Food For Thought: Universalizing Breakfast in the Classroom, by Melissa Infusino
In a three-part series, Melissa Infusino of the LA Fund will report on the introduction and progress of Food for Thought, a three-year campaign to ensure that over half a million students in the Los Angeles Unified School District eat a nutritious breakfast every morning. This is her first story.
For students of the Los Angeles Unified School District, food insecurity is a part of everyday life*. In the nation’s second largest school system, nearly 80 percent of LAUSD students live in conditions of poverty. Yet only 29 percent of LAUSD students participate in the Federal school breakfast program, meaning thousands of students start their school days without the nutrition and sustenance required for learning. Compounding the issue is the reality that minority communities are disproportionately at-risk for obesity. With a student population where 83 percent of students are Latino or African American, LAUSD has a high concentration of overweight and obese students. Fifty-four percent of students in LAUSD had unhealthy body composition in the California Physical Fitness test–nearly 64 percent greater than the national average.
The LA Fund, LAUSD, and nine nonprofit partners have teamed to address the hunger and obesity challenges through the launch of Food for Thought. A three-year campaign, Food For Thought will ensure that over half a million students in LAUSD eat a nutritious breakfast every morning and develop healthy habits through an integrated education campaign. Increased Federal reimbursements to LAUSD will make the program sustainable long after the initial three-year period.
Food For Thought will ensure that each of the District’s 300,000+ elementary students will receive breakfast in the classroom. With the school year officially underway, breakfasts will be delivered directly to the classroom, where students and teachers will spend the first 10 minutes of the school day eating breakfast together. During these 10 minutes of communal time, students and teachers will build a familial learning community. At secondary schools, students will “grab” their breakfasts from new, convenient kiosks on campus, and “go” to class in the “Grab n’ Go” model.
We believe District-wide student participation in breakfast will more than double in three years because of our breakfast in the classroom campaign. That increase means that student participation–rising from 29 percent to over 60 percent–will help LAUSD generate millions of dollars in additional Federal revenue. With the increased revenue, LAUSD will be able to sustain the program, improve the quality of meals, and support cafeteria upgrades which are critical for encouraging students to eat healthy meals. Over the next three years, the breakfast in the classroom and Grab n’ Go models will be implemented at every LAUSD school.
To roll the program out successfully to over 600 schools, we are providing LAUSD with a team of retired principals that will work closely with LAUSD Food Services to ensure that teachers and principals are supported as they bring this program into the school day. Even though the California Secretary of Education has officially recognized these 10 minutes as instructional minutes, we believe it is important to support schools to take advantage of all that Food for Thought can offer.
Perhaps the most innovative part of Food For Thought will be the campaign that utilizes all parts of breakfast as a platform for teaching students about the importance of food, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles. The LA Fund is working with instructional leaders to develop classroom tools that can be used during breakfast and throughout the day to integrate health education messages into teaching. Topics will include nutrition, fitness, oral health, and bullying, to ensure that messaging is grounded in the California Health Education Content Standards. Especially at the elementary school level, where teachers can facilitate conversations with students during the daily communal breakfast, Food For Thought is establishing a new avenue for health and wellness education.
In addition to implementing this work, we recognize the importance of studying the impact of the program. We hope to undertake a major study with our national research partner, ChildObesity180, who works in collaboration with Tufts University and is housed at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the JPB Foundation are our strategic funders. This three-year study would examine the effects of the breakfast program on nutritional, behavioral, academic and health outcomes, with focus on weight Status/BMI, breakfast participation rates, nutrient content of breakfast served, attendance, tardiness, discipline, school nurse visits, academic performance, classroom behavior, and consumption of breakfast in the classroom. This study is meant to be both formative and summative providing feedback to the Fund and the LAUSD to make improvements to the program, as well as to map best practices as a national model for other school districts.
*USDA: “The lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food.”