- How can my school increase breakfast participation?
- What breakfast serving model is right for my school?
- Is there research that supports breakfast in the classroom?
Addressing implementation barriers
- Will breakfast in the classroom take away from instructional time?
- How can I address concerns about trash and sanitation when offering breakfast in the classroom?
- Do breakfast meals served in the classroom have to meet nutrition guidelines? What types of foods are typically served in the classroom?
- How can I work with principals and district administrators to start a breakfast in the classroom program?
- How can I get buy-in from teachers to support breakfast in the classroom?
- Will breakfast in the classroom affect the workload of custodial staff?
- How can I address concerns and educate parents about offering breakfast in the classroom?
Q: How can my school increase breakfast participation?
A. Spread the word about school breakfast to students and families. Promote your school breakfast program throughout the school year. Use eye-catching flyers, email, social media and other communications. Read about outreach activities.
Additionally, there are several alternative models of serving breakfast that have proven to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program. Each of these models can be adapted and customized to fit the needs of a school.
These models include:
- Delivering breakfast to classrooms for students to eat in the classroom setting.
- Setting up “grab and go” carts in school hallways or cafeterias where students can pick up bagged breakfast foods and take them to their classrooms.
- Serving breakfast after first period in middle and high schools.
Q: What model is best for my school?
A: Schools interested in implementing an alternative service model should consider a number of factors when deciding which model will be most appropriate and determining delivery, service, and clean up logistics. These factors include:
- Age of the students
- Income level of the student population
- School day schedules
- Layout of the school
- Capacity of school nutrition and custodial staff.
See: Choosing a Breakfast Service Model Chart [pdf]
Q: Is there research that supports breakfast in the classroom?
A. Yes, research has been done on breakfast in the classroom that shows that children who participate are less likely to be absent, have fewer visits to the school nurse, and are less likely to be overweight. They eat more fruit, drink more milk and consume a wider variety of foods.
For a summary of research on the health and learning benefits of school breakfast, see FRAC’s fact sheets Breakfast for Health and Breakfast for Learning.
addressing implementation barriers
Q: Will breakfast in the classroom take away from instructional time?
A: The most common concern that teachers raise about breakfast in the classroom is that the program will take away from valuable instructional time. In practice, however, breakfast in the classroom generally takes about 10 to 15 minutes for children to eat, and is often done during morning activities, such as announcements, turning in homework or individual reading time so no instructional time is lost. Recognizing the academic and health benefits of breakfast, Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued a letter encouraging schools to adopt innovative service models to increase breakfast participation.
After breakfast in the classroom is implemented, teachers frequently report that their students’ productivity and ability to focus increases dramatically. Less time is spent on distractions such as behavior problems or illnesses caused by hunger. Many schools report fewer visits to the nurse’s office and disciplinary referrals. Moreover, many schools have reported decreased tardiness and absenteeism as students tend to come on time to get their breakfast. As a result, teachers are able to spend more time teaching and less on classroom management issues.
Many state superintendents of education, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, Indiana and Michigan have issued policy memos clarifying that classroom breakfast meets the requirements of instructional time. Here's the memo from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Q: How can I address concerns about trash and sanitation when offering breakfast in the classroom?
A. Strategies to address these issues vary by school but include:
- Selecting breakfast menu items with less risk of spillage, especially for elementary schools.
- Providing each classroom with basic cleaning supplies and assigning students clean up tasks such as disposing of trash or wiping down desks.
- Placing breakfast trash in a separate trash can or bag to be placed in the hallway and collected promptly after breakfast.
Q: Do breakfast meals in the classroom have to meet nutritional guidelines? What types of foods are typically served?
A: Breakfast meals served as part of the federal School Breakfast Program must meet USDA nutrition guidelines. If meals are to be served in the classroom or from kiosks or carts, they should be easy to prepare, serve, and eat in order to limit issues with spills and trash.
Foods that require minimal preparation and work well when served in the classroom include:
- low-sugar cereals
- granola bars
- fresh fruit
- dried fruit
- trail mix
- low fat cheese sticks
- whole-wheat bagels with cream cheese
Q: How can I work with principals and district administrators to start a breakfast in the classroom program?
A. Efforts to educate superintendents, principals, and other administrators about the learning, health, and budgetary benefits of increasing breakfast participation are essential to the continued expansion of the program. When superintendents and principals fully support alternative service strategies, participation in the School Breakfast Program can flourish. After implementing an alternative delivery breakfast model, participating principals often find that when students have eaten more time is spent on learning since there are fewer disruptions from tardiness, students misbehaving, or requests to see the school nurse.
There are several effective strategies for making the case for breakfast in the classroom to school administrators:
- Provide school breakfast participation rates to principals, as they often are unaware of how few students participate in school breakfast.
- Highlight the health and learning benefits of school breakfast participation including improved nutritional intake and increased test scores.
- Show principals and administrators first-hand how alternative breakfast service models work by organizing a visit to a school that operates one of the alternative breakfast models.
- Ask superintendents to send a letter to principals in their district describing the value of alternative breakfast service models or incorporate a presentation about breakfast in the classroom into meetings or trainings.
- Enlist a network of other supportive administrators from nearby districts or other schools in the district to spread the message of how alternative delivery breakfast models increase participation dramatically and support student health and learning.
Q: How can I get buy-in from teachers to support breakfast in the classroom?
A. If engaged early on in the planning process, teachers can be an effective ally for engaging other stakeholders. Teachers see first-hand the effects of breakfast in the classroom—an improved learning environment where children start the day well nourished and ready to learn.
There are several ways to engage teachers and leverage their support:
- Enlist teachers to encourage students to participate in the breakfast program and incorporate jobs for students into the breakfast service in the classroom.
- Provide training for teachers to ensure that students are receiving a full reimbursable meal and, if applicable, that teachers are counting and claiming meals properly.
- Inform teachers by having the School Breakfast Program as an in-service day training topic to make sure they know about the academic benefits, barriers to participation, and ways that teachers can help encourage students to participate in breakfast.
- Offer resources for teachers to develop lessons during the 10-15 minutes that students are eating to ensure that no instructional time is lost. Lessons during breakfast can include a health lesson about the importance of proper nutrition, a math lesson using recipes or nutrition labels, or a science lesson about growing fruits and vegetables.
The National Education Association Health Information Network has created a breakfast in the classroom toolkit for educators.
Q: Will breakfast in the classroom affect the workload of custodial staff?
A. Custodial staff may have concerns about increased amounts of work created by breakfast in the classroom, grab and go, or second chance breakfast. However, this is often not the case once the program is implemented. When breakfast is moved out of the cafeteria, the custodial staff no longer have to clean the cafeteria after breakfast before preparing for lunch. In addition, simple steps can be taken to manage spills or food waste in classrooms. Custodial or school nutrition staff should provide each classroom with a spray cleaner and paper towels or wipes and a designated trash can or heavy-duty trash bags. As part of their breakfast duties, students can help with collecting trash, wiping desks, and putting trash in the hall. Custodians can collect the breakfast trash from the hallway during the time that would have otherwise been spent cleaning the cafeteria.
Q: How can I address concerns and educate parents about breakfast in the classroom?
A. Promoting the School Breakfast Program and informing parents about breakfast in the classroom is crucial to driving participation and addressing any nutrition concerns parents may have. Parent groups should be engaged early on in the planning process and outreach should be continuous throughout the year. For example:
- Include information about breakfast in the classroom in the packet of materials that go to parents at the beginning of the school year.
- Invite parents to join students during breakfast in the classroom on a particular day.
- Provide sample breakfast meals and promotional materials at “Back to School Night” or other school events.
- Feature easy-to-access information about breakfast in the classroom on the school website including menus.
- Promote breakfast in the classroom frequently in emails, robo-calls (automated voicemails), on school district radio/TV stations when available, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, and in other communications with parents.
- Mail postcards to families to encourage them to participate.
- Present information on the School Breakfast Program to Parent-Teacher Associations.