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School breakfast clubs are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. For many schoolchildren they are making an extremely positive difference to their lives. A school breakfast club enables children to get to school on time and, more importantly, enjoy a nutritious breakfast. Sadly, for many children this is life changing.
According to the British Nutrition Foundation 24% of children start the day without breakfast. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition set this figure at 32% of children aged between 10 and 16 regularly going without breakfast on school days. The reasons why may be complex, but missing breakfast is a worrying trend that often goes hand in hand with health issues such as obesity.
As a result, many schools are creating breakfast clubs, and those that have already done this have noticed many positive benefits to the wellbeing of the children in their care. Setting up a school breakfast club is not difficult either but it does require some planning and attention to food safety practice and safeguarding.
So, let’s take a look at everything you need to know if you are thinking about setting up a breakfast club in your school.
What is breakfast club?
A school breakfast club is a club for children that takes place daily at school. In most cases the club will take place on the school premises but they can also be held at community centres.
The club will run for an hour before lessons begin and will not only provide food but a safe space where children can take part in fun group activities, read or access the computer to do homework. The sorts of activities on offer will depend upon the breakfast club itself.
The types of breakfast on offer are simple and nutritious and usually include things such as cereal, porridge, toast, fruit and a drink. There may be eggs on occasions but, in general, the food on offer is easy to prepare and serve as well as healthy.
School breakfast clubs are usually run by a network of teachers, teaching assistants and volunteers. Some breakfast clubs employ people to work specifically for the breakfast club. It all depends upon the individual school and the needs of the schoolchildren.
How much does a breakfast club cost?
Attendance at a breakfast club can be free for some parents and, according to figures, around a ¼ of all children using this service do so free of charge. Other breakfast clubs charge a nominal fee to cover costs and this usually works out at around £1.68 per day.
A school breakfast club is not the same as a breakfast club run by a private childcare service. Because these private companies are money making businesses, costs are usually around £15.00 per day and are simply an extension of their usual childcare services.
The government is offering funding to school breakfast clubs – in 2018 they provided £26 million for this purpose. Otherwise they are usually funded by the school budget, local government, charities or sponsorship from local companies.
In some cases, all breakfast clubs are free of charge to all parents. Others charge a nominal fee and provide free breakfasts for those who can’t afford the fees.
Why are breakfast clubs important?
Breakfast is possibly the most important meal of the day. And there has been research carried out into the importance of children eating breakfast as well as many first-hand reports from teachers.
Hunger has long been an issue in schools, with many teachers providing food from their own pocket out of concern for the children in their care. With the rise in the use of food banks, food insecurity is a real problem for many families.
According to Premier footballer Marcus Rashford, school breakfast clubs are crucial to many children’s wellbeing and he has formed a Child Poverty Task Force in partnership with many major food companies to combat the problem. He knows what he is talking about from personal experience.
“Breakfast Club played an integral part in my life. Not only did it guarantee that I had fuel to sustain the day and really engage in learning, but it is where I formed my life friendships…
“People claim education is the best means of combating poverty, but that formula is only successful if children are able to engage with learning. No child can engage and sustain concentration on an empty stomach.”
Key benefits for children are as follows:
- Improved concentration – Nobody can function to the best of their abilities if they are hungry. Eating breakfast ensures that children can not only concentrate better on a full stomach, but they are less likely to misbehave and cause disruptions in class. Feeling “hangry” is not conducive to learning.
- Improved timekeeping and attendance – Once the child has arrived at the breakfast club he or she is ready for school. This means improved attendance and timekeeping.
- Improved behaviour – The children’s behaviour is improved if they have eaten breakfast. All teachers report improved behaviour in the classroom following the inception of a breakfast club.
- Decrease in bullying and greater socialisation – The breakfast club is a neutral space where children of all ages can mingle under supervision. This enables them to get to meet with others of all ages rather than being left unsupervised in the playground. A knock-on effect of the breakfast club is that inter-age friendships are formed, and the more vulnerable children are less likely to become victims of bullying behaviour.
- A breakfast club can help children flourish – Breakfast clubs provide a safe calming space where children can enjoy activities that they may not be able to do elsewhere such as taking part in creative pastimes. It also gives them the space to practise reading skills or use the computer.
School breakfast club regulations
Although there are no specific regulations regarding school breakfast clubs, you will need to conform to basic food hygiene and safety requirements as well as ensure that everyone working at the breakfast club is suitable, for safeguarding reasons.
So, if you are considering setting up a breakfast club at your school, it is important that everyone is fully on board.
You will need to ensure that the people handling and storing the food have their Level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene certificate so that you can ensure that everyone meets the legal requirements for food safety.
You can find out more about food safety and hygiene for schools from our knowledge base.
An awareness of special dietary requirements is also important. Breakfast is a simple meal that may not require too much thought when it comes to cultural dietary requirements – after all, a school breakfast club is unlikely to be serving meat or fish products. However, allergy awareness is extremely important.
You will need to make sure that your food is safe and suitable for all the children, so it is essential that you know whether a child has a food intolerance or allergy such as a peanut allergy. Taking an Allergen Awareness course will give you all the information you need.
Safeguarding is important too. The breakfast club provides an interim space where children can relax and enjoy a pressure-free environment. It would be extremely useful to have a designated safeguarding officer in attendance at your breakfast club so that somebody can recognise the signs of abuse and neglect that sadly may be affecting some of the children. Safeguarding Children Level 2 is the perfect course for anyone who works with or around children.
What should be included in the menu?
There are no strict rules surrounding the type of food on the menu at a breakfast club but the main requirement is that it should be healthy and nutritious.
In general, the breakfasts provided are pretty simple and may include:
When buying in food for the breakfast club it is important to consider the nutritional value of the food and balance this with the tastes of the children. Providing fresh fruit is a great way to ensure that your children get at least one of their five a day.
Fruit juice too can be beneficial as long as it does not contain too much added sugar, so you will need to check the label as some brands can contain as much sugar as unhealthy fizzy drinks. In some cases this will be as much as six teaspoons of sugar per serving. You may find that diluting fruit juice with water is the best way to go.
Breakfast cereal is also of concern. Breakfast cereals are often high in sugar and have little nutritional value, so make sure you read the labels before you buy. This can be hard to navigate.
The big cereal companies such as Kellogg have publicly supported school breakfast clubs and maintain that their cereals are healthy, but in many cases they are extremely high in sugar. That said, when compared with nothing for breakfast, an unhealthy breakfast cereal is preferable.
A good alternative to cereal is porridge but you may need to add fruit or some sort of flavouring in order to encourage the children to eat it.
There are no fixed rules about the food served in a school breakfast club and organisers need to balance nutritional needs and costs in order to achieve a healthy balance.
You may find that offering food such as eggs, bagels and good quality bread for toast may not be much more expensive than the usual cereal and can be good for varying the menu from time to time.
Food allergy awareness is important so you will need to provide alternatives such as a milk alternative or a gluten-free alternative for children with specific dietary requirements.
Activities you can include in your breakfast club
The breakfast club offers children a space where they can have fun and enjoy some extra activities.
Typical activities may include:
- Art projects and creative play – Working on a communal art project can be great fun. Alternatively, just providing art materials will enable children to improve their creativity.
- Reading – A choice of age-appropriate books can get children reading and enjoying a range of books. You could try starting a book club where the children can discuss the books they read.
- Exercise – Boosting the metabolism with exercise in the morning is a great way to start the day. Obesity is a common problem and is usually caused by a combination of cheap fattening food and inactivity. Setting up some fun exercise classes are likely to be extremely popular with club members. Whether it is a game of football or following a video on YouTube or anything else, exercise is fantastic for health and wellbeing.
- Celebrate special events – Whether it is Christmas, Easter or any other celebration, why not get the children involved with baking cakes, making decorations or more.
School breakfast clubs are providing a vital service for millions of children across the UK who would otherwise be going to school on an empty stomach.
The reasons for this can be complex. In many cases, teenage girls miss out on breakfast in a misguided attempt to lose weight. Boys often cite lack of time and even primary school children can just choose to not have breakfast or even a drink before going to school.
Food poverty is also a serious issue, with an increasing number of families relying on food banks. When a family is in such straitened circumstances, breakfast is often the first meal to go.
It does seem remarkable that in this day and age, we seem to have returned to a time where child poverty today resembles the Victorian age of deprivation, but arguing over the reasons and attributing the blame to bad parenting does not help improve the lot of the children who are suffering.
A school breakfast club helps children. It helps promote learning, improves behaviour and gives deprived or problem children a chance. For parents facing heavy work schedules it takes off the pressure and enables them to fit in with their work commitments.
For parents, children and teachers alike, a breakfast club can often make a vital difference to lives and is something that we should all be encouraging!