My first period class, nearly half of them walk in late, dragging their feet. A handful of girls walk in late from making a 7-11 stop for their cups of coffee, which I consider to be more like sugar water. Others of them walk in with bags of Takis and Hot Cheetos, Arizona’s, and dreary eyes. Healthy Children conducted a survey that found 20-30% of adolescents have given up on a healthy breakfast for varying reasons. Many of our nation’s youth are either skipping breakfast, but what we don’t emphasize much is the percentage of students who are replacing breakfast with their 7-11 quick fixes. I’m not sure which is worse, but certainly intaking high amounts of sugar the first thing in the morning has a prevailing influence on their personal development and engagement in school.
Back in the 60’s, we saw free breakfast programs spearheaded by The Black Panther Party. The Free Breakfast Program for School Children was a part of a larger vision of the parties’ goals to reclaim public service programs and place the power in the hands of the people. The program was one of sixty in their community social programs calle, “Survival Program.” Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale create Oakland Community School, a collective community that aimed to foster high quality learning for students in Oakland. The breakfast program was one of the top priorities of the Black Panthers because they were not only conscious of the disparities in access to health care centers and education, but also valued our future generation.
Decades later, we have the School Breakfast Program (SBP) where the United States Department of Agriculture provides monetary assistance to states to run nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and other childcare centers. In addition, our schools and districts promote wellness centers on school sites, wellness agendas on the district’s programs--much progress has been made in developing action plans and awareness of youth health. So why aren’t our kids eating healthy breakfasts?
Implementing Existing Programs with Effective Strategy
1. Eating Breakfast Together
Many times schools have free breakfast, but many students skip out on the program. A successful strategy a school implemented for students to eat breakfast was at a middle school in East Los Angeles that I taught at. The first 15 minutes of our first period was dedicated to passing out breakfast and watching CNN Student News. I appreciated this approach because not only did it ensure that students were eating, but also established a life routine for them to include breakfast and updates on current events. Also, we were able to identify students who were at risk of eating disorders or in need of emotional attention because they would frequently refuse to eat. The communal spirit was lifted as we all participated in this ritual.
2. Better Options: I’ll take the Hot Cheetos and Arizona Tea
Students throw out whole apples, mini cereal boxes, and full cartons of milk. They have a list of complaints on the food. As school leaders and teachers, it is important to listen to our students but also take these as teachable moments, where students can learn to be grateful for what they have. This complaint is a tricky one because at times, the breakfast can be boring and repetitive. Especially if we are competing against the 7-11 down the street that offers our students with an array of tasty and cheap, yet unhealthy snacks.
3. Wellness Education: Intrinsically motivating students
We can offer our students healthier options all day, and there will be those who continue to refuse for various reasons. Some of them may struggle with eating disorders, while others may not see the value of eating healthy. However, when we teach our youth about self love and body care, we can give them opportunities to take ownership over their diet. We want our youth to be intrinsically motivated to decide on healthy options.
Though in this article, I didn’t talk about the benefits of healthy breakfast in the morning, there is an overwhelming amount of research and testimonies that emphasize the correlation between eating a healthy breakfast and positive health and brain performance. To go even further, health advocates have even compared the positive outcomes of different types of breakfast we eat--from oatmeal to protein; fruit to dairy. The resources are available. The programs are there. What we need now, is a community effort in lifting our youth towards wellness living and strategize to help our future unlearn our unhealthy habits we passed onto them and create new patterns that benefit their highest selves.