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Barriers to Kids Eating Breakfast
Elementary age girl unwraps her breakfast at her school desk

Despite the benefits of school breakfast, the program is underutilized – over 22 million kids get a free or reduced-price school lunch on an average school day, yet only 12 million of those kids get free or reduced-price school breakfast.

Traditional school breakfast programs often have barriers that prohibit students from eating breakfast before school, such as: 

  • Transportation: The school bus doesn’t arrive in time for kids to get breakfast in the cafeteria.
  • Busy mornings: Regardless of their socioeconomic status, many families are rushed in the morning and don’t always have time for breakfast at home.
  • Stigma: There is often stigma associated with eating breakfast in the cafeteria before school starts; therefore, children avoid it, especially middle- and high-school students, for whom social status and the perceptions of their peers loom large. 
  • Lack of resources: For low-income families, there simply may not always be enough food at home for kids to have a healthy breakfast.

Across the country, educators, parents and community leaders are removing these barriers for kids by implementing Breakfast After the Bell programs. Because each school is unique, schools often create their own individualized Breakfast After the Bell programs that combine elements of multiple models so they can fully cater to the needs of their students and staff. 

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Three Effective Approaches to Breakfast After the Bell
two teenage girls sitting at their school desks smiling into the camera while they eat their breakfast

Breakfast After the Bell (BAB) can look many different ways. No Kid Hungry has found that the most effective BAB models are Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go to the Classroom and Second Chance Breakfast.

Breakfast in the Classroom

Students eat breakfast in their classroom after the official start of the school day. Students or staff may deliver breakfasts to classrooms from the cafeteria via coolers or insulated rolling bags, or school nutrition staff can serve breakfast from mobile carts in the hallways. Breakfast in the Classroom takes 15 minutes on average. Schools reach 88 percent breakfast participation on average with this model.*

Grab and Go to the Classroom

Students pick up conveniently packaged breakfasts from mobile service carts in high traffic areas that are convenient to students, such as hallways, entryways or cafeterias. Students can eat in their classroom before and after the bell has rung. Schools reach 63 percent breakfast participation on average with this model.*

Second Chance Breakfast

Students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, often between first and second period or midway between breakfast and lunch. Schools can serve breakfast in the same manner as they would with traditional Grab and Go to the Classroom, or they can open up their cafeteria to serve breakfast during this break. Second Chance Breakfast can be particularly effective for middle or high school students who may not be hungry first thing in the morning or may opt to hang out with friends in the morning, as opposed to eating school breakfast. Schools reach 70 percent breakfast participation on average with this model.*

* Participation measured by average daily participation free and reduced price school breakfast eaters / average daily participation free and reduced price school lunch eaters.

Universal Breakfast

Additionally, universal breakfast is a helpful addition to any breakfast model, as it removes the financial barriers students may face when participating in the National School Breakfast Program. Universal breakfast is when breakfast is offered to all students at no cost. Schools continue to claim federal reimbursement in the correct category for any student participating in the breakfast program. Offering breakfast at no cost generally increases breakfast participation, and removes stigma lower-income students often face when they eat breakfast at school. Schools can enroll in a few federal programs to assist with offering universal breakfast, including the Community Eligibility Provision and Provision 2

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Engaging Stakeholders
Teenage boy eating an apple holds up apple to camera while chewing

Expanding the school breakfast program takes a coordinated effort, and much of that comes as a result of engaging and gaining buy-in from stakeholders, both in and outside of the school. No Kid Hungry has several resources dedicated to engaging stakeholders.

School Stakeholders

School staff are crucial, and their cooperation in the breakfast program is integral to its success. Inform and engage school stakeholders with the resources below:

For All School Stakeholders

Learn how each Breakfast After the Bell model is structured with Innovative Breakfast Delivery Options, and find out the percentage increase your school breakfast program can experience by adopting these models.

This template letter is designed to engage school staff and provide detailed information about how a Breakfast After the Bell program would operate.

These Talking Points for Introducing Breakfast After the Bell to School Stakeholders can help you get started as you educate teachers, principals and superintendents about Breakfast After the Bell. 

This USDA information and action items handout details what each school stakeholder can do to support school breakfast. In addition, here are several stakeholder-specific handouts:

 For Principals and Teachers

These short Breakfast After the Bell 101 videos are geared towards teachers and principals and outline how Breakfast After the Bell benefits students and classrooms, as well as how to incorporate these models into the instructional day.

This Breakfast in the Classroom resource sheds light on five common myths that persist about Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC), including that BIC takes away from instructional time and that it causes messes in the classroom.

