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Breakfast After the Bell will serve up student success

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Allison O’Toole
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for kids who need it to grow healthy brains and bodies. Research shows that kids who eat breakfast have higher nutrient intakes than children who do not eat breakfast, are less likely to become overweight, and have improved test scores, grades, and school attendance.

The traditional school breakfast program, which serves breakfast before the start of the school day, is a good first step toward addressing hunger, but participation is limited, and so is the impact. In Minnesota, nearly half of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals aren’t getting breakfast at school. Many students simply do not arrive in time to get to the cafeteria before classes begin. Others are afraid of being singled-out as the “poor kids.”

Imagine driving a car with no fuel. That’s what kids experience when they don’t get enough to eat before they come to school. Children who experience poor nutrition during the brain’s most formative years score much lower on vocabulary and arithmetic tests, reading comprehension, and general knowledge. Research demonstrates that school breakfast works  — kids concentrate better, act out less and have improved academic performance over time:

  • Better scores. Students eating school breakfast have 17.5 percent higher scores on standardized math tests
  • Calmer classrooms. Children without enough nutritious food have significantly more incidences of behavioral, emotional, and educational issues.
  • Healthier kids. Children experiencing hunger have more visits to the school nurse, are sick more frequently and are slower to recover, are more likely to be obese, and are hospitalized more often.
  • Better attendance and graduation rates. Student attendance grows by 1.5 days per year for students who begin their day with a healthy breakfast. Students attending class more regularly are 20 percent more likely to graduate.

What we can do

“Breakfast after the Bell” is a proposal that will increase access to a nutritious breakfast for Minnesota’s learners. The goal is to maximize convenience and overcome barriers to participation. Through state legislation, breakfasts would be directly delivered to classrooms, distributed via centrally located kiosks, or served during an extended break typically offered between first and second periods.

Breakfast After the Bell would offer:

  • Incentives, such as meal reimbursements, for school districts wanting to establish or expand a Breakfast After the Bell program.
  • Support to targeted areas of the state where school breakfast programs can go further and reach all children in a district.
  • Incorporate Breakfast After the Bell best practices to existing programs, including Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab N’ Go, and Second Chance Breakfast.

An array of Minnesota organizations and corporations that care about kids already support this legislation, including Second Harvest Heartland, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Boston Consulting Group, Cargill, Children’s Minnesota, General Mills, Hunger Solutions, Minnesota Milk Producers, Minnesota School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength, The Sheridan Story, and Youthprise.

As this proposal moves through the Minnesota Legislature this session, we’re asking you to voice your support for House File 1037 and Senate File 1427, otherwise known as the Breakfast After the Bell bill, to build a healthy, prosperous future for our state.

Contact your legislators and ask them to support HF 1037 and SF 1427. Click here and we’ll connect you with your legislator.

Encourage school leaders to pursue Breakfast After the Bell programs in your area schools. Contact Second Harvest Heartland child hunger representative, Leah Baack, for more information: lbaack@2harvest.org.

Allison O’Toole is the new chief executive officer of Second Harvest Heartland, which works to end hunger through community partnerships, leveraging its unique position in the emergency food chain to make an impact.

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