A simple breakfast sandwich boosts hungry Israeli kids’ school performance

The National Insurance Institute reports nearly 800,000 Israeli children live with food insecurity.

Children on their way to school (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Children on their way to school
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel is nearly 70 years old, and there is much to celebrate. We have built an incredible Jewish nation that has surpassed the wildest dreams of its founders. We have grown into global pioneers in science and technology and our culture is flourishing.
We remain strong and defend ourselves against a range of security threats. Jews worldwide continue to move to Israel and otherwise seek inspiration from their ancestral homeland.
But there’s an increasingly worrisome social problem that threatens Israel from within – and we think the simple sandwich will help cure it.
The National Insurance Institute reports nearly 800,000 Israeli children live with food insecurity – the inability to access consistent, healthy meals.
Some go to school each day hungry, and unlike their peers have neither eaten breakfast nor come with a prepared sandwich to eat during the school day. Their hunger both impedes their development and prevents them from focusing on the task at hand: learning.
Additionally, a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey of literacy in math, reading and science among 15-yearolds in 72 countries found Israel has the greatest variance in grades between students of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
That’s where our nonprofit organization, Nevet, comes in. We believe we can begin reverse this trend through a relatively straightforward fix: providing these needy children with a healthful sandwich each school day. Nevet provides 8,000 Israeli school children in grades 1-12 at 130 schools across Israel with a healthy sandwich every school day.
We know we’re already making a difference. Nevet recently surveyed our program recipients: 57% said they were motivated to attend school in part just to get their daily sandwich – while 83% of principals reported improved school attendance rates due to the program. Further, 96% of school principals said the children with Nevet sandwiches showed improved behavior in school – they are now able to focus on studying instead of on their empty stomachs.
STILL, WE are only beginning to change things for the better. More than 13,500 students remain on our waiting lists for the coming school year, and we’re unable to serve them due to limited resources. If we could feed more kids, we could not only help them, but also help fortify those kids who would otherwise be at risk of failing – and in so doing, prevent them from falling into a circle of despair.
There’s a well-established connection between hunger and the ability to learn. Several global studies have shown a clear connection between a nutritious breakfast and increased concentration in class, fewer absences from school, and improved educational achievement.
Those suffering from prolonged hunger and nutritional deficiency likewise struggle to realize their full academic potential. Some eventually drop out and fall back into a cycle of economic struggle. And the gap between rich and poor deepens.
Of course Nevet and the problem we’re trying to address is about more than just nutrition or hunger. It’s also about establishing a healthy routine and creating a consistent nutritional anchor for the children every day. By feeding these kids breakfast, we feed their minds, giving them the opportunity to succeed in the short term and bolstering their chances of finding success beyond school. That’s because children who regularly attend school are 20% more likely to graduate from high school. And in Israel, like in most countries, employment rates are higher among high school graduates.
In other words, a simple, healthy sandwich for young people who need it can be the key to making Israel the strongest nation it can be when it turns 70 next year.
As the acclaimed American food writer M. F. K. Fisher once said: “First we eat, then we do everything else.”
The author is the vice president of strategic development for Nevet. She has a degree in law and a bachelor’s degree in government, diplomacy and strategy from IDC Herzliya. Before joining Nevet, she worked in the Knesset legal department for the labor, welfare and health committee, and founded a volunteer organization called “The Third Generation for the Golden Age,” aimed at teaching computer skills to senior citizens.