It’s early, the coffee is brewing and you’re running around trying to make sure the kids get to school on time. Are they dressed? In clean clothes? Did you sign that permission slip? Did Amy do her homework? Where’s Tommy’s backpack? Did they brush their teeth? Did they really brush their teeth? It’s no wonder breakfast can become an afterthought for rushing families.
But according to Caroline Dylewski, director of nutrition services at Warren Consolidated Schools, after 8-10 hours of sleep, a kid needs to eat. “Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast.’ Your body needs to jump-start the day with the nutrients it didn’t receive while you were sleeping.”
Dylewski says there is a link between eating breakfast and better overall academic achievement. “We see higher test scores, better concentration and memory, and an overall increase in student alertness.” She also knows how hectic mornings can be. “By offering breakfast at school before classes or after the bell, it eases the burden for parents and offers them an alternative way to ensure their kids gets the nutrition they need before starting their school day.”
The National School Breakfast Program, or SBP, provides nutritious low-cost or free breakfasts to school-age children in public and private schools, public school academies and residential child care institutions throughout the state. The USDA established national requirements for school breakfast based on student age groups.
“Being part of the SBP, we offer all of the required components – which are whole grains, meat or meat alternative, fruit and dairy – to provide a well-balanced meal,” says Samantha Mozdzierz, food service director for Hazel Park Schools. “We offer a variety of options to the students, which allow them to select their favorite items for breakfast.”
Having that variety is key to ensuring students get the nutrition they need. “Student tastes are different, so we have found that the more variety we offer, the higher the participation rates,” says Dylewski.
And more than just grades improve in the process. Dylewski adds, “Research shows that eating breakfast promotes a healthy body weight. It kick-starts your metabolism, helping you burn calories throughout the day.”
As kids are still growing, it’s important that they eat breakfast – but not just any breakfast will do. It should be healthy and not full of extra fats, sugars and calories. Children need various vitamins and minerals in order to reap the most benefits, which is why dairy should always be included.
“Milk is loaded with a wide range of vitamins and minerals. It’s a great source of protein and calcium. Calcium is needed for healthy bone growth in children,” says Dylewski. “Personally, I usually have a yogurt parfait. I get my protein and calcium from the yogurt, some extra vitamins from the fruit and then I top it with whole grain granola. Dairy makes it easy to get so much of what I need.”
If you want your kids to enjoy breakfast at home in the mornings, take some notes from the professionals. “We’ve found that older students like the easy grab-and-go items,” says Dylewski. “Try offering a whole grain muffin, a cheese stick or yogurt, milk and some fruit.” If they’re happy to sit down and eat, it can be as easy as some whole grain cereal topped with milk and strawberries or other fruit. “Keep it simple.”
Mozdzierz adds, “Focus on the foods that your child enjoys. If they like it, they’re more likely to eat it.”
For more information on school meals and nutrition, visit MilkMeansMore.org.