Guest post by Alison Maurice
Nationally, on an average school day in the 2015–16 school year, 12.1 million low-income students participated in school breakfast, an increase of nearly 433,000 children from the prior school year. While this is definitely progress, there is still room for improvement, especially at the middle and high school levels, where school breakfast participation has often been lower than at the elementary school level.
The good news is that a growing number of middle and high schools are implementing breakfast after the bell models to ensure that their students have access to a healthy morning meal and are able to start the day ready to learn.
The Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) “Breakfast for Learning” brief highlights research that shows 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 to their counterparts who skip breakfast or eat it at home. Eating school breakfast has also been associated with decreases in tardiness, absenteeism, and behavioral issues.
In partnership with NASSP, FRAC is releasing the Secondary School Principals’ Breakfast After the Bell Toolkit to help middle and high school principals collaborate with their school nutrition departments to implement strong breakfast programs that reach more students and increase school breakfast participation. Included in the toolkit are valuable resources such as best practices for a successful program and sample communication materials for staff, students, and families about the benefits of school breakfast.
Middle and high schools should structure their breakfast after the bell programs based on the individual school’s unique needs. Below are three common breakfast after the bell service models that schools can implement to ensure greatest access to school breakfast:
“Grab and Go” Breakfast: Students can quickly and easily grab their breakfast from carts or kiosks in the hallway or the cafeteria line to eat in the classroom.
Breakfast in the Classroom: Meals can be delivered to, and distributed in, the classroom at the start of the school day. This approach is more common in elementary schools, but it is successfully implemented in some middle and high schools. It tends to generate the largest increase in participation.
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. Offering breakfast after first period allows students ample opportunity to arrive to class on time or socialize before school, while still providing a nutritious start early in the day. This approach can be most impactful if used in combination with “grab and go.”
Implementing one of these models helps to ensure that school breakfast is an integral part of a school’s morning activities, akin to taking attendance or handing in homework. These models help schools take an inclusive approach to meeting the needs of their students, one that removes stigma, boosts school breakfast participation, and supports academic performance.
Alison Maurice is a child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center.