5 things that make for a successful school breakfast program

(BPT) – Food insecurity is becoming more pervasive in the U.S. and globally, according to the World Food Programme, with a devastating effect on children. Children experiencing food insecurity find it much more difficult to focus on their studies and cope with the school environment. School breakfast programs are one of many efforts that help provide nourishing meals so children can grow and learn.

While school lunches are familiar to everyone, school breakfast programs are not as widely known, despite starting in the U.S. as a pilot program back in 1966 and continuing to grow, now serving millions of children each day. As part of Kellogg’s Better Days® Promise strategy to advance sustainable and equitable access to food, Kellogg Company has been dedicated to feeding people in need, including through school breakfast programs. In 2022, the company supported breakfast clubs in 27 countries worldwide; since 2015, it has reached more than 5 million children through feeding programs, including breakfast clubs.

Kellogg Company Fund has commissioned research to fully understand the impact of school breakfast programs. This year, it looked at their effects from the perspective of those who benefit from them most directly: kids. The study surveyed students in programs in the U.K., the U.S., South Africa, Brazil and India, the results showing that school breakfast programs are about much more than food — and can have ripple effects throughout their communities.

1. Food for thought

Providing adequate nutrition is the primary aim for any school breakfast program, so ensuring children have the food they need to help them stay alert and feel energized throughout the morning is paramount.

The report found that looking forward to a good breakfast at school helped increase children’s school attendance, and also reduced behavior issues and inattention during the school day which may have been due to hunger. In areas where food insecurity and poverty are higher, the impact of a nutritious meal at the beginning of the day cannot be overstated.

2. Breakfast feeds social development

Beyond the obvious impact nourishing meals have on children’s well-being, these programs also provided a much-needed social outlet.

Children felt a stronger sense of community due to the opportunities to interact in a more relaxed setting, sometimes having chances to socialize with children of varied backgrounds and even ages — allowing older children to be helpful role models and younger children the opportunity to learn from older peers. Since all children could participate, there was no differentiation between the “haves” and “have-nots,” making breakfast a positive experience for everyone.

The report found that schools with the most relaxed, welcoming environments, and which allowed mixed-age socializing, such as those in the U.K., saw the best results in terms of relationship-building and learning to communicate, share and cooperate.

3. Time for play and learning

Many schools participating in the breakfast program also provided a chance for children to learn while playing in a less structured setting, with games and activities offered that enhance cognitive stimulation while still being fun. The schools where extra playtime was built into the breakfast program appeared to be highly successful in improving children’s engagement and focus throughout the day.

4. Opportunities for academic support

In some schools, children used breakfast time to discuss academic studies and learn from their peers. In India, for example, where breakfast time was shorter, children primarily discussed upcoming academic tests which are a large focus of their school system. This gave children opportunities to discuss concerns and areas where they might need more support — and even start study groups.

5. Finding ways to build the community

Ripple effects of breakfast programs could be felt beyond the school in most communities. For families, it meant knowing their children would be well fed each morning — and many children insisted on their families sitting down to eat breakfast together on weekends as a result of this habit.

Some schools developed creative ways to meet the needs of their communities as part of the program. For example, in South Africa, one school started a vegetable patch to help provide more food for the program as well as their surrounding village, while another hired parents as school workers to help serve food — instilling a sense of pride and belonging while also supplementing those families’ income.

Overall, the research shows that school breakfast programs offer children much more than nutritious meals. They are vital in building a sense of community, giving children time to interact and build friendships. Children feel a sense of belonging and togetherness in a supportive environment where everyone is included. School breakfast programs help improve attendance rates, with children excited about going to school to eat breakfast with their friends. Children learn about diversity and develop empathy as they engage with classmates from different backgrounds and grades.

Ultimately, school breakfast programs become a cherished part of their day, creating lasting memories and nurturing a strong community bond.

To learn more about school breakfast programs and other ways Kellogg is helping create Better Days for children, visit betterdays.kelloggcompany.com.