Blogger | Nutrition

Back to School: Nourishing Brains and Bellies

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By Jake Frydman
Outreach Specialist

As Kansas children head back to school, they return to an environment designed to foster growth in their developing brains. Many kids, however, also look forward to the return of a different kind of nourishment that is far too often absent over the summer months. The kind of nourishment for growing bodies that comes from regular, healthy meals at breakfast and lunch.

Recognizing the vital importance of this secondary function of Kansas schools for thousands of Kansas children and families, Kansas Action for Children has partnered with the Food Research & Action Center and Kansas Appleseed in an effort to increase access to school breakfast and lunch for Kansas kids.

To achieve this goal, we have published and promoted materials to inform Superintendents across Kansas about programs and opportunities available to schools and school districts that help ensure all Kansas children get the healthy meals they need to be successful in the classroom.

Programs like Breakfast in the Classroom encourage schools to offer breakfast during the first class of the day, rather than before school. Serving breakfast before the bell means many students who rely on busses or long walks are often unable to arrive in time for the most important meal of the day.

The Community Eligibility Provision helps address the issue of unfiled paperwork that often stands between a hungry kid and a hot meal at lunch. When adopted, this provision allows schools with a large percentage of children on free and reduced lunch status to offer free lunch to all students.

Programs such as these improve the Kansas school experience for everyone. No hungry kids means fewer distractions in the classroom, better attendance, improved performance, and an enriched learning experience for all.

If you want to learn more about how to get these programs implemented at your school, please contact us at kac@kac.org, because even one hungry kid in Kansas is one too many.

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KCK Public Schools take pro-active approach to child hunger

By Shannon Cotsoradis
KAC President & CEO

Kansas City Kansas Public Schools recently announced that their district has begun providing breakfast and lunch to all early childhood and elementary students at no cost to students’ families. This opportunity became possible through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which was part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. CEP is an innovative tool to improve child nutrition and reduce administrative burdens on schools and parents.

USD 500 is one of the first Kansas school districts to take advantage of this program. It is a smart and strategic move on the part of KCK Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Lane – as well as other district leaders – to help reduce child hunger.

The district’s decision to participate in CEP matters because it is part of a larger, sobering conversation about Kansas kids and their futures. Although the Great Recession is long over, nearly one in three Wyandotte County children continue to live in poverty. Kids in poverty are more likely to be food insecure, and studies prove that hungry children struggle to learn.

The effects of child poverty are especially evident in the classroom. Times are tough for all Kansas schools as they struggle to serve more students with fewer resources. A greater number of poor Kansas children combined with less state funding is an equation for crisis in Kansas schools. Alternate school meal models like CEP will help get nutritious meals to kids who need them – ensuring more kids are healthy and ready to learn.

Kansas kids who started Kindergarten when the Great Recession began in 2008 are now a year away from high school. We can’t afford to let child hunger continue at such significant levels for another year. The longer kids go hungry, the more likely they are to face other challenges later in school and – ultimately – later in life. Dr. Lane and USD 500 are to be applauded for their pro-active focus on this critical issue.

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Serving up success in school with Breakfast in the Classroom

By Hilary Gee
KAC Government Relations Specialist

PBIC Infographic

Everyone – from parents and pediatricians to policymakers and teachers – understands that kids have trouble focusing and controlling their behavior when they’re hungry.  That’s why school lunch has been a key piece of public education since 1946.

Then, in 1975, the school lunch program expanded to include school breakfast, which was a highly positive step forward in reducing child hunger and improving child nutrition in America.

Sadly, too many Kansas kids are still distracted from morning lessons by rumbling tummies.

Although breakfast is served in most Kansas schools, it’s not always easy for kids to participate. Most schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before the start of the school day. Bus schedules, limited time, and classroom distance from the cafeteria are all barriers to participation in school breakfast.

In fact, Kansas actually ranks 33rd in the entire country in providing breakfast to low-income children. This may not seem like a big deal, but studies consistently prove that hungry children are more likely to get sick, less likely to succeed in school, and less likely to finish high school or go on to college. With nearly one in five Kansas kids living in poverty, there’s also a good chance that many kids missing out on breakfast are food insecure.

Fortunately, there is a solution!

With many Kansas kids heading back to school this week, KAC released a brief about the benefits of Breakfast in the Classroom and our work as part of Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom in Kansas. Check out the report, and share resources on Facebook and Twitter.

As they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We have a responsibility to make sure all Kansas kids have access to it.

Learn more about Breakfast in the Classroom and other alternative breakfast models at www.BreakfastInTheClassroom.org.

