Child nutrition experts are looking at new models for giving more Arizona public school students the opportunity to eat breakfast at school – and maybe even in their classrooms.
“School breakfast fights hunger, but it also impacts the classroom,” said Etienne Melcher, senior child nutrition program coordinator at the Food Research & Action Center. “Research shows that eating breakfast at school improves academic performance, health and behavior. Getting more children to start the day with this important meal means less hunger and more children starting the day ready to learn.”
Studies have shown that “students who eat school breakfast increase their math and reading scores as well as improve their speed and memory in cognitive tests,” said Mary Szafranski, associate superintendent of the Arizona Department of Education’s Health & Nutrition Services.
“According to the Food Research & Action Center, research also shows that 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 at home,” Szafranski said.
While school breakfast participation in Arizona is slowly increasing, it’s still only reaching just half of low-income children who also eat school lunch for free-or reduced rates.
Serving breakfast in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria may be a solution.
“FRAC’s research has shown that participation soars when schools adopt breakfast in the classroom programs,” Melcher said. “That’s why FRAC is proud to be one of the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, and why we’re pleased to be working with schools in Arizona on their efforts to implement this proven program.”
Szafranski also sees the strategy as promising.
When breakfast is served in the cafeteria, students have to decide between being active or eating a nutritious meal before school starts, but “breakfast in the classroom removes their need to decide between two healthy options and allows students to be active on the playground before school starts as well as to start the day nourished,” Szafranski said.
The Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom have helped Gadsden Elementary School District in Yuma County and Saddle Mountain Unified School District in Maricopa County start breakfast in the classroom programs in select schools, Melcher said.
Over the past few years, the Arizona Department of Education has worked in partnership with Valley of the Sun United Way, Dairy Council of Arizona and Association of Arizona Food Banks to increase students participating in the school breakfast program and the number of schools implementing breakfast in the classroom, Szafranski said.
Of the 314 Arizona schools currently serving breakfast in the classroom, 32 of them started the program last school year, Szafranski said.
“The school setting is all about learning, and we feel learning about food, nutrition, and consuming healthy meals is part of the students’ learning process,” Szafranski said. “When our children learn the importance of proper nutrition and how to develop life-long healthy habits, they are able to achieve academic excellence and grow into productive members of our society.”