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Hunger-Free Minnesota Aims to Raise Breakfast Program Participation in Mendota Heights Schools

Increased participation in breakfast programs leads to better test scores and attendance.

We’ve all probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day more times than we can even begin to count, but it’s still one that many Minnesota students are unfortunately missing out on.

Earlier this week, Hunger-Free Minnesota announced the launch of a program that they hope will curtail that problem by trying to increase participation in the United States Department of Agriculture-funded School Breakfast Program in five different school districts, including West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools.

Coming fresh off a study that revealed the distressing news that ten percent of Minnesota households worry about putting food on the table, Hunger-Free’s main directive is to make better use of the state’s existing program and to get more of the 300,000 Minnesota children eligible for free and reduced-price school breakfasts fueled up and ready for learning before the start of the school day.

With Minnesota school districts only serving 39 percent of the available meals under the USDA program, Hunger-Free has a three-year plan to increase breakfast program usage by 4 million meals by 2015, a number they say will lead to better performance and behavior from students. Hunger-Free points to studies that show that children who ate breakfast in schools recorded better test scores in math and reading and were less likely to be absent or tardy from school than those who do not eat a school breakfast. Children who come to school hungry are also twice as likely to repeat a grade and three times more likely to be suspended.

Jeff Wolfer, Child Nutrition Director for ISD 197, says he expects the biggest challenge at his schools will be “offering a nice variety of healthy products that students want to eat that are also cost effective.” Wolfer continues, “I believe students still think of the breakfast program as for lower income kids.”

“Our district currently serves about 900 breakfasts per day among 6 schools. I would like to see this number increase by at least 20 percent with new initiatives,” Wolfer says.

In addition to making the program more appealing to students, Wolfer says the district would also like to expand the program to all of its schools, a goal that he says is challenging to make “cost effective” due to the “relatively small number of lower income families” at some of ISD 197’s schools. Currently Mendota and Somerset Elementary do not offer a breakfast program.

At full potential, the SBP can provide 48 million meals per school year in Minnesota.

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