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Diminishing HOPE for Kansas Families with Children

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO

For struggling Kansans, state-administered safety net programs are an essential lifeline to help families meet basic needs. When the HOPE Act is fully implemented, fewer families with children will have access to pathways out of poverty in Kansas.

An already minimal benefit will become more limited.

Cash assistance for Kansas families living in deep poverty is already very minimal (a family of three can receive a maximum benefit of just $429 per month). Hundreds of families with children will be cut off from assistance in January when a 36-month lifetime limit goes into effect. This policy change will penalize the most vulnerable families who are unable to climb out of assistance within the time limit, or those who experience a setback after leaving the program once. Kansas policymakers should reconsider the policy, which has prompted the Department of Children and families to create a plan to warn food pantries and homeless shelters that more families will be in need of help once they reach their lifetime limit of assistance.

Already struggling families will face new, unnecessary burdens.

Other new regulations unnecessarily burden families who are already piecing together work, child care, and transportation. Beginning July 1, Kansans will not be able to use cash assistance to make purchases outside of the state, even if the nearest or cheapest grocery store or gas station is just across a state border. A $25 per day limit on ATM withdrawals will expose poor families to additional fees and add yet another hassle to their day-to-day lives – all without any known policy benefit. Supporters of the restrictions say this is about promoting self-reliance, but it’s really about penalizing families for being poor. Most TANF recipients are hard working, they’re not spending TANF funds on things that are unnecessary. This law mischaracterizes the majority of TANF beneficiaries.

More poor children will not have access to economic support.

New legislation codifies existing administrative changes that caused a sharp decline in the number of children in families receiving cash assistance. This decline is particularly troubling because enrollment in other safety net programs, like food assistance, KanCare, and free and reduced price lunch, has increased during this time period. That means that even though more children are growing up in poor families, fewer are able to access vital economic support.

While policymakers may be well intended in their desire to promote self-sufficiency among poor Kansas families, the policy changes included in the legislation are not supported by evidence that demonstrates they will achieve the goal’s the administration’s has stated. What is certain are the enormous consequences the most economically fragile Kansas families with children will face as a result of the HOPE Act. Short-term, the legislation may further reduce the number of families with children that access safety net programs, but long-term policymakers have increased the likelihood that today’s poor children will become tomorrow’s poor adults.

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Team Up for Kansas Kids

By Steve Coen
President and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation

Parents and educators see school-family collaboration as instrumental in creating the healthy environments kids need to succeed. When we asked Kansas parents, we discovered 86 percent are hungry for more information about school wellness guidelines and practices. But fewer than one in four are aware of an existing wellness committee at their kids’ schools.

For these reasons, and many more, I’m honored and excited to share our newest program, Team Up for Kansas Kids. A statewide effort, Team Up for Kansas Kids is designed to close that gap by facilitating the constructive partnerships between school leaders and families that will ensure healthy futures for our students.

The Kansas Health Foundation is committed to providing all Kansans with the opportunity to live a healthy life. We look to achieve this by promoting wellness in schools, neighborhoods and communities – and by encouraging healthy habits from a young age.

We created Team Up for Kansas Kids to connect and empower influential role models in a kid’s life – family members and school leaders – because the healthy habits kids are exposed to are crucial to lifelong success.

Quality nutrition and physical activity are widely known to prevent sick days, obesity and other chronic diseases. But healthy eating and exercise also improve academic performance. Both are consistently linked to improved concentration in class, lower rates of absenteeism and higher test scores.

Nearly one-third of Kansas kids between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese and two-thirds of American high school students aren’t active enough to raise their heart rates for the recommended 60 minutes every day. As a nation, we all end up paying dearly to offset the negative effects of obesity and poor health. After all, kids are the future.

Both Kansas schools and families have a tremendous opportunity to reverse these dangerous trends and set our kids up for lifelong success. Team Up for Kansas Kids aims to unite the efforts of school leaders and families and provide both with opportunities to explore resources, share tools and best practices and glean tips for facilitating collaborative action. We see this is an opportunity not only for Kansas, but for states nationwide to spring into action.

I invite you to continue to explore our website, where you’ll find resources specifically for school leaders, families and examples of schools around the state who’ve already begun implementing wellness programs to great success. I hope you’ll also consider pledging your support for this effort, as I look forward to fruitful discussions and creative solutions. Together we can help our kids grow up smart, strong and healthy.

