School breakfast programs

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help address educational disparities and promote healthy childhood environments. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve these outcomes are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program basics

  • Offer students a nutritious breakfast, often involving culturally relevant practices and food options
  • Can be served in the cafeteria before school starts, from grab-and-go carts in hallways, or in classrooms before the day begins
  • Schools participating in federal programs receive subsidies for each breakfast served

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Proven (highest tier)

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Proven (highest tier)

Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps


Target population

All school-aged children

Program cost

Not available

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

1966-present

Outcomes and impact

  • Increased academic achievement, especially among nutritionally deficient or malnourished children
  • Increased school attendance
  • Increased healthy food consumption and improved breakfast nutrition

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This content is under review
  • Participation in these programs depends on the extent to which schools are able to reduce stigma around receiving free meals. Schools can reduce stigma by offering free- or reduced-price breakfast to all students, allowing students to eat together within classrooms, etc.
  • Successful programs include partnerships with nutritionists, health experts and community leaders.
  • Local governments should ensure that school breakfast programs become part of the district’s culture, facilitating buy-in within the community.
  • School teachers and administrators should be trained to handle questions about free or reduced cost meals in school with sensitivity and confidentiality.

Similar programs

Resources