Julien Elementary School students were drawn to school early Wednesday morning by the mouthwatering scent of warm French toast sticks, the sight of fresh fruit smoothies and the chance to converse with Congressman Jeff Denham, who visited the campus cafeteria to celebrate National School Breakfast Week.
“It’s always good to hear from the kids and see what they are eating,” said Denham. “Breakfast is an important way to start off the day. If students need to be focused in school and paying attention, they need to start their day off the with a nutritious meal in the morning.”
TUSD Child Nutrition Director Scott Soiseth said that he took advantage of Wednesday morning’s breakfast at Julien to showcase what menu items and changes he has in store next year for all school sites, including fruit smoothies and the use of paper plates instead of cardboard boxes to carry food.
“National School Breakfast Week is a chance for us to roll out what we want to do and see how it works,” said Soiseth. “We were very pleased with the results and the congressman had some great conversations with the children.”
Soiseth said that he hopes menus boasting delectable options like French toast sticks, breakfast sandwiches, yogurt, cereal, mini pancakes, muffins, fruit and vegetables will ultimately increase the percentage of students taking advantage of the program from 15 percent to 50 percent, especially since 60 percent qualify for a free breakfast.
“We know students do better when they are not hungry,” said Soiseth. “If they are not hungry they are ready to learn. That’s the key.”
As schools around the county took part in School Breakfast Week celebrations this week, the United States Department of Agriculture commemorated the 50th anniversary of its School Breakfast Program by shining a light on the positive impacts of school breakfast.
Over the past seven years, participation in school breakfast programs has increased by almost 27 percent; over 14 million students are now eating school breakfast each day. To help support the ongoing success of the School Breakfast Program and other child nutrition programs, Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon announced that the USDA will award up to $6.8 million in competitive Team Nutrition Training Grants to help schools and child care sites sustain the successful implementation of the healthier meals made possible by the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.
“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the School Breakfast Program, we reflect on the great strides the program has made in strengthening the health and nutrition of children in America,” said Concannon. “The School Breakfast Program allows millions of students to start their day with a well-balanced breakfast, which, in turn, is linked to better performance in the classroom, better attendance, and better health.”
Research using USDA data found that students with access to school breakfast tend to have a better overall diet and a lower body mass index than did nonparticipants. Other research has shown that students who consume breakfast make greater strides on standardized tests, pay attention and behave better in class, and are less frequently tardy, absent or visiting the nurse's office. School breakfast is especially important for teens, who are less likely to eat breakfast than other age groups, and lower income students who may be at risk of food insecurity.
School Breakfast Week is celebrated in the midst of National Nutrition Month, commemorated each March. Throughout the month, USDA is highlighting the results of efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of the next generation. For example, since the updated school nutrition standards were implemented in school year 2013-14, school breakfasts are healthier than ever before, including a serving of fruit, whole-grain-rich grains, and low fat or fat free milk.
The Team Nutrition grants aim to continue the advancement of the child nutrition programs, including the School Breakfast Program.
"The $6.8 million in grant funds USDA is offering to support school breakfast and other child nutrition programs demonstrates our commitment to providing schools and child care sites the resources and support they need to help kids start their day off right and continue strong all day long," said Concannon.
USDA's Team Nutrition initiative provides technical assistance, training, and nutrition education resources for schools and child care providers participating in USDA's child nutrition programs. Grants through this program are intended to conduct and evaluate training, nutrition education, and technical assistance activities to support the implementation of USDA nutrition standards for snacks and meals, like school breakfast.
The School Breakfast Program is one of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service's 15 nutrition assistance programs, which also include the National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Service Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net.