Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day and What Some are Doing to Help Fill the Gap

“Breakfast”, my father always said, “is the most important meal of the day.” About one month ago, a teacher named Sara Gibson Howton posted an image of the snack cabinet she keeps in her classroom on social media and the image highlights that very point. In a survey of 1,000 public school teachers and principals, 76% say that students regularly come to school hungry, of those, 81% say it happens at least once a week. Children are coming to school that sometimes have not eaten since lunch the day before. Teachers are trying to fill in the gap spending an average of $37 per month on food for their classrooms. The money comes out of their pocket because educators know their students need nourishment in order to learn.

We wrote in a post from August 2015:

Hungry children have more social and behavioral problems, have less energy for complex social interactions, and cannot adapt as effectively to environmental stresses. The negative effects of hunger and food insecurity on children are:

  • Greater absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Impaired ability to concentrate and perform well in school.
  • Higher levels of behavioral problems and more aggression and anxiety.
  • Higher levels of hyper-activity.
  • Decreased IQs, poor problem solving, recall, memory and verbal function.
  • Lower math and reading scores.
  • Impaired social skills.

In the latest report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), more than 12 million children of the 21 million who qualify for free lunch, eat free or low-cost breakfast at school. Too many miss out either because the meal is served before school starts, kids can’t get there in time or because students are too ashamed to admit their families can’t afford the basics, or their schools simply do not offer breakfast. To counteract these challenges, many schools have moved to no cost breakfasts for all students, leading the path to implementing in-classroom breakfast. Teachers who do have in classroom breakfast report that the positive results are worth the 15 minutes of class time for the meal. They are using the time to collect assignments, take role call, and read announcements. Students become  more energized and ready to learn. There is greater attendance, increased attentiveness, fewer behavioral problems, greater recall and problem solving.

School breakfast and lunch programs are becoming more important than ever. For the first time, low-income children make up more than half of all students in public schools in the US.  Within the communities we serve at Table to Table, 54% of students are eligible for school breakfast programs in Essex County, 55% are eligible in Hudson County and 57% in Passaic County.  Although Bergen County is ranked #20 of 21 counties, there is still a 26% eligibility rate.  That equates to 1 in 4 kids in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Statewide, New Jersey has seen a 77% increase in the number of students receiving a healthy school breakfast, rising to more than 240,500 in April 2016. The progress is due to a greater number of districts serving “breakfast after the bell.”

School breakfast and lunch programs; along with SNAP benefits can give low-income children a chance at regular, healthy meals.  And whether or not these programs exist, we, at Table to Table, continue to rescue and redistribute healthy food to community organizations like La Casa De Don Pedro in Newark and St. Augustine Youth Program, Paterson, to help fill the gap in breakfast, lunch AND dinner in a most nutritious way!

Food rescue can help teachers nourish children’s minds without having to worry about their bellies.  And amazing teachers like Sarah Gibson Howton can continue to focus on educating the minds of the future.


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