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Increasing School Breakfast Participation to Address Food Insecurity

Staff Perspective Justin Watkins

Greetings Get Healthy SMC Partners,

A person or family is considered food insecure if they lack adequate resources to reliably put nutritious food on the table. The CA Department of Social Services estimates that 30-40% of San Mateo County residents are experiencing food insecurity.  The health impacts of food insecurity results in hunger, poor nutrition and stress. Research from the Center for Poverty Research found that food insecurity can be a source of trauma for the affected families.

One strategy to ensure more San Mateo County children are food secure is to increase the availability and participation in school-based breakfast programs.  School meals provide an important source of nutrition to children in San Mateo County schools, especially those from low-income families that may be struggling to provide nutritious meals. School meals, which can include breakfast, snack, lunch and supper, provide essential nutrition to children and young adults.

While participation in school lunch programs has increased, participation in school breakfast has remained persistently low in San Mateo County schools. California Food Policy Advocates estimates that 69% of eligible San Mateo County students participate in their school lunch program, while only 36% of eligible students participate in their existing school breakfast programs. Programs such as Breakfast After the Bell have demonstrated that making it easier to access breakfast on campus can increase participation. Increasing breakfast accessibility at schools provides students a nutritious meal in the morning to ensure that hunger does not affect their ability to learn. 

Fortunately, San Mateo County has a number of advocates working to ensure more San Mateo County families are food secure. Get Healthy SMC staff is working with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, local school districts and nutrition education partners to increase school breakfast programs and participation by including fresh, local and seasonal fruits and vegetables on the breakfast menu.

In addition to school-based programs, there are several programs and resources that support families who are experiencing food insecurity and hunger. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program provides expectant mothers and their children up to five years of age with nutrition assistance. CalFresh, the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides direct assistance to pay for food. The Second Harvest Food Bank provides a number of programs and services to support a wide range of family incomes. 

Recently, San Mateo County Health staff developed an online resource to help families navigate various benefits such as WIC, CalFresh and other local programs that help ensure all residents of San Mateo are food secure. Contact our Healthy Foods lead, Justin Watkins, for more information at jwatkins@smcgov.org.

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