Don’t Blame NYC's Breakfast in the Classroom for Obesity

NYC shouldn’t stop program after survey’s results

Last week a story came out in the New York Times about a study that cited students in New York public schools were eating breakfast in multiple locations and were therefore “inadvertently taking in excess calories.” According to the article, the district’s breakfast in the classroom program—currently in 381 schools—has been halted due to the results of this study.

I spoke with Eric Goldstein, chief executive of The Office of School Support Services for the NYC Department of Education, earlier this year about the district’s breakfast in the classroom program. For Goldstein, increasing breakfast participation was one of his top priorities, and he felt that breakfast in the classroom—provided free for all—was the best way to accomplish this.

Goldstein is hardly alone in his thinking on the subject. Time and time again, I speak with child nutrition directors who tell me about the positive returns of a breakfast in the classroom program.

I think we all can agree that getting more students to eat a healthy breakfast at school is not a bad thing. Placing blame on school breakfasts for childhood obesity is not the answer. That’s not to say these children in New York aren’t eating too many calories in the morning.

My biggest issue with the city halting the breakfast in the classroom program because of the study is that the blame was placed on the schools. These students are eating in the schools, but they are eating in another place too. So why is the blame always on the schools? 

New York City has it’s own set of difficulties for a child nutrition program. The bodega culture is prevalent here. For many who purchase their groceries in a bodega (or corner store), it’s because that’s the only food option they have available. I walk past a middle school every day on my way to the subway. In the seven blocks between the school and the subway, there are probably four or five bodegas and a McDonald’s. And I see kids with backpacks coming out of those places every day with high-calorie options that offer little in the way of a balanced morning meal.

I asked Goldstein about this very issue, and he admitted it was a challenge. His solution: education.

“Breakfast is free for everybody, so why would you spend money and time on something you don’t need to?” he explained as one of the marketing campaigns the district has directed at parents. We need to send “a different message to [parents and students] explaining why eating breakfast with us is much better than spending money on some junk food in a bodega. It’s not just economically for the parents, it’s time you don’t have to waste. For the kids, it’s something that is healthier for you and just as tasty.”

Perhaps better education still needs to take place.

In a district with a free and reduced percentage of 74%, in a challenging economic time, why would anyone want to restrict a healthy, and free, breakfast offered in classrooms? If kids are eating too many calories in the morning, let’s focus on those “empty calories” they may be eating at the bodegas or home. Leave the school’s breakfasts alone.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
unsung heroes graphic

Febin Bellamy, a senior at Georgetown University, is the founder of Unsung Heroes, a nonprofit that features service workers on college campuses in man-on-the-street-style Facebook interviews. This year, Bellamy is working with a dozen schools to launch their own chapters of the storytelling platform. Here’s what he’s learned about staff shoutouts.

Q: Why did you decide to start Unsung Heroes?

A: One day I started a conversation with a custodial worker in the business school that I would see all the time. I learned that we had a lot of similarities; for instance, we both wanted to...

Ideas and Innovation
bolognese sauce

We’re trying to bring scratch cooking to all the elementary schools, but we’re taking it dish by dish. Right now, we satellite a lot of the dishes out. This month we made a Bolognese from scratch, and went to each of the schools to talk to them about the process and see if they could implement it. It helps us find out the hurdles and what they are going to need to make it work.

Ideas and Innovation
rolling silverware

Ensuring that employees regularly complete the busywork missing from their daily checklist can be a challenge, but these tasks often help an operation run efficiently with fewer unexpected costs. At Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., Regional Executive Chef Dustin Cochran has found a solution to ensure his walk-in coolers always have a clean vent. Cochran starts with a thorough cleaning of the vent, then slips a hairnet over it to catch the dust. Instead of getting employees to deep clean the vents, they need only replace the hairnet.

Ideas and Innovation
chicken and waffles

Our elementary menu is currently riding the breakfast-anytime advertising trend by offering Breakfast for Lunch every Tuesday. It ranks as our highest participation, and it was a great way for us to introduce chicken and waffles inspired by an IHOP dish.

FSD Resources