The Breakfast Club: Engaging Caregivers, Teachers, and Students through Nutrition Education

September 24, 2018


As back-to-school season begins, it’s good to remember that schools can serve as spaces to promote healthy habits. For residents of neighborhoods like East Harlem — where challenges such as poverty and lack of access to healthy foods put residents at higher risk for diabetes, hypertension and obesity — schools play an important role in improving health outcomes. When our New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene colleagues asked the Fund for Public Health in New York City (FPHNYC) to help raise support for an innovative program that promotes healthier habits, boosts parent engagement and provides access to fresh fruits and vegetables for East Harlem residents, we were eager to help. Together, we successfully secured a three-year grant for $1,536,000 through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that helped create ¡Buen Provecho! — Eat Well.

¡Buen Provecho! — Eat Well aims to improve healthy food choices; increase access to affordable, nutritious food; and foster family engagement in select East Harlem schools. The program originally focused on improving nutrition education for pre-K through first grade while engaging caregivers through breakfast clubs. ¡Buen Provecho! — Eat Well includes two curricula, The Breakfast Club, led by coordinators at parent breakfasts, and Eating Healthy for Success, a Department of Education-approved, common core-integrated curriculum for pre-K through first graders, led by teachers. The program is still going strong, with marked growth in parent attendance, and has distributed nearly 140,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables through a partnership with GrowNYC in East Harlem.

Another key component of ¡Buen Provecho! — Eat Well is the research study. Over the last three years, the program collected data six times from surveys of five partner schools and two comparison schools. A paper describing the program design and outcome measures will be submitted to the Journal of School Health, while program manager Andrea Levy works on additional manuscripts to help others duplicate the program and process.

FPHNYC currently serves as the grant manager, overseeing subcontracts with GrowNYC and reports to the funder. FPHNYC also assists with program operations planning, financial reporting, hiring and evaluating yearly budgets to ensure the program stays on track.

“FPHNYC helped to bring our ideas to reality, with both fundraising skills and operational know-how,” says Cathy Nonas, former senior advisor for the Health Department. This relationship has helped extend ¡Buen Provecho! — Eat Well funding for another year and expand the program into eight schools. The program prides itself on empowering and engaging community members while creating a sustainable model for the future. Looking ahead, ¡Buen Provecho! — Eat Well will focus on sustainability and ensuring residents continue to have access to the foods they need to be healthy, strong and ready to learn this new school year.