The cliché exists for a reason: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Its benefits are well-documented, especially for children. However, 1 in 5 Oklahoma children may not have consistent access to breakfast, jeopardizing their growth and ability to learn. For these children, school breakfast can be a lifeline.
Unfortunately, school breakfast participation trails school lunch participation in Oklahoma. Just 58 percent of Oklahoma students who had school lunches also had school breakfast in the 2016-2017 school year, according to a new report from Hunger Free Oklahoma. This represents a missed opportunity to help thousands of Oklahoma students get the nutrition they need, especially since providing those meals would come with more than $17 million additional federal dollars.
Fortunately, as the report outlines, Oklahoma schools can increase breakfast participation, including by moving breakfast into the classroom and by serving free breakfast (and lunch) to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision.
Breakfast in the Classroom
In many schools, breakfast is offered before the school day starts, in a centralized location like the cafeteria. However, this means that many students, especially those who ride the bus, don’t have time to eat breakfast before they have to get to class. This can unintentionally stigmatize the students who do participate by publicly grouping them. Schools can make sure all students get to eat without stigma by serving breakfast to all students in their classrooms at the beginning of the school day, paying dividends in improved student behavior and learning. Implementing breakfast in the classroom can come with some upfront costs, like purchasing insulated coolers to transport meals or expanding refrigerator space, but schools can apply for small grants to cover these costs through Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom.
Community Eligibility Provision
Expanding access to breakfast can also expand access to lunch! Some schools can serve both breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge to them by implementing a program known as the Community Eligibility Provision. This program changes the way schools collect federal funding for school meals. Rather than rely on unreliable free and reduced meal applications for funding, Community Eligibility schools are instead paid based on their shares of low-income students. This allows some schools to maximize federal funds, while ensuring that all students get the nutrition they need to grow and learn.
The bottom line
At a time when many schools in Oklahoma are struggling to stay afloat, expanding breakfast offers an evidence-based and cost-effective way to promote important academic outcomes. By taking advantage of federal dollars, schools can ensure that every student has a healthy breakfast to fuel their learning at little cost to districts. That’s a win-win, and this report should spur more districts to join the march towards greater access to the most important meal of the day.