Benefits of Breakfast
Starting the day with a healthy school breakfast ensures that children have the nutrition they need to learn and thrive. A wide body of research supports the health and educational benefits of participation in the School Breakfast Program.
Research supports what educators and school officials see every day in our schools: a well-nourished child who starts the day with breakfast is more likely to be at school, a better learner, and willing to participate in the classroom.
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 has lower math scores and 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, phosphorous).
- 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
Impact of universal, breakfast in the classroom programs
When students have proper access to their breakfast program – specifically when it is offered at no cost to all students (universal) and served in the classroom – the positive impacts of school breakfast are increased exponentially. The following specific outcomes are tied to universal, Breakfast After the Bell programs:
Improved learning environment/fosters an environment conducive to learning
- School breakfast–including when served in the classroom and free for all students–is associated with lower tardy rates, increased attendance, fewer disciplinary office referrals, and reductions in anxiety and depression.
Improved ability to learn
- Student math and reading achievement test scores improve when breakfast is moved out of the cafeteria and into the classroom.
Improved social-emotional health of children
- School breakfast participation, especially breakfast offered at no cost to all students, positively impacts children’s mental health, including reductions in behavioral problems, anxiety, and depression.
Improved overall health of students
- Students attending schools that offer breakfast at no cost to all students are more likely to consume a nutritionally substantive breakfast and to consume significantly more calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, fruit, and dairy products at breakfast, when compared to students from schools with a traditional means-tested school breakfast program.
Reduced stigma associated with breakfast
- Schools that offer breakfast in the classroom programs at no cost to all students experience an increased sense of community and reduced stigma associated with eating breakfast at school.
Learn more from the following research briefs from the Food Research & Action Center: