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School Cafeterias Open Again; Breakfast On the Menu

Cereal, with or without milk, is the top menu choice for Denver Public School students. (USDA)
Cereal, with or without milk, is the top menu choice for Denver Public School students. (USDA)
September 12, 2018

DENVER – Kids are back in school, and that means regular access to nutritious food for many Colorado children.

Theresa Peña, regional coordinator for outreach and engagement with Denver Public Schools, says it's hard to learn on an empty stomach, and notes that DPS has made free breakfasts a priority in order to close the academic achievement gap between students from low-income and higher-income families.

Making breakfast available to all kids also helps remove the stigma of who qualifies for a free meal, says Peña.

"We really like the breakfast in the classroom because: one, every child is offered a meal; two, it reduces the stigma; and three, there's a real social aspect of breaking bread together that just creates a real camaraderie," she explains.

September is also National Better Breakfast Month, and families across the state are encouraged to enroll in free and reduced-price meal programs. Students who qualify can get a breakfast for no cost, or 40 cents, depending on their family's income.

Trained navigators are standing by to help parents through the application process, and can be reached at Hunger Free Colorado's bilingual Food Resource toll-free hotline, 855-855-4626.

Children struggling with hunger are more likely to be hyperactive, absent, and/or have to repeat a grade. Studies also show kids who get breakfast at school perform better in math, vocabulary and other demanding mental tasks, and handle frustration better.

Peña says to make sure kids actually eat what's offered, menu variety also is a priority. She adds that the most popular breakfast item at Denver public schools is cereal.

"Sometimes kids eat it just dry, not even with the milk, and so it's a favorite for kids, not always a favorite for staff and parents," she says. "But again, if it's a meal they're going to eat, then we know that the kids are going to be prepared to learn when our talented teachers get in front of them."

Peña points to recent research conducted with the Denver Foundation that showed free breakfasts resulted in fewer visits to the school nurse, fewer kids acting out and sent to the principal's office – and all when kids were eating healthy meals on a regular basis.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO