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Report: More MN Schoolkids Could Start the Day with a (Free) Meal

January 25, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota schools may not be making the grade in the number of low-income children who participate in school breakfast, according to a new national report, and that means the state could lose millions in federal dollars.

While the number of children eating school breakfast has increased in recent years, the Food Research and Action Center's report shows that many children are still missing out.

Jill Hiebert, communications manager for Hunger Solutions Minnesota, says one in five Minnesota families with children are struggling with food hardship, and school breakfast is a critical part of their safety net.

"And if kids can get free breakfast at school, it helps them be better students, less behavioral problems, academically they achieve a lot more, and it goes towards fixing that achievement gap that we're hearing about a lot lately."

For every 100 low-income children in Minnesota that ate school lunch, according to the report, only 43 also ate school breakfast. If that number rose to 60 for every 100, 45,000 more low-income children would start the day with a healthy meal and the state would gain an additional $10.6 million in federal funding.

Hiebert says higher rates of school-breakfast participation are achieved by school districts which offer breakfast in the classroom, bagged "grab-and-go" breakfasts, or universal free breakfast for all students.

"That eliminates stigma, and it becomes more normal for all students to go to school and eat breakfast together as a group."

While Minnesota ranks in the bottom half of the country in overall breakfast participation rates, some local programs could serve as successful models for other districts in the state.

Minneapolis Public Schools ranked seventh out of 29 large urban districts profiled in the report for the number of low-income children who ate school breakfast. Rosemary Dederichs, who oversees the district's nutrition services, says the district adopted a universal free-breakfast program about three years ago to support academic success.

"There are just study after study after study, and so much data that tells us that children who have a good breakfast learn better. Their tummies aren't empty and rumbling, and they're better able to concentrate."

For districts that are hesitant about adopting universal free breakfast, Dederichs says one possibility might be eliminating the "reduced-price" category and allowing those children to eat free. Minneapolis made this change to its lunch program last year and saw a 13 percent increase in the number of low-income children eating lunch.

The full report is available in PDF form at frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/sbscorecard2010.pdf.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN