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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. 

Resources

School Breakfast

No Kid Hungry Starts with Breakfast

This social impact analysis shows that the simple act of feeding kids a healthy school breakfast can have a dramatic impact on their academic performance, health and economic futures.

Outreach & Promotion Materials
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Research & Data
Best for:
Educators
School Nutrition 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 deliver breakfasts to classrooms from the cafeteria via coolers or insulated rolling bags. Breakfast in the Classroom takes 15 minutes on average. Schools reach 88 percent breakfast participation on average with this model.*

Grab and Go

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 or in a common area before and after the bell has rung. Schools reach 59 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 using a Grab and Go model, or they can open the cafeteria to serve breakfast during the break. Second Chance Breakfast can be effective for middle or high school students who may not be hungry first thing in the morning or prefer to socialize with friends. Schools reach 58 percent breakfast participation on average with this model.*

* Participation is measured by the average daily participation of 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. To compare these two options for providing universal free school meals, check out our resource: Providing Universal Free School Meals.

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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: Marketing is an essential component to increasing school breakfast participation. School Breakfast Promotion Strategies highlights promotion strategies-- like contests & challenges, social media, posters & flyers, taste tests, special guests and more-- to build awareness, generate excitement and ultimately increase school breakfast participation.
  • 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: Breakfast After the Bell Strategies for 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.

Provide Universal Free School Meals: Removing the financial barrier of breakfast increases participation. Providing Universal Free School Meals offers a comparison of three options for offering students school meals at no cost to them: the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Provision 2, and non-pricing.

Best Practices to Operate BAB without Universal Meals: Best Practices to Operate BAB without Universal Meals offers techniques you can apply to your BAB program to ensure smooth operations, while boosting breakfast participation. 

Resources

School Breakfast
Cafeteria staff worker packing a cooler with Breakfast in the Classroom Supplies

Breakfast After the Bell Equipment Tips

This resource is designed to help guide school nutrition staff in choosing what equipment would be useful for whichever Breakfast After the Bell model they choose.

Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Best for:
No Kid Hungry Partners
School Nutrition Staff
School Breakfast

Breakfast Nudges

Learn more about Nudging – a simple and free tactic that has been proven to increase breakfast participation.

Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Engaging Stakeholders
Best for:
Educators
School Nutrition Staff
School Breakfast

Tips for Implementing an Effective Grab and Go Breakfast Program

Learn the tricks of the trade that can make your Grab and Go program efficient and effective, such as making your grab-and-go program to the classroom, soliciting feedback from students, and engaging school staff.

Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Program Overview
Best for:
School Nutrition Staff
Educators
No Kid Hungry Partners
Afterschool Meals
School Breakfast
Afterschool snack.jpg

Strategies to Reduce Food Waste in Schools & Child Nutrition Programs

This resource highlights some of the most effective strategies to help reduce, recover and recycle food waste from school meals. Many of the strategies also apply to other child nutrition programs.

Implementation Support
Best for:
No Kid Hungry Partners
Nonprofit Sponsors
School Nutrition Staff
School Breakfast
 Afterschool elementary cafeteria 2.jpg

Grab and Go Rollout Timeline

This timeline features tasks that school stakeholders can do to prepare for Grab and Go implementation, from long-term preparation to short-term tasks that count down to launch.

Engaging Stakeholders
Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Best for:
Educators
No Kid Hungry Partners
School Nutrition Staff
School Breakfast
Girl reads with snack

Pre-Implementation Checklist

This resource 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.

Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Best for:
Educators
No Kid Hungry Partners
School Nutrition Staff
School Breakfast
teacher administering snack

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.

Engaging Stakeholders
Implementation Support
Program Overview
Best for:
Educators
School Breakfast
Boys eating breakfast in the classroom

Providing Universal Free School Meals

Compare three options for providing universal free school meals: the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Provision 2, and non-pricing.

Implementation Support
Program Overview
Best for:
No Kid Hungry Partners
School Nutrition Staff
School Breakfast
happy

Breakfast in the Classroom Rollout Timeline

This timeline counts down long-term and short term-tasks, as well as what school stakeholders can do, to prepare for Breakfast in the Classroom implementation.

Engaging Stakeholders
Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
Best for:
Educators
No Kid Hungry Partners
School Nutrition Staff