The Case for Universal Breakfast: It Really Is the Most Important Meal of the Day!

The Case for Universal Breakfast: It Really Is the Most Important Meal of the Day!

By: Chef Ann Cooper and Sunny Young

Eating a full and substantial breakfast can change your day. It can take you from a groggy and tired state to a ready-to-conquer the world mentality in minutes. It gets your metabolism going first thing and is essential to a healthy lifestyle. For children who are constantly growing, breakfast is the key to a focused and productive day. A child who starts their day with a morning meal will prepared to concentrate in class and have a solid foundation for their education to grow. Breakfast is important! But there are a significant group of Americans who cannot afford breakfast for their children, whether it is an issue of time and/or money. That is why it is essential that more schools serve breakfast to students.

In every school and district I’ve worked in over the past twelve years, we have served or given access to breakfast to all of the students.  Over the years of working in schools across the country, it has become apparent that the best way to assure all students eat breakfast is for it to be served in the classroom.

There are so many reasons why we need to change how we feed our children:

  • The CDC has stated that of the children born in the year 2000; one out of every three Caucasians and one out of every two African Americans and Hispanics will have diabetes in their lifetimes.i
  • The New England Journal of Medicine has stated that those same children will be the first generation in our country’s history to die at a younger age than their parents – because of what we feed them. ii
  • Both the achievement gap and the life expectancy gap – between rich and poor have grown over 20% in twenty years. iii
  • Over 72% of all Americans are now overweight or obese. iv
  • Over 30% of all children between 4 and 19 are now overweight or obese. v
  • We currently spend over $260 billion a year (on the healthcare costs), over $5 billion a week on just two diseases; diabetes and obesity.


In realizing how important healthy food is to our children, it should be mandatory to make sure they all begin every day with a healthy breakfast! There are all kinds of pros as well as perceived cons to Universal Breakfast in the classroom; however I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

The naysayers will often tout the following as reasons why we shouldn’t serve breakfast in the classroom:

  • Kids spill – there can be messes to clean
  • Who will take out the trash?
  • What about ants and mice?
  • Breakfast takes time, as much as 20 minutes, and teachers are trying to teach
  • Union negotiated agreements often state that teachers do not do food service work
  • The government should not be paying to feed kids breakfast – that’s the parent’s job


All of the above issues are true, but NONE of them should be a barrier to feeding our children the most important meal of the day.

When I ran the Food Service in Berkeley, CA we implemented Universal Breakfast in the Classroom in all of our schools and now where I currently run Nutrition Services in Boulder, CO we have implemented it in numerous schools.  Large districts all across the country are also realizing the importance of breakfast in the classroom and children in DC, Memphis, Maryland and New York, to name a few, are now eating with their fellow students at their desks.

  • Do kids spill? Well of course it can happen, but that would certainly be a ludicrous reason to not ensure they receive a healthy breakfast! In my experience, it has never been an overwhelming problem.
  • Does breakfast in the classroom mean that trash needs to be emptied? Yes – however there are many ways this can be accomplished, including having the students participate in recycling and composting.
  • Does it take time for kids to eat and can this cut into teaching time? Of course – however talented teachers all across the country have figured out ways to use this time as teaching time.  From reading and journaling, to discussions about food, farming, and nutrition – there are so many ways to use breakfast time as teaching time.
  • Should teachers be required to help their students at breakfast? – I’ll leave this discussion for the teachers and their unions – but hungry kids can’t learn and malnourished kids can’t think.  It should be all of our collective responsibility to ensure that no child is hungry in school and that they can learn to the best of their abilities because they are well nourished.
  • Should the government be responsible to feeding our children, well I guess the same question can be asked of education; shouldn’t parents be responsible for teaching their children to read and write – why is it the government’s job?  In America we have made education a priority and that should include the entire school day.

It should be a birth right in our country that no child is hungry in school and that every child, every day has delicious/nutritious food in school – universal breakfast in the classroom is one avenue toward this goal.

Finally I’d like to add that for many, many school districts with a high free and reduced population, universal breakfast in the classroom can be cash-positive and can help assure healthier food for lunch as well as breakfast.

For more information on breakfast in the classroom programs, check out the following:


Chef Ann Cooper

Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancy than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children’s health and wellness.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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