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Feeding kids breakfast – it’s a no brainer, right? The practical implications of feeding students for optimal performance in school moves beyond the immediate issue of giving hungry kids breakfast and affects how kids are learning and interacting for the rest of their day; kids who eat breakfast perform better academically and exhibit fewer behavioral problems. Today in America one in four children don’t know where their next meal is coming from – one in four! That is a sobering number in a country that is as wealthy and food-rich (relative to the rest of the world) as the United States.

Oh, and “I” am Christina; I’ll be your primary Beyond Breakfast correspondent during our time together here on the Interweb. Welcome to the Beyond Breakfast blog and thank you in advance for participating in this conversation with me! (If you didn’t, it wouldn’t be much of a conversation.) I am excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this team comprised of four non-profit hunger, nutrition and education organizations:

  • Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation (NAESP Foundation)
  • National Education Association Health Information Network (NEAHIN)
  • School Nutrition Foundation (SNF)

Maybe you are wondering, Why universal in-classroom breakfast? What makes this an effective tool in the fight against childhood hunger? Here’s the thing about school breakfast – about school meals in general, really – it’s affected by (and affects) almost every other major issue in America today. Hunger, poverty, obesity, malnourishment, disease, sustainability vs. industrialized food, environmentalism, local/regional/state/national economics, food security, national security … there is hardly a conversation going on in this country that can’t be followed (like the trail of proverbial breadcrumbs … but let’s make them whole wheat breadcrumbs) back into our nation’s cafeterias.

Under the banner of Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom (PBIC) we are launching a new initiative, one aimed at increasing breakfast consumption among school children. How? By implementing universal breakfast in the classroom in school districts in five major U.S. cities:

  • Dallas Independent School District – Dallas, TX
  • Little Rock School District – Little Rock, AR
  • Memphis City Schools – Memphis, TN
  • Orange County Public Schools (including Orlando) – Orange County, FL
  • Prince George’s County Public Schools (outside Washington, DC) – Prince George’s County, MD

Okay, that’s enough acronyms and abbreviations and such. And I promise there won’t be a quiz. (But there is a glossary of terms if you need it.)

This project is funded by the Walmart Foundation as part of a $2 billion effort, through 2015, to fight hunger in America; as part of that effort a $3.15 million grant was earmarked for this five-city pilot program.  We want to get more kids eating breakfast and in turn, get them reaping the rewards: better grades, higher levels of concentration in the classroom, fewer absences and visits to the school nurse, better eating habits, lower obesity rates, and better behavior in and out of school. In short – fewer hungry kids and more happy, healthy ones who can get the most out of their school day.

What’s so great about universal breakfast in the classroom? Besides the not-hungry-anymore kids? Plenty! I’ve already mentioned that kids behave and perform better in school once they’ve got something in their bellies, but there are other benefits associated with school breakfast – and with universal breakfast in the classroom in particular. First there is the convenience factor: with breakfast being served in classrooms after the first bell rather than before school, no one has to get up earlier or get to school earlier to get something to eat before the school day starts. Second — and this is the one that blew me away — is the issue of social stigma: universal in-classroom breakfast reduces the social stigma associated with free and/or reduced cost breakfast because it’s served to everyone regardless of income. Did you know that less than half of the kids eligible for free or reduced breakfasts (via the School Breakfast Program) take advantage of it? Kids would rather go hungry than perceived as “poor” or “needy”.  This particular issue caught my attention for two reasons: 1. Kids are so self-conscious that they would rather be hungry than eat a subsidized meal and 2. A universal, in-classroom breakfast is a ridiculously ingenious idea to eliminate that issue altogether.

Over the coming weeks and months I’m hoping we can tap into these conversations, become a part of them and maybe find a solution or two along the way. We are going to be keeping tabs on the five school districts previously mentioned and helping them tell their stories as they implement universal breakfast in the classroom pilot programs. We’ll talk about things like “infrastructure resources” and “classroom deliverables”; I promise to include a glossary as we go along! As we proceed I know the conversation will shift and change; morphing as a news story or personal story ignites our imagination. So let’s bring it all to the table while we try to bring breakfast to the table – or desks, as the case may be: our ideas, our hopes, our dreams for these kids who already face so many challenges in today’s world. Doesn’t it seem like the least we can do, crossing “a few hundred healthy calories in the morning” off that list of challenges?

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