Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Give Your Kid an Edge With Breakfast

It’s National School Breakfast Week: a week-long celebration to boost awareness among students and parents of local school breakfast programs.  School cafeterias around the country will celebrate school breakfast with special menus and decorations, activities, and school breakfast related brainteasers to help students to warm up their brains before they head to class.  The 2013 theme – Be a Star with School Breakfast – highlights how eating a balanced breakfast at school can help your kids shine like their favorite stars in the movies, on the field, and on TV. 

Can your family benefit from National School Breakfast Week? Absolutely!  You can use this opportunity to teach your kids the nutritional value of breakfast, supporting the message they’ll be getting at school this week. 
It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of your school’s breakfast program itself – not only for your kids, but check to see; many schools invite parents, family members, and district patrons to join in the meal itself during National School Breakfast Week.

Promote breakfast in your family

Whether you serve it up at home or have your kids get their breakfast at school, there are plenty of good reasons to make sure the day starts with a wholesome, nutritious breakfast.  Studies reported by the Food Research and Action Center on the importance of a healthy breakfast show that students who eat breakfast: 
  • Increase their math and reading scores
  • Improve cognitive speed and memory
  • Improve vocabulary skills
  • Have lower rates of absence
  • Have fewer discipline and tardiness problems
  • Visit school nurses’ offices less often
  • Exhibit decreased behavioral and psychological problems
  • Are less likely to be overweight
With proven links between eating a good breakfast and academic achievement and healthy lifestyles, this is something worth promoting in your own home.

The Value of School Breakfast Programs

Parents, you probably grew up without the option of having breakfast at school. You may therefore even be wondering whether or not it's a good idea. There are in fact a few good reasons to support school breakfasts.
First, let's face it – in today’s rushed world, in which often both parents work outside the home or there is only one parent at home, we don’t always have time to make the good and healthy breakfast we’d like our kids to have.  It’s good to know that your public school system likely has a healthy breakfast ready for your child at their school.  
Second, some families are too cash-strapped to make a daily breakfast for their children.  Fortunately, most states or communities have programs available for low income families that  allow for reduced cost, or even free, school breakfasts and school lunches.

According to stats from the Food Research and Action Center, in the 2009–2010 school year nearly 9.5 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program on an average day, indicating a definite need for such programs.  To see if you qualify, review Income Guidelines & Reimbursement Rates for the School Breakfast Program on page 9 of this downloadable PDF report.

But are school breakfasts good for you?

And, as in turns out, school breakfasts are a nutritionally sound alternative.  Because of the USDA’s 2012 Meal Pattern (Nutrition Standards) for School Meals, every school breakfast served must meet federal nutrition standards, including limiting fat and portion size.  To get the full scoop on requirements, read this report.

Many school nutrition programs are also implementing Farm-to-School programs and serving locally sourced foods in the cafeteria.   There are big health advantages to locally grown produce; the closer to the vine that ripening occurs, the more nutritional value each fruit and vegetable contains. Plus, connecting school breakfasts and school lunches to locally grown products supports the local economy.
There are surprising statistics supporting the value of eating breakfast at school in particular.
  • Children who eat breakfast at school—closer to class and test-taking time—perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast earlier at home.
  • Children who participate in school breakfast eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume a wider variety of foods than those who do not eat school breakfast or who have breakfast at home.

How you and your kids can benefit from National School Breakfast Week

Beyond the big event week, every school day, most school districts in the US have breakfast programs offering students the healthy foods they need to get set for a busy school day.   If your morning routine is already too rushed to ensure a healthy, shared family breakfast, why not make sure your children get the nutritional and educational edge that comes with a good school breakfast?  You could be helping your children develop good habits that, over time, could give them a competitive advantage at school, and even beyond in the workplace.

To get involved in National School Breakfast Week, and boost your children’s participation, here are some additional resources:
To see what breakfast nutrition events are happening that you and your kids can participate in this week, check with your local school or district offices.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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