For Teachers

  • Teacher Guide – Classroom Set Up and Clean Up: This resource outlines how classrooms can be affected by Breakfast After the Bell and shares best practices on how to create a plan for classroom set up and clean up where breakfast is served or eaten.
  • School Breakfast – Healthier Than You Think: This resource provides teachers with helpful nutritional information about school breakfast. School breakfast often gets a bad rap for being unhealthy, when in reality the food options served at breakfast must adhere to strict nutritional guidelines and are often much healthier than store-bought breakfast.
  • We Are Teachers is an online community for educators committed to one of the toughest, most rewarding jobs out there.

Parents

Parents can be powerful champions for your breakfast program, especially when they understand how it benefits their kids and the student body.  It is important to inform parents about the Breakfast After the Bell program before it launches and engage them in the process.  Use PTA meetings, Back to School nights and other venues to talk to parents about the importance of breakfast and how the Breakfast After the Bell program will work.

No Kid Hungry’s Breakfast FAQs for Parents is a customizable resource that answers those frequently asked questions that school nutrition directors and principals get from parents regarding Breakfast After the Bell.

Use these breakfast flyers and posters to add more visibility to your program:

Students

Students are the customers of Breakfast After the Bell programs and should be treated as such. Schools should inform students about changes to the school breakfast program in advance of the launch date and, if necessary, provide training.

Making Breakfast After the Bell Work in Middle and High Schools shares the best practices that schools from across the country have used to increase their middle and high school breakfast participation. Tactics such as engaging students in the planning process, soliciting student feedback and offering Second Chance Breakfast have shown success in getting more middle and high school students to eat school breakfast.

Engage students with competitions to involve students directly in the breakfast program, gain buy-in and increase participation.

These USDA elementary school posters promote breakfast and provide a fun way to engage and educate students about the breakfast program.

Community Members

Engaging the community is also important because the positive effects of school breakfast extend well beyond the school walls.

The local newspaper can be an effective way to reach out to the community about the value and impact of school breakfast. Here are some tips and best practices to ensure your letter or op-ed piece will convey the right message to the community while meeting the newspaper’s needs and standards.

These "Food for Thought" No Kid Hungry social media graphics provide schools with sample Facebook and Twitter graphics to add to posts and tweets:

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Implementing a Successful Program
two 5th-grade girls taking coolers full of breakfast food up a flight of stairs to their classroom

How you implement a Breakfast After the Bell program can have a big impact on participation. There may be initial challenges, but with thorough planning, regular feedback from stakeholders, and adaptability, schools can create successful, sustainable programs.

Checklists for Getting Ready

The following tools have been created for school nutrition directors and administrators to identify key aspects of the preparation process, including the need to identify necessary equipment for your Breakfast After the Bell Program, utilizing stakeholders in the school for planning assistance and developing an implementation timeline.

USDA’s Breakfast Method Fact Sheet can be a helpful guide in choosing a breakfast model. Below, No Kid Hungry's Key's to Success Model Guide, can also help you choose which Breakfast After the Bell model best suits your school.

No Kid Hungry’s Keys to Success Model Guide
Breakfast in the Classroom
  • Offer students leadership roles delivering food to the classroom and returning cafeteria equipment after breakfast service.
  • Integrate breakfast with instructional time
  • Promote the program to students and parents
  • Involve teachers in the planning process.
Grab and Go (GNG) to the Classroom
  • Place portable carts, crates, tables, etc. in high-trafficked areas.
  • Solicit feedback from students: Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom created a district toolkit on how to survey students and obtain helpful feedback that can be used with any breakfast model.
  • Obtain POS system for payment.
  • Involve teachers in the planning process.
  • Consult No Kid Hungry's GNG Tips resource.
Second Chance Breakfast
  • Use in schools where students are not hungry first thing in the morning (middle or high schools).
  • Obtain POS system to track student participation.
  • Execute this model via:
    • Grab and Go to the Classroom,
    • Re-open cafeteria and give students at least 10 minutes to eat, or
    • Whatever works best for your school!

No Kid Hungry’s Pre-Implementation Checklist is a mapped out list of action steps schools can take to prepare for BAB implementation, from creating a school breakfast team to connecting with schools that have already implemented BAB to learn from their experiences.

No Kid Hungry’s Breakfast After the Bell Rollout Timelines outline action steps school stakeholders can take to help prepare for the launch of Breakfast After the Bell. The rollout timelines span both long-term action steps and short-term action steps -- starting at 8 weeks before implementation and counting down each week until launch:

This Equipment Tip Sheet from No Kid Hungry may also provide helpful guidance as schools assess their equipment needs.

