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The benefits of breakfast for children

Beginning the day on the right foot starts with a healthy breakfast. Breakfast helps prepare and energize us for the day. This is particularly true for school-aged children.

Studies have shown that eating a good, healthy breakfast helps children perform better in school and encourages overall healthy eating behaviors. Children who eat breakfast are also more likely to behave better in school and get along better with their peers. However, a number of children in Virginia don’t eat breakfast at home before going to school. For this reason, many schools participate in the National School Breakfast Program.

The National School Breakfast Program is a federally-assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care facilities.

It operates in the same manner as the School Lunch Program, where participating schools and school districts receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve.

Schools must follow the USDA’s dietary guidelines in order to qualify for the program. Some of the requirements are including whole grains and fruits, eliminating foods with trans fats and having appropriate calories depending on a child’s age and grade. The specific foods that are served at the schools are determined by local staff.

All children at a participating school may participate in the breakfast program, regardless of whether or not they receive free or reduced-price meals.

According to No Kid Hungry in Virginia, only half of students who rely on the school lunch program start their days with breakfast. There could be a few different reasons for this.

First, students may want to avoid the social stigma of going to the cafeteria to eat before school. Second, bus schedules may not allow enough time to get food before the bell. Third, the location of the cafeteria may not give students enough time to get food before the bell without being late. Fourth, some students are simply not hungry when they first arrive at school.

These factors have led more schools to experiment with alternative breakfast models in order to give students more opportunity and flexibility in eating school breakfast after the bell. Popular breakfast models include serving breakfast in the classroom, “grab-and-go” breakfasts that are pre-packaged for students to pick up on their way to class, and “second chance” breakfasts that are offered later during a morning break.

Even if your child does not participate in the school breakfast program, it is important to be aware of the program, the nutrition standards it must meet and the breakfast models your division offers students.

Pauline Stokes works with the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Prince Edward County Office. Her email address is pstokes@vt.edu.