Breakfast in the Cla$$room

BICWe are taught from the time we are young that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is backed up by science. For example one study found that “the impact of breakfast was evidenced by the increase in positive mood and alertness, and a decrease in negative feelings.” Certainly the goal of making sure that every student has a nutritious breakfast every morning so that they “start the school day ready to learn” is a good one.

Unfortunately far too many children are growing up in poverty and may not have access to the nutritious breakfast that they require. Even in families where money is not an issue, mounting responsibilities outside the home have created a scarcity of time to prepare a nutritious breakfast. To compensate for both deficits, subsidized breakfast programs have been created to make sure that students have a chance to eat before they go to class. The LAUSD has decided that this is not enough and is rolling out a program to force all schools to serve breakfast in the classrooms.

Our students will grow up to face a shrinking world where they will compete with employees across the globe. If they are to be successful they will need more skills and, therefore, more time in the classroom. Unfortunately, the “Breakfast In The Classroom” program moves us in the other direction. While the district has budgeted ten minutes per day for the program, this hardly seems practical to serve, eat and clean up from a meal. Even if this projection is not overly optimistic, this will take 30 instruction hours out of each student’s school year.

Even worse, this program represents a misallocation of resources. Teachers did not go to school to learn to be cafeteria workers. They have the unique skills needed to teach our children. Also, our classrooms were designed for learning, not as food serving locations. If we require restaurants and supermarkets to be inspected by the health department and post their letter grades, should the same requirements now be instituted on all rooms that participate in this program? Have rules prohibiting eating in the classroom suddenly become obsolete because the school is providing the food?

Last week the Director of Food Services testified before the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee and declared this program to be a success. Surprisingly, he led with the fact that the district actually makes money on the program. Leave it to the LAUSD to find a way to profit off the hunger of poor children.

The key to making this program profitable is serving cheap, processed foods. Despite testimony that this program models healthy eating habits, it was serving Café LA Coffee Cake almost every day at the end of the last school year. Where does this product, which weighs in at 440 calories, fall on the food pyramid? Pancakes made with whole wheat may sound healthy, but these are simply processed meals that are prepacked to provide subsistence but not nutrition. If meals are going to be served in a school environment, we should at least make sure that students are learning about food choices that will not contribute to the growing obesity epidemic.

Some schools have already abandoned their Breakfast in the Classroom program and have instead opted to serve their meals during recess. While this eliminates the problem of food waste in the classroom, it presents a new set of issues. To accommodate this new program, schedules have been adjusted so that recess now occurs earlier in the day. This stretches the time students spend in the classroom without a break. It also cuts down on the time for active play and, therefore, helps to contribute to the obesity problem.

Like so many “reforms” that are being forced on our children, Breakfast in the Classroom relies on disruption over fine-tuning. It was a laudable goal to increase the nutrition available to all students. However, this goal could have been better served by building upon the before school breakfast programs that already existed.