Though more low-income children than ever are benefitting from school meals, breakfast participation continues to lag behind its midday counterpart, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a national anti-hunger organization.
On Thursday, FRAC released its an annual School Breakfast Scorecard, which analyzes student participation in the first meal of the day and found that, although the number of children who ate breakfast increased by 663,000 to 9.4 million students nationally in 2009-2010–the largest single jump since FRAC began tracking the data in 1991–it was still far less than the nearly 20 million low-income students who receive lunch every day.
To be exact, only 47 percent of students who took advantage of free and reduced priced lunches also took advantage of the schools’ breakfast offerings. FRAC determined that if for every 100 students who ate lunch, 60 ate breakfast, 2.5 million more children would have started the day off right and states would have recouped an additional $611 million in federal child nutrition funding. Participation rates ranged from a high of nearly 61 percent in New Mexico to Utah’s dismal 34 percent.
One of the most promising strategies to emerge in recent years to address the disparity is universal breakfast–the practice of providing a free meal to every student regardless of income level. Indeed, each of 10 districts with the highest participation levels profiled in a separate analysis, School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, report employ universal breakfast programs.
To increase breakfast participation, FRAC recommends school districts and states serve breakfast in the classroom, offer grab-and-go options, streamline the free and reduced meal application process, and conduct frequent campaigns and outreach.