When we’re hungry, it can be difficult to think of anything but our next snack or meal. Without a refuel, our moods, behaviors, and well-being soon begin to suffer. For far too many Arkansas children, this feeling of persistent hunger is their everyday reality. According to Feeding America, one in four children in our state face food insecurity. 

Fortunately, Arkansas is making significant strides to address this issue. As the Food Research & Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard showed, the state ranked 5th in the country for the ratio of free and reduced-price school breakfast to lunch participation. But there’s still room for growth. Currently, only about two-thirds of eligible students are taking advantage of these programs. 

This School Breakfast Month, we’re visiting with Sherry Tallant, co-director of child nutrition at Horatio School District in Sevier County, an E8 Community, about the integral role these programs play in children’s health and education outcomes:

How does access to healthy food at school affect children’s success?

A healthy breakfast helps our children excel academically and outside of school. It provides the nutrition they need to think clearly, so they can focus on classroom tasks and tests. It also gives them much-needed energy for recess, sports, and other physical activities. Additionally, it helps reduce hunger-related behavioral issues, such as stress or aggression.

What do you believe are the primary benefits of an effective school breakfast program?

Breakfast can promote positive eating habits—not only for that day but long term. That’s why it’s important to select menu items that students want to, and will choose to, consume. These nutritious foods will help them feel good and ideally, decrease their risk of obesity or related illnesses and diseases. It may only be one meal, but its impact is wide-reaching.

What strategies has Horatio used to increase student accessibility?

We’ve staggered serving times to increase student participation, particularly among older grades. We’re also providing a second-chance breakfast so children who arrive later or are hurrying to make it to class still have an opportunity to get a healthy meal before the day starts.

What lessons have we learned from COVID-19 that we can use to improve in the future?

Since the onset of COVID-19, we’ve adopted innovative new strategies to safely serve students. We’ve begun to package food in grab-and-go bags so not everyone is eating in the cafeteria at the same time. It’s helped us stay in compliance with health and safety guidelines and enhanced participation rates.

For School Breakfast Month, we hope you will join us in thanking Sherry and the superintendents, principals, and child nutrition directors across Arkansas who are helping our children start their days ready to learn.