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Working to end child hunger in Kansas

By Rebecca Gaston
Kansas Appleseed

Child hunger still exists in Kansas. One in five Kansas children is without access to enough nutritionally adequate foods and is considered food insecure. Approximately one-half of Kansas public school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. But on weekends, holidays and other school breaks, many of these Kansas kids do not have adequate access to regular meals.

This weekend, students will have an extended break for Thanksgiving, which means four or five days between meals at school, and many of them do not know if there will be enough food at home during the break. At a time when the temperature is falling and gas bills are rising, many low-income families have fewer resources available to purchase food.

It gets worse during longer breaks. In the summer, when kids are out of school from late May until August, only 7 percent of eligible kids are receiving meals through the Summer Food Services Program, putting Kansas in 50th place for meeting low-income kids’ summer meal needs.

To help improve access to food among hungry kids and other vulnerable groups in Kansas, Kansas Appleseed and Kansas Action for Children are coming together with representatives from school districts, statewide government agencies and other non-profits to form the Kansas Food Security Roundtable. We’ll be meeting often to make plans to create and expand programs and outreach events that will improve access to foods all over Kansas. We are committed to ending food insecurity in Kansas.

Kansas Appleseed is a nonprofit, nonpartisan justice center dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans.  

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Healthy school meals: One teen’s take

By Sophie B.

Ever since I was in kindergarten, eating healthy has been important to me. Fresh produce has always been my favorite food group. It’s also great for my health!

My school lunch usually consists of a choice of a salad bar or a warm lunch. Salad is probably the healthiest option at my school. At my school, it has fresh veggies, egg, ham and some type of croutons. The hot lunch consists of protein, veggie or fruit, a grain and milk. The veggie or fruit is required but most kids do not eat them, unfortunately.

Fruits and veggies are the most important foods for your body. When I bring a lunch from home, not only is it better for me but I get to choose what I have. Yay! I am hoping to have a home lunch every day this year. My home lunches usually consist of a sandwich with lunch meat, cheese, a leafy green and mayonnaise and mustard. Also, I have a fresh fruit and a veggie plus a treat—maybe a bag of chips or a sweet treat. But it is in moderation! It’s true when people say everything is good in moderation. If I am craving something sweet, which is pretty normal, I put down that chocolate bar and dip some strawberries in some yogurt. Yum!

I hope you have a happy and healthy year! And spread the word: A healthier you is a happier you!

Sophie, 13, is a student at Shawnee Heights Middle School.

Note: Starting this year, Kansas schools have the option of expanding access to healthy school meals through a program called Community eligibility. Community eligibility allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. This program (which has been piloted in 11 states already) means more kids get both breakfast and lunch at school. When kids are healthy and not hungry, they have better attendance, better behavior in the classroom and better test scores. Learn more at feedkansaskids.com.

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School meals are a good value–financially and nutritionally

By Kaye Kabus
Food Service Director, Seaman School District, Topeka

Children are not prepared to learn if they are hungry. It is that simple.

CE infographicChild nutrition programs exist to support school districts in education. Seaman Food Service has a mission statement: “To provide meal programs that meet the nutritional needs of Seaman School District students and encourage a positive environment for learning. We are committed to operating a program that is financially responsible and provides nutrition education opportunities for students and their families.”

Our primary focus is school lunch, but we do so much more. We have after-school snack programs at Seaman High School and Logan Elementary School, and a summer meal program at Logan. We offer breakfast to students in our Boys and Girls Club of Topeka before school programs, in addition to traditional breakfast programs at Rochester, Logan, Seaman Middle School and Seaman High School. We understand that many families in our district struggle financially, and confidentially assisting families with the Child Nutrition Benefit process is a critical function of our department. We know that we are the stewards of the financial resources entrusted to us for our nonprofit school meal programs. Our funding comes from our students’ families and from federal and state reimbursement. To qualify our meals for the reimbursement funds, we follow the challenging guidelines as required for school meal programs. Seaman Food Service works on our District Wellness Council and assists at the wellness nights with nutrition education opportunities.

We know our families have a choice when it comes to school meals, they can send a meal from home. Our management team listens to suggestions and comments and work hard to keep our customers satisfied and ready for the classroom. A school meal is an incredible value, both financially and nutritionally. We strive to create healthy school environments for our students.

