Universal School Breakfast Means Universally Nourished Children - Capital Area Food Bank
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Universal School Breakfast Means Universally Nourished Children

By Chelsea MacCormack September 4, 2013

annWhen the National School Breakfast Program (NSBP) was piloted in 1966, it was modeled after the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), an initiative created by Harry Truman in 1946 when he signed the National School Lunch Act. The NSLP grew out of several aid programs put in place during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when agricultural products were begging for a market and children were going hungry. The program was designed to redistribute farm surpluses to hungry children.
While school lunch needs – and is currently undergoing – a nutritional overhaul, the NSLP has become a cornerstone of national childhood nutrition. Over 65 years later, more than 31 million children across the nation eat school lunch every day. The majority of those children qualify for free or reduced-priced (F/R) meals, which means they are living in or near poverty.i With one-third of our nation’s children experiencing food insecurity, school lunch continues to feed children who are hungry.
The National School Breakfast Program hasn’t been as successful. Of the nearly 20 million children who participate in the National School Lunch Program and who qualify for free and reduced meals, only 47% also participate in breakfast.
At the same time, children who start their day hungry have a harder time learning, and therefore succeeding, in school. Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast are more likely to improve academic performance, as well as have fewer sick days and tardy days.
Traditional school breakfast programs face significant challenges. Many school breakfasts are administered before classes begin, or “before the bell.” For many families, getting students to school before the scheduled start time is difficult because of family and work schedules and transportation issues.
Additionally, many school breakfasts aren’t “universal,” (they aren’t served to all the children in the school, only those that qualify for F/R status) and so eating school breakfast can be a stigmatizing experience. Many children will choose to go hungry instead of being made fun of or being identified as “poor” because they eat school breakfast.
So what is the solution? Universal “after the bell” school breakfast. My nonprofit Food Family Farming Foundation (F3) established Healthy Breakfast 4 Kids (HB4K) to help schools transform their breakfast program. In the first year of the program, we gave 117 schools in 29 states and the District of Columbia grants to build the infrastructure they needed to implement and sustain universal, after-the-bell breakfast. By serving all children a healthy breakfast in the classroom at the start of the school day, schools increased the number of children participating in the NSBP among the population that most needed healthy breakfast: children from disadvantaged households.
Elaine Moore, School Nutrition Supervisor for Johnson County Schools in Tennessee, reported that her new breakfast program in Roan Creek Elementary School is a big success:
“We have seen a very dramatic increase in the breakfast participation from last year to this year. Roan Creek has a very high free & reduced percentage. They have 487 students enrolled and about 400 of these students are eligible for free and reduced price meals. Participation has increased from 214 per day to 435 per day.”
When asked why the big jump in participation, Principal Dana Stafford replied,
“In years prior, I think the students who qualified for free and reduced breakfast felt stigmatized and wouldn’t eat because the students they deemed more ‘popular’ arrived in the cafeteria in the mornings to wait for their homeroom teachers, not to have breakfast. Now, for example, when grades 4 – 6 report to the cafeteria in the mornings, they are there to wait for their teachers to pick them up. No one is eating breakfast in the cafeteria when anyone else arrives.
Even elementary-aged students don’t want to stand out as being different. They want to fit in. We have approximately 500 hundred students in Pre K – sixth grade and all are served breakfast together in their classrooms, equally. Students are no longer embarrassed to eat breakfast.”
This one school encapsulates why universal after-the-bell breakfast is successful and should be implemented at all schools that have an F/R population over 40%. Every child starts their school day well-nourished, ready to learn and set-up to succeed in the classroom.
To learn more about Healthy Breakfast 4 Kids and to read an evaluation of the initial year of the program, please visit our HB4K page
i For example, the federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,050. If the family’s annual income is less than $29,965 (130% of the poverty line), their children are eligible for free school lunch. If the family’s annual income is less than $42,643 (185% of the poverty line), their children are eligible for reduced-price school lunch.