Every keiki needs a (healthy) breakfast

Eating breakfast is important to helping our keiki grow up strong, healthy and academically successful. While there are many benefits to eating breakfast, Hawaii has dropped to 51st in the nation in school breakfast participation, according to a recent annual report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).

Studies have shown that keiki who eat breakfast have better attendance. They attend an average of 1.5 more days of school per year. Students do better in math. In fact, they average 17.5% higher in math test scores and are 20% more likely to graduate from high school.

The statistics are compelling, but too many of Hawaii’s children are not taking advantage of breakfast in our school cafeterias. In fact, according to the FRAC report, fewer than 40% of children in Hawaii ate school breakfast for every 100 that received a free or reduced-price school lunch last year. This is far below the national average of 57.5 per 100, making Hawaii 51st in the nation for school breakfast participation among all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

We can change this trend together to give our students that important boost to help start their school days. A culture shift is needed by parents to make school breakfast a priority. This may require adjusting commute schedules or earlier bedtimes, but the academic benefits to students are immense and long-lasting.

If we increase our participation to 70%, not only will more children be eating, but we will be able to capture $5.8 million more in federal dollars as school meals are reimbursed by the federal government.

All Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) schools serve traditional breakfast before school starts, but there are so many variables that prevent students from taking advantage of this important meal. HIDOE has been testing innovative ways to address these challenges through the Jump Start Breakfast program.

The Jump Start Breakfast program encourages schools to look at different ways of serving breakfast, such as Grab and Go to the classroom, extending the breakfast time, or eating breakfast in the classroom.

Honowai Elementary School is now piloting “breakfast in the classroom” in kindergarten and first grade. Breakfast is delivered to the classroom, so students eat breakfast to start their school day. So far, the numbers are promising, showing a 136% increase in breakfast participation for the entire school.

Several Leeward schools are now offering a Grab and Go breakfast, where students pick up breakfast in the cafeteria and can eat it in or outside of the cafeteria. Participation rates have gone up in the first few weeks of this program.

Additionally, HIDOE’s School Food Service Branch is also looking at ways to add more local products into the school breakfast menu, such as through its kalo bowl — a yogurt parfait with taro, pineapple and granola. And ulu (breadfruit) pancakes are now in the development process.

It is up to all of us to ensure that our keiki have the nutrition they need to be academically successful and healthy. We need to all work together in our communities to make this happen.