Breakfast good for students

South Carolina's schoolchildren are hungry in the morning? Let them eat sausage biscuits!

Well, let them eat low-fat sausage biscuits and other healthy breakfast foods. It's a great investment in their educational progress.

Among the things that South Carolina is doing right in improving public education is the expansion of its school breakfast programs. While the state has mandated that breakfast be available to all S.C. public school children since 1993, the number of students taking advantage of the morning meal has risen dramatically.

South Carolina has increased the number of breakfasts it serves from 29 million in 2002 to 37 million in 2006. As a result, the state led the nation last year in the percentage of schools that serve breakfast to public school students.

While most school breakfast programs first focused on serving the "most important meal of the day" to students from families who couldn't provide breakfast, all students now are eligible to get breakfast. And educators and nutritionists alike are praising the program.

The benefits are numerous:

• Breakfast provides children with nutrients they need to remain attentive and do their class work. Teachers say that students who eat breakfast are far less likely to complain of stomach pains, headaches or drowsiness, all symptoms of what nutritionists call "transient hunger."

• Serving food in the classroom around 9 a.m. provides a welcome break in the day and helps build camaraderie among students. Teachers report fewer discipline problems and better scores on tests when students eat breakfast.

• Serving breakfast helps make the cafeteria staff a part of the school's overall mission. School officials say cafeteria workers take pride in the fact that their jobs are directly linked to educational performance.

• School breakfasts serve as a lesson on nutrition that can tie in to other efforts to improve eating and exercise habits.

In many cases, students use a code to pay for their meals, so no one knows who is receiving the meal free or at a reduced price. That helps remove any stigma from eating breakfast at school.

Harried parents, whatever their ability to provide breakfast to their children, can appreciate the convenience of sending kids to school knowing they will have access to a good meal when they arrive. Many children are not ready to eat as soon as they wake up, and school bus riders who might have been up since early morning welcome a midmorning snack.

It is reassuring that the state is at the forefront in providing students with breakfast if they want it. This is one time-tested, proven way to ensure that students' basic nutritional needs are met to allow them to be productive learners for the day -- at least until lunchtime.