According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Hopkins reminds us that breakfast provides the energy and nutrients that lead to increased classroom concentration, can be important in maintaining body weight, and helps to avoid mid-morning slumps. Breakfast is important to us all, but it is especially critical for our children to have a healthy start to their day. In Baltimore County, our school system currently offers “traditional breakfasts to students each day at eligible school sites according to specific age/grade groups.”
To the system’s credit, they have adopted the in-classroom breakfast model, which serves students in classrooms before school starts every day.
No Kid Hungry shares research suggesting that this model is, by far, the most successful of school breakfast approaches, with rates as high as 98 percent of school enrollment participation in the in-classroom approach to providing school breakfast.
If there is a downside to the County approach, it’s that it only applies to eligible sites — meaning that, while the approach is ideal, the program is not available to all students.
To keep making progress, we need to find a way to make Baltimore County’s in-classroom school breakfast approach universal, offering breakfast to all of our students at no charge, regardless of their income status.
Universal breakfast works for a multitude of reasons. It significantly increases the participation of students on free and reduced meals by taking away the stigma of school breakfast as something “only poor students do.” It also enables working families not eligible for free or reduced price meals a flexible way to ensure that their children are also getting the nourishment vital to thriving in the school environment.
The biggest hurdle to universal breakfast is cost. The good news is that there are a multitude of ways that Baltimore County can fund such an approach. One way would be leveraging existing federal funding for the free and reduced lunch grants. Federal Provision 2 schools, for example, allows all students to receive free meals, regardless of their family incomes. Schools are also able to eliminate reduced-price breakfasts and serve them free, instead. While the system would only claim reimbursement for the numbers of students eligible for free and reduced lunches, there would be a natural surge in participation by taking away the cost barrier for students typically in the reduced-price program.
There are also a number of grant resources that can be brought to bear in this area. These include other federal government funding opportunities, the got breakfast? Foundation, Fuel up to Play 60 and Share Our Strength, to name a few.
To the extent funding gaps remain, state and local governments can and should step up to fill the void. Considering the vital role that a healthy school breakfast plays in the life of a child, there should be little debate about providing this to ALL children in Baltimore County.