Council Members Urge Expansion of Classroom Breakfasts

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Several New York City Council members are calling on the Department of Education to make free breakfasts available to more students, urging the city to offer the morning meal in classrooms rather than in cafeterias.

All schools offer free breakfasts, but only 22 percent of the city’s 1,750 schools serve them in the classroom. A resolution sponsored by Brooklyn Councilman Steven Levin would try to compel the city to make the Breakfast in Classrooms program available in all schools.

“We have universal breakfast, but we hover among the lowest big cities in the entire country with actual enrollment in school breakfast,” Mr. Levin said. “Other cities do it very successfully. The benefits to eating breakfast are well known for students’ nutrition and attentiveness and ability to do well in school.”

In addition to Levin's proposal, the committee considered a resolution that calls on state lawmakers to pass legislation supporting classroom breakfasts in every school in New York City.

The Health and Education departments did not testify at Wednesday’s hearing by the Council's Education Committee. A spokeswoman said the city allows principals to decide where and how to serve the meals.

“We are committed to ensuring that a healthy breakfast is available to every student,” Erin Hughes, from the Department of Education, wrote in an e-mail message.

Advocates on Wednesday said the city should compel school principals to offer classroom-based breakfasts.

“They tell the principals what to do each and every day on a thousand different things,” said Joel Berg, from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “Are food safety guidelines optional? Of course not! Claiming that they’re leaving it up to the principals is nothing short of a cop-out.”

Other advocates told lawmakers that many cities -- including Newark, Detroit and Houston -- where schools provide breakfasts in classrooms have much higher participation rates than New York. One study, by the Food Research Action Center, rated New York last among major cities for making breakfast available.

City officials have previously cited internal research suggesting one in five students who eat classroom breakfasts are actually "double-dipping" -- eating a second meal at school, after a first one at home. You can read more about that debate here.

Council members and advocates questioned the validity of that study, noting it doesn’t say whether students have had two entire meals at home and school or just eaten some food at both of the two places. They also said the study hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal.