Breakfast in the Classroom: Crucial to Academic Success
No child should start the school day hungry. The simple act of feeding kids a healthy school breakfast can have a dramatic impact on their academic, health, and economic futures. While most U.S. schools offer meal programs, many students do not participate in cafeteria-based school breakfast programs because of bus schedules, late arrivals to school, pressure to go directly to class or reluctance to be labeled as “low income.” Having breakfast in the classroom eliminates many of these barriers and reduces stigma by enabling more students to participate in breakfast.
Breakfast in the classroom requires minimal work and aids in student academic success. A well‐planned breakfast program runs smoothly. The teacher’s role can be as easy as checking names off a roster and placing trash outside the classroom, and custodians need only pick up bags when breakfast is over. School food service staff can prepare meals the day before. Breakfast can be eaten in 10‐15 minutes alongside routine morning activities.
Breakfast in the classroom allows teachers to spend time with students. Breakfast can give teachers the opportunity to personally interact with students before delving into the rest of the day’s activities. Or teachers can take care of administrative tasks that often get postponed until the end of the day. Many teachers report gaining 15-20 minutes of academic time by having breakfast in the classroom.
Expanded availability, accessibility, and participation in the School Breakfast Program is one of the best ways to support the health and academic potential of children, particularly low-income children. Adequate nutrition and freedom from hunger are absolutely essential for good health and academic success.
An emerging body of research is documenting the adverse effects of skipped breakfast on various aspects of cognitive performance: alertness, attention, memory, processing of complex visual display, problem-solving, and mathematics. The Food Research and Action Center released an in-depth report titled Breakfast for Learning. Below is a summary of the report.
Skipping Breakfast and Experiencing Hunger Impair Children's Ability to Learn:
- Children who skip breakfast are less able to differentiate among visual images, show increased errors, and have slower memory recall.
- Children experiencing hunger have lower math scores and are more likely to repeat a grade.
- Behavioral, emotional and academic problems are more prevalent among children with hunger.
- Children experiencing hunger are more likely to be hyperactive, absent and tardy, in addition to having behavioral and attention problems more often than other children.
- Children who are undernourished have poorer cognitive functioning when they miss breakfast.
- Teens experiencing hunger are more likely to have been suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with other children.
- Children with hunger are more likely to have repeated a grade, receive special education services, or received mental health counseling, than low-income children who do not experience hunger.
Eating Breakfast at School Helps Improve Children's Academic Performance:
- Children who eat a complete breakfast, versus a partial one, make fewer mistakes and work faster in math and number checking tests.
- 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.
- Providing breakfast to students at school improves their concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory, and learning.
- Children who eat breakfast show improved cognitive function, attention, and memory.
- Participating in school breakfast is associated with improved math grades, attendance, and punctuality.
- Children perform better on tests of vocabulary and matching figures after eating breakfast.
- Consuming breakfast improves children’s performance on mathematical tasks, demanding mental tasks and reaction to frustration.
Students will thank you. Whether through smiling faces or increased focus in class, their minds and bodies will be grateful. The goal of School Breakfast is to ensure that every child gets the boost they need for physical well-being and academic success.
How can schools ensure quality meals for students, and that no student goes hungry? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and on social media using #AmGradIndy.
Katie Rogers is the owner of Rogers K12 Consulting, a K12 school foodservice consulting company focusing on access to school meals, procurement, and offering fresh, healthy foods to students. Rogers, a registered dietitian, has worked in school foodservice in Indianapolis for the last 18 years.