Guest post by Sarah Ritter, manager of public policy, Operation Food Search
Child nutrition programs are essential to ending hunger and supporting children’s health, learning and development. One important yet underutilized program is the School Breakfast Program (SBP). Students who eat breakfast at school consume more fiber, calcium and vitamin C – nutrients all children need to grow and thrive. The SBP not only helps alleviate hunger; it has also been found to enhance academic performance, increase attendance and improve concentration in the classroom. Simply put, healthy students are better students.
This is why Operation Food Search (OFS) teamed up with the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis (SPI) for a multi-year research project analyzing Missouri’s school breakfast data. The goal is to determine the effectiveness of various strategies to improve breakfast participation as well as understand the current utilization rate in Missouri. In March 2020, SPI and OFS published an initial analysis of school breakfast looking at trends in the 2017-2018 school year. Earlier this month, using 2018-2019 school year data, we generated four new fact sheets, allowing for a look at breakfast trends over time. Both analyses used data obtained from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the 2017-2018 school year and the 2018-2019 school year.
Key Findings & Impact
In the 2018-2019 school year, breakfast participation increased by a modest 1.1% across the state compared to the previous year. The national goal for school breakfast participation set by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is 70 free and reduced-price breakfasts served for every 100 free and reduced-price lunches served at school. In the 2018-2019 school year, more schools were reaching the national benchmark for breakfast participation, but only about half of all possible free and reduced-priced breakfasts were served.
Each school day students are missing out on an opportunity to eat breakfast at school due to barriers such as transportation, scheduling and stigma. While school breakfast participation is increasing, Missouri still isn’t reaching its full potential. Luckily, the analysis also found that Breakfast After the Bell, the Community Eligibility Provision and other strategies can increase breakfast participation among Missouri students.
In collaboration with SPI, we developed four reports highlighting these findings:
Read the latest reports and explore Missouri’s breakfast data in more depth at MOSchoolBreakfast.org.
More progress can be made in Missouri to ensure all students have the opportunity to eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast at school each morning. Our breakfast reports are a key component of our work, but we aren’t stopping there. SPI and OFS are also launching a multi-year study of the Fresh Rx program to examine the benefits of providing healthy food to pregnant women and its relationship to improving birth outcomes. The more we learn through research studies in collaboration with great partners like SPI, the more we can continue our mission to end family food insecurity and improve childhood learning and development.