The Times West Virginian

Opinion

August 16, 2013

Free breakfast, lunch program will be boost for county students

As adults, hectic workdays often mean grab-and-go breakfasts, if there’s any time at all to grab. Sometimes lunches are skipped to catch up on work or to make the next meeting. If you’re lucky, a late-afternoon trip to the vending machine will mean a bag of chips or crackers to stave off hunger.

At the end of the day, that can mean you’ve had very little other than coffee and a greasy bag of carbs to fuel your day. And that certainly doesn’t make for productive workers who are low on energy and distracted by hunger.

But that’s something we do to ourselves — not planning far enough in advance or taking the time to pack healthy lunches or energy-boosting snacks.

Imagine what a hungry child goes through during a long school day. Imagine a child who eats empty calories for breakfast or lunch that offer only a little sugar rush and then a larger crash of energy as the day progresses.

We’re pleased that children at three of the county’s elementary schools won’t be in that situation as a pilot program expands.

With the expansion of the Community Eligibility Option program, students at Watson, East Park and Monongah elementary schools will have the opportunity to receive free meals. Through the program, breakfast and lunch are provided to all students at the participating schools free of charge.

According to Superintendent of Schools Gary Price, families that qualify for free lunches often qualify for the entire year, but those who qualify for reduced lunches may bounce back and forth. Price said that just because families don’t qualify for free or reduced lunches doesn’t mean they have ample monetary resources.

And that may mean parents can provide a cold lunch, but it may lack the nutritional value that hot lunch at the school has.

“Paying for those lunches takes a sig­nificant chunk out of their budget,” Price said. “We want to offset that cost the best we can by going into the communities where it’s feasible and providing those breakfasts and lunches free of charge to the parents.”

There are a few benefits. Hunger is a major disruption to the learning process. A hungry child lacks energy and motivation and is easily agitated. Providing two healthy, nutritious meals per school day will hopefully eliminate that problem.

The second benefit could certainly be introducing children to new and healthy foods they might not try at home.

We know there has been a lot of discussion about the new dietary considerations for the school lunch menus, but in a perfect world, the caloric restrictions and the healthier alternatives are actually the way children in America should be eating. If they eat these kinds of food in a school setting, they might be encouraged to eat them at home and appreciate nutritious foods.

We know this pilot project is costing the school system extra money, but we believe the end result will be happier, healthier kids who are more successful in school and in life. And that is priceless.

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