Zachary Mills: National School Breakfast Week

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Bringing great food to my community is my pride and joy. As a chef, I spend countless hours considering how best to prepare and showcase ingredients to provide my guests with a dining experience they’ll remember. This week is National School Breakfast Week – a great time to tell you more about someone who has worked just as tirelessly to make sure her students get a healthy meal at school each and every morning.

Last year I had the opportunity to witness school breakfast in action, visiting several high-need schools to see the work of the No Kid Hungry campaign. As we toured the schools, I was so inspired by how passionate everybody was about making sure their students are well-nourished. When kids aren’t getting the consistent nutrition they need, it impacts their health and growth, and has negative consequences on their ability to learn and engage at school. Expecting kids to be able to learn on an empty stomach is like serving soup without a spoon. A healthy school breakfast is as important to students as a textbook or a pencil.

Maryland is already a national leader on serving hungry kids school breakfast. We recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Maryland Meals for Achievement program (MMFA), which allows high-poverty schools to provide free breakfast after the bell to all students at no cost. But we have an opportunity to do even better. By fully funding MMFA, the Maryland General Assembly has an opportunity to feed 148,000 more kids.

Let me introduce you to my school breakfast hero and one of the earliest champions of MMFA. Barbara Harrall knows that school breakfast provides the fuel her students need to succeed. She has worked with the Division of Food and Nutrition Services for Montgomery Public Schools for over 20 years, making sure as many kids as possible get a healthy breakfast each morning. Ms. Harrall was instrumental with getting MMFA off the ground when it first started as a pilot program in 1998. Today we have proven models for serving breakfast after the bell, and studies that show that MMFA schools demonstrate better educational outcomes, improved health, and a decrease in disciplinary problems. But when the program was first being piloted, Ms. Harrall’s commitment and creativity was critical to getting buy in from schools, vendors, and parents. She persevered because she knew the program would be good for her students – and she was right.

Feeding a child breakfast means giving them a chance at success. When kids have consistent, reliable access to school breakfast, it helps them learn more, stay healthier, and grow up stronger. And that’s a recipe for a stronger, more prosperous Maryland. This National School Breakfast Week, join me in thanking the everyday heroes like Ms. Harrall who make sure no kid goes hungry in America, starting in their communities.

Zachary Mills is the Executive Chef at Wit & Wisdom, a Tavern by Michael Mina at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, MD.

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