Survey shows disconnect between parents, Iowa’s breakfast program
Iowa’s school breakfast program faces a Catch-22: While a majority of parents agree that a nutritious breakfast is important physically and mentally to their children, a full 31 percent say their children never or rarely eat breakfast.
That disconnect is seen in the state’s school breakfast program, in which Iowa ranks 48th out of the 50 states when it comes to school breakfast participation compared with rates of lunch participation for children who are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals. A survey was conducted by the Iowa Department of Education and the University of Iowa to see why Iowa’s participation rate lags behind most every other state. The goal of the survey is to see if effective solutions can be put in place to dramatically bolster participation.
Among the 8,982 parents surveyed statewide, the findings were many and varied:
- Many parents mistakenly believe that school breakfasts aren’t nutritional.
- Respondents also said they didn’t fully understand the various components of the breakfast program, such as for whom it is intended, the cost and other details.
- Some said there is a stigma attached to participating in the breakfast program, saying that it could identify their children as low-income.
“These results show that we have a lot of misperceptions,” said Patti Delger of the Iowa Department of Education. “For instance, the breakfasts meet or exceed federal guidelines for nutritional content.”
Delger said the results for the survey should be used as a guide to overcoming the misperceptions.
“Schools can view this as an opportunity to better educate the parents and children,” Delger said. “Make sure everyone knows that the breakfast is not only nutritious, but that it is available for all students.”
Carrie Scheidel, also with the Iowa Department of Education, said administrators may want to also take a look at the delivery of their breakfast programs.
“Most schools offer the traditional cafeteria breakfast where students go through lines,” Scheidel said. “But there are other options available that can better lend itself to things like challenging busing schedules.”
Two options, in particular, look promising: Grab and go, as well as breakfast in the classroom.
“At the Marshalltown middle school, for instance, they have kiosks with breakfast in a bag,” Delger said. “That way, kids don’t stand in long lines and can quickly grab their breakfast and be on their way.”
The in-class breakfast has been used in about 20 elementary schools in Des Moines, Scheidel said.
“They bring the breakfast right to the classroom in the first period,” she said. “And it doesn’t interfere with the academics whatsoever – the teacher makes the breakfast a part of her instruction.”
In the end, it isn’t about Iowa ranking low in breakfast participation compared to most other states. It’s about the students’ well being.
“We know that proper nutrition has a direct bearing on academic performance,” Delger said. “If a child eats well, she is going to do better. And that’s what it is all about – helping our students do better – isn’t it?”