Breakfast: The Missing Part of a Complete Education

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, but too many students of poverty, it’s also the one that is also missed.  Many students of poverty miss breakfast for a myriad of reasons. One reason why they may miss breakfast is because there is no food at home.  Another reason why they may miss breakfast is because the school cafeteria closes before they arrive. Some students don’t miss breakfast, but they will make poor choices that don’t provide enough nutrition to sustain them until lunchtime. It is that fact why schools should not close their cafeteria.

Abraham Maslow’s theory, known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” is a pyramid with five levels, starting at the base level, survival needs, moving upward through safety needs, belonging and love needs, self-esteem needs, and finally the need for self-actualization. According to the theory, people are motivated to meet specific needs, focusing on higher, more complex levels of needs only after satisfying each lower, more basic level. Maslow’s argument is pertinent to today’s problems of poverty.  The lack of basic necessities affects growth and stability. It will be tough for a student to focus on the more complicated needs if the physiological needs are not met. For example, a student, who is genuinely devoid of a physiological needs, will be consumed by the need until it is satisfied.

Starving Scholars

But how does a lack of breakfast affect our students? It’s hard to focus on your studies when your stomach is growling as the lack of calories and energy from food makes a student more likely to fall asleep or stop paying attention in class. Many educators can point to a lack of proper nutrition as the leading cause for students sleeping through their classes and falling behind in their studies.

On a more serious note, the lack of proper nutrition can also make students more susceptible to illness as their diet, or lack thereof, will not allow them to develop a stronger immune system. The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to fighting the effects of poverty, even cites how hunger can cause psychological effects such as anxiety or depression that can have adverse effects on a classroom culture. But knowing this, how can we help students who may be at risk of academic difficulty due to a lack of morning nutrition?

Free and reduced breakfast

The simplest way to provide for our growing students is to provide free and reduced breakfast options at schools. In fact, as many school districts offer free and reduced lunch options already, the only change that needs to be made is to give students extended time to have breakfast and eat during the day.  No longer do students have to go to classes hungry and unfocused with this easy change.

These breakfast options would need to be carefully considered so that children receive the minerals and vitamins they need, but there is a wealth of information about what does and does not comprise a truly healthy breakfast. It can be simple to even provide vegan options for families that do not want their children to eat meats that can meet a school districts budget. For instance, health.com has put out a list of tasty and affordable recipes that are great for students such as vegetable quiches or breakfast wraps.

Because what many schools notice and find is that the students who most often skip breakfast come from low-income families who cannot always afford to provide a complete breakfast to their children. For these families, the ability to feed their children during the school day helps lighten their financial burdens so they can focus on making sure children have school supplies and healthy dinners at the end of their day.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The Food Research and Action Center identifies three main benefits of breakfast meal programs in schools; Improved academics, reduced behavior problems, and improved diets.   The diet concerns are clear as children who eat prepared breakfast food are less likely to resort to salty or fatty chips and candy bars to get them through the day. But what about the other listed benefits? Is it possible that school provided breakfast options can help students remain on task?

To prove that we can look to a 2013 study by Adolphus, Lawton, and Dye shows that proper morning nutrition has a largely positive benefit to students who are better able to maintain on-task behavior. Through their survey, they note that while there are some admitted inconsistencies, the trend is that students are more likely to remain on task and focus on their work when they’ve had a healthy breakfast than otherwise. This is clearly a net win for our students as time on task leads to better grades and better-retained knowledge and skills.

Washing it all down

If we accept that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then we also have to accept that when children miss it, they are at risk of severe issues that will affect their student learning. But some families, especially those with low-income, may have trouble fueling their children up. So it’s up to families, communities, and school staff to take extra steps to ensure that our students succeed. Leave the cafeteria open all day and provide healthy nutritious snacks for students all day. Your students will appreciate, and academic performance will improve because of it.

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