Record Demand for School Meals, But Breakfast Participation Still Falling Short

topandbottom10statesFRAC Urges States and School Districts to Employ Innovative Programs to Increase Participation in School Breakfast

Contact: Jennifer Adach, 202-986-2200 x3018

Download the reports:
School Breakfast Scorecard (pdf)
School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities (pdf)

Washington, D.C. – January 13, 2011 – Record numbers of low-income children received school meals during the 2009-2010 school year, but the number of children eating breakfast continues to lag by much too wide a margin the number of children eating lunch. Less than half (47.2 percent) of low-income children who received school lunch also participated in the breakfast program, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard. The Scorecard provides FRAC’s analysis of federal and state government data, plus a survey of officials.

School districts could achieve considerably higher participation in breakfast programs by employing innovative strategies to get breakfast out of the cafeteria and in front of children. School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, a separate analysis by FRAC being released simultaneously with the Scorecard, looked at school breakfast participation and trends in 29 large urban districts. The analysis found that higher rates of breakfast participation were achieved by school districts that offered breakfast free to all students (also known as universal breakfast), served breakfast in the classroom at the start of the school day rather than in the cafeteria, or offered bagged “grab and go” breakfasts from carts in the hallway. In fact, of the top ten school districts profiled in the report, all provide universal free breakfast throughout their district, and all but two have large-scale in-classroom breakfast programs.

“Clearly, the recession created more childhood hunger and fueled growth in the school meal programs. While officials and advocates at the school, state, and federal level took important steps to boost enrollment, we still see that far too few children are starting the day with a healthy morning meal,” said Jim Weill, FRAC president.

In the report, FRAC found that states and school districts should:

  • Put breakfast in the classroom programs on a fast track to implementation;
  • Offer school meal application campaigns at the start of the school year;
  • Conduct frequent outreach throughout the school year as so many children’s families become eligible after the school year begins; and
  • Look at their application processes in general to make it easier for children to get school meals.

“In a time of state budget shortfalls, it is especially disturbing that states are leaving so many federal dollars untapped – dollars which can feed low-income children,” Weill continued. “If schools could improve participation so they reach 60 children with breakfast for every 100 that also eat lunch, FRAC estimates that an additional 2.5 million low-income children would be added to the breakfast program and states would have received an additional $611 million in child nutrition funding. States should not dismiss these dollars and should start looking at proven ways to boost participation, like serving breakfast in the classroom.”

In the city analysis, FRAC sets a higher goal of 70 percent for urban school districts to achieve. If each surveyed district boosted participation to reach 70 low-income children with breakfast for every 100 that received free and reduced-price lunch, 595,649 additional students would have eaten a healthy school breakfast and the 29 school districts would have collected an additional $151 million in federal child nutrition funding.

FRAC is a member of the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, a new initiative launched today, that aims to boost participation in school breakfast. The initiative, funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation, will seek to dramatically boost breakfast participation by supporting breakfast in the classroom programs in five high-need school districts (Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, Orlando and Prince George’s County, Md.). Other members of the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom include the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, National Education Association Health Information Network, and School Nutrition Foundation.

Nationally, participation in the School Breakfast Program grew to include 9.4 million children during the 2009-2010 school year, an increase of 663,000 children over the previous school year – and the largest increase since FRAC began tracking participation in 1991. Over the past two school years, participation in breakfast grew by nearly 1.2 million low-income children. The 2009-2010 school year also saw the largest increase in lunch participation recorded by FRAC; the program reached nearly 20 million low-income children on an average school day.

FRAC measures School Breakfast Program participation by comparing the number of low-income children receiving school breakfast to the number of such children receiving school lunch. Participation among states ranged from a high of nearly 61 percent in New Mexico to a low of nearly 34 percent in Utah. Among the surveyed school districts, participation ranged from a high of 94 percent in Newark Public Schools to a low of 29 percent in Clark County School District (Nev.).

About the reports:
The full report, School Breakfast Scorecard, is available at To measure the reach of the School Breakfast Program in each state, FRAC compares the number of schools and the number of low-income children that participate in breakfast to those that participate in the National School Lunch Program. FRAC also sets a participation goal of reaching 60 children with breakfast for every 100 receiving lunch as a way to gauge each state’s progress and the costs of underparticipation in the program.

For School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, FRAC surveyed 29 large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies. The school districts included in the report are: Atlanta Public Schools (Ga.); Baltimore City Public Schools (Md.); Boston Public Schools (Mass.); Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Chicago Public Schools (Ill.); Clark County School District (Nev.); Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Ohio); Columbus City Schools (Ohio); Dallas Independent School District (Tex.); Denver Public Schools (Colo.); Detroit Public Schools (Mich.); District of Columbia Public Schools (D.C.); Houston Independent School District (Tex.); Little Rock School District (Ark.); Los Angeles Unified School District (Calif.); Memphis City Schools (Tenn.); Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Fla.); Milwaukee Public Schools (Wisc.); Minneapolis Public Schools (Minn.); Newark Public Schools (N.J.); New York City Department of Education (N.Y.); Oakland Unified School District (Calif.); Omaha Public Schools (Neb.); Orange County Public Schools (Fla.); Philadelphia School District (Pa.); Pittsburgh Public Schools (Pa.); Prince George’s County Public Schools (Md.); San Diego Unified School District (Calif.); and Seattle Public Schools (Wash.). For urban school districts, FRAC sets a higher participation goal of 70 percent. The full report is available at


The Food Research and Action Center ( is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.