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Colorado Gets Jump on National Better Breakfast Month

September is National Better Breakfast Month. (Pixabay)
September is National Better Breakfast Month. (Pixabay)
September 12, 2016

DENVER – With summer vacation over and children back in school, it's fitting that September is National Better Breakfast Month.

In 2007, Colorado lawmakers passed legislation paving the way for free breakfasts for low-income students.

Jeremy West, president of the Colorado School Nutrition Association, says since then, the state has gone from serving 93,000 meals per day to nearly 175,000 per day.

"Students can't learn when they're hungry,” he states. “And so breakfast serves as that first stop in the day that we can get our students ready to learn in the classroom."

In 2010, Colorado was ranked 44th nationally in school breakfast participation among low-income students.

Due to a series of initiatives – including an executive order by Govs. Bill Ritter and later John Hickenlooper – West notes the state is now ranked 11th in the nation, up from 20th last year.

The group Hunger Free Colorado has been a key advocate for many of the state's advances, including the Breakfast After the Bell Act, passed in 2013.

Cate Blackford, the group’s director of public policy, says the program has increased participation.

"Starting breakfast later in the day, and not requiring kids to arrive early, transportation was less of an issue,” she explains. “And by having it at that time, it was easier for everyone to participate together, and so you helped reduce the stigma of participating in school breakfast."

Blackford points to numerous studies that show breakfast helps boost the educational performance of children, improves attendance and behavior, and means fewer visits to the school nurse.

West says schools across Colorado have embraced the challenge of getting that first meal to more children.

"We've also seen some great innovations around taking breakfast to students,” he states. “A number of schools offer a grab-and-go breakfast from a kiosk or a cart.

“We do have a lot of schools, because of some legislation in Colorado, that provide breakfast in the classroom."

West adds that Colorado's success wouldn't be possible without funding from federal school nutrition programs.

A new bill that would cut federal funding, HR 5003, has cleared committee and could be heard by the full U.S. House this session.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO