A Nudge In the Right Direction
Whether it’s cleaning their room, doing their homework, or in this case, eating a healthy breakfast, sometimes kids just need a little nudge in the right direction. That was the thinking behind Edward Neill Elementary’s breakfast “nudges.” The nudges are subtle acts of positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions that try to influence students to eat the healthy—and free—breakfast offered at the Burnsville, Minn., school.
According to Edward Neill principal, Dr. Elizabeth Vaught, the subtle nudges can take many forms. Announcing the breakfast menu over the intercom, posting the menu on boards throughout the building and offering new food items, are just a few examples. Then there are the not-so-subtle nudges, such as hosting “Breakfast with a Book” events in which students and parents are invited to eat and read together before the start of the school day.
Through these breakfast nudges, Edward Neill Elementary has experienced a 6 percent increase in breakfast participation, equivalent to over 800 additional breakfasts served to students!
So why is breakfast such a big deal? Research shows that kids who eat breakfast have more energy, do better in school and eat healthier in general. They also make fewer trips to the school nurse with stomach complaints related to hunger, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“We want our students to be their best every day, and we know they can't do that without a nutritious diet,” said Vaught. “As a member of the community, our school is proud to support families through school meal programs, ensuring all students are ready to learn in the classroom.”
To figure out how to best reach kids, school administrators put together a breakfast team and developed a survey to collect data about students’ current breakfast habits and trends. They used the results of the survey to determine what food items to offer and how to promote the program.
“We learned that students were deterred from eating breakfast because we offered the same food choices every day,” Vaught said. “So, we added a new featured item every two weeks, which we promoted on the morning announcements. This was a new flavor of muffin, which allowed students to try something new. We also added Goldfish crackers, which are very popular.”
Vaught said she has never seen such a steady, sustained participation in the program.
“Last year, our average monthly participation grew from about 45 percent in September to over 50 percent each month in the spring, she said. “Not only did our percentages increase, but our numbers did not diminish throughout the year as they did in the past. So, we increased and maintained our participation!”
Edward Neill’s breakfast and afterschool meals program is made possible through the Federal Nutrition Program and supported by a Food + You mini-grant from Second Harvest Heartland. The Food + You program offers schools support for accessing federal nutrition programs and fosters connections to broader community resources and food distributions.
Learn more about Food + You and how Second Harvest Heartland is helping create more access to food for kids and their families.