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Ready to Learn: Student and District Success with School Breakfast

By Brie Doyle, Ph.D.

Every school stakeholder hopes that students arrive school with a hunger to learn each day. However, far too many students miss a morning meal, resulting in hunger for food, not knowledge.

When schools make breakfast part of the school day, just like lunch, students succeed. Absenteeism and behavior disruptions decline and students' academic growth and outcomes increase.  In fact, in a recent report released by the Council of Chief State School Officers, ensuring students can easily access breakfast at school is listed as a key to Setting the Right Conditions for Learning.  Educators across the country are working with School Nutrition Professionals to ensure their students can easily access breakfast.  Read on to learn how you can make this change too!

What is the National School Breakfast Program?

The National School Breakfast Program (NSBP) is a federally funded school nutrition program, just like school lunch. Schools participating in NSBP must adhere to nutrition guidelines supported by science. Even though food items provided to students at school sometimes look the same as breakfast foods found in grocery stores, their nutritional profiles are very different.

Children may be determined eligible for free or reduced price meals through participation in certain Federal Assistance Programs, based on their household income and family size, or by meeting other federal requirements. 

Learn more about how school meals reach students here.

Why should students eat school meals?

Research shows that the simple act of eating school breakfast can dramatically change a child’s life. Making school breakfast a seamless part of the school day by serving it after the bell can also have a huge impact on classrooms. From higher test scores, to calmer classrooms and better attendance and graduation rates, school meals have proven to have a huge effect on students’ abilities to learn. The health benefits are also clear, with fewer nurse visits, better health, and lower rates of obesity among children who have access to school breakfast.

Teachers report the impact on not only their classrooms, but also their students as they make breakfast part of their day.  Teachers report that a new sense of community is created as students share a meal with each other and students feel a stronger sense of belonging

When more students eat breakfast at school each day, there is a financial benefit as well.  With larger volumes of food purchased, food costs often decrease.  Increasing access to school breakfast can result in school nutrition budgets that were previously operating at a deficit, or just breaking even, being more financially sound.   Learn more about your state’s breakfast participation and potential additional revenue in the FRAC School Breakfast Scorecard.

Why aren’t more students participating?

Traditional school breakfast programs often operate too early for students to participate, particularly if bus or carpool schedules do not allow them to get there on time. Other students end up skipping breakfast because they do not want to be singled out as poor, or miss time socializing with their friends. Breakfast after the Bell models can be an easy way to overcome these barriers.

My district provides meals at no charge to all students in the district or at some school sites.  Why should I care about Breakfast After the Bell?

Providing meals at no charge to all students is a great way to remove barriers for students.  However, even when meals are provided at no charge to all students, students continue to meet challenges to accessing breakfast each morning.  Find out how many students at your schools that offer meals at no charge are participating in breakfast compared to lunch.   Moving to a Breakfast After the Bell model can help more students in your schools start their day with a healthy meal.

What Do Breakfast After the Bell Models Look Like?

There are many ways to create a successful school breakfast program, but three innovative models that have been especially successful are Breakfast In the Classroom, Grab and Go, and Second Chance.

Breakfast in the Classroom.  Students eat breakfast in their classroom after the official start of the school day. Students or staff may deliver breakfasts to classrooms via coolers or insulated rolling bags, or get breakfast from mobile carts in the hallways. As students eat, teachers begin instruction.

Grab and Go.  Students pick up conveniently packaged breakfasts from mobile service carts in high traffic areas, such as hallways, entryways or cafeterias. Students eat in the classroom or elsewhere on school grounds before and after the bell has rung. Grab and Go is most effective when carts are stationed in locations convenient to students (e.g. near school entrances) and when students are able to eat the food they pick up from the carts in the classroom.

Second Chance Breakfast.  Students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, often after first period or between breakfast and lunch. Schools serve breakfast in the same manner as they would with traditional Grab and Go breakfast.

Learn more about Breakfast After the Bell models here.

How can I help students access school breakfast?

  • Talk to your district’s School Nutrition Director: Find out how many students eat breakfast each day compared to lunchAsk your Child Nutrition Director how your schools are serving breakfast, and if there are other models your schools could try.
  • Find out about your state’s school breakfast policies: States vary in their policies governing the School Breakfast Program.  Find out more about your state by visiting NASBE’s State Policies site.
  • Find a volunteer to start a pilot: With the support of your cafeteria, custodial, administrative, teaching, and other education staff, ask a volunteer to start a Breakfast After the Bell pilot in their classroom. A small pilot can help work out kinks and show the success of alternative models in real time.
  • Reach out to No Kid Hungry: Team No Kid Hungry works with school stakeholders to help them identify and customize the model that works best for their school. We help bring together school stakeholders, including teachers, food and building services staff, and parents, to design the ideal program and make sure that schools have the funding, equipment and marketing resources they need in order to make these innovative breakfast models work.  Visit No Kid Hungry Center For Best Practices to learn more.
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