Breakfast in the Classroom is Fuel for a Successful School Day

It’s a chilly Tuesday morning and students at Carrollton Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, file off their buses and into the cafeteria in orderly lines. Gloves come off of little hands as little feet march up to a cart where the children are handed a hot breakfast to carry to their classrooms and eat at their desks.

It’s all part of the school’s new Breakfast in the Classroom program, and during National School Breakfast Week , which runs from March 4 to 8, teachers, parents, students and staff are coming together to celebrate the most important meal of the day.

“Good morning! Good morning!” the food service personnel call out as they hand each student a bag packed with a turkey sausage biscuit, an apple, a carton of milk and orange juice. (There’s also a cereal option for kids with food intolerances.)

One student in a dark blue parka holds the warm bag up to his nose, closes his eyes and breathes deep. “Yum!” he says.

“I have no children of my own, and it just warms my heart to see the happy young faces when they get their breakfasts,” says Ann Peltier, who has worked in the Carrollton Elementary School cafeteria for 35 years. “They give you all sorts of hugs! It’s wonderful.”

Carrollton Elementary School is part of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), one of fifteen school districts in the nation participating in the Breakfast in the Classroom initiative, a partnership between the Food Research and Action Center, the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the School Nutrition Foundation.

Research has shown that providing breakfast at school is essential – too many children arrive at school hungry, having had no breakfast at home. When their stomachs are empty, their attention spans shorten, their energy levels plummet, their productivity wanes, and their learning suffers. But when students are able to eat the most important meal of the day, they have sharper memory, improved focus and behavior, and higher scores on tests.

“When you feed the body, you feed the mind,” says Carrollton Elementary Principal Brian Gallbraith.

The federally-funded School Breakfast Program was designed to provide disadvantaged students with a nutritious breakfast, but less than half of children who are eligible for the free or reduced-cost breakfast were actually eating it.

That’s because school breakfast programs typically require children to eat in the cafeteria before school, apart from their peers. A lot of the children feel singled out and self-conscious — they’re worried about being labeled as “low income.”

Timing is another deterrent.  Many school breakfast programs take place before the start of the school day, and if the bus is late or the carpool gets caught in traffic, the opportunity for breakfast is missed.

Breakfast in the Classroom removes those barriers. First, it’s available to everyone – no matter their income level. Second, it’s eaten after the opening bell when students are seated at their desks. This makes it possible for all children in the class to participate – even those running a little late will still have time to take advantage of the “grab and go” bags. They eat their breakfasts while the teacher takes attendance, collects homework or teaches a short lesson plan.

Michelle Charity says her third graders at Carrollton Elementary are more productive and less listless now that they are all eating a nutritious meal at the start of the day.

“They’re ready for the day, and they can concentrate all morning because they’re not watching the clock and waiting for lunch,” she says. “It gets their mind active and fuels it for learning.”

Eight-year-old Emani Nichols agrees.  “I love having breakfast in the classroom,” she says. “It gives my brain enough energy for thinking.”

Check out NEA Health Information Network’s resources and use the hashtag #lovebreakfast. Also check out our resources at on National Nutrition Month, observed in March.

  • JoJo

    Breakfast at home with family is even better.

    Parents should be responsible for feeding their own kids.

    Parents should be responsible enough to sit and visit with their own kids.

    The schools should not be wasting money doing things that schools were not intended for.

    Let’s get back in the business of education and start using our budgets the correct way.

  • Jane

    I think it’s wonderful. I have parents (of students) who are working in the morning, or don’t have enough $$ to provide a healthy breakfast for their children. However, that being said–there must be a give and take with these (essential) programs. Teachers are expected to cover SO MUCH CURRICULUM–and this, like so many other things (namely, standardized testing), take time away from that. Please, when you lobby for these programs, also lobby to REMOVE some items from curriculum. The day is only so long . . . and teachers are held accountable for SO MUCH . . .

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  • JudithVee

    I love this idea. My child’s ride to school is sometimes over an hour long and they won’t allow him to eat on the bus. The bus picks him up at 6:50 and he can’t always eat that early due not being a morning person. It would be wonderful if they allowed him to eat at his desk when he arrived whether the school provided it or not. Breakfast is so important especially to the elementary children. I truly believe that school meals are in a lot of cases the only real meals some of these children receive, I hope we can do everything in our power to make this happen.