Guest post by Mieka Sanderson

Millions of low-income students miss out on school breakfast every day.  Not having this important morning meal leaves students fatigued and distracted by hunger pangs. Research shows that food-insecure students are more often tardy, absent, and distracted in the classroom. Studies indicate that increasing school breakfast participation can play a key role in boosting student’s health and academic achievement.

Many schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before the first bell. This traditional model often does not reach enough students due to late bus arrivals, school security lines, or the stigma often associated with participating in school breakfast. In the 2014-2015 school year, only 54 students eligible for free or reduced-price meals started the day with school breakfast for every 100 who ate school lunch. That means millions of students across the country started their day without the nutrition they needed to stay focused in the classroom.

Secondary schools often have lower breakfast participation rates than their elementary counterparts, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Today, principals across the country are implementing innovative strategies to reach more children with school breakfast. Thousands of schools nationwide have moved breakfast out of the cafeteria and into the classroom resulting in greater school breakfast participation, improved health, and better academic performance.

Breakfast after the bell programs such as “grab and go,” second chance, and breakfast in the classroom are proven models that increase participation and, by integrating breakfast into the school day, students get the most important meal of the day, which sets them up for academic success.

Here are some tips to help you start a breakfast after the bell program at your school:

  1. Set the Vision

Work with your food service director to assess breakfast participation numbers to reveal how many low-income students at your school are missing out on school breakfast. Present these findings during an all staff meeting, along with goals for increasing participation. Use research on school breakfast’s impact on academic and health outcomes to show how the School Breakfast Program is critical to supporting students’ ability to succeed.

  1. Address Staff Concerns

The key to a sustainable and effective program is for principals to invite feedback prior to launching and throughout the program’s operation. Addressing concerns in a timely fashion will show staff that administrators are committed to customizing the program to meet the school’s unique needs.

  1. Empower Staff to Lead

Staff, including teachers, custodians, food service managers, and paraprofessionals all have valuable input to provide about the logistics of a breakfast after the bell program. Assemble a diverse group of staff members to form a planning committee. Have the committee report on progress at staff meetings.

  1. Celebrate and Recognize Staff Efforts

Principals can cultivate program momentum and excitement by commending staff on their efforts to accommodate breakfast in the classroom. Be transparent about program progress with the school community, including increases in breakfast participation, student academic outcomes, overcoming challenges, and stakeholder satisfaction.

Take action now by talking with your food service director to find out how well your breakfast program is meeting the needs of your low-income students. For more resources about optimizing your school breakfast program, visit

Mieka Sanderson is a Policy Analyst at the Food Research & Action Center and works to improve the reach of the School Breakfast Program among low-income children.

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