Some parents protest breakfast in class

At Mosk Elementary, a Los Angeles school, all students are served breakfast in class. Photo: Nick Ut, AP

Serving breakfast in first-period classes to all children is fueling a backlash from parents and teachers, reports AP. “They contend that it takes up class time that should be devoted to learning and wastes food by serving it to kids who don’t want or need it.”

Lilian Ramos, a mother of two elementary school children in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, said she takes offense at the district’s assumption that she hasn’t fed her children: She serves them a traditional Mexican breakfast each day.

“They say if kids don’t eat they won’t learn,” Ramos said. “The truth is that many of our kids come to school already having eaten. They come here to study.”

The number of school breakfasts served has more than doubled in the last 20 years. There’s more federal money available if everyone is served, even those who don’t come early to school and don’t qualify for a free or reduced-price meal.

Los Angeles Unified is serving in the classroom in almost every school. Parents at wealthier schools were allowed to opt out if less than 20 percent of students fall below the poverty line.

At Stanley Mosk Elementary, regarded as having a model breakfast program, teachers help distribute the meal, check off which students are eating and show a video to incorporate a nutrition lesson, all in 10 minutes. On a recent morning, students were given apples, cereal and a small, packaged breakfast sandwich. At the end of breakfast, there was a large cooler filled with uneaten breakfast sandwiches.

At UCLA Community School, where Ramos’ children attend, parents complained the in-class meals “took away instructional time from low-income and English-learner students,” reports AP. The district delayed, but will start serving in class soon.

Schools are pushed to serve breakfast in class

California schools could be required to serve breakfast in first-period classes or during a mid-morning break, reports Jane Meredith Adams on EdSource. Assembly Bill 1240 would align California with a national campaign called Breakfast After the Bell.

Chart showing that schools with more students who are low-income must provide free breakfast, under proposed legislation.

More children eat breakfast at school if they don’t have to come early and report to the cafeteria. Eating breakfast improves students’ “test scores, attendance, concentration and behavior,” according to advocates.

The bill requires schools to offer breakfast if 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Schools with 60 percent of low-income students must offer breakfast after the school day begins.

If 80 to 100 percent of students are from low-income families, the school must offer breakfast by 2016-17, breakfast “after the bell” by 2017-18 and free breakfast for all students by 2018-19.

In Los Angeles Unified, school breakfast participation rose from 29 percent to 81 percent of students when schools moved to serving breakfast in the classroom.

Laura Benavidez, co-director of Food Services for Los Angeles Unified, said teachers can use the time to take attendance, collect homework and read to students. “The upside is you have a child who is focused and ready to learn,” Benavidez said.

However, teachers complained breakfast takes too much time and attracts vermin, reports the Los Angeles Times. Including the clean-up, teachers said they lose 30 minutes of teaching time each day, according to the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Other “breakfast after the bell” models nationwide include grab-and-go breakfasts as students enter the school or mandatory cafeteria time before starting class.

Children eat breakfast in the classroom of their Ogden, Utah school. 

Urban schools use first period for breakfast

Serving breakfast during first period is becoming common in New Jersey’s urban school district, reports Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Nearly all major urban school districts now serve breakfast “after the bell,” according to Nancy Parello, spokeswoman for the non-profit.

“The state has steadily increased its breakfast participation rate since 2012, when school administrators were told they could count breakfast as instructional time,” reports the Courier-Post.

Camden City serves a free dinner in some schools. At least, that doesn’t cut into teaching time.

More schools serve breakfast

More schools are serving breakfast, reports Education Week. In many large school districts, more than 90 percent of schools that serve a federally subsidized lunch also serve a subsidized breakfast, according to a Food Research and Action Center report. More than half of low-income students who ate the school lunch also ate the school breakfast.

Some schools serve breakfast in the classroom, so students don’t have to arrive early. That can be messy, cut into teaching time and encourage kids to eat at home and at school. Other schools offer a “grab ‘n’ go” breakfast.

Boston schools give free breakfast for all

Boston public schools are now serving free breakfasts to all students, regardless of family income, reports the Boston Globe. Some “set aside time in first period or homeroom for students to finish” eating.

A study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital in 2000 measured the impact of school breakfasts in 16 Boston public schools. The results: Increasing student participation in school breakfast programs also improved nutrition, school attendance, emotional functioning, and math grades.

Some schools serve breakfast in the classroom, alternating between cold cereal and a hot meal.

 Sitting in a quiet classroom, Konnor Mason, 9, sat ripping apart his orange while engrossed in a book. He eats breakfast at home just after he wakes up — “my mom wakes me up at 6 for no apparent reason,” proclaimed the precocious fourth-grader — but by the time he starts school at 9:30 a.m., his stomach has already begun rumbling.

In the past, he didn’t qualify for free breakfasts. Now, he can enjoy the classroom snacks every morning.

I suspect quite a few kids will eat breakfast at home and at school, which can’t help the fight against childhood obesity.

My nutritionist stepdaughter is designing lunches for the Boston public schools as part of her new job. Working with a chef, she came up with a tasty, healthy (and ethnically interesting) lunch that met very strict federal guidelines — except it didn’t have enough calories. Federal rules assume the average school luncher isn’t eating enough at home. That’s sometimes true, but usually not.

Breakfast at school — and at home

When all students get a free breakfast in their classrooms, instead of a cafeteria breakfast for low-income students who arrive early, they’re likely to eat it, reports the New York Times. In Newark, the number of students eating breakfast in school has tripled since the switch from cafeteria to classroom breakfasts. But 21 percent eat breakfast at home and at school, says the New York City health department. Breakfast in the Classroom is on hold in the Big Apple because of fears “all those classroom Cheerios and cheese sticks could lead to more obesity.”

Outside Public School 180 in Harlem, one of the schools that offer breakfast in classrooms, several parents expressed surprise on Thursday that their children might be eating two morning meals. Abraham El Bey said his son, Noah, 8, usually eats breakfast at home, but Noah immediately volunteered that he ate breakfast at school, too.

. . . Anne Morrison, whose son, Jude, 5, attends the same school, said she had adjusted what she fed him at home, knowing he would eat again at school.

“At school, it’s usually a muffin, a cheese stick and juice,” she said, adding, “I’m not so happy about the juice.”

About 40 percent of elementary and middle school students in New York City are overweight or obese, according to Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services.

The city is under pressure to add more high-poverty schools to the Breakfast in the Classroom program.

Do school lunches plump up poor kids?

Students who eat school lunches are more likely to be become obese, a new study shows. But students who eat school breakfasts are lighter. Eating both breakfast and lunch produces the slimmest children, reports Miller-McCune Online.

Low-income children, who qualify for free meals at school, are more prone to obesity. But the researchers think the lunches themselves are encouraging weight gain.

Daniel Millimet, an economist at SMU, theorizes that school breakfasts comply with federal nutrition guidelines, or come close. At lunch, students may buy extra items that aren’t subject to nutrition guidelines because kids are spending their own money.  Schools keep the profits from desserts or snacks students pay for themselves and can use the money as they see fit.

Philly to grade principals on breakfasts

In annual report cards, Philadelphia principals will be graded on attendance, math and reading scores — and how many students eat breakfast at school, reports the Inquirer.

Philadelphia’s public schools have made all 165,00 students eligible for a free (tax-funded) breakfast, but only about a third show up to eat it.

Many studies have shown that breakfast boosts student performance and health.

District officials say principals will be held to different breakfast participation rates depending on estimates of how many children in their area eat at home.

In theory, school breakfasts are nutritionally balanced. The Inquirer’s commenters complain the breakfasts are high in fat and sugar. They also don’t want to pay to feed other people’s children or see their own kids pushed into eating a second breakfast at school.

Studies show “more children eat when breakfast is served in the first class of the day,” reports the Inquirer.  Most schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before school to avoid wasting instructional time.  But the Pennsylvania Department of Education has opened the door to counting in-class breakfast as instructional time. That means Philadelphia principals will be pressured to order teachers to devote part of the first class period to serving, eating and clearing breakfast.

This will be done in the name of improving student performance.

Update: In other news, cost-cutting Harvard no longer serves hot breakfasts in most dorms.