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School breakfasts get a nutritious boost

Friday, August 23, 2013

A healthy breakfast goes a long way to starting the day on a positive note. Now, school kids in Oklahoma and across the nation are in an even better position to do their best in the classroom thanks to upgraded federal breakfast standards.

Enhanced national meal guidelines that went into effect in July increase the amount of fruit and whole grains available for breakfasts served in school cafeterias. 

“The hope is these changes will increase kids’ access to healthy foods at school,” said Deana Hildebrand, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. 

This fall, kids will notice larger fruit servings – an increase to 1 cup from 1/2 cup – as part of their breakfast options. There also will be more fresh, canned or frozen fruit and less 100 percent juice available. Additionally, there will more items made from whole grains. 

Spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local school districts, the revamped policies are part of a broader overhaul of cafeteria offerings that began during the 2012-13 academic year. The changes affect students in grades kindergarten and above. 

The most recent round of modifications to the breakfast menu follow on the heels of changes to the school lunch program that went into effect last year. The revised standards are designed to address two serious national – and statewide – concerns: hunger and childhood obesity. 

About 30 percent of the nation’s youth are obese, which leaves them at risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Kids also are going to bed hungry because their families cannot afford to put meals on the table every day. 

While approximately 227,415 Oklahoma students eat breakfast at school, any child, regardless of their families’ resources, may take advantage of the meal.  

Kids who eat breakfast have better nutrition, are less tardy and have fewer absences compared to those who do not enjoy a breakfast, Hildebrand noted. They also have higher test scores, and are at lower risk for being overweight or obese and developing a related chronic disease.

“Students who have better academic performance have a higher rate of high school graduation and, by extension, greater earnings potential throughout their lifetime. We also know obesity boosts the risk for chronic disease, which can create economic hardship,” she said. “So the potential long-term impact of making sure kids eat breakfast regularly is not only about economic stability, but also quality of life.”

Besides being aware of the new breakfast offerings, one of the ways parents can help kids reinforce the importance of embracing healthy habits is to create routines, such establishing a consistent bedtime, that encourage children to eat breakfast. 

Elementary-age students should get about 10 hours of sleep and secondary-school kids should log about 8 hours of sleep each night, Hildebrand advised. 

“Getting adequate sleep will help with getting up and to school during the breakfast period,” she said. “The meal usually starts about 30 minutes before classes start. Some schools even serve breakfast in the classroom, ensuring everyone starts the day ready to learn.” 

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