For years, public schools have offered free breakfast and lunch to kids from low-income families. But a new study says only a fraction of those who get their free lunch are eating their free breakfast. In Miami-Dade County, for every 100 students who get free lunch, only 41 are taking advantage of the morning meal.
But the issue isn't money. Debra Susie is president and CEO of Florida Impact, one of the organizations that released the study. She says it’s how the schools actually implement the free breakfast program that makes a difference.
"Getting the children to the food sometimes presents challenges," Susie says. "If you have to arrive to school early and go to a designated area like a cafeteria, sometimes that can denote to your peers that you are from a low-income family and especially in the tween years and the teen years, this is not something folks generally want to be identified as."
Instead, she suggests allowing kids to eat breakfast in classroom or serving it in the bus loop when they arrive. Alternatively, students could pick up their breakfast in a bag to take elsewhere to eat.
“Where those strategies have been applied, participation goes up," Susie says.
Responding to the study's key findings, a representative from Miami-Dade Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition wrote: "We serve an average of 90,000 student breakfasts daily, and an average of 200,000 student lunches daily. All students are offered breakfast at no charge (universal free, we call it), and we have provided this for 10 years. Most schools serve breakfast before classes begin, although some sites organize a breakfast in the classroom."
Breakfast is important especially for kids in schools, according to the U.S. departments of education, agriculture and the Mayo Clinic. They cite evidence that the meal helps bolster concentration, creativity and attendance.
The study released by Florida Impact along with the Food Research and Action Center, two health advocacy organizations, ranks each county’s participation and only six other counties in the sate fall lower than Miami-Dade.
The report recognizes some of the participation issues come from families getting their kids to schools late. But it says schools should still make it as easy as possible for parents' hectic schedules.