Skip to main content

National Report Reveals Lost Ground for School Breakfast Participation in New York State

School breakfast provides health and academic benefits for students, but many are missing out. Innovative breakfast service can improve access.

Francesca DiGiorgio, MPH
School Meals Policy and Engagement Specialist

Fewer students are eating school breakfast in New York.

At a time when nearly one in five New York kids struggle with hunger, schools across the state are losing traction with breakfast participation. According to a recent report from the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), 12.4 percent fewer New York students ate school breakfast and 4.3 percent fewer ate school lunch during the school year 2022-2023 compared to the previous year. This decline underscores a missed opportunity to connect students with the nutrition needed to thrive at school.

Relative to school lunch, New York’s lower performance with school breakfast is especially concerning. Nearly 793,000 children in New York participated in school breakfast and just over 1.5 million participated in school lunch on an average day during the 2022–2023 school year. This translates to only about 50 students eating school breakfast for every 100 eating school lunch each day.

New York also falls considerably short of the national benchmark for strong school breakfast participation and has consistently ranked among the lowest-performing states in the country. This benchmark is defined as reaching 70 students with school breakfast for every 100 students eating school lunch.

Prior to the pandemic, New York was reaching more students each year with school breakfast. This upward trend was largely due to increasing participation in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) combined with state legislation requiring high-poverty schools to make school breakfast more accessible. However, the latest findings from school year 2022-2023 signal an erosion to previous gains made for school breakfast participation. This loss of ground leaves critical benefits for students on the table and must be addressed.

Innovative service models can improve access to school breakfast.

It is well established that school breakfast nourishes excellence in the classroom and beyond. When students start their day with a nutritious meal at school, they are prepared to focus and engage with their peers and perform better on standardized tests in reading and math. Yet opportunities for students to access school breakfast can be more limited compared to school lunch, which has a designated time for students to eat.

Traditional breakfast, served in the cafeteria before the start of the school day, comes with barriers that prevent students from participating.

Why Kids Don't Eat Breakfast Served in the Cafeteria Before Class

“My bus is always late.”

“I’m afraid to miss the morning bell.”

“I don’t want my friends to know we’re poor.”

“I don’t have money for breakfast.”

A robust body of research shows that when districts extend breakfast service after the start of the school day, participation increases. This effect is most pronounced when breakfast is offered to all students at no cost and served in the classroom, rather than the cafeteria. To this end, Breakfast After the Bell (BAB) is an evidence-based strategy schools can leverage to reach more students and address hunger, while also advancing broader goals around academic achievement and educational equity.

New state funding for CEP provides the fiscal foundation to drive Breakfast After the Bell implementation.

Last year’s expansion of CEP presents an unprecedented opportunity to improve access to school breakfast in New York. More schools than ever are offering free breakfast to all students through CEP, now that new state funding has eliminated the financial burden on both schools and students.

Schools operating CEP must build on this expansion by leveraging the provision’s simplified administration of meals to create more opportunities for students to eat breakfast. When schools serve breakfast through innovative models such as Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab and Go, they can meet students where they are and overcome scheduling constraints to ensure time to eat.

While school nutrition directors are central to implementing Breakfast After the Bell, making breakfast part of the school day requires collaboration among school nutrition staff and other education stakeholders—such as teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board members.

Hunger Solutions New York encourages New York schools—especially those offering free meals to all students—to focus on improving student access to school breakfast by taking the following steps:

  • Assess how many students are eating school breakfast. Schools can compare their school breakfast and lunch program participation data to determine whether they are reaching the 70:100 ratio for strong breakfast participation.
  • Involve the entire school community. All school stakeholders can help:
    • Spread the word about the availability of school breakfast and encourage students to eat.
    • Share about the benefits of student’s eating school breakfast and discuss barriers to participation.
  • Connect with other schools that offer Breakfast After the Bell. Talk with a nearby district or school operating Breakfast After the Bell to learn implementation strategies and promising practices.
  • Find out if your school is required to offer Breakfast After the Bell. In New York, certain high-need schools are required to offer all students a school breakfast after the instructional day has begun. See the list of schools required to offer Breakfast After the Bell in the 2024-2025 school year.

We offer schools support.

We can provide strategies and resources to help improve school breakfast access and participation. Email for individualized assistance, at no cost.

Stay up to date

Get the latest news, action alerts, press releases, and hunger research delivered to your inbox.