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East Hampton Schools celebrating National School Breakfast Week

While pushing lawmakers to extend universal school meals

EAST HAMPTON, Conn. — It’s National School Breakfast Week and the cafeteria staff at East Hampton Public Schools are celebrating with a special meal for all students every day this week.

At East Hampton High school, they served baked tater tot bowls with homemade yogurt, fruit, and other healthy snacks on Thursday morning. 

"It was very good, yeah…I'd rate it a 10/10," said Makenzie Quagliaroli,  a Sophomore at East Hampton High School.

The school district is hoping to promote healthy eating, encouraging everyone to eat a full meal for breakfast, whether it's at school or at home.

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“We’re 'bowling the kids over' with our bacon egg and cheese tater tot bowl," said Jen Bove, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for East Hampton Schools. 

To celebrate at other schools throughout the week, they had a fruit bar at the elementary school and a breakfast buffet at the middle school.

“When kids eat breakfast in school, even compared to when they eat it at home, they have increased academic performance, they have increased focus, less behavior problems, end less absenteeism," Bove said.

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The students can also see the difference in their performance at school. 

“It actually helps me with my school work and everything and like, staying on task," Quagliaroli said. 

And more kids have been able to fit that free breakfast in every day for the past two years, since there was a federal waiver put on free and reduced lunches. Therefore, during the pandemic, everyone got free and reduced lunches.

"They’re so much happier," said Dawn Dumond-Strong, the Manager of the cafeteria staff at East Hampton High School. "We don’t ask anything of the kids when they come in here, we give them a smile." 

 At East Hampton Schools, with everyone on the same playing field, so to speak, it encouraged those who normally rely on those meals to utilize them more. Before the pandemic, 20 percent of the district was signed up for free and reduced lunches. But, only half took advantage of it.

RELATED: Hartford school fights food insecurities, keeps kids fed over winter break

“50 percent chose not to eat with us. It’s a stigma to have a free or reduced lunch. Now, we’re feeding almost 90 percent of those kids because the stigma is gone," Bove said.

However, Bove said that federal waiver is expected to go away by the end of June and that means they won't be able to offer free and reduced lunches to everyone anymore.

"We're very worried," Bove said. "And, that doesn't even address the rise in costs we're facing."

Bove said food costs for the district have gone up 40 percent and she's having trouble getting parts and labor to fix a broken freezer in one of the kitchens. 

"The waivers helped us deal with that kind of stuff too, so, even just keeping the nutrition programs running is going to be really difficult because we were getting a higher reimbursement rate with the waivers to make up for all these problems we're having. And that will go away too," Bove said. 

Bove and her colleagues with the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut (SNACT) have been pushing lawmakers to vote to keep the funding going. At this point, they have not extended the bill. 

In the meantime, school districts are continuing to feed the children, promoting healthy eating and celebrating the small wins, like having fresh mixed fruit to serve to students. 

"I know it’s cliché, but breakfast, especially for kids in school, is the most important meal of the day," Bove said. 

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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