Growing concern that too many children are arriving at school hungry had led many schools to offer a breakfast service. Sheila Eggleston reports
The provision of a breakfast offer in schools has been gathering momentum, with many in the UK now hosting a breakfast club for children who set off for school in the morning without having eaten anything.
Part of the explanation for this rise in pupil hunger is due to what experts describe as ‘household poverty’.
The Government recognises the cost of this, with its child obesity plan saying “breakfast can contribute to improved attainment, attendance and overall health”.
That is why it announced late last year plans to allocate £10 million a year to help fund school breakfast clubs from the revenue it anticipates getting from the soft drinks industry levy, which is being introduced in April to tackle sugar reduction.
The charity Magic Breakfast, which offers breakfasts and nutrition advice to schools that have 35% or more of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), claims that half a million arrive at school each day not having eaten.
It works with 467 primary, secondary and special educational needs schools feeding 31,000 children a day. Currently operating only in England, it has plans to expand into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It offers porridge, cereals, bagels and unsweetened fruit juice that is 50% diluted with water. Schools buy their own milk and spreads.
Magic Breakfast founder Carmel McConnell says: “Independent research in 2016 carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that primary schools that offered a free and nutritious breakfast boosted their pupils’ reading, writing and maths results by as much as two months’ progress over the course of a year.
“This was a randomised controlled trial conducted with the help of 106 Magic Breakfast partner schools, covering 8,600 children.
“The evaluators concluded that breakfast clubs provide an opportunity to improve outcomes for all children, not just those who actually attend them, by creating better classroom environments.”
As a result, leading food companies are actively working on breakfast concepts. Last year, Bidfood launched a ‘Build a better breakfast club!’ campaign for schools, which includes a guide that provides information and advice for schools on how to set up healthy breakfast clubs, from portion control to recommendations on how to serve cereals, porridge, yoghurt, spreads and toppings.
Brakes, too, is about to launch its own breakfast project. Sector marketing manager Mandy Van Hagen says: “We already support breakfast through contract caterers and provide them with ingredients.
“We’re not helping with menus at the moment but we are being asked about this. We’re looking at recipes using different products to give different solutions, and something other than cereals. Lots of breakfasts can be eaten as grab-and-go pots of hot nutritious food.”
One customer is Warrington-based school catering contractor Dolce Catering, which has announced plans to expand its breakfast club involvement.
“We are now going to have a breakfast offer for every school,” says managing director Dan Curtis. “But obviously there has to be a change of mindset to do this.”
He believes that feeding kids in schools needs to become an all-year-round activity, including breakfast clubs, lunch clubs through school holidays, and after-school clubs.
“In some schools we offer breakfast and after-school clubs all year round,” explains Curtis. “We see breakfast clubs as only going to grow further, and all caterers will have to step up to the plate.”
Dolce offers a variety of menus to suit different budgets: basic ones for schools that want to keep costs low that provide a reduced range, while slightly more expensive menus offer more variety and include, for example, a range of cereals, fruit, toast, baked beans on toast, more milk, and fruit-based drinks.
Curtis says one aspect caterers will have to look at is the economy of offering breakfast and tying it in with the rest of the operation. However, he doesn’t see breakfast holding up the rest of the catering.
“Offering a breakfast can take the pressure off lunch because you can be doing prep for lunch at the same time and adding to the benefit of running the kitchen,” explains Curtis. “Meals for lunch can be prepared quite easily, then chilled and reheated later.”
Brakes’ thinking on the subject has also taken into account that unskilled staff such as teachers or PTA volunteers could manage the breakfast offer.
In addition, it’s a small window of opportunity, with a tight time frame of no more than an hour, according to Brakes senior sector marketing manager – education, Cathy Amos.
“That’s why our new breakfast offer focuses on healthier items like smoothies, and bircher muesli pots that can be made the day before,” she says.
“The menu needs to include fun and healthy food and drink that kids like, such as smoothies and high-street style grab-and-go items.
“But it also needs to be easy to produce as the providers may not have access to the kitchen, only the school hall.”
Cost Sector Catering January issue