Expanding School Breakfast Participation

Mapping School Breakfast

Want to see what breakfast looks like in your state? Check out FRAC’s new interactive map highlighting program participation and grant funding data to serve as a tool to expand school breakfast participation at the state and local level.

Follow this link to a list of state school breakfast legislation.



FRAC is a member of the
Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom
funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation, which works with 15 school districts in 13 states to support and maintain successful breakfast in the classroom programs.

Other members of the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom include:

The Food Research and Action Center gratefully acknowledges the following funders whose support has helped to make possible our work to expand school breakfast participation:

  • ConAgra Foods Foundation
  • Kellogg’s Corporate Citizenship Fund
  • National Dairy Council/Dairy Management, Inc.
  • Newman’s Own Foundation
  • Walmart Foundation

Watch the Webinar:

Breakfast Matters “How to”: Piloting and Expanding Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go, and Second Chance Breakfast Programs

Why Expanding School Breakfast Participation is Important
Expanded availability, accessibility, and participation in the School Breakfast Program is one of the best ways to support the health and academic potential of children, particularly low-income children. Adequate nutrition and freedom from hunger are absolutely essential for good health and academic success, and yet these goals are not always achievable for families who are struggling to make ends meet.

To learn more about the benefits of school breakfast, check out these issue briefs highlighting the links between school breakfast and favorable education and health outcomes:

Key Strategies for School Breakfast Expansion
Significant progress has been made in recent years to expand participation in the School Breakfast Program, however, there is ample opportunity for continued growth. As more and more school districts successfully increase participation in the School Breakfast Program, proven and effective strategies have emerged:

STRATEGY: Make breakfast part of the school day.
Making breakfast a part of the school day dramatically increases participation by making it convenient and accessible to all. Whether breakfast is served in the classroom, from carts in the hallways, or before second period, the flexibility to allow children to eat in the morning during the school day is essential to ensure optimum participation.

Alternative Breakfast Service Model Options.
There are several alternative service models that have been proven to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program and each can be adapted and customized to fit the unique needs of a school. Compare the most effective alternative breakfast models with FRAC’s Choosing a Breakfast Service Model Chart (pdf).

Breakfast in the Classroom: Offering breakfast in the classroom, where students eat breakfast in the first 10-15 minutes of the school day, dramatically increases participation. Breakfast meals can be delivered to each classroom or picked up on the way to class.

Grab and Go Breakfast: Serving breakfast from carts in the hallway or from the cafeteria to be eaten on the way to class or in the first 10-15 minutes of the school day provides flexibility for schools while increasing participation.

Second Chance Breakfast: Breakfast is served from the cafeteria or carts in the hallway after first period during a morning break, allowing students who arrive later or are not hungry first thing in the morning to get a healthy breakfast.

STRATEGY: Offer breakfast free to all children.
Offering “universal” meals free to all children optimizes the impact of switching to an alternative breakfast model. The traditional means-tested school breakfast (in which the meal is free or the child pays, depending on family income) creates a sense among children that the program is just “for poor kids,” deterring participation by children from all income groups, including low-income children who most desperately need the school meal. This is especially a problem in middle and high school as awareness of the social context grows. By offering breakfast at no charge to all children—and children, of course, are free not to participate—“universal breakfast” ends the stigma, boosts participation among hungry children, and eliminates the burden of collecting fees.

Schools with a high percentage of free and reduced-price eligible children—75 percent and above– generally are able to make up any lost revenue from paid meals due to increased participation and resulting economies of scale. The “break-even” point for each school or district is different, however, depending on labor and food costs, school size, and reimbursement amounts.

Compare the different options with FRAC’s Offering Free Breakfast to All fact sheet (pdf).

Schools and districts can decide between several methods for offering breakfast at no charge, including:

  • Nonpricing: No fees are collected from students, while schools continue to receive federal reimbursements for the meals served under the three-tiered (free, reduced-price, and paid) system.
  • Provision 2: This federal option is designed to reduce paperwork and simplify the logistics of operating school meal programs. Schools using Provision 2 do not have to collect and process school meal applications, keep track of meal categories, or conduct income verifications for at least three out of every four years. Provision 2 schools serve meals to all students at no charge, and use the significant administrative savings to offset the cost differential with federal reimbursements.
  • Community Eligibility: This federal option is being phased in and will be available nationwide beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. It will be available to any school that chooses to participate and that has 40 percent or more of its students certified for free meals without submitting a school meal application, which includes children who are directly certified (through data matching) for free meals because they live in households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and children who are automatically eligible for free school meals because of their status as being in foster care or Head Start, homeless or migrant.

Frequently Asked Questions About Expanding School Breakfast Participation

Getting Started

Addressing Implementation Barriers

Engaging Stakeholders

Getting Started

Q. How do I start a breakfast in the classroom program in my school?
A. Start by contacting your school nutrition director or cafeteria manager, and tell them you are interested in breakfast in the classroom. They are responsible for operating the School Breakfast Program and will be the key contact for developing a way to serve breakfast in the classroom. If you are a school nutrition director who is interested in starting breakfast in the classroom, your first step is to build support within the school community, starting with teachers, school support staff, principals, and custodial stuff. A good way to build support is by showing a video on breakfast in the classroom:

Q. How can offering universal breakfast in the classroom– to all students at no charge, regardless of whether they qualify for free or reduced price meals—be financially viable for my school?
A. Offering breakfast free to all students simplifies the transition to serving breakfast in the classroom because fees are no longer collected. As a general rule, schools with 75 percent or more free or reduced-price eligible students can serve universal breakfast in the classroom and cover their costs through economies of scale. However, some schools with lower percentages of free and reduced-price eligible students can operate a universal classroom breakfast program that is financially self sustaining, depending on what their costs are (labor, food, etc.). Download this Excel file worksheet developed by the Dairy Council to help schools determine the viability of running this type of program.

Q. How do I choose which breakfast service model is right for my school or district?
A. There are several alternative service models that have been proven to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program and each can be adapted and customized to fit the needs of a school. Options include:

  • Delivering breakfast to classrooms for students to eat in the classroom setting.
  • Setting up “grab and go” kiosks or carts in school hallways or cafeterias where students can pick up bagged breakfast foods and take them to their classrooms.
  • Serving breakfast after first period in middle and high schools.

Schools and districts interested in implementing an alternative service model should consider a number of factors when deciding which model will be most appropriate and determining delivery, service, and clean up logistics. These factors include:

  • Age of the students.
  • Income level of the student population.
  • School day schedules.
  • Layout of the school.
  • Capacity of school nutrition and custodial staff.

Q. Does the entire school or school district need to do breakfast in the classroom?
A. Except for school districts where breakfast in the classroom has been mandated, there is no rule that precludes serving breakfast in the classroom in only certain schools in a district, or certain classrooms in a school. Implementing breakfast in the classroom school-wide, instead of only in certain classrooms, helps schools to make breakfast a part of the school culture and streamlines the process administratively for school nutrition staff. Each school will need to determine if offering universal free breakfast is financially feasible, however there are a number of high poverty districts that have successfully implemented breakfast in the classroom district-wide.

Q. Does a school district need additional funding to start a breakfast in the classroom program?
A. Schools and school districts across the country have been moving breakfast into the classroom, often without additional funding. However, some districts pursue grant funding to help cover start-up costs. Click here for a list of school breakfast expansion grant resources (pdf).

Q. Is there research that supports breakfast in the classroom?
A. Yes, research has been done on breakfast in the classroom that shows that children who participate are less likely to be absent, have fewer visits to the school nurse, and are less likely to be overweight. They eat more fruit, drink more milk and consume a wider variety of foods. Click here for a bibliography of research (pdf).

For a summary of research on the health and learning benefits of school breakfast, see FRAC’s publications Breakfast for Health and Breakfast for Learning.

Addressing Implementation Barriers

Q. Will breakfast in the classroom take away from instructional time?
The most common concern that teachers raise about breakfast in the classroom is that the program will take away from valuable instructional time. In practice, however, breakfast in the classroom generally takes about 10-15 minutes for children to eat, and is often done during morning activities, such as announcements, turning in homework or individual reading time so no instructional time is lost. Recognizing the academic and health benefits of breakfast, Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued a letter encouraging schools to adopt innovative service models to increase breakfast participation.

After breakfast in the classroom is implemented, teachers frequently report that their students’ productivity and ability to focus increases dramatically. Less time is spent on distractions such as behavior problems or illnesses caused by hunger. Many schools report fewer visits to the nurse’s office and disciplinary referrals. Moreover, many schools have reported decreased tardiness and absenteeism as students tend to come on time to get their breakfast. As a result, teachers are able to spend more time teaching and less on classroom management issues.

Many state superintendents of education, including California, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, have issued policy memos clarifying that classroom breakfast meets the requirements of instructional time.

More resources on instructional time:

Breakfast in the Classroom and Instructional Time Fact Sheet (pdf)

State Instructional Time Documents (pdfs)

Q. How can I address concerns about pest control and sanitation when offering breakfast in the classroom?
A. Pest prevention is another concern often raised by teachers prior to implementing breakfast in the classroom. Strategies to address these issues vary by school but include:

  • Selecting breakfast menu items with less risk of spillage, especially for elementary schools.
  • Providing each classroom with basic cleaning supplies and assigning students clean up tasks such as disposing of trash or wiping down desks.
  • Placing breakfast trash in a separate trash can or bag to be placed in the hallway and collected promptly after breakfast.

Q. Do breakfast meals served in the classroom have to meet nutrition guidelines? What types of foods are typically served in the classroom?
Breakfast meals served as part of the federal School Breakfast Program must meet USDA nutrition guidelines. If meals are to be served in the classroom or from kiosks or carts, they should be easy to prepare, serve, and eat in order to limit issues with spills and trash.

Foods that require minimal preparation and work well when served in the classroom include:

  • low-sugar cereals
  • granola bars
  • yogurt
  • fresh fruit
  • dried fruit
  • applesauce
  • trail mix
  • low fat cheese sticks
  • whole-wheat bagels with cream cheese

More resources on menu planning for breakfast in the classroom:

Engaging Stakeholders

Q. How can I work with principals and district administrators to start a breakfast in the classroom program?
A. Efforts to educate superintendents, principals, and other administrators about the learning, health, and budgetary benefits of increasing breakfast participation are essential to the continued expansion of the program. When superintendents and principals fully support alternative service strategies, participation in the School Breakfast Program can flourish. After implementing an alternative delivery breakfast model, participating principals often find that when students have eaten more time is spent on learning since there are fewer disruptions from tardiness, students misbehaving, or requests to see the school nurse.

There are several effective strategies for making the case for breakfast in the classroom to school administrators:

  • Provide school breakfast participation rates to principals, as they often are unaware of how few students participate in school breakfast.
  • Highlight the health and learning benefits of school breakfast participation including improved nutritional intake and increased test scores. For more information, see FRAC’s publications Breakfast for Health and Breakfast for Learning.
  • Show principals and administrators first-hand how alternative breakfast service models work by organizing a visit to a school that operates one of the alternative breakfast models.
  • Ask superintendents to send a letter to principals in their district describing the value of alternative breakfast service models or incorporate a presentation about breakfast in the classroom into meetings or trainings.
  • Enlist a network of other supportive administrators from nearby districts or other schools in the district to spread the message of how alternative delivery breakfast models increase participation dramatically and support student health and learning.

Q. How can I get buy-in from teachers to support breakfast in the classroom?
A. If engaged early on in the planning process, teachers can be an effective ally for engaging other stakeholders. Teachers see first-hand the effects of breakfast in the classroom—an improved learning environment where children start the day well nourished and ready to learn.

There are several ways to engage teachers and leverage their support:

  • Enlist teachers to encourage students to participate in the breakfast program and incorporate jobs for students into the breakfast service in the classroom.
  • Provide training for teachers to ensure that students are receiving a full reimbursable meal and, if applicable, that teachers are counting and claiming meals properly.
  • Inform teachers by having the School Breakfast Program as an in-service day training topic to make sure they know about the academic benefits, barriers to participation, and ways that teachers can help encourage students to participate in breakfast.
  • Offer resources for teachers to develop lessons during the 10-15 minutes that students are eating to ensure that no instructional time is lost. Lessons during breakfast can include a health lesson about the importance of proper nutrition, a math lesson using recipes or nutrition labels, or a science lesson about growing fruits and vegetables.

The National Education Association Health Information Network has created a breakfast in the classroom toolkit for educators.

Q. Will breakfast in the classroom affect the workload of custodial staff?
A. Custodial staff may have concerns about increased amounts of work created by breakfast in the classroom, grab and go, or second chance breakfast. However, this is often not the case once the program is implemented. When breakfast is moved out of the cafeteria, the custodial staff no longer have to clean the cafeteria after breakfast before preparing for lunch. In addition, simple steps can be taken to manage spills or food waste in classrooms. Custodial or school nutrition staff should provide each classroom with a spray cleaner and paper towels or wipes and a designated trash can or heavy-duty trash bags. As part of their breakfast duties, students can help with collecting trash, wiping desks, and putting trash in the hall. Custodians can collect the breakfast trash from the hallway during the time that would have otherwise been spent cleaning the cafeteria.

Q. How can I address concerns and educate parents about offering breakfast in the classroom?
A. Promoting the School Breakfast Program and informing parents about breakfast in the classroom is crucial to driving participation and addressing any nutrition concerns parents may have. Parent groups should be engaged early on in the planning process and outreach should be continuous throughout the year. For example:

  • Include information about breakfast in the classroom in the packet of materials that go to parents at the beginning of the school year.
  • Invite parents to join students during breakfast in the classroom on a particular day.
  • Provide sample breakfast meals and promotional materials at “Back to School Night” or other school events.
  • Feature easy-to-access information about breakfast in the classroom on the school website including menus.
  • Promote breakfast in the classroom frequently in emails, robo-calls (automated voicemails), on school district radio/TV stations when available, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, and in other communications with parents.
  • Mail postcards to families to encourage them to participate.
  • •Present information on the School Breakfast Program to Parent-Teacher Associations.