The School Breakfast Program provides millions of children a nutritious morning meal each school day. School breakfast is a critical support for struggling families trying to stretch limited resources and provides children a significant portion of the nutrition they need to learn and be healthy.
How did participation in school breakfast and lunch change pre-pandemic and during the pandemic?
FRAC’s 2022 School Breakfast and School Lunch Report found student participation in school breakfast and lunch dropped dramatically across the country when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and school nutrition programs are still recovering.
As the country approaches the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, school meals are at a critical crossroads. Now is the time to consider the role that
these programs have played — and should play — in supporting children’s health and well-being moving forward, and ensure they not only regain lost ground but also grow to fully meet children’s nutritional needs.
Quick Facts: September 2019–February 2020 School Year
- A little more than 12.6 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program on an average school day.
- 93.9 percent of schools serving lunch also served breakfast.
- 58.4 low-income children participated in school breakfast for every 100 that participated in school lunch.
From FRAC’s School Breakfast Scorecard.
Looking for Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)?
P-EBT provides nutritional resources to families who have lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, including school breakfast, due to school closures. Families receive money on a new or existing EBT card to help fill the school meals gap.
Any public school, nonprofit private school, or residential child care institution can participate in the School Breakfast Program and receive federal funds for each breakfast served. The program is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and in each state typically through the department of education or agriculture.
To find out the agency that administers the program in your state, check USDA’s list of state administering agencies.
Follow this link to USDA guidance on the School Breakfast Program.
Explore These Topics
- Celebrating 50 Years of School Breakfasts
A History of the School Breakfast Program
The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) turns 50 this year, and throughout its history, FRAC has worked to expand the reach of the School Breakfast Program through research, advocacy, and training efforts to make it robust, accessible, and effective at decreasing childhood hunger and undernutrition. Since the creation of the School Breakfast Program, participation has grown to 14.6 million students on an average school day in school year 2018–2019; 12.4 million of whom are low-income. FRAC’s work, in partnership with national, state, and local partners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state child nutrition agencies, and educators, to identify barriers to participation — and to knock them down — has driven this growth in participation. Below are major milestones in the history of the School Breakfast Program and FRAC’s role in it.
1966 — School Breakfast Program piloted through the Child Nutrition Act of 1966
1975 — Nationwide School Breakfast Program created
1987 — FRAC released Fuel for Excellence. This first-ever guide to the School Breakfast Program launched a multi-year expansion campaign with over 70 national partners.
1989 — Child Nutrition Amendments of 1989 created direct certification and school breakfast incentives.
FRAC’s research and lobbying were central to the enactment of the Child Nutrition Amendments of 1989. Direct certification has allowed eligible children to be easily certified for free school meals without an application. Incentives for school breakfast expansion have supported increased participation.
1992 — FRAC released the first School Breakfast Scorecard
The Scorecard found that only one-third of low-income children receiving school lunch ate school breakfast, and that about half of the schools operating the National School Lunch Program also ran the School Breakfast Program. This report set the first national benchmark for school breakfast participation. The report’s release, along with FRAC’s breakfast organizers, contributed to over 25 states passing legislation requiring schools with a high proportion of lowincome students to serve breakfast.
2007 — FRAC released School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities
The report was the first to analyze school breakfast participation in numerous large school districts, and highlight the role that offering breakfast at no charge and implementing innovative breakfast models, such as breakfast in the classroom, had on increasing school breakfast participation. It has challenged many of the large school districts to take steps to increase participation in their school breakfast program.
2010 — D.C. passed the Healthy Schools Act
D.C. Hunger Solutions, an initiative of FRAC, ushered passage and funding of the Healthy Schools Act — the first legislation of its kind — which required schools to offer breakfast at no charge to all students, and required schools with 40 percent or more students certified for free and reduced-price meals to implement a breakfast after the bell program. Since the bill’s implementation, D.C. has remained in the top four for breakfast participation in the nation.
2010 — Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom launched
FRAC joined with the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, the NEA Foundation, and the School Nutrition Foundation to form the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom to provide technical assistance and funding to implement breakfast after the bell models. With funding from the Walmart Foundation, the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom have worked with more than 500 schools in 70 districts, leading to over 100,000 additional students eating school breakfast since 2010.
2010 — Community Eligibility created through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
The Community Eligibility Provision allows high-poverty schools to offer free school breakfast and lunch and can make it easier for schools to implement breakfast after the bell programs. Evaluations link the provision to increased breakfast participation.
2011 — New Mexico passed the first state breakfast in the classroom legislation
New Mexico Appleseed led the effort, with support from FRAC, to pass Senate Bill 144, which mandated low-income elementary schools to implement breakfast after the bell programs and offer breakfast to all students at no charge. Since the bill’s passage, New Mexico has continued to be a leader in school breakfast, and numerous states have followed New Mexico’s lead.
2014 — FRAC launched the Breakfast for Learning Education Alliance
The Alliance — comprised of AASA: the School Superintendents Association, the American School Health Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Education Trust, the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, the National Association of School Nurses, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Education Foundation, the National PTA, the National Rural Education Association, the School Nutrition Foundation, and the School Social Work Association of America — works together to elevate school breakfast’s role in improving student achievement and health and to promote best practices to increase participation.
2019 — Oregon legislation made breakfast (and lunch) free for nearly all students
Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon led an effort to increase the number of high-poverty schools able to implement community eligibility: approximately three out of five children in Oregon will attend a school offering free breakfast and lunch to all students. Children who do not attend a community eligibility school will be able to qualify for free school meals if their household income is 300 percent or below the poverty line. The federal threshold for free school meals is 130 percent. FRAC worked with Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon to support this effort.
2020 — Dramatic gains made, but there’s still work to do
In the last 15 years alone, school breakfast participation has grown by nearly 5 million low-income children. States have passed school breakfast expansion legislation to require breakfast after the bell programs, to eliminate the reduced-price copayment, and to encourage the implementation of community eligibility. Just over 28,600 schools are offering free breakfast to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision, and a growing number of schools are implementing innovative school breakfast programs. Because the program reaches just over half of the low-income children who participate in school lunch, there remains much work to do even as we celebrate the tremendous gains in program access.
- Benefits of School BreakfastStarting the day with a healthy school breakfast ensures that children have the nutrition they need to learn and thrive. A wide body of research supports the health and educational benefits of participation in the School Breakfast Program. Find out more about the research.
- School Breakfast Expansion StrategiesThe most successful strategies for increasing school breakfast participation are to serve breakfast after the bell and offer free breakfast to all students in high-poverty schools. Find out how to make these strategies work in your state or community.
- Community Eligibility ProvisionCommunity eligibility allows high-poverty schools and districts offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students and realize significant administrative savings. Many schools have opted to combine community eligibility with proven models like breakfast in the classroom, to boost breakfast participation.
- State School Breakfast LegislationStates have passed a variety of types of legislation to increase school breakfast participation, including legislation for Breakfast in the Classroom. Find out more.
- Eligibility and ReimbursementsLow-income children are eligible to receive meals for free or at a reduced-price based of their household income or participation in other government programs, such as SNAP. Find out more about how children are certified for free and reduced-price school meals.
- Serving Breakfast in Rural School DistrictsSchool breakfast is particularly important for low-income students in rural communities who are more likely than their peers in metropolitan areas to live in food-insecure households, and, who often face additional barriers to accessing the program. Learn more in our fact sheet: School Breakfast in Rural Communities – Get the Facts.
- Breakfast for Learning Education AllianceThe purpose of the Breakfast for Learning Education Alliance is to inform our members, affiliates, and networks about the important educational benefits of school breakfast and to promote the broader implementation of proven strategies to increase school breakfast participation, such as breakfast in the classroom.
Breakfast for Learning Education Alliance Statement of Support
Co-developed with The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the “Breakfast Blueprint” is a guide focused on breakfast after the bell programs — such as breakfast in the classroom, “grab and go” breakfast, and second chance breakfast — because they are increasingly popular, are well-researched, and have successfully helped schools and districts improve students’ access to nutritious foods.
- School Breakfast After the Bell: Equipping Students for Academic Success – Secondary School Principals Share What Works
Co-developed with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), this report highlights the experiences of 105 secondary school principals from 67 districts that have integrated breakfast as a part of the school day by implementing a breakfast after the bell program, and provides insights into program benefits and best practices regarding how to launch a similar program.
Co-developed with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), this toolkit provides guidance to principals in how to effectively partner with their school nutrition department to bring “grab and go” breakfast, second-chance breakfast, or breakfast in the classroom programs to their schools.
Co-developed with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, this report provides guidance for principals interested in implementing Breakfast in the Classroom at their schools, and insights into the leadership they can provide to build a strong and sustainable program.
- Increasing Breakfast Participation to Improve Student Outcomes Fact Sheet for School Social Workers
Co-developed with the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA), this resource provides school social workers with research and information to advocate for breakfast after the bell programs in their schools.
- Increasing Breakfast Participation to Improve Student Health Fact Sheet for School Nurses
Co-developed with the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), this resource provides school nurses with research and information to advocate for breakfast after the bell programs in their schools.