The Importance of School Meals for Children

The lunchroom is a familiar fixture in any school. It’s a place for hanging out with friends, taking a welcome break from classes, or even finishing up some last-minute homework. But its primary purpose is the most important: the provision of healthy food. Here’s why school meals are crucial for student health, well-being, and education.

Why Is Breakfast Important?

We’ve all heard about the importance of breakfast, but the first meal of the day is an especially important one for kids. It sets the tone for the day and starts them out on a healthy note. A good breakfast can help children:

  • Eat healthier overall
  • Be more physically active
  • Get more fiber, calcium, and other important nutrients
  • Do better in school
  • Improve memory and attention

Breakfast also promotes better behavior, as it reduces hunger, boosts mood, and—at school—can provide an opportunity for meaningful social connection and development. Studies have found that:

  • Teenagers experiencing hunger are more likely to be suspended from school, and to have difficulty getting along with other children and establishing friendships.
  • Students who participate in school breakfast exhibit decreased behavioral and psychological problems and have lower rates of absence and tardiness.
  • Providing students with breakfast in the classroom is associated with fewer disciplinary office referrals.

Finally, school breakfast is a crucial tool for combating food insecurity. In many low-income households, it can be difficult to put food on the table, particularly during the morning rush. School breakfast programs can fill these gaps and provide students with good nutrition to start their day.

Why Is School Lunch Important?

School lunches also come with a host of benefits for students’ health and well-being. Adhering to nutritional standards, these healthy lunches provide children with energy for the remainder of the school day, reduce food insecurity, and promote healthy choices and lifestyles. Kids who participate in school lunch programs are less likely to have nutrient deficiencies and are more likely to make good food decisions. Studies have correlated school lunch with health benefits like these:

  • The new school meal nutrition standards are having a positive impact on student food selection and consumption, especially for fruits and vegetables.
  • Based on national data, economists estimate that the receipt of a free or reduced-price school lunch reduces obesity rates by at least 17 percent.
  • Receiving free or reduced-price school lunches reduces poor health by at least 29 percent based on estimates using national data.

California households that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches may also qualify for CalFresh, a food assistance program that helps put fresh and healthy food on the table. Check out the benefits for students, adults, and everyone in your household!

The importance of school lunch also stems from behavioral benefits as well as health outcomes. Students experiencing hunger are more likely to display behavioral problems, miss school, be tardy, and experience disciplinary issues. School lunches mitigate these problems by reducing student hunger and promoting good nutrition. Lunch time also allows for social interaction among students and a needed break in the middle of the day.

Nutrition and Learning

School breakfasts and lunches are crucial for student health and well-being, but they also have significant benefits on learning and academic performance. Good nutrition supports optimum brain function and focus, providing students with the best opportunity to succeed.

Comparing students with healthy and unhealthy diets, studies indicate that “diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory, nutritional deficiencies early in life can affect the cognitive development of school-aged children, and access to nutrition improves students’ cognition, concentration, and energy levels.”

To help students do their best in school, experience impactful learning, improve health outcomes, and live well overall, school meals are essential. Join the SLO Food Bank in supporting student nutrition through Breakfast Bags, food distributions, and other food assistance initiatives today!

About the SLO Food Bank

We at the SLO Food Bank believe that everyone has the right to nutritious food. That’s why we work hard to ensure access to fresh food for everyone in our community. We distribute produce directly to people in need through Neighborhood Food Distributions and provide nonprofit agency partners across the community with fresh fruits and vegetables. We also promote food assistance programs like CalFresh, while hosting food distributions in the most rural areas of our county, where a grocery store may be more than 50 miles away.

With our network of community partners in San Luis Obispo, we strive to alleviate hunger and to build a healthier community. If you’re in the area, check out our Food Locator to find food sources near you, or support our cause through volunteer opportunities or donations, if you are able to give. With reliable access to wholesome food, we are all healthier, happier, and more productive members of our communities. Donate today to help us bring health and happiness to San Luis Obispo County!