Increasing School Breakfast Participation
How to Increase School Breakfast Participation
- Universal School Breakfast
- Thinking Outside of the “Cafeteria”
- Alternative Meal Service Models Summary
Strategies for Success
There are several strategies to increase School Breakfast Program participation. These strategies range from expanding the traditional model of serving breakfast in the cafeteria, to implementing one of the alternative service models that schools across the country are utilizing with extremely positive results.
Universal School Breakfast refers to any program that offers breakfast at no charge to all students, regardless of income status. On average, nationally only 47 children eat free or reduced-price school breakfast for every 100 who receive free or reduced-price school lunch. Studies show that Universal School Breakfast programs significantly increase student participation in the School Breakfast Program. In Newark, New Jersey, the public school district saw a more than 150 percent increase in School Breakfast Program participation after implementing Universal School Breakfast (in the classroom) at all 75 elementary and middle schools during the 2004–2005 school year.
Research shows that one of the barriers to School Breakfast participation is the stigma attached to eating breakfast at school being something “only poor students do.” For this reason, many of the students who are eligible for free or reduced-price School Breakfast do not participate. One of the benefits of Universal School Breakfast is that it reduces the stigma attached to eating breakfast at school by offering the morning meal free of charge of all students.
How to determine if your school can do universal free breakfast:
One strategy that can aid in the offering of Universal School Breakfast is opting for Provision 2 status under the National School Lunch Act.
Provision 2 
Provision 2 is a federal School Breakfast Program (and National School Lunch Program) option for schools to reduce the paperwork and simplify the logistics of operating school meals programs. Provision 2 enables schools and institutions to provide free meals without the burden of collecting applications and tracking and verifying school meal data every year.
Any school that participates in the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program may qualify for Provision 2. Provision 2 may be a good strategy if your school has a high percentage of low-income students (75 percent or higher).
Under Provision 2:
- All students receive free meals, regardless of family income level.
- Schools collect applications, record and track meal categories and conduct meal verifications once every four years, at most, leading to a reduction in administrative tasks for food service staff. Lunch tickets, PIN numbers and ID cards for breakfast are no longer necessary since all students eat for free.
- The school pays the difference between the cost of providing the meals at no charge to all students and the amount of federal and state reimbursement for those meals. In most cases, the administrative savings and increased meal participation offset the added cost of providing Universal School Breakfast.
- Provision 2 can be done with breakfast or lunch, by an individual school or district-wide. Experience has shown that schools save more in administrative and time costs if Provision 2 is used for both breakfast and lunch.
Eliminating Reduced-Price Breakfast
Another strategy to increase School Breakfast Program participation is to eliminate reduced-price breakfast. To do this, schools or districts only offer their students two prices for breakfast, either free or full price.
The school serves federally reimbursable breakfasts as it normally does. The only difference is that breakfast is offered at no charge to students who qualify for reduced-price meals and free meals. Even though the school only uses two categories for charging students, the school still claims the federal reimbursement at the correct income category for that student.
Eliminating reduced-priced breakfast increases School Breakfast participation because often students who qualify for reduced price meals still have to pay a certain amount for School Breakfast even though their family may not be able to afford it. When you eliminate reduced-price breakfasts these students are more likely to participate. Eliminating reduced-price breakfasts is a particularly successful strategy for schools where there is a high qualification rate but low breakfast participation from reduced-price students.
The traditional school breakfast model of serving breakfast in the cafeteria before school is a good way to serve breakfast, but it may not be the best method for your school. Many educators are not aware of the alternative ways to serve breakfast, even though these methods offer proven strategies that increase participation.
Traditional School Breakfast or Breakfast in the Cafeteria is where breakfast is served in the cafeteria before the start of the school day. The benefits of this model are that hot food can be served easily and food requires no special transportation or packaging. Schools can also make use of existing space that is already set up to accommodate a large number of students in one central location; this is especially true in schools where the cafeteria and gymnasium are shared spaces. In some instances this model can prohibit participation in the School Breakfast Program. There are many students who need breakfast but do not get to the school early enough to eat it. In addition, many students want to avoid the stigma of being labeled as “poor” that is often associated with eating breakfast in school.
