A full stomach makes for a more open mind.

A full stomach makes for a more open mind.

"It fuels your brain," said Karen Bakies, a registered dietician with the American Dairy Association Mideast, which has offices on Sharon Woods Boulevard in the Northland area.

Breakfast is often referred to as the most important meal of the day, but it's also the one most often skipped, particularly by teenagers, she said.

Armed with studies that show students who regularly have breakfast do significantly better in school than those who don't, the Children's Hunger Alliance, Ohio Action for Healthy Kids and the Ohio School Nutrition Association have joined with the ADA Mideast to issue a challenge to school officials.

"What we're trying to do this year is increase the emphasis on eating breakfast," Bakies said. "The challenge this year is to increase awareness, heighten participation."

While all Columbus City Schools students are eligible this year for free breakfast and lunch under a federally subsidized program, that doesn't mean enough of them will eat that early meal, according to the announcement from the ADA Mideast, the Ohio and West Virginia affiliate of the National Dairy Council.

"Nationally, the number of children who eat breakfast at school has risen slowly but steadily," the announcement said. "In 2000, 7.5 million students in the U.S. took part in school breakfast programs. In 2012, that number had risen to just under 13 million."

That's less than half of those who take advantage of school lunch programs.

"It (serving breakfast) doesn't have to be cumbersome; it doesn't have to be a chore," Bakies said in an interview last week. "It actually can be very easy."

The Ohio School Breakfast Challenge includes these strategies for increasing the number of students who eat breakfast:

* Breakfast in the Classroom: When breakfast is served in the classroom, more students eat breakfast. Easy-to-eat foods such as whole-grain cereal, fruit and milk or breakfast sandwiches with milk, are served in the classroom as the day gets underway.

* Grab-and-Go: Popular with older students, the idea behind this approach is for students to pick up a bagged breakfast on the way to class and eat at their desks or where the school designates, allowing them to eat their own pace.

* Second Chance: Served after first period, these meals can be a way to reach students who aren't hungry first thing or the ones who ate very early in the morning.

"It can, hopefully, become a lifelong pattern, something that you do without thinking about it," Bakies said.

She added that it's too early to assess how the Ohio Breakfast Challenge is going, but said it will be important for the campaign to gain the support of school administrators and food service department personnel.