As parents/guardians we have the life-changing opportunity to provide meals for our children. Although food purchasing, preparation, cooking and clean-up can be tedious and tiring at times, it is an act of service that provides time for families to learn and bond together. When schools or governments begin to take over this role (which is happening for 2 of 3 meals where I live) there is a cost associated with it.
Currently, a new program is being implemented in schools where children start the day with a breakfast sitting on their desk. Food is provided to all of the children, in every classroom, regardless of need, situation, or personal preference. My children attend a school where the program has been implemented, and it has made me reflect on the impact this will have on families and the lives of students individually.
What is happening when we give someone the opportunity to take over this responsibility? Costs
- Family and Cultural Extinction: So many memories of people are created over food. Why is food so integral to this? Meal-time fills our bellies but it also provides a time that everyone can come together and discuss the day. Many may consider this concept only an ideal thought for a few families when they consider all the busy schedules families work around. However, even when a family doesn't get a chance to sit together and eat, the fact that food was purchased and provided for the family member leaves a feeling of connection and lets the person know you are concerned with them. When we think of meeting up with an old friend we often go to lunch. When we go on dates, we often go out to eat. Mealtimes are opportunities to connect with someone, even if the provider isn't there in person. How often does a certain food make you feel loved and important when you see that someone bought you something you like or prepared something for you, even if they aren't there to eat it with you? Something I have learned is to never underestimate my influence on my children. It is in the most surprising moments that I realize they have been learning from my example all along.
- Financial freedom lost: Although many products are marketed "free food," all food comes at a cost. Typically government sponsored "free food" is paid for through tax dollars. Even if you are not taxed due to your personal income levels, someone else is and taxes increase as more and more things become "free." While many argue our tax dollars should go to help people in need, the school BIC (Breakfast in the Classroom) program completely bypasses any requirements for needed assistance. It simply takes on the responsibility to feed all children regardless of their family's financial situation. Our school has a 67% free or reduced lunch rate. Therefore by the numbers 33% of parents are able to provide for their children. I am certain that 100% of the school is not in financial need of breakfast. If parents feed their children breakfast before school, they get fed twice if their children also eat the breakfast at school. Most likely though, because breakfast is provided they simply let their kids eat at school even though they are able to provide on their own. My family has had times when we had to rely on the charity of family and friends, even for basic necessities of life. We should encourage charitable giving to those in need and we personally have been a benefactor of such kindness. However, removing opportunities for people to provide meals for their families is not a charitable measure with the priceless opportunities mealtime provides for families. It is possible to assist those in need without taking away important parental responsibilities and opportunities for families to have time for each other. Let us assist others in need and at the same time empower people with skills and encouragement to be able to provide for themselves. This is freedom - being able use your resources wisely and create your own environment with your own personal preferences. Let's not lose more than we gain.
- Individual freedom lost: When we let the government feed our children, we lose very important personal freedoms. We lose out on deciding what is good for our children. Maybe we don't agree with the current diet trend, maybe we love soda pop, maybe we hate eating breakfast or feel that breakfast makes us overweight. Whatever reason we have to disagree with what the government says is "right" for us and our children, we lose the ability to object and live according to our conscience when we give the government the power to make our decisions for us, especially in little matters that impact us so dramatically, such as what we eat each day.
- Increased dental costs: A lot of free food tends to be highly processed. It also tends to be high in sugar content. When a food item is low in fat it tends to be high in sugar. Fat gives food flavor and fills you up, and to replace the fat/flavor taken out of a lot of foods, added sugar is put into them. These foods can be transported and unwrapped easily which makes them ideal for mass food distribution. The prepared, processed food fills your body with sugar which affects your teeth internally and externally. Even with good tooth brushing the high amounts of added sugars are far more likely to cause dental decay. Most likely though, children have no way to brush their teeth following a breakfast at school, and the added sugars will remain on their teeth until they get home from school and are able to brush, probably not until they go to bed that night. The foods also tend to be more addicting than a nutritionally dense food.
