Why we all win when all students eat breakfast in the classroom

A total of 22 schools in AISD are now serving free breakfast to all students in their classrooms. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

A total of 22 schools in AISD are now serving free breakfast to all students in their classrooms. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

If you think school lunch has a stigma, consider school breakfast.

I’ve been speaking out on behalf of school lunches for years now, ever since my own kids started attending public school and I decided they were going to eat the hot lunch served in the cafeteria.

The lunch that the school provides is much healthier and substantial than what I’d make, and not having to make their lunch at night or in the morning gives us an extra 15 minutes of time together every single day to read books or bond over “Shark Tank” at night or, in the mornings, talk about our day ahead or sneak in a little extra sleep.

But those are selfish reasons I want them to eat the school lunch.

Each morning, the student breakfasts are dropped off in front of the classroom, and the teachers are in charge of distributing the meals as the students get warmed up for their day. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Each morning, the student breakfasts are dropped off in front of the classroom, and the teachers are in charge of distributing the meals as the students get warmed up for their day. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Far more important is this: I firmly believe that eating what the school provides is a unifying and equalizing force, and we’d be better off as a community if more students ate it. My sons aren’t showing off new lunch boxes or drinking Capri Suns or eating fancy processed foods, like Lunchables, that would further emphasize their privilege as white, middle class students in the ethnically diverse and majority low-income school they attend.

They are choosing from the same options as their peers, and it becomes something that they bond over as opposed to something that might divide them into the haves and have nots.

So you can imagine my delight to find out that this year, their elementary school is one of 22 in Austin that is now serving breakfast to all students, every day, in the classroom at the start of the school day.

This Breakfast in the Classroom program was approved in 2014 when the Texas Legislature approved Universal Breakfast in schools that have 80 percent or more students qualifying for a free or reduced meals.

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When all students are served breakfast, it reduces the stigma of those who might be eating it because they can’t afford to eat at home. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

This morning, I popped by my oldest son Julian’s classroom to see how this breakfast in the classroom worked. Instead of having to show up early to school to get breakfast in the cafeteria, students can arrive later and simply eat at their desk as they start to warm up for a day of learning.

Today, Julian and his classmates got to choose from sausage biscuit sandwiches and a few kinds of cereal, and milk or juice to go with it. Every single student was chowing down when I walked in, and let me tell you, they were stoked.

Even though my kids eat the school lunch, they’ve never had the school breakfast because we’ve always just eaten it at home so we don’t have to leave so early. In order to eat in the cafeteria, students had to arrive at least 20 minutes earlier than the students who weren’t eating breakfast at school. And now, because we aren’t having to eat before we leave, the kids and I are able to get an extra 10 minutes of sleep.

Across the district, officials are seeing fewer tardies and absences in the schools with Breakfast in the Classroom, and even fewer nurse visits and discipline interruptions, according to AISD food services director Anneliese Tanner.

My son’s teacher seemed as excited as the students to be able to watch them fill their bellies so that they could fill their minds, without any stigma of the haves and have nots because every single student was participating.

That is a powerful shift that I don’t imagine we’ll ever see at the lunch hour, but one that I wish every student (and their sleep-deprived parents) could enjoy.

Have you had an experience with Breakfast in the Classroom/Universal Breakfast? What do you think about it? Should it be expanded beyond Title I schools? What other ways can we destigmatize school food?

 

 

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