Hunger is on the rise among children in the U.S., and though there are systems in place to make sure low-income kids are fed at school, a concerning number of struggling students aren’t eating breakfast.
One in five kids relied on food stamps last year, yet nearly half of low-income children didn’t sit down to the most important meal of the day, according to a recent report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).
The organization determined the figures by comparing the number of kids who partook in the free lunch program to those who took advantage of the gratis breakfast option, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Of the 21 million kids who received free- or reduced-price lunch last year, only 11.2 million of them ate breakfast, according to FRAC. While that marked a notable increase from the previous year, educators and nonprofit groups have emphasized the urgency to improve those figures.
Because even though these children are getting a mid-afternoon meal, educators say they are still at a severe disadvantage.
Nine out of 10 teachers say that having a healthy breakfast is critical to achieving academic success, according to nonprofit group Share Our Strength, which connects children in need with nutritious meals through its No Kid Hungry campaign.
The same group also concluded that if the number of kids who ate breakfast rose just 20 percentage points, 807,000 more kids would graduate from high school.
Often, however, it isn’t a lack of resources that keeps these struggling children from eating in the morning.
According to the FRAC report, students often miss the scheduled breakfast period because of long commutes and the fact that already overextended parents can’t get their kids to school any earlier. But some hungry kids are simply ashamed to admit in front of their peers that their families can't afford basic food items.
To breakdown these preclusive barriers, nonprofits have partnered with school districts to serve breakfast in the classroom in ways that don’t compel low-income students to stand out from the crowd.
Some, for example, have introduced "grab and go" carts. Students take a bagged meal from a stocked kiosk or cart that’s parked in the hallway and kids can either eat the meal in a common area or in the classroom during the start of class, according to FRAC.
Such simple tweaks in scheduling and serving has already proven to work in a number of districts.
Taking breakfast out of the cafeteria and into the classroom in nearly 600 Los Angeles schools has had dramatic results. Since 2011, more than 117,860 additional low-income kids there have participated in the free morning meal program.
Schools, like those in Los Angeles, that have improved their breakfast figures are rewarded with additional federal funding.
Emboldened by the results, Share Our Strength -- which helped implement the Los Angeles breakfast program -- is working on bringing the concept to other districts in need.
The group is currently working to improve the way breakfast is served in New York City schools. While breakfast is available in all schools there, only a quarter of the kids take advantage of the meals, the group said in a press release.
"The seemingly simple act of ensuring that children get school breakfast offers the potential for students to experience greater academic achievement, increased job readiness and ultimately more economic prosperity for our nation," Billy Shore, Share Our Strength founder and CEO, said in a statement.
Find out more about Share Our Strength and how you can get involved with the organization's efforts here.