- Increased health decline: As with dental decline, your pancreas and other organs are more and more overworked with the increase of foods that are easily accessed, highly processed and high in added sugar. There is an astonishing amount of childhood diabetes, obesity, ADD, candida and ADHD on the rise. Sugar content was not really a concern of mine until I realized my family was suffering chronic candida issues. Removing excessive added sugar from our diet was extremely hard because we had become accustomed to its taste and we craved it. However, upon removing a significant amount from our diet, our health increased significantly and I would never want to go back to ill health again.
- Decreased spiritual opportunity: Mealtime is an opportunity to pray together over the food and for each other. Showing our gratitude for a meal allows us to feel contentment rather than constantly desiring things we don't have. As we pray for each other we feel a love and bond that is difficult to attain elsewhere. - Decreased educational time: Schools have begun a program each day that takes up about 20 minutes of the morning called SPARK. It is an exercise program where kids start the day off with movement. I think this a valuable skill to teach kids and may increase test scores and facilitate concentration. However, in addition to SPARK they have added BIC which takes up the first 10 minutes of class time. Add in announcements and clean-up of breakfast, and it is likely at least the first 40-60 minutes of the school day are taken up with non-educational activities. - Limiting skill sets: When we are unable to crack an egg or read a recipe, basic skills are lost. It only takes one generation to not teach skills for them to be lost. We all need to eat and typically it is at least three times a day. It is empowering to know you can make something when you need a meal instead of needing to depend on someone else to provide for you because you actually have the skills to put ingredients together. Young children are completely dependent on parents to provide a meal but as children grow they can watch you prepare food and cook and start the basic building block skills of creating something to eat. This is lost when you are always being given something to eat and do not participate in preparing a meal. Education is provided to teach students how to support themselves when they are old enough to get by on their own. Basic food skills should be taught in the home rather than being a requirement of the school system. However, if the school decides to take on the responsibility to feed all children, they need to also take on the responsibilities of teaching them to cook and prepare food that will help them when they can no longer be a part of the system. It only takes one generation for skills to be gained!
- Less food diversity: So many cultures have varying food diversity. When I lived out of the country I loved the variety of food I was able to experience. When I visit other families in the United States I love to see the differences in food choices that these families eat. When a nationwide food program crosses the nation we significantly erase the food diversity people experience. Currently the breakfast in the classroom menu in my area has a 2 week cycle that repeats throughout the school year.
- High added sugar content:
Approximate added sugar recommendations from the American Heart Association (2009 Journal Circulation) PER DAY: A preschool to early elementary child 3-4 teaspoons sugar = 12 - 16 g A tween to teen 5-8 teaspoons sugar = 20 - 32 g A woman 6 teaspoons sugar = 24 g A man 9 teaspoons sugar = 36 g g = grams - can be found on the back of nutrition facts The amounts increase for a more active person, the adult mans doubles to 18 teaspoons/72 g
Below I highlight the large amounts of added sugar in the food. Despite this high added sugar content, I was assured multiple times that everything on the menu is approved by Michelle Obama according to her whole grain and reduced sugar requirements.
The added sugar content in the menu below only reflects the hot breakfast entree and added sugar in the milk. I do not add in sugars such as lactose and fructose as these are considered a healthier form of sugar since they typically have vitamins, minerals and fiber connected to their sugar content.
My school's Breakfast in the Classroom menu currently is:
One hot entree One fruit option Low-fat unflavored milk or fat-free chocolate milk
Added sugar to TruMoo chocolate milk 6 Grams or 1.5 Teaspoons
* In comparison to other chocolate milk, this is a good option, as other chocolate milks can have up to 28 Grams (7 Teaspoons) per cup. However, since most kids choose chocolate milk over regular milk, and they also get chocolate milk as an option at lunch, as a milk beverage alone they could take in 12 Grams, or 3 Teaspoons, added sugar per day.*
Day 1: The Father's Table Breakfast Cookie/Bar 100% Fruit Bar Milk Option
Approximate Added Sugar for Breakfast Cookie/Bar and Chocolate Milk: 22 Grams or 5.5 Teaspoons 6-10 Grams over the recommendation for younger children
Day 2: Tony's Breakfast Pizza Fresh Apple Milk Option
Approximate Added Sugar for Breakfast Pizza and Chocolate Milk 14 Grams or 3.5 Teaspoons Up to 2 Grams over the recommendation for younger children
Day 3: Super Bakery Cinnamon Roll Fresh Banana Milk Option
Approximate Added Sugar for Cinnamon Roll and Chocolate Milk 21 Grams or 5.25 Teaspoons 5-9 Grams over the recommendation for younger children
Day 4: Pillsbury Frudel Juice Milk Option
Approximate Added Sugar for Frudel and Chocolate Milk 17 Grams or 4.25 Teaspoons 1-5 Grams over the recommendation for younger children
Common Concerns Common concerns or thoughts people I talk to raise about not providing breakfast in the classroom:
1. They can't see people around them going hungry. My school previous to BIC provided breakfast to children prior to school beginning. Students could arrive 30 minutes early and receive food. Many who qualified for free or reduced lunch also qualified for breakfast as well. The program has been in place for a long time where I live. If a child is in need, there is help for them. 2. People can't afford breakfast, healthy food costs so much. The cost of food is an expense of living. There are options though that are lower cost. A piece of toast, frozen waffles or pancakes put in the toaster with unsweetened applesauce or low-sugar toppings, a bowl of oatmeal, a scrambled/fried/hard boiled egg or a piece of fruit. Arguments say fresh produce is so expensive but it is often possible to purchase a 5# bag of apples for $5.00 (99 cents per pound) or a box of 18 granola bars for $3.00. One apple will leave me feeling considerably more full than 3-5 granola bars with less calories and more fiber and vitamins. 3. Parents are so busy they are not available to feed their kids, there is no family time anyway. While many may see breakfast as an ideal time that few can fit in, it is a priceless time that would be worth the effort to fit into the day. Even if one's parent(s) are unable to sit down and eat together, it is still so valuable to a child to know that something has been provided and they were thought of. A child can feel loved by knowing that a parent thought of them and provided them something special to eat, such as their favorite fruit or dish. As a government and especially in a school system, we should be striving to help people reach ideals rather than discourage people from even trying. 4. Any food is better than nothing. When food is provided to children, it is very important that they see examples of healthy living and are given the opportunity to exercise the skill of eating healthy. I am thankful for the fresh fruit provided to kids and the plain milk option but the majority of entrees provided and the chocolate milk have added sugar content that is so high that it is alarming. It is healthier than soda pop but we need to consider that just because something is better than something else, it doesn't make it good. The eating skills children learn today will impact them in long term aspects of their lives. 5. They don't want their child to feel left out by not eating the breakfast. I agree that there is a lot of pressure on kids to eat the food. I have been told repeatedly that my children have a choice in whether they eat the food or not. It is true they have a choice but when they are the only student in the class not eating it is challenging for them to do a different activity, especially when the food provided is so high in sugar content. I hope my children do not participate in a number of activities that many children will participate in during their lives. I encourage my children to not eat the school breakfast. This opportunity to decline something almost everyone is doing is an opportunity for my child to realize that they don't have to do what everyone else is doing and prepares them to say no to other things that will certainly come up, such as drugs, sexuality, gangs, pornography and other things I want them to have the strength to avoid in their teenage years. 