Alternative Meal Service Models
Breakfast in the Classroom is an Alternative Meal Service Model where students eat breakfast in their classroom after the official start of the school day. Often breakfast is brought to classrooms from the cafeteria by students via insulated rolling bags, or served from carts in the hallways by school nutrition staff using mobile service carts. Breakfast consists of easy-to-eat and easy-to-clean items, such as breakfast sandwiches or burritos, low-fat muffins or cereals, plus milk and fruit or juice. Breakfast in the Classroom typically takes 10–15 minutes to prepare, eat, and clean up. It can happen simultaneously with morning tasks such as attendance and morning work or it can be easily integrated with other instructional activities.
This method is also popular because it makes great use of space. In elementary schools in particular, the multi-purpose room (where meals are commonly served) is often used first thing in the morning for physical education classes or other purposes. This can make serving school breakfast in the multi-purpose room a challenge for custodial and food service staff when it comes to having the room back in order and ready to go. When breakfast delivery takes place in the hallway or classroom, this problem is mitigated.
When Breakfast in the Classroom is combined with Universal School Breakfast, breakfast participation increases dramatically. Universal Breakfast in the Classroom increases participation by eliminating some of the barriers attached to a traditional cafeteria-based breakfast such as social stigma and the need to get to school early.
Grab n’ Go is an Alternative Meal Service Model where students pick up conveniently packaged breakfasts from mobile service carts in hallways and/or entryways or in the cafeteria when they arrive at school. Students can eat in the cafeteria, the classroom or elsewhere on school grounds.
2nd Chance Breakfast is an Alternative Meal Service Model where students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, usually after first period for secondary students or midway between breakfast and lunch for elementary students. Meals can be individually packaged and served in the same manner as they are with Grab n’ Go breakfast. 2nd Chance Breakfast is also called Breakfast After First Period, 2nd Chance Brunch or Mid-Morning Nutrition Break.
Many schools already offer a morning break and 2nd Chance Breakfast works very well in this instance. By serving a reimbursable meal at this time, students who were not hungry first thing in the morning, or those who ate breakfast very early, now have a chance to eat a healthy meal. With 2nd Chance Breakfast, more students eat breakfast at school.
Breakfast Vending is an Alternative Meal Service Model that allows students to access nutritious breakfast foods through vending machines. This model is most often implemented in high schools and vending machines are usually only available prior to the start of the school day. In some schools, depending on the location of the machines, students may be allowed to utilize the machines between class periods. Students eat breakfast from vending machines in a variety of locations, including hallways, outside of classrooms, common areas and the cafeteria. Vending machines can be set up to offer free and reduced-priced options by linking vending machines to the school’s Point of Sale system; students can then use their student ID or PIN to pay without cash. The benefit of Breakfast Vending is that students are offered options and are able to access breakfast independently. They work great in situations where students arrive to school at different times or may be running late and need an easy way to grab a quick breakfast before the school day begins.
What does an Alternative Meal Service Model mean for me?
It means that your students will be better prepared to learn and you will be helping to end child hunger. The implementation of an Alternative Meal Service Model for School Breakfast does not necessarily mean more work for teachers, paraprofessionals, food service staff or custodial staff. It may mean that you do your job a little differently and it may mean learning a new routine. Allow yourself to “Think Outside of the Cafeteria” and it may just be a new routine that you enjoy very much.
Here is what you can expect:
With the gaining popularity of Alternative Meal Service Models to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program, many organizations and foundations are stepping up to provide start-up funds for interested schools. Visit the websites of the following organizations for more information:
- Share Our Strength: www.strength.org/grants/
- Fuel up to Play 60: http://enroll.fueluptoplay60.com/funds/introduction.php
- got breakfast? Foundation: www.gotbreakfast.org
- Local Dairy Council: check out the Dairy Council website for your state for more information
- State government: check out your State’s Department of Education website for more information
- Federal government: The federal government often lists breakfast expansion funding opportunities on its main grants page. Visit: www.grants.gov and search for “school breakfast”
11 Food Research and Action Center: Universal Classroom Breakfast. Available at:
12 Food Research and Action Center. Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act. Available at:
13 Adams County School District 14. Available at: http://www.adams14.org/breakfast-in-classroom
14 School Nutrition Association. Growing School Breakfast Participation: New Ways to Delivery Breakfast to Students
On-the-Go. Available at: http://www.schoolnutrition.org/growingbreakfast