Nebraska placed near the very bottom of a new study ranking the states for the percentage of low-income students who take part in government-funded school breakfast and lunch programs.
Crystal FitzSimons, spokeswoman for the Food Research and Action Center, says only two states had a worse showing.
“Nebraska is feeding about 50,000 low-income kids for every 123,000 who participate in the school lunch program,” FitzSimons say. “So, they’re serving 40 low-income kids for every 100 who participate in school lunch and they’re ranked 49th nationally.”
More than 11-million low-income kids are receiving free or reduced-price school breakfast across the country. She says Nebraska’s numbers are growing, but there’s much progress to be made.
“There’s a lot of families that are struggling to put food on the table,” FitzSimons says. “Families who rely on free and reduced-price school lunch often would really benefit from having access to breakfast as well. The challenge with the school breakfast program is that it’s often run before the school day starts so kids have to get to school early in order to participate.”
Given commute times and bus schedules, the hour of day often makes it difficult for a child to get to school early enough to take part. Some schools have moved breakfast into the classroom, making it part of the school day, and FitzSimons says that seems to be working.
“States that are having an easier time feeding low-income children breakfast are doing those kinds of models,” FitzSimons says. “They’re delivering breakfast in the classroom, they have grab-and-go breakfasts where kids can grab breakfast when they get off the bus and take it into the classroom or eat it on their way to class and those strategies really do increase participation in the school breakfast program.”
Research shows good nutrition, and eating breakfast in particular, is important for cognitive functioning and academic success.
The survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked Nebraska 49th, only ahead of New Hampshire and Utah. The top performers are: West Virginia, New Mexico and Washington D-C.
The Food Research and Action Center is a national non-profit anti-hunger organization that does research, advocacy and policy work to increase families’ access to federal nutrition programs.