- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — It’s not just OK for students to eat on the run when they arrive at a middle school here each morning. It’s encouraged.

For about 20 minutes before homeroom, a “grab-and-go” food cart is parked near the principal’s office. Students can choose from bagels, muffins, cold cereal and fresh fruit, throw them into paper bags and take them back to their desks.

The program makes it easier for children who don’t have time to squeeze in breakfast, and it removes the stigma that those who eat breakfast in the school cafeteria must be poor.

Sixth-grader Tesia Chuderewicz, 12, loves the convenience. She regularly ate breakfast at home when she was in elementary school, but has less time now because her day at Mount Nittany Middle School starts about an hour earlier. She was one of 117 students — out of an estimated 860 — served on a recent morning.

“I like it because you don’t have to get up as early at home … and you don’t have to worry about making it at home,” Tesia said as she made her way to her locker, clutching a bag containing a toaster pastry, an apple and milk.

Teachers have supported the program, despite initial worries about trash in the classrooms.

School nutritionists say grab-and-go breakfast is becoming a popular alternative to the cafeteria, although they did not have figures on how many schools across the country have similar programs. Mount Nittany has served breakfast this way since 2002.

“School breakfast definitely suffers from an image problem,” said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst for the Food Research and Action Center in Washington. “We’ve heard in focus groups from low-income moms who say that their children don’t want to be seen in the cafeteria in the morning, that they’d rather go hungry.”

At Mount Nittany, which no longer serves breakfast in its cafeteria, a complete meal from the food-service cart costs $1.50 for students who pay full price and 30 cents for low-income students and is free for the poorest children. Debit cards are used in place of cash.

The school conducted a six-week trial of the food-cart program in spring 2002 with encouragement from researchers at nearby Penn State University, who wanted to study whether a “grab-and-go” program would help boost overall school breakfast consumption.

Out of more than 890 students enrolled at Mount Nittany at the time, only 4 percent, or about 35, ate breakfast before the program. One recent day, the share of children eating breakfast was 13 percent.

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