National School Breakfast Week

March 6 - 10

kids-cafeteriaOne of the lesser-known celebrations in March is National School Breakfast Week. This is a five-weekday event to recognize the importance of breakfast in schools. It’s also a great time for us to look at the history of the program and what it does.

The National School Lunch, Breakfast, And After School Snack Programs are all federal initiatives to provide good quality food to low- and middle-income students. Families making 185% of the federal poverty line or below qualify for free or reduced breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks. The School Breakfast Program was created in 1966, 20 years after the School Lunch Program began in 1946. It started as a two-year pilot project aimed at serving children in poor areas of the United States. As the program continued and results became visible, Congress gradually expanded and adapted its reach until authorizing it permanently in 1975.

Now, school breakfasts are available to all students attending public schools in DeKalb County. Monthly menus are accessible online, so concerned parents can see all their students’ school meal options. Lists of the carbohydrate counts for each option are also viewable on the DeKalb County School District’s website, as are the vendors for different foods and related equipment. Any information a guardian could need about the quality of their student’s diet is readily available for them to find.

The quality of school meals has been a hotly debated topic in recent years. In 2012, the Department of Agriculture released new nutritional standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs that caused a major overhaul in the nutritional value of school meals. These standards required meals to contain more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat or meat alternates and milk. These requirements have been made less strict in recent years, and due to pandemic shortages, some substitutions have been allowed.

Even with these later changes to nutritional standards, studies have shown that students participating in the National School Lunch Program eat better meals than those who do not utilize the program according to the Healthy Eating Index, the United States Department of Agriculture’s measure of diet quality. The University of Washington School of Public Health published their findings in 2020, studying the meals eaten by low- and middle-income students and comparing them to the lunches of non-participants. National School program lunches scored higher on the Healthy Eating Index by over ten points on average.

While 21 million students receive free or reduced-price school lunches, far fewer of those students take advantage of the School Breakfast Program. According to the School Nutrition Association, the National School Breakfast Program feeds around 12 million children every day. When all students who qualify for the School Lunch Program also qualify for the Breakfast Program, this is a missed opportunity for children who may not have access to good food outside of school to enjoy another healthy meal every day.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, benefits to eating breakfast include increased alertness and better moods in the mornings. In addition, school meals are on average healthier than the other meals children eat in a day. The No Kid Hungry organization claims that students who eat school breakfast score 17.5% higher on math test scores than students who do not. They also have fewer absences and are 20% more likely to graduate high school.

When eating breakfast is so beneficial and there is a program that makes it affordable, no student should go hungry before lunchtime. The National School Breakfast Program enables millions of children to eat more than one nutritious meal a day. That’s something to celebrate.

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