Should You Serve Universal Breakfast?

Breakfast for AllBy Naomi Dillon

As families are pressed for time and overwhelmed with responsibilities, breakfast, sadly, is a disappearing morning ritual. Bundled off to school with their books and supplies, children leave home without arguably the most important tool for success: nutrition.

According to recent U.S. Census data, only 35 percent of parents with elementary-age children reported eating breakfast with their kids every day. The figure dropped to just 22 percent for parents of middle and high school students.

Once again, schools are expected to fill in the gaps -- and they’re trying. Twenty-seven states require some or all of their schools to participate in the federal school breakfast program. SBP, as it is known, is part of the larger federal child nutrition effort that provides cash assistance to states to feed low-income students in schools and residential child care institutions.

Today, as Congress looks to reauthorize the child nutrition program, President Obama is proposing to add $1 billion more to increase access and improve the quality of meals. That means universal breakfast -- providing free meals to students regardless of income level -- is back on the table for some school systems.

Dora Rivas, president of the School Nutrition Association, says most districts would like to offer breakfast to all students. The problem, she says, is the money, especially in an economy where costs continue to rise even though funding is flat.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue against the benefits of breakfast,” Rivas says. “It really comes down to the cost of providing it.”

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