By MARICELLA MIRANDA, St. Paul Pioneer Press
BURNSVILLE, Minn. (AP) - Nichole Johnson makes it a point not to miss the most important meal of the day.
"Without breakfast, I wouldn't have any energy," the 12th-grader said while grabbing her morning meal at Burnsville High School. "I'd most likely fall asleep in my first classes."
A new pilot program dubbed Breakfast to Go has made breakfast more convenient at the school. As students enter the front door, they find a table filled with milk, egg sandwiches and other foods to choose from on their way to class.
It gives time-crunched students one less excuse to skip breakfast, say school officials, who wanted to expand their breakfast program already offered in the cafeteria.
The new front-door line is "nice and convenient being here, rather than having to walk all the way back to the cafeteria," said Johnson, 17. Other Burnsville students agree.
Since the line opened Sept. 8 to the school's 2,200 students, the number using it increased from 58 students to 77 a day by the end of a recent week, said Roxanne Williams, food-service director. She expects participation to continue to grow as students get acquainted with it.
"They can punch in their PIN number - and away they go," Williams said.
Burnsville and Mayo High School in Rochester, Minn., added the pilot program after receiving an $11,400 federal grant as part of a study by the University of Minnesota's Family Medicine and Community Health Department, said Susie Nanney, assistant professor.
The study aims to encourage more students to eat school breakfasts by reducing common barriers, such as having too little time, not being hungry in the morning and wanting to socialize with friends, Nanney said. With the program, students can pick up food items a la carte, place them in a plastic bag and eat in the hallways before class.
The meal is $1.40 - the same price as in the cafeteria - or less if the student qualifies for free or reduced-price meals. And students can still eat breakfast in the cafeteria. More and more adolescents are skipping breakfast, Nanney said.
Studies show only one in four children regularly eats breakfast, she said. Adolescents who do eat breakfast tend to have a healthy weight and overall diet and perform better academically.
In 2007, about 24 percent of children nationwide ate school breakfasts, according to a survey of participating schools by the American Dietetic Association. About 70 percent were from low-income families and qualified for free or discounted meals.
"School breakfast programs are underutilized tremendously," Nanney said.
Last year at Burnsville High, about 6 percent of students ate a school breakfast, Williams said. She hopes that number will grow as student groups help the school market Breakfast to Go and get the word out about the benefits of eating a morning meal.
Tenth-grader Rose Nyaboke, 15, said she didn't eat school breakfast last year because she never had time. But recently, she began picking up food at the Breakfast to Go line.
"If I miss breakfast, I eat a lot of junk food - and I don't want that," she said.
Jalen Dyson, 16, grabbed juice, Cocoa Puffs and skim milk on a recent morning.
"It's pretty cool because it's right when I walk into school," the 11th-grader said. "I don't have to go to the cafeteria. It's easy and it's not far."
Northfield High School, south of the metro area, and John Marshall High School in Rochester are control subjects in the U study, with unchanged breakfast programs.
The study received a $75,000 stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The grant money will help pay for materials, staffing and marketing. Also, 50 students from each school will receive a cash incentive for being test subjects.
Nanney said her department plans to apply for another federal grant for a larger school-breakfast study involving 20 rural high schools. And with the state's dire financial picture, money-strapped schools have been more than willing to participate, she said.
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press
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