February 15, 2022

In March 2020, schools across the country shuttered in response to the pandemic, and a majority of school districts provided instruction virtually or through a hybrid model for part or all of the 2020-2021 school year.[1]

FRAC’s new report provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the pandemic on participation in both breakfast and lunch across three school years:  2018-2019, 2019-2020, and 2020-2021.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly 14 million children received breakfast and 19.8 million children received lunch on an average school day during the 2020–2021 school year, a decrease of 4.7 percent and 30.7 percent, respectively, compared to breakfast and lunch participation rates in the 2018–2019 school year — the last full school year prior to the pandemic.
  • During the 2020–2021 school year, the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 2.1 billion breakfasts were served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), and the School Breakfast Program combined, a decrease of 102.9 million, or 4.6 percent, when compared to 2.2 billion in the 2018–2019 school year.
  • Lunch saw an even more dramatic drop: During the 2020–2021 school year, almost 3.0 billion lunches were served through SFSP, SSO, and the National School Lunch Program combined, a decrease of 1.4 billion, or 32.4 percent, when compared to 4.4 billion in the 2018–2019 school year.
  • A gap in participation between breakfast and lunch remained but decreased during the pandemic. This was driven by the 30.7 percent decrease in lunch participation in the 2020–2021 school year compared to the 2018–2019 school year.

Urge Congress to Extend USDA’s Authority to Issue Nationwide Child Nutrition Waivers

In response to the pandemic, Congress gave USDA the authority to issue nationwide child nutrition waivers to support access and program operations. These waivers have allowed school nutrition programs, local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to provide meals in the face of numerous challenges, such as school closures virtual learning, and the need to social distance.

Without the child nutrition waivers and the creativity and hard work of school nutrition departments to reach children with breakfasts and lunches regardless of what the school day looked like; school meals would have lost even more ground when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The waivers are still needed as families, school nutrition programs, and community-based organizations recover from the long-term effects of the pandemic. That is why FRAC and nearly 2,000 national, state, and local organizations from every state across the country, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are urging Congress to swiftly extend USDA’s authority to issue nationwide waivers for the Child Nutrition Programs beyond June 30, 2022.


[1] Education Week. (2020). Map: Where Were Schools Required to Be Open for the 2020-21 School Year? Available at: https://www. edweek.org/leadership/map-where-are-schools-closed/2020/07. Accessed on January 18, 2022.