UK charity Magic Breakfast ( began over 20 years ago when its founder, Carmel McConnell MBE, D.Hon M.MBA., went into schools in Hackney, London, and delivered breakfast foods because she recognised a need - children were hungry at the start of the school day. The charity now provides breakfast to school children and young people in over 1,000 primary, secondary, special educational needs schools, and Pupil Referral Units in disadvantaged areas of Scotland and England. Magic Breakfast also campaigns for sustainable investment in breakfast provision through working with decision makers and raising awareness of the issue of child hunger in the morning.
Nutrition Advisor Annah Herbert-Graham talks to us about Magic Breakfast’s work, food poverty, and the importance of breakfast in supporting children and young people to thrive. 


What does Magic Breakfast do? 

"The charity’s aim is to ensure that no child or young person in the UK is too hungry to learn, and we provide healthy breakfast foods to over 1,000 partner schools across England and Scotland, reaching over 200,000 children and young people each day.   

“Alongside the food element, one of the key areas that sets us apart is the engagement partner relationship. We're not just delivering food to the schools, we’re sending in a person – an engagement partner – who builds a positive relationship with the schools, with the breakfast club leaders, with the children…They can help identify signs of hunger, as often the children [who need our services] fall through the typical markers of poverty e.g. free school meals or Universal Credit. We do training on how to identify signs of hunger and how to encourage children and families to engage with this breakfast provision…so it’s not just about the food, it’s about the social element, the support element, the nurture element.  

“The provision is also available to all children in a school, not just those who don't have access to breakfast at home, so we break down that stigma and barrier of children accessing a free breakfast at school. It’s available to everyone who wants or needs it.” 

How does the charity provide the food to the schools? 

“We partner with different food suppliers to supply a range of breakfast staples such as porridge oats, wholegrain cereals, bagels and baked beans. My role involves making sure that any products we do supply comply with national school food standards and nutritional guidelines in England and Scotland, as well as working with our partners to ensure we are getting the message out that every child should have access to a healthy breakfast.  

“I come from a nutritional therapy background, where we were taught to offer clients personalised meal plans, recommending ingredients such as avocados, salmon and olive oil, which are great but they can work out to be really expensive. We provide a core provision of carbohydrate-based products and we encourage schools to utilise their resources to provide access to milk, fruit and vegetables throughout the day, especially at breakfast.   

“Some might think a bagel or a bowl of porridge or breakfast cereal or beans isn’t the most nutritious meal. But because we’re a hunger-focused charity, we know that we’re providing the energy requirements that children need, in a form that is familiar and accessible to all children and young people. We know that the breakfast food we offer adheres to school food standards and echoes public health guidance from the Eatwell guide. And we know that they are foods that the school can logistically serve to many children each morning in a variety of settings - in a classroom, canteen or even on the playground.” 

What does childhood food poverty mean? 

It means children are living in families that are experiencing food insecurity [i.e. they don’t have access to sufficient food or food of an adequate quality]. That might mean that families are cutting down on the amount of food they’re buying, or they’re limiting the types and quality of food that they're able to buy. It could mean that families are missing meals altogether. And they may not just be families that are receiving resources such as free school meals or Universal Credit. So that element of poverty extends beyond the official means-tested definitions of it in that sense. At present, 2.6 million children are living in families that have experienced food insecurity.  

“Some people think poverty is simply about not being able to afford food. But it goes further than that – households may not be able to afford to run a cooker or buy a fridge or freezer. So [it’s also about] having the right equipment to cook a healthy meal, as well as the food itself.”  

Why is breakfast so important for children? 

“It’s levelling the gap between children that have access to a healthy breakfast in the morning who are able to arrive at school energised, full and ready to learn, and those that don't have access to a healthy breakfast – either they haven't eaten anything since the evening before, maybe even the school lunch before, or they've had something that wasn’t really adequate for learning, e.g. an energy drink, or chocolate bar. From a nutritional perspective, children (as well as adults) need a balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats in each meal, in order to balance blood glucose levels and sustain their energy until the next opportunity to eat.  

"That’s why we call it 'fuel for learning' at Magic Breakfast. Considering that most schools across the UK normally start the day with the core subjects Maths and English, if children are hungry, with low blood sugar and they're not able to focus during those early hours in the morning, they're going to be miss out on opportunities to learn key skills going forward, and fall behind their peers." 

Where can parents turn if they’re struggling to put food on the table? 

“There should be a point of contact in every school, whether that's a trusted teacher, SENCO [Special Educational Needs Coordinator] or a parent liaison officer, a kind of pastoral wellbeing person able to direct those queries coming from parents and carers of children. The school should be able to offer advice on where families can access support locally, whether in the form of food banks or other organisations who can provide social, financial or educational support. Sometimes families who are struggling are not aware of what they're entitled to, so it could be a case of signposting a parent or carer to access resources available to them. 

“Schools that are aware of the issue of hidden hunger would proactively seek out parents that perhaps are not confident enough to ask for help and encourage them to access what's available. That might be through parent coffee mornings, or one-to-one meetings between a parent and teacher, or encouraging the child to attend breakfast club if the school runs one, or an after school club, where conversations around family wellbeing can begin.”

How do we as a nation tackle food poverty in the long term? 

“I think it starts with the voices of people living in poverty – we need to start listening to people who are living this experience, these challenges day to day, who are bringing up their families against all odds. We need to break down the stigma and stereotype of disadvantage in order to remove the barriers to helping people, and look at the wider picture of poverty and who it affects. With the cost of living crisis affecting more and more of the population, the need for understanding and collective support is greater than ever.  

"Awareness is crucial. But so is action. That’s why we need more and sustainable investment in school breakfast provision at the regional and national level. At Magic Breakfast, we're committed to being brave, compassionate, collaborative, inclusive and solution focussed, putting children and young people at the heart of everything we do in order to tackle child hunger in this country now and for good.” 

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