Low-income students’ free or reduced-price meals, until now, have largely been served in the cafeteria. Increasingly, children are being served in their classrooms as the number of breakfasts served in schools has doubled over the last 20 years.
Leaders in the food policy field say the change increases equity, but the move has been met with backlash from parents and teachers. Christine Armario, reporting for The Huffington Post, writes that those opposed argue that the use of the classroom for eating takes time away from learning and wastes food by serving it to kids who don’t want or need it.
A mother of two, Lillian Ramos, who lives in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, is offended by the district’s assumption that she has not taken the responsibility of assuring that her children are fed. She explains that her children receive a traditional Mexican breakfast each day.
“They say if kids don’t eat they won’t learn,” Ramos said. “The truth is that many of our kids come to school already having eaten. They come here to study.”
The program has significantly expanded, thanks to the efforts of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest district in the US with approximately 650,000 K-12 students. It will be serving breakfast in classrooms at nearly every school by the end of this school year. Across the country, since 1994, breakfasts in classrooms has grown from about 1 billion a year to 2.3 billion, reports the US Department of Agriculture.
In the US, almost 51% of children are in the low-income bracket, an increase from 32% in 1989, according to the Southern Education Foundation. In many school districts, most of these students are eligible for a free or reduced-price meal. Almost 80% qualify in Los Angeles and Detroit.
A national survey by the Food Research and Action Center found that 50 of 62 districts that participated in the questionnaire served breakfast in class or had carts with food items that students could choose and bring into class. Christine Armario of the Associated Press says that another reason the LAUSD opponents of the initiative dislike the program is because they feel that low-income children, who can often be in danger of falling behind academically. are getting less instruction time.
When the federal program began in 1966, the school breakfast program was not as popular as the free or reduced-price lunch offering. Breakfast was served before school in the cafeteria, but not all students could get to school early and those who did arrive early often opted to play outside instead. Schools are reimbursed by the US Department of Agriculture for each free or reduced meal served to low-income students. When students do not participate, millions in potential revenue can be lost.
All meals must meet federal nutrition guidelines and, ideally, are proportioned to be eaten in ten minutes. A lesson or school task is suggested while students are eating.
Supporters of the program say that all students should be served as it removes the stigma which could be associated with a free meal and singling out students might discourage those who need the meal from eating it.