WASHINGTON, March 9, 2021 — Millions of children missed out on school meals in April 2020 and October 2020 due to the pandemic, according to a report released today during National School Breakfast Week by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).
FRAC’s School Meals: The Impact of the Pandemic on 54 Large School Districts report looks at survey findings from 54 school districts in 28 states and the District of Columbia about their breakfast and lunch participation and operating status in October 2019, April 2020, and October 2020. Breakfast and lunch participation in the 54 districts combined dropped in April 2020 when schools closed in response to the pandemic, and participation remained low in October 2020 as school districts started the new school year.
“COVID-19 has caused alarming spikes in childhood hunger,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC, “We are grateful to school districts and community partners for having pivoted quickly to mitigate the deepening hunger crisis by ensuring as many children as possible still had access to the nutrition they need for their health and learning.”
On a regular school day, the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program provide millions of low-income students with nutritious meals. Due to school closures in the spring, school districts had to adjust operations to make school breakfast and lunch available through the Summer Nutrition Programs at school meal sites.
In April 2020, school districts served 17.7 million breakfasts and 18.8 million lunches, a decrease of 21 million breakfast and 44 million lunches when compared to October 2019.
One district — Chicago Public Schools (IL) — increased the number of breakfasts and lunches served in April 2020 when compared to October 2019. Three additional districts — Albuquerque Public Schools (NM), Salt Lake City School District (UT), and Wake County Public School System (NC) — increased participation in breakfast only.
The report also looked at school breakfast participation among low-income students compared to lunch in October 2019 prior to schools closing. Only 18 of the 54 school districts surveyed met FRAC’s benchmark of serving 70 low-income children with school breakfast for every 100 receiving school lunch. The districts with the highest levels of participation in school breakfast broadly implemented breakfast after the bell models in combination with offering breakfast at no charge to all students.
Looking forward, FRAC urges Congress to allow all schools to offer free meals to all students and to expand direct certification to ensure that more vulnerable children are being automatically linked to free school meals. There also needs to be broader support and implementation of breakfast after the bell models as schools return to in-classroom learning to increase school breakfast participation to, get this much-needed daily meal to low-income children who rely on free or reduced-price school meals.
“Schools will need more financial support to recover from the fallout of COVID-19,” added Guardia. “We encourage lawmakers to provide free school meals for all students in the 2021–2022 school year and beyond to reach more children with the nutrition they need which also will help support school nutrition finances.”
The Large School District report consists of completed surveys from 54 large school districts in 28 states and the District of Columbia about their breakfast and lunch participation and operating status in October 2019, April 2020, and October 2020 to analyze participation and program operations before the pandemic.
This is a companion report to the recently released School Breakfast Scorecard.
The Scorecard takes a look at how well the School Breakfast Program reached students on national and state levels on an average day during September 2019 through February 2020.
For 50 years, the Food Research & Action Center has been the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.