By Cindy Jones, Business Management Coordinator for Food Service at Olathe Public Schools
National School Breakfast Week is being celebrated a little differently at Olathe Public Schools this year. More than 1,500 students are now eating breakfast in the classroom in five elementary schools across the district. Olathe schools started the program in August 2013 where each student is provided a free breakfast.
I agree with health professionals and nutrition experts: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As a school nutrition professional, I saw an opportunity to help improve the number of students eating breakfast ensuring that they are ready to learn every day.
Before Olathe began serving breakfast in the classroom, we knew that students were coming to school hungry. Many students were tardy for school and missed the chance to eat breakfast in the cafeteria before the bell rang. Other students reported that they were not hungry before catching the bus and skipped breakfast altogether. School nutrition staff heard from teachers and principals that students were tired in the morning and school nurses reported that stomach ache complaints were high as well, all due to breakfast skipping.
Now, with a breakfast in the classroom program in place, breakfast eating has become part of each student’s daily routine. When the bell rings at 8:10 a.m. at each elementary school, students know to be in their classrooms ready for the breakfast in the classroom cart. Breakfast eating has dramatically increased at each school; having at least doubled at all of the schools and has tripled at one of the schools.
Student outcomes have improved as well. Administrators report that there has been a reduction in tardiness to almost zero and that students now have the energy they need to learn in the mornings. A classroom teacher told me that students are not hungry during the morning and seem more alert for instruction time. School nurses are reporting less trips to the nurse’s office due to stomach aches.
School breakfast programs, whether served in the cafeteria or in the classroom, are more widely available now than in years past. When I was growing up, my school did not even offer breakfast. Even my children, now both in their 30’s, did not have breakfast programs in their schools. This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about making sure that a healthy breakfast is now available to all our students. As a working mom, I know I always felt rushed in the mornings to get everyone ready and out the door on time for school. I am sure a nutritious school breakfast option would have helped solve many rushed mornings in my household!
Parents in our district say they have the peace of mind knowing that their children are starting their day off with a healthy breakfast in the classroom. School breakfast meals are a nutritious choice for students, composed of a balanced combination of four items, low-fat or fat-free milk, a fruit choice, a protein item, and a grain-based item. In our district, the breakfast in the classroom menu includes a variety of choices popular with students, such as mozzarella string cheese, strawberry yogurt, fresh apple slices, crunchy cereal bars and ice-cold milk.
Implementing a breakfast in the classroom program in our district took the coordination of an interdisciplinary team at each school. To explore program options in your school district, my biggest suggestion would be to take a field trip to visit another local district that has already implemented a program. It is important for district and school leaders to see the program in action and meet other breakfast in the classroom adopters.
If you are looking for resources to expand your breakfast program, I would encourage you to contact your local Midwest Dairy Council representative. Midwest Dairy has assisted Olathe Public Schools with both informational and financial support. Lastly, I’d encourage readers to contact their local schools to see if they would be allowed to join students for breakfast this spring semester.
For more tools and resources on Breakfast in the Classroom visit midwestdairy.com.
Cindy Jones is the Business Management Coordinator for Food Service at Olathe Public Schools, and has spent more than 20 years working for Olathe Public Schools Food Service. Her department helped spearhead the implementation of the universal breakfast in the classroom program in five elementary buildings for the 2013-2014 school year.
Every year, children spend up to 2,000 hours – nearly a quarter of their lives during this time – at school, where teachers, peers and the environment have an enormous influence on behaviors related to nutrition, wellness and exercise.