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More districts adding free breakfast to the school day

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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

A Harmony Hills Elementary School Student In Silver Spring, MD, Does Not Care For Orange Juice In The Morning, But Drinks It Anyways Because He Know It's Good For Him, On Friday, March 8, 2013. Today Is The Inaugural International School Meals Day And Mr. Damien Grasso's 5th Grade Class, Was Paired With Mrs. Karen McAllister’s Class At Dalry Primary School In North Ayrshire, United Kingdom Using A Real-time Online Video Connection; The Children Are Able To Share Some Of The Healthy Eating And Physical Activity Choices Available To Them. USDA's Food And Nutrition Service Administers Several Programs That Provide Healthy Food To Children Including The National School Lunch Program, The School Breakfast Program, The Child And Adult Care Food Program, The Summer Food Service Program, The Fresh Fruit And Vegetable Program, And The Special Milk Program. Administered By State Agencies, Each Of These Programs Helps Fight Hunger And Obesity By Reimbursing Organizations Such As Schools, Child Care Centers, And After-school Programs For Providing Healthy Meals To Children. Harmony Hills Participates In The Maryland Meals For Achievement (MMFA), In-Classroom Breakfast Program, The Fresh Fruit And Vegetable Program, And The Summer Food Service Program. Learn More By Visiting And Twitter @USDANutrition. USDA Photo By Lance Cheung.

Hurrying up for school doesn’t mean skipping the most important meal of the day for many Arizona students. Neither does an empty cupboard at home.

Breakfast in the classroom is offered to all students at no charge in 314 Arizona schools, which means students don’t have to choose between their friends on the playground and a trip to the cafeteria before school starts, said Mary Szafranski, associate superintendent of the Arizona Department of Education’s Health & Nutrition Services.

More districts adding free breakfast to the school day BreakfastInTheClassroomBoys

A Harmony Hills Elementary School student in Silver Spring, MD, does not care for orange juice in the morning, but drinks it anyways because he know it’s good for him, during breakfast in the classroom. Photo courtesy Lance Cheung/USDA.

While the percentage of Arizona families who struggle to afford food has declined from 19.1 percent in 2014 to 14.3 percent for the first half of 2015, many Arizona children still rely on school lunch and breakfast.

“After you’ve been sleeping for eight hours, your body needs a little kick start to get going,” said Sheri Ottersen, child nutrition director for Osborn Elementary School District. “Those morning carbs are important to get your brain started and getting ready to learn.”

Related story: Schools kick off breakfast week with celebrities, taste test

Serving breakfast in the classroom is no more difficult than serving it in the cafeteria, said Connie Parmenter, R.D., director of nutrition services for Washington Elementary School District in a video.

“We have the same menu, we just manage to feed a lot more students,” Parmenter said. “We went from 40 percent participation up to 80 percent participation in almost all of the schools that we serve breakfast in the classroom.”

Earlier this school year, Gadsden Elementary School District in Yuma and Saddle Mountain Unified School District in Tonopah began serving breakfast in the classroom, thanks to grants from the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, which is funded by the Walmart Foundation.

More districts adding free breakfast to the school day BC-logoThe grant can help cover some of the up-front costs of serving breakfast in the classroom, such as insulated bags for food and milk.

Kids eat while teachers take attendance, give the kids who were absent the day before the information they need to catch up, and take care of basic tasks, said Dr. Mark Joraanstad, superintendent of Saddle Mountain Unified School District in a blog.

“The kids are getting settled down, getting some energy from the food they are eating, and then everyone is ready to go,” Joraanstad said.

Before the program, about 150 students per day ate breakfast at Tartesso Elementary School in Buckeye and now about 290 students per day do, said Timothy Ely, director of dining services for Saddle Mountain Unified School District.

More districts adding free breakfast to the school day BreakfastInTheClassroomGirlGettingItems

Students make breakfast choices during the inaugural International School Meals Day (ISMD) at Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, on Friday, March 8, 2013.  Photo courtesy Lance Cheung/USDA.

“With students eating breakfast in the morning, we see less behavioral issues, and students are in a better position to start their day,” Ely said.

At first, some teachers were concerned breakfast in the classroom might lead to a mess, but once they started it, “they really see the benefits and they realize that no, this isn’t really a big deal – even with kindergarten students,” said Liz Burton, principal of Tartesso Elementary.

Each morning the students choose an entrée, fruit and drink for breakfast, Burton said.

“If they just want to eat their bagel and milk, then they can go put their fruit or other non-perishable on the Sharing Table, which stays there throughout the day and kids can go eat that at any time,” Burton said.

Breakfast in the classroom has “been great for our school,” Burton said.

“The support from the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom organization has been outstanding,” Ely said.

Valley of the Sun United Way Video: