Libery Middle School students, from left, seventh-grader Dawson Carter and sixth-graders Asia Williams and Kaiah Nolen visited the breakfast line at school on Tuesday before classes began. This week, Newton County schools are focusing on school breakfasts to encourage more students to eat healthy. Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- It's all about breakfast this week.
The Newton County School System is celebrating National School Breakfast Week.
The 2013 theme, "Be a Star with School Breakfast," highlights how eating a balanced breakfast at school can help students shine like their favorite stars in the movies, in sports and on TV.
"Research indicates that students who eat breakfast, and specifically school breakfast, are more likely to have adequate intakes of certain essential nutrients," said Brittany Bingeman, School Nutrition Wellness coordinator and a registered dietitian at NCSS.
Newton County schools are celebrating the week with special menu items and decorations, coloring and activity sheets for elementary students, prize giveaways at breakfast on Friday and a district-wide writing contest.
Students in first through 12th grades can enter the "Who's Your Breakfast Star?" writing contest, which asks students to explain who they would want to enjoy school breakfast with and why. Entry forms are due to classroom teachers at the elementary level or Language Arts teachers at the middle and high school levels by Wednesday, March 13.
A maximum of three essays from each school will be sent to the National School Nutrition Association competition, and of these entries, three essays, one from each school level, elementary, middle, and high, will be selected as district-level contest winners.
System officials hope activities like this will increase breakfast participation and bring awareness to the importance of eating a good breakfast.
"School breakfast provides students with one-fourth of the recommended dietary allowances for vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and protein," Bingeman said. "Furthermore, the benefits of eating a nutritious breakfast extend into the classroom, with children showing increased concentration, memory and improved academic performance after eating this important meal."
Studies indicate that students who eat school breakfast increase their math and reading scores and improve their cognitive speed and memory, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
Students are offered 100 percent fruit juice or fruit, low-fat and fat-free plain or fat-free flavored milk and entree items, including whole grains, low-fat dairy items and protein. Every school breakfast served meets federal nutrition standards limiting fat and portion size, according to NCSS.
NCSS served 1,190,305 breakfasts in 2011, with nearly 36 percent of students participating. In 2012, the system served 1,211,388 breakfasts, with nearly 38 percent of students participating.
So far this school year, 734,214 breakfasts have been served with more than 37 percent of students participating each day.
Jan Loomans, director of Operational Services, said that breakfast participation is lower than lunch because some students eat breakfast at home or on the way to school. Schools have 30 minutes to serve breakfast, and many upper-level students would rather visit with their friends.
The Georgia School Nutrition Association encourages parents to educate students at home about healthy eating habits. Some creative tips to make healthy eating fun include:
-- Make it colorful - Kids commonly eat with their eyes, so if it looks good, they are more likely to give it a try.
-- Let them get involved - Whether simply offering a couple different healthy options for them to choose from or letting them help make or assemble meals, kids usually enjoy having some say in what they eat.
-- Dip it or dunk it - A great option for encouraging more raw fruits and veggies, offer low-fat dressings, yogurt, peanut butter or other healthy sides to make eating active for kids.
"Be a Star with School Breakfast" was created by the non-profit School Nutrition Association with support from Kellogg's Foodservice. The national campaign recognizes National School Breakfast Week, which was launched in 1989 to raise awareness of the availability of the School Breakfast Program to all children and the links between eating a good breakfast, academic achievement and healthy lifestyles.