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Beth A. Oswald: Our state shouldn’t be last for school breakfast

September 1, 2018

EVANSVILLE — As a teacher, I regularly witness how missing breakfast can affect my students, leading to scenarios like this:

A seventh-grader comes up to me holding his stomach and states, “Mrs. Oswald, I don’t feel good.”

I ask, “Did you eat breakfast this morning?”

Hungrily eyeing the banana on my desk, my student replies, “No.”

As I hand over the banana, I know that while I may get a little hungry before lunch, my students cannot learn and be their best without breakfast.

Most people have heard the phrase, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” This is especially true for our children. A wide range of studies have found that students who eat breakfast have increased attention spans and show decreased levels of frustration in school. Eating breakfast has also been shown to improve cognitive function and memory, increasing student performance on math, vocabulary and other demanding mental tasks. Eating breakfast has even been linked with fewer morning visits to the school nurse.

Sadly, Wisconsin ranks last in participation in the national School Breakfast Program: 51st out of 51 states (including the District of Columbia). According to the Food Research and Action Center’s 2018 School Breakfast Scorecard, a report on the 2016-17 school year, only 81.3 percent of Wisconsin schools that offered lunch, offered breakfast as well. More concerning is that only 51.7 percent of students who participated in the free and reduced price National School Lunch Program participated in the School Breakfast Program. Additionally, a 2018 Feeding America report found that 16 percent of Wisconsin’s children are food insecure, which means they do not consistently have access to enough food to be active and healthy.

Food insecurity is just one of many breakfast barriers, however. Early morning bus pick-ups, late-sleeping adolescents, before-school clubs or practices, even an unexpectedly empty jug of milk or box of cereal can cause students to start the day with an empty stomach.

What can you do? Include nutritious, easy to prepare breakfast foods on your grocery list. Allow an extra 10 minutes in the morning for breakfast at home. Have grab-and-go foods handy for rushed mornings or days when your kids may not be hungry right away. Check to see if your local district participates in the School Breakfast Program by visiting the Department of Public Instruction’s website at www.dpi.wi.gov.

If your district does participate, encourage your kids and their friends to eat breakfast at school so they can start the day ready to learn. If your school or district doesn’t currently offer breakfast, talk with the food service director or school principal to see if they could pilot a Breakfast in the Classroom program, grab-and-go, or traditional before school breakfast.

Knowing the benefits of a good breakfast, I’m glad my district will begin participating in the national School Breakfast Program this school year. At my middle school, nutritious grab-and-go breakfast options will be offered mid-morning, at no cost for students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, $2.00 for full-price lunch students, and $2.50 for adults. And the menu choices look so delicious — from smoothies to breakfast sandwiches — I may have to forget the banana and head to the cafeteria myself.

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