We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Do a Google search of that phrase and you'll get more than 19,000 hits, and though a few of those entries take issue with the premise, the vast majority make a compelling case for eating a healthy breakfast.
And yet, as schools once again open their doors throughout the Mahoning Valley, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children will start their day hungry. And while the reasons for that are many, the simple fact is that no pupil has to start his or her school day on an empty stomach.
Any school in Ohio can establish a breakfast program, and dozens of schools in this area already have. Every Youngstown City School District school has a breakfast program.
Breakfast can be provided at reasonable prices to pupils from even the most affluent families (and, yes, there are well-off kids rushing to school on empty stomachs). Children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches are also eligible for breakfast.
Counting the reasons
The Children's Hunger Alliance, an advocacy group that has been active in Ohio for 35 years, points out that children who eat breakfast are less at risk for obesity and other health problems and are likely to be more attentive when classes begin. If that isn't reason enough for schools to establish and promote breakfast programs, there is an economic fact of life: Ohio is entitled to millions of dollars in federal food aid that is not being tapped by schools that don't serve breakfasts, or serve them at levels far below eligibility and need.
For instance, in Youngstown, every school has a breakfast program, but the district-wide average of children who are eligible for subsidized lunches who take advantage of the breakfast is only about 50 percent. But at John White School, almost 80 percent of the eligible students ate breakfast last year.
It costs on average between $30 and $50 a day to educate a child in Ohio's public schools. Increasing a child's ability to learn throughout the day by providing a $1 breakfast makes good economic sense.
Parents who have the time and wherewithal to see to it that their children eat a good breakfast every morning can rest easy. Those who are financially strapped, those who work shifts that make it necessary for a pupil to fend for himself in the morning, anyone who's sending a child to school on an empty stomach should see if their school offers breakfast and take advantage of it.
Parents or school districts seeking information on starting or expanding a school breakfast program can contact the Children's Hunger Alliance in Columbus. Expert advice is available.