Messages to Parents

Child Nutrition Fact Sheet

Food Research & Action Center 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 540 Washington, DC 20009

Breakfast for Learning

Recent scientific research on the link between children’s nutrition and academic performance
Missing breakfast and experiencing hunger impair children’s ability to learn


  • Children who skip breakfast are less able to distinguish among similar images, show increased errors, and have slower memory recall.
  • Children experiencing hunger have lower math scores and are more likely to have to repeat a grade.
  • Behavioral, emotional and academic problems are more prevalent among children with hunger.
  • Children experiencing hunger are more likely to be hyperactive, absent and tardy, in addition to having behavioral and attention problems more often than other children.
  • Children who are undernourished score lower on cognitive tests when they miss breakfast.
  • Teens experiencing hunger are more likely to have been suspended from school, have difficulty getting along with other children, and have no friends.
  • Children with hunger are more likely to have repeated a grade, received special education services, or received mental health counseling, than low-income children who do not experience hunger.

Eating breakfast at school helps children perform better

  • Children who eat a complete breakfast, versus a partial one, make fewer mistakes and work faster in math and number checking tests.
  • Children who eat breakfast at school – closer to class and test-taking time – perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home.
  • Providing breakfast to mildly undernourished students at school improves their speed and memory in cognitive tests.
  • Children who eat breakfast show improved cognitive function, attention, and memory.
  • Participating in school breakfast is associated with improved math grades, attendance and punctuality.
  • Children perform better on tests of vocabulary and matching figures after eating breakfast.
  • Consuming breakfast improves children’s performance on demanding mental tasks and reaction to frustration.“What we find particularly exciting is that this [school breakfast] is a relatively simple intervention that can significantly improve children’s academic performance and psychological well-being.” J. Michael Murphy, EdD, School Breakfast Program researcher, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 540 Washington, DC 20009
TEL (202) 986-2200 FAX (202) 986-2525

School breakfast improves student behavior and learning environments

  • Schools that provide breakfast in the classroom to all students show decreases in tardiness and suspensions as well as improved student behavior and attentiveness.
  • Providing students with breakfast in the classroom setting is associated with lower tardy rates and fewer disciplinary office referrals.
  • School breakfast programs can lower absence and tardiness rates and improve standardized achievement test scores.

Universal school breakfast programs yield positive results

  • Children who participate in universal school breakfast have lower rates of absence and tardiness.
  • Schools that provide universal school breakfast have higher breakfast participation, especially when breakfast is served in the classroom, and students who significantly increase their breakfast participation are more frequently on time and in attendance.
  • Schools providing all students with free breakfast have greater positive changes in academic performance.

Breakfast can improve children’s diets

  • Children who eat breakfast tend to have more adequate nutrient intakes than children who do not.
  • By eating breakfast, students also get more of important nutrients, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, dietary fiber, folate and protein.
  • A higher percentage of children who skip breakfast do not meet two-thirds of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins A, E, D, and B6.

Breakfast may reduce obesity risk

  • Adolescents who eat breakfast tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI); higher BMIs can indicate overweight and obesity.
  • Girls who eat breakfast are more likely to have a lower BMI than girls who skip breakfast.
  • Adolescents with one or two obese parents who eat breakfast every day are more likely to have BMIs within a healthy range than those who tend to skip breakfast.
  • Low-income elementary school girls who participate in the School Breakfast, School Lunch, or Food Stamp Programs, or any combination of these programs, have significantly less risk of being overweight.

Beliefs about breakfast can influence participation

  • Girls often skip breakfast because they believe it might make them fat and are concerned about gaining weight.
  • Adolescents who skip breakfast are significantly more likely to have fasted to lose weight.
  • Children report that they believe eating breakfast increases their energy and ability to pay attention in school. 

School Lunch: Good for Kids and Good for Your Wallet

As the cost of everything increases – there is one meal that is still a great value: both nutritionally and economically! The Public Schools of Petoskey lunch is still an incredible bargain at $2.75 Elementary level and $3.50 Secondary level.

