How a small bowl of cereal or a piece of toast can change a child’s school career

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

A good breakfast before school not only improves results, but also concentration levels, socialising and happiness in class. Pic: Warburtons
A good breakfast before school not only improves results, but also concentration levels, socialising and happiness in class. Pic: Warburtons

Related tags Warburtons Magic Breakfast school breakfast food insecurity Hungry

As the cost of living crisis exacerbates, 4 million children in the UK are experiencing food insecurity and go to school hungry, impacting not only concentration and ultimately the results of our future leaders, but also their social behaviour and mental health.

Research commissioned by Warburtons polled 500 teachers from across the UK to gauge the importance of starting the school day with a good breakfast. Worryingly, the respondents believe over a third of the nation’s pupils don’t get a meal before being dropped off at school.

Almost all (97%) credit a meal – such as a bowl of cereal or even just a piece of toast – to a child’s success at school, however it’s believed that, thanks to the soaring cost of food, a third of the nation’s pupils don’t get anything before school being dropped off.

72% of teachers notice a significant difference in classroom behaviours between the children who do and don’t eat a meal before school, from levels of engagement to socialising.

The 10 characteristics of those who do versus those who don’t

Warburtons and school children 1
Pic: Warburtons

The study highlighted that those who do are more willing to take part in group activities, have higher concentration levels and appear to be happier in class. 60% of teachers say it can almost improve their ability to socialise with other students.

  1. High concentration levels
  2. Engaged with the lesson
  3. A positive attitude
  4. Happier to be in the classroom
  5. A willingness to participate in class activities
  6. A good memory of things we’ve previously learnt/spoken about
  7. Contributing to group activities
  8. Better grades
  9. Raising their hand to answer questions
  10. Curiosity about what is being taught

On the other hand, those who don't typically give up on tasks more quickly, show signs of tiredness and are easily distracted. They are also likely to be less engaged in the classroom and show a lack of curiosity.  

  1. Tiredness
  2. Struggles to concentrate
  3. Easily distracted
  4. Not fully engaged with the lesson
  5. Give up on tasks quickly
  6. A negative attitude
  7. Easily confused
  8. Struggles to remember things from previous lessons
  9. Lack of curiosity about what is being taught
  10. Less creative

“In light of the cost of living crisis, many more children are missing out on meals and nutrition at home, so being provided with a balanced breakfast at school could make a huge impact to their health,”​ said Pryia Tew, dietician and nutrition professional.

“Children who eat a hearty breakfast have a higher intake of key nutrients than breakfast skippers. While all meals are important, breakfast can be a golden opportunity to encourage children to eat fibre, calcium, B vitamins, protein, iron as well as one of their five a day with a portion fruit.”

“Numerous studies have shown breakfast may benefit physical health and cognitive function too – improving concentration levels and chances of a child’s success at school.

“Missing out a whole meal a day is going to make it hard to catch up on the nutrition their bodies need and reach their full potential in the classroom.”

To ensure that no child is too hungry to learn

Warburtons and school children 2
Pic: Warburtons

The study marks the start of Warburtons’ partnership with Magic Breakfast to provide over 1.1m nutritious breakfasts to children experiencing food insecurity.

“We firmly believe that all children should get the opportunity to thrive at school, no matter their circumstances,” said Jonathan Warburton, chairman of Warburtons.

“That’s why our partnership with Magic Breakfast is so important to us here at Warburtons – not every child has access to breakfast before school and we want to help change that.

According to Britain’s biggest bakery brand, 4 million children across the nation are currently experiencing food insecurity and are at risk of going to school hungry. Typically, these children will first say they are hungry at 9.54am.

Nearly half (46%) of children in the school communities of the teacher polled are now having their morning meal at a breakfast club, although 34% worry about rising food costs impacting breakfast club budgets.

Sadly, though, there’s still a group (34%) of children who are not getting anything to eat before the school day starts, as a quarter of the teachers say their school doesn’t have a club or trolley to offer this.

Beyond the physical, mental and success benefits, 71% of teachers also believe a breakfast club gives children time to settle into the school environment before lessons begin.

"It's our mission to end morning hunger as a barrier to learning for children and young people in the UK,”​ said Linsey Macdonald, CEO of Magic Breakfast.

“However, as financial pressures continue to stretch more and more families, sadly, an increasing number of children are going to school hungry.

“We're thrilled to be working with Warburtons and to have their support in providing more young people the chance to have a nutritious breakfast at school. We know that those who have had a breakfast are more settled, ready to learn and go on to achieve better results at school, helping them realise their dreams.”

The nonprofit currently has over 200,000 children and young people on its roll at Primary, Secondary, ASL/Special Educational Needs Schools and Pupil Referral Units with which it works in disadvantaged areas of Scotland and England. Magic Breakfast also undertakes research and campaigns for long-term solutions to end hunger as a barrier to learning.  

Making a mark

Warburtons Foundation

Added Jonathan Warburton, “On top of the product donations and community grants we make through the Warburtons Foundation, our pledge to provide 1.1 million breakfasts to schools through Magic Breakfast means we’ll be able to reach and support more families – something our family business has been committed to since we began.”

Warburtons has been working to support communities and families across the nation since founding in 1876.

In 2022, the Warburtons Foundation​ – launched earlier that year – hit the milestone of making its one millionth product donation​ and has committed to making 1.25 million product donations in year ahead.

The Foundation’s product donation programme sits alongside community initiatives like Bake the Most of Life, which tackles the gap in food education; a community financial giving programme; farm visits in partnership with British Farmers; and The Country Trust, among others.

Additional data

The research was commissioned by Warburtons through OnePoll to survey 500 UK teachers in February 2023.

  • Teachers at schools that do provide breakfast facilities typically serve toast, cereal and juice.
  • The benefits of breakfast clubs include getting a nutritious meal (76%), socialising with other students (60%) and learning about the importance of a good breakfast (47%).
  • 70% of teachers believe a good breakfast allows children time to properly prepare for the day ahead.
  • 57% of teachers say it gives children time to wake up before lessons.
  • Nearly half (48%) will eat while on the journey in while 46% will have their morning meal at a breakfast club.

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