WEST MADISON — Scott High School senior Kaitlyn Ferrell says if not for the “Grab ‘N’ Go” breakfast she probably would wait until lunchtime to eat.
“Normally I show up for school around homeroom time and it’s so easy now to just get the Grab ‘N’ Go breakfast,” Ferrell said. “So I always get it now.”
Grab ‘N’ Go breakfasts allow students the flexibility and choice to eat breakfast where and when they want, said Scott High School Assistant Principal Kim Duty.
“This has been very successful and helpful to students and parents,” Duty said. “The kids love it and we have received so much positive feedback.”
The school has also seen an increase in the number of students eating breakfast prior to this being offered.
“We see a line for the Grab ‘N’ Go breakfast and are feeding approximately 200 to 205,” said school cook Shirley Jackson. “We are feeding about 145 students each day the traditional breakfast.”
Duty says studies show that students that eat breakfast
Milk, juice, fruit, muffins, breakfast cerial bars, hot packaged waffles to go are just some of the menu items students can just grab and take with them, according Laura Elkins, the school’s head cook.
“The great thing is it is free for all students,” Elkins said.
Duty says students can get the tradition breakfast or get the Grab ‘N’ Go.
“This allows students the flexibility and choice to eat breakfast where and when they want,” she said.
Senior Caitlin Huffman says the Grab ‘N’ Go breakfast keeps her from going hungry.
“I usually get here late, so without this option I would probably just go hungry until lunchtime,” she said.
Fellow senior Sara Browning agrees.
“I’m not a big breakfast eater, so this is like a great snack before lunch,” Browning said.
Several recent studies show that many children do not eat a nutritious breakfast every morning.
“Studies conclude that students who eat school breakfast at the start of the school day show a general increase in math and reading scores, as well as improvement in their speed and memory on cognitive tests,” said Boone County School Superintendent John Hudson.
Hudson says often families are living on very tight budgets and can’t afford to provide good breakfasts at home every day, nor the money to buy them at school.
“Regardless of income, families today live busy lives that often make it difficult to sit down long enough in the morning to eat a nutritious breakfast,” he said. “Sometimes children are not physically capable of eating breakfast at home when they first wake up. Other children may have long commutes to school or long periods between breakfast at home and school lunch, making breakfast at school an important option.”
Now, for the first time, all students at Boone County public schools will receive a free healthy breakfast at no charge, regardless of economic status.
West Virginia is among 19 states and territories chosen to share a $5.2 million federal nutrition grant for progressive efforts encouraging healthy eating and physical activity in its schools.
West Virginia will receive $346,515 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the next two years to support Team Nutrition goals. Those goals include providing training and technical assistance to child nutrition foodservice professionals to provide nutritious meals that appeal to children; offering fun and interactive nutrition education for children, teachers, parents and others; and building school and community support for creating healthy school environments that are conducive to healthy eating and physical activity.
“Experience and research consistently shows that children who are healthy and well nourished, perform better on standardized tests, have higher math scores and lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness,” said state Superintendent Jorea Marple. “Children are beginning to get the message about good health but we can and must do better. This grant will allow us to continue the good work we are doing in West Virginia to improve student health and wellness.”
Healthier school meals are a key component of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was championed by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama. The Team Nutrition grant are funded to assist schools in meeting the new school meal requirements under the act and to promote healthier school environments.
West Virginia is ahead of many other states in its efforts to provide healthy meals and improve physical activity in its schools as an early adopter of many requirements in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The new federal law calls both fruits and vegetables to be offered every day; increases whole grain-rich foods; limits milk offerings to fat-free or low-fat; restricts calories and portions based on children’s ages; and reduces saturated fat, trans fats and sodium. West Virginia has taken steps to incorporate those guidelines and other health and wellness standards since 1994.
“When we serve our children healthy school meals, we’re making a critical investment in their academic performance, their physical health and their future,” said U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “Providing nutrition education resources, extending training and technical assistance to foodservice professionals, and building community support helps ensure that every child in America has a chance to succeed.”
School meals are becoming more colorful and healthful as West Virginia and other states strive to provide more nutritious food.
School lunches now include more fruits, vegetables and whole grain-rich foods; only fat-free or low-fat milk; less saturated fat, trans fat and sodium; and sensible calorie limits based on the age of children being served. Many of the changes at schools incorporate provisions in the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and promoted by first lady Michelle Obama Let’s Move campaign. Schools, too, are being encouraged to prepare more meals with fresh ingredients and reduce reliance on prepared foods.
The updated school lunch now provides one-third of the average daily calories needs for kids by age, and often contain the same amounts of protein as before the new standards. Some highly active students, like athletes, may need more calories. Some schools may offer second helpings of fruits and vegetables, or a second carton of milk. Schools can also operate after-school snack and supper programs. Students and sports teams also can bring food from home.
“We know that children who eat breakfast and lunch at school consume twice as many servings of fruits, vegetables and milk than those who don’t participate in school nutrition programs,” said state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. “They also consume fewer soft drinks and skip fewer meals.”
Children in West Virginia have witnessed their school meals slowly evolve in recent years after the state Board of Education became a trailblazer in 2008 by adopting one of the most progressive school nutrition policies in the nation. Policy 4321.1, Standards for School Nutrition set nutrition standards for food and beverages sold served or distributed in school. The Centers for Disease Control has posted the policy on its Center for Excellence website as an example for other schools to duplicate.
Like the new federal guidelines that went into effect this year, West Virginia’s standards were modeled after recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. Because of the early adoption, changes in West Virginia have been minor compared to other states.
“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”
Strong school nutrition programs are especially important in a state like West Virginia, where about a third of residents and about 15 percent of schoolchildren are considered obese. Even more are overweight, according to the state Bureau of Public Health. Extra weight can lead to arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems.
“It’s important for students and parents to understand how serious the lifelong complications of obesity can be,” Marple said. “This is a transition year in our schools. I hope that you would encourage your children to try the new meals and also try similar foods at home, too. By providing healthier school meals, we are looking out not only for the health and wellness of students now but also their future well being.”
For more information, contact the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Communication at 304-558-2699, or visit http://wvde.state.wv.us, or www.fns.usda.gov/healthierschoolday.