The economy’s depleting pantries in many households. In two reports released today, nutrition advocates say that’s one of the reasons more public school parents should sign up their children for free breakfast programs.
The Food Research and Action Center, a Washington D.C. think tank, found that a majority of other states are better than California at providing free breakfasts to students who qualify. That’s a big deal, advocates say, because families could save money, students could eat healthier meals and schools could collect federal money to pay for the meals.
That doesn’t mean Los Angeles fifth grader Carlos Galvez will want to give up his favorite home-cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon. "It wakes me up to go to school and I have energy here in my body."
His Spanish-speaking mother, Onilda Anzueto, says he qualifies for and eats lunch at school through the school district’s federally-funded free lunch program but she hasn’t signed him up for school breakfast. "If I give him breakfast at home, I can make sure he finishes it all." She laments that the school doesn’t let parents sit with their kids during breakfast in the cafeteria.
Tia Shimada, of California Food Policy Advocates, says the fifth grader’s home, with a full pantry and a stay-at-home mom, is not typical. "The kids that we’re looking at are the majority of the kids in California that don’t have that as an option for them in their home. That their families are resource strapped and not able to provide those breakfasts or their schedules are such that they are better off eating at school."
Shimada says most public school students could probably eat healthier food at school. Signing up more students for free school breakfasts would help tackle the rising rate of so-called food insecurity, says Sue Sigler of the California Association of Food Banks. Throughout the state, fewer than half of every 100 qualified students are signed up for free breakfast. "We’re seeing an increase in school meal participation. Unfortunately that increase in school meal participation in California doesn’t equal the need, so we know that there are more kids in need that aren’t being served."
Some school districts are increasing participation by allowing students to have breakfast later in the morning, letting them eat it in the classroom, and allowing all students, regardless of their parents’ income, to eat breakfast free. These are some of the changes nutrition advocates want Congress to convert into federal law as the breakfast program comes up for federal reauthorization next year.