USDA has multiple resources that schools can use to determine how expanding school breakfast will affect the revenue, variable costs versus fixed costs and overall operation of breakfast.

Plan the Menu

Breakfast in the Classroom and Grab and Go to the Classroom will need to have easily transportable food items that are healthy and appealing to students.

Menu Assistance 

  • The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Smart Food Planner has recipes and four-week cycle menus that can be useful for food service directors to use in their districts.
  • USDA’s Nutrition and Menu Planning Resources provide menu ideas, nutrition basics and suggested resources for additional assistance with breakfast menu planning.

Student Feedback

Soliciting student feedback for the school breakfast program can increase student buy-in for the program, as well as create a more sustainable Breakfast After the Bell program. Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom’s In-Depth Survey Toolkit provides survey ideas and templates.

Train Staff

Train staff who will be directly affected by the change in breakfast, including cafeteria staff, teachers and custodians. Appropriate training enables teachers and food service staff to have the necessary support they need during the start-up phase of implementation and ensures program integrity. As the implementation process rolls out, additional training may be necessary.

Teachers will benefit from this Classroom Set Up and Clean Up guide, which informs them about how Breakfast After the Bell affects their classroom and provides guidance on how they can create a morning routine that works for them. 

Reduce Food Waste

Reducing food waste is important to students, parents, educators and food service staff alike. Strategies to Reduce Food Waste in Schools & Child Nutrition Programs highlights some of the most effective strategies to help reduce, recover and recycle food waste from school meals. For example, incorporating strategies such as scheduling recess before lunch, giving students enough time to eat school meals so they aren't rushed, and donating surplus food can make a big difference in reducing the amount of food that is thrown away each year.

Improve Participation

High breakfast participation is the result of many different aspects of the breakfast program running smoothly, from the logistics of the program, to gaining buy-in from the student body. These resources highlight how to increase breakfast participation.

Grab and Go to the Classroom: Successful Grab and Go programs serve meals from convenient, high-traffic areas of the school and allow students to eat them in the classroom after the official start of the school day. Check out these tips for implementing an effective Grab and Go program to make sure that your school’s program reaches the most students possible.

Communications and Nudges: Spend adequate time promoting the new breakfast program, as stakeholders may need several rounds of messaging to understand the logistics of the new program or the impact expanding school breakfast will have on them. For students in particular, once the new program has been implemented, they may need reminders that school breakfast is available to them in a new way. No Kid Hungry Breakfast Nudges outlines how the subtle act of asking students if they’ve had breakfast that morning can increase participation.

Middle and High Schools: Making Breakfast After the Bell Work in Middle and High Schools shares the best practices that schools from across the country have used to increase their middle and high school breakfast participation. Tactics such as engaging students in the planning process, soliciting student feedback and offering Second Chance Breakfast have shown success in getting more middle and high school students to eat school breakfast.

 

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Real World Examples
Middle school age boy walks through cafeteria line as cafeteria worker puts toast on a plate

School breakfast expansion has helped several thousand more students all across the country participate in the School Breakfast Program. Strategies like Breakfast After the Bell and universal breakfast have proven to be successful at providing students more opportunity to start their day with a healthy meal. Learn about schools that have expanded their breakfast programs and the successes they've seen as a result.

Here are several examples of how Breakfast After the Bell is being implemented in schools: 

  • Learn about how universal breakfast at Gaithersburg High School in Montgomery County, MD resulted in breakfast participation doubling. 
  • Read about the success of Breakfast in the Classroom at Illinois’ South Shore Elementary in Decatur School District 61.
  • Learn about Universal Breakfast in the Classroom at Balboa High School, San Francisco, CA.
  • Watch how several schools across the country have developed Breakfast After the Bell systems that work for them.
  • Read about the success of Grab and Go Breakfast at Nancy Hill Elementary School in West Aurora School District 129 in Illinois.
  • Read about Breakfast Sheriffs at Stanley Mosk Elementary in California’s San Fernando Valley.
  • Learn more about Breakfast in the Classroom and the Community Eligibility Provision in elementary and middle schools with this Q&A with the Business Manager and Food Service Coordinator of Berwyn South School District 100 in Illinois.
  • Read about the success of the Community Eligibility Provision for elementary and middle schools in Illinois Beach Park School District 3.
  • Learn about how Beardstown Junior High and High School in Beardstown, IL increased breakfast participation using Grab and Go to the Classroom.
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