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OR Schools Serving Up New Breakfast Strategies

PHOTO: Oregon schools are following the leads of other states and trying some new approaches to ensure more students start their days with a healthy breakfast, including serving it in the classroom. Photo courtesy Hoquiam (Wash.) School District.
PHOTO: Oregon schools are following the leads of other states and trying some new approaches to ensure more students start their days with a healthy breakfast, including serving it in the classroom. Photo courtesy Hoquiam (Wash.) School District.
February 18, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon schools last year fed breakfast to 112,000 children - kids who might otherwise go without a morning meal. But the state slipped from 20th to 23rd in the latest national rankings for school breakfast participation by the Food Research and Action Center.

The report showed that it isn't so much that Oregon has slid, but that other states are feeding higher percentages of students. FRAC president Jim Weill said schools where most kids are lower-income now can feed all students free, instead of just some, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility program.

"The advantage of this is, it eliminates the stigma of these programs being seen as 'for poor kids.' It eliminates the differential between what kids are eating. It eliminates paperwork," he said. "It's just fabulous all around to offer meals to all kids for free."

This is the first year for Community Eligibility nationwide. The Oregon Department of Education said 259 schools in 52 districts have signed up so far. Last year, the FRAC report said, slightly more than half the Oregon students who ate free or reduced-price lunches at school also were part of a breakfast program.

In the Legislature, a bill in the House Education Committee would allow schools to serve breakfast in the classroom for the first 15 minutes of the day without taking away official instructional time. In other states, Weill said, this strategy has improved participation. It ensures everyone is fed, and that no one has to show up to school early.

"The school districts and the states that are seeing the most progress year to year are not making kids go to the cafeteria half an hour before school starts - but are serving breakfast 'after the bell' - are doing much better," he said.

Weill called school breakfast programs "hugely important" not only for kids' health but for their behavior in school and their ability to learn. However, serving food in the classroom is an adjustment for busy school food-service departments and for teachers.

FRAC rankings are online at frac.org. The text of the legislation, HB 2846, is at olis.leg.state.or.us.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR