In the last few years, there’s been a lot of attention paid to school lunches, which many low-income kids rely on to get adequate nutrition, and to learn healthy habits that will help them in their adult lives. But there’s been a lot less focus on “the most important meal of the day”–school breakfast–despite the fact that, nationwide, 11.7 million kids eat breakfast at school every day. Growing up, I was one of them, and most days, school breakfast consisted of donuts or sugary cereal. This week is National School Breakfast Week, which makes it a perfect time to talk about the misinformation and huge nutrition gap that’s facing the first meal.
Though it may seem strange, school breakfasts are pretty widely misunderstood–if not ignored. Just take the example that Director of Community Epidemiology, Gretchen Van Wye, of New York City set when she noted that many kids were getting fat because they were eating two breakfasts. Which is pretty unlikely, considering well over 80% of the kids who receive school breakfast qualify for free or reduced meals through their school, because their parents are hovering somewhere between “low-income” and “extremely impoverished.”
For many of those kids, school breakfast and lunch are necessary to ensure that they’re not living in hunger (one in four children is living without consistent access to food, by the way), and painting them as greedy, deceitful little porkers is certainly not helpful. It also deflects from the real concern: that, by and large, school breakfast menus aren’t designed for nutrition, they’re designed to save money and feed many.
Which is another huge problem facing school breakfast programs across the country–that kind of misinformation (that all kids eating school breakfasts are fatties who sneak meals every chance they get on the taxpayer dollar) makes it difficult to convince lawmakers and voters to allot more money for them, which could help get more fresh fruit and fewer fried foods on the cafeteria trays of our most vulnerable members of society.