Note: Childhood hunger is a big problem in Kansas. For some school districts, a new opportunity called “community eligibility” may help. Community eligibility allows schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. For more information, visit feedkansaskids.com

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A big opportunity for hungry Kansas kids

By Benet Magnuson
Executive Director of Kansas Appleseed

Kansas is a land of feast and, sadly, a land of hunger: We grow more wheat than any other state – enough in a single year to fill a train stretching from here to the Atlantic Ocean; enough to feed 10 million families for over a decade – but we rank:

50th for feeding low-income kids in the summer
36th for feeding low-income kids a school breakfast
44th for feeding hungry families eligible for SNAP
Each June and July, as Kansans harvest hundreds of millions of bushels of wheat, we leave a staggering 93 percent of low-income kids without the summer meals they’re eligible for. And in the fall, when these low-income kids head back to school, 56 percent won’t get a school breakfast.

Hungry at school, these kids will be more likely to perform worse on standardized tests and have less academic success than kids who got breakfast. They’ll also be more likely to be absent or tardy, eat less nutritious diets, visit the school nurse more frequently and experience worse mental health and behavioral problems.

The good news is we can fix this. There are proven programs and policies that get good, nutritious meals to hungry kids. And the exciting news is Kansas schools that have wanted to offer more meals for low-income kids can now take advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision to fund blue ribbon programs like Breakfast in the Classroom, afterschool suppers and summer meal sites.

These programs have amazing results – including increasing school attendance and decreasing visits to the school nurse – but may have seemed out of reach for schools trying to keep up with the paperwork of applications for free and reduced-price lunches. Community eligibility eliminates that paperwork and increases funding for schools with high levels of student poverty. With that increased funding, schools in other states have been able to power expanded breakfast, lunch, supper and summer meals for kids from low-income families.

Which is to say, there is a way – Kansas just needs the will. Your support for these programs will make the difference in lifting Kansas up from our bad childhood hunger rankings. Community eligibility is a huge opportunity for our communities to come together, support our schools and make sure no child has to try to learn and grow on an empty stomach.

Note: Benet Magnuson is the executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit, nonpartisan justice center dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans.

By Benet Magnuson
Executive Director of Kansas Appleseed

Kansas is a land of feast and, sadly, a land of hunger: We grow more wheat than any other state – enough in a single year to fill a train stretching from here to the Atlantic Ocean; enough to feed 10 million families for over a decade – but we rank:

  • 50th for feeding low-income kids in the summer
  • 36th for feeding low-income kids a school breakfast
  • 44th for feeding hungry families eligible for SNAP

Each June and July, as Kansans harvest hundreds of millions of bushels of wheat, we leave a staggering 93 percent of low-income kids without the summer meals they’re eligible for. And in the fall, when these low-income kids head back to school, 56 percent won’t get a school breakfast.

Hungry at school, these kids will be more likely to perform worse on standardized tests and have less academic success than kids who got breakfast. They’ll also be more likely to be absent or tardy, eat less nutritious diets, visit the school nurse more frequently and experience worse mental health and behavioral problems.

The good news is we can fix this. There are proven programs and policies that get good, nutritious meals to hungry kids. And the exciting news is Kansas schools that have wanted to offer more meals for low-income kids can now take advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision to fund blue ribbon programs like Breakfast in the Classroom, afterschool suppers and summer meal sites.

These programs have amazing results – including increasing school attendance and decreasing visits to the school nurse – but may have seemed out of reach for schools trying to keep up with the paperwork of applications for free and reduced-price lunches. Community eligibility eliminates that paperwork and increases funding for schools with high levels of student poverty. With that increased funding, schools in other states have been able to power expanded breakfast, lunch, supper and summer meals for kids from low-income families.

Which is to say, there is a way – Kansas just needs the will. Your support for these programs will make the difference in lifting Kansas up from our bad childhood hunger rankings. Community eligibility is a huge opportunity for our communities to come together, support our schools and make sure no child has to try to learn and grow on an empty stomach.

Note: Benet Magnuson is the executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit, nonpartisan justice center dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans.

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Guest post: Lifelong strategies for children’s health must include good nutrition

By Dr. Anna Esparham
University of Kansas Hospital

As a Kansas pediatrician, I am committed to the health and well-being of children. In my integrative medicine practice, I educate patients and parents and help them identify lifelong strategies for health, which always include good nutrition.

Good nutrition is important for all kids, whether they are overweight or not. A diet with too much sugar can aggravate other health problems. Soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks also displace their intake of water, which is essential for replenishing their healthy bodies.

It’s important for parents to support healthy choices and make them easy for kids to make. Passing on pop, even just once a week, is a great way to support healthy choices for your family. Sunday is a perfect day to make this change with your family. Talk to your kids about why your family should make this change and support one another!

I invite you and your family to join me by taking the Soda-Free Sundays pledge.

Click here to take the pledge now!

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