Universal Breakfast Works Best in Classrooms

An increasing number of school districts in the greater Houston area are providing universal breakfasts for students. Although it is free for all kids regardless of family income, the majority of students opt not to take advantage of the complimentary meal. But this changes in schools that offer breakfast in the classroom. Wendy Siegle has more.
“We’re in 162 elementary schools, and we just started. We’re going to do 52 middle schools. We’re doing about 15 of them right now.”

That’s William Morris, Community Relations Manager for the Houston Independent School District’s food services. He says the goal is for all elementary and middle schools in the district to offer universal breakfast by the end of this school year. Mandi Kimball, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for the nonprofit organization “Children At Risk” says it is very important for children to eat a nutritious breakfast because it affects student performance.

“Universal school breakfast is extremely beneficial to all children. We know that there’s positive impacts on their behavior in the classroom, with their student achievement, their academic achievement and especially very nutritious for their kids.”

Morris says that when HISD schools started serving breakfast in classrooms rather than in cafeterias, participation increased from about 30 percent to over 80 percent. Channelview ISD has served universal breakfast in all eleven of its schools, including its only high school, since last year. David Bienvenu is the Nutrition Services Director for CISD.

“We provide it to them for no charge, like a complimentary breakfast, and we turn in our claim to the federal government to make up the difference. And the other part is made up by the sheer quantity that we serve, it helps pay for the program.”

However, only two schools in that district offer breakfast in the classroom, both of them elementary schools. Bienvenu says if more schools could be convinced to have students eat in the classroom, participation would increase from its current 45 percent average. But he says, some teachers and principals think that the time spent eating would take away valuable instruction time.

“It takes a while. You have to sell it to the principal first, and the principal has to sell it to each teacher, and then the teacher helps sell it to the students.”

Of the two CISD schools that have been convinced so far, 90 percent of students take advantage of the complimentary breakfast.

In order to participate in the School Breakfast Program, school boards must apply to the Texas Department of Agriculture to be eligible for reimbursement.




This story was voiced by Wendy Siegle. Reported and written by intern Florian Martin.