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The Importance Of School Breakfast Programs

No child should ever go to school hungry. Yet, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), nearly 16 million children live in homes struggling with hunger. In a country where food is not scarce, that number is far too high. In order to make sure students are fed, it is essential that every school participate in the School Breakfast Program.

School breakfast program

What is the School Breakfast Program?

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) is a federal program that provides funds so public and private schools, as well as residential child care institutions, can provide free breakfast to eligible children. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the program. Local schools and districts who opt into the program receive subsidies for each meal they serve, and in return, must provide free and reduced meals.

History of the School Breakfast Program

The SBP began as a 2-year pilot program in 1966 to help children identified as “nutritionally needy.” The program implied, but did not state, preference for children located in poor regions and those commuting long distances to get to school. Schools were not required to sign on to the program, but more funds were available to schools in areas identified as high need to encourage participation.

In 1975, the program became permanent and its scope began to expand, though the emphasis was still on areas that were most in need. The evolution of the program also saw schools becoming more creative in providing breakfast for the children without singling them out. Children received breakfast:

  • In the classroom
  • As they got off the bus
  • Outside the classroom

Approximately 13.2 million children throughout the United States now take part daily in the SBP, according to FRAC.

Children Need Breakfast

Not eating breakfast before school might impair a child’s ability to learn. Studies show that those who do not get breakfast or suffer from hunger:

  • Make increased errors
  • Have lower math scores
  • Have slower memory recall
  • Exhibit academic and behavioral problems
  • Show increased absenteeism
  • Are frequently more tardy
  • Score lower on cognitive tests

Eating breakfast helps improve a child’s ability to concentrate in school. Participation in school breakfast programs can help provide a child with a more well-rounded, nutritional diet and decrease the risk of obesity and other weight-related issues, according to FRAC.


Breakfast is an important meal. Children who eat before school will function better in the classroom. For those in families who do not have access to consistent meals, the School Breakfast Program is one way to make sure students are fed and ready to learn.

Photo: A young child enjoys breakfast in 1970 under the USDA food nutrition program. Credit: National Archives and Records Administration/Flickr

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Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.