By Fia Curley
This week, students have a lot of traveling to do.
Australia, Egypt, Rome, Beijing.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) took more than 9.6 million school-aged children on a weeklong international trip. The globe's the limit for National School Breakfast Week, organized to encourage children to eat breakfast by highlighting the types of meals children eat for breakfast around the world.
From an Italian breakfast frittata [PDF | 794KB] to Muesli eaten in Australia, the goal of the SNA was to create connections between eating breakfast and success in the classroom in schools across the nation from March 5 to 9, during National Nutrition Month.
"[Students] absolutely love the week we present National School Breakfast Week," said Regina Munster, a nutrition education specialist in Oroville, Calif., "actually more students come in to the cafeteria that week."
With about 2,000 students being served in the Biggs and Palermo Unified School districts, around 500 eat school breakfast daily, according to Munster, who believes school breakfast gives students "a healthier start to their day."
During Breakfast Week, Munster uses one day to go all out in promotions. On Wednesday, in keeping with the theme, the menu was prepped to provide Breakfast Burritos from Mexico along with plans to have Mariachi music play in the background. The serving staff will don color-coordinated outfits, adding special aprons and t-shirts for National School Breakfast Week.
Classes also will compete in a door-decorating contest in which they must adorn their class door with the produce eaten in their selected country. The first place winners will receive a healthy banana split party and parachute play involving fruits and veggies. Second place garners parachute play and pencils. Third place wins healthy cookbooks.
Each student will receive a bag with a passport they will have stamped before breakfast, pencils, and activities sheet and brochures. Parents also receive nutrition information in the form of a brochure for clues about healthy eating. So even when parents aren't present, healthy options remain.
"Their parents aren't there to monitor," Munster said. "They're latchkey children who just grab a bag of Doritos—I've seen children eating Cheetos for breakfast."
Cindia King, now in her second year as food service director at Bradley School in Bradley, Ala., knows first-hand how a demanding schedule can strain breakfast time.
"I have six kids at home and I leave before they're even out of bed, because I work 30 miles away from home," King said, adding that most people leave Bradley to go work in nearby cities.
That maybe why King has seen the number of breakfast participants increase from 160 to about 225 in a school of 390 students, ranging from preschool to twelfth grade.
Although Breakfast Week is aimed at the elementary school children, King said breakfast is available to all students regardless of their family's financial status. Students' meal options include waffles, oatmeal, plain and cheese toast, Pop Tarts, yogurt, juice and milk. Some of students' favorite breakfast meals, King said, are breakfast pizza and pancake and sausage on a stick. To kick off Breakfast Week, King said the school incorporated Read Across America, a day recognizing famed author Dr. Seuss' birthday on March 2, by offering green eggs and ham for breakfast and inviting parents to attend.
King said she believes more parents are becoming aware of the nutrients provided through breakfast because of the information the school has sent home about the program and its benefits. Parents also receive information during parent-teacher conferences, King said.
The School Breakfast program began in the 1960s as a pilot for children who were bussed long distances to school and children from homes where both parents worked. The federally funded program has expanded to encompass free and reduced breakfast and now comes along with added nutrition guidelines given steady climbs in the obesity and diabetes rates among children.
Sally Parks, food and nutrition manager for Thomson Estates Elementary, in Elkton, Maryland, said she has worked in food service for more than 30 years with clients ranging from preschool students to high school seniors. She says she's seen it all.
"It's time. It's economics. It's children making choices when parents aren't there to guide them," Parks said. "All kinds of things can affect students' choice of food."
That is also why Munster is working to educate students about the foods they should eat with another effort, called Harvest of the Month. A different vegetable or fruit is chosen each month for students to learn about and taste. Students can learn where the item comes from, how it can benefit their bodies and what foods it's used in. After a taste-testing of the fruit or vegetable, recipes incorporating the item are handed out in English and Spanish pamphlets.
In doing this, Munster said, students and parents can grasp information that may not be readily available without access to a computer. So even if someone doesn't have a background in nutrition, they can still gain the fundamental concept of a healthy life.
"It's just healthy choices," she said.
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nutrition Assistance Programs
History of School Breakfast
History of School Nutrition Association
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