N.H. schools encouraged to promote breakfast
A full stomach is one key to school success, and more kids in New Hampshire need to be eating school breakfast to prepare for the day.
That’s the message of a new statewide initiative to increase school breakfast participation, specifically among students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. In the 2011-2012 school year, 38 out of every 100 New Hampshire students who get free and reduced-price lunch also bought breakfast, the lowest ratio of any state. Research shows that children who eat breakfast typically do better in school, have higher attendance rates and concentrate better than those who are hungry.
The new School Breakfast Challenge, announced yesterday, encourages districts to increase participation in breakfast programs by 25 percent over two years. The project is a partnership involving the state Department of Education, the Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire, the New England Dairy & Food Council and the School Nutrition Association of New Hampshire.
“Breakfast obviously is a critical meal for kids, and we know that when kids miss breakfast they wind up at school not as able to concentrate and just not as ready to learn,” said Erika Argersinger, policy director for the Children’s Alliance.
In the Concord area, many districts have higher participation than the state average. In Concord, for example, 43 percent of students who eat free and reduced-price lunch also eat breakfast. Participation sits at 42 percent in Merrimack Valley, 81 percent in Hopkinton, 40 percent in Pembroke and 44 percent at Shaker Regional. Statewide, 40,000 children lack secure access to food, according to the Children’s Alliance.
If districts can increase their participation, they’ll have a chance to win monetary awards from the initiative, which has raised $40,000 so far, Argersinger said. Districts will also receive more money from the United States Department of Agriculture if more students eat breakfast, because it provides funding for school food programs based on participation.
Concord, for example, could get $54,000 more in federal money if its breakfast participation among low- and moderate-income students hits 60 percent, according to the New Hampshire School Breakfast Program report. In Concord’s case, that means about 200 more students need to start eating breakfast at school.
John Lash, Concord’s director of food services, said in an email that he will focus on increasing breakfast participation this year in part by improving the food options. The School Breakfast Challenge website offers alternative approaches such as bringing meals into the classrooms or offering easy grab-and-go options for students.
Participation will be measured twice a year, and rewards will be offered in February and October 2015 to schools that meet the goal.
“Breakfast should be consumed every single school day to maximize the many benefits of a healthy meal in the morning,” said Becca Story, nutrition specialist for New England Dairy & Food Council, in a statement. “Hungry kids can’t learn, and school breakfast is a simple way to help students get the most out of their school day.”