By: Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD
School breakfast is an essential part of getting kids ready to learn, so this year's School Breakfast Week theme of Score Big with School Breakfast truly fits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting this need has been challenging because kids aren't always in school in person, types of service offered has varied greatly, and there have been a variety of barriers to overcome for both school foodservice personnel and participating students. But child hunger doesn’t take a break and neither did our country’s school nutrition heroes. In fact, school nutrition pros have gone above and beyond to help meet the needs of students.
Many schools have been closed or are operating with diminished capacity as some or all students learned from home via virtual school. In schools where students have been attending in person, how food is delivered has changed with most meals, including breakfast, served in the classroom. To help ensure that students don’t miss important nutrition during the disruption, schools have employed novel approaches to get kids fed school meals, including breakfast.
In some schools, taking breakfast directly to the student worked best. This has been done in a variety of ways, including delivering meals via the bus route where students could pick up a daily package that includes breakfast and lunch each day or a weekly delivery that includes five days of meals. This was especially helpful since it helped overcome the barrier that transportation can sometimes place on families. That said, some school nutrition programs were able to successfully partner with local food banks to allow participants to pick up meals, including breakfast for the week, at the same time as accessing other much needed food for the whole family.
Serving breakfast in the classroom has been a call to action for schools for years. School nutrition professionals emphasize that students are more likely to eat school breakfast in the morning if they are permitted to eat it in the classroom. With changes due to the pandemic, breakfast in the classroom became the norm, even in schools that hadn’t previously implemented it. Says Cindy Kanarek Culver, MS, RDN, LD, Director of School Nutrition for Marietta City Schools, “We were fortunate to have a good base structure of grab & go breakfast at most of our schools already. The pandemic forced all schools to use this model and we have seen an increase in the number of breakfasts served at those schools which did not already serve breakfast in this way prior to COVID.”
Another key that has helped schools serve breakfast quickly, safely and in many different scenarios is the availability of ready-to-eat food items. Products that are nutritious, shelf-stable, and portable make feeding anywhere easier. One great example is Smucker’s Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “Providing schools with the tools they need to make serving students easier is top priority for Smucker’s! With shelf-stable options like Jif and Smucker’s portion control to convenient, crowd pleasing Uncrustables, we are dedicated to equipping schools with nutritious and delicious items students enjoy at breakfast and lunch,” says Julie Smith, Away From Home. Other easy and portable school breakfast foods include whole grain muffins, fresh fruit, and even yogurt cups if they are eaten right away, seated in the classroom.
School breakfast is an important part of our nation's safety net for hungry children. According to the USDA, 15 million American children participate in the school breakfast program. “The silver lining that COVID has taught us is that increasing access to our meals is and should always be a priority. When nothing seems normal, eating breakfast can provide students with a sense of routine, a nourishing meal and comradery with their peers,” says Kanarek Culver. Pandemic or no pandemic, students need to continue to be able to access nutritious and delicious meals in order to "Score Big" themselves.