Riverton Sees Dramatic Gains in Breakfast Program
Thanks to funding from the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council’s Dairy Optimization program, Riverton Elementary School dramatically increased the number of students participating in school breakfast during the 2011-12 school year. The district is working to boost that number even higher at Riverton and to help other Portland public schools have similar success.
The Dairy Optimization funding allowed Riverton to purchase Fuel Up to Play 60 Breakfast Bags On Wheels - insulated bags that can be wheeled into individual classrooms. The number of Riverton students eating breakfast rose by 55 percent in a single year.
In order to receive Dairy Optimization funds, schools must enroll in Fuel Up To Play 60, a program founded by the National Dairy Council and NFL in collaboration with USDA. The program empowers students to take charge of making small, everyday healthy eating and physical activity changes at school.
“Riverton has a high number of families eligible for free and reduced rate meals - 81 percent in 2011-12,” said Ronald Adams, the district’s school nutrition director. “We can assume the students are at risk of hunger at home, yet the social norm is to go play and socialize with friends rather than eat breakfast.”
“We now offer breakfast in the classroom to all students,” Adams said. “Dairy is an important component of breakfast due to the amount of nutrients supplied in a small portion size. It is a nutrient-dense food that helps fuel the students through their morning.”
Of 448 students enrolled at Riverton in 2010-11, only 121 took advantage of the school’s breakfast, while 76 percent of them were eligible for free and reduced breakfast. This past school year, 333 of the 407 students participated in Universal Breakfast.
A growing body of evidence shows that eating breakfast provides nutritional benefits for children and adolescents. Research shows regular breakfast eaters have more adequate intakes of essential nutrients such as calcium, and they tend to be more productive in the classroom than children who skip breakfast.
“Students are very positive about having breakfast daily in their rooms,” Adams said. “Teachers have been very supportive as well. Initial reluctance turned into full support once we conducted training on what makes a full meal, how to handle leftover cereal and milk in the classroom and increased trash pickups for the morning.”
Adams added that there was less food waste because leftover milk and juice were kept cold in the insulated bags.
“There is a considerable expense of throwing out milk that is not consumed if it is over temperature during the short breakfast period,” he said. “The insulated bags keep milk cold for the students to enjoy and to reduce waste for milk that previously stayed out too long to keep for lunch.”
Adams was not surprised by the increased number of students participating because Riverton is the third school in the district to offer breakfast in the classroom, and its results closely mirrored those of the other schools. The Portland Public Schools’ food services department is looking to expand Universal Breakfast across the district in the next three years.
“As we move to middle and high schools, it may not necessarily be offered in the classroom, but we are looking at other models across the country for options,” Adams said.