The provision of free breakfast was born in the 60s inside the Black Panthers Party, in Oakland. Children that work in small hours before schools were the beneficiaries but its popularity and efficiency within the community members drove the FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover to try to disrupt the program.
Many years later, studies point that children from low-income households are the only demographic group to whom eating breakfast has a positive impact in health and daily basis activities. For these kids, skipping breakfast is not a question of lack of hungry but rather a lack of possibility. In Anne Obrien’s opinion, hunger could affect the child in terms of concentration, slower recall, hyperactivity, and emotional and behavioural issues.
Portuguese government has already perceived the effects of taking breakfast by proposing the provision of breakfast to the poorest students. According to the report released, this measure would overcome the household difficulties – meanly, households whose salary is inferior than the minimum wage – through a system already existent for lunches.
However, the problem is international. In UK and Ireland, 1 in 7 children miss out breakfast entirely which will directly impact behaviour and concentration in lessons, increasing the concerns for the teachers and decreasing efficiency.
To attack the problem in US, a national program (SBP) was implemented by the Department of Agriculture giving the possibility to any public school or non-profit private school to apply to these federal funds – per-meal reimbursements at a free or low-cost price to the students in participating schools – as we can find in USDA’s website.
Also in a particular case, principal Sean McElhaney brought the meal to the classroom reducing discipline problems and improving academic achievement. The No Kid Campaign showed that if 70% of the students qualified for free or half-price lunches, had also the same conditions for breakfast as for lunches, more 807 000 students would graduate from high school every year. Also, more than 3 million children would score better in math standardized tests.
From India, a paper of the Indian National Institute of Nutrition showed that test scores increased by 2% with a regular breakfast.
Oppositely, providing free breakfast has also some trouble issues. Firstly, according to the Food Research and Action Centre paper, more than a half of the eligible students of the SBP program do not take breakfast.
Loss of attention and instructional time for the kids to take their breakfast are other problems. Moreover, it is possible that in the case of cold or not well-prepared meals, students could gain some weight due to the meals’ health condition which has been alarming parents, according to Ann Schimke’s article.
Resorting the work project of Flinchbaugh and Felts-Grabarski, some other important concerns are mentioned: parental negligence of other meals, increase of taxes, schedules and logistics adjustment and longer school time.
So, besides all the problems, firstly, it is important to attack the stigma created by school breakfast for poor kids. Other students need to understand that breakfast is, for many experts, the most important meal and everybody should be able to eat it. Thus, schools should create a mechanism of free and partly-free meals differentiating in terms of income but not in opportunities. A grab n’ go strategy could be interesting if complemented with a card service – more private when considering the problem of the stigma and more useful because there is no conflict with bus schedule and drop-off times – that registers each student who takes the meal.
According to an article of BBC, in UK when new measures were adopted, the government beyond funding the provision of meals, also funded the improvement of kitchens and dining facilities. Nonetheless, almost half of the councils said they would not have enough money to perform everything and an investigation found than more than 1700 schools had no kitchen while others do not have a large enough dining room.
In Portugal, due to all the obesity problems it would be interesting and necessary to include the students in the preparation of the meals. Of course, these meals should be healthy and reaching the recommended level of nutrients. If possible, authorities should increase the duration of morning classes dedicating some time to the breakfast or, otherwise, create a module of Nutritional Education every morning during the time designed for breakfast. With the help of a SIB – provision of dining facilities and instructional contents – financed by some foundations or social investors, this program could be very profitable to students and schools.