School breakfast program cooking up success
A healthy start to the day is making a difference in the classroom and reducing food waste
Dishing up healthy breakfasts to primary school students improves health, increases focus and even makes them keen to go to school, an evaluation of a breakfast program has found.
Close to 44,000 tasty and healthy meals were served to 350 students at Albion Park Rail Public School over two terms, helping them be more alert and focused in class, as well as saving 14.4 tonnes of food waste from landfill.
It is estimated that one in seven children in NSW do not receive a proper meal before reaching the school gates, a number that is much greater in disadvantaged communities.
At the same time, food wastage is a growing issue for society, with Australians shown to be throwing away approximately $8 billion worth of edible food each year.
The ‘breaking barriers, breaking bread’ initiative was run at Albion Park Public School with the aim of providing a solution to these two issues by using donated food to feed primary school students.
The program took place every Friday for two consecutive terms school, with healthy breakfasts served up to 350 students each week.
The breakfast program was evaluated by Associate Professor Karen Charlton, Associate Professor Karen Walton, Dr Anne McMahon, and Honours student Natika Deavin with support from a UOW Community Engagement grant.
Their research found that not only did the program reduce food waster, it had a positive effect on students’ willingness to attend school, their alertness and behaviour, as well as creating a supportive environment for families on low incomes who lack access to nutritious foods.
The evaluation found that one in five children interviewed arrived at school without having breakfast at least once per week while one in three children reported being hungry on arrival at school.
While the program was running, school attendance was close to 100 per cent.
Glenn Southwell, Deputy Principal of Albion Park Rail Public School said: "Our school saw the need to improve the quality of the breakfasts that our students were consuming, some often no breakfast at all, so when this opportunity was proposed we jumped at it.
"The teachers reported immediate positive results in attendance and application."
Following the success of the program, the UOW researchers were asked to create a cookbook learning resource with recipes based on the fruits and vegetables grown in the school garden.
“We have been honoured to work with such a dedicated group of teachers and hope to continue to support the school to improve the food security of the students and their families,” Professor Charlton said.
A common theme that emerged from the evaluation was that teachers and students themselves reported how the Friday breakfast had a positive effect on the students’ focus and alertness.
“Many parents told us that their children were more excited, looked forward to school on Fridays and frequently got ready more quickly than on other school days.
“This reinforces what we know from other studies, that a nutritious breakfast is a vital part of learning outcomes and overall wellbeing of school-aged children.”
Professor Charlton said students from low-income families are much more likely to skip breakfast, resulting in unhealthy intakes with lower amounts of fruit and vegetables.
Many children were also able to try a wider variety of foods that they might otherwise not eat because of restricted household incomes.
“When we asked if the students learned anything the most common response was that it taught them that breakfast can increase their energy and provide them with fuel for the day ahead. One student confidently remarked that it taught her that breakfast is easy to make.”
To provide food for the program, local not-for-profit organisation ALL Sustainable Futures Inc group received funding from the Environmental Trust and Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as part of NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative to purchase a refrigerated food van to collect donated food from local businesses in the Illawarra.
The food was prepared by two chefs into a delicious, nutritious and free breakfast for 350 primary school children each Friday morning.
“This program revealed that it is essential for good health, behaviour and school attendance that a regular breakfast-consuming behaviour is established among schoolchildren,” Professor Charlton said.
“It also highlighted that the quality of the breakfast provided should be considered from both the perspective of the nutrient provision as well as food sustainability.”
- Applications are now open for the 2018 Community Engagement Grants Scheme. Find out more.