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‘Toast is king’: The breakfast scheme making sure all kids are fed

The Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit surveyed almost 500 pupils involved in the trials and found high uptake, suggesting a “demand for breakfast food in schools”

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that couldn’t be truer for school children getting ready to learn. 

But teachers warn some pupils are still not getting a proper breakfast, leading to them being unable to concentrate during lessons. 

Now, a new “grab and go” model trialled in Scotland could stop pupils slipping through the net and make sure as many as possible get a nutritious morning meal. 

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Based on a model pioneered in the US and Canada, every pupil in three schools in East Renfrewshire could visit a food cart serving cereal, toast, and fruit and pick whatever they wanted before starting the school day.

Those involved in the pilot scheme, run by The Greggs Foundation, Glasgow Caledonian University, East Renfrewshire Council, catering companies E&R Moffat and Brakes and Scotland’s Poverty and Inequality Commission, hope the convenience could provide a blueprint to stop kids skipping breakfast. 

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John McKendrick, co-director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University, told the Big Issue the scheme “absolutely” had potential. 

“The reality is that some kids are hungry at the start of the school day and this is a form of provision that provides an opportunity for them to address that hunger,” he said. 

“We can’t put our head in the sand and pretend that it doesn’t exist when it does: for a variety of reasons some kids are arriving at school and they are hungry. This could meet that need.” 

The Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit surveyed almost 500 pupils and 39 teachers involved in the trials and found high uptake with the cart used more than 800 times over five full weeks, suggesting a “demand for breakfast food in schools”. 

Of the Scottish teachers interviewed by the researchers, three quarters said “a lot” of children were skipping breakfast, with some able to recall specific examples of students engaging less due to not eating breakfast. 

And at a national level, the latest data by charity Food Foundation shows as many as 2.3 million children could live in households experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. The Children’s Commissioner says “thousands” of children across the UK are starting school hungry.

The researchers found “toast is king” with the vast majority (75 per cent) of pupils opting for it over fruit (28 per cent) and cereal (4 per cent). 

“Kids love toast, fruit was picked up as well but cereal was less popular and I think that reflects cereal being more difficult to manage in a school setting,” McKendrick added.

He said skipping breakfast was more common among secondary school pupils as they had more to do in the morning and struggled for time.

“For secondary school kids, the food cart was providing food that they hadn’t had,” he added. 

“Some of them had skipped breakfast and this was a better time for them to pick up some food before the start of the school day.”

Lindsay Graham, a commissioner at Scotland’s Poverty and Inequality Commission, said the model could “prove to be useful” with the delivery of breakfasts, lunch and other food provision such as after school clubs.

“It’s great to see how a community partnership between sectors enabled this innovative approach to be piloted in East Renfrewshire,” she said. 

“Most important was the access to breakfast the carts gave to all pupils at the start of the school day.

“There is potentially more learning to be gleaned from the different approaches taken in each school and thanks must to go to the catering , education and administrative staff who supported this project.

“A priority for us all in the pandemic recovery is good nutrition and wellbeing so this project and its learning is very timely.”

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