6. The mornings are so hectic they really don't bond with their kids anyway. Ideally our mornings would be smooth and blissful with no fighting and everyone waking up quickly and getting everything done quickly. For most mothers I talk to mornings are far from calm. I do disagree that we do not bond with our children despite the insanity of some mornings. Most morning will be hum drum or CRAZY and not much seems to happen in the way of bonding but every once in a while, something is said just right or your child is able to relay a concern to you with you able to respond in a way that significantly changes their outlook or perspective on life. These moments are what we are seeking for as parents. However, if we forfeit our right to feed our children to someone else we lose these precious opportunities. 7. How can we reachsuch low sugar levels for our family. When I saw the sugar recommendations, I was shocked. They are really low and so easily exceeded, especially if you purchase an easy access food (even fruit snacks). I soon realized though that if one is willing to take on the challenge, it IS possible but it does take more planning and thinking to stay within the recommendations. There definitely are days when I don't have the energy to fight the sugar onslaught that my children get at school and from almost everywhere we go, but I believe it is worth it to teach my kids how to eat low amounts of added sugar. I get so much more by trying than by simply giving up. My kids are willing to listen and try with me better when I explain to them why we are trying to cut out the excessive added sugars from our lives. A conversation on why reducing added sugars is important allows them to consider the gravity of the situation in their personal lives and lets them self-govern themselves. 8. This is better than the soda pop they see kids having for breakfast. While it may be better physically for some kids, it is worse for others, especially those who get breakfast at home. There is no need to take away precious family opportunities and other healthy choices children receive at home to make breakfast better for a few. Again, the school used to provide breakfast before school started to those that needed it or wanted to buy it, and it is not necessary to entirely replace the role of breakfast at home to increase the health of a few. 9. We eat the same thing at home for breakfast. Even if you do eat the same foods, your child is able to interact with you in person or be able to feel your honest concern for them as they eat the food you purchased for them. This is the most valuable part of a meal. The food is of importance but the time lost is the greatest cost we incur with giving up a mealtime with our families. As you try healthier options see if you and your children can feel the difference in your physical, emotional and spiritual state and it may surprise you how rewarding it is to attempt to look for healthier options.
Food options So what could you possibly prepare on a low budget, low time and low added sugar allowance? hot cereal - oatmeal, farina, 6-grain, 9-grain w/ low sweetener eggs - hard boiled, scrambled, sunny-side up waffles or pancakes - make in advance or buy them ready to go to pop in the toaster. Keep the toppings down. Unsweetened applesauce works well. toast - use a LITTLE jam fruit - mix it up and buy unique fruits to make breakfast interesting and exciting! plain yogurt - add fruit or low sugar granola low sugar cold cereals with plain milk german pancakes - put fruit on for a topping french toast - use unsweetened pear sauce for a topping
- the benefit of eating with your child or providing something for them is more important than what you feed them -
There are so many ideas.. let me know yours!
What does the school list as a benefit to my child eating school BIC?
