School breakfast programs might seem at first to be just another burden on overworked teaching staff but, in many ways, they are one of the most useful measures that schools can introduce on behalf of their students.
The ultimate aim of any new program should be to produce better students, and something as simple as a tempting breakfast can certainly help the young people of any school to become more involved in every aspect of their learning community.
A healthy start
To begin with, the health benefits of a good breakfast are well documented. Studies show that a nutritious start to the day can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the likelihood of obesity. People who have breakfast also tend to feel more energized, both physically and mentally. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that regular breakfasts can improve short-term memory, which is an obvious advantage for any student hoping to do well.
Sadly, in these days of busy parents and children forced to cope on their own, breakfast is too often missed. Even in well-organised families, the rush to catch a train or beat the traffic can leave a good breakfast well down on the morning agenda. For growing bodies, the long-term consequences of this can be extremely damaging, but it’s a problem that schools can help to fix by introducing a healthy school-based alternative.
An organized start
Breakfast programs can also help with punctuality issues. Students may be encouraged to get to school early if they can meet up with friends and enjoy a free meal. If an effort is made to also provide a welcoming and fun atmosphere in the breakfast room, there will be a greater incentive for students to start their school day earlier than they might otherwise.
Students should be encouraged to focus on their organizational skills and make school breakfast time a regular part of their day. Once it becomes a routine, attendance and punctuality will improve along with their health.
A caring start
It is important that young people see their school as a caring community. For many students, the supportive gesture of a breakfast program can help them feel that there is more to school than just a never-ending parade of lessons. Many students need this feeling of support, and those with busy or neglectful parents – in other words, the students most likely to benefit from a good breakfast – are the ones who will appreciate a little extra caring.
The association between good food and caring can be built into other school programs. Regular breakfasters might be invited to participate in meal deliveries to local retirement homes, or be given opportunities to attend hospitality courses.
A learning start
Although meals might initially be prepared by teachers or a few supportive parents, the end-game of the breakfast program should be something like a student-run cafe. With a little training and patient encouragement, students could assume responsibility for setting budgets and purchasing groceries, preparing menus and meals, and promoting the program to other students.
Some of the most valuable learning, though, comes from the simple act of showing students that a good breakfast will help them to feel and perform better. Recipes for popular food could also be featured on posters designed by other students, and maybe a few breakfasters will be inspired to try a little cooking at home.
Rather than regarding breakfast programs as a charitable service to help needy students, schools should adopt them on behalf of all students, as part of a comprehensive learning experience. Yes, the nutritional benefits are probably enough of a reason for schools to establish a breakfast program, but in truth, they also offer students invaluable opportunities to develop skills and build bridges.