By Tom Ohling, Special writer, The Oregonian

"Are you a real magician?" asks a little girl as she reads the monogram on my chef's coat: "Nutrition Magician™."

The white coat and my pants with their colorful vegetable designs always draw attention. As a table of her friends urge her on in their school lunchroom, I tell her that we will all learn the magic of the Food Guide Pyramid.

She balances a teetering tray with whole-grain cereal, a scoop of canned pears, a piece of toast and a carton of 2 percent milk: a complete breakfast.

Most students do not recognize how the success of their school day depends on the breakfast they eat.

It's fitting that National School Breakfast Week kicks off National Nutrition Month as recognition is given to what principals, teachers, dietitians and school nurses have know for years: Hungry children aren't ready to learn.

More schools are acknowledging that students who don't start the day with breakfast are at an immediate disadvantage in the classroom.

Nationwide, more than 7 million students eat school breakfast each morning. Each of the more than 100 Oregon schools I have visited while teaching nutrition has had an active breakfast program.

Bob Honson, director of Portland Public School's nutrition services, notes that while nearly all the district's schools offer breakfast, more than half provide breakfast free to all students.

Jane Gullett, a dietitian for the Oregon Department of Education's child nutrition program, makes the education-nutrition connection clear:

"Breakfast really prepares children to learn. School breakfast is smart nutrition."

Additional proof was offered last year, when Harvard University researchers showed that participation in the school breakfast programs:

  • Increased student alertness and attention.
  • Improved student behavior.
  • Decreased the number of morning visits to the nurse's office.
  • Increased math and reading scores.

Breakfast is more than just a meal. It allows unique opportunities for peer learning and socialization. Breakfast is one time kids aren't segregated by age or grade, and they enjoy that interaction.

Later, during nutrition class, it's easy to see what breakfast means to the students when I ask, "What's the most important meal of the day?"

"Breakfast!" they call back.

Our classes were a success. Breakfast's magic helped give her and me the best start possible.

Thanks again to the Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily newspaper, for allowing me to share this important message.

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