It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Fenton school leaders have taken that information to heart by implementing a program at Fenton’s elementary schools that give all students the opportunity to feed their stomach and fuel their brain.
"Hungry kids don’t learn," explained Jaymi Whalen, food service director for Fenton Area Public Schools, because they are thinking about their hunger and when it is time for lunch to roll around.
“We wanted them to start off the day with a good meal,” she said.
With a strong belief that good nutrition supports learning, a free breakfast program kicked off in the elementary schools in March 2011.The response has been amazing, said Whalen.
Before 2011 when children who didn’t qualify financially had to pay for breakfast, around 140 meals were served a day. After the free program was introduced, that number jumped to 700 meals a day, she said.
Parents seem to love the program. It’s a wonderful option, for example, for children who go to daycare or latchkey early in the morning or who don’t necessarily feel like eating immediately after waking up, said Whalen.
State Road Elementary School Principal Barry Tiemann is pleased that the breakfast program is available, saying that it is making a positive impact in the building, especially for children who weren’t previously eating breakfast.
Originally children were fed “grab and go” foods like granola bars, fresh fruit and maple-flavored French toast sticks in their individual classrooms during the first 15-20 minutes of school.
This year, breakfast is being served in the cafeteria before school, which allows more hot foods that are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates to be served, like scrambled eggs and oatmeal, said Whalen. Cold cereal – kid-friendly favorites that are low in sugar and high in whole grain – are available everyday.
Breakfast menus are posted on the school’s Web site so families can decide if breakfast will be eaten at home or at school. Families can opt out of the program and choose to enjoy breakfast at home together. Students who don’t eat breakfast at school go outside to the playground instead of the cafeteria.
Starting the day off with breakfast can help keep children focused on their studies, said Trevor Alward, principal at North Road Elementary School.
Whalen said it’s important to note that no general fund monies are used to support the free breakfast program. She described the food service department as a business within a business with its own revenue, expenses and budget. Food service in Fenton Area Public Schools is not outsourced and the department is self-supporting, Whalen added. A USDA program that reimburses the district based on how many meals are served helps support the breakfast program, she said.
Alward said providing students with a hearty, healthy meal every morning is one example of how the food service department does a great job of looking out for the district’s students.
Food service personnel love connecting with kids in the morning and getting their day started on the right note, said Whalen.
“There are lots of smiles on everyone’s faces at breakfast,” she said, “and that’s the way it should be.”