1. All students have the opportunity to eat. Every student does have the opportunity to eat which negates any requirements for a child to be in need for a meal to be provided to them. 2. Time and money savings for families. For sure, if you have a need or not it does take away the cost of a meal but it also takes away responsibility to care for your child's daily need for breakfast - removing the bond you could create by spending that time with them or showing your love for them by providing it for them. Don't lose more than you receive. 3. Research shows decreased absenteeism, tardiness, and visits to the nurse. According to my school our tardiness has decreased significantly since the institution of BIC because if you are tardy you do not receive breakfast. Based on the school's overriding concern over tardiness, I wonder if this is a tool being used not necessarily to help kids eat but to get kids to school on time. Wouldn't breakfast before school also encourage prompt arrival at school if kids are hungry? 4. Helps develop good eating habits. I do consider the fruit, when fruit is actually provided (6 out of 10 times), a benefit to the student. However, the entree and chocolate milk option I consider a major detriment to the student. If children overwhelmingly chose plain milk I think that could be very beneficial as well but from my experience that is a rare occurrence. 5. Students are able to pay attention in class, and receive higher test scores. After presenting my concerns of the BIC that had recently come to our school to teachers and parents, I asked what others thought of the program. There was a teacher who specifically said that she had a student come to her and say this was the first time they were eating breakfast. Teachers seemed to agree that many of their students were calmer after having eaten something for breakfast. The school secretary mentioned that the number of students who complained of feeling sick around 10-11 am had gone down a lot because kids were eating. Teachers also said the need to provide a snack to students had diminished as well. I can see the benefit of providing breakfast for these reasons. I can also see that there are other options where students could eat prior to school in the cafeteria. Breakfast doesn't need to be offered during class time. This way also those who choose to feed their children can do so without needing to send their children to school to eat another meal and coat their teeth with added sugar, or watch other kids eat, to start off their school day. 6. It provides students with important nutrients including calcium, fiber, folate and protein. I agree. Unfortunately many of the entrees are so processed they have to be vitamin fortified in order to be this way, and this can be easily accomplished as well through breakfast at home or prior to school starting. 7. It helps children maintain a healthy body weight. Teaching eating habits that are so high in added sugar content fuels hunger. When one eats something low in fat and high in sugar it is not very satisfying and can be very addicting, thus encouraging overeating.
What if it seems too hard to even try? All of us have situations that are far from ideal. However, there are certain situations that on the outside appear extremely far from perfect and difficult to handle - families where single parents are trying to do what is difficult for two parents, extremely low income levels, chronically sick parents or children, physically, emotionally and/or verbally abusive family relationships, etc. The list could go on and on, but regardless of the situation, there is hope that each day can be a little better by taking what resources we have physically, emotionally and spiritually and work to make them help our children have the most positive experience possible. One big piece of the puzzle is trying. Even when it feels that our efforts are pointless, there are times when our kids will surprise us by showing they were listening, watching and learning. Taking time to prepare a meal and eat with your child or to provide something for them to eat is important. It is a simple way to show love and concern for a child, even in the toughest of situations. You will gain so much more from your efforts that you could imagine possible! Give it a try!
BIC may benefit some students, especially students who have both parents gone in the morning and have little to no supervision in getting ready for school. Most programs are created because someone has a need. However, BIC is also a disservice to students in the impact it has had on encouraging the removal of a mealtime from the home and the encouragement of cultural/familial disintegration. Students are receiving food, but much of the food they are receiving is detrimental to their health with the high added sugar content they are receiving in the very first meal of the day, where no dental hygiene is followed up on. School breakfast is not something that is unique to our school's system. For those in need, there are options to receive "free" or reduced breakfast. BIC is new and spreading. It is easier for a parent to send their kids off to school for a "free" breakfast than to take the time to purchase, prepare and clean-up a meal at home. It is important for us to weigh the costs versus the benefits that come with a meal being provided to our children. Due to our personal experiences with our physical ailment of chronic candida for a time (which is exacerbated with excessive sugars) and the realization we have found that our time with our children is fleeting (after school ends each day, we only have about 3-5 hours to spend with them accomplishing the many tasks that need to be done in that time). We have decided to feed our children breakfast in the morning at our home and have encouraged them to say "No thanks" to BIC. Honestly, it was really hard for our children to see the high added sugar foods and beverages offered to them but after a couple of weeks they were doing much better. Our children don't respond well to ultimatums so explaining why we want to spend time with them in the morning and why the added sugars hurt them helps them be willing to think through it themselves as well as giving them strength to not eat as they watch others eat.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about BIC:
- What do our children learn about shopping, cooking or cleaning up when a meal is provided to them on a regular basis? - How empowered are we when we have food choices made for us on a regular basis? - Is there another way we can help those in need outside of discouraging everyone to feed their children by providing "free" food to them? - What freedoms do we lose by letting the government take over meals?
The power is in our hands to shape our child's life. Mealtime is an important step in doing so.
"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly" - Thomas Paine