Today many children across the state don new backpacks, sharpen their pencils, and begin the giddy walk to the first day of school. Thinking about the first day of a new school year always makes me remember the nervous feeling I would have in my stomach on the first day, accompanied by a series of questions running through my mind: would my teacher be nice? would I get to sit by my cousin in class? would there be any new equipment on the playground?
I think that the “first day jitters” are a pretty common phenomenon. Unfortunately, hunger is another feeling that is far too common in kid’s stomachs across the state. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest Food Bank network, one in seven children under 18 in Nebraska is food insecure, meaning that they can’t count on their next meal – http://bit.ly/UzBwP
Fortunately, the School Breakfast Program plays an invaluable role in reducing childhood hunger and boosting school achievement by providing breakfast in the schools. According to the Food Research and Action Center, School Breakfast improves school performance, reduces behavioral problems, improves children’s diets, and can help to reduce childhood obesity. More than 37,800 kids in our state start their school day with a nutritious meal thanks to the School Breakfast program. However, this is just 36.9% of the kids who qualify for free and reduced price lunch – meaning that about two thirds of our low-income students that could benefit from school breakfast don’t participate in the program.
The start of the school year is an important time for us to think about the opportunities we are offering our children for long-term health and learning. School meals programs are an extremely effective part of the overall learning environment – after all, it’s hard for hungry children to learn. This year, Child Nutrition programs will be reauthorized on the federal level, giving us a new chance to find ways to better serve hungry kids through school breakfast, school lunch, afterschool, and summer food programs. To learn more about opportunities on the federal level, access the Food Research and Action Center’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization page. And stay tuned, Nebraska Appleseed will continue to advocate to improve programs that feed kids in Nebraska on the federal and state level as the school year rolls on.