TOAST TO THAT: South Grafton High School Healthy Breakfast program co-ordinator Jo Foley and new principal Megan Johnson say the initiative works.
TOAST TO THAT: South Grafton High School Healthy Breakfast program co-ordinator Jo Foley and new principal Megan Johnson say the initiative works.

Students hungry for a proper start

AS MANY as one in seven Australian schoolchildren admit to heading to school without breakfast, according to ABS data.

The annual CensusAtSchool survey was based on responses from more than 16,100 Australian schoolchildren.

The results revealed 15.2% of respondents did not eat breakfast on the day they completed the survey.

Dietitian and Australian Breakfast Cereals Manufacturers Forum director Leigh Reeve said the unhealthy trend was on the rise.

"Since the survey began six years ago, we've seen the number of schoolchildren skipping breakfast steadily climb, up from 10.8% in 2008," Ms Reeve said.

"It means more children are starting the day on the back foot.

"Research links eating breakfast with improved cognitive performance, particularly in relation to memory and test results."

South Australian students recorded the worst results, with as many as one in five skipping breakfast.

Among breakfast foods, breakfast cereal remained the most popular choice, with more than a third (35.7%) eating breakfast cereal on the day they took the survey, followed by bread or bread products (26.3%) and milk or milk products (12.4%).

"Breakfast cereal is popular because it's a tasty option that's quick and easy to manage as part of the morning rush," Ms Reeve said.

"Importantly it also provides essential nutrients, in particular B group vitamins, iron and fibre, and accounts for almost a third of daily milk intakes for Australian children. Children who eat breakfast cereal are likely to have better nutrition, a lower body mass index and are at a lower risk of being overweight or obese."

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IMAGINE not eating anything for more than 16 hours and then trying to concentrate on someone explaining a quadratic equation, the history of modern civilisation or even the rules of grammar.

South Grafton High School new principal Megan Johnson said for students who don't eat breakfast it's almost an impossible task.

"The kids can't be expected to concentrate when they haven't eaten for that period of time," she said.

On arriving at the school for the last five weeks of last year, Ms Johnson was pleasantly surprised to see the school offer a free breakfast program for all students every day.

"I was really impressed that we were able to offer that program and think it's a great thing for the school," she said.

"I'm especially pleased to see that includes everybody in the school as well."

Healthy Breakfast program co-ordinator Jo Foley said more than 80 students used the free service every day and no matter who they were they walked away ready to face the day.

"Breakfast is really important for the kids - it gets them set up for the day and once they're settled in class they perform much better," she said.

Students came from right across the school and area to use the program and Ms Foley said there were many reasons for youngsters to use the free service.

"Many of our kids travel long distances on buses and often have to leave early in the morning," she said.

"Our rowers often come straight from training on the river and straight to school for some breakfast and our senior classes also start early, some of those students get some food before they begin."

The breakfasts are self-served and self-cleaned, with toast, cereal, fruit, Milo and juice offered for the students, with local suppliers and businesses providing support for the program.

"Bendigo Bank has been a long-time supporter of the program at the school and often even come down with some volunteers to do a cooked breakfast for the students," Ms Foley said.

"We also have Farmer Lou's and Dean Hayes, who support us in providing the food and it's all very much appreciated.

"The parents of the school and people in the wider community often comment how much they like what is being provided to the kids."

The program also provided students and staff a place to mix outside of a classroom environment, something Ms Johnson said was excellent for building relationships.

"They can talk in a much less forced environment to each other, rather than it being a teacher and a student it's just two people having a chat over a bowl of cereal," she said.

"I really see it as something that is part of a very supportive environment that is here at the school and that is also down to the volunteers of 10 to 15 staff that come and provide the program for the kids.

"And now they've had that, we find they are much more settled and much more engaged at school."

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DIETITIAN Leigh Reeve's tips for encouraging children to eat breakfast:

 Limit after-dinner snacks. If your calls for breakfast are met by "I'm not hungry", try cutting back snacks after dinner.

  Leave it to the kids. Breakfast cereal is one of the first meals kids can make for themselves, so encourage them to do so. You can even set out bowls and cereal the night before so all they need to do is grab the milk.

 Lead by example. Resist the urge to just grab a coffee, instead take five minutes for a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast.

  Be ready to run. Dietitians always recommend sitting down to eat breakfast but sometimes that's just not possible. Brekkie on the run is much better than none at all, so for chaotic mornings try a travel-friendly option like a liquid breakfast drink, a sandwich or even a piece of fruit.



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