National School Breakfast Week

Today marks the beginning of National School Breakfast Week (March 4-8), which serves as a tremendous opportunity to raise awareness of the many ways in which the School Breakfast Program (SBP) improves the health and nutrition of America’s schoolchildren.  The program provides nearly 13 million children of all economic backgrounds a well-balanced, healthy meal at the start of each school day, helping to ensure that students are alert and productive in the classroom.

National School Breakfast week is organized through an annual partnership between USDA and the School Nutrition Association. This year’s theme is “Be a Star with School Breakfast,” highlighting how eating a balanced breakfast at school can help students to shine like their favorite stars.

This is a particularly beneficial time to bring attention to the benefits of serving school breakfast in light of upcoming changes and improvements to the program. Beginning next school year, the SBP will feature updated nutrition standards to foster the kind of healthy changes at school that many parents are already trying to encourage at home. This includes making sure that kids are offered fruits and vegetables each day, provided more whole grains, and offered portion sizes and calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight. The new standards, already being implemented in the National School Lunch Program, are built on recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the Federal government's central document for evidence-based nutritional guidance.

Increasing participation in the SBP is a priority for USDA, reflected in its promotion of creative approaches to serving breakfast in schools. Schools can opt to provide ‘Grab & Go’ meals, serve breakfast in classroom settings, or even serve breakfasts to all students free of charge. These alternatives help to make breakfast a normal and convenient part of the school day, and lower barriers to student access. SBP participation and expansion is also encouraged through the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, and collaborative efforts like the NFL’s “Fuel Up to Play 60” campaign.

How the School Breakfast Program Works

The SBP is a federally assisted program that provides funds for breakfasts served to students at or close to the beginning of their day at school. It is available to non-profit public and private schools, as well as residential childcare institutions.

A cornerstone of SBP is its commitment to ensuring that all children, regardless of their economic background, have access to wholesome, nutritious, and affordable meals every school day. While all children can purchase breakfast at participating schools, children from needy families may qualify for free or reduced price breakfasts.  To qualify for free meals, a child’s household income may not exceed 130% of the federal poverty guideline, and may not exceed 185% of the federal poverty guideline to qualify for reduced price meals. In addition, children receiving benefits from programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are automatically eligible to receive free meals.

USDA reimburses participating schools for every breakfast served. These funds are provided to State agencies, which in turn are responsible for distributing money to the schools. Schools are reimbursed at established rates for free, reduced price, and paid meals. Higher reimbursements are available at schools in which a large number of students qualify for free and reduced price benefits. Per-meal reimbursement rates are revised on July 1 of each year.

Schools participating in the SBP agree to follow all of the program’s requirements, which include nutritional standards for each meal served, mandated health and safety inspections, accommodations for children with disabilities, and comprehensive financial management regulations designed to ensure that the program is operated efficiently and with integrity.
Facts in Brief (FY 2012)

  • Average daily participation in the SBP is 12.8 million, an increase of approximately 5.5 percent from the prior year.
  • Program availability rose to 91,500 institutions with an enrollment of 47.2 million students.
  • The program was available to 91.9 percent of the students enrolled in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, as compared to 50 percent in FY 1990.
  • The portion of total meals served free or at a reduced price was about 84.2 percent.
  • Approximately 2.14 billion breakfasts were served, an increase of 4.6 percent over the prior year.

Thank you for joining us in our celebration of National School Breakfast Week! We hope that you might explore the possibilities for expanding the availability of school breakfast in your own community today.