Why School Breakfast?

Why School Breakfast?

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is a familiar saying, but do we do enough to ensure that healthy breakfast is easily accessible to all children every day? And why school breakfast? With over 17 million households classified as food insecure, guaranteed access to breakfast at school is a real–and proven effective–solution to combating hunger. School breakfast can provide our most vulnerable population a pathway to academic success and a healthy future. Here's what we know:

  • Experiencing hunger impairs children’s ability to learn.
  • Eating school breakfast improves children’s attendance.
  • Eating school breakfast improves behavior and learning environments.
  • Eating breakfast at school reduces tardiness and absenteeism.
  • Children who eat breakfast are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight.

Through concerted efforts by many public and private agencies and organizations across the country, including the USDANo Kid HungryFood Research and Action Center (FRAC), School Nutrition Association, and ChildObesity180, we are increasing the number of vulnerable children eating school breakfast and reaping the benefits. Breakfast legislation in several states (watch video to the right on New Mexico’s breakfast after the bell legislation), as well as the upcoming USDA Community Eligibility expansion, is fueling the momentum of reaching the 70/100 goal: 70 kids eating school breakfast out of every 100 who are eligible for free-and-reduced-priced meals and participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Out of the 20 million children who are eligible for free-and-reduced-priced meals and participated in the NSLP in the 2012-13 school year, only 51.9% also participated in the School Breakfast Program (SBP). Even though breakfast is currently served at 89.8% of the nation's schools that take part in the NSLP, the SBP still faces challenges: lack of time, lack of marketing, lack of parent knowledge, and lack of equipment and space. For the children, there is an additional issue‒stigma.

Many school breakfasts are served before the regular school day starts, or "before the bell." For many families, getting students to school before the scheduled start time is difficult because of work schedules and transportation issues. Also, many school breakfasts aren't "universal," (they aren't served to all the children in the school regardless of eligibility status) and so eating school breakfast can be a stigmatizing experience. Many children will choose to go hungry instead of being made fun of or being identified as "poor" because they eat school breakfast.

The Chef Ann Foundation supported breakfast expansion through its Healthy Breakfast for Kids equipment grants, which were offered to schools for universal, after-the-bell breakfast programs. Action for Healthy Kids continues to provide grants for school breakfast. 


Breakfast Program Glossary

There is a lot of terminology to understand when discussing breakfast programs, from the different types of service models to the terms used to describe diverse breakfast programs. Let’s start with a simple glossary of school breakfast terminology:

  • Alternative Breakfast: a broad reference that includes any breakfast service or delivery model that is not the traditional service of breakfast served in the cafeteria before the bell signal.
  • Breakfast After the Bell: A broad reference to the practice of offering breakfast to students after the first bell. It is most commonly associated with the alternative breakfast methods of: Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab ‘n Go, and Breakfast Break (aka Breakfast after 1st Period).
  • Breakfast Break (aka “Breakfast after 1st Period”): Refers to breakfast served and consumed after 1st period is completed and before or during 2nd period. This model is most commonly used in secondary school settings.
  • Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC): This refers to the practice of allowing students to eat breakfast after the bell in their classrooms during first period. The delivery methods can include students picking up a meal on their way to the classroom aka “Grab ‘n Go”; breakfast delivered to the classroom by food service staff; breakfast delivered to the classroom by student representatives who pick up their class’s meal at the cafeteria; or a combination of methods based on the school building and grade levels.
  • Breakfast Vending: Refers to vending machines used to dispense breakfast meals. Depending on the set up, breakfast vending can be utilized as a delivery method for breakfast in the classroom, breakfast break, or traditional breakfast (with fees or universal).
  • FARMS or F/R: Is short for “free-and-reduced-priced meals” and is often used in reference to students who are eligible for them. Students who are eligible are commonly referred to as “free-and-reduced-eligible” or “F/R”. The basis of eligibility for free-and reduced-priced meals can be determined in one of four ways: categorical eligibility (child may be in foster care, Head Start, homeless, migrant—often falls into direct certification through databases), direct certification (cross-references SNAP/Food Stamps and records from other agencies), income-based eligibility (uses applications collecting family, children, and income information), or community eligibility (the newest solution for school districts with over 40% of directly-certified students who are eligible for free-and-reduced-priced meals; see Provisional Programs page for further explanation). 
  • Grab ’n Go: Refers to the practice of setting up service stations in multiple locations, often in the cafeteria or hallways so that students can pick up a mobile breakfast (usually bagged) on their way to class where they can eat it during first period. This method can also be utilized for “Breakfast Break” (aka “Second Chance Breakfast” or “Breakfast after 1st Period”) where the meal is picked up on the way to another class.
  • Second Chance Breakfast (aka “Breakfast Break”): In addition to a synonym for Breakfast Break (see above), it is sometimes used when a district allows students arriving late to obtain a breakfast from the food service staff up to a set time prior to lunch.
  • Traditional Breakfast (aka “Breakfast Before the Bell”): This is the practice of offering breakfast to students only before the first bell. It can be offered as free to all students (universal), but service is completed prior to the start of the school day, most commonly in the school’s cafeteria.
  • Universal Breakfast: Refers to offering free breakfast to all students regardless of eligibility. This status can be applied to any breakfast model including regular cafeteria service before the bell, second chance breakfast offered from cafeteria or carts during passing periods, or alternative delivery methods used to increase participation by serving breakfast after the bell (often in the classroom). Universal breakfast is most often utilized in high schools with a high percentage of students who are eligible for free-and-reduced-priced meals.


Case Studies & Supporting Research

Case studies from the past two decades provide a depth of understanding about the impact of breakfast on children’s health, behavior, and learning. The following publications outline key findings that can support your efforts as you expand your school breakfast program.

Breakfast After the Bell! Appleseed

Appleseed helps bring better grades, behavior, and health to over 60,000 NM children with Breakfast After The Bell legislation.


Visit our Breakfast Tools & Resources page for worksheets, calculators, signage, guides, and more.

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