LPS students reap benefits of school breakfast program

Lincoln Public Schools employees like Tekela Bedford are ensuring breakfast is the most important meal of the day for local students.
Bedford is one of many LPS staff members who are providing nutritious meals for children every morning. She is in her second year managing Everett Elementary School’s kitchen and builds positive relationships with students in the breakfast line. She said it was fulfilling to help students get off to a good start academically, socially and emotionally at school.
“It’s amazing to see them each day,” Bedford said. “I always tell them that the first meal of the day is huge because it gets you moving. Food fuels your brain, and if you eat breakfast you’ll be able to do better in class.”
LPS Director of Nutrition Services Andrew Ashelford said scenes like the ones at Everett are playing out at every district school. LPS employees are serving an average of 9,000 breakfast meals each morning this year. That is a significant increase from the 2022-23 school year, which had a daily average of 8,300 breakfasts.
“It’s pretty awesome to see that number rise like that,” Ashelford said. “It means a lot of students are taking advantage of getting a good meal at the start of the day.”
LPS Nutrition Services employees are highlighting the benefits of breakfast March 4-8 during National School Breakfast Week. The district is celebrating the week by serving the top five breakfast entrees based on individual product sales.
Students will have mini maple waffles on March 4 and mini strawberry bagels, pancake sausage on a stick and honey buns the next three days. The most-popular product from this year – chocolate chip oatmeal bars – will be served on March 8.
Ashelford said National School Breakfast Week is a good time to emphasize the importance of the meal for everyone in grades K-12. All LPS sites offer breakfast every school day.
“There’s a lot of evidence out there about how much breakfast benefits students,” Ashelford said. “It’s pretty compelling stuff. It really shows that having breakfast makes a big difference for students.”
A 2013 report from the National Library of Medicine showed “suggestive evidence” that school breakfast programs have a positive effect on children’s academic performance. The report said students who regularly eat breakfast have 20-60 percent more vitamins such as iron, vitamin D, folate, riboflavin and niacin than those who do not have breakfast.
The report listed multiple studies that found students who ate breakfast displayed increased memory, attention span and on-task behavior. There was also more class participation in both elementary and middle schools from students who had school breakfast.
A separate study from the No Kid Hungry Center yielded similar results. It found that students who ate school breakfast had higher scores on standardized math tests and better attendance rates.
Bedford said it has been exciting to watch those positive impacts play out at Everett this fall and winter. The school is averaging 300 students in the breakfast line each morning. That has risen from an average of 250 last year. Each meal includes milk, fruits and grains and options of warm and cold entrees.
“It’s gone up a lot from last year,” Bedford said. “The word’s definitely getting out about breakfast.”
Bedford and fellow food service workers Luisa Talavera and Ann Middagh were in Everett’s kitchen one morning as students filed in. They picked up a carton of milk before choosing either cereal or a breakfast pizza bagel. They also took containers of juicy pear slices before heading to the cafeteria.
Bedford asked students how their morning was going, gave encouraging words to them and provided a full menu of compliments. She hoped those breakfast conversations would boost their confidence throughout the day.
“I love them,” Bedford said. “I know them all. I want to make sure they always start the day with someone smiling at them.”
LPS began implementing breakfast service in the early 1990s. Ashelford said those morning meal efforts have been a vital component in the fight against food insecurity.
United States Department of Agriculture officials define food insecurity as lacking consistent and reliable access to enough food to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Statistics from Food Bank of Lincoln show that nearly 50,000 people in southeast Nebraska are currently food insecure. That total includes nearly 15,000 children.
“Our breakfast program is really important when you talk about food insecurity,” Ashelford said. “There are a lot of families who benefit from this service.”
LPS families can use the MealViewer tool to see current information about their local school’s breakfast each day. The online tool is available through the What’s 4 Lunch quick link on the nutrition services menu page.
Ashelford said he hopes to see breakfast participation continue to grow in future weeks, months and years at LPS.
“We want to continue to spread the message about breakfast,” Ashelford said. “We have a good, nutritious program at LPS, and we want as many people as possible to be aware of that.”
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Published: March 4, 2024, Updated: March 4, 2024

Tekela Bedford smiles with an Everett Elementary School student in the breakfast line. Bedford is in her second year of managing Everett's kitchen. She is helping hundreds of students enjoy nutritious breakfasts each morning. An average of 9,000 Lincoln Public Schools students eat breakfast in their buildings each day.