Blog: How one school learned breakfast really is most important meal of the day

27 July 2022
Earlier this year, School Food Matters lent its support to primary schools taking part in a groundbreaking pilot, helping them to offer children balanced and appetising meals every morning.

The breakfast pilot, funded by Impact on Urban Health and coordinated by Magic Breakfast, has provided 10 schools with a set of menus and access to a portal to order free, nutritious food for their breakfast clubs. In return, the schools were simply asked to give feedback, but straight away, I noticed one school was going the extra mile.

From the moment I first met the breakfast club team at Cobourg Primary School, I could see their passion for the children's wellbeing. While we had provided them with ideas for menus, they had gone above and beyond to extend their offer, looking up new recipes and running weekly taster sessions to help the children expand their palate. While previously they had only been serving toast and cereal, there were now multiple delicious options on the menu. On the day that I visited, the children had a choice between a veggie egg muffin bursting with delicious spinach, peppers and tomatoes with a slice of wholemeal toast, overnight oats with a mixed berry topping or some wholegrain cereal. Those who went for the safer, more familiar option of cereal were still encouraged to at least try some of the egg muffin or the overnight oats and feedback to the staff what they did or did not like about it.

Staff were setting an excellent example, eating the same foods in front of the children, and giving them a safe space to explore, while still offering ‘safe’ options as a back-up. What started as a way to revive their breakfast club, which had shrunk due to budget constraints and changing family lifestyles during the pandemic, ended up leading to positive changes for both the children and staff. The breakfast club team noticed after just a few weeks that those children attending the club were noticeably better-behaved during class and ready to learn.

One of the breakfast club staff members said: “It’s been amazing to see the difference this breakfast pilot has made. We’ve really seen a change in behaviour in some of the kids who attend the club. I work as a teaching assistant and even during class the children seem calmer and more focused and aren’t asking me every five minutes when they can finally go to lunch.”

Seeing the impact a balanced breakfast had on the children also encouraged the staff to change their own eating habits from skipping breakfast or relying on coffee to get through the day, to taking time to sit down and have a balanced meal in the morning.

It was also hoped that encouraging more children to attend breakfast club would help with school attendance and reduce lateness. While this worked for some children, others were still perpetually late and thus missing out on a healthy start to the day. So, the staff got creative and started assembling grab-and-go bags, filled with easy to eat foods, such as bagels and fruit, which they could eat during registration.

But their work did not stop there. Staff and senior leadership were keen to spread awareness about the new, exciting foods at breakfast club with the whole school. After circulating a breakfast survey to gain a better understanding of how children were currently eating, I held an assembly to talk to the whole school about what a healthy breakfast is and why it is so important. We then invited parents to an after-school workshop with tasters to show them how vital this first meal of the day is and how even just a little food prep can go a long way. The tasters were very well received, and we had parents enquiring about sending their kids to breakfast club straight after the session.

Linda Ali, Headteacher at Cobourg, said: “The breakfast pilot has been an absolute success and has really helped change our students’ eating habits. The parent workshop led by our Project Officer Antonia was very well received by the parents and, overall, it has just been a great experience. More of this please!”

The overwhelming positive response to the breakfast pilot has now inspired the school to sign up to our other two Healthy Zones strands and we will be starting work on their after-school club as well as their school food policy this September.

Written by SFM Project Officer Antonia

The Healthy Zones project puts children’s and young people's health centre stage and supports schools to make the healthy choice, the easy choice.