It is never too soon to start planning your school’s breakfast program for next year. Nationally, just over half of the low-income students who receive school lunch also receive school breakfast, and low participation is particularly common among middle and high school students. Barriers, such as the inconvenient timing of breakfast service, as well as the stigma associated with participating in the program, make it difficult for teens to get school breakfast.
To move the needle, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and NASSP are equipping principals with a free, custom-designed Secondary School Principal Breakfast After the Bell Toolkit to help schools overcome common barriers and reach more students with this important morning meal. The toolkit contains valuable resources, including:
- Tips for a successful program.
- Staff and parent memos.
- A PowerPoint presentation to help facilitate conversations with staff.
Although data on teens specifically is not available, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 13.1 million children lived in households struggling to put food on the table. This means that almost 1 in 6 children live in households that are struggling with hunger. “Bringing Teens to the Table,” a joint report released by the Urban Institute and Feeding America, found that teenagers are acutely aware of the stigma associated with being food insecure and engage in a number of coping behaviors to avoid embarrassment and obtain food for themselves and their family members.
According to the report, teens go to many lengths to hide their families’ struggles to put food on the table. One adolescent shared that, “Teenagers want it to look like we have everything together, so no one will judge you.” The importance of hiding family struggles creates barriers that prevent students—even those who need access to food the most—from participating in the School Breakfast Program. As a result of the perceived stigma associated with school breakfast, at least in part, this program designed to mitigate hunger among students and help vulnerable families stretch food-budget dollars remains consistently underutilized by teens across the country.
The breakfast after the bell model, coupled with offering breakfast free to all students, innovatively overcomes many of the barriers that low-income students face in three important ways.
- Breakfast after the bell provides consistent access to nutritious food through a trusted community hub-the school.
- Breakfast after the bell makes accessing school breakfast much more convenient for students by making it available closer to the start of first period.
- By integrating breakfast into the school day and offering it at no cost to all students, the stigma of participating in the School Breakfast Program is lifted, and no student feels singled out.
Under this model, breakfast becomes an inherent part of the school’s morning activities, akin to taking attendance or handing in homework. This integration allows schools to take a holistic approach to meeting the needs of their students, which in turn removes stigma, boosts school breakfast participation, and supports academic performance. According to FRAC’s “Breakfast for Learning” brief, research indicates that students who begin their day with a healthy morning meal exhibit improved cognitive function, are more attentive, and have better memory recall. In fact, students who eat a nutritious breakfast closer to test-taking time perform better on standardized tests compared with their counterparts who skip breakfast or eat it at home. Further, eating school breakfast has been associated with decreases in tardiness, absenteeism, and behavioral issues.
In March, schools across the nation took “the breakfast challenge” by making special efforts to boost school breakfast participation. We encourage you to take the breakfast challenge at your school using the FRAC and NASSP Secondary School Principal Breakfast After the Bell Toolkit to work with your nutrition department on starting a program. Remember, schools can take the challenge at any time during the school year!
For more information about the toolkit and additional resources on improving access to school breakfast and breakfast after the bell models, please visit http://frac.org, or contact Alison Maurice at [email protected].
Mieka Sanderson, MPH, is a policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center in Washington, D.C.
Making It Work
There are several ways schools can implement a breakfast after the bell model:
- Breakfast in the Classroom: Meals can either be delivered to the classroom or served from the cafeteria or carts in the hallway to be eaten in the classroom at the start of the school day.
- Grab and Go: Students (particularly older students) can quickly and easily grab the components of their breakfast from carts or kiosks in the hallway or the cafeteria line to eat in their classrooms.
- Second Chance Breakfast: Students are offered a second chance to eat breakfast after homeroom or first period. Many middle and high school students are not hungry first thing in the morning. Serving them breakfast after first period allows them ample opportunity to arrive to class on time or socialize before school, while still providing them with a nutritious start early in the day.