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Innovative Practices Can Help Feed Students and Improve FRP Meal Usage in Missouri Schools

After a year of online learning, new research from the Social Policy Institute found a decline in school-provided free and reduced-price (FRP) breakfasts and lunches served by Missouri schools in the 2019-2020 school year. To combat food insecurity, 9% of FRP breakfasts and 12% of FRP lunches were reduced in price, with the remainder being free. In total, Missouri schools served 24 million FRP breakfasts and 39 million FRP lunches, 6 million less breakfasts and 11 million less lunches than last year. However, with innovative interventions, some schools have been able to increase utilization of both free meal programs, improving FRP meal outcomes for Missouri K-12 students.

FRP breakfasts and lunches provide nutritious, subsidized or free meals to low-income schoolchildren. Previous research has indicated that FRP lunches reduce food insecurity, obesity and poor health amongst beneficiaries. With the closure of schools, the distribution of such meals became more challenging, requiring alternative meal service programs to reach students in need. For example, many schools switched programming to their Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to continue serving up to two free meals to children 18 and under while schools remained closed during the school year.

Among Missouri schools, 46.4% (1,011) implemented innovative programs such as allowing breakfast in classrooms, offering a second chance breakfast after the bell, or allowing students to take breakfasts to go. The use of these innovative programs was up 9.9% from the 2017-2018 school year just two years prior. These practices, known as Breakfast After the Bell (BATB), increased levels of participation in FRP breakfast programs. Our research indicated that schools with BATB were 1.9 times more likely to have high breakfast participation when compared to peer institutions.

Schools covered by the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) also experienced increased breakfast participation. The CEP allows schools to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to students in schools and school districts in low-income areas. Schools covered by the CEP were 2.4 times more likely to have high breakfast participation (with an FRP breakfast to lunch ratio of over 70 to 100).

In total, the FRP Breakfast to Lunch ratio for the 2019-2020 school year was 62.6 per every 100. This is important because millions of students struggle to access FRP breakfasts that they qualify for, forcing them to attend classes and go through the day hungry until the school offers a free or subsidized lunch. Barriers, including transportation and stigma, prevent low-income students from accessing FRP school breakfasts that are affordable and nutritious. This is detrimental, as school breakfast programs tangibly improve food security outcomes for young children.

This research has substantial policy implications. Implementing innovative practices to improve access to FRP breakfasts, including Breakfast after the Bell, can increase levels of utilization amongst low-income students. This in turn can lead to a host of positive educational and health outcomes, including improved academic performance, reduced behavior problems, and more nutritional diets for young children. Our research also indicated areas with the lowest FRP breakfast to lunch ratios, including in Central, Northwest, and Northeast Missouri, could benefit from policy interventions to decrease levels of food insecurity.

As schools, and families, continue to recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19, the importance of students’ nutritional and food security needs cannot fall by the wayside. Implementing innovative new solutions to school meals will help families adapt to the challenges of an educational environment permanently shaped by COVID-19 and ensure that children leave school full.

You can read the full Missouri School Breakfast report here.