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Utah Seeks to Improve Participation in School Breakfast Program

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The School Breakfast Scorecard recently ranked Utah 51st for the number of students receiving breakfast on a daily basis. A new program, Smart Start, aims to improve participation. (Wavebreaknedia/Adobe Stock)
The School Breakfast Scorecard recently ranked Utah 51st for the number of students receiving breakfast on a daily basis. A new program, Smart Start, aims to improve participation. (Wavebreaknedia/Adobe Stock)
 By Mark Richardson - Producer, Contact
February 22, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY -- As Utah students head back to the classroom soon, research shows providing breakfast will be a critical factor in helping kids who have fallen behind on their studies catch up.

But advocates say Utah, which was ranked last in the nation in the most recent School Breakfast Scorecard, needs to step up its efforts to improve participation.

The study, from the Food Research and Action Center, noted breakfast participation rates among Utah students has fallen steadily in recent years.

Neil Rickard, child nutrition advocate for Utahns Against Hunger, said when schools provide daily nutrition, the benefits go beyond stopping hunger.

"It's one of the ways to really ensure participation," Rickard contended. "Which we know is important not just for the raw nutrition, although that obviously is important, but for the improved focus and concentration and emotional stability that kids have throughout the school day afterward."

Rickard noted in early 2020, the Utah Legislature approved Smart Start, a program to encourage participation by phasing in alternative breakfast models like second-chance breakfast or breakfast in the classroom over the next several years.

He added due to the pandemic, the program will not start until this fall.

In the meantime, he pointed out many school districts have begun developing creative ways to deliver meals to many students who are forced to study at home.

"I think as a consequence of all of the efforts that people made to get meals out to students and families during the pandemic, people are actually a little more aware of breakfast at schools," Rickard acknowledged.

Rickard emphasized the report further showed if Utah schools participated in breakfast at rates similar to West Virginia and other national leaders, more than 46,000 more low-income children could be fed daily.

"We would love to get jumped in the rankings," Rickard remarked. "But realistically, the progress is not just the total number of kids served, but in just reaching kids in critical areas. You never know which particular meal is going to be the one that that makes a difference for a kid."

Rickard stressed during the pandemic, many Utah districts began taking advantage of federal waivers to provide breakfast and lunch to families of low-income children unable to attend due to pandemic-related closures.

Disclosure: Utahans Against Hunger contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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