepared for the day?

      When did it have to be so difficult. Eat a piece of toast with some peanut butter.

  12. Paul you say this costs Americans nothing, but it does. It costs us our health, and it costs us our environment from all of the packaging waste, that probably doesn’t or can’t be recycled. There are probably other costs as well.

  13. As a teacher I am concerned with the time this takes from instruction time. Feed kids in the cafeteria; thats what its there for. Make all meals free to eliminate the “stigma” of free meals. Create discipline not another hand out. Allow teachers to educate your children.

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