Every School Lunch Includes Five Great Choices:

Milk – Fat free - flavored or regular
Vegetables – cooked or fresh
Fruit –  canned & fresh
Grains – More whole grain items like rolls or sandwich bread
Meat or meat alternate – White meat chicken, bean chili, lean beef

There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch (and a Reduced Price One Too)

  • All children at participating schools may purchase meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals.
  • Families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals; these students can be charged no more than 40 cents.
  • Contact your school food service department to fill out a school meal application.

Healthy Meals Feed Eager Minds

  • Meals served under the NSLP must meet nutrition guidelines based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • No more than 30% of calories can come from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat.
  • School lunches provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories over the course of one week of menus.
  • Students who eat school lunches consume less calories from fat than students who bring lunch from home.
  • Compared to lunches from home, school lunches contain:
    • Three times as many dairy products
    • Twice as much fruit
    • Seven time the vegetable amounts
  • NSLP participants have substantially lower intakes of added sugars than do non-participants.

For more information contact your district’s school food service director, Beth Kavanaugh at 348-2183 or the School Nutrition Association: (703) 739-3900

According to a meal cost analysis by Alice Jo Rainville, PhD, RD, CHE, SNS of Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI

Building Healthy Habits at Home

Food & Fitness for a Healthy Child

Exercise doesn’t have to be done all at once. Encourage your youngster to be active throughout the day — small amounts of time will add up! In general, school age children should get at least an hour of physical activity each day. Here are some ways to put more exercise into your child’s routine:

  • Have her invite friends over for a backyard game of tag or capture the flag.
  • Suggest that she jump rope  for 10 minutes.
  • Put on some music, and dance to it.
  • Bike together to the library or a friend’s house. Note: For safety, use sidewalks and wear helmets.
  • When you do errands together, park far from the store to encourage more walking time.
  • Take the steps rather than the elevator.

Remember: Regular exercise will not only make your child healthier — it will help her sleep better at night and be in better shape to learn and play all day.

A Walk a Day

A daily family walk is a great way to get your child — and you— moving. Some families take a walk after dinner. Others plan a morning walk on the weekends. For parents who are home after school, that’s often a great time to walk. Figure out the best time for your family’s schedule, and use the time to walk and talk — you’ll be helping everyone get healthier, and you’ll be spending special time together. Make the walk more fun by mixing it up: walk one block and skip for the next, or alternate walking fast and slow. You can even sneak in some learning time on your walk. For example, have your child count how many trees you pass or read the signs along the way.

Fun Exercises

For some fun exercise, help your youngster build an obstacle course. Use empty cereal boxes to scoot around, a table to crawl under, a large cardboard box to wiggle through, and a pile of pillows to dive into. The key? Create obstacles for your child to go over, under, through, and around.

In the Kitchen

You may be surprised to know that children actually need snacks. Their stomachs are small, so they can’t get all the food and nutrients they need in just three meals a day. The trick is to give your youngster a snack that’s both healthy and filling so he will be able to wait until dinnertime to eat again. Try giving your child a choice of snacks when he comes home. Offer foods like microwave low-fat popcorn, string cheese and fruit, or “ants on a log” (peanut butter spread on celery stalks and covered with raisins). 

Tip: If your youngster is in day care after school, find out when they serve the last snack of the day. Ask that your child not have one too close to your dinnertime.

Single servings

Keep portable snacks handy. Buying items in bulk and making your own single-serve bags. Check portion sizes on nutrition labels of cereal, baked crackers, or nuts, and fill zipper bags with one serving each. Then, your youngster can grab a nutritious snack quickly.

Easy & Healthy Smoothie Recipe

Here’s a GREAT way to get kids excited about eating healthy. Toss fruit, a few ice cubes, yogurt, and juice into a blender, and mix until thick. With your supervision, your youngsters can even do it themselves!

Try these combinations.

Red & White -  4 strawberries, 1 banana, 1 container low-fat vanilla yogurt, 1 cup orange juice.

Cool Blue - 1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 container low-fat blueberry yogurt, 1 cup 100% grape juice.

Just Peachy - 1 cut-up peach or 1 cup frozen peaches, 1 container low-fat peach yogurt, ¾ cup orange juice.

Tip: Add a teaspoon of wheat bran (available at your grocery or health food store) to put fiber into your youngsters’ treats.