Powering kids for the school day
School breakfast has come a long way since I was a kid. My dad was a teacher, so I rode with him to school and always arrived early.
Groggy and sleepy-eyed, I would wander to the school cafeteria and grab one of the only options provided – a maple donut.
Now don’t get me wrong, as a kid, I was not complaining about this. These donuts remain my favorite to this day. But I eat them as a once-in-a-while treat, and not as a daily breakfast.
Today, the school breakfast landscape looks a lot different.
Studies have shown that a healthy breakfast is a critical part of helping kids concentrate in the classroom and feel satiated until lunchtime.
Because of this research, organizations have concentrated their efforts toward providing healthy options for kids at school and making sure they can access them – without the stigma sometimes associated with eating a school-provided meal.
This week in the U.S., March 4-8, is National School Breakfast Week. Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations at the School Nutrition Association (SNA), says that this week is focused on raising awareness for healthy school meals, especially letting parents know about its availability and the strong links between eating breakfast and success in the classroom.
“One of the things we’re really trying to educate families about this coming week is how school breakfast meets federal nutrition standards. They’re offering students everything they need to get their day started in terms of low-fat or fat-free milk, fruits or vegetables, whole grains, and many schools are incorporating more protein choices on school breakfast menus,” she says.
One of the biggest focus areas for the SNA is expanding access to school breakfasts with a model called “Breakfast after the Bell.” Kids get a breakfast in the classroom once the school day begins, which means every kid gets a chance to grab something – not just those who arrive early or who can’t afford one.
Switching up the delivery method to grab-and-go items or breakfast kiosks is also something that’s working at schools. “Kids are busy, parents are busy, and so being able to provide different ways for them to access the breakfast they need makes complete sense,” adds Pratt-Heavner.
Chef Monica Coulter, a General Mills corporate chef dedicated to K-12, explains that school breakfast can also be a challenge for cafeteria operators who are pinched for time and equipment. Coming up with creative ideas for recipes that kids love – that’s her specialty.
“Students really want to see the same kinds of breakfast items at school that they see out in restaurants and on commercials,” says Coulter. “So operators then have to be able to utilize the equipment and ingredients they already have on hand to develop those kinds of items.”
Creating nutritious, on-the-go options for kids is one piece of the puzzle. Making sure kids have access to these options is what Louise Iverson, senior program manager for the General Mills Foundation, is passionate about.
Iverson says this work ties in with the foundation’s strategic focus areas, which include increasing food security and advancing sustainable agriculture.
“We know that school meals are one of the most effective ways to reduce childhood hunger. That’s why it’s such an important area of activity for us,” she says. “School meals have been proven time and time again as an effective tool not only to reduce childhood hunger, but also kids perform better at school, they have fewer absences, they’re more likely to show up to school on time, and teachers report fewer disruptions throughout the school day.”
The General Mills Foundation partners with a variety of organizations globally that support school breakfast programs, including Food Research & Action Center and No Kid Hungry in the U.S., the Greggs Foundation in the UK, and the Breakfast Club of Canada.
Annette Heim is one of the employees in our Toronto, Canada, office that is part of a dedicated team of volunteers for the Breakfast Club of Canada. This team serves breakfast every school day for one of their local schools, Brian W. Fleming Elementary, and General Mills donates the cereal for the program.
“There are about 115 students who are a part of this program, and we serve them breakfast throughout the entire school year, which is about 164 days. That equates to about 575 breakfasts served every week, which equals about 9,400 boxes of family-size Cheerios every year, and about 37,000 loaves of bread served to students,” she says.
Heim and the other volunteers show up in shifts of two to three employees each morning, and they also host special events at the school throughout the year, like Halloween and Christmas parties. The kids return the love by hosting a “Thank-you” concert at our Toronto office every December.
She says there’s nothing better than helping children start their day strong with a healthy breakfast. For her, it’s about giving back, being a role model and knowing she’s making an impact.
One of the students at Brian W. Fleming wrote this note to the breakfast volunteers from General Mills.
On the latest episode of our “A Taste of General Mills” podcast, we talk about the state of school breakfast today, to understand why breakfast is important for kids, what’s trending in K-12, and what kind of efforts are being done to ensure kids have what they need to start the day strong and ready to learn.
Listen (15 min)
SHOW NOTES – Episode 43: March 4, 2019
Link: Smoothies in the schools
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