Champions of breakfast

May. 19, 2014 @ 07:26 PM

Your mother probably told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Chances are good you tell your own kids that – or at least intend to.

But, let’s face it. We live in complicated times with mornings a mad dash to organize everyone, find missing homework and shoes and such, and head off to jobs and school. And that’s if you’re comfortably middle class or above. For those living at or near the poverty line, a hectic routine is just the beginning of the challenge to having a healthy breakfast in a child’s stomach before the school day begins.

That’s why school breakfast programs are so important.

Now, Durham Public Schools – like a growing number of school districts – have taken a step to give the breakfast program even greater impact. With the slogan “breakfast is on us” in their minds, the school board is expected to adopt this week a policy that breakfast is free for any student.

It already has been free – or available at a sharply reduced price – to the roughly 10,000 DPS students whose family income (or lack of it) qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunches. 

But system officials worry that some students who qualify may be skipping breakfast anyway rather than acknowledge their circumstances by taking the free meal.  And, as we meant to suggest in evoking the specter of controlled (optimistically) chaos in many households, circumstances other than income may be keeping too many kids from a healthy breakfast.

This is not just about compassion – although goodness knows that would be reason enough. As schools struggle to close achievement gaps and meet increasingly high standards for educating all their students, a student’s hunger makes the task that much more daunting.

“When a student eats a nutritious meal, he or she is ready to learn,” notes “Breakfast is Brain Fuel,” a guide put out by the state Department of Public Instruction, the Division of Public Health and the N.C. Nutrition Education and Training Program.

Students who eat breakfast, the pamphlet notes, are less likely to miss school or show up late, for example. They can pay attention longer and perform better on tests. 

“Schools that offer breakfast free to all students in the classroom report decrease in discipline, psychological problems, visits to school nurses and tardiness, increases in student attentiveness and attendance; and generally improved learning environments,” says the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.

“Students who eat school breakfast increase their math and reading scores as well as improve their speed and memory in cognitive tests,” the center adds.

The decision not only was cost-free for DPS, because of federal subsidies for school meals, the district actually stands to make a bit more money.

But even if it were to cost more in local funds, making sure every student can start the day with a healthy breakfast will pay big dividends in helping them master the material in the classroom.

“Breakfast’s on us” sounds like a pretty healthy idea.