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A healthy start: Bemidji Middle School offers a healthy breakfast option

Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer Sixth-grader Brandon Berge, left, and Ben Kircher eat a breakfast bar in the hallway outside their sixth-grade pod at Bemidji Middle School, taking advantage of a new breakfast option aimed to increase the number of students partaking in breakfast on campus.

BEMIDJI — A new option at Bemidji Middle School this year is satisfying the district’s desire to serve more children healthful breakfasts.

Marlene Webb, the district’s food service coordinator, said less than 20 percent of middle-schoolers took breakfast last year, despite many of them being eligible to do so for free.

“There is definitely an underutilizing of the breakfast program throughout the state of Minnesota,” she reported to the school board earlier this month.

Last week, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon served breakfast at a Duluth elementary school as she worked to raise awareness of breakfast programs that statewide only serve about 40 percent of those eligible for free or reduced meals.

“Poor nutrition does not only impact health, it also impacts how our kids do in school,” Prettner Solon said in a news release.

Breakfast, often referenced to as the most important meal of the day, remains a key ingredient to a productive school day, Webb pointed out.

“We know that kids perform better at school, they receive higher test scores, and they have fewer incidents of tardyism and absenteeism,” she said.

So, when the district was approached by the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota this summer, offering to fund a grant to implement a new breakfast program at the middle school, Webb was quite receptive.

She worked with Vicki Borchardt, the head cook at BMS, as the middle school this year introduced Breakfast on the Go, or as it is marketed to students, the Smart Start Breakfast Cart.

Offering healthy foods such as energy and breakfast bars, fruit, milk, grains and protein, students are able to quickly go through line, pick up breakfast items and eat on the go, sometimes lining the hallways as they eat and converse with friends.

“The feedback we continue to get from the kids, as well as the staff, is very positive,” Webb said.

The focus is on providing sixth-graders greater opportunity for breakfast as staff found younger middle-schoolers were less likely to head to the cafeteria for breakfast.

While everyone is still welcome to partake in a traditional breakfast, the district added to that by setting up two portable kiosks: one in the sixth-grade area and one in the cafeteria. The grant was used to purchase the equipment and technology needed for the kiosks.

Borchardt said the program has definitely been successful and she and Webb agreed there is no reason the Breakfast on the Go program would be discontinued next year now the system is in place.

Further, any early concerns about messes or additional custodial work have proven to be unfounded.

Already, Webb said, BMS has higher breakfast participation, at about 22 percent of students. The kiosks are both averaging been 80-90 student customers a day.

The goal is to raise that number to about 50 percent as the weather cools and fewer students congregate outside.

Webb noted multiple studies have shown participation in programs tends to increase just as additional choices are added.