Fighting Hunger: Breakfast Brings Focus

Around 20% of NHS students receive free and reduced meals at school, including breakfast, affecting the rest of their day.

Photo by: Charley Hrobsky

Around 20% of NHS students receive free and reduced meals at school, including breakfast, affecting the rest of their day.

While some students eat a home cooked breakfast comprised of fresh pancakes and sizzling bacon before the bell rings at 7:50 a.m., others hop on a familiar yellow bus to arrive with time to spare for consuming a breakfast courtesy of Chartwells Dining Services — many of which are free or reduced.

Announcements fill Neenah High School (NHS) on the third Friday of each semester reminding teachers to complete roll. Why is it important to take attendance on such a particular day? According to Brynn Becker, Administrative Assistant, the third Friday dictates enrollment data. As of Sept. 16, 1,991 students attend NHS and 410 of those students eat free and reduced meals, equating to 20.6 percent of Neenah’s high schoolers.

Wisconsin has a low rate of food-insecure children compared to other states.

The 20 percent of NHS students receiving assistance are only a portion of the 30 to 40 percent within the Neenah Joint School District (N.J.S.D.), Bonnie McClone, Student Information Systems Manager confirmed. Feeding America states that Winnebago County has an 11.8 percent food insecurity rate, amounting to 19,800 food insecure residents. Any family with “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” is food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With a reasonably sized amount of Neenah students actively struggling to get fulfilling, healthy foods, it is important for organizations such as the St. Joseph Food Program, the U.S. government and companies like Chartwells to get involved.

On any given day, hearty choices are available in the morning for students to choose. Bland, colorless images of soggy eggs and watery oatmeal come to mind — though that could not be farther from the truth. Chartwells offers anything from French toast sticks and sausage to breakfast pizza, usually served with toast, raisins or fresh fruit. Muffins, soft pretzels, parfaits and waffles are also readily available.

One anonymous student feels gratitude because the cafeteria remains open even after the first bell sounds. She stops and grabs a muffin between her 1st and 2nd classes, noting the fact that chocolate chip muffin is almost always available, though other varieties are limited. The “delicious” muffins, according to anonymous, keep her energy up until her lunch period. With some students eating lunch into 1 p.m., NHS offers sufficient options to curve daytime hunger. Fatigue still faces some free and reduced students since coffee is not included in the package.

Numerous benefits of children and teens fitting breakfast into their busy, often chaotic schedules exist. Without it, No Kid Hungry reports that students are more susceptible to having difficulty concentrating, experiencing anxious and aggressive behaviors, as well as facing hyperactivity. Notably, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) suggests that impoverished students face increased illness, in turn creating more absences, lower test scores and possibly repeating a grade. A University of Toronto (U of T) study confirmed some of the FRAC’s findings. U of T published that eating a breakfast filled with carbohydrates increases scores on memory tests . . . such as everyday math, science and history exams. The infamous NHS muffins are bursting with carbs. While the steaming fresh baked goods taste like something out of Candy Land, students are unaware of their benefits on the mind.

Whole grains, eggs, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt are the best for maintaining focus all day, Livestrong writes. Thanks to Chartwells and N.J.S.D., regular and free and reduced students are given the same opportunities to fill their tummies and start their days well. As per Livestrong’s suggestions, whole grain options like muffins and waffles, as well as parfaits and fresh fruit are available to knock their mornings out of the park.

For more tips on eating healthfully in a home and school setting, is here to help.