Blog: School breakfast clubs for low-income children
Published: 8 Jan 2019
It’s difficult to focus when you’re hungry. That’s why a child who arrives at school without having had breakfast can be a big problem. They won’t be in the right frame of mind to learn and they might also be disruptive to the rest of the class.
I manage the Breakfast Club Programme at Greggs Foundation, which provides free breakfasts to over 32,000 children every school day. We operate in schools with high need, where 40% or more of children are entitled to free school meals. I brought up three sons as a single parent, working full time on low income, so I understand the struggles that low-income families face. That’s why I don’t judge parents who aren’t always able to give their child breakfast, and why I’m so passionate about making sure all children get the best possible start to the day.
Teachers frequently tell me about the positive effect that breakfast clubs have on pupils’ behaviour and readiness to learn. As well as feeding children, breakfast clubs also provide a time of calm, which can help to mentally prepare them for the day ahead.
Despite the obvious benefits that breakfast clubs bring, I’m aware of the need to go further. Children with the most chaotic home lives are invariably late for school and miss out on breakfast clubs. Sadly, they’re the children who would benefit most from them. At Greggs Foundation, we encourage teachers to give children a healthy, nutritious breakfast which includes a piece of fruit, cereal and a slice of toast, when they arrive in class, but I was keen to find out how other organisations are helping the most vulnerable children.
In 2018, I travelled to Canada and the USA on a Churchill Fellowship to study new breakfast club models. One practice that stood out to me is known as ‘Grab and Go’. Traditionally, breakfast clubs take place in school halls and require a lot of staff to supervise them. With Grab and Go, a trolley is set up from which children can take food on their way to class. It’s a simple way of helping children to get a healthy, balanced breakfast, which places only a very small burden on staff.
I was particularly impressed by the work of Breakfasts Clubs of Canada (BCC). Their young leadership programme sees older children volunteer at breakfast clubs, giving them the opportunity to support their fellow students and learn valuable life skills.
The Fellowship was great for me. I’ve worked for Greggs Foundation for 10 years, and when you’ve done something for so long, it can be easy to stop thinking outside the box.
Now I’ve returned to the UK, I’m ready to put what I’ve learnt into practice. I’m already working with Education Scotland and Kellogg’s to try to bring Grab and Go to the UK and to ensure that the food offered to children as part of this scheme is the most nutritious possible and meets school food standards.
I’d love to hear from other people and organisations working on the issue of childhood food insecurity. I believe we could achieve much more if people working in this area combine our skills, experience and resources. I’m also hoping to organise an international conference on breakfast clubs in the next 18 months, and I plan to invite some of the people I met in Canada and the USA to share their expertise. Please send me an email if you’d like to know more.
Top picture: volunteers at a breakfast club in Quebec, Canada
Contact Lynne: [email protected]