aka The Slow Cook
Chicago recently became the latest big school district to embrace universally free breakfast in the classroom, stirring the usual objections from some parents that it will cut into classroom instruction. One group got 1,100 parents to sign a petition protesting the move.
"Instructional time is so important to us," one parent told the Chicago Tribune. "And the federal and state standards that have been imposed on our school leave very little wiggle room for extra things."
The same complaints were heard here in the District of Columbia last year when the public schools implemented breakfast in the classroom in all schools where at least 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Other schools were allowed to choose whether to offer breakfast only in the cafeteria.
Serving breakfast in the classroom dramatically increases the number of needy children who eat in the morning, from as few as 20 percent to close to 100 percent. In a 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program in 79 schools, offering free breakfast to all kids in the cafeteria increased the number of students who ate breakfast in school from 19 percent to 28 percent. At schools that served free breakfast in the classroom, participation rose to 65 percent.
In the schools I've visited, lost instruction time has proved not to be a problem. Instead, children are more attentive and the family atmosphere that food creates leads to a more productive learning environment. Some schools start the day earlier to accommodate breakfast. Teachers have found creative ways to involve breakfast in their lesson plans.
Remarkably, school officials typically report that breakfast in the classroom results in less tardiness and fewer visits to the school nurse. It's also been linked with better academic performance. Serving breakfast free to all kids in the classroom eliminates the stigma of standing in line in the cafeteria for a free meal.
And for schools with large populations of low-income students, breakfast in the classroom can generate a bounty of federal reimbursement dollars to help the meals program improve food quality overall.
Some schools are funding breakfast in the classroom on their own, spending cash up front on things like insulated tote bags or wagons to deliver food to the classroom. Others are getting an assist from the Walmart Foundation, which has pledged $3 million in seed money.
Here are several short videos that describe how breakfast in the classroom works, as reported by school administrators, teachers, parents and kids.
So what if childhood obesity weren't about kids eating too much and exercising too little, but about the kinds of foods they eat: like all those sugary sodas and starchy potato chips, for instance?
That's precisely the argument that science writer Gary Taubes makes. Taubes famously published a book--Good Calories, Bad Calories--debunking much of current nutrition thinking and placing the blame for the current obesity epidemic on insulin--the fat storage hormone--and carbohydrate-rich foods that promote insulin production in the body.
Writing in Slate, Taubes says current efforts to stem the childhood obesity crisis with the message that most foods are okay eaten in moderation, and with proper exercise, are doomed to fail. He suggests we need a national conversation about insulin, and that policy makers and leaders such as Michelle Obama should condemn foods like sodas, fruit juices and starchy convenience foods.
In fact, the USDA's proposed new school meal guidelines cut way back on starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and also make it more difficult to substitute juice for whole fruit. Still, school meals are heavily tilted toward carbs.
On the subject of sugar and obesity, here's some interesting work being done in British Columbia where medical doctors have identified sodas as a dietary marker for kids with weight problems.