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School Breakfast reduces hunger. Students who eat school breakfast are more likely to attend school, be better learners, and are more willing to participate in the classroom. View Infographic (PDF)

However, many students are missing out. Over half a million public school students eat school breakfast in New York State. But over two-thirds of students from low-income households – those who need it most – are missing out on this morning meal. Timing, convenience, and stigma all contribute to low school breakfast participation.

Program Basics

  • Administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS), and at the state level by the New York State Education Department’s Child Nutrition Program Administration.
  • Any public school, nonprofit private school, and residential child-care institution can provide breakfast to students through the School Breakfast Program.
  • Any student attending a school that offers the program can eat breakfast, but students must meet certain criteria to qualify for free meals.
  • All meals must meet federal nutrition guidelines. Meals must include fruits and/or vegetables, a whole-grain-rich item, a meat or meat alternative, and low-fat/non-fat milk. Nutrition standards also limit calories and sodium.
  • Schools receive state and federal reimbursement for each breakfast served. The reimbursement amount varies based on a student’s qualification for free, reduced-price, or paid meals.

Download our School Breakfast Program Basics factsheet

Benefits of Breakfast

The School Breakfast Program reduces hunger and supports student health and academic achievement. Studies show serving breakfast after the start of the school day in classrooms reduces absenteeism, disciplinary issues, and eliminates the stigma that school breakfast is for poor kids.

Participation in the School Breakfast Program is linked to:

Decreased risk of food insecurity

  • Offering free breakfast to all students can eliminate disparities between food-secure and food-insecure children.
  • Access to school breakfast decreases the risk of marginal food insecurity and breakfast skipping, especially for low-income children.

Improved academic performance

  • Children who eat breakfast at school — closer to class and test-taking time — perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home.
  • Providing breakfast to students at school improves their concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory, and learning.
  • Children who skip breakfast are less able to master the tasks necessary to do well in school.
  • Children who live in families that experience hunger have lower math scores, an increased likelihood of repeating a grade, and receive more special education services.

Reduced behavioral problems

  • Students who participate in school breakfast show improved attendance, behavior, and academic performance as well as decreased tardiness.
  • Teenagers experiencing hunger are more likely to be suspended from school and to have difficulty getting along with other children and establishing friendships.

Improved diets in children

  • All meals meet nutrition guidelines that limit sodium and saturated fats and eliminate trans fats.
  • School breakfast participants are more likely to consume diets that are adequate or exceed standards for essential vitamins and minerals (e.g., vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus).
  • School breakfast participation is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI, an indicator of excess body fat), lower probability of being overweight, and lower likelihood of obesity
  • School breakfast also helps build lifelong healthy eating habits


New York State School Breakfast Legislation

  • The Breakfast After the Bell legislation requires high-poverty public schools — defined as schools with 70% or more students who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals — to provide Breakfast After the Bell (after the start of the instructional day).. [Section 2, Part B of Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2018]
    • 1,357 schools were under the requirement in the 2018-2019 SY.
      Schools with 70% or more students who qualify for free or reduced-price school breakfast are required to implement Breakfast After the Bell
    • Each school year, New York State Education Department identifies schools based upon data submitted through the basic educational data system (BEDS) for the prior school year.
    • Schools can choose which Breakfast After the Bell model best suits their needs.
    • Breakfast in the Classroom counts as instructional time.
  • The 2019-20 executive budget provided $2.3 million to eliminate students’ reduced-price copayment for both breakfast and lunch. Students who qualify for reduced-price school meals receive breakfast, lunch, and snacks at no cost. The State supplements the cost to school districts by providing an additional 25 cents per meal and 15 cents per snack — which was once covered by students — to their state reimbursement for reduced-price meals. Read NYS Guidance on this policy.
  • All severe need elementary schools in districts with at least 125,000 inhabitants are required to participate in the SBP. In severe need public schools, the state reimburses all expenses exceeding revenues in the first year of implementation. Schools are considered “severe need” if at least 40 percent of the lunches served during the previous school year were free or reduced-price.[8 N.Y. CODES R. & REGS. § 114.2]

The Key to Strong Breakfast Participation is Access

An unacceptable number of students from low-income households miss out on school breakfast. Barriers like accessibility, stigma, and timing all contribute to low breakfast participation. Two key strategies help overcome these:

  • Breakfast After the Bell
  • Universal Breakfast — free breakfast to all students

Breakfast After the Bell

View Factsheet (PDF)

Traditional breakfast—served in the cafeteria before the school day begins—often has low participation due to factors ranging from tight schedules to concerns about stigma.
Breakfast After the Bell makes the morning meal more accessible by helping to overcome timing, convenience, and stigma barriers.

Breakfast After the Bell Models

Breakfast in the Classroom: This model is often associated with younger students, but can be used in middle and high schools as well. Typically, meals are delivered to and eaten in the classroom, after the official start of the school day. Meals delivery methods vary from school to school.

Grab and Go: Grab and Go provides remarkable flexibility for schools. Students pick up conveniently packaged breakfasts from mobile service carts or vending machines in high traffic areas – such as hallways, entryways, or quick cafeteria lines – when they arrive at school or between classes. Students can eat in their classroom or in a common area.

Second Chance Breakfast: Breakfast service is shifted to later in the morning with this model, often between first and second period. Schools can serve breakfast in the same manner they would with Grab and Go, or can re-open the cafeteria and allow students time to eat there.

Breakfast After the Bell improves student’s access to breakfast, which, in turn, increases participation. Robust participation can lead to financially viable breakfast programs, and the opportunity for expansion and improvement. While certain high-poverty schools are required to offer Breakfast After the Bell, any school can shift a cafeteria-based, before-school breakfast program to one served after the school day begins.

Resources to start and/or improve Breakfast After the Bell:

Universal Breakfast

Schools can offer breakfast at no charge—universal school breakfast—to all students.

Universal breakfast:

  • Optimizes the impact of offering Breakfast After the Bell,
  • Eliminates the stigma that breakfast is just for “poor kids”
  • Boosts participation
  • Removes the burden of collecting fees and unpaid meal debt

View Factsheet (PDF)

Universal Breakfast Models:

  • The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a federal option that empowers schools with a high percentage of low-income students to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students.
  • Provision 2 is a federal option that allows schools to serve breakfast, lunch, or both to all students at no charge.
  • Non-pricing is a model in which schools formulate their own plan to pay for universal breakfast. The application and meal tracking processes are consistent with the School Breakfast Program, however, no fees are collected from students


Bridging the Gap: Reaching Underserved Students with Breakfast After the Bell.
Read our 2020 findings on school breakfast participation.

View Report

Learn more: USDA, NYSED

We can help

We can provide you with resources, data, and best-practices to improve participation in school meal programs. We provide tailored one-on-one assistance to schools, supported by extensive district-level analysis, to help:

  • Increase access to and participation in the School Breakfast Program
  • Implement alternative breakfast service models
  • Offer universal meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)
  • Maximize direct certification, program participation, and funding for successful meal programs.

Contact Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, Child Nutrition Programs Specialist, for assistance.

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