Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
With the start of a new school year upon us, Macon County Schools will once again offer a Universal Free Breakfast Program to all public school students. The program was a success last year with more than half the students taking advantage of the free breakfast that was offered. Former School Nutrition Director of Macon Schools Kim Terrell stated that a new study shows that students who ate school breakfast every day, compared to those who only ate breakfast 0-4 times a week, showed improved school performance with less behavioral issues. The same can be said for eating a healthy lunch. Further research shows that receiving free or reduced-price school lunches reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health. The need for free or reduced breakfast and lunch has been increasing in the last decade. During the 2016-2017 school year 59.8% students received services from this program – a 10% increase in the last decade. Although breakfast is free for all students, parents must still apply for the free or reduced lunch program in Macon County. Though flyers are sent out at the beginning of the school year, some families still do not participate in the program even though they may be eligible. This may be due to the fact that they do not realize that they have to register every year. Many families think that only households receiving food stamps are eligible, but the program is income based and therefore many families can qualify for reduced lunch prices. Last year more than 60% of students enrolled in the program demonstrating the great need in Macon County. On the first day of school, several parents at South Macon Elementary School were not aware that breakfast was free for all students this year. They were delighted to find out and most will be participating in the free program. Some of the children who were eating breakfast on Monday went back for seconds. If a child is still hungry after eating their first meal they are allowed to go back for more. New School Nutrition Director David Lightner explains how the free breakfast program works. “Universal Free Breakfast encourages participants as a whole. With every meal we serve, we get reimbursed from the federal government. Reimbursement rates are higher for free and reduced students, so, if a high percentage of free and reduced students eat breakfast, we can cover that cost to allow full pay students to eat breakfast for free as well.” On average, over half of the students ate breakfast last year. That is equivalent to 340,000 breakfasts served during the school year. The hope is to continue to grow breakfast participation through Universal Free Breakfast where students eat in their school’s cafeteria before school begins. Breakfast in the classroom is open to some elementary school students who want to eat with their teacher. Grab and go breakfast is available at FHS for students who want to eat but don’t have time to sit down in the cafeteria with their peers and second chance breakfast is for those high school students who don’t like to eat first thing in the morning so they are able to get breakfast a bit later. And, the nutrition program is always looking to offer new menu items as they are received. All food served meets nutritional guidelines set forth by the government and many times are specially formulated for school nutrition programs. For example, a majority of items are whole grain and reduced sugar. Fresh fruit is always available. “Any chance we get to add healthy items to our menus, we will do so,” said Lightner. Applications for free or reduced lunch can be downloaded from the school nutrition webpage. Additional information along with a menu for each school, pre-payment options, nutrition and fitness education, wellness policy and contact information if someone desires more detailed information are all accessible online. David Lightner, RDN, LDN is the Nutrition Director, Cody Vair is the nutrition supervisor and Brandyn Bryggare is the nutrition clerk. They are available to assist any family with questions or those who have a need. Call them at (828)524-8771. The goal is to have a successful school year where all students can eat a healthy breakfast to start the day strong.