We’re celebrating National Nutrition Month in March, but this week also marks the 28th National School Breakfast Week. National School Breakfast Week was founded with the goal of providing information about the federal School Breakfast Program and promoting the link between eating a healthy breakfast and improved academic performance.
Breakfast is often hailed as the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day and staves off the dreaded “afternoon slump,” but research also shows that breakfast is particularly vital for children’s success in school.
Children who eat breakfast are better able to focus, and they perform better on tests and challenging mental tasks. More broadly, kids who regularly eat breakfast have fewer school absences, are less likely to experience behavioral issues, visit the school nurse less often, and even have higher graduation rates. The Arizona Department of Education defines breakfast as “essential for growing students, as it provides the nutrients their bodies desperately need.”
Unfortunately, many families in Arizona are unable to provide morning meals for students due to time or financial constraints. According to a national scorecard released by the Food Research & Action Center, 267,331 children in Arizona participated in school breakfast programs during the 2015-2016 school year. This represents an increase of 3% from the previous year. While our state has shown an improvement in providing nutritious breakfasts to students, Arizona ranks 29th nationally, a drop in position from our 28th spot the previous year.
States ranking higher than Arizona in delivering school breakfast to students have seen increased levels of success due to the expansion of the School Breakfast Program to cover more students. Wide implementation of “Breakfast After the Bell” -- an initiative giving students who arrive late to school or who aren’t hungry first thing in the morning a chance to eat during their first school periods -- could provide more Arizona kids with the aforementioned breakfast benefits.
Tucson’s Sunnyside Unified School District, for example, recently launched a universal breakfast program where bagged meals are delivered to all elementary and middle school students every morning. Not only has this made it so that all children in participating grades are guaranteed a healthy breakfast at the start of every school day, but children who are late to class or embarrassed about receiving a free meal can now eat with their entire class. The principal at Sunnyside’s Sierra 2-8 School commented on the success of the program: “Now it’s become more of a community where the classroom together is eating breakfast.”
Visit our blog this month to keep up with discussions about the role nutrition plays in the health of our families and communities. Also, for recipe ideas and information about how SNAP-participating families can get more fresh food for less at local farmers markets, check out our Double Up Food Bucks Arizona blog here.
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