Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Students Too Hungry to Learn: A Challenge We Can Solve

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By Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association, and Billy Shore, Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength

Hunger can be found in every corner of the country, affecting one in five children, and this problem often plays out in the classroom. Hungry children struggle to concentrate in class, visit the school nurse with daily headaches and stomach aches, and may act out because they are hungry.

In fact, problems are so severe that a new study shows that teachers spent $37 a month buying food for hungry students, up from $26 a month in 2012.

Share Our Strength’s annual nationwide poll of K-8 public school staff finds that three out of four teachers and principals reported students regularly coming to school hungry. Half of teachers surveyed say hungry children in their classroom is a serious issue, the highest level measured in the four years of conducting this research.

Educators see the issue of hunger as a priority and about one out of two teachers and principals are willing to advocate for breakfast legislation to increase access to the morning meal.

We know that hungry children can’t learn. They feel sick, get distracted and start to fall behind. We need to rally together to end child hunger.

Fortunately, we know that a critical ingredient to ending child hunger is already in place; school breakfast. Share Our Strength and the National Education Association’s Health Information Network (NEA HIN) have a goal this coming school year to increase the number of students participating in the federally-funded School Breakfast Program through promoting alternative breakfast models like Breakfast in the Classroom.

Breakfast in the Classroom works by targeting two key obstacles that keep kids missing out on breakfast: timing and the stigma associated with eating breakfast at school. Only half of all students eligible for free and reduced-price breakfast actually eat their morning meal, which leaves out about 11 million students who start every day hungry.

Traditionally schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before class begins. Moving breakfast “after the bell” can make it easier for students to get a nutritional start to their day. Kids don’t feel different and singled out. Teachers and principals who have breakfast in the classroom report improved student alertness (76%), better attendance (57%), fewer disciplinary problems (54%), fewer visits to the school nurse (55%) and fewer tardy students (49%). More than half of teachers experienced behavior and health improvements in students since implementing the program. And these are benefits that accrue to an entire school community, not just children in need.

There is also an academic benefit to rethinking school breakfast to make sure more students are in the pipeline. Previous research conducted by Deloitte and released by Share Our Strength shows that, on average, students who eat school breakfast achieve 17.5% higher scores on standardized math tests, attend 1.5 more days of school per year. Students who attend class more regularly are 20% more likely to graduate from high school.

We know child hunger is an education issue that together we can solve. To help in this effort, NEA HIN and the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices have created the Start School with Breakfast online toolkit that guides schools on how to rethink school breakfast, step-by-step, with tips and tools. Learn more at NoKidHungry.org/BreakfastToolkit.

If we want our students to succeed in the classroom, we have to make certain they start the day with a full stomach so they are ready to learn. By rethinking school breakfast, we can set our students on a higher achieving path and make no kid hungry a reality.

Originally Published By GOOD.

Our grocery stores are full

Our grocery stores are full of pizzas, pasta, white breads, sugary drinks, and meats like hot dogs and bologna. Unfortunately, many families can't afford anything else for their children.

I think we should offer instruction in nutrition in our health and PE and biology classes, and should offer 3 free meals to children if possible. It also helps when leaders like Michelle Obama promote this important cause.

Really discouraging

Really discouraging statistics there. Our children need to get the best of education and we should not allow hunger to be the obstacle.

I work in the school system

I work in the school system has a custodian and eating in the classroom has become a problem. The whole school is getting invaded by pest to the point that no matter how much we try to keep up the mess that is left behind is almost impossible is unbelievable. If you have a cafeteria were you can eat breakfast and lunch there is no use of eating in the classroom.

I teach grade 7s and I have

I teach grade 7s and I have some students that write about how hungry they are for our writing tasks. We get a snack budget of $10/student per month, but that only covers their recess snacks, and my students need food throughout the day! Many don't get breakfast or lunch. I live in a remote area where food is expensive and the grocery stores are a boat ride away. I just can't afford to feed them myself...

I am writing a paper on the

I am writing a paper on the topic and found That recently the USDA gave free meals to students over the summer (Considering schools could not provide) And gave over 187 million meals, that number may seem large but that's less than what is needed to feed 4.5% of the total Number of children living in food insecure households.

Our Best efforts fall short of double digits. This is a personally depressing statistic

This is very sad, and I wish

This is very sad, and I wish very much there is a better way to solve it!


BAD SCHOOL WHOLE GRAIN MEALS made by Chartbadly's don't offer enough tasteful food; the garbage is always overflowing.

Indeed! Nobody likes the

Indeed! Nobody likes the school meals and we definitely need a better solution. It would be best if we fed our kids with food that they would eat so they would have